Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tesseract Arena

I thought I would start off the first post of this blog with a bang. Since 1983 I have gamed with dozens of different players using Dungeons & Dragons. Nearly three decades later I still gather one or two Saturday’s a month for a few hours to continue new campaigns in Ultanya which is my home brew. With everyone approaching their 40s, kids, jobs or just the curveballs of life it gets increasingly harder to find time for table top.

So this summer I proposed we start a CON just for our circle of gamers. This interestingly enough all told amounts to over twenty people. The response was overwhelmingly a success with 11 gamers able to make the CON day. So we rented a conference suite in a local hotel and started to plan a game for what I consider a large group. I recruited the aid of another veteran DM in our circle and we went to work brainstorming and pumping out the big ideas.

We used the 4E game system which was a challenge unto itself. The completed game was 50 pages long and took over 40 hours to complete. In another blog post I will show some of the tools we used to get 11 players through the slow combat system of 4E with efficiency. In short we initially split the groups for the first leg of the day and then they doubled up during the second half.

Since we had a room full of 30 and 40 something’s who are all professionals we needed an ecology free adventure. We wanted suspension of disbelief to permeate throughout the day – just like it did when you were 10 years old. Who cares if just across from the fire elemental room lives a frost giant! The backstory of the adventure was Baba Yaga’s hut.
We decided Baba Yaga has a century of insufferable boredom. So she returns to the prime material plane of Ultanya to set a deadly trap.  As a long-lived and wise collector of lore and knowledge she knows exactly what bait to use.  Baba Yaga creates an elaborate illusion of the entrance to a lost level dwarven mine. She has placed the illusion in a remote location so treasure hunters and adventurers would come in waves.  

Baba Yaga does not want to eat the heroes – just yet. She has collected for centuries pieces of various lore and fantastical locations. The gauntlet inside the hut is a veritable menagerie of forgotten relics, ruins, monsters, oddities from different planes of existence and pure curiosities.  Baba Yaga is doing this entire exercise purely for her own amusement. If the players make their way through the gauntlet they will eventually be tested in the Tesseract Arena. Victory will mean they will be released and rewarded. Failure means they will join the skull garden outside of the hut.

With that background in mind we had a large task ahead of us to create the Tesseract Arena. The names derives from the fact that Baba Yaga's hut is a tesseract (a four-dimensional analog of a cube). My co-DM is a carpenter by trade so this task fell primarily on his shoulders. So while I was busy plugging away writing game mechanics he was getting his jig saw +5 ready to eventually create what you see below.

The arena is a massive nerd toy (the first of many) which is crafted from MDF and covered in printed sticker paper. The arena measures 60”x44”x10” with the bridge being 12.5” in height. The unit is sectional and weighs nearly 50lbs fully assembled.

In the center of the arena was a very Cthulhu looking Aboleth which was held in place through the use of magitech locks. I had to borrow one of my son’s octopus toys (not depicted) since I did not have a mini big enough! The creature’s powers were syphoned to eight switches throughout the arena which afforded various banes and boons. The players needed to control these switches to help win the match.

Also in the arena were stacks of strange black cubes. These devices had two handles which when turned made the cubes weightless. They could then be thrown as many squares as a player had STR as a standard action. When touching the ground (or another cube) they would magnetize until properly removed again. These cubes would then allow a team in the arena to build stairs, barriers, etc. Our players were very creative and at one point the warlock in the group stood on one of the cubes while the Dragonborn fighter tossed him 20 squares up.

Finally on each of the corner towers there was harpoon ballista (not depicted) which could be used to fire zip lines around the arena or used as a piece of artillery against the enemy team. Below I list some of the basic game mechanics used during the adventure:


View of the interior
The only way to win is to have the entire enemy team in their penalty box.

Penalty box

On each side of the arena there is a penalty box (one red, one blue). If a PC dies in the arena they are sent to their respective penalty box. After 1 round they are fully healed and all powers (encounter & daily) are returned to them. A team mate must then flip the switch to let them out of the penalty box.


Ethereal onlookers cheer wildly when a combatant forces an opponent into the penalty box, granting the attacker a +1 bonus to speed and all defenses until the end of its next turn.

Magitech Switches

There are eight switches which all correspond to one of the Aboleth demon’s boon/bane tentacles as detailed below:

1.      Sharpened Edge – controlling team will critical on 18-20
2.      Titan’s Hide  – controlling team receives DR5 all
3.      Ghostly Carapace– controlling team receives 10 temporary hit points each
4.      Withering Weapon– controlling team adds 5 necrotic damage to all attacks
5.      Chill of Death – enemy team is Slowed
6.      Weakened Soul – enemy team grants combat advantage constantly
7.      Crushed Resolve – enemy dead stays in the penalty box 1 extra round.
8.      Touch of Evil – enemy team has a 50% chance to target an ally with any attack.

I will note that contention over switch # 5 was the nastiest. In our game that switch proved to be overpowering and I would probably modify it for future arena matches. The players faced what appeared to be copies of their PCs but were actually shape shifting 3-hit minions which are detailed below. After two hours the players won the day and dethroned the NPC team. 

Below are additional images of the Tesseract Arena.

The bridge of doom!
We used colored pins to denote which team had control over a switch

Those strange black cubes!
Packed up until the next match

The players also found the Necronomicon!
I hope this post inspires you! Comments and questions are welcome and I will make every attempt to answer when time is on my side.