Dungeons and items are important to a Zelda campaign, but they aren’t enough. A D&D game with dungeons is just a typical D&D game, and even one with a Hookshot is a typical D&D game with an allusion. But if that dungeon is filled with moblins, with a giant octorok guarding the Hookshot and a gleeok at the end, now it feels right. Monsters, especially bosses, are the pacing spikes that make a dungeon exciting. I could talk about every boss fight in the campaign to explain what made them fun and Zelda-esque, but that’s probably fairly boring and I absolutely do not have the rights to post the art I used for them. Instead I want to talk about the one fight where I can post pictures.
We started the campaign with five players, but that dropped to four almost immediately. One player’s night suddenly became unavailable, so we had to write out his spinning (reskinned wild shaping) Deku (plant-person) merchant prince during our second session. He valiantly sacrificed himself in the midst of a battle I balanced terribly, saving the party ranger from the first of many incredibly dire situations. He transferred his life energy to the ranger, somehow, and disappeared forever.
Some time later the player came back, his schedule again free, and joined as a new character. This lasted for several months, during which I made a change to the campaign meta. I’d originally intended to give the players access to the energies from Ocarina of Time: light, forest, fire, water, spirit, and shadow. I think I intended for the campaign villain to get whichever one the players didn’t pick, but I changed my mind regarding who the villain was and what his motivations were. I expanded the list to include all of the things people could be Sages of, adding time, wind, and earth. The villain didn’t need or want any of these energies, and he gained three followers who wanted them instead.
This left me with a conundrum, in that I had five players and three villains but nine energies to distribute. The one nobody wanted was water, so I had to come up with a water-based villain…and then I remembered Prince Thistle, a plant creature who blew bubbles and loved money (that is, he wanted liquid funds. Liquid? Water? I’ll see myself out.)
Prince King Thistle joined the bad guys as a powerful but mostly mindless pesudo-zombie antagonist, and I added him to the list of final dungeon mini-bosses. But since he was an unusual character with an unusual history who joined the bad guys in an unusual way, I wanted to do something different with him. It also helped that the last time we saw him fight he was an L3 druid, and that’s hard to translate to an L20 solo boss. I talked it over with his former player, and we agreed Thistle really merited some sort of skill challenge instead of a battle proper, not only to get over how strange he was in the context of the campaign but also to break things up a bit in the midst of some heavy fighting. He needed to be a complete departure from the rest of the dungeon.
I’m not sure how I made the cognitive leap that followed. Maybe I reasoned that the thing most different from a game is something outside the game, maybe I wanted a way to represent the massive scale of the fight, or maybe I just saw a few Zelda videos online and got inspired. But over a few weeks, I put together the King Thistle boss fight in Minecraft.
I set up a local Minecraft server and tweaked the game to let a person with no account join it, so we could have all five of us in the level. Players jumped around, destroyed blocks, solved puzzles, traded items by throwing them at each other, and generally worked separately but simultaneously in a pretty nonstandard boss fight. It helped that of my four players (Thistle’s player left again, under different circumstances), three play Minecraft regularly. I disabled enemies to lower the stress level, told the players that their rough goal was to collect diamonds and put them at the top of the room, and mostly just sat back. The rest of the session was basically letting the players explore, watching them subvert the intended puzzles as much as possible, and teleporting them when they had an excuse to get to a particular place faster than walking.
After they completed the dungeon and defeated King Thistle, I gave them what any player would want in such circumstances: fifteen minutes to explore and destroy the tree in Creative mode. Which, I suppose, is technically what I’m doing by posting the map online. You can get it here.
Several parts of the map won’t work as intended for you because they require manual intervention. I put the pressure plates to enable the teleporting “launch flowers”, but I can’t automatically make the fire arrows destroy leaves, make the Mirror Shield reflect sunlight to grow the tree saplings, or have a Cane of Somaria that actually creates and removes blocks. That’s all either beyond my skill as a map creator or beyond the time I had to create them. If I was to really get into this I’d have command blocks that test for the presence of an item and react accordingly, like a teleport that would only work if you had the Deku Leaf equipped so you could glide to another branch. But hiding those command blocks requires some finagling with the structure of the tree and its puzzles, and I wasn’t willing to put in that much effort to have the map do something automatically when I knew I’d be there to do it myself. If I got it in my head to make a Zelda-themed adventure map, I’d set up things like that to run a lot more smoothly.