The Alabaster Portal Key
How do you smoothly run a weekly game if there is a lot of turnover?
What if you have dedicated players, for the most part, but every week you don’t know how many will show up? Some may have to miss a session (or two or three). New players may show up and want to join the group. Existing players may need to drop out but may want to re-join the group in a few months.
I think that the best way to handle this will be to have every session end back at the tavern, or some other busy place, or back at their home base wherever that might be.
It solves most of the problems and creates some new ones. It solves any leveling-up in the midst of play problems, all leveling up will occur between sessions. It makes it easy to accommodate missing players, their PC simply doesn’t play but can play next session. It also makes adding new players easy, their character simply joins the group for the new session.
It also creates some problems. The first is how can you do that, especially when higher level characters may be traveling far and wide? Even low-level characters that are adventuring close to home may have a problem leaving the dungeon and coming back in any reasonable time frame. It also restricts somewhat which adventures you can run. For example, any “ticking-clock” adventure where the characters must finish in a set time frame would be hard to run. Also, you couldn’t stop an adventure in the middle of an encounter, which isn’t a big problem, but it does limit you somewhat.
Here is how I propose would do this. Give the PCs a magical artifact (maybe the tavern owner gives it to them or they save a strangers life and he gives it to them). At first level, they take this with them and when they activate it, they are all returned to the tavern. When activated again, it returns them to wherever they were before.
To introduce it into an existing campaign, the PCs could find it wherever they are adventuring. When activated it sends them to the tavern. The tavern owner can be a sympathetic NPC who lets them continue to use it.
Here is an example of how this might work:
The owner of the tavern escorted us down the stairs to a large dusty basement. He then called for the crowd to gather around. He held up a large white chess piece and declared “One of you lucky people will be allowed to purchase this tonight. It is a magical key.”
“Have you ever been a long way from home and wished you had a way to return home quickly? With this magical key you can instantly return here any time you like. Just take it with you wherever you roam and when you want to return simply hold this key in your hand and say the magic words. It will open a magical doorway between wherever you are and this archway.” He pointed to an ancient arched doorway in the wall behind him. It was completely sealed by the same stone that made up the rest of the walls of this old chamber. “But wait, there’s more! If you want to go back to where you were, simply approach this archway with the key and say the magic words. It will open the doorway at the same location you left. You could take a long trip and return home to your warm bead each night. ”
At that point most of the crowd turned around and returned to the drinks, snickering and shaking their heads as they climbed back up the stairs.
To the few of us that remained, he said “You appear to be adventurers. Just consider the possibilities! Imagine you are cleaning out a dungeon. You have fought many monsters, defeated deadly traps and collected ancient treasures, but at the end of the day there are still other dungeon levels remaining to explore. With this key you could return here, sell or lock up your treasure, identify any magical items you may have found, replace any lost or broken weapons and amination, rest and heal your bodies. Then when you are ready you can return refreshed and resupplied. You could even recruit other adventurers to help if you need to and they could return with you. And if one or more of your party needs to stay behind while you return to the dungeon, the ones who return only need the key and the activation word.”
I asked, “What if we are being chased by monsters? How quickly could we open the doorways?”
“Well …” He swallowed hard and said, “You know this was never intended to be used as an escape from battle.”
“The magic word is really more of a ritual. It takes 10 minutes to activate the portal.”
“And what if we are being pursued? Can anyone pass through? How long does it stay open?”
”Well, yes any creature could pass through once it is open and it normally stays open for one minute. However, you can close it at any time by tapping the key on the side of the passageway.”
I thought about this for a minute and then said, “Okay, say we are in a dungeon, a patrol is approaching so we hide around a corner and use this to return here, are you saying that we could just wait here for a few minutes and, watching through the doorway, go back when the danger had passed?”
“Actually, no. I may have neglected to mention that you must wait until the next day, at least 8 hours, before you can return. Also, the two portals are filled with a mist so you won’t be able to see what is beyond.”
I asked, “So if we go from here to a dungeon we will have to wait 8 hours before we can return?”
“No, not at all. When you leave here you can stay as long as you like or you can return immediately. Or, I mean, after the 10 minute activation ritual.
“It is just that when you return here you must wait until the next day to return to the dungeon. And, even if it is the next day, you cannot return unless it has also been at least 8 hours. So you can come back here a little before midnight and return 8 hours later. If you return here after midnight, you will have to wait until after midnight the following day.”
I then asked, “What if I am in the dungeon and just need to store something we found, or retrieve something that I forgot? You say that the portal stays open for one minute. Could I open it and then quickly come here to pick up something and return? Or if someone is wounded, I could open the portal, let them run through and then close it behind them. If I understand what you have been telling me, I should be able to do that as often as I wanted to. As long as I am not on this side when I open the portal, I can open it whenever I want.”
He answered, “Yes you can do those things, however there is another restriction I forgot to mention. Each time you use the key to activate the portal, the key must pass through to the other side and remain there when the portal closes or it resets and can’t be used again for 24 hours.”
He smiled at me and said, “So, if you bring me the small sum of 5,000 gp tomorrow, this alabaster portal key will be yours and I will teach you the ritual required to activate it.”
|Alabaster Portal Key
Wondrous item, artifact
This 3-inch tall alabaster statuette resembles a chess piece (a castle). Anyone who holds the key and knows the 10-minute activation ritual can activate the artifact. This person does not have to have any magical abilities. When activated, you create linked teleportation portals that remain open for the duration. Any creature or object entering either portal exits from the other portal as if the two were adjacent to each other. One portal is the one named in the activation ritual, which is a specific existing 4 foot wide by 8 foot tall stone archway which becomes filled with mist. This stone archway and the portal key are two parts of the same artifact. If you are not within 10 feet of the stone archway, the other portal is created at a location you choose within 10 feet of you and resembles a glowing arched gateway the same size as the stone archway. It is also filled with mist. If the key is activated when you are within 10 feet of the stone archway, it opens a portal in that archway and opens the remote portal at its previous location, allowing return travel to the point where that portal was last created.
The portals remain for one minute or you can close the portals early by touching the key to the side of either portal.
When within 10 feet of the stone archway, the key cannot be used to activate the portal until the day following its last use and at least 8 hours have passed. Otherwise, when not near the stone archway, the key can be used at any time.
The key must pass through the portal and be on the opposite side when the portal closes or it can’t be opened again for 24 hours.
I would like to hear your thoughts on this topic (or on this artifact).
Nicely written. I like it. Already my mind is going crazy with creative scenarios. One of them is why not have the Inn be the artifact. Yes, the whole Inn. And they can take the whole Inn with them. yes, it travels with them like Superwoman’s invisible jet. The PC’s go in (because they can see the door) and vanish until they decide to leave. Once they leave the resume where they left off. Well, I like your idea because there is the possibility that the key can fall into the wrong hands opening up a whole new adventure (heee heee). Plus, they have to wait to go back and forth; they can’t just rescue themselves on a whim. What happens if they lose the key?
That makes it sound like a magic rod that contains an unlimited number of a modified version of Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion spells. It wouldn’t address the reason I created it – to easily add/remove players between sessions unless the inn is on another plane where travelers are often passing through. But I like the idea. Keeps the imagination active.
Lose the key? YES. That is part of why I didn’t just make it a spell to open the portals. Lost or stolen, now they must get it back. If they are captured and all their equipment taken they now have no easy means of escape. Instant adventure!
This has many possible adventure hooks. First, instead of someone giving them the key, they find an ancient stone archway with a name scratched into the lintel. Then they find an old document describing the key and how it works. Then they find the activation ritual – the last word in the ritual is underlined. It is the same name as that scratched over the archway. Then they find an old adventures notebook. He had the key and used it. The last entry in his hand says where he was going. In another hand, it says he never returned. Adventure! Go find the Key!
Several levels later, they discover that there are other archways with other names. By changing the name in the ritual they can go to other fixed portal locations in the multiverse. The first one could lead to the next for a series of linked adventures.
There are other keyed archways which don’t work with this key. This key is one of several. It is a chess piece – perhaps other pieces of the same set are keys to other portals. Or maybe it is only the rooks. Maybe the alabaster ones are “good” and the onyx ones are “bad”.
The adventure continues.
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