This is the first part of a potential three-part series, depending on the reception of this post.
This adventure is fairly gonzo, generic fantasy with a coat of Arthuriana paint slapped on top. I did that because of the pre-built mythopoeic weight that specifically Merlin carries, circumventing my need to deliberately set up the mad wizard as a worthy foe. If the incongruities in tone between this adventure and the Matter of Britain don’t sit easily with you, either change the names and run it as generic fantasy or find/write an adventure that more suitably manifests your vision.
This world makes two assumptions, without which the premise of the adventure falls apart: one, that there is a robust, diverse cosmology a la the Great Wheel or ICRPG's multiverse, and two, that magic comes from manipulating the lifeblood a distant imprisoned star. This world also assumes that the four types of magic are ash, glass, raven, and moon, but that's not necessary for the adventure to function.
Given that this was written as a one-shot, there aren’t many points of adventure-changing choice throughout the sequence, and it is designed to take the heroes from beginning to end without a break. If you’re running this adventure as part of a campaign, or as a one-shot with players used to having more freedom in their adventures, be sure to telegraph these features as best you can.
LONG AGO, a dwarf star whose lifeblood powered the magic of mortals and monsters was sealed away in the gelid Stellar Oubliette for its crimes in the far reaches of the cosmos.
YEARS AGO, the Round Table finished its crusade against the giants, leaving Ysbadaden the Fallen to abandon his terrestrial home for one where man-steel could never pierce his flesh as it had his kin.
MONTHS AGO, Ysbadaden settled on the Stellar Oubliette, and his excavations thereon began to reawaken the imprisoned star therein.
DAYS AGO, the night-terrors of the star inspired fearsome madness in a growing number of terrestrial thaumaturges.
HOURS AGO, King Arthur received news that Merlin had reportedly fallen to this mysterious ailment, locking himself and his apprentices in Merlinspire, his tower and home.
MINUTES AGO, Arthur summoned you to the Round Table to task you with finding out what fate befell Merlin, and how to amend this magic plague.
STAR-SICKNESS. All of the world’s magic-users are slowly succumbing to this disease, whether they know it or not. The disease’s three symptoms are eyes that glow white with burning starlight, irregular bursts of magical energy, and an unquenchable hatred for life in all its forms. Unfortunately, that first symptom sets in about an hour after the latter two. Each day, there’s a chance any magic user contracts Star-Sickness, or every hour within a place of great magical power, as all of the locations mentioned in this adventure-sequence are.
WORLD I: MERLINSPIRE
In the middle of a clearing stands an ivy-clad tower, steepling stone-gray and shingle-red towards the gathering thunderheads above. Nothing is remarkable about it, and it strikes you that nothing is remarkable about it precisely because it is the standard against which you judge what is remarkable- it is the Ur-Tower, the very first and the very best. Between the first and second floor, a line of fire runes carved into the side of the tower emit about the same amount of heat as a furnace as a precaution against climbers. (The ivy has inexplicably adapted to withstand the heat.) There is a set of double doors at its nadir, serving as the tower’s only ground entrance. Touching them in any capacity causes them to swing open as Merlin’s voice booms an echoing “WELCOME!”; there is no surprising its occupants now.
I) THE STRANGLING PIT. In the middle of this room is a 15ish foot deep sinkhole, at the bottom of which is a shallow pool of mild acid. Hidden under the acid sits a cleaned skeleton with a Ring of Jumping on its finger. Nooseweed vines grow down the walls of the sinkhole to water level, attempting to wrap around the throat of anyone who touches them. Stuck to the ceiling is a chain imp, a lump of misshapen flesh with four long, chitinous tentacle-tendons resembling rusted chains.
Two of these chains have hooks on the end, and are used to cut into the skin, pulling the victim off their feet, perhaps dragging them short distances in the process.
The other two have blunt ends, but have the strength and fine control to wrap around a target and carry them distances.
The imp can use each chain once per round, and will try to get as many victims in the acid pit as possible (using the hook chains on those at the pit’s lip and the blunt chains for the more cautious) before using the hook chains to slash at whoever is most vulnerable.
II) THE DEMENTED APPRENTICES. A bookshelf on the wall contains a number of elementary to intermediate occult texts, one of which contains a spell scroll being used as a bookmark. An everburning candelabra hangs from the middle of the room, its candles easily removed. 4 star-sick, telepathically-linked apprentices of Merlin sit in the middle of the room, silently playing patty-cake until the prime opportunity to strike.
Chow, clad in gently smoking russet robes, can create concussive jets of wind from their hands.
Luna, with a tattoo of a crescent moon on her forehead, reverses a person’s gravity with her touch. This effect is automatic and otherwise as irreversible as any curse.
Morde, with black wings sticking haphazardly out their back and talon-like fingers, is a half-crow abomination. He flies and mimics with shaky proficiency.
Shard, clad in a kimono of shattered mirrors woven into tapestry, can grow simple glass sculptures out of the ground. He can have two manifest at a given time; excess crumble to dust.
They will not willingly allow access to the 3rd floor, and stake their hold with extreme tactical cunning and foolhardy tenacity, even following interlopers upstairs if they must. Their ideal strategy is to lie in wait until they can split the party, at which point Shard creates walls of glass to block both doors and Chow blows unsuspecting victims into Luna, who’s seated directly under the candelabra. At that point, Morde can attack anyone on the ceiling or fly someone out a window and drop them, and Chow can blow air through the candelabra to create a sort of flamethrower. Get crafty.
III) THE GOLEMANCY LAB. There are three decorated doors in this room: the bronze one leads to the ersatz circle (IV), the silver one leads to Merlin’s sanctum (V), and the gold one leads to the tidal hoard (VI). In the center of this room is a wood and metal operating table. Cables run from this table across the floor and up the wall to connect to a lightning rod on top of the tower. Lying on the table is an inert golem Merlin has named “Vyrmfud” (worm food). It animates upon any attempt to open a door, attacking anyone not stricken with star-madness. While it may be painfully slow and stupid, its fists swing with the force of sledgehammers. Merlin wears its control amulet.
IV) THE ERSATZ CIRCLE. On the floor of this room is a crackling magic circle. It’s a teleportation circle on the fritz, pulling in magic from the Pentahectate’s broken engine and flooding the room with palpable, harmful magical radiation. On the ceiling is another chain imp (see I), save that it uses its chains to pull people into the circle and teleport them to the deck of the Pentahectate (this will be in the next post).
V) MERLIN’S FANE. This room is bigger than architecturally possible, piled high with occult bric-a-brac and magical items of all varieties, though it’s in a state of even greater disarray than normal. Insert oddities, details, and artifacts freely to your taste. Merlin himself occupies this sanctum, feeble and star-mad but still formidable.
Merlin knows a random selection of powerful arcane spells, and can cast them any number of times. Any spells he knows that it would have been wise of him to cast in advance, he has.
Merlin wields his spellbook in one hand and the Monkey King’s Staff in the other, utterly indestructible and capable of being expanded or collapsed to most any size.
Merlin has animated objects to fight on his behalf.
His broom tries to sweep people off of their feet, and can serve as a flying mount for a quick getaway.
His chest tries to lock itself around the head or torso of the burliest combatant it sees.
His candelabra tries to burn anything it can get at, from an ostentatious cloak to a spell scroll halfway through being read.
VI) THE TIDAL HOARD. The floor is covered in gold! Gold up to your ankles! Each time you describe the gold, it gets higher. Gold to your shins! To your knees! Should anyone stay too long, they’ll find themselves unable to wade through the gold fast enough to escape before it rises above their head and they’re crushed under the weight. Hanging above the window is a magical black-iron blade by the name of DEVOURING BEGETS DEVOURING with properties of your choosing. Easily spotted in the pile of gold against the right wall is a necklace with three pieces of Turkish delight hanging from it. The red piece doubles your size, the blue piece halves it, and the green piece makes you incorporeal, at least for a short while.
Let me know if you want to see more. Thanks for reading, and happy gaming.