The hall of challenges appeared in my campaign when a magic user applied to join the Hill Islands sorcerer’s guild. The whole point of having the character go there for the challenge was to introduce the location so I could then use it again a week later when everything went pear-shaped in the guild.
On one of the Hill Islands, inside the city limits there is a cavern in a hillside attached to the guild grounds. The hewn cave within is both a trial by fire for new guild members as well as a hall commemorating some of the greatest wizards of the guild’s long history and to remind them of their link to the Kale.
The hall was only seen in passing during the character’s trial (which was designed so he would pass easily – the point was to introduce him to the guild and the Hall, not to wipe him out or even to really challenge him – after all, a player character magic user who has traveled to the Hill Islands more than likely has more experience than most of the existing guild members). However, walking through it again when trying to find out what has happened to the guildmaster and some of the local politicians was creepier and more memorable to the players because they had been here before. Note that the cockatrice from area 4 and the doppelgangers in area 11 will turn up whenever and wherever (in)convenient.
The encounters detailed below were designed for a level 5 party.
1. Entrance – The archway leading into the hall is made of ancient volcanic stone, carved with arcane glyphs and runes. Magic on this portal prevents the leaves, sand and grass clippings from the area from entering the hall. On the party’s return, the magical ward isn’t working and there are leaves in the entrance and on the stairs down to area 2.
2. Antechamber – Guests here to meet one of the guild elders are invited down the stairs to area 3. Those here for the challenge are ushered quickly through to area 9. The chamber is bare stone, perfectly smooth through the use of magic, and there is a slight depression in the form of a magic circle in the centre of the room (which does nothing but make people nervous).
3. Memories Hall – This great hall’s ceiling is 35 feet above the floor and there is a magically lit chandelier (continual light) at each end. 9 feet off the floor on each wall is a ten foot deep niche, ten feet tall, that extends the length of the room and is blocked from the room by fine metal bars. Behind these bars are wax dummies and permanent illusions of some of the most famous members of the guild. Access to these niches is by a secret door on each side (the bars can be swung open after depressing a secret stone just behind them). These secret doors are hard to reach because they are 9 feet off the ground. An assassin or three can hide nicely up there, waiting amongst the images for the party to pass…
4. Library of Ell – This small library has a hardwood floor and a focused selection of volumes about the history of the Kale (elves) and various treatises on Kale magics. The stairs up to area 5 are carpetted and there is a padded chain that hangs across them to indicate that visitors should not climb there. In the centre of the room is a golden cage (hanging well over people’s heads – 15 feet off the floor and chained to the ceiling) containing a cockatrice. Of course, the cockatrice is free and angry when the party returns. It can be met just about anywhere that will prove to be highly inconvenient for the party.
5. Librarian – This is the quarters of the current guild librarian who acts as caretaker here. If a member of the guild wishes to study in the Library of Ell, they are given the position of librarian for the duration (although terms are measured in months, not weeks or days). Depending on the magic user in question, the room can be cluttered or bare… When the party returns, the librarian has been slain and his blood coats his workroom. However he is not at rest, and attacks as a specter.
6. Office and Storage – This room us used as a catch-all. Sometimes it houses another guild member studying at the Library of Ell. There is always a table and several comfortable chairs here for going through books and scrolls from the library.
7. Office and Meeting Room – This room is used by guild members needing to meet prospective members, local politicians and so on. It is ostentatiously appointed with far too much gold and red in the decor. A larger-than-life statue of the first grand master of the guild is in an alcove on one wall, and fights as a maximum hit point Living Statue (Rock) when commanded by a guild member – and attacks anyone entering this room when the party returns. The secret door to area 8 is only used when a very exciting challenge is in progress and the librarian or other staff want to get to the seats with haste.
8. Audience Room – These two rooms connected by a corridor are for guild members watching the challenge in area 10. The Eastern antechamber is nicely appointed with small tables and sofas, and is typically well-stocked with wine. The Western platform looks down over area 10 thirty feet below, and has a set of comfortable chairs. The doppelgangers are likely to make an appearance here when the party is in area 10 when they return, sneaking around the circuit of rooms and the secret door to remain out of sight until an encounter is needed to spice up the action.
9. Tabard Hall – Those about to be tested don a guild tabbard in this room and are offered a drink of wine before being ushered down the northern passage. Those here to watch the show go down the southern passage. The southern passage has a door to area 8 for most audience members, and also has two chairs and a platform at the end to watch the proceedings in area 10, thirty feet below. Between the two chairs up here is a lever that activates the portculis in area 11.
10. The Hall of Challenges – This oval room has a circular ramp that leads down thirty feet around the outer perimeter of the chamber to a sandy floor. It is in this hall that the prospective guild member must face down a challenger in a non-lethal magical contest. This contest is automatically won if the character has researched any new spells. Otherwise, winning the challenge requires that the character be able to cast magic user spells, and a roll of 5+ on a d6, adding the character’s Intelligence bonus to the roll, and 1/3 of the character’s level. When the party returns, the guildmaster’s cooling body lies on the sand, surrounded by his blood.
11. Holding Area – For some challenges, magical beasts are used. This room is secured from area 10 by a massive portculis that opens and closes using the lever in area 9. There are five measly goblins in this room the first time the characters are in the hall. But in reality, they are five doppelgangers who have finally escaped and slain the guildmaster and who now hope to take over the guild in his guise. When the party returns, the portcullis is jammed and bent (destroyed by another wizard trying to rescue the guildmaster) and cannot be closed.