The College of Grotesque Arts -- Week Three
I don’t have anything to add at the beginning this time, so let’s get right into it.
Room 1.15: f.20r
This room features an apparently-fully-intact bookcase with surviving books against the western wall. In fact, the bookcase and the floor in front of it is all a single illusion, and not a solid one — if PCs approach the bookcase, they fall through a pit that’s hidden in the floor in front of it; the pit is 60ft deep and drops its victims all the way down to the next level of the dungeon. The walls are smooth and difficult to climb. (A pit to the next level of the dungeon hidden by an illusion was suggested by Appendix A and I thought it was funny, so I put it in more or less unchanged. Why did the wizards put that there? Shiggles.) If the illusion is disbelieved, PCs can see that there is an entrance to a passage in this wall — you just have to carefully walk around the pit to get to it; the space taken up by the bookshelf is actually a sort of ledge that allows you to reach that spot.
The northern half of the room is filled with an elaborate array of stone shelves protruding from the wall at various heights, or from short columns out of the floor. It’s kind of like a series of cat towers built into the walls. This room is occupied by a small flock of legless birds — small finch-sized critters, blue with small brown wings, equipped with a long neck and a useless fan of feathers where their legs should be. These were the result of a botched experiment back in the day, but Januaria kept them around because she thought they were funny. They’re friendly, but very clumsy — their wings are too small for them to fly particularly well.
A careful search of the area just inside the passage hidden by the illusion will reveal a hollow spot in the wall. This hidden compartment is meant to only open to the password “arcus”, but a determined PC who knows how to disable magical devices could probably figure it out with some difficulty. Inside the compartment is what appears to be an expertly-worked and magically-preserved crossbow stock. With the command word “tetendit”, a magical construct shaped to look like a golden crossbow shimmers into existence around it.
Golden Crossbow: This +3 heavy crossbow is enchanted to be virtually weightless and self-reloading. It does not require ammunition, but instead generates brilliant energy bolts as needed. In the hands of an arcane spellcaster, this weapon has an additional function: with the command word “ardentibus” and the expenditure of a spell slot, the next creature struck by a bolt loses any supernatural or spell-like abilities for the next hour.
Note: This was a weapon Januaria made and kept in a hidden safe in case a dangerous magical critter escaped or a Caretaker went rogue. The idea was that the crossbow could be used to disable any dangerous supernatural abilities and allow the wizards to more easily subdue it. (And yes, it specifically says “the next creature struck by a bolt” rather than “the creature struck by the next bolt” in order to give the wielder multiple chances to hit something before having to expend another spell slot; Januaria didn’t trust her own ability to aim the thing.) Its effect originally functioned like an antimagic field and suppressed actual spellcasting in addition to spell-like abilities, but Januaria was pressured by her colleagues to tone it down, as they didn’t trust the existence of a weapon that could be used to neutralize wizards as well as magical beasts.
Another Note: To pick out the password and command words, I checked the actual text of this page and found it strangely appropriate. It includes the following passages, translated:
“... he hath bent his bow and made it ready. And in it he hath prepared the instruments of death, he hath made ready his arrows for them that burn.”
“He hath opened a pit and dug it; and he is fallen into the hole he made.”
The fact that bows and arrows are mentioned might not be coincidence, since that could have been what inspired the artists to draw that crossbow at the bottom. The fact that falling in a pit is mentioned is definitely coincidence, and I found it pretty funny.
The hallway to the east of this room has a pointless door halfway down it because my pen slipped when I was doing the final version of the map & drew a wall across the passage.
Room 1.16: f.20v
This room contains a nest-like wooden structure in the southwest corner and a large relief carving of a stone face on the east wall.
The stone face on the east wall is actually a secret door — if you speak the passphrase “super celos”, the face will animate and speak the words “Welcome back, Januaria”, with an accompanying pleasant floral scent. After speaking, the section of the wall with the face carved on it will swing open and allow access; PCs will have to either figure that out, break the thing down, or figure out some way to mess with the magical device that controls the door. (I’m sticking with my practice of pulling passwords and the like from the actual text of the page — in this case, super celos translates to “above the heavens”, which seems appropriate for a wizard with a bit of a god complex.) The rooms beyond this door were Januaria’s private laboratory; the difficult entry is to preserve that privacy. The face is just because it’s cool.
It should be noted that the Caretakers cannot open this door — they don’t speak — so canny players who think of waiting by the door to see how it opens when the Caretakers do their rounds will be disappointed. Januaria didn’t want them messing around with stuff when she was mid-experiment.
The nest-like structure is, in fact, a nest; it is inhabited by a pair of braeduces and a clutch of their eggs. A braedux is a creature about the size of a kitten, equipped with a pair of hooves, a duck-like head, and a large, complex tail (tail not included in size approximation). The tail is kept “folded up” much of the time, but it can be unrolled and opened in an elaborate display, like a cross between a peacock and a flower. This can be done as a threat display (it makes them look very large), or as a feeding strategy — when open, it’s a very effective photosynthesizer.
The braeduces aren’t aggressive, but are a bit defensive of their nest. They’ll make noise and do threat displays at the PCs, but won’t actually do anything unless the PCs investigate the nest itself. On the off chance that happens, though, they do have a gaze attack they’re able to deploy — this is how a small, ground-nesting creature has been able to keep itself from being wiped out by the other beaſts. Stats:
Braedux: CR 1, XP 400; N Diminutive Magical Beast; Init +4; Senses Low-Light Vision, Darkvision 60ft; Perception +5
DEFENSE: AC 18, touch 18, flat-footed 14 (+4 size, +4 Dex); hp 14 (2d10+3); Saves Fort +3, Ref +7, Will +0
OFFENSE: Speed 10 ft.; Melee bite +3 (1d2-3); Space 2-1/2 ft.; Reach 2-1/2 ft.; Special Attacks Blinding Gaze
STATISTICS: Str 4, Dex 18, Con 10, Int 2, Wis 10, Cha 10; Base Atk +2; CMB -5; CMD 9; Feats Toughness; Skills Perception +5; Special Qualities Magical Beast Traits, Plant Ancestry
Blinding Gaze (Su): An opponent that meets a Braedux's gaze within 10ft. becomes blinded for 2 minutes unless they succeed at a DC 11 fortitude save. A successful saving throw negates the effect. Each opponent within range of a gaze attack must attempt a saving throw each round at the beginning of his or her turn in the initiative order.
Plant Ancestry (Ex): The Braedux is plant-based to a sufficient extent that any effect that a plant would be immune to (mind-affecting, paralysis, poison, &c.) has a 50% failure chance if used on a Braedux.
If attacked, a braedux primarily relies on its blinding gaze, but also bites. If you leave it alone, though, it will leave you alone.
Room 1.17: f.21r
This room contains, filling much of the southeast portion, a meticulously-cared-for garden filled with a variety of impressively healthy plants & a few fungi. The garden contains a number of elaborately-carved and still-functioning fountains. The GM should take some time to populate it with a variety of interesting plants & fungi, all of which have some form of magical effect, medicinal use, or poisonous aspect. (I believe there are a number of publications, random generators, posts, and other sources out there for this kind of thing — pick your favorite. I do recommend Fungi of the Far Realms for the fungus portion, though.) Januaria doesn’t have a private garden in her laboratory just for the looks — it was all useful plants.
Along the north wall, there is a long stone counter with a shelf set over it and several cabinet doors set within it. The counter itself seems to be devoted to an array of gardening tools — shovels, rakes, hoes, etc. — that are carefully organized and well cared for. They’re also tiny; none of them weigh more than a couple pounds. On the shelf over the counter, there are rows of variously shaped jars & containers of glass & metal. They’re well-organized, but empty.
The cabinets in the counter contain a variety of unidentifiable tools, the purpose of which is unclear. Imagine if you showed an AI a random jumble of equipment, half from an auto-mechanic’s shop and half from a chemist’s lab, then asked it to describe other items that would fit in this category. Many are made of metal, but just as many are glass, clay, stone, ivory, or some combination of the materials. Some have moving parts, some don’t. Some look magical, covered in carved runes or dripping with strings of beads; others look totally mundane. All have a slight magical aura, but none are immediately recognizable to even a trained eye. They’re all cleaned, polished, and placed in (you assume) their rightful spots. They could probably be sold for quite a bit to a discerning collector — or, with some intensive study, could be used to experiment with creating hybrid critters oneself. The only recognizable tool is a large stone mortar and pestle in one of the cabinets, also magical and undamaged, which can be commanded to grind on its own with the phrase “opera manuum tuarum” — this phrase is carved into the lip of the mortar, so PCs won’t need to guess.
All through this room — poking through the stuff on the counter, swimming in the fountains, hunting bugs in the garden — are miniature herons. These are more or less identical to the herons we’re familiar with, except they have pale reddish plumage and are smaller than a hummingbird. These creatures were specially created to keep the garden relatively free of pests — their droppings also make excellent fertilizer. Said droppings aren’t in evidence outside the garden, though; apparently this room is also cleaned somehow.
The door on the east wall leads to a small private latrine, similar to the one in Room 1.11. This one, unlike the previous, is not clean. It also does not contain human waste. The chamber beneath it houses a compost pile of miscellaneous organic material.
If the PCs make a lot of noise in this room, hang out here for a while, or start interfering with the garden in any way, they will encounter Fontus (see Fontus subsection in Room 1.20).
Room 1.18: f.21v
Not a lot on this page that really fits with the dungeon as established so far, so I had to go a bit unusual.
On the west wall, there is a relief carving of a somewhat-human face (the ears are distinctly bestial), surrounded by floral motifs. Stone leaves extend from behind the head, and a number of long stone vines reach a bit out of the wall.
If you pull a specific one of those stone vines, it moves like a lever and the face animates. “To whom would you like to speak?” it asks. This is a communications device Januaria built back in the day — it functions as a sending with no word count limitation, wherein you don’t have to be personally familiar with the target. It can also do conference calls.
If the PCs aren’t sure what to do, and hesitate for a while or ask a follow-up question, the face will suggest the names of the wizards who built this place. (Januaria, Februaria, Martius, Aprilius, Maia, Junius, Julius, Augusta, Septembria, Octob, Novembria, and December.) It can’t really give any other explanation — there’s no sapience there. It can technically contact anyone, if the PCs want to do that, but those are the defaults. For most of those names, if the PCs try to speak with them, the face will go still for a little bit and then report that it can’t find them. (The reason being, they’re dead.) However, if the PCs experiment a bit, or just hit on the right name, they’ll find that Septembria and December are actually still alive — they just went on to bigger and better things after this project fell apart. Extraplanar things, mostly.
Septembria sounds pleasantly surprised and curious about who could be using Januaria’s old device. She seems happy with the nostalgic feelings evoked by this blast from the past. However, Septembria is actually far more malign that her attitude would suggest; her current residence is somewhere in the Nine Hells, where she’s been climbing the political ladder — to the extent a human can — for the past few centuries. She’s genuinely more devil than mortal at this point; the friendliness is a front. If the PCs try and get any useful information or help out of her, her response will essentially be “what’s in it for me?” Play her as a devil who’s at least passably interested in making a deal… or just screwing with some hapless mortals if that doesn’t pan out. She can genuinely offer the PCs quite a lot if they want to arrange something: knowledge, power, knowledge that is also power, anything that you could usually get from a Deal with the Devil; it may, however, literally cost them their souls.
December does not appreciate the intrusion. He did what a lot of wizards aspire to do, and managed to crack the secrets of the divine, ascending to godhood. However, the next steps are proving troublesome for him. For centuries now, he’s been stuck as an extremely minor demigod, with only a few worshippers and no power among the other deities. (His current portfolio is… elk. (Or moose, if you prefer.) He always rather liked the antlers, and this was the best niche he was able to negotiate — his first choice was “grotesques”, but this wasn’t deemed acceptable. (“Magic” and all of its subcategories have been claimed since time immemorial, to the disappointment of all wizards who undergo apotheosis. Were he thinking strategically, he would have picked a location rather than a thing, so at least he’d be popular with the people who live there.) Anyway, he’s the small god of elk. Given that there are more powerful gods with broad portfolios like “animals” and “hunting”, and they can push him around if they don’t like what he’s doing, few people bother with the small god of elk.) The PCs have almost certainly never heard of him. He’s arrogant, irritable, and generally in the middle of a centuries-long foul mood. If the PCs aren’t able to justify why they are worthy of his time, he’ll demonstrate that he’s capable of “hanging up” on them. He might be willing to be a little bit helpful if the PCs offer something worthwhile in return (high bar when you’re dealing with even a small god), but he still won’t be nice about it. Offering to throw some worship his way might work, though his divine power is extremely limited (and, again, elk-centric), so there’s not a whole lot he can give you beyond information, and any information he has about this dungeon is way out of date.
Room 1.19: f.22r
There seem to be quite a lot of bones in this chamber. If PCs were to move them out of the way, they might find the tell-tale outlines of a secret door on the south wall (it’s verbally activated, and opens with the passphrase “super celos” — I couldn’t find a good one on this page, so it has the same phrase as the one in Room 1.16.) However, moving the bones might be difficult, because this chamber is inhabited.
This is a — stop laughing at its face, this is a Dangerous Beaſt! This is a blue leopard, and PCs may be familiar with it if they make a Knowledge(nature) check, as these things have escaped into the wild and have a population outside the dungeon. It has the same stats as a regular leopard, except for the following. Like the oak squirrels and the braeduces, this creature is part plant, and any effects that a plant would be immune to have a 50% failure chance if used on it. It’s pretty aggressive, and liable to attack the PCs.
If, after the blue leopard is slain or driven off, the PCs search the bones, in addition to the secret door, they will find the bones of a hapless explorer among the animal remains — let’s name her Margery. And since that makes me think of that loon Kempe, let’s say she was a cleric. (I’m pulling from a list of 13th-century names for all of the humans except the wizards.) Some of her gear is still here in the pile — she was pretty low level, though, so there’s not anything too fancy. Randomly generate that stuff. Anything metal has been scavenged by Caretaker One, and will not be present.
Room 1.20: f.22v
Note: If the PCs use Januaria’s Keyring from the tower aboveground, this is the dungeon room it teleports them to. (I don’t think I specified this earlier, but use of the keyring teleports whoever is holding it, plus anyone touching them, so it can bring the whole party along.) They appear in the middle of the room, about where the “20” is on the map.
This room, like Room 1.17, is unexpectedly tidy. The south half of the room is dominated by a dozen large and well-maintained cages, though they are all empty, their occupants presumably having died of old age long ago. In the northeast corner is a short bookshelf (see below). In the northwest corner, there’s a sort of perch-like construction, occupied by the homunculus Fontus. The rest of the north wall is dominated by a counter with cabinets and shelf much like the one in Room 1.17, except the top of the counter is clean rather than filled with tiny gardening tools, and instead of the mortar & pestle you’ll find some cloth bags (see below).
Note: The space that Fontus currently occupies was originally filled by Caretaker Two, which I was able to explain in a short paragraph and stat block. After writing Room 1.21, it occurred to me that a homunculus would actually make more sense to be here than a mindless construct, and Fontus was born. Then I started writing about what PCs should expect in interacting with him, and I got like a whole page of stuff — not counting all the changes I made to Room 1.17 to fit his presence better — so I guess I like this particular NPC or something. This random doodle of a bird guy has become “blorbo from my manuscripts”. Anyway, now he’s got his own little subsection at the end of this room description, where I can feel less weird about the amount of text.
Back to that bookshelf. The books appear to be intact, but trying to read one reveals that they’re missing a good portion of their pages — and the pages that they remain, even if physically intact, seem to nonetheless have many lacunae. These books were destroyed at some point in the past, either through improper storage or being actively torn up (or partially eaten by small herons or other escaped animals, or all of the above), and then at some later time superficially repaired with the spell make whole. Turns out make whole can’t fill in missing text, so all the places where chunks of the page were missing are now just blank spaces of parchment.
The books were once Januaria’s experimental notes. Now they read like someone made erasure poetry out of an advanced textbook on a subject you never studied — if that textbook were entirely composed in medieval court hand by someone who didn’t really care about writing neatly, had been packed with obscure & idiosyncratic abbreviations, occasionally lapsed into some kind of cipher for no apparent reason, had been filled with illegibly-scribbled marginal notes, and in general was written by someone who never expected anyone but themselves to read it. A very determined scholar might be able to get some useful information on the various creatures on this level of the dungeon, and even start learning how to make grotesques of their own. Such study will take a lot of time and effort, though it might be easier if one were to collaborate with Markewart in his library above ground.
Appendix A wants there to be treasure here, and I kind of liked its suggestion, so we’re going to do that. The counter has a number of stone cabinet doors set along its length, most of which are either empty or hold more ruined equipment, but one cabinet contains 2d4 small bags with embroidery around the opening. The embroidery appears to be words of some kind: if examined, they read “quit looking through my stuff”. If the PCs actually read those words, they explode — these bags are, as suggested by Appendix A, trapped with explosive runes. The contents of the bag are old-fashioned electrum coins, of a kind that was already being phased out when this facility was still active. Put enough coins there that it’s a substantial treasure for the PCs’ level.
Fontus is a homunculus shaped like a bird with a man’s head, roughly the size of a pigeon. He is a little more advanced than a normal homunculus, and is equipped with a suite of spell-like abilities to allow him to do his extra duties — since the Caretakers don’t come in here, watering the plants and feeding the animals was Fontus’s job. Said spell-like abilities are as follows:
At Will: Create Water, Mage Hand, Prestidigitation, Sleep.
3/day: Make Whole, Create Food & Water, Charm Monster.
He also emits a constant plant growth effect that enriches the growth of all plants within a half-mile of him — which seems like an excessive range, but that’s the spell description. The Gatekeepers up on the surface are probably benefiting from this without knowing it.
Oh, he can also talk. I don’t think homunculi can speak by default, but I think it’s more interesting if they can, so I hereby declare Fontus and any other homunculi I put down here to have the power of speech.
Fontus’s memory of the time when this facility was active is mostly just a blur, as is a length of time after it was abandoned. Homunculi tend to lose their minds at the death of their creator, and Fontus was no exception. He did, however, manage to make his way back from that state somehow — which is not exactly common, but not unheard of. Rather than try and sort through the jumble of confused memories from before, he’s intentionally forgotten them for the sake of his sanity. All he knows is that he worked for someone named Januaria and one of his duties was caring for the garden. For a couple centuries now, he’s been living in this small suite of rooms, devoting his time to gardening and meditating to keep his mind under control. He’s almost monastic in demeanor.
If the PCs are really interested in trying to get intel about the dungeon, feel free to have Fontus recall bits and pieces; he doesn’t mind sharing as long as the PCs are nice to him. He does have a general understanding of the present state of this level of the dungeon, as one of his remembered tidbits was how to operate the secret doors in and out of this section. He ventures out occasionally to collect soil & composting material from other parts of the dungeon, a few pounds at a time, but otherwise prefers to live like a tiny artificial anchorite. If PCs want to grill him for intel, here’s a quick reference for how to respond.
Fontus does know:
The layout of this level of the dungeon, excluding hidden doors other than the ones he lives behind.
Most of the creatures that currently inhabit this level of the dungeon and their behaviors (he is unaware of the burrowing elvets in Room 1.9).
Extremely basic information about Januaria and her activities.
Literally everything about that garden in Room 1.17.
Any information that you as the GM think it would be good for him to provide to the players.
Fontus does not know:
The nature or location of any hidden treasure in the dungeon.
The fates or identities of any previous explorers.
Anything that happens on the surface.
Anything that you as the GM don’t have an answer for.
Anything that you as the GM don’t want him to share with the PCs.
Fontus might know (5% chance of a half-forgotten memory, or just play it by ear):
Anything that happened in this facility before it was abandoned.
Any information about the wizards who built it, beyond the aforementioned basic information about Januaria.
Any of the events that led to this facility being abandoned.
Any information about lower levels of the dungeon.
Magical knowledge related to the experiments conducted here back in the day.
Fontus isn’t thrilled about the PCs wanting to poke around and maybe take things, but he won’t go beyond verbal objections. Fontus doesn’t actually have a use for most of the stuff in here, so he won’t fight for it, but he does think it’s disrespectful. (The stuff other than the gardening tools is all kept clean and organized just as a sort of meditative task, not because he does anything with it.) He might fire off a charm monster if you try to take any of his miniature gardening tools or mess with the garden, though he’ll give a verbal warning first. If the PCs want stuff from the garden, he’s amenable to giving them maybe a couple doses of each plant/fungus, and will pick them himself to make sure no real damage is done. Pushing too hard on the matter of his garden and taking stuff from it risks getting him actually angry, and he’ll break out that charm monster again if pressed. In desperate circumstances, he bites.
Fontus is notably uninterested in leaving his tiny world of two rooms and a latrine. In fact, he could do so at any time, but he chooses not to — as mentioned, he’s not stuck behind these doors — because he thinks he’s best off being a hermit. He and Orm (Room 1.4) are aware of each other and get along quite well — in the sense that, upon meeting, they promptly and congenially agreed to leave each other alone, and never interact beyond being vaguely pleased at the presence of a nearby kindred spirit. Any offer on the PC’s part to help Fontus rejoin the rest of the world will be politely but firmly rebuffed (less polite if they keep insisting). Fontus (correctly) suspects that he’s only able to maintain his mental health because of his anchoritic existence, and would likely lose his grip on sanity if he spent more than a few days outside of his, for lack of a better word, hermitage. (If you need to model this for some reason, I’d suggest he loses a point of Int and Wis each day he’s outside his “hermitage”; if one hits zero, he just loses it completely and goes feral. If returned to his space, he recovers at the same rate.)
Side Note: My word processor does not accept the word “congenially” and suggests that I change it to “congenitally”. No, I don’t think that’s what I mean.
If your PCs decide to fight Fontus, first of all, they should know I’m disappointed in them. But second, his stats are below just in case — I advanced the standard homunculus a bit because I figure one with this many spell-like abilities might also be better-constructed in general. Feel free to tinker with this; I’ve never really gotten the hang of advancing monsters, and just wanted to pump him up a bit so his one dangerous spell wasn’t so incongruous.
Fontus: CR 4, XP 1200; LN Diminutive construct; Init +5; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Perception +9
DEFENSE: AC 19, touch 19, flat-footed 14 (+5 Dex, +4 size); hp 33 (6d10); Saves Fort +2, Ref +9, Will +7
OFFENSE: Speed 20 ft., fly 50 ft. (good); Melee bite +15 (1d4–1 plus poison); Space 2-1/2 ft.; Reach 0 ft. Spell-Like Abilities (CL 6, Save DC 13 + spell level): At Will: Create Water, Mage Hand, Prestidigitation, Sleep. 3/day: Make Whole, Create Food & Water, Charm Monster.
STATISTICS: Str 8, Dex 20, Con —, Int 11, Wis 17, Cha 10; Base Atk +6; CMB +2; CMD 16; Feats Iron Will, Lightning Reflexes, Weapon Finesse; Skills Fly +11, Perception +9, Stealth +17; Languages Common; Special Qualities construct traits
Poison (Ex): Bite—injury; save Fort DC 13; frequency 1/minute for 60 minutes; effect sleep for 1 minute; cure 1 save.
If forced into combat, Fontus will deploy his charm monster ability to try and convince the PCs to leave his “hermitage” and not return. If he has reason to think they’ll continue to come back and threaten him — or they really angered him, such as by messing with his garden too much — he may issue more violent commands instead. Once the charm monster ability is expended for the day, he will flee. (He does have a bite attack, but only employs it if he’s cornered, given an attack of opportunity, or there’s some other situation in which he’s obliged to go on the offensive but can’t use his spell-like abilities.) Also, a note to keep in mind — the reason he has make whole instead of mending is because make whole can be used to heal constructs in Pathfinder and he was designed to be self-repairing. (It’s 1d6 per caster level, but maxes out at 5d6, so 5d6.) He’ll heal himself with this if necessary.
Fontus fleeing is not the end of the issue. (This just occurred to me as a possibility, and it might be mean, but frankly I think that the PCs would deserve it at this point.) Homunculi are traditionally treated as, more or less, extensions of their creator’s will. While that creator lives, they’re flawlessly loyal and in constant telepathic contact with said creator, so naturally the creator would give their homunculus all the same permissions they hold themselves in navigating around their lairs. The reason I explain this is not because I think you need a review session on Homunculus, but because the natural implication of this is that Januaria would have wanted Fontus to be able to carry messages and instructions to the Caretakers. Which means they’ll still listen to him. So Fontus actually has some big guns he can go fetch if he feels the need. And remember that make whole trick for a construct fight. (The PCs should not know this is coming — Fontus is aware that if people exploring the dungeon realize he can order those things around, they’ll drag him along with them, and he absolutely does not want that. So he will not volunteer that information, and if the PCs think to ask, he will deny it.)
… I spent a whole friggin’ evening on this subsection. I’m completely failing to get my verbose tendencies under control.
Room 1.21: f.23r
This was originally just a 20x20 room, but I decided to make it significantly larger to fit the only thing that the marginalia suggested to me. This room contains a small artificial swamp, complete with mud, swamp grasses, and three cypress trees near the middle. The ceiling is 50ft high again to accommodate the trees, and the swamp is actually set fairly deep in the floor, like the basins seen elsewhere. You have to go down a small set of stairs just to get to the water level, and the mud & water is quite deep. A double row of pillars support the vaulted ceiling, six along the north part of the room and six along the south. Two algae-covered fountains work somewhat fitfully at the corners.
The swamp is full of insects, including a number of glittering orange-and-gold dragonflies.
A number of white birds nest in the trees.
This also seems like a good place for some of our critters from elsewhere in the dungeon, so you might also place some geese (Room 1.13), eel wyverns (Room 1.11), mathagats (Room 1.8), etc. Maybe goldgaiters (Room 1.3) or stabbybirds (Room 1.9) if you want there to be a threat.
I’m again going with Appendix A’s suggestion to put some treasure here, so: careful search of the swamp will reveal that, some ways back, there’s something invisible on the bottom. (You can tell because it’s somewhat sunk into the mud and there’s algae growing on it.) PCs can find a few (let’s say 1d4+1) metal urns, enchanted with invisibility, that a past explorer stashed here and never came back for. They’re full of coins. Appendix A suggests that they’re all copper coins, which I find hilarious, because I’m pretty sure these permanently-invisible urns (also suggested by Appendix A) are more valuable than however many coppers you could cram into them.
One of these urns contains a baby.
No, I’m kidding. Can you imagine? I just wanted to use that image because its presence on the page struck me as funny. Actually, though, I think there’s something there. Let me try that again. (Oh, and there’s an answer to how big these urns are: just big enough to contain a baby.)
One of these urns contains what appears to be a human baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, held in some kind of stasis. If the swaddling clothes are undone, the “baby” wakes up — undoing the swaddling also reveals that this isn’t really a baby, as it seems to have longer and more functional limbs than your typical infant. Its hands and feet are tipped with sharp claws, it has a small set of wings, and, when it opens its mouth, it reveals a full set of needle-like teeth. This is Meditrin, another homunculus. (Like Fontus, he can speak.) You might think this is too many homunculi, but odds are the PCs won’t find this one — and possibly not the previous one, since he’s behind a secret door. Besides, this place was full of wizards, and we all know wizards be making homunculi. (Also, I came up with this one first, and then went back to make Fontus — as mentioned, he was originally Caretaker Two.) I’ve always rather liked the concept of homunculi and other D&D constructs, and mourn the fact that I’ve never played in the kind of campaign where I could mess around with the Craft Construct rules. (Since you need to get to a certain level and have a lot of downtime, making constructs and other magical items is an enrichment activity inaccessible to many wizarding PCs.)
Anyway, Meditrin has no friggin’ idea what’s going on or why he was in the urn. (Presumably whoever put him in the urn found him deeper in the dungeon, decided to stash him until they figured out what to do with him, then never came back, if you as GM want an explanation.) He’s vaguely aware that he was made by a wizard named Octob, but that’s the extent of his knowledge and he has no actual memories — he was created but never properly activated, something that must have been lost in the shuffle when this whole operation fell apart. Which is probably best, because homunculi have a tendency to go mad when their creator dies, and Meditrin not having been activated at the time apparently let him dodge that. Meditrin is somewhat at loose ends here, so he’s liable to just go along with whatever the PCs suggest, as long as it isn’t blatantly self-destructive (he does have a self-preservation instinct). If you want to make him more useful, feel free to rule that he has some instinctive knowledge of magic inherited from Octob, so he can help piece together the bits of ruined books and notes found elsewhere.
Note: After writing this section, I had a thought. “Diversity loss! Both the homunculi in this part of the dungeon are male!” I was tossing around the idea of going back to swap the pronouns around to avoid the habit of making characters Male By Default, but then I had another thought. If you were, like Meditrin here, a homunculus with no personal memories, life experience, or sexual characteristics, how much of a gender identity would you really be able to conjure up? For that matter, to what degree do any homunculi have one? Homunculi are constructs; they probably don’t have a human experience of gender (which is also a construct, but like, a different kind). So, while I’ve used he/him pronouns for Meditrin here (mostly because people get weird about it if you call an intelligent being “it”), his gender is officially “[undefined]” and you can fill that in with whatever you want. Much of the same applies to Fontus (Room 1.20) — he uses he/him pronouns because Januaria thought of him as male, but he doesn’t really have a gender in human terms; it’s just a habit.
(Alternatively, if you think it would be fun to throw an actual baby at your PCs, here’s a possible explanation. This baby belonged to one of the wizards — let’s say it was Maia & Martius, since we already established they had a thing going. So two of the wizards. But they were very career-oriented, and rather than arrange childcare or something, they just decided to put the kid in magical stasis until they had time to raise it. (You don’t end up making weird hybrid creatures in an isolated laboratory compound by being the sort of person to make normal decisions.) Same course of events as before — someone found it and stashed it until they could figure out the right course of action, then never came back. Now your PCs have to decide what to do with a live human baby that might have immense magical potential if that kind of thing is genetic.) (You can give the baby whatever pronouns you want too; I intentionally didn’t specify this time.)
If at all relevant, this room is also where you can find Januaria’s remains — she seems to have come to a rather rough end somehow and been subsequently tossed into the swamp. The remains are sunk into the mud about ten feet from the stairs, near the first pillar in the north row.
Room 1.21.5: randomly generated secret room
I thought about just erasing this off the map rather than keying it, since it’s not attached to a room I could explain it in, but I guess I’m keeping it and introducing a minor complication into my numbering system.
This is another Highly Obvious Secret Door — not because it’s badly hidden, but because why else would this passage be here? The stone wall at the end of the passage slides into a slot on the side of the corridor when triggered. It’s not visually obvious, but once you start looking for secret doors, it becomes immediately apparent — the door opens when you knock on it, so anyone checking for a hollow sound in the wall will find it. It has, of course, long since been opened by a previous explorer because it’s Highly Obvious.
Behind the door is what seems to be a 10x10 storage closet, with stone shelves projecting from the wall on all sides. It has long since been looted and emptied, but we should probably put something here…
Maybe I’m overdoing this gimmick, but I like it. Left in this storage closet is the skeletonized corpse of a previous explorer — let’s call him Cocky and say he used to be a rogue. He got killed in this dungeon, and his companions decided to stash his corpse somewhere safe so they could look into raising him later. Then they never came back.
Cocky’s party members didn’t leave much in the way of dungeoneering gear or magic items with him — they needed those — but feel free to randomly generate some personal possessions, art objects, or a few gems and coins. He’s also wearing some suspiciously well-preserved leather armor… yep, it’s magic. Nothing too fancy: I’m inclined to just say it’s +1 leather armor and leave it at that, but feel free to increase that bonus to make it useful for PCs of your players’ level and add an ability if you like.
All right, that’s Week Three. Hope someone is enjoying reading these as much as I’m enjoying writing them.