[Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8]
In my time as a Dungeon Master, I've created a lot of circular rooms. Big ones, small ones, some as big as your head--assuming your size category is Gargantuan or larger. It is increasingly difficult to come up with new ideas for them, in part because I have a strong drive to make my circular rooms symmetrical, and to fill them will pillars.
Anyone who's ever played in any of my campaigns will tell you there must be pillars.
So, there would be a circle of pillars on the ground floor of the tower. And if the elevator wasn't lined up to emerge in the center of the room, I'd just put the stairs up to the next level in a symmetrical location. Add the huge (locked) doors to the outside world, and we'd be all set. All set with absolutely nothing. Either I needed some creativity, fast, or I needed a good explanation for why this room was so barren.
I thought for a little bit. What if this tower was a training facility? The evil wizard I wanted to have as the "final boss" could run the place, and perhaps his students could have wizard duels here on the ground level, hiding behind pillars and Wingardium Leviosaing people when they least expected it. Wrong fantasy world, sure, but I could see this tower as a sort of modest Hogwarts for the bad guys. The jail in the basement could be where they kept monsters and prisoners to be dragged out for training exercises, too--now things were starting to come together.
However, with the underground storage area still somewhat under construction, and heroes who would be ill-prepared to take on a horde of trainee spellcasters at this point in the quest (unless the spellcasters were spectacularly terrible, in which case it might be funny to watch the enemies blow themselves up), it made sense for this quest to take place either between semesters (if this was a sort of wizard university) or before the tower's grand opening, when people roaming around would be at a minimum.
Still...the room felt a little empty. Perhaps a statue of the villain they'd eventually fight might be a nice touch. Wizards like feeling self-important, and what better first impression of a school than to see the headmaster's huge crystal statue directly through the front doors.
Yes, the statue should be made of crystal. A sort of translucent orange-gold crystal. The wizard would be standing proudly with his arm outstretched toward progress, the future, world domination, whatever, like that Zefram Cochrane statue from Star Trek. For flavor, sculpted onto the statue's arm would be the jailbreak cat from the beginning of the quest, blocking the wizard's view of whatever he was pointing at, and staring back at him. I had decided the cat would follow the adventurers throughout the tower, coming and going as he pleased, but it wasn't until creating the statue that I changed my mind from having this be the wizard's cat to having this actually be the wizard himself. The wizard could keep tabs on the party's progress, potentially mess with them or even rescue them if desired, and help prevent the tower from ever seeming too empty.
I laid out the pieces I had introduced and began looking for a connection. Heroes imprisoned with all their gear still in hand. Wizard Cat follows them around. Tower is designed to hold students, but no students are here. Portions of the tower are still empty or incomplete.
The wizard was testing his own facility before opening it to the public.
The heroes were guinea pigs. But maybe they weren't the first ones, or the only ones--what if they were the last guinea pigs? Maybe the wizard had an agenda, was under pressure, was in a rush to make sure the heroes had a shot at testing everything in the tower.
I started considering all the possibilities of absurd deathtraps that would make perfect sense as training exercises for the students. Hm...the party would be no match for a wizard powerful enough to create everything I had in mind--he'd have to have outside support. Who would finance such a tower?
Wait...the gnomes could finance such a tower. Before the tower quest started to materialize, I had thought about kicking off the adventures in this world with a quest launched from a gnomish kingdom, which in my head was in the same region as where this quest would take place. The gnomes gave the wizard near-unlimited funding to create whatever kind of training facility he wanted. But, again...why? Why would the gnomes be so generous?
Maybe they weren't generous. Maybe they had a vested interest in the success of the tower.
Maybe the crown prince of the gnomes was about to become a student.
Yes...this would do nicely. And this would help to make the bad guy a bad guy without necessarily making him evil. The wizard I had in mind was named Ziggy Frood (a little Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy influence there), who would be a laid-back dude who, for all intents and purposes, would appear in a puff of smoke from the '60s or '70s, if you take my meaning. Not really a bad guy, but all ideas and none of the responsibility necessary to manage his funding wisely. I wanted him to be slightly sympathetic, or perhaps just slightly pathetic--killing the heroes wouldn't be his goal, but the circumstances would put him into a situation where he would inadvertently become the villain.
That's where the heroes would come in: they had been hired to test out the strengths and shortcomings of the facility, from the security of its jail to the training rooms up on the third floor. They would be intruders to test the readiness of the staff. They would have their memories wiped so their testing would be completely unbiased by what they already knew about the tower. They would be promised a gnomish resurrection spell if they were to perish along the way. The safest, most authentic testing method Ziggy Frood could think of, and harmlessly deadly diversion, to boot.
But...what if the gnomes got tired of resurrecting the beta testers? Those spells are costly, you know. What if they demanded results from Ziggy Frood, issuing an ultimatum that funding was being cut off and the facility was to be ready by the time the inspectors--or the prince himself--or the prince's father himself--arrived within the next few days?
Better yet...what if he hadn't received the ultimatum yet?
At last, there was a plot.
[To be continued in Part 4.]