I designed a mini-game to run solo (no-DM) adventures in a harsh environment while writing down a journal. My plan is to drop the journal in my D&D campaign so that my players can find it. The mini-game makes writing the journal more fun and detailed.
For my first run I created a 4th-level gnome illusionist called Mag Istmonious. Mag has a moth familiar called Edgar. He entered the Shadowfell[archived] by accident, and starts writing a journal about it:
I find myself in a strange land.
I woke up this morning, after camping by the road to Itapass. A heavy fog had risen in the middle of the night, one that the morning sun was unable to lift, and that prevented me from seeing more than half a kobold’s tail ahead of me. After waiting long enough and eating a halfling’s share of breakfast, I decided to take the road and continue my trip through the fog.
After 3 hours walking, the fog started to lift up, although the skies were still cloudy. As the fog withdrew it revealed a sinuous river cutting through a sharp ravine. From where I stood large slabs of stone formed stepping stones down towards a small island in the river, where a shrine stood.
As I stepped down, attracted to the mysterious shrine, I noticed markings on each of the slab stones. Names, dates. They were tombstones. Hundreds, arranged neatly, like a death procession.
I reached the water, unsure how to cross to the island. The waters seemed calm, too calm. I looked towards the island, and noticed that what little vegetation it had was blackened and withered. There was no life. No bugs, no small insects. No sound.
I hid behind a rock, and waited, looking at the shrine. Slowly, a dark, thick, cloud made of smoke rose from behind the main altar, whirling around it like a snake. As it grew, I saw a humanoid figure, with faint cold lights for eyes and sharp claws for hands. It floated over the waters, crossing the river towards my direction.
As I hid, holding my breath, a rock rolled down from the top of the ravine, tumbling until it splashed in the dark waters. The creature went to investigate, as I held still. After uncountable minutes I had the courage to look. It was gone.
I decided to cross the river. The water was dark and murky, but not deep. Reaching the small shrine, I saw the main altar from where the creature had come. Atop the altar stood a weapon, a ceremonial dagger, twisted and wicked. I quickly reached for the dagger, grabbing it and hiding it under my cloak.
I turned back to leave, but before I could take a step I saw movement above the ravine. I quickly hid behind the altar, and peeking I could see 3 figures. A dark elf, a drow, wielding a black long sword scouted the ravine. The elf held leashes that went from his hand to the necks of two ugly looking creatures, skin as thick as rock, eyeless. The creatures’ ears moved swiftly like a cat’s, probing their surroundings.
One more time I held myself still, slowly breathing. I waited until I hadn’t heard a sound, anything, for 1 hour. Slowly I stretched my aching legs and stood up. I peeked and saw nothing.
I left, quietly but quickly. I found a place under a tree root where I could fit, wrapped in my cloak.
I didn’t dare light a fire tonight.
I’m not sure I’ll be able to sleep.
Last night I couldn’t sleep. Nightmares, terrible nightmares, kept me awake all night. Were the sounds that woke me up every few minutes real or coming from my dreams? Was there really a creature hunting for me, sniffing through the night? Was the tree root actually closing on me, constricting me with a slow embrace, tighter and tighter? I don’t know.
I decided to walk. I had to find my way back home.
A light drizzle fell all day, soaking my cloak and making progress slow. I walked down a beaten trail for most of the day, exhausted from the restless night, unsure footsteps sliding in the mud. It’s hard to tell the time in this place, but some time in the afternoon I found myself in an orchard by the side of the trail.
The trees were all dead, leafless and charred, but they bore strange black fruits. I cautiously peaked over the rotten wooden fence, and saw that some fruits had fallen from a nearby tree, and were leaking a foul smelling acidic pus.
Thinking that these fruits could come in handy as an improvised weapon, I foolishly decided to grab a fresh one hanging from a tall branch over the path. I tested the strength of the fence, and decided it would hold the weight of an unwise gnome. I climbed up, and reached for the closest fruit.
As I reached out to the fruit, the branch seemed to recede away from my hand. Suddenly Edgar was flapping his wings in my face — while I had my eyes up in the fruit another branch moved from below, curling around my ankle! Thanks to Edgar I was able to jump back before it could grip me… I took a few steps back and saw more branches moving towards me, so I grabbed my bag and ran away from the orchard.
I pushed onward on the trail for another good amount of hours, cautious of my surroundings. At some point I passed an old cemetery, and from the distance I saw movement. From Edgar’s eyes I could see 10 or so animated skeletons wandering around the tombstones, and from its antenna I could smell the stench of death.
What is this place?
Another couple hours later I stopped for the night. I found a large hollow tree stump, covered in almost comfortable moss. No fires. I hope I can sleep tonight.
I was able to get some sleep, but I still feel exhausted. No nightmares, which is better than the previous nights. Also, the rain stopped, which is nice, but the sky was still cloudy the whole day.
Spent most of the day walking, trying to get somewhere that didn’t look or smell like death. To my luck the trail ended in a place that both smelled and looked like death: a bubbling muck swamp. I was about to trace my steps back when I saw a hamlet some 100 feet inside the swamp, standing on a raised area.
I sent Edgar to scout the place, and I saw two small huts, made of wattle and daub. Chalk runes covered the outside of both huts, written in an unknown runic language. Since there was no movement I sent Edgar inside, and saw they were both abandoned, also covered in runes on the inside.
I slowly approached them, and entered the one that seemed to have the better roofing. It would do for the night.
At some point Edgar alerted me of movement outside. Peeking through a hole in the wall I saw two creatures crossing the swamp floating mid-air. Each one was a bulbous floating brain with a wide, sharp beak. They had long tentacles lined with sharp barbs, with which they scouted the terrain, I could only guess looking for food.
Luckily for me they ignored the huts.
As I was preparing to try to get some sleep, I saw a dim light outside from under the hut’s door. Before I could do anything a shimmering apparition entered the hut, emerging from the door as if it were incorporeal, hovering a foot above the ground. The creature was the most horrifying visage I’ve ever seen, with its twisted face and angular limbs… it took me all my wits to get up, instead of cowering under my cloak.
It reached to touch me with its hand, and I could feel an unnatural cold emanating from it. I quickly stood up, and was able to hit it with one of my orbs, though it didn’t seem to make much of a dent. It came at me again, missing, giving me enough time to cast mage armor on myself.
It was the right call, as I could feel the mage armor holding back its next swing. I conjured my shadow blade and struck the creature swiftly. The sword cut through as if it was made of gelatin, but the creature felt the pain. I could see a glimpse of surprise in its distorted face. The good things of being small, you tend to be underestimated!
My hit was enough to make it back away from the hut. I waited, sword in hand, but there was just silence. I decided it would be best to leave the hut, so I turned invisible and stepped outside. I walked back to the trail.
As I was walking on the trail, I saw a shadow move past me! As I swung at it with my sword a hand made of darkness rose from the ground and tried to grasp me. I was able to dodge the hand and cut through it with my shadow blade. I could feel the blade hurting it, and the shadow retreated to hide behind a nearby rock.
As the shadow retreated another one took a stab at me from behind, barely missing. I attacked with my blade, also missing. After dodging its next attack I was able to finally hit, sending it off to hide again.
Noticing more shadows moving around me, I decided to take no risk and exhausted my spells. I turned invisible and misty stepped away from the trail to the top of a large oak tree. I waited, invisible, for 1 hour, and eventually fell into a light sleep there.
I decided to walk around the swamp, leaving the trail. At noon I found myself on a steep hill, with the swamp to the right and a maze of groaning canyons to the left. I entered one of the canyons looking for trails or signs of civilization. It was not a good decision, as the place was plagued by frequent earth tremors that would bring down rocks and debris.
Fuck this place.
I was still exhausted. Sleeping on trees is no easy task, I don’t know how elves do it.
While exploring the canyons I was surprised by the drow elf I had seen on my first day. As I turned a corner the bastard cast faerie fire on me, making me glow more than a chrysoberyl under the sun. What I thought was a rock next to me turned out to be one of the grimlocks that I had seen on a leash before. The brute hit me in the face with a spiked bone club, making me almost pass out from the blow. I tried to fade away, but the faerie fire prevented me from turning invisible.
I had barely recovered from the first blow when a second grimlock popped out from the shadows, hitting a blow straight to my chest that left me breathless and almost dead.
I misty stepped up into the canyon, and did a rope trick to climb into a pocket dimension. Pulled the rope in before they could understand what had happened. I checked myself: I was bleeding everywhere, couldn’t see from the right eye, and had at least a couple broken ribs. Wonderful.
Oh, and I was still glowing like a firefly on summer’s eve.
Fuck. This. Place.
After a minute, the glow disappeared. I saw them looking for me, still down the canyon. Eventually they left, but I have a feeling I will meet them again.
I waited until the pocket dimension was almost over, and at least took a short rest. Edgar scouted and saw no one, so I dropped off the rope, climbed down stealthy, and resumed walking.
I walked above the canyon until I was forced to climb down. Stealthy as possible I made my way to the bottom of the canyon. I decided to keep walking in the direction I was going before, trying to go around the swamp.
Close to what should be night time I heard a noise from above, and suddenly some kind of unnatural darkness was surrounding me. I was blind as a human miner! I cast my mage armor, waiting for the worst.
Something moist and mucky tried to engulf my whole head, but I was able to repeal it with a quick use of shield. Another attacker was more successful, though, covering my head and making breathing impossible. There was no point in fading away, since these creatures didn’t care about seeing what they were attacking.
I could hear more creatures moving around me. Misty step was useless because I couldn’t see. I did another rope trick, climbing the rope with the thing attached to my head until I could enter the pocket dimension, pulling the rope behind me. The creature crushed me tighter, but I was able to mumble a sleep spell that put it down. I threw the creature down from the pocket dimension and waited.
I could see the bubble of darkness in the floor, and 4 of these squid-like creatures moving around, plus the one that had attacked me and that had woken up from the fall to the ground. Eventually they moved to the canyon walls, where they were practically indistinguishable from rocks once they stood still.
I caught my breath and rested inside the pocket dimension for another hour. Though I can no longer see the creatures from the rocks, I know they’re still out there. I’m going to try to make a run for it.
I was able to misty step and run away from the squid monsters. They didn’t seem to come after me.
A few hours after I noticed more shadows moving. I decided to cast light on my dagger, hoping it wouldn’t travel far in the canyon and attract more predators. The light seemed to repel the shadows, 4 or 5 of them.
I found a small cave, and Edgar saw it safe. I decided to use it to get some rest. I was able to block it by rolling a boulder my size. Things seem quiet. I’m writing this in the dark. I’m out of spells. I’m badly hurt.
(journal ends here)
I woke up to noise outside, the boulder being rolled. I couldn’t see anything, even with my darkvision, but I could hear the flapping of wings from the squid creatures outside my alcove. In the dark I swung the dagger I had found, and it cut through solid meat. I heard a creature shriek and step back, leaving the cave.
Another tried to enter. I tried to stab it, but it was faster. It engulfed my head, and I stabbed at it in the dark. I missed it.
It crushed me to death.