In this isolated kingdom, the fertile land's bounty and all its healthy beasts are nothing more than a literal illusion. Yet the phantasm must never be broken, lest all the people starve.The citizens tell a story. A century and a year ago, there was an archfey exiled from the Feywild. She wandered the world for a decade and a year, until she found a great many people in plight. Their nation had been ravaged by a cataclysm. The fields were barren, the forests were cinders, the rivers and lakes were poisoned, no animals could thrive, and the survivors' food supplies were dwindling. The archfey promised to solve this crisis. She studied the barren land and waters for a week and a day, conferring with the young new king. Finally, the archfey resolved to make a sacrifice. She went deep into the earth and gave her life. The following midnight, the nation was rejuvenated. Grass, trees, crops, and waters all took life once more, just like that: viridescent fields and grazing cattle, shaded woodlands and hopping rabbits, crystalline streams and spawning salmon. It was a miracle.The past century has been idyllic. The fields tend to themselves, no agriculture needed. Nobody is hungry. The many mines of iron and precious metals were untouched by the cataclysm. All is well.The citizens' story misses a key detail. The archfey did not have the power to rejuvenate the kingdom, nor did she die. Dreams and illusion were always her forte. She placed herself in an eternal slumber, and her dreams became a false "reality" in the land and waters above her mound. The mines are the only genuine natural resource left. Everything else is just dust and/or air, covered by an illusion: a powerful illusion that confers actual sustenance and substance, provided that the viewer remains blissfully unaware. Only the royal family and their trusted inquisitors are aware of the secret; it is why they prefer expensively imported food, clothes, and other luxuries.Enter the PCs. (Continued.)
Metal traders depart from the isolated nation regularly, but visitors are rare. The PCs arrive to unearth some ancient artifact in some old ruin, destroyed during the cataclysm. Thanks to their connections and/or diplomatic abilities, the PCs secure permission to do a little dungeon crawling. The delve is challenging, but not unusual. It is when the PCs settle down to rest in the city, though, that things get weird.PCs are nosey, and they did not grow up here. The more perceptive among them notice that reality is a smidge off. Everything wooden, everything cloth, everything silk... it all seems just a little wrong. The food is especially suspicious, hardly as satiating as it should be. And why do the citizens spout a crazy story about a life-giving archfey and self-tending fields, anyway?More incisive PCs eventually see through the illusion outright. It becomes phantasmal to them. What happens next depends on how the group plays its cards. They could quietly leave and think nothing more of it. If they raise a fuss, they attract the attention of the royal inquisitors, who do their best to catch the PCs; maybe the party escapes, or perhaps the party is captured. The group may opt to deliberately confront the inquisitors and the royal family about this illusion.Should the PCs wind up speaking to the inquisitors and the royals, the group is shown the slumbering archfey, safe beyond many magical barriers. The royals tell the true story of the land. The PCs are offered a hefty sum to leave and never speak of the illusion. (A roundabout "quest reward," in a way.) Besides, the party already dug up the artifact they came to the nation for anyway. But then again... perhaps there is a better solution for the kingdom, somewhere out there in the wider world? The royals would deeply appreciate it if the PCs would return some day, with knowledge of a viable alternative.That is my idea, anyway. I worry that the reveal might be unsatisfying. How would you polish the idea?
Now that I consider it, the stone quarries should probably be non-illusory, too.
Someone else has some ideas for disruptions to the status quo:>Perhaps the archfey is beginning to develop nightmares, due to some outside influence. Reality itself begins to unravel, as the idylic fields become overrun with literal nightmare monsters. Look up lore on World of Warcraft's Emerald Dream/Nightmare, similar concept to this.>Perhaps the archfey is slowly dying, as their illusions can sustain others but not themselves. The party needs to find a way to help keep them alive, perhaps through a trip to the Feywild.>Perhaps other fey have come to find their missing friend. Somebody needs to smooth things over with them, lest the entire kingdom starve in a day.>Perhaps a "cult" appears, preaching of the "truth" - only, this time it's actually real, and those who believe now cannot be sustained by the illusions. Does the party help spread the truth or protect the white lie?
Is this scenario the premise of the whole game, or just a cool sidequest?I like it. Reminds me of the sociological idea of the habitus which I would recommend looking into if you're trying to comment on the you-have-to-buy-into-the-collective-belief-it-works-at-all nature of society.Knowing how players are in general, they might either catch on immediately or remain completely ignorant. You'll need to tailor the scenario to your players by providing either more or fewer hints. I also don't think the PCs should be able to see through the illusion without employing powerful magics. If some chump could successfully roll to disbelieve, I believe it deeply undermines the premise. See also The Matrix (1999) where you have to violently leave the simulation to even begin to be able to take advantage of it, and even then it is very difficult to pierce the veil when inside.Why does the archfey help the people? Fey are usually portrayed as exceedingly capricious and self-serving but unpredictable. It would track that a powerful fey might want to selflessly help people on a whim, but this seems like a very sustained and predictable scenario. Might the payment be something abstract like a particular emotion or feeling or abstract quality that everyone in this society strangely lacks (fey: "can I have your attention?" fool: "uh, sure." fey: "thanks" fool: "what's that shiny thing over there?")Why does the kingdom not try to resolve the issues caused by the cataclysm? Are they ruthless, complacent, or merely incapable? If they're ruthless, why pay the PCs off instead of mind-wiping or killing them and saying they perished in the attempt to recover the artifact? Perhaps the artifact quest was a test to see if the PCs were powerful enough to help the kingdom?
>>85454698A side quest, I imagine, or at least a campaign arc.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habitus_(sociology)What in this page should I be looking at if I want to glean something relevant to the adventure idea?>I also don't think the PCs should be able to see through the illusion without employing powerful magics.My idea was that the PCs did not grow up in the area, and that PCs are naturally nosey, thus giving them a good chance at seeing past the illusion. If that is insufficient, perhaps the artifact the PCs unearthed has some heretofore unknown divinatory powers, thus giving the PCs a chance to pierce the illusion.>Why does the archfey help the people?Admittedly, I did not think too deeply on this archfey's backstory. The reason why I said "archfey" instead of any other entity is because fey are traditionally the creatures most associated with tricksy illusions. Perhaps this archfey was exiled from the Feywild precisely because they did not quite mesh with the vibe of all the other fairies? Failing that, the entity could be a fallen angel of a trickster god, trying to seek redemption in whatever way possible.>Why does the kingdom not try to resolve the issues caused by the cataclysm?My idea was that it is an isolated kingdom and that they genuinely had no recourse for repairing the land. The cataclysm was a one-off tragedy unlikely to repeat itself, such as a once-in-a-million-years planar conjunction. Maybe the Positive and Negative Energy Planes smashed together right atop the kingdom.As for the relatively unrelated artifact, the isolated kingdom still has a small measure of foreign relations. Maybe the ruin was recently unearthed, and they sold the salvage rights to some other nation (where the PCs are headquartered), in exchange for some rare resources unavailable locally?
>>85454698>>85454963Either way, thank you for the input. I deeply appreciate it. I may eventually flesh this out enough to present a system-agnostic adventure outline for others to use; who knows.
>>85454963>What in this page should I be looking atI mostly bring it up as a framework for understanding various societal structures. A society based on an illusion needs to find ways to reinforce the illusion if it fails or gets pierced.As a small example, consider the issue of food. Historically, what and how one eats is dependent on what grows in the region. Diets may omit meat if it is hard to get and either replace it with fish or find some other way to avoid malnutrition...or just become malnourished. In the case of this scenario, people only eat a very specific type of food that "grows by itself" or "by the mercy of our patron who gave their life so that we may prosper." This food, being an illusion, ought to be food that is difficult to tell that it's fake. I can see a case for it being either very plain gruel (since gruel doesn't have much flavor to hide) or wildly fanciful (since there's nothing to really compare it to, so it can taste like anything). Even outsiders would find it difficult to notice the illusion: the food and people's relationship with it is easily explained by their environment and history. Granted, the environment and history are quite strange, but in this case strange-but-explicable is much more conducive to a functioning society than inexplicably-off-but-people-deal-with-it.Continue that thought to structures: stonework is preferable to wood construction because there are conventions around using less wood because the merciful patron has decreed it so. Iron is being mined out of this land because the patron does not like iron. Cobblers are rare because leatherworking and woodworking is frowned upon and people just go without footwear and develop strong feet. The rulers who know the illusion is fake appear to live in wealth, but their wealth is an illusion for the benefit of others: this preference for wealth justifies their food imports, but in truth they are not very wealthy at all.cont.
>>85455322To tie it back to the idea of the habitus: the sociological premise is that ALL societies function by unspoken agreements and intuitive social norms and the society will actively work to reinforce these beliefs. Normally there isn't an inquisition that eliminates non-believers, but in your case you can totally have one. The more things that can be explained by quirks of culture, the easier it is to accept that everything is fine and normal, and the more stable the society is. You can take this in either direction, really, depending on how stable you want this society to be. Is it easy to see through the illusion? As a very obvious and on-the-nose example, maybe things just disappear sometimes and everyone blames it on the fey, but it's just the illusion breaking down. Anyone who pays too much attention to this will go insane as they notice it happening all the time, but society won't believe them and then they'll get taken away by the inquisition. Off-tasting food is a more subtle version of this societal non-congruency.And to consider again the Matrix films, there's an explanation somewhere that the "current" version of the illusory world is the seventh-or-something iteration. The masters tried making it a utopian paradise, but the human mind inherently rebelled against it and the whole illusion collapsed, so they had to introduce suffering to make it believable so people don't ask too many questions.Anyway, hopefully this helps you. I think I kind of just wanted to rant about this idea. Normally you see it in science fiction and sociological or political theory, but it's really neat to see a fantasy take.
>>85454698>Why does the archfey help the people?Only certain people. Everyone in the Kingdom is descended, however slightly, from someone who once, before the Archfey began their illusion, was owned a favor from the Archfey but died before they could collect. Nobody without said ancestry can benefit from the illusion, the food won't nourish them, etc.
>>85455322The royal family and their most trusted inquisitors are in on the conspiracy, so they can certainly steer society to optimize the illusion.I can definitely see food being either "bland and flavorless" or "completely wild and vibrant" with very little in between, yes. Those would be easiest to mask via illusion.I still need to hash out the precise "rules" for what happens when the illusion is seen through. Maybe it is still solid; someone cannot just phase through illusory wood. Or maybe it really does become fully incorporeal; a PC who sees the truth could very well fall right through a wooden floor. What would be more interesting?>>85455426Bits and pieces of the illusion disappearing and reappearing unpredictably is good. People really do just blame it on local spirits.>>85455506If this was the case, would the rulers not be heavily reluctant to allow any foreigners inside?
>>85455646>If this was the case, would the rulers not be heavily reluctant to allow any foreigners inside?The illusion kingdom is now not!Dynastic China.
>>85455728Why would the PCs be allowed inside, then? The setup needs to incentivize the PCs to interact with at least one town or city, engage in a positive interaction with at least one NPC, partake in some local food, and so on.I am not entirely attached to the archfey idea, for what it is worth. Any non-malevolent creature with a claim to major illusory powers will do.
>>85455834>Why would the PCs be allowed inside, then?Allowed? The PCs snuck in to steal something from the very wealthy isolationist empire, they weren't invited.
>>85455903Perhaps they could engage in a positive interaction with a criminal contact, and sample whatever food said contact offers. I have a feeling that the PCs would be eager to get out ASAP the moment things begin to look suspicious. Then again, maybe the party could get attached to their criminal contact on the inside, and be eager to help out.
>>85453390Personally the reveal is stupid. It's not an illusion. It's real. It's all real. Perception is reality. If everybody believes it's real then it is. And as your story shows, IT IS REAL. People dont die, people dont starve, life is literally idyllic. Thats not an illusion. Your players are the snake in the garden of Eden. Are you making an evil campaign? Cause thats how you make an evil campaign. You're not shattering an "illusion" by revealing it, you just genociding a populace because you don't agree with their peace for whatever reason.
>>85456626OP didn't suggest that the PCs would be steered toward revealing the truth. If the PCs were to do that, then that's their prerogative.
>>85456626If you've been DMing right, your players won't realize the implications until they're already contaminated with the truth about the illusion. Now the only thing they can do is kill anyone who they've talked to before the truth can spread.
>>85456998I wouldn't DM it for the reasons I stated. Your interpretation is much better then how OP original stated it. But your plot is not much more then a magical plague spread through knowledge.
>>85457295Actually this is all a much better idea. Theres a plague, people die. It happens when people look into or spend to much time with an effected person. They start wasting away, the food doesn't fill them, the water doesn't quench their thirst. The PCs look into it and BAM. Reveal is that the world is an illusion and once you stop believing in it, yatta yatta, you guys wrote the rest. You can have all that stuff about the fey in the background.
>>85453380Given the already pointed out issues with an archfey being so benevolent here's an alternate benefactor:A minor trickster diety who genuinely cared for the people (think the kind who's fabels would all be about punishing the wicked and/or teaching lessons through their japes), after the cataclysm they realized that their usual actions couldn't really help with this kind of devastation so they gave up their usual wandering and bound themselves to the grand sustaing of the illusion.Also I think the illusion would have to work at least somewhat on foreigners and I'd go with their being different levels of seeing through the illusion. Like if you just have some suspicions you might need to eat more if you are starting to truly disbelieve food would lose all nourishment and you would start seeing through materials and if you fully realized you would pass through the illusions like air and your presence would start to disrupt things for people around you
>>85456626>>85456761>>85456998>>85457295>>85458920The PCs are not obligated to reveal the truth, nor are they even steered to doing so. Revealing the truth brazenly is, in fact, a bad idea.I imagine, though, that in any given group of players, at least one player will be madly driven to blow the metaphorical whistle on principle. That player's perspective can be a source of conflict, for good or for ill.It is a neat idea that the PCs act as the vector for a "plague" of disbelief. I would use this idea only if at least one PC does start to blow the metaphorical whistle, though.>>85459989I know that /tg/ leans heavily in the direction of "fey should be so alien that they are evil in all but name," but I personally do not buy that. I have no issues with reasonably benevolent fey, especially if they are already established as going against the mold for the Feywild, like being an exile.Still, your idea of a minor trickster deity could work. The patron could also be a fallen angel of a trickster deity seeking redemption, a non-evil dragon with a penchant for illusions, or a similar entity.Your idea that the illusion should come in several levels is definitely a good one. It would be a great help in establishing the "rules" of the illusion.
>>85459989>>85460532One possibility for an alternate patron might be what AD&D 2e and D&D 3.X call "eladrin," and what Pathfinder 1e and 2e call "azatas." These are chaotic celestials with trickster-like tendencies, so they could reasonably attempt to assist a civilization through magical deception.
What if the whole world is like this? There are multiple kingdoms, each with their own patron illusionist and no actual life.
Ok so how the fuck does the populace survive by eating dust and mud? Pixie illusions don't mean shit when you fall over dead from malnutrition.
>>85459989>>85460532The Illusionist might be a farmer. The actual population carrying capacity is way lower without the Illusion, so a humanitarian predator might want to swell their herd. Occasionally people disappear.
>>85463680In a magic system wherein powerful illusions can support a person's weight or outright kill people, it is not much of a stretch to say that an especially potent illusion can feed hungry bellies, I think.