The Mechanical Mirage is a 10 to 20 hour adventure for a party of levels 3 to 5 by the Action Economists.
The adventure takes place in the Shaar Desolation in the Forgotten Realms, although it can be placed reasonably easily in any desert location in other settings. There are some instructions on where to place it in several other worlds, such as Eberron, Greyhawk, etc, however, a central part of the story revolves around Modrons, so keep that in mind when adapting it to a homebrew world.
When the players arrive at Shaar, they learn rumors of a mysterious fortress that seems to blink in an out of existence in the desert, appearing in different locations and disappearing shortly after. Various factions in the city of Saffron, as well as the wider area, are obviously interested in whatever magical artifacts can be found inside it, and one of them (or more, if it so happens) commissions the players to explore and come back with the goodies. The two main employers are either a red dragon that’s part of the city’s garrison, or a noble artificer. However they aren’t without opposition; a local Zhentarim agent is also interested and has acquired the assistance of one of the desert tribes, the Mirkat. An encounter with some hired thugs before the players leave the city clues the players in on the presence of competition.
After the players get supplied and start their journey, they travel through the desert and might encounter various things – not just random combat encounters, but other characters that might be interested in their services, or the mirage. Finally, they arrive at the camp of one of the nomad desert tribes, the Shaheen, There, they discover more clues about the fortress, learning a part of its strict pattern of appearances and enabling them to track it down. Beyond resupplying, there’s quite a bit of stuff to do here in terms of roleplay, especially since most of the information is found by talking to various people. There are of course guidelines on what to do if the players are a bit overzealous in their bloodthirst, but I hope they won’t be needed…
Finally, we get to the main attraction, the fortress itself. It was created by a wizard named Bariba to serve as their home and lab far away from everyone else. Bariba was obsessed with order, especially when they witnessed a Modron March, becoming fascinated with the constructs. Seeing plenty of them being destroyed during their travel, they decided to kidnap as many as they could in order to study and experiment on them, trying to improve them. In the end, they managed to create their own version, called Ni the Nihidrone – but, one day they forgot to put a book in its place so Ni, witnessing this profound violation of order, killed Bariba. The fortress was equipped with both a teleportation and an invisibility enchantment, changing its position every few hours in a preprogrammed pattern while remaining hidden, continuing to do so long after Bariba’s death – until one unlucky teleportation made an equally unlucky purple worm inhabit the same space with the invisibility mechanism, irrevocably damaging both of them. Since then, the fortress has become partially visible, which is how the rumors started.
When the players arrive, they have to face off against various threats inside the structure. Not only have various monsters made it their new home, but the Zhentarim agent and his allies have beaten the party there and are already inside. After dealing with a number of encounters and puzzles, they are finally faced with Ni – who has been taunting and annoying them all throughout their trip inside through what is essentially a CCTV and announcer system. Ni has a very cool and involved battle, occupying a cool mechsuit that’s called the Immaculator and having an arena with various environmental effects that can seriously impede the characters – although they might be a bit annoying if they keep getting in the way of the fight. After Ni is finally defeated, the players are free to plunder what they can and return to their employers for their reward.
I mentioned puzzles in passing, but I do want to talk a bit more about them. There are several puzzles that the players need to solve in the fortress in order to progress, and that can always be a source of irritation. I believe these puzzles are simple enough that they won’t occupy entire sessions of bashing your head against the wall trying everything to see if it works, but I also know from personal experience that sometimes you start down a false road and can’t really see the actual solution. However, if they players have difficulties reaching the right conclusions, an Intelligence check can work just as well. I guess what i want to say through this ramble is simply that there are several puzzles that are required in this adventure, so you should be prepared to deal with them.
Finally, I want to make a special mention of the amazing artwork featured in this supplement, from the cover to the character portraits, the maps, the little notes, and a whole bunch of illustrations showing locations and events, are all gorgeous. AND, capitalized for emphasis, you also get files to print character cards, maps, and handouts separately, as well as .stl files for miniatures of Ni and the Immaculator if you have access to a 3d printer.
Overall, The Mechanical Mirage is a very well-written and fun adventure with a nice story behind it. The fights are good, the characters feel alive and with their own personality, and there are plenty of interesting details to keep your players’ attention and engage them.
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