Hi folks, I thought I would share a hazard that I have used a couple of times in some sessions for Cosmic Horror themed campaigns. In keeping with the idea that there is some knowledge that is harmful to learn, I created this process to codify how the madness takes hold. It's also a central theme to the upcoming modules I will be publishing. Below you will find the mechanics for the Forbidden Knowledge hazard, and two examples of how it can be used.
Please note that the Entropic hazard refers to Entropic Powers, which are figures common to Cosmic Horror, such as the Great Old Ones from Lovecraftian mythos, or the Fig Men from Nick Cutter's the Deep. In D&D they would be comparable to the Far Realms, but I wanted to avoid any concerns about OGL/SRD issues!
This also introduces Entropic Traits, which can be temporary or permanent character traits associated with the Entropic Powers.
These rules also rely on the Madness rules available in both the DMG and the 5e SRD.
A forbidden knowledge hazard is an unusual hazard in that it is not related to a direct interaction, but instead relates to gaining and using Forbidden Knowledge. Generally this knowledge will be gained from using or learning from Entropic artifacts or witnessing strange events, but can also happen from something as simple as reading the wrong book.
Each Forbidden Knowledge hazard will detail the outcomes of the three steps described below.
There are three stages to each Forbidden Knowledge hazard, and aside from the initial brush with the knowledge, requires the character to persistently study the knowledge.
Glimmers and Thoughts. When first encountering Forbidden Knowledge, the character learns about the presence of forbidden and dangerous knowledge. They must make a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or become frightened by the source of the forbidden knowledge and gain a short-term madness.
Tempted by Power. After being exposed to the forbidden knowledge they can choose to study it; if they do, they must make a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or take 2d6 psychic damage and gain a long-term madness. If they succeed on the saving throw, they can choose to continue learning and proceed to The Edge of Entropy; if they fail the saving throw, they must continue!
The Edge of Entropy. Having been tempted by power, the character must now attempt to comprehend what they have experienced, and make a DC 15 (or higher) Arcana check. If they fail the check, they gain an indefinite madness. Either way, the character will both learn some information, and gain a specific character trait.
Here are two examples of the Forbidden Knowledge hazard in practice:
Ruminations on Lozixhil
This journal is a transcript of discussions about and with something called Lozixhil, which is also a Forbidden Knowledge hazard.
Glimmers and Thoughts. Anyone taking the time to read the journal for an hour will experience and learn that the book contains a transcription of a communion with something named Lozixhil.
Tempted by Power. Persisting for another hour of reading will trigger Tempted by Power. They will learn that Lozixhil is a servant of Naxh’Dhritl and Lozixhil is the way that Naxh’Dhritl feeds on worlds.
The Edge of Entropy. The character has a Vision of Naxh’Dhritl and gains the Witness to Naxh’Dhritl trait.
Vision of Naxh’Dhritl
Read the following to a player who has a Vision of Naxh'Dhritl:
As you read the paragraphs of text, perusing, and contemplating the words on the page, your vision clouds over and you see a great, glowing ring before you. Your gaze is drawn through that ring and you notice the strange terrain that seems impossibly far away, bereft of any vegetation, and characterized by craggy cliffs, ravines, and bizarre outcroppings. As you focus in and peer into the depths of one of the ravines, it suddenly splits open, and a massive golden eye that shifts to look and focus on you.
Witness to Naxh'Dhritl (Entropic Trait)
Characters who have this trait have compulsion to learn more about the Entropic Powers, and become aware of the existence of a book called Convocations of Naxh'Dhritl. While under the effects of this trait, they have advantage on Wisdom saving throws against enchantment effects, but if they fail a saving throw they will also gain a short-term madness. If a character has access to or knows the location of Convocations of Naxh'Dhritl, they must make a DC 15 Wisdom save, or experience a short-term madness each day that they don't have access to it. This trait can be removed through the use of the spell Remove Curse or similar magic.
Example Adventure hooks:
- The characters find reference to Ruminations on Lozixhil in relation to a ritual to remove a curse and are tasked with seeking out a copy which they learn was last possessed by Agelmar who lived in the ruined town of Heron's Rest
- The characters find a copy of this book in the library of some Nepenthe cultists who were trying to complete some kind of dark ritual.
Blessings of Maragda
This book contains several chapters of what appear to be helpful techniques and tricks for improving garden and crop quality and output. Paging through the book will reveal that what starts out as sensible recommendations soon turn into strange arcane symbols and totems that can be assembled to draw the attention of Maragda and earn her favour. Reading past the first chapter triggers a Forbidden Knowledge hazard.
Glimmers and Thoughts. Anyone taking the time to read the journal will learn about Maragda, a powerful nature spirit that seeks to help plants and forests grow and thrive.
Tempted by Power. Reading beyond the first two chapters will trigger Tempted by Power; The character will learn that Maragda is a sentient plant creature that seeks to spread her seeds across worlds. These seeds not only allow Maragda to touch the world, but also grow into trees that contain portals that allow creatures to move between them regardless of the distance.
The Edge of Entropy. The character gains the Gardener of Maragda trait. They will gain an awareness of what a Seed of Maragda is, and the nature of Emerald Oaks. During their next long rest, they will become violently ill, and vomit up a small thorny black Seed of Maragda.
Gardener of Maragda (Entropic Trait)A character with this trait gains advantage on Nature checks related to plants, for example, identifying plants, learning which ones are edible, or how to properly cultivate them. Once they have taken a long rest with this trait, they will feel compelled to plant the seed they produced, secretly and in a hidden location. Each day that passes that they don't they will need to make a DC 15 saving throw; on the first failure they will gain a short-term madness. On the second, a long-term madness. On the third failure, they will experience an indefinite madness. Anyone with the Gardener of Maragda trait can travel between two Emerald Oaks once per day as though using Transport via Plants. After this each subsequent failure will result in a level of exhaustion. Once the seed is planted, all ill effects from the trait subside after their next long rest. This trait can be removed through the use of the spell Remove Curse or similar magic.
Seed of Maragda (Emerald Oak)
When planted, a Seed of Maragda will grow naturally into an Emerald Oak over decades. A large tree similar to an Oak, but with nearly jet black wood, this tree is evergreen, and it's leaves are a brilliant green that seem to reflect light like an emerald. If a living creature is killed over the location where the seed is planted, the growth will be accelerated, reaching it's full grown in 24 hours. If a living humanoid is killed instead, the tree will reach it's full growth in 2d4 rounds.
Example Adventure hooks:
- In the overgrown ruins of a cottage that was once the home of a forgotten druid there is a hidden chest underneath the floorboards. In that chest was a copy of this book, and a strange black seed wrapped in oil cloth and in a small metal box.
- The characters find a copy of this book in among the possessions of some Nepenthe cultists who were trying to complete some kind of dark ritual.
Both of these books and hazards are taken from some of my upcoming modules, and I plan to share more details for each of them as I get closer to publication!
- edited to add a reference to the madness rules.
- woah, for some reason the formatting was borked. fixed it up too. take two I guess, still broken formatting.
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