Looks like her theory was right! As a fellow scholar, it’s always gratifying to see academic theory borne out by practice.

Any dang way, do you guys remember that trip to Malfeas I mentioned a few comics ago? The following encounter was the build-up to that fateful fight. And like the presumably-sinful rat of today’s comic, it involves custom-tailored torment.

You see, if you want to get to the city at the center of Hell, you’ve got to cross the desert Cecelyne. And the important thing to know about Cecylyne is her weird travel restrictions. Making the trek across the desert takes no fewer than five days, no matter how fast you travel. It’s a grueling Lawrence of Arabia style trek at the best of times, but I wanted to make it that little bit more unpleasant for my PCs. I designed five “personal demons” that they would encounter, one on each day of their journey.

My strategy was to focus on a single negative emotion relevant to each PC: Loss, Loneliness, Jealousy, Revenge, and Regret. From there, I tried to create situations where the PCs could confront that demonically-personified aspect of themselves. This is the first time in years that I’ve dug out my old notes from that campaign, but I still have the write-up.

  • Revenge (Whisp): You encounter a once-beautiful man, emaciated and pockmarked. His hands are overlarge—freakishly so—but he puts them to good use. He is throwing stones at a bit of castle wall. They bounce off ineffectually. Taunting voices drift down from the ramparts, bragging of his family’s death. Only his hair is still clean and lovely.
  • Jealousy (Zhou): You spot a serious young man. He sits cross-legged atop an erg, staring hard into the middle distance. The sands shift madly about him. His body is long and slender, his hands grasping, his mouth perpetually frowning. As you climb the sands, you soon spot a tower sitting opposite the man. He looks inwards through a window at a level with his gaze. A beautiful woman writhes upon a bed there, a hideous old man beside her. “She dotes on him,” says the man. “She has not have the wit to look out from herself. To see anything better.”
  • Loss (Branch): The figure wanders and wails.Father? Master? Please come back.” There are black tears streaking down his face. They boil against the sand. Then you realize that they are all over his body, building up like tallow on a candle. He tows a flying machine behind him through the desert. It is broken, and he cannot repair it alone.
  • Loneliness (Glyph): You enter an ancient stone structure half-buried in the sand. It has a high columned ceiling, but the place is broken and moldering. Books line shelves inside: row upon row of them receding into the gloom. There is a scuffling sound. A hunched creature, humanoid in form, with enormous teeth, bigger glasses, and a sallow complexion, stares at the pages of a tome. They are blank, and she is near tears as she turns the pages.
  • Regret (Longsleep/Agony): You soon find the source of the muttering: A hulking brute in a shallow sand cave. He has many fine objects locked away in his room, but he hates them. “Here is a map. It is beautiful. I did not travel the real thing. Here is a book. The smell! The knowledge! I cannot read. And here is the prize of prizes, a portrait of the woman I loved. Behind him, a female Cyclops lies in bed. She poses seductively, making a spectacle of herself, but the brute does not turn to see.

I hesitate to copy + paste these things in full, because they read more like tone poems or SCP entries than encounters. But that’s because they’re all specific to the PCs. Poor Branch felt chained to his missing master’s legacy, and so couldn’t spread his own wings properly. Glyph was a bookish scholar, and had trouble making human connections. Longsleep and Agony were lovers once, but he left to pursue his art, and she chased him hopelessly ever after (a bit more of their story over here).

There is no set solution to these encounters. The PCs simply have to try and comfort their suffering demons in whatever way seems best. If they manage to come to an emotionally-satisfying resolution, the encounter sinks into the sands. If they fail to resolve their internal struggle, they get dinged with penalties in the sandstorm encounter at the end of the journey. Mechanically, each encounter was little more than a 5e style complex skill check.

This is a fast and loose setup, but my players still talk about it all these years later. Upon reflection, I think that’s due to the element of customization. All those dream sequences and vision quests you see in cinema… They’re nothing but devices for character development. When you recreate those experiences on the tabletop, you’re giving your players the chance to explore a PC’s inner world. And in campaigns full of fetch quests and combats and endless external obstacles, it can be refreshing to take an inward journey. (Even if it’s a journey to Hell.)

So what do you think? Have you ever had the opportunity to face your inner demons as a PC? Was it a dream sequence? A mind-reading monster? Perhaps you got hit with a souped-up version of phantasmal killer? Tell us all about your own inner journeys undertaken and personal hells confronted down in the comments!


ARE YOU THE KIND OF DRAGON THAT HOARDS ART? Then you’ll want to check out the “Epic Hero” reward level on our Handbook of Heroes Patreon. Like the proper fire-breathing tyrant you are, you’ll get to demand a monthly offerings suited to your tastes! Submit a request, and you’ll have a personalized original art card to add to your hoard. Trust us. This is the sort of one-of-a-kind treasure suitable to a wyrm of your magnificence.