So here’s the thing.
The summer between floors 16 and 17 was rough for the campaign. I lost players to the summer break, more than I was expecting. I had a falling-out with another player. Of the players who were still there, all but one expressed an interest in changing their characters. In a campaign based entirely around “the party is a unified group and cannot split up”, the players themselves split up instead.
At a loss, I decided to put together a gaiden. The campaign proper went on hiatus for three months while we waited for things to reassemble and to give me some time to sort out what was happening. In-story, right before the summer break Tela’s player missed the only session she missed that entire campaign. As a reward for her attendance and dedication, in the middle of that session a hole opened in reality and stole her soul. The players carried her lifeless body for the rest of the floor, and once they finished floor 16 they met with Jay to ask what was happening.
He told the party that Tela was a victim of the tower’s increasing instability, caused by that maybe-allies-maybe-enemies group I mentioned last post. Her soul still existed but it existed in the Space Between Floors, the parts of the tower that climbers never saw or, ideally, knew existed. Creatures bitter at being abandoned by their creators had stolen the soul and split it into six pieces hidden in the detritus of forgotten, broken, and incomplete floors that had never been destroyed by the guardians.
Luckily, the guardians were prepared for something like this. Occasionally climbers would express an interest not in completing the tower or living there but joining it with the eventual goal of becoming a guardian themselves. These former climbers were able to navigate the Space Between Floors, and Jay tasked them with finding Tela’s soul. The problem was their time limit; if they didn’t reassemble the whole thing in one week parts of it would be lost forever.
And so we started a side story following a new party as they tried to find and destroy the offending creatures. They included:
- Varon, half-elf bard, who you may remember as a ranger. Arcane Power had come out since the campaign started, and it included a Charisma-based archer. This was a redesigned version of Varon, changed from a striker to a leader, and it explained what had happened to him once he left the party.
- Bjarn, dwarf fighter/runepriest, who spent most of his time complaining about how the runepriest was terrible. This was the same player as Borris, continuing his tradition of dwarves with startlingly high-damage builds whose names begin with B.
- Midnorton Jones, wilden monk, an archaeologist who loved the forgotten bits of the tower. His eventual goal was to discover its origin.
- Thor, dwarf invoker, who joined midway through the summer. I don’t remember too much about this character, mostly because I was in another campaign with the same player also playing an invoker. That character was interesting enough that it largely wiped this one from my memory. I do remember his “reroll any attack that targets Will and misses, but if the reroll also misses I’m stunned” ability, though. He missed a lot.
- Siven, rogue, who wore a mask and only joined the party for a few sessions. I recall him spending a lot of time pointedly not interacting with the party. Maybe he stabbed them once? It’s vague.
The neat thing about the Space Between Floors was that it was made of scrapped floors, so I made it of scrapped floors. I used it as a way to throw things at the players that I had considered for the real campaign but discarded for one reason or another, usually because I couldn’t justify making an entire floor out of them. So the players were literally going through a set of levels that the tower designer had created but was not using. It was a pretty meta adventure.
The Space Between Floors was set up like a fragmented computer, with various bits of floors tossed around, often abutting each other in weird ways. The players started in a prehistoric land fighting dinosaurs (scrapped because I had insufficient minis to make it as exciting as I wanted), then went to Ravenloft (scrapped because it wasn’t interesting on its own given Haelyn’s entire section), and eventually went to one-fight-large floors based on concepts that didn’t make for interesting enough plots (sewers, gravity, chaos, music, etc.). Along the way they found that Tela’s soul was held by six pumpkin-men (because I like pumpkin-men for reasons that probably have something to do with The Nightmare before Christmas, but I couldn’t pack six of them into a single floor), one of whom they actually befriended in what I guess I should now interpret as foreshadowing for all later campaigns.
Given the computer milieu, it’s unsurprising that we played with the tech level of D&D. The players got lightcycles from Tron when they started, which were very fast but completely unable to handle anything but the most gradual slopes. Eventually they made it into a Spelljammer spaceship, sabotaged its wireframe control crystal, and fought the MCP. The final boss was Abyss from Marvel vs. Capcom 2 (because he was technically made of Tron lines), for which our local game store owner made some fantastic custom miniatures.
(During this time it became clear to my wife that I had never seen Tron. She remedied that, then took me to see the sequel coming out later that year. So at least now I have an excuse.)
Since there wasn’t a tower guardian to act as a DM this section of the tower doesn’t have a lot of unifying themes. If there was anything I learned from it, it was “don’t throw out anything”, which I already knew. I do think that the pumpkin-men were a discrete leap in my understanding of 4E monsters, because they were the first time I really designed weird monster powers from scratch to fit a narrative goal rather than using powers I knew were reasonable and balanced given the party’s level and abilities. The result was raucously successful, enough that my monster design escalated almost immediately. It’s safe to say the warden never would have had his aura if I hadn’t changed how I designed monsters, and that’s a story too good to not exist.
Eventually the gaiden party succeeded, reassembled Tela’s soul, and rode off into the sunset. Tela woke up after a week asleep to find a note pinned to her armor that said “Got bored waiting, sorry!”. The tower assigned her a brand-new party, and together they completed Jay’s section and moved on to a tower guardian who was less inclined to help them. But that’s another post.