Mirrors of the Abyss
Mirrors of the Abyss is a fan-made adventure module for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition that revolves around the party having to venture to the 197th layer of the Abyss, Vulgarea, and infiltrate the palace of Eshebala, the malevolent Demon Princess/God of the Foxwomen - an actual obscure deity from way back in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. It is not a fair or balanced module, with the author literally warning readers at the start that it was designed as an homage to brutally lethal, old-school "competitive modules", such as the infamous Tomb of Horrors. In fact, think of it as the Tomb of Horrors, but with the layout intended to be randomly generated, and you have some idea of the batshit crazy that this module is going to feature.
It also features two 5e "paragon classes"; the Demonologist and the Exorcist, which are treated as 5 level mini-classes that players can only multiclass into at 15th level, effectively replacing their levels 16 and up class traits.
This adventure is somewhat of a Valentine’s Day card to Tomb of Horrors and other “snuff dungeons.”
There's a crisis in Dungeons & Dragons...Too many characters are living too long. Too many Players have become smug and comfortable, knowing that their fantasy counterpart will prevail in their weekly pillow fight with toothless monsters, and that everything always works out in the end...Utter. Dribble.
Is that a reflection of life? Is that the world we live in? As Dungeon Masters, we have decisions to make. Are you their tap-dancing, storybook-reading, omnipresent guardian angel, set to waddle in, in your red robe and fix die rolls? Or, are you their five senses upon an infinite and deadly fantasy universe, as you should be?
At some point, at every table, at least one Player gets the notion that they are playing the role of a super hero, and they are safe to wreak havoc, then reload their last save point, as if D&D were merely a video game. It is not. It was designed as a true game for adults (truly one of the only!), and adventuring is a high risk, high reward career choice in a fantasy paradigm absolutely brimming with danger.
Tomb of Horrors could make even the oldest, level 30 grognards cry a river of salt. Many classic modules were good at challenging the mettle of actual Players, and not just the min-maxed stats they’ve amassed on their sheets. This module, though classically influenced, promises a sugary touch of fair play sprinkled throughout the big bowl of salt. But repeat after me: “In its total, it is not fair. It is not intended to be balanced. It is Abyssal...It's bat-poo crazy and it is as chaotic evil as it should be.”
Mirrors of the Abyss has no official affiliations, though I would have been remiss not to acknowledge Iggwilv and her well-known Demonomicon, at least in passing. Gary Gygax (the coauthor, and an original creator of D&D/AD&D (along with Dave Arneson) and also the creator of Iggwilv and prime contributor to early Abyssal flavor) stated the following, roundabout, concerning Tomb of Horrors, which I hope is apt for my module:
“This is a thinking person’s module. If your group is a hack and slay gathering, they will be unhappy...brainwork is good for all players.”
“The real enjoyment [of The Tomb of Horrors] is managing to cope, and those players who manage to do so even semi-successfully will appreciate your refereeing properly and allowing them to ‘live or die’ on their own.”
“It is a killer.”
Modes of Play
The author offers advice on several different playstyles to use this module in:
- Kill All Min-Maxers Mode: Running the module as a One-Nighter Party Game Adventure, where players show up and see how far they can get into this lethal mega-dungeon in one setting. A secondary tweak provides a more defined list of specific rooms/encounters to use, rather than randomly generating the dungeon on the fly.
- Campaign Wipe Mode: Running the module as the ultimate climax for a prolonged campaign, having given the players a chance to come into contact with Eshebala and her minions and build up an enmity culminating in breaking into Vulgarea and kicking her ass (or trying to). The author also shills a "Tiberion Peaks Mode", which is running the module as a climatic follow up to the end of the "Shadow Over Mt. Tiberius" campaign... which is a prolonged campaign/adventure module that they haven't actually managed to get authority to print yet.
- Grognard Mode: Run the game as a Stand-Alone Adventure... you know, basically create an entirely new set of characters specifically for taking on this module (although they are not allowed to specifically design their PCs for the task of delving into this dungeon) and playing it out over multiple nights until you clear the module, everybody's dead, or your players have beaten you to death for playing the author's bullshit straight.
The module begins with the party reaching the fortified mountain inn of Castle Iverstone, only to find once they have all stepped through the front gate that it has been overrun by a mass of demons. They are confronted by Eshebala, the fiend-goddess having gone quite, quite mad over centuries of isolation. After a bit of mad ranting, she explains that she has decided to "play" with the adventurers, as punishment for her own status of having been judged and forgotten. Declaring that the last survivor who manages to make it to her at the heart of her castle in Vulgarea shall be granted the gift of life and returned to the mortal world, she promptly dumps them all on the 197th layer of the Abyss. With no access to Plane Shift themselves, the party has no choice but to try and survive their way through Castle Vulgarea's ruins.
...Yeah, this is definitely some old-school railroading bullshit right here.
Regardless of how the rest of the castle's layout is generated, the party begins their play in "The Fossil Ossuary", a hidden den containing the skeletons of three enormous dire arctic foxes. This is basically Eshebala's pet cemetery, and the skeletons were her three favored foxes before one killed the other two and she killed him for it. Looking at the walls, the party is presented with their first puzzle, in the form of this riddle:
- Iko ~ You were dear and sweet. Too sweet for Faustus not to eat. I took your tail and will wear it forever.
- Ephryta ~ I remember your gentle gaze in the gloom but the last thing you saw before this tomb was his gnashing teeth.
- Faustus ~ Ornery, but longest-lived. For each sister you took, I knocked your head.
- I shall not leave until I remember to pat my favored one
A DC 19 Nature check will reveal that the 1st skeleton is missing its tail and has a damaged eye socket, the 2nd skeleton is missing its tail and has damaged neck vertebrae, and the 3rd one has an absolutely obliterated skull. To escape the ossuary, the party must pet the right skeleton - stroking the wrong one causes a partial cave-in, damaging the party due to being pelted with falling rocks, but not killing them outright.
SPOILERS: The skeletons are, in order, Ephryta, Iko, and Faustus; the players need to pet Iko's skeleton in the middle. Also, take Iko's paw; it is one of the treasures that can be used to disarm Eshebala.
Once outside, they are trapped in the Purgatory Grove, a bounded demiplane in the form of an Abyssal forest, and presented with two identical men; Romulus and Remus Iverstone. One of these is the real surviving heir to the family who ran the castle-inn where this whole mess began, the other is a fiendish duplicant. The party has to kill one of these two (which one doesn't matter) in order to progress to Vulgarea proper, otherwise they're stuck here until they starve to death. And no, magic can't be used to breach the demiplane. Exactly which twin is the fiend, and what his mission is, the DM randomly generates... and even if you do let the true Iverstone live, he's been placed under a subtle enchantment to betray the party at a later date, unless they preemptively subject him to a Dispel Magic, Remove Curse, or similar magic. Presuming you don't get the result where both Iverstones are fakes!
Oh, and for added "fun", the Purgatory Grove also contains super-deadly poisonous-to-the-touch mushrooms and an enchanted stream that compels anyone who gets to near to make an "Arcana Saving Throw" (DC17) or take a drink... which, depending on the d6 result, could inflict 6d6 Necrotic damage, force the victim to drink again and again without stopping (save each round to stop, cumulative -1 penalty per drink) until dead, render them incapable of holding anything for 1d4+1 turns, be Frightened until they make a save, become convinced their reflection is a doppelganger and attack it, or... heal 1d6+10 HP AND gain a +2 bonus to their next save or check.
Yeah, the bullshit is strong in this one.
Right at the start of the module, DMs are warned that Eshebala should be all but impossible for the party to kill, since she's a demon-goddess and the party are a bunch of 15th level scrubs.
One thing unique about Eshebala in this module is that the author figures she's picked up a lot of Truenames over eons as she's made various attempts at actually promoting herself, and so a random table is provided to generate three Truenames for use each time you run this module; one is her actual Truename, and the other two are fake ones that won't work. Those two names marked with a "?" are potential candidates for her true original Truename.
- Exarch of 27 Legions!
- Vulpia, Empress of Mirrors
- Kumiho, the Nine-Tailed Fox
- Ishtar of Desire
- Hewsṓs of the Red Dawn
- Sie über Dämonen
- Ôstara of the Orgasm
- Fuchs Slätern Pohjola
- Ēostre of the Fertile Valleys
- Advérsus Dæmonia
- Consort of Forbidden Lusts
- Lyressa Sulvane?
- Feracea Wryx?
Assuming the party lives and manages to reach the final battle against Eshebala, she is a formidable Challenge 16 threat with 1000 hit points, multiple immunities and special abilities, including the power to summon the Aspect of another Demon Prince to aid her! That said, there are a number of little things that the party can do to try and turn the tides in their favor:
- When the party arrives, Eshebala is acting out the finale of a play she created that portrays the founding of the Abyss in a positive light; if the party reads the book "The Truth in the Chaos", which is a script of the play, they can steal the show by giving the play's final line themselves, which drops her Armor Class from 18 to 16.
- For each Truename the party managed to invoke before the fight began, her Hit Points are reduced by 25 points - but she gains +25 HP for each False Name they used!
- If they somehow found and invoked her Original Name, she loses a whopping 400 HP.
- Calling upon the constellation "The Eyes of the 3 Sisters" will force Eshebala to finally acknowledge that she is a demon, and has been for eons; this will strip her of all of her immunities, save for her immunities to Summoning, Possession, Fear, Charm, those provided by her magical Ring of Impermeability (Acid Immunity & she cannot drown or suffocate), and that she d oesn't need a Vulgarean Key (see below).
- Presenting her with the Paw of Iko will Stun her, as well as stripping her of all Resistances and Legendary Resistances for the duration of the fight.
- Bringing one of the following creatures to the battle - Sea Monkeys, Mirror Gremlins, Clowns, or One of Her Children - will be extremely demoralizing to her. She will lose her Immunity to Fear (and, in fact, suffer Disadvantage on fear-related damage & effects), take a -2 penalty to her To Hit rolls, and be unable to use her Reactive Spite attack.
- Bringing an NPC she has a strong history with, such as Grult or Castigor, to the battle will inflict Vulnerability to Psychic Damage on her.
- If the party manages to find The Collar of Iktrolow Kolth and snap it around Eshebala's neck, she will be trapped in her human form.
- If called to intervene against Eshebala, via his awarded Calling Card, Abraxxas (who has become resentful of his post in Vulgarea), will attempt to fulfill his ability listed on his treasure card. If she attacks Abraxxas or pisses him off, or it seems like the PCs could win, he will also make a Ranged Spell Attack (+12) to shatter her Mirrored Fetter (Weapon AC: 21). He will cite that, "All he has made for her can be unmade!"
- Finally, there are two special weapons hidden in Vulgarea that are especially effective against Eshebala: Daragor's Trident and Heart Riven the God Cleaver. If a wielder slots Heart Riven into Daragor's Trident to replace the missing tine, then they have a super-effective weapon; this combined weapon will deal Critical Hits against Eshebala on a 16+ once she is at less than 1/3rd of her health.
Because no actual details of Vulgarea beyond the fact it exists were ever created by TSR, the author naturally was free to make shit up for their own module. Vulgarea is presented as a once-fiendishly beautiful garden realm, full of savage yet aesthetically pleasing wilderness, which is slowly crumbling into decline due to Eshebala's prolonged ennui and disinterest in its upkeep. The result is that Vulgarea is surrounded by a thick layer of mist (ala the Demiplane of Dread), which on the other hand may have already been there, and the rest of the realm is sinking into fiendish ruins. The decline is most notable in Eshebala's capital, also known as Vulgarea (because that's not fucking confusing); once a palace of unparalleled beauty, with every surface adorned in mirrors, it has been reduced to a shattered hovel.
One particularly unique trait of Vulgarea as depicted in this module is that it traps souls. Players who die, then, have the option to continue playing as trapped spirits and win a resurrection... by deliberately fucking things over for their still-living party members, thus appeasing the fundamental treacherous nature of the (demi)plane they're in. Yeah... this is gonna go down well.
Another trait, even worse, is Vulgarea's security system: Any demon or being that is not: an approved dignitary, approved demonic royalty, a high-ranking lieutenant, or a trusted servant must carry one of the hundreds of unique Vulgarean Keys on their person, at all times, lest the fabric of space-time begin to peel away around them, allowing swarms of Meat-Flay Flies into their vicinity, where the fist-sized Abyssal bugs will melt that hapless, keyless victim until only a puddle of bones & fly bile remains. Oh, and each key carries its own unique curse, except for those rare few only found as treasures that have more beneficial effects.
Way back when Eshebala first reared her head in Monster Mythology, it was noted that Eshebala despised the vast majority of demons for being brutish and ugly. As such, the monsters in this module are tweaked, something explained at the module's beginning in a section called "Vulgarean Demons are Atypical":
- All fiends in Vulgarea have the subtype: "demon." Eshebala is disgusted by demons, for they are ugly and uncomprehending of beauty. She accepted them eventually for their utility and because they are a readily available legion that occurs naturally in the Abyss. After she frivolously expended 10,000 + years of human and Kitsune followers, she needed servants, guards and soldiers.
- As she begrudgingly endured their proximity, she never stopped trying to breed more aesthetically pleasing demonic hybrids. She created untold forms, many of which were immediately cast out of Vulgarea. Some say the misty wastes that hem her citadel are horrific enough that her legions fear to see what has stayed alive in there. There are odd howls in the night, guttural, lonely and ravenous for anything to disembowel.
- Case in point, the Vulgarean demon stat-blocks do not always reflect the expected D&D traits. Only some have maintained elemental defenses, and due to a harsh period where demon-to-demon summoning was banned by Eshebala, fewer still have the ability to call in backup. Also, the following caveat may be thought of, as a consistent general trait of Vulgrean Demonkind:
- Special Susceptibility: Many demons may or may not have obscure vulnerabilities and wardings listed as secrets in the esoterica found by the Players. The pedigree of minor demons is contingent upon the care of their immediate masters/officers and their strange long-term honing/breeding. Some Vulgarean demon variants are very new to the Abyss (newer than tanar'ri), and some very, very old (as old as obyriths!). Some still adhere to the ancient customs and rulings of demonkind similar to what's described in our earth's myth history. It is up to the DM whether or not these weaknesses can be successfully exploited per battle if the PCs encounter them or discover ancient tomes and secrets.
The article has 7 official end scenarios:
- 1: You were all killed to the last PC. However, a fiendish power may choose to arrange for you to be reincarnated, in hopes of using you as a weapon against the Queen of Vulgarea.
- 2: You reach the end and killed your party as Eshebala decreed. She shows you off to the demonic gamblers who were watching your party and betting on you, and then turns you into a lowly servant.
- 3: You were seduced by Eshebala and become one of her consorts. She quickly forgets about you.
- 4: You were killed in the climatic battle with Eshebala.
- 5: You found a reason for Eshebala to spare your life... as one of her soon-forgotten prisoners and playthings.
- 6: You somehow destroyed Vulgarea with a mighty explosion.
- 7: You killed Eshebala! You and your party are all sent back to the material plane, with whatever few treasures you managed to scrape up during this whole affair. What, you expected a decent ending in this shitshow of a module?