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Help Me Create the Dreamscape of Tarsellis

 
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edmundscott
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 10, 2019 8:32 pm    Post subject: Help Me Create the Dreamscape of Tarsellis Reply with quote

A couple years ago, I took some suggestions from Rasgon and a few others on these boards and created a campaign arc which will be reaching its conclusion in the next few months. It’s been extraordinarily fun and I’d love to get some help from you in creating the final adventure location.

The Backstory of the Campaign
In the earliest days of the world, Tarsellis Meunniduin, the snow elf god of mountains, rivers, and winter, was a good-aligned member of the Seldarine and Ehlenestra was his lover. But he was lured away by Megwandir when she betrayed Corellon and the rest, becoming the demoness Lolth; when Tarsellis realized how he’d been tricked and used, he ripped his own heart from his chest and flung it into the Crystalmists to be buried. He then retreated to the Shadow Plane where he defeated the Wild Hunt and became its new Master, the heartless King of Winter.

Over the last couple years, the party (many of whom worship Ehlonna/Ehlenestra) has learned this backstory, found the Heart of Tarsellis, and have entered Shadow with the intent to replace Tarsellis’ heart in his slumbering body in the hope of redeeming the fallen god.

Tonight is the spring equinox, Growfest 4th, and Tarsellis’ avatar and the Wild Hunt ride across the plains of Sterich, pursuing epic-level characters from a previous campaign, while the true divine form of Tarsellis slumbers in the Shadow Plane. The characters are essentially sneaking into the god’s realm while his spirit is distracted.

For the finale, I need some kind of dungeon-like location (probably mountain and/or river based) for the lair of Tarsellis in the Shadow Plane—someplace secure enough for him to leave his true form while his spirit rampages across the Prime. (IMC the plane of Shadow intermingles and shares many characterstics of the Feywild—something between what's in the Gord books and a creepy dark fairy tale).

Of course, I’d like some thrilling battles and the like, but I also don't want a divine realm to feel like the lair of just some mortal archmage; the main idea I keep returning to is that perhaps this final location only exists as or within the dreams of the sleeping god i.e. the final dungeon is a divine dreamscape.

I would love to hear any suggestions as I design this area. Right now I just have this vague idea, nothing more.

Has anyone ever run an adventure in a dreamscape? Are there any published adventures for any world or even any system set in dreamscapes or minds of gods, which might have material I could repurpose or steal?
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Cebrion
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 10, 2019 10:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Interesting idea. A sleeping god in the Plane of Shadow allows for a divine realm full of anything. You can have dreams or nightmares manifest; perhaps even at the same time. A god's "mind" is beyond mortal comprehension, and so capable of thing beyond mortal reckoning (i.e. you can do whatever you want to, and it doesn't have to make any overall sense -red herrings can abound). This god's nightmare is The Fall no doubt, which shaped everything about him. To that end, proto-drow/Lolth nightmares could be manifest in the realm. A good juxtapostion would be the Dream (pre-Fall) versus the Nightmare (The Fall as it is happening).

One idea that comes to mind is having the PC's ultimately come to a grand temple where "shadow" elves live. This really is the place the PCs seek- they just don’t know it. The shadow elves have a timeless quality about them, and (unknown to the PCs) even include some elves from before The Fall. While it may be assumed they serve Tarsellis (they are supposedly in His temple after all), the truth could be that they are really servants of many Seldarine gods, but are simply subject to the will of Tarsellis due to being in his realm/having been in his realm for so long. Their only means of influencing anything is through their own actions in Taresllis' dreams/nightmares. Due to them belonging to various factions, some of them may very well be servants of Megwandir/Lolth, yet may not realize it during The Dream, which is reminiscent of the time before The Fall. All of them seem friendly enough when first met, but it depends on what is in ascendancy at the time as it regards Tarsellis- The Dream or The Nightmare.

When The Dream is in ascendancy, everyone is friendly enough, even the elves of Megwandir/Lolth's faction (who identify themselves as visitors to Tarsellis' realm, not followers of Megwandir/Lolth, and they look like regular elves in The Dream, not drow), and the PCs will very likely be asking anyone they encounter for help in completing their task. Those evil elves who would not normally want to help the PCs in their task may be confused when asked certain questions, offering the excuse that things are fluid/obscured in the Realm of Shadow, the realm of Tarsellis being no exception, and that this affects them in subtle ways too; especially when the god is sleeping. Sometimes they have clarity; sometimes not. That is their excuse anyways. Some may even have originally been servants of Ehlenestra, but who became corrupted by Megwandir/Lolth.

You might have a high priestess of Ehlenestra be a main person the PC's interact with, and she is that during The Dream. She has a kind/innocent underling who serves as guide to the PCs during their stay, and he is a servant of Tarsellis. He is very helpful, insofar as he can be, and is apologetic regarding any confusion/lapses of the High Priestess (or himself), once again blaming the Shadow Realm. And things seem to be more awry when Tarsellis is “away.” Also, there have been many new visitors to Tarsellis' realm recently ("recently" being a figurative thing), and things are busy. But he will try to help them in their task. It would seem that the PCs are aggravatingly at a waypoint from which they are seeking to find their way to their final goal, but they are really at the final goal. Somewhere in the grand temple is the sleeping god. The problem is, he can’t be found during The Dream. And why would he need to be? Everything is just fine during The Dream! Happy

And then The Nightmare begins to manifest. As it does, things begin to take on an ominous tone. NPCs who are actually eveil followers of Lolth might answer questions in a condescending manner, or snap at the PCs when asked things. They apologize, but it seems off. People begin to bicker, and then there are fights. Shortly thereafter, people begin to die. At first it might appear to be due to freak accidents, but it devolves into more obvious murders soon enough. Then the murders become more than just simple killings, but tableues of disturbing violence. And so the deaths get darker, as evidence of even darker evils lurking begin to show up. And then there are the denizens of the grand temple itself. The guide becomes increasingly worried and sorrowful, while the High Priestess becomes more frustrated and less patient, even going so far as to snap at the PCs. The PCs’ guide apologizes on her behalf, of course, but the tension is rising. Ultimately, The Nightmare fully manifests, and it is then that the PCs see ancient shadow elves transform into drow or driders; the high priestess of Ehlensestra literally transforming into a high priestess of Lolth. You might have the PCs be in a chapel when that happens, where they see the sanctified high altar of Ehlenestra transform into an altar of blood sacrifice, and her large statue transform into a spider-bodied idol of Lolth. Whole areas of the grand temple take on a dark appearance mirroring those who reside therein. LO! And the dark elves, and the driders, and the demons, and the yochlol, and other horrors of the Abyss did rampage through the hallowed halls! The Fall literally manifests and is reenacted all over the grand trample, the various seeming Seldarine loyal shadow elves battling away with their evil counterparts, as the entire place erupts in chaos. It is at this time that the PCs’ guide comes into his "full" clarity, and tells the PCs that they must wake the sleeping god. It is their only hope, as all of the “new’ visitors to the grand temple are showing themselves to be agents of Lolth who seek to bring about Lolth’s manifestation on the plane so she can kill Tarsellis once and for all while He is sleeping and weak. The guide can tell them generally where they need to go to find the sleeping god, but things are not always the same here, so he can’t be utterly specific. In fact, as things get really bad, the guide gets increasingly groggy, eventually falling asleep on his feet. As this happens, he whispers/mumbles, “You *must* wake Me…” as he fades away into darkening shadow and is gone. Yep, the guide has been a manifestation of Tarsellis' memory/subconscious/whatever the whole time.

Time for the PC’s/saviors to do their thing.

Hope that makes sense, and that I didn't ramble too much. Happy

I think this offers some great opportunities for interesting manifestations. You can have manifestations of the various Seldarine themselves battling away in different areas of the the grand temple, each location representing some mythic portion of The Fall. You may wish to merely describe some of the more unrelated scenes (i.e. the PC's witness it from a distance: "You come to a gallery that looks out upon a seeming endless plane. Vast armies face off beneath dark clouds. A shining Correlon Larethian plies blade and spell against the fallen Seldarine in the titanic conflict."), and so keep the focus more on the Tarsellis-Ehlenestra-Megwandir/Lolth angle, as suits this adventure. And there is plenty of opportunity to introduce all sorts of dark fairy tale features related to any and all of the Seldarine while the PCs are in the realm of Tarsellis, and even within the grand temple.
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Last edited by Cebrion on Wed Nov 20, 2019 11:14 pm; edited 1 time in total
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edmundscott
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 11, 2019 8:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I love this suggestion, Cerebrion! There is a <lot> to work with here.

Earlier in the campaign, the two divine characters worshipping Ehlonna received a series of cryptic visions from their goddess, including prelapsarian scenes of Tarsellis among the Seldarine & with Ehlonna etc. so using something like this as the conclusion of the campaign is appropriate on many levels.

Thinking about your idea on the most basic level it's a haunted house adventure. There is a location--the temple--that seems sort of normal (The Dream) as the PCs journey through it; but then they need to adventure in the exact same area again when Dream becomes Nightmare.

That means I need to take a lot of care in figuring out exactly what this location is. It makes sense that Tarsellis' dreamscape would be a temple to himself--but now I'm wondering what exactly such a temple would look like.

The snow elves, his worshippers, are described as pretty low-tech in the Dragon magazine article--no ability to forge metal, wearing skins, using spears, no clerics, only druids. Of course, it has to be a mountain temple and the snow elves live around that area in the Crystalmists with the huge glacier that melts into the Davish River.

Unfortunately, that seems to suggest a holy site closer to Stonehenge (except placed in mountainous terrain) than St. Peter's Basilica. The real advantage of the latter is that there would be an interesting map and numerous rooms to explore/encounter dreams & nightmares in, as opposed to a single holy place outdoors.

I wonder if there's some kind of mountain Temple to Tarsellis which would 1) feel primitive 2) feel elven and 3) have numerous rooms or discrete areas to encourage exploration. I'd love to hear some suggestions on this, and if anyone has any particular maps to recommend, that would be great too.
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Cebrion
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 12, 2019 2:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hmmm. Primitive. Thinking cap on.

Yes, you have the general idea down. Mostly. The location is one place, two versions, though it is not necessary that the PCs physically leave one version and later return to it changed into the other. It can change with them right in the midst of it. Various areas can subtly shift from The Dream to The Nightmare, but not even all the way. Early on there can be just the barest hints that the "reality" of the place is fluid, and anything that seems out of whack can be written off as a manifestation of shadow magic or the dreams/nightmares of the close by sleeping god. I think it would be creepier and have a greater effect if the PCs were in the midst of the place when it changes, rather than have them experience it one way, leave, and return with it changed to be the other way.

The grand temple location works well for this scenario because it is easily compartmentalized. For a more primitive location, you might have a large hill with wood and stone structures built into its sides and on top, and with subterranean areas running through it. That would serve the same purpose, while featuring a more primitive setting and coinciding nicely with a fairy theme - the old Celtic "People under the Hill" thing, and what not.
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edmundscott
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 12, 2019 8:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yeah, that got me thinking that the kind of area I really need is closer to a Faerie Mound sort of setting--where the elves live under the hill.

What kind of dungeon would elves build, I wonder? Somebody must've put out a Faerie Mound kind of adventure somewhere that I could steal stuff from. I wonder if there's anything in old Dungeon magazines.
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Raymond
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 13, 2019 4:48 pm    Post subject: MERP Reply with quote

"Halls of the Elven-king"

I've not used it.
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edmundscott
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 13, 2019 7:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That's a MERP supplement, right? From the 80's. I'd forgotten all about that--the imagery might be especially good for the dream portion. And a lot of the nightmare stuff can be derived from Drow of the Underdark or Vault of the Drowse. Thanks for mentioning that.
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 14, 2019 10:41 am    Post subject: :) Reply with quote

I hope it helps!
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edmundscott
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 14, 2019 4:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Last question: I wonder if anyone has suggestions for monsters or unusual outsiders/servants of Tarsellis that I might include in his lair/dreamscape/nightmare.

I've already done a ton of research into various versions of the Wild Hunt, and I've lots of Lolth stuff from numerous prior campaigns.

But I'm wondering if there are any monsters associated mountains, river, or winter that might be appropriate for a CN elven god?
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JasonZavoda
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 15, 2019 5:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

You might also want to check out how call of cthulhu handles dream adventures. Just saw a copy of Dreamlands up for sale and it made me think of it.
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Raymond
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 15, 2019 2:27 pm    Post subject: Aerth Reply with quote

It just occurred to me that you might want to see if the Dangerous Journeys' Epic of Aerth's Phaeree is what you'd want to use for your dreamscape.

http://www.icculus.org/~msphil/mythus/bestiary/ph-essay.html

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-XYFbWEW_lxo/Ui2jDM2dk4I/AAAAAAAAeuM/9RRtH0Lux4M/s1600/IMG_7711.jpg
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 15, 2019 4:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Of course, you can get ideas of what an underground elven palace looks like from The Hobbit (book and movie).

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CruelSummerLord
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 17, 2019 9:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

If you don't mind using Dragonlance sources, then the 1E adventure 'Dragons Of Dreams' and the 3E update 'Dragons of Spring' describe the Silvanesti Nightmare. The adventure centers around the nightmare of an elven king instead of an elven god, but a lot of it would still be adaptable.

The forests and towns of Silvanesti are horribly warped by the nightmare's magic. Trees are twisted with rot and weep blood, houses are warped and buckled into the screaming faces of their owners, a sickly green mist blocks out the sky, undead elven horrors kill anything in sight, fairy-folk are driven insane and commit unspeakable acts, strange, unsettling music plays at random, and horrific scenes occur such as the elven king being forced to execute his daughter.

Even the players themselves may be split between real people and illusions, with only you as DM knowing which are real and which are illusions. Illusionary players can suffer horrible deaths, only for the character to mysteriously reappear later!

The adventure starts in the Silvanesti forests as the players make their way to the elven capital, then in the elven capital itself, and then finally in the tower of the elven king as the players reach the heart of the nightmare. They have to end the nightmare by driving off the green dragon that's taken control of it and wake up the elven king by using a method that would have been hinted at earlier in the adventure.

In your campaign, Tarsellis's dreamscape might have been turned into a nightmare by demons sent by Lolth, or by some other entity that wouldn't benefit from Tarsellis getting his Heart back. Your players might witness the early betrayal themselves through Tarsellis's memories, and how his guilt and shame take over. You could drop hints about how the Heart could be replaced in Tarsellis that the players would have to interpret to succeed in their mission.

The monsters your players fight could include demons, fairy-folk twisted to evil by any evil presence twisting Tarsellis' dream, or even entirely new creatures that you create based on fairy-tales. You could pit them against Kalidahs, Jabberwockys or seven-headed Mouse Kings, for instance!
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 17, 2019 10:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Alternatively, have you played the video game Final Fantasy VII?

In it, the hero Cloud suffers a mental breakdown when his memories are shown to be false and the villain twists his perceptions to shatter his mind. Cloud's friend Tifa later enters Cloud's mind, finds his true memories and uses them to help Cloud realize the truth about himself.

Your players' visit to Tarsellis's dreamscape could involve their witnessing Tarsellin's memories of the original betrayal, and how he blamed himself for letting it happen. Maybe returning the Heart could involve somehow showing Tarsellis that Lolth's betrayal wasn't his fault. Returning Tarsellis's heart could require getting him to forgive himself for being deceived. If you want to go for a more roleplaying angle, your players might need to figure out how to show Tarsellis an alternate point of view, whether by using illusion magic or finding other buried memories to get him to stop blaming himself. Megwandir made her own decisions, and Tarsellis is no more 'guilty' of her crimes than Corellon Larethian, Sehanine Moonbow, Rillifane Rallathil or any other member of the Seldarine.

If he's forgotten that, maybe your players will be the ones to remind him of it.
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 18, 2019 2:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I haven't actually read it myself, but the Ravenloft supplement The Nightmare lands, might have some useful stuff in it as that is all about dreams &, err, nightmares.
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edmundscott
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 18, 2019 7:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks, everybody, for all of the suggestions. I've gotten a hold of the Cthulhu Dreamlands stuff and am still processing it—lots of good ideas there if nothing else.

The Aerth Phaeree stuff was quite interesting; it's probably on too macro a scale for me to use, but I don't remember ever seeing that map before (Was that in the Epic of Aerth gazetteer?) (Also, out of curiosity, who owns the Aerth stuff nowadays? WotC? Somebody should really rework that world with maybe a simpler game system.)

I'm definitely going to use the wood elf stuff from the Hobbit as mapped out in the MERF supplement mentioned above.

The 1e version of Dragon of Dreams is just sitting, unread and unused, in my storage closet so I'll dig it out and see what there is to mine there. The idea of getting some of the players to play dream versions of themselves is too good to pass up, so I'll definitely incorporate that. Does anyone know if there's anything better/additional in the 3e version that I should definitely track it down? Or if I have the 1e version, is that good enough?

I don't know Final Fantasy 7, though I bet my gamer girlfriend does . . .

Nightmare Lands is another old supplement that I think I own but never read or used. I'll dig that out when I go to find Dragons of Dreams.

I'm still curious if anyone has any ideas for elven-themed monsters associated with mountains & winter/snow. It seems like all of the elven stuff is forest-based. I could, of course, do stuff like white dragon or yeti, but that's kind of cold clime generic. I wonder if there's any monsters that Tarsellis might deem holy, for instance. Are there any monsters peculiar to the Crystalmists where his people, the snow elves, live?
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 18, 2019 8:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

In terms of setting, mountainscapes with lots of water - glacial-fed lakes, waterfalls, alpine meadows with flowers, deep, mossy crevasses.

The rooms themselves are carved from the living rock of mountains, but are not "caves" - rather they are have windows, vistas, aeries, missing walls that are open to air, missing walls that give great views.

I wouldn't try to make a map, but rather have it be more cinematic - a series of connected "scenes". I love Cebrion's idea of the Dream and Nightmare, so different versions of each scene, dream / nightmare / inbetween with elements of each.

Some ideas: I watched my daughter play through the entire videogame of Fran Bow (has your gamergirl played that)? The opening stage is a child's experience of a mental hospital, and there are different versions of each scene when she is on or off her medication.

With respect to "The Fall", I am not a Muslim, but I have heard it said that in some versions of the Muslim faith, the Fall of Satan was when he refused to serve men as G-d ordered him to, because he loved G-d too much to serve anyone but Him. And so the Fall and the experience of Hell is the eternal experience of Satan when he was rejected by his beloved G-d and thrown out of Heaven. I think there should be a lot of repeated imagery of that rejection and betrayal and guilt and self-loathing.

In terms of what CSL said about recovering memories, I could see the PC's having to travel to disparate aspects of Tarsellis' personality (his pride, his fear, his doubt, etc.), overcome the damage to them done by the Fall, and recover the Memory or Insight they have (either as a lieral memory or a symbolic object) and integrate all of these things into a functioning personality to awake the god. They would also have to recover memories / motivations from various aspects of Megwendir - some of whom would be dream-projections of Tarsellis and some actually bits of the true Megwendir / Lloth) to help him recover from the Fall.

In terms of published adventures in dreamscapes, the two that come immediately to mind are Isle of the Ape, where the players have the chance to enter Zagig's mind and move between thought bubbles, and one of the adventures in Tales of the Outer Planes, Sea of Screams, in which the PC's experience the plane of Kali where she is asleep while undergoing a ritual - the plane transforms as she awakes.
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 19, 2019 9:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

edmundscott wrote:


The 1e version of Dragon of Dreams is just sitting, unread and unused, in my storage closet so I'll dig it out and see what there is to mine there. The idea of getting some of the players to play dream versions of themselves is too good to pass up, so I'll definitely incorporate that. Does anyone know if there's anything better/additional in the 3e version that I should definitely track it down? Or if I have the 1e version, is that good enough?


Actually, the designers who adapted the module to 3E cut a fair amount of material from the 1E version, probably for space reasons. As just one example, part of the journey through the king's tower involves playing the same general encounter multiple times with different groups that are mixes of 'real' and 'illusionary' characters, with small variations between each time. Illusionary characters from the earlier modules (the players used Tanis's party rather than Laurana's) could also appear to help the main party, but they don't in the 3E version.

I don't know what edition you play, but if you're playing 3E or later you'd probably want to get the 3E version if you decide to mess with the players' statistics the further they get into the dream. In 1E, it was more straightfoward-any failures at thief skills were treated as successes and vice versa, wizards used the attacks and saving throws of fighters and vice versa. The 3E version made it optional and described how to make it work with the D20 system.
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edmundscott
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 21, 2019 8:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Kirt—

All of your ideas are really good.

The Fall of Satan thing you're referring to I first heard about via Joseph Campbell, and I believe was connected to the Sufi poetic tradition in the Middle Ages. An extremely similar myth is held by the modern day Yazidis (recently terrorized by Isis). What's great about that suggestion is that's a story I've been kicking around for, like, literally decades, waiting to do something interesting with and this might just be the time. Thank you!

Thanks also for the mention of Tales of the Outer Planes, which I own and had forgotten all about. It's on my list.

CruelSummerLord, I play a heavily hacked version of Pathfinder, with a wheelbarrow of houserules to keep the feel closer to AD&D 1e so in some ways the 3e version would probably be easier to use. But it sounds like the ideas you mentioned that seemed most interesting were only in the AD&D version, which I already own, so I'll just draw from that. Thanks for the comparison!

Everyone, there's been so many good ideas in this thread. I really appreciate it (& I hope my players will eventually too).
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