This encounter is intended for any number of PC’s of any level (With the D&D Next November Playtest in mind)
There’s a high-end spell that I’ve always particularly loved: good old Maze. For me, it’s that rare combination of old-school weirdness and wonder that still manages game balance and functionality. It’s just a cool concept (trapping someone in a puzzling nether-realm), that doesn’t necessarily spell a grim and ignoble end for a PC. Sure, it can take a player out of the action same as any other SAVE vs. FUN spell, but at least you aren’t getting coup de graced by some fish-man! But out of the action means that player’s turn is less interesting, and that’s the problem I’d like to address with this week’s encounter.
Another bee in my bonnet is the difficulty in establishing a good “boss fight” with D&D Next. The beauty of bounded accuracy is that any level of character can pose some measure of threat to higher level characters. But that’s a bit of a problem when it comes to boss fights. Numerous attack rolls from weaker opponents (the PCs) add up fast, and a few whiffs from a hard hitting Big Bad can really negate their significance.
There’s an easy fix (give the dragon more hit points) which need not even be codified into the rules – but I’m thinking of something a little more complicated. A little more interesting…
The PCs are confronting a significant foe with some magical strength. It need not be your campaign’s BBEG (Big Bad Evil guy) even; merely a higher level foe. A lich, dragon, cultists, rival adventurer, horrific mindflayer sorceror, whatever works for you conceptually. To expand the length of this climactic showdown, and add a spark of the unexpected, the foe will use a special spell in the second round of combat (or the first, if you don’t trust his ability to survive) that will even the odds. The spell is a modified version of Maze. This variant is lower level, and thus less damning, but instead of being an endless stretch of generic walls…this maze is occupied by threats of its own: and doors to befuddle heroes attempting to escape. With some of the PCs vanished to a pocket plane and struggling to return, the tension is ramped up as the remaining heroes, ignorant of their allies plight, must fight on against the boss in a desperate attempt to hold out for help.
Naviagting Maze World
The key to escaping the maze, in this case, is to guess the right door that leads back to the real world. Looking through any given door appears to lead into a room lit too brightly to see (this shimmering mirage masks the fact that the door is a portal within the maze and a dirty trick). False doors will lead back to the start of the maze, confounding any prior progress.
Filling the maze with a few weak monsters is ideal – this slows the PCs down and makes what would otherwise be a boring guessing game into a threatening complication. They will be forced to choose between eliminating the guardians of the maze and finding the route home.
If players are clever, they may find some kind of hint as to which door is correct. A Wizard casting Detect Magic will discern illusion magic attached to the false doors but not to the actual door out of the maze.
Building the Maze
To keep things fun, I’d recommend a relatively small maze with between 4-7 doors. Remember, that between monster attacks, flase doors, and time spent moving through the extra-dimensional space, the PC will lose quite a few turns of combat. This maze, unlike others, isn’t meant to take a long time to navigate, but merely to limi the number of foes attacking the villain. You need not dig through grandma’s old Mazes and Sudoku puzzle books from the grocery store check-out line for inspiration.
I’ve constructed my Lesser Maze using some fancy, brand spanking new Dungeon Tiles from Dwarven Forge, but any 2D dungeon terrain pieces, or even some old school pen-and-graph paper will work.
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 25 feet
Duration: Concentration, up to 5 minutes
Choose up to 1d2+1 creatures within range that you can see.
You banish the targets into an extradimensional
labyrinth, a pocket plane of existence. The
targets remains there for the duration or until they escape the maze.
To escape, the target must make their way through the maze on their turn, escaping through a randomly selected “exit door.” False doors will lead back to the entrance of the maze. The true door, when opened, reveals the spot in which the creature left when the spell took effect. Moving through this door ends the spell for that target.
When the spell ends, the target reappears in
the space it left or, if that space is occupied, in
the unoccupied space nearest its former space.