Inspired by

So this short idea comes from one of my favourite Pratchett’ stories, Thief Of Time. While I think the story is a treasure trove of great ideas the challenge today is boiling this down into a single concept.

My favourite elements are the concept of a fight in frozen time, the Procrastinators (that you can’t charge yourself), the Auditors, and that getting out involves smashing a big clock. I’ve brought those together in simple one-shot type combat. The most challenging element is keeping the Auditors skills in check. I really felt that a monster that learns your skills from you is a pretty cool concept. 

This is the first of a new series of articles where I just share concepts and short one of combats or dungeons. These will not be part of a larger campaign but will all be set in my new location Spherover, the wandering city. Which I will be posting about more from now on. They have three main parts.

The setting: An optional set up for the combat what might have happened before to get the players into this mess. 

Combat changer: Combats are fun but can get repetitive, This is how I suggest you make the combat more hectic without just throwing enemies at the players.

The monster: Sometimes this might be ‘the trap’ but mostly this is a new monster with some cool abilities or powers that can help shake up the game.

A suggestion: My suggestions are premade encounters for using the rules outlined above. Should be fun and simple to run.  

The setting

Sitting in the wizard’s workshop you hear him grumbling and mumbling to himself. Trilby the ever-paranoid has an inkling that his longtime rival Thornton is messing with forces far beyond his control. He’s started some long rant about time being more like a load of large men wrestling on a rubber sheet when everything turns to crystal. Ice blue lines cover each surface and are slowly receding across your body, you hear your heat give a few slow beats before returning to normal. Before you screwdriver hangs in the air, in terror, you turn to look out the window. Seeing that all of the Canyons have come to a stop, great riding dragons frozen mid flap and flying ships nailed to the sky. For all but you and, you’d guess from the fussings of Trilby, the wizard it appears that time has stopped. 

Some damn fool has stopped time, thankfully you were with Trilby. He’s slapped a Time Battery onto each of your and sent you to go smash, break or otherwise stop whatever is messing with the time streams. He suspects that Thornton might be to blame as he stole some Tachyogauges off him recently and set you off across the frozen city to go investigate the laboratories.

Combat changer

These vibrating backpacks appear cobbled out of a steel cylinder and some leather straps. A crank juts out from the top of the cylinder. Mystic runes are cut crudely into the leather and etched onto the steel. 

The Time Battery is the device that allows the players to move through this frozen world. Unfortunately, Trilby isn’t much of a designer and has left a couple of problems with it. The batteries are strapped to the player’s backs and require recharging by someone standing behind the player or some other inventive solution to spin the crank. If the player’s pack runs down they get stuck in time and can only rejoin the fight if they are wound back up.

How fast they wind down is up to you, it should be easily trackable by players though. I personally like using two rules in combat and out of combat. When out of combat don’t track it, it’s a pain for players to keep stopping to charge and can ruin the flow. 

In combat, it’s a resource. The more a player does the more the pack runs down. If they don’t have a chance to charge up before the battle allows them 10+ 1d20 points, the batteries can hold a maximum charge of 30 points. These points are consumed for every action a player takes, that includes movement, reactions and bonus actions. To give you an idea each player can expect to consume a minimum two points every round so a six-round combat will run them down twelve points without any reactions or bonus actions. 

This introduces some interesting questions for players. A low beginning number will limit their options, A high number might make them overconfident. It also challenges the players to think of recharging the battery by having another player use an action to crank the lever. I think giving 2d4+5 (or +dex bonus if you want more player agency) is a good way to resolve the kind of charge boost the player gets. The constant threat of dropping out of the world means that people need to think carefully about how to survive long combats.

The monster

These things look human, two ears, two eyes, a nose and a mouth it’s all there but it doesn’t have that spark of true life about it. Their faces are symmetrical, emotionless and without any imperfections. Clothed in plain robes the colour of a dust covered page these ‘wrong things’ watch you in a manner that makes you feel like nothing but a piece of grit stuck in the teeth of an otherwise perfect machine. 

Auditors are one of my favourite concepts from Pratchett’s works and I think the way they are portrayed in the Thief of Time is a wonderfully threatening concept. The auditors here are heavily edited from the incarnate Auditors of the book. They aren’t weak to chocolate for instance but they retain the essence of what made them dangerous.

Found in groups of three and ideally in a group of nine which is three threes these monsters rapidly go from next to useless to very dangerous. So when using them make it clear they are learning. As a DM build time into the game for this knowledge to spread and make it feasible that each new group has the information needed

This makes for more interesting battles as goal of the combat goes from ‘kill the guys next to us’ to ‘let’s make sure that none escape’ it also adds more thought to how the murder is dished out. It can also add to the strategy of the fight as the players know what skills might be used against them in future battles.

As a DM you have to be ready for these Auditors to pick up weapons and adapt. Allowing them to use new items and fully access the abilities they’ve been offered. My advice is to work this out before the game and make some notes so you don’t have to pause to look up what damage a spell or weapon does.


A trio of Auditors in conversation

A suggestion

Fabrication workshop

This vast workshop is usually a hive of activity but now stands still. Spinning arcane engines are locked in place, pillars of lightning stop mid crackle and steam hangs like unmoving fog. Five figures stand frozen in their work, a haze of blue crystal energy obscuring their face and form. A cluster of robed figures gathers, tweaking at one of the arcane engines. 

Nine Auditors are in this room; five are gathered in conference below while one is standing on the balcony above.  As the players enter from the north, the Auditors insist that the group is ‘breaking the rules’. All eight on the floor work together when speaking, trying to understand how the characters are still moving through time. While they do their best to act as one voice if the players don’t answer questions clearly they will start arguing and insulting each other. They are particularly confused by metaphors, analogies and colloquialisms. They don’t attack until they can work out how the characters are moving through time or the characters sufficiently annoy them, deciding they’ll take the information from their corpses. They will obviously defend themselves.

The one on the balcony will serve as a witness, deliberately staying out of the confrontation to escape to the private workshop and take the character’s abilities to its compatriots.

Special note

Moving time locked things. Anything that can’t be picked up by the characters or is otherwise secured to something large by chains or fastenings is difficult to shift. Each molecule is locked in time resisting any movement, trying to move it will require energy from a time battery. Exactly how much this is up to you but in particular I recommend having the doors between the rooms take a least a two minutes to open. This helps give the auditors time to prepare and disseminate the skills they have witnessed. Auditors and the demon in the Summoning Room are things outside of time and so don’t have this limitation and can interact with things as if time isn’t broken.

Summoning Room

This plain stone-walled room is far more traditional of a wizard’s workroom. Especially dribbly candles are spaced around thick leather-bound tomes and eldritch circles. A stuffed bullette hangs from the ceiling below which a demon, a monstrous form cobbled together from the worst attributes of man and vulture, examines it. Behind its horrid shape the are four wizards frozen in time, each has been torn apart flecks of blood hang in the air, and severed limbs pause in mid-tumble. 

The wizards summoned a demon to power their arcane machines. With the laws of time on the fritz, it has broken free, as a thing not of this world; it can move freely, unaffected by this error in physics. While it can be an encounter it can also be roleplay as the demon is trapped in the room and wishes to escape, it will bargain with the players for freedom. As this short is aimed at a fifth level party, I used a Vrock which is currently trapped in this room. As such it’s very drawn to shiny things and will immediately go back on any deal or bargain it’s made to obtain those items once free.

Special note

Fighting the demon should reward the players; it’s not essential as they can go straight to the private workshop. I’d arrange to have some loot; the Vrock will have already combed the space for everything of value and gathered it in some corner. What this is up to you but should be things you might find in the workshop, including scrolls and wands.

Directors office

This small side room is neat to the extreme. While the demon has clawed at the entry, unable to pass through the small doorway, it has not been able to disturb the pristine space. The books lining the shelves are perfectly aligned, and some work has even gone into grouping them in colour and size. The desk has a single book open upon it with two frozen candles illuminating the text.

This small space offers a place to hide from the demon while also concealing plans for the machine in the private workshop helping to provide instruction on how to disable it. It could also have loot in it.

Private workshop

This workshop hums with power; the focus is on what appears to be a glowing red sarcophagus. Artefacts are laid out across a large blanket in the middle of the room, a mixture of familiar items and alien shapes. An unmoving crowd is locked in place watching the machine. Around them, auditors are gathered in groups readying themselves for your attack.

Another nine auditors stand in this room these have been briefed with the skills of the one witness from the first battle. (If the that Auditor failed to escape, arm them with some of the abilities of the Vrock). Mr Green is the top auditor in the room, he’s more psychotic than the others and will threaten the players more directly. He has also stolen weapons and armour from a frozen audience member. And as such has a long sword and an AC of 18

The auditors will fight to defend the sarcophagus and stop the players from destroying the apparatus. I would give the Sarcophagus some 30 hit points and an AC of 18 to ensure it’s tough to destroy but not impossible. Finding the notes

The auditors will fight to the end trying their best to kill the players. Though will disappear once the sarcophagus is destroyed.

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