The Stygian Library: One-Shot

Last night we played D&D! More specifically, I ran a one-shot using The Stygian Library by Emmy Allen, and we had a fantastic time exploring a bizarre space full of strange characters in search of a mysterious book!

Play time: 4 hours

Adventurers – Level 3:

  • Alumur the Shadow Sorcerer
  • Lavender the Bladesinger
  • Pick Snap the Arcane Trickster
  • Yawgoo the Monk of the Astral Self

The Setup:

The wealthy Lady Witherfell asked the team to venture inside the Stygian Library and retrieve the Grimoire of Unnatural Philosophy for her. The reward? 1,000 GP!

Larger on the Inside

The party found the library on an unassuming street of crooked old rowhouses, and entered the Foyer to discover an aging but luxurious space of mahogany panels, brass fittings, and strangely glowing spheres of etheric vapor. The Gray Librarian at the front desk was not very helpful, as he was just covering for a fellow librarian and wanted to get back to his work downstairs. But he waved the party inside, assuring them they would (probably) find what they were looking for.

Down a narrow wooden corridor, the party found the Lounge where a number of university students, lost tourists, giggling cultists, and one dead gentleman perused the shelves. The tourists ran away and the students ignored the adventurers, so the party struck up a conversation with the dead man, an Archivist Lich who lived in the library, pursuing various projects. He claimed to have seen the Grimoire, so Pick Snap traded him a severed human hand in exchange for directions.

Violent Displays

A short stone passageway ended at a closed portcullis. Through the bars they saw a Lectern in a small dusty auditorium. A book rattled on the lectern. A rapier sparked on the floor. Yawgoo levered the portcullis up just enough for Alumur to slide under. Alumur took the rapier and tried prodding the rattling book. He also stared into the book’s pages and became enthralled with the idea of setting it free. But when he broke open two locks on the book, it flew into the air and bashed him in the skull, which slightly lowered his Intelligence. Lavender shot the book with fire, and Pick Snap shot it with an arrow, and the book died as books are wont to do. Alumur helped his friends remove the portcullis and move on.

They turned the corner into a Gallery of fish skeletons displayed in glass cases behind velvet ropes, all covered in spiderwebs. A pair of skeleton janitors were working to clean them off. But as the party asked for directions, three Ogre Spiders fell through the rotted ceiling and attacked! Some falling debris crushed one poor skeleton (Tommy!). The heroes quickly dispatched the spiders with a few firebolts and approached the next door, when they heard crossbows fire!

Ex-Filers

Entering the elegant Tea Room, they found two very serious people in black standing over two dead Yellow Librarians. Agents Moldy and Skuller were investigating various high crimes in the library, and revealed they had been trapped inside for three years (so far). Lavender distracted the agents for a moment so Pick Snap could search the bodies. He found a note indicating that something dangerous was in the basement. Alumur also discovered that the books in this room were arranged by height…so he jumbled a few.

The next room was a large Auditorium with thousands of books displayed around many tiers of seats descending to a lecture stage. A lone Yellow Librarian was reshelving books according to color. The party confronted the older fellow, Mister Spine, and demanded help in their quest. Mister Spine explained that the library tended to shift about and there was no way to know exactly what book was where, but as a Yellow Librarian (book keeper) he could instantly tell what books were in a room when he walked in. 

Mister Spine explained many things, including the fact that no old books are ever called “grimoires”, only modern edgelords title their books this way to sound ancient and deadly. A true old book might be called an enchiridion! Mister Spine was most dismayed by the heroes’ general disinterest in reading, and in word play. But the heroes were very interested in a person who could magically detect books, so they promptly abducted him.

Down and Downer

A straight staircase descended four or five stories to a cold stone chamber with a vaulted ceiling. Here they found a Mausoleum housing a black sarcophagus. Atop it sat four Educated Rats debating the nature of reality and perception. When the heroes approached to talk to them, the rats baffled them with their various arguments, and then attacked! Sadly, being rats, they were unable to do much damage to Yawgoo, though they did nullify his gravity and leave him tumbling through the air. But using many Astral and Mage hands, the team grabbed and squished the poor rats. 

Inside the sarcophagus, they found a pair of Gloves that allowed the wearer to grasp ethereal beings. Yawgoo pretended to hurl etheric energy at poor Mister Spine, who was so startled by the excellent miming that he slipped and bashed his head on a bookcase. Yawgoo tended to the librarian’s wounds, and then swaddled him in old clothes across his chest. With his “papoosified librarian” in place, they moved on.

Messy Machines

Pick Snap identified a series of trap devices in the descending corridor, so the party continued without incident. They arrived in a lower hallway echoing with mechanical sounds. In the first room, they saw a Red Librarian repairing a giant Printing Press. Mister Axle was unable to direct them to the Grimoire. But Pick Snap did assist him in clearing a paper jam from the machine. Unfortunately the giant wad of inky paper crashed into the control panel and caught on fire. Yawgoo put out the flames, and the soaked paper rose up on elephantine legs and advanced on him. As the monk bravely smacked the mushy Origami Golem, the casters incinerated it with firebolts.

Wary of everything now, the team skipped the room full of Ink Vats and the storage area with the Paper Bee hive and arrived at the Steam Vents where they saw a metal spiral stair going down. One by one, they ran through the room, dodging the blasts of scalding steam and the fragile Rust Moths. Alumur took a blast of steam to the arm, and several moths settled on his dagger, reducing it to a rusty ruin. The team then rested in the steamy room and managed to revive the Yellow Librarian, Mister Spine. Alumur discovered that there were in fact books in this room, encased in wax with metal pages, but he merely found a diary describing a mother’s arguments with her daughter.

New Fangled Nonsense

Down the spiral stair, they emerged in the center of a vast white room full of glass spheres glimmering with phantom lights. Mister Spine explained that this was the Research and Development area where they were trying to replace good old fashioned paper books with new-fangled soul-spheres. He did not approve! 

With no Grimoire in sight, the heroes proceeded through a giant arched doorway into a vast, complex laboratory where a Gray Librarian, Mister Shepherd, was experimenting on the phantom-spheres. Mister Shepherd immediately tried to usher the intruders back upstairs. Mister Spine began railing about the waste of library funds on this R&D nonsense, reducing the upstairs catering budget so they had to settle for finger-sandwiches instead of hand-sandwiches. 

Still not seeing the Grimoire, the party headed for the massive circular vault door in the wall. But as they approached, a creature descended from above. It was massive, long and spindly, having hidden its slender limbs among the pipes in the ceiling (I had just rewatched all of the ALIEN movies). Lavender was the only one to see the enormous hands descending to grab them. Yawgoo was lifted and bashed on the floor. Mister Shepherd was also lifted, and smashed to death. Mister Spine ran away screaming. As the Bandersnatch unfolded itself and climbed down, the team attacked. Pick Snap hurled an orb of acid that tore the monster in half, and Yawgoo body-slammed its neck into pulp.

Pick Your Brain

With that done, Pick Snap unlocked the vault door. Instantly, they heard shattering glass from inside the vault and a loud klaxon began to blare. Running into the vault, they saw human brains and spinal cords suspended in fluid, and a dark figure hiding in the back corner. The Floating Brains burst free of their jars and began hovering about, teleporting in and out of sight, and hurling the adventurers back with telekinesis. 

Battered by astral arms and magic missiles, the brains were soon dead and the figure emerged from the shadows… a tentacled Neurovore! The bizarre being lashed out with powerful psychic attacks, and healed itself by eating the dead brains on the floor. But Lavender caught the monster in a stone hand and then Yawgoo crushed it until it burst apart.

Among its possessions, the heroes discovered the Grimoire of Unnatural History. It proved to be a crudely scribbled journal written by the son of Lady Witherfell, full of embarrassing family secrets. And the lady was most pleased to have it returned to her… thirteen days later, when the party finally escaped from the Stygian Library!

DM Notes

Everyone had a great time playing, and I really enjoyed running. I only spent about 2 hours prepping the night before, rolling up the rooms and their contents, and trying to get the ideas all straight in my head. The content was wonderful, lots of great imagery and creatures. And it ran pretty smoothly, converting to 5E was quick and easy. I prepped 15 rooms and we explored 12 of them. 

It was definitely a little challenging for me to run content that I didn’t write myself, just because I’m so used to knowing a world inside and out. And I don’t know if I could run the Library as written, rolling up the rooms on the fly during the game. I need a little time to absorb things before I can run them well. Also, I personally like having a clear idea of a plot or connections between people and places. There are limits to my improvisational skills!

My group is already asking when we might run the Library again! I suggested that maybe different people should DM the Library each time, so we can experience it through different points of view. And when I mentioned that the author had also written Gardens of Ynn, they were all very excited to try that too. So thank you, Emmy Allen for your outstanding work!

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