Theater of the Soul Plot in Vearelde | World Anvil
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Theater of the Soul

A one-shot adventure in the realm of the mind. This one-shot is easy to drop into most D&D type worlds and while it is designed for D&D 3.5 it will should also work for D&D 5e with minor tweaks.    

Adventure Summary

The elderly bard calling himself Heskar the Bold and his travelling theater company have recently acquired a crystal with strange arcane powers over the minds and souls of others. Heskar has realised that absorbing the souls of others using this crystal allows him to regain the power and abilities of his youth. He has therefore taken his company to the town of Gedval and is hoping to use the stones mind altering power to attract all the local farmers to a grand show, allowing him to steal their souls without people escaping to bear witness to what he has done. The party gets wind of his plans and has to stop him before he carries it out, but are themselves imprisoned in the stone. Can they escape and rescue the souls of countless innocents but will they succeed or will they too lose their souls to the eternal maze of the Theater of the Mind.  

Notable NPCs

Heskar the Bold

  Neutral evil human   Heskar the Bold (the epithet is something he has given himself) is a somewhat elderly bard who has for years been obsessed with the idea of immortality and has for years been tracking an artefact known as the Spirit Crystal that is said to be able to consume the lifeforce of others. Just before the adventure begins he has at last succeeded, and the only thing on his mind now is to try and feed the stone enough souls for it to have power to return his youth to him.   He travels with a theater company but they are only hired to be able to protect him while he completes his vision and have no artistic talents, or any other talents for that matter. Except possibly a certain affinity for bashing people over the head.  

Callicles the Spirit Keeper

  Lawful evil devil     Callicles is a devil that was bound into the spirit crystal by it's creator - Talpo the Unwise and he is ultimately what provides and controls it's power. He has been trapped in the stone for some 800 years and has fashioned it's working somewhat to his liking. He, like all devils, love bargaining for the souls of humans and has therefore found his by existence in this relic to be less taxing that expected. He still holds a burning hatred for Talpo the wizard who bound him there since he did so by outsmarting the devil when writing a contract. He has therefore made sure that the stone never worked for Talpo and in fact managed to trap his soul in the crystal shortly after its creation.

Talpo the Unwise

  Chaotic good elf   Talpo was an elven wizard who lived roughly 800 years ago. He was never particularly suited to the work of a wizard due to his impulsive nature, but he was very intelligent and therefore managed to make it through the training. He was always interested in the powers of the outer plains and when he fell in love with a human he started working on a magical device to expand the lifespan of the shorter lived races to that of elves. However his wife died before he could finish the device. He became obsessed with finishing it In the end he sought to the powers of devils - managing to trap one in a natural blue crystal - turning the crystal purple and into one of the potentially most powerful magical artefacts in the world in the process. However the devil in the crystal betrayed him soon after its creation and Talpos soul has been trapped in there ever since.  


  Lawful neutral human spirit   Glaucon was a noble human warrior who fell in battle several hundred years ago against an evil mage who was using the crystal to wreak havok among innocent civilians. Glaucon managed to kill the wizard but in the last moments of the battle lost his soul to the power of the crystal. Inside the crystal he spent years trapped before he managed to force his way to Callicles' inner sanctum. However the devil managed to confuse an beguile him and made him agree to a contract where Glaucon would protect the devil and his sanctum until the devils death and in return he would receive his freedom. Glaucon, not being the wisest man, did not consider that the old man form that the devil had assumed had infact nothing to do with his expected lifespan agreed. He has in the several hundred years since then come to regret his decision but as a man of honor he feels he is bound by his word.

Starting the Adventure

Passing the homestead

As you travel along the road with the Hir river on your left you see a small clearing in the woods ahead. As you approach you see that it is a small farmhouse, you also see a man running toward you waving his arms. He approaches you, and you see that he looks disheveled with deep dark rings under his eyes. Trying to catch his breath he says   "Please help me! You are adventurers aren't you? Please you have to help!"   He beckons you towards the farmstead and turns running back towards it without waiting for a response
    As the party approaches the small farmstead they find that it consist simply of 2 small buildings and a pasture where a donkey and two pigs are grazing. The farmer will invite the party to enter the cottage to show them his husband who is standing in the middle of the single room space staring blankly forward, his eyes completely white.   The farmer explains that he found his husband like this standing in the middle of the road. He had gone out to speak to a caravan of people that wanted to stop over here for the night. When the farmer went out a little while later he found his husband standing there and the wagons gone.   Searching the road (DC12 survival or search check) will reveal the tracks of two horses and wagons. A DC 18 search check also reveals a very small purple discoloration on the gravel around where the tracks of the stricken man stop.  

Alternative hooks

Here are some other ways that the adventure can start
  • The party is approached by a black raven. The raven speaks to them and explains that it is the familiar of the hedge witch of Gedval, a village not far to the north on the east bank of the river. The raven speaks in the voice of the witch and explains that a theater company has come to the village and a person has gone missing, she thinks that this is not a coincidence and sent her familiar out to search for adventurers that can come and help her figure out what is going on.

Arriving in town

Map of the town     When the PCs arrive in the tiny fishing village of Gedval they find the place bursting with uncharacteristic excitement. The townsfolk have gathered in small clusters and are whispering excitedly with each other - visitors are a rare occurence in this remote edge of the kingdom. Any townsperson that the PCs approach will greet them happily and express surprise at the appearance of more outsiders and inquires if they have come to see the performance.   If the players ask around further they find out that a bard that calls himself Heskar the Bold and his travelling troupe arrived after dusk the previous night. Heskar has been allowed to set up tents and carriages around the back of the local inn, The Flying Donkey, which also doubles as the town hall and mayoral residence. This morning Heskar held a small display next to the well where he appeared to read the minds and inner desires of some locals and conjured images of them from the well, including a lifesize golden dragon which then dissolved into flower petals. He then promised an even greater display if the entire village gathers along the edge of the forest behind the inn at dusk. If asked about it the villagers describe the event in great detail and if overheard they are gossiping wildly about what miracles they will witness when the sun sets.   At this point it is up to the party what type of investigation they want to do in town and how they want to approach the problem of the troupe. However from the point of view of the GM the convergence point is that the souls of the PCs get absorbed into the crystal and the adventure then continues from that point as a mystery of how they can escape from that prison. This is described in the crystal section.   There are serveral ways that this might occur but the most likely are that
  1. If they confront Heskar or arouse his suspicion, he will use the crystal upon them as long as he is not out on the town square or in vision of too many of the townsfolk since he is eager not to arouse their suspicion. As an example, he will immediately use the crystal if he finds the PCs snooping around his wagon. For what the PCs can learn during an investigation see the investigation section.
  2. If the PCs arouse Heskars suspicion in a public space he will invite them to his wagon for drinks, saying that they are the most interesting people around and the only ones worth conversing with. As soon as the PCs arrive in the wagon camp he will pull out and use the crystal upon them.
  3. If they let Heskar hold his public display he will attempt to capture the souls of the entire village at once. This will cause the crystal to overload and the souls of everyone in the vicinity to be sucked into the crystal including Heskar himself. See the show section for details.

Investigating the Troupe

If the PCs decide to investigate the wagon camp in more detail they will find that their progress is somewhat hindered by other members of the troupe. It is quite clear that Heskar has not chosen them based on artistic talent or mental faculties but for simply for their brawn. If the players ask to speak to Heskar the goons will rebuff them and tell them to return at dusk.   During most of the afternoon three of them lounge around the campfire they have made in the middle of their wagon circle and Heskar remains in his wagon. The goons around the fire will rebuff anyone that comes too close and suggest that they return at dusk. Three other goons spend the afternoon assembling a low stage behind the Inn. At one point, a few hours after the PCs arrival Heskar will make a small tour of the town accompanied by one of his goon. In his typical somewhat creepy style he lounges around speaking mostly to young women but generally trying to make sure that the entire town shows up to his evening show.   If the PCs speak to him or are noticed by him during this tour his paranoia will kick in and he will attempt to inquire what brings them to the town and also from where they come. If they reveal passing by the farmstead or similar he will invite them to his wagons and attempt to trap them in the crystal in order to prevent them from spoiling his plans      
Heskars wagon
Entering the small wooden wagon you see a dingy space with a small bed and a desk squeezed into a space that seem to small for them. The cramped feeling is excacerbated by the fact that every available surface seems to be covered with papers and scribbled notes.
  While Heskar makes his grand tour of the tiny town the players have a window when they can attempt to enter his wagon to search for clues or similar should they wish.   Most of the notes are related to research that Heskar has been doing into something that he refers to as the Spirit Crystal. Some examples of clues that the players may find here are:  
  • A small leatherbound volume that seems to be a collection of legends and fairystories. The book appears very well read and naturally falls open to a one page spread titles the Crystal of Souls. In very fair tale type language it tells the story of a Wizard named Talpo who was obsessed with immortality who creates some sort of object that would give him this. However the story claims that Death himself decided to punish him and used his own creation to trap Talpo for all eternity. In the margin is scribbled "Am i mad to believe this" in charcoal.
  • A small map of the region with a few circles drawn and crossed out. Only one circle seems to still be open and has been emphasised with frantic scribbles.
  • A ripped out page from a book that appears to be a very ancient chronicle of a covenant of wizards. The matter appears to be the matter of the expulsion of a wizard named Talpo for irresponsible use of magic.

The Show

As you pass behind the inn toward the edge of the forest you see that a small wooden stage, about a three feet high, has been constructed between two trees and a red fabric has been hung between them as a makeshift curtain. On the grass in front of the stage the village people have gathered and it does seem like they kept their word. Everyone, including children and the elderly are there and there is a hum of excitement as they all happily chat to each other.
  As the whole village gathers in front of the stage Heskar climbs it and addresses the crowd. He gives a short speach greeting the audience and telling them to prepare for a new spectacular show that will change not only their future but that of the world. It is clear that he is thoroughly a bard and is immensely enjoying the attention. He asks for complete silence and then pulls a purple crystal from inside his robes. He will then attempt to use the full capacity of the crystal to capture the souls of the village. This manifests as the crystal starting to glow very brightly. If the player characters attempt to interfere Heskars goons will jump out and attempt to stop them from getting close to Heskar.     Within only a single turn (6s) Heskar realizes that he has started something that he cannot control and his facial expression changes from triumph to utter fear. After only a couple of seconds the crystal emits an enormously bright light and a wave of violet energy rolls out over the audience, village and surrounding landscape several hundred meters out. The playes see this wave approaching and as it hits them feels a tearing sensation in their minds before everything fades to black.        

The Crystal Cavern

After the crystal energy passes through the PCs their souls are drawn into the crystal and they pass out. Their now play as their souls, trapped inside the crystal, and they have to attempt to break free of it. As they wake in the cavern read the following.
You wake up and can barely recall a bright light and a tearing sensation as if someone was ripping your mind out through your eyes before you must have passed out. As conciousness returns the first thing that strikes you is the utter silence. As you try to move the next thing strikes you - you do not seem to have a body anymore

The Cavern of shadows

The characters now wake up inside the crystal itself which manifests as a series of interconnected caverns. The primary cavern where the players find themselves has a 60 ft tall cliff on one side. Drom the top of the cliff a faint light shines down, just bright enough to cast indistinct dancing shadows on the far wall.   As the characters wake they first note, as the aloud text mentions, that they appear to have no solid body, just tendrils of shadow. As they think about their body the tendrils start shaping themselves into the body parts they remember (or imagine) though they remain inky black and translucent. A successful DC 15 wisdom check allows them to return mobility to their new form and start moving around. On a failed check the process takes longer, up to 5 minutes. See Spirit form for how this new form affects what the characters can do.   As the characters explore the cavern they wake up in they find that there are many other shadows, like themselves in here although none appear to be able to take shape as clearly as the players characters. They all seem to be staring transfixed at the shadowplay on the far wall of the chamber. If a player character focuses on the wall they must make a DC 12 will save or be trapped by the visions it creates in their mind, unable to tear their eyes from it. If the other characters cover the eyes of the affected character the effect ceases. Most of the other shadows lack any distinguishing features, but among them are a few who can be recognised, among them is both the stricken farmer that the characters met on their way to Gedval and the Innkeeper of the town. They do not respond if approached. Among the shadows are also several of Heskars goons, but Heskar himself cannot be found.   There is a passage at the base of the north wall beneath the dancing shadows. There is also a narrow fissure, about two feet tall and one foot wide, in the rock on the western side of the cavern that can be seen with a DC10 spot check.
Spirit form
  In the cavern the characters no longer have true physical presences and what governs what they are able to do is mental strength, wisdom and force of character rather than physical prowess. In order to simulate this in game terms the primary combat statistic of the characters is now whichever is highest of INT, WIS and CHA.   This could for instance means that the party wizard can now punch through walls, whereas the barbarian cannot, and it is an intended part of the adventure for the characters to come to terms with this odd and altered existence.   Whether the weapons and magical items of the characters are accessible and usable in spirit form is up to the DM but I recommend letting the characters keep them in order for their character build not to be too heavily impacted.   Additionally all the characters get the following ability:   Tendril form
As a free action you can choose to release your focus on your physical form and allow the shadows to wander freely. For 2d4 rounds you are able to pass through spaces as small as a foot in diameter without at your normal movement speed. While you are in this form you can not take any actions, nor can you speak. This ability can only be used three times in one day safely (resets on long rest), as some of the shadows that comprise you dissipate each time.

The fissure

If the characters find and enter the fissure using their tendril forms read or paraphrase the following  
As you pass through the fissure, gliding safely passed the sharp crystalline edges of the walls you enter a small space where the rift you passed though widens into a roughly circular space, about 10 foot in diameter. The crystal in the far wall appears slightly translucent and through it sifts a very faint light and standing in front of that wall is a shade that appears to be slowly hacking at the wall.
  If the characters make themselves known to the shade he will start and quickly turn as if expecting to be attacked. As soon as he sees the characers full forms however he relaxes and introduces himself as Talpo the Great. After a seconds thought he adds "or as others would have it - Talpo the Unwise. And now I believe they were entirely correct".       If asked about what he was doing when the characters came in he points to a very small of shards by his feet "Getting out of here" he says with an embarassed shrug.   If further prompted he will reveal any of the following clues (DMs discretion)
  • Talpo is the original creator of the spirit crystal and if pressed by the characters he can explain the entire creation of the object as described in the section on the Spirit crystal. He also explains that a freak accident when he was working on the object caused him to be trapped in here, almost 800 years ago.
  • The shades are trapped in here until the devil bound in the crystal consumes them, or the crystal is destroyed.
  • The devil, Callicles, now refers to himself as the Spirit keeper and sometimes comes into the main chamber, but usually he sends a spirit named Glaucon in his stead to fetch souls up to his own room that lies above the main chamber.
  • Talpo is hiding in this space in order to avoid the attention of the devil since he assumes that he would be killed instantly if the devil knew he was here since Talpo is the one who bound Callicles to the crystal in the first place
  • Talpo believes that Callicles is using some kind of illusion magic to produce the shadows on the wall of the main chamber as a means of keeping the shades under control
  • Talpo believes that it is possible to escape from the crystal if the outer walls could be shattered and the sunlight let into the cavern but the only place where the walls are really thin enough is in the room that Callicles occupies

The Tribunal Room

As the characters enter doorway on the north wall of the chamber they walk along through a short passage and out onto a narrow bridge that leads out onto a circular platform in the center of a large chamber. On either side of the bridge lies is a chasm if impossible depth, and the characters see only darkness. The central circular platform is ringed with statues and towering above them is a large man clad in what appears to be bronze armor although his form seems only slightly more substantial than the shadow forms of the characters. In his hand he holds a spear and at his side stand two snarling dogs. To the east a wider bridge leads to doorway in the side of the cavern.     The man in the center is Glaucon , the soul of a warrior that has turned to the service of the Spirit keeper, that is hibernating until he is next needed. The characters need to pass him in order to get through to the next passage towards the chamber of the spirit keeper. When the characters enter the chambers is only dimly lit by some of the glowing crystals and the characters can bypass him if they all succeed on a DC 15 stealth check. If the characters fail the stealth check, or if they enter central platform without attempting one Glaucon awakes.   He is not immediately hostile to the characters and will engage in conversation. However, he will prevent them from moving onward if they try it. Glaucon is honorable and is bound by his promise to serve Callicles even though he holds no love for him. He will ask the characters to challenge him in combat in order to allow them passage.   During conversation he will reveal information from his backstory or any of the following clues at the DMs discretion
  • He warns the characters that Callicles is dangerous and that he may try to trick them. He says that he may stand by his word but he hides their meaning
  • After warning them he says that if they gain passage they will see the previous victims of Callicles on their way there
  • He explains that it is his duty to prevent them from seeing Callicles but that he will be grateful if they can beat him in honorable combat
The long walk
From the tribunal room leads a long narrow passage. The passage slopes upward and is dimly lit by glowing rocks roughly every 10 feet or so. With a DC10 spot check the characters can see that trapped Inside the walls are are dim images of faces, grotesquely distorted with pain. These are the remnants of the consumed souls that Glaucon described.  

Callicles Sanctum

At the end of the corridor stands a large double door with the words "Reason above spirit". As the characters enter the chamber read or paraphrase the following
Before you a large chamber with a vaulted ceiling opens up. The floor an calls are carved from the stone, in contrast to the natural passages that you have come across previously. The chamber is dominated by a gigantic brazier in the center of the room that brightly illuminates the room. On one side of the brazier stands a table with a glass contraption on it that appears to focus the light of the brazier out of a translucent section in the north wall. Towards the north end stands a podium with a crude throne upon it, from the wall behind the throne a dim light filters in. On the throne you see the figure of a young man.
  This is the room where Callicles the Spirit keeper, the devil responsible for the power of the crystal resides and he has fashioned it into a makeshift throne room. Here he has also constructed a device that causes the projections that the characters encountered in the chamber where they woke up.   If the characters where sucked into the crystal during Heskars show however, Callicles is not alone in this room. In this case they find him talking to a shade that they can quickly recognize as being Heskar. He has managed to sneak past Glaucon and is now desperately trying to negotiate for his freedom with Callicles.   As the characters enter Callicles are immediately aware of them and greets them happily as a distraction from the now gibbering Heskar. As he does so Heskar will svivel around and react with fear to the characters presence. He will immediately try to convince Callicles that the characters are untrustworthy and that they should be killed immediately.   Callicles however will attempt to converse with the characters and find out what their motivations are and how they ended up in his kingdom as he refers to it. If the conversation goes on he will offer them a deal - freedom for the player characters only on the condition that they keep using the stone to absorb the souls of innocents. He will phrase it as granting them both their freedom and the power of the stone, for only a small cost.   If the characters decide to take his deal he will indeed return them to their bodies, but they will be compelled to use the stone once per week to absorb an innocent soul, otherwise their own souls will be returned to the crystal permanently.   If they do not accept the deal he responds with "Very well, but I cannot have spirits roaming freely in my domain" and will attack them, transforming into his devil shape as he does so. Heskar will join him in this battle, but will quickly yield if he takes more than half his hitpoints worth of damage.   The characters can escape from the crystal in two ways given that they do not take Callicles deal. They can either defeat him in combat or shatter the wall behind his throne. The wall has 200 Hp and hardness 5. Either event will cause a blinding flash of purple light and the characters wake up in their bodies.   If the battle appears to be going ill for the PCs Talpo will rush in and help them with reckless abandon.  

Confronting Heskar

Depending on when the characters entered the stone there may be a final confrontation with Heskar.
  1. The characters entered the crystal before the grand show: In this circumstance the stone fractures in Heskars hands and as the PCs return to conciousness around him he will attempt to flee.
  2. The characters entered the crystal before the grand show and took Callicles deal: In this situation the stone will disappear from the hand of Heskar and appear in the hand of one of the PCs. Heskar realizes that the power of the stone has forsaken him and tries to flee
  3. The characters entered the crystal after the grand show and Heskar was not killed in the confrontation with Callicles: Heskar will reailze the power of the characters and try to negotiate for his life.
  4. The characters entered the crystal after the grand show and Heskar was killed in the confrontation with Callicles: If killed in the stone he dies in the real world as well and the adventure ends.
  5. The characters entered the crystal after the grand show and took Callicles deal:In this case Heskar is still trapped in the crystal and the adventure ends
  In all cases except if the players took Callicles deal the stone is broken and all the souls trapped in it return to their owners including the farmer they met on the way to town.  

Supplemental information

The village of Gedval


The Spirit Crystal

  The spirit crystal is a magical artefact that was created by Talpo the Unwise. In appearance it is a purple crystal about 5 inches tall and 2 inches wide. This dimuitive stature does not reflect the power within it however. Inside it is the trapped lifeforce of a devil and the crystal has the power to rip out and trap the soul of a person leaving the body alive but completely without ability to act or think. After too long without a soul the body will waste away and die.   If the characters get their hands on the crystal - such as if they take the deal with Callicles at the end of the adventure - it can perform this action once per week.  
Spirit Crystal shards
If the crystal is broken - such as at the end of the adventure - it splits into three sections. Each of those crystals has the ability to be used to cast Greater restoration once. After that the remaining magic is depleted and cannot be used again     Map of the interior of the Crystal
Spirit Cavern


This adventure is published under the OGL rules for dungeons and dragons


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1 May, 2021 06:02

Nice article. :) Like it.   Some small things: "or will they too lose their souls to the eternal maze of the Theater of the Mind." should end with a question mark. I think there is a . missing before "In the end": "He became obsessed with finishing it In the end..." In "CALLICLES THE SPIRIT KEEPER" three times "it's" needs to be "its". Check your use of "however" (10 times in this article).

1 May, 2021 06:32

PS: don't edit now, the deadline for the plots was april 30th, wait until after the winning ceremony. That is less important for those flash challenges, but really important of all the other challenges.

1 May, 2021 07:38

Thanks a lot! If those are the only typos then I am very pleased and surprised given the fact that I did not actually have time to read it through :) Thank you for reading and bringing them up though, those are exactly the mistakes I make in my academic writings well so I will have to work on them!