A new month brings with it new releases, and that means you may find yourself asking how you can use your latest purchase right away. This month, we delve into the horrifying mysteries of Lords of Madness: The Book of Aberrations. This D&D sourcebook is the latest in a series that includes the acclaimed titles of Draconomicon and Libris Mortis. This time around, the tome is organized a little differently. Since -- by their very nature -- aberrations don't have as much in common with one another as do dragons or undead, Lords of Madness presents "mini-sourcebooks" on each of six different races of aberration that pose significant threats to civilization, from the ancient aboleths to the starspawned tsochari (a new race of aberrations introduced in Chapter 7: The Wearers of Flesh, and if that chapter title isn't enough for you to flip to page 121, I don't know what it'd take).
Of course, the book also presents a host of new aberrations as well, some of which are related to existing creatures (such as the beholderkin) and others that are either brand new to the game or welcome reintroductions of monsters that have graced previous editions of D&D. Lest you think the whole book's just for the DM, I should point out that Lords of Madness wraps up with a 50-page chapter devoted to the aberration-hunting player characters, providing a wide range of feats, spells, prestige classes, organizations, magic items, and . . . shudder . . . grafts for your so-called heroes.
With such a wide range of topics, Lords of Madness can seem a bit imposing for the DM who wants to use it right away. Thankfully, the book includes several short adventures to use in your campaign, including a beholder cult headquarters and a crashed neogi starship. This column uses one of those sample adventures, and add some adventure hooks to get your group into the action as fast as possible and fleshing it out with a couple of new options presented in the book. As my personal favorite among the many aberrations, I've chosen the mind flayer as the featured representative for this column.
What You Need to Read
This encounter is pretty straightforward, but you will want to check out these sections to prep for the session.
Sarkt, an outcast among mind flayers, has settled in a ruined temple once dedicated to Blibdoolpoolp, goddess of kuo-toa. Here, he has gathered a number of new thralls around him to help protect his lair from both the predations of surface adventurers as well as the retribution of his own people. All in all, it's a pretty straightforward lair.
As written, the adventure is best for 7th- or 8th-level characters, but with only a few simple changes it can be tweaked up or down a couple of levels. If you do this, remember to adjust treasure values accordingly to make sure that your PCs get a fair reward for the challenges they overcome. For a lower-level party, try the following changes:
On the other hand, if your party is particularly tough or large in number, try these changes:
Though the adventure represents a fine encounter with an iconic aberration, it doesn't use many of the new elements presented elsewhere in the book. Here are a few options that allow you to introduce your PCs to material either helpful or unsettling; use as few or as many as befits your interest and time.
If your PCs are already underground -- perhaps exploring some area of the Underdark, or pursuing a drow war party that recently attacked a surface town -- it's easy to drop this adventure into your game. Simply include the description of area 1 as the PCs trek through a dark tunnel and they'll likely be hooked.
Of course, not every band of adventurers spends all their time tromping around underground; you might actually have to convince them to head into the deep dark tunnels of the earth. Here are a few "excuses" (i.e., adventure hooks) that might bring the PCs to Sarkt's lair.
If the PCs defeat Sarkt and his thralls, they have made one small area of the Underdark safe for travelers once again. Of course, it probably won't be long until some other evil force inhabits this area, but that's a problem for someone else.
Should Oristel (or whoever you replace him with) be rescued rather than slain, he is greatly appreciative to the PCs. Upon return to the surface world, he cashes in some favors to present the PCs with a reward of 3,000 gp. If he believes he'd be welcome, he offers his services to the group as a loyal comrade (if his level is appropriate, he might even be able to serve as a cohort to a PC with Leadership). This character also provides an excellent way to introduce your PCs to one of the organizations detailed in Chapter 9. Oristel could easily belong to the Darkrunner Guild, or he might have a friend in the Society of the Sanctified Mind or the Topaz Order, two groups dedicated to battling aberrations. Any NPC rescued from Sarkt would be happy to provide a positive recommendation on behalf of the PCs to any of these groups.
As talented as the heroes may be, it's probably most likely that Sarkt escapes them, at least for now. With plane shift at its disposal, no illithid with a chance to flee sticks around to be killed. If you like, Sarkt can easily become a long-term foe for the adventurers. The mind flayer won't take this defeat lightly, and he uses his talents to find out exactly who cast him from his newfound lair. Once he learns more about his enemies, he sends charmed thralls after them. This plotline is particularly interesting if the PCs' original "employer" was also an illithid thrall, since the characters may unwittingly become pawns in a long-term struggle between rival mind flayers! All of a sudden, your characters are drawn into a web of aberrant intrigue, providing them with a great reason to explore some of the new feats, spells, and other options presented in Chapter 9 for battling the horrific creatures known as aberrations.
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About the Author
By day, Andy Collins works as an RPG developer in Wizards of the Coast R&D. His development credits include the Player's Handbook v.3.5, Races of Eberron, and Dungeon Master's Guide II. By night, however, he fights crime as a masked vigilante. Or does he?
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