Players participate in a magical “study” that involves using a pair or portal-making wands to navigate challenges. As they progress, the rooms involve more and more morally questionable tests (robberies, destruction, etc.), culminating in the players receiving a cake (that is actually a ferocious mimic) and facing off with the witch Gladys.
Here are some options for triggering this encounter in your campaign:
- The players respond to an ad for “test subjects” who “respect the wonders of scientific discovery…and the joys of trial and error” posted in a tavern/university/town square.
- The players are observed performing impressive feats of magic by Gladys, who approaches them with her opportunity to take part in a magical study.
- Gladys – A witch who doubles as an artificer, specializing in building and enchanting objects with her arcane magic. She offers the players a reward for participating in some “completely safe” exercises for the purposes of science.
Thinking with Portals
Gladys meets the party (or leads them herself) to a stone dungeon on the outskirts of town. Despite the ruinous look of the building, the metal doors appear sturdy and are inscribed with locking/unlocking runes.
“This most recent project of mine,” she says to the party, smiling eagerly with anticipation, “has been funded by some very powerful and influential figures. I’ve spared no expense in crafting and enchanting the tools you will use to complete these tests. Use them carefully and try your best not to scratch them, okay?”
With a flourish, she waves a hand in the air before her and manifests an ornate wooden box. She holds the box carefully, opening the lid and revealing a pair of wands: one with an orange crystal and one with a blue crystal.
If the players try to grab a wand prematurely, she will abruptly snap the box close until she has properly prepped them for handling the magical artifacts.
“These are Wands of Portal Creation.” She says, her eyes glittering. “They create Arcane Gates that allow for immediate teleportation between two points in one’s immediate space. Observe.”
Dual-wielding the wands, she shoots a ball of orange magic down at her feet. Then, she shoots a ball of blue magic over at the trunk of a nearby apple tree. With both portals open, she crouches down, reaching her arm elbow-deep into the orange portal. Her arm, as expected, disappears and reappears sticking out of the blue portal on the tree, where she easily plucks an apple off a branch and pulls it back through the portal.
“Get it?” She asks with a smile, gently tossing the apple to whatever player looks the hungriest.
A few mechanics-related details about the Wands of Portal Creation:
- Only one blue portal and one orange portal can exist at a time. Creating a new portal of a color eliminates any pre-existing portals of that same color.
- The portals are 10′ in diameter
- The portals can only link if there is 500′ or less between the two
- Portals can only be created on surfaces that the caster can see
- Portals cannot be created on creatures
- Concentration must be maintained; the arcane portals last for 10 minutes
DM Note: Although we like the idea of having a pair of wands that parties could strategically split between characters, you can certainly have it be a singular item that creates both orange and blue portals (more like the Portal gun source material).
After this demonstration, Gladys makes another dramatic flourish in the air. This time, a significantly less-exciting scroll appears alongside floating quills.
“A little paperwork,” she says, still smiling. “I can assure you that you will make it through these tests in one piece, but my benefactors insist that we dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Liability issues, you understand. Sometimes, when we are on the cusp of a breakthrough with new magic…accidents can happen.”
At this point, she rolls up one of her sleeves, revealing a blackened burn mark on her arm. She rubs it tenderly and says. “Earlier mishap. One of the prototypes didn’t quite work as intended. Don’t worry though. I’m relatively confident that we have worked out all the kinks this time, and these portal wands should continue to work exactly as intended.”
After signing the document (which could have fine print in primordial or some other obscure language), the players are given the wands and led into the dungeon. Gladys says she will be keeping eyes on them and communicate with them telepathically.
Put to the Test
As the players progress through each of the dungeon’s testing chamber, the doors behind them will seal with an unbreakable rune (only able to be dismissed by Gladys herself). Likewise, the rune sealing the door ahead of them is only released when the players have completed that room’s tests.
Each room involves constructs of Gladys’s design called Lab Techs. They are enchanted with arcane magic and serve as her assistants. In each room, they will be dressed a little differently and acting in pre-programmed ways.
Room 1 – The Pit
This room is simple in design. There is a wide pit, 10′ deep, with spikes at the bottom; falling will deal the appropriate level of fall damage as well as 1d6 piercing. Players must use the portal wands to transport themselves safely from one side of the room to the other. Once they do so, a single Tech standing by the door to the next room throws a handful of confetti and, in an unenthused monotonous voice, recites, “congratulations…”
Room 2 – The Heist
This room is when the applications for the portals begin to get suspicious. In this room, the players are, once again, faced with a wide pit that’s 10′ deep. However, instead of spikes, the bottom of this pit is decorated like a royal treasury. Painted wooden cutouts of piles of gold are leaned against the walls. There are also piles of gems (investigation checks reveal that these are just rocks painted in bright colors). Two Lab Techs, holding spears and wearing poorly-made breastplates, pace back and forth, guarding a treasure chest in the middle of the room.
“I really hope that no one tries to steal this treasure right from under our noses.” One says, without emotion, to the other.
“Don’t worry, partner,” the other responds, “we are the best guards in NATION NAME NOT FOUND. No one can pull a fast one on us.”
They continue to pace, back and forth, giving more obvious clues if the players don’t make a move to somehow use the portal wands to steal the treasure without notice.
If they do so poorly, such as shooting a portal beneath the chest and another one on the ceiling above them, the chest will fall through the portals and land with a crash against the ground, alerting the Lab Techs to the players’ position and triggering a battle.
Whenever battles with the Lab Techs are triggered, use the following stat block:
Once the players can open the treasure chest, and assuming that the constructs are either defeated or clueless of the players’ actions, the door ahead of them unlocks.
Room 3 – The Breach
This room is shaped differently than the others. Instead of a pit, the party is faced with a 15′-tall wooden-cut out of a stone castle wall. Three Lab Tech constructs stand on rickety platforms, peering down over the wooden barricade at the party.
Suddenly, the sounds of clashing steel swords and shouting soldiers fills the room (clearly an enchantment to make it seem like the party is on a real battlefield).
The robots begin to “yell” the following dialogue:
“You can’t even hope to get past our walls.” One says in the same monotone voice as before.
“Yeah, be gone, you barbarians,” says another, “there is nothing here for you.”
When the players teleport themselves to the other side of the wall (or if they just break through the flimsy wooden structure), the constructs will attack them.
DM Note: If the players do make it through a room without utilizing the wands, Gladys will speak telepathically to the player, growing increasingly frustrated if the party is not agreeing to the terms of the experiment.
Room 4 – The Monster
In this room, there is large steel cage in the center room. Inside the cage is a barghest. Upon seeing the players enter the room, the creature gnashes its teeth and snarls, biting at the cage bars.
The two Lab Techs standing on either side of the cage are completely unfazed by this behavior.
“Finally,” one says to the other, “We average villagers are safe, and this monster can’t hurt us anymore.”
“That’s right, brother,” the other says (which is wearing a wig of long golden braids. “I can now enjoy my childhood without living in fear.”
To proceed, the players need to use their portal wands to free the barghest which will, of course, turn and attack the party as well as take attacks against the Lab Techs. These constructs should break apart very easily and not try to resist (since they are posing as “ordinary townsfolk.”). While they are being attacked, they could say, “help. Help. Help. Help,” in alarm on repeat.
Have Your Cake and Beat It Too
Once in the final chamber, a delicious birthday-looking cake, complete with candles, will be sitting on a table in the center of the room.
This time, Gladys speaks telepathically to everyone, thanking them for their efforts in this experiment into the many useful applications of the portal wands.
Of course, if a player attempts to go and grab a slide of the cake, the deceptive dessert opens up a mouthful of sharp teeth and attempts to bite at that player (Dex saving throw to dodge).
The cake is, in fact, a mimic.
After the party destroys the cake, Gladys will apologize and say she must have left out the “wrong cake” for the players. Of course, the party is likely to call her out on trying to get rid of them, noting the suspicious activities that they had to participate in during the “research” chambers.
She admits that her benefactors have very big plans for these portal wands, and that she only had the party test out these new models to ensure they didn’t backfire and burn her again like last time. Now that the tests are completed, she can’t let them go out and share her project with the world.
Gladys appears and enters combat, possibly joined by 2 Lab Techs if you want to increase the challenge. She is a witch and will, therefore, use warlock-based abilities to try and eliminate the players.
To make this battle particularly interesting, add a workstation table/trash bin to the far side of the room. The bin should be labeled “Failed Portal Wands.” Players can snag one of the many colored wands out of the trash and attempt to use it on Gladys. When the wand is used, have that player roll a d6 to determine its effect. Once the spell has been cast, the wand goes “on the fritz”, sparking and losing all magical potency. The portal that was created remains open for 1 minute.
- d1 – The wand backfires, dealing 2d10 fire damage to the user
- d2 – The wand creates a portal that begins shooting a straight jet stream of water, creating difficult terrain to pass and pushing any creatures within the path of its stream.
- d3 – The wand creates a portal that is just a hole/pit, dipping 8 feet down into a pocket dimension filled with magical darkness.
- d4 – The wand creates a portal that opens a doorway into a startled kobold’s bathroom while he attempts to take a shower, reaching for his crossbow on his sink in an effort to defend himself.
- d5 – The wand creates a portal that immediately erupts with 15 feet of thrashing thorny vines, dealing an immediate 1d8 piercing damage and continuing to do that damage to anyone who begins a turn in its reach.
- d6 – The wand creates a portal where a dragon’s head pokes out, spewing fire breath in a 15′ cone, dealing 3d6 fire damage
Once Gladys (and any remaining lab techs in the room) are defeated, the runes sealing the doors behind them fade away, allowing them to leave.
This is a Triumph
Aside from being able to now keep the portal wands for themselves and use them strategically as the party sees fit, the party can also search the dungeon and find some gold (no doubt part of Gladys’s funding from her benefactors). As a DM, you could also allow the players to find a ledger, listing names of her benefactors, and use this as a means of leaping into the next encounter/step in your bigger campaign.
Additionally, the players will find a single cube with a heart on it. It appears to be another one of Gladys’s failed inventions. Once identified, the party learns that this is called the Comradery Cube.
So long as a player has the Comradery Cube on their person and is attuned to it, they can trigger the following effects:
- As a bonus action, allow Comradery Cube to launch at a target, dealing an additional 1d8 bludgeoning damage.
- Roll a free hit die during a short rest.
- At will, increase and decrease the weight of the cube (for use on pressure plates and related challenges) between 1-500 lbs.
Once everything they want to collect has been collected, the players can exit the dungeon testing site.