The Experimental Zoo, a no-plan build that turned out quite handy

A view through a miniature landscape over the serpent-tentacled head of a Snakecat emerging from under a tree, past another one atop a dirt mound, and on over the scrub and beach to a third which is hunting a horse with water for its mane and tail running away across the tops of the waves. In the blurry distance are other creatures in the unnaturally proximate swamp and mountain cliffs.

Sometimes no plan is the best plan.

Last Thanksgiving, my pal Lance and I celebrated the day by making a gigantic miniature terrain build on my dining table.

We riffed on various ideas and settled on a multi-biome artificial landscape which would be a kind of a zoo. During the build Lance suggested that we were Eminences (the extra-planar, powerful creator beings in Our Magic) who design creatures. We naturally fell into a lovely bit of improv roleplay about how we weren’t entirely satisfied with how some of them were turning out. No problem with the Snakecats, of course, those are great; but wouldn’t the Wavehorse really be better as just a spell rather than a beast?

In the multi-week gap between our making the build and my catching up on some other things I needed to post, I realized that this build actually would be great for something in my Thursday night game. Thus I haven’t been able to share the images until now, when the players have been there.

The characters were approaching 20th level using my heavily home-brewed D&D 5e mechanics. It takes an unreasonable amount of adjustment to make a non-combat game work inside D&D, which was a vital lesson, but we rapidly were nearing the point when I could “graduate” them from that world to a whole new universe and use my new Our Magic rules.

As part of the story, they needed to get advice on how to survive the journey to a new universe. I had set up a lead for them an attendant to the Eminence Creation, a person who had apparently survived the journey to this universe when it was created untold centuries before. What if this person turned out to specialize in the creation of apex predators, and the best place to meet them was at their workspace in another plane?

Lance stands partially in frame carefully angling his phone to take a picture from the point of view of someone on the roof deck of the tower looking out over the landscape. The build fills the six-person dining table, with mountains rising up at the wall end. Trays of other terrain pieces are visible under the table.
Lance gets the point-of-view shot.

They’d found out about this person in an old diary they’d paid dearly to gain access to and between two glued-together pages discovered a hidden magical drawing of a teleportation circle. With that image clear enough for them to use, it was just a matter of taking a step into the unknown. They emerged in a round stone room, with no apparent exits at floor level. They could detect magic—LOTS of magic—but were wary of trying to dispel it. After going upstairs and speaking with a harried person in an office full of extremely odd drawings of various dangerous parts of animal anatomy, they were sent to the roof to wait for their meeting, and were faced with this extraordinary landscape.

Negotiations were made, a natural 20 was rolled, and things turned greatly to their advantage. Before leaving on their journey to the new universe, they wanted to turn the sorcerer’s familiar into a person so that she could carry on their work. It was going to be a tricky process, but between the convenience of being in the magic-rich home of Creation and some assistance thanks to good rolls and prior good deeds, things got much easier.

The only thing I added to the scene that wasn’t originally in the build Lance and I did was a ritual circle between the tower and the levee. The powerful being they consulted returned the overlarge housecat to its component magic potentiality, which charged the ritual circle for the party. They used that to make their bird familiar into a person ally and then, as the predators began to take notice of them, hastily made their getaway.

You never know where a build, even one you think you’re only doing for the sheer fun of building, will take you!

The miniature landscape is unnatural. Immediately beside a rough stone levee is water deep enough for a huge creature with the tail of a shark and the forebody and coloration of a leopard to leap entirely from the water. Scrubby thornbushes suggest a barrier between areas, but the strolling giant housecat on land apparently smashed right through them. In the near distance is a small swamp with mature trees and mountainous cliffs. Various other weirdly incompatible animals populate the landscape.
Looking up the levee to where a Sharkleopard leaps in the water. A 30′ long housecat—unreasonably large—strolls in the scrubby ground near the base of the tower which houses the predator designers’ office.

Author: Dinah from Kabalor

Author. Discardian. GM. Current project: creating an inclusive indie fantasy ttrpg

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