[Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8]
The original plan was for the party to fight or puzzle their way through one last floor before arriving at the roof of the tower, for a showdown against Ziggy Frood, A.K.A. Final Boss Wizard Man. There's something majestic about rooftop battles with the right surroundings--in this case, an open expanse of snowy wilderness--and it seemed fitting for the final confrontation to take place at the very last place the party could explore of the tower.
The original plan also counted on me being at all original.
It was the last floor before the roof that was giving me trouble. I had a few ideas--a maze, random deathtraps, a maze, some sort of big puzzle, a maze--but nothing was solidifying that was particularly appealing or made sense. Thinking back once again to Dungeonscape, I kept asking myself, "why would this be here?" Running out of time, I figured I'd rationalize it later, and began filling in the map with the best idea I had to work with: gears, cogs, and sprockets. Inspired by Princess Tutu.
Yeah, you read that right.
My wife had been watching this anime series at the time about a girl who's a duck who's a girl (or something like that), and though I'd only caught glimpses of it here and there, an image of turning gears stood out in my memory. An image totally unrelated to ducks and tutus (as far as I could tell), but still it was there in the series. I thought, "Hey, having the adventurers jump and climb around on gears might be a fun way to put their skill checks to use while simultaneously offering a memorable location and introducing interesting environmental hazards for combat situations." Also, I've played too much Castlevania--all those clock tower levels were bound to influence my creativity at some point. I went about sketching a detailed system of gears and walkways that I ended up erasing entirely a few minutes later.
The prison in the basement; the fancy statue on the ground floor; the big mess hall and dormitory rooms...random gears just weren't matching up with the direction of this tower, no matter how much I liked them. I thought about converting the tower into a lighthouse, or a giant clock, or anything that could conceivably have a reason for a whole room full of machinery, but nothing fit. So I erased it all.
But I still liked the idea that pulling a switch would cause a spiral staircase to raise from the big gear in the middle of the room, leading to the top floor of the tower, so I kept that in place. I now had a large empty room with a random gear laying flat in the middle.
Well, maybe it should be a platform instead of a gear. Change the teeth into short staircases consisting of a few steps up onto the platform. And instead of pulling a switch to get the spiral staircase to unfold from the platform, there could be a riddle inscribed on the platform. Speak the right word, and the staircase emerges.
Now, what to do about populating the rest of the room...
With the platform as the major centerpiece of the circular room, and having already used up the "ring of pillars" idea on the ground floor, it made sense to line the wall with smaller rooms, with the door to each room facing inward toward the big platform. If I was making this into a battle academy, there'd need to be some training rooms, right?
Enter the deathtraps.
This is where it all came together: If you're going to prepare someone for combat in a Dungeons & Dragons world, you need to thrust them into all sorts of strange locations, fighting all manner of bizarre creatures. Each room could have its own unique flavor--a slippery ice room; an arboretum full of dangerous plants; even a room full of gears! And I could install a magical teleportation platform in the center of each room that could pull any creature from the basement prison cells instantly into combat with the trainee. The gnomes, with their generous funding, could certainly have made such things possible. Yes, this would do quite nicely.
Forget the roof; this was the place for a final showdown. The adventurers could explore the rooms to their hearts' content, visit the roof whenever they solved the riddle, and then chase the (accidentally bad) bad guy down into the training chambers to win their freedom. He'd teleport from room to room, and the heroes could possibly use the training chambers to their advantage with enough clever planning and coordination. There was even an opportunity to layer another puzzle on top here: I could write up clues pointing to a set pattern that the final boss would use to teleport from one room to the next, and I could scatter these clues throughout the tower--also adding a little bit more for the adventurers to see and do in the rooms that weren't so exciting.
I wrote the clues as a sort of infinite poem, looping back on itself just as the wizard would be able to keep teleporting around the training chambers in order indefinitely. Each line of the poem would be written on a different scrap of paper that the adventurers could find; even if they only found a few, they could still piece together what they had to get a better idea of where the wizard would be found next once the battle commenced. Strictly optional, but worth some XP and certainly helpful if they could find everything.
I also went back and filled in the last empty part of the map, which was the center of the second floor; Ziggy Frood needed someplace to sleep, so I gave him a secret bedchamber accessible through a trick fireplace in the mess hall, as well as via the elevator from the basement (which would reach the door to his bedroom if the adventurers tried pressing the "UP" button one more time instead of getting off at the ground floor). I'd hide another scrap of clue paper in there, along with a homemade Knockback Ring that magically bull rushes the target backwards about 5 ft., which would be helpful if the heroes wanted to try knocking Ziggy backwards into a pool of acid or a fire pit in one of the training rooms. Again, not a necessity, but another option in case the party sought alternatives to brute strength damage output.
I checked things over once more. I had a plot. I had a map that made sense within the context of the plot. I had sufficiently diverse challenges, and sufficiently diverse ways to approach those challenges. I even had a place for the adventurers to spend their hard-earned loot. Yes, this would do quite nicely.
Break out the dice and character sheets, folks. It's time to play.
[To be continued in Part 6. ]