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July 20, 2015, 8:28 pm

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The Hedge Maze


Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards... -- Gildor, via J R R Tolkien

Tucked away in a corner of the realm where prairies yield to foothills, a wizard's tower stands amidst a circular hedge-maze.

This maze is apparently well-maintained: green and perfectly manicured, about 50 m in diameter, and based on concentric circles, around a tower which stands five stories, about 15 m tall. There are four entrances to the maze, aligned to the four cardinal points. The hedge itself is about 2 m high at the outside edge, rising to about double that near the tower: climbing the hedge wall would not give away any information about possible first-floor doors in the tower.

Careful viewing of the tower reveals not windows but four floors' worth of arrow-slits, each surrounded by carved, presumably defensive runes that glow disturbingly in the morning sun: trying to fly to the tower would likely be dangerous.

It will be necessary to traverse the maze or to hack through it. The civilized way will take several hours: there are four independent blocks, one inside each entrance, so a simple strategy like "keep left" will not work, but the maze is definitely solvable.

Trying to hack through the maze, on the other hand, is much more dangerous: the maze will resist such attempts in an escalating fashion, with a variety of plant-based effects.

At the perimeter, the show of force is basically symbolic: slender tendrils offer little resistance to travel, seed pods explode at random like popguns, flowers emit pollen clouds that cause teary eyes and brief coughing fits. If the attacks persist, the hedge ups the ante: stouter branches attack, the clouds of pollen produce severe choking fits, bole-like growths suddenly appear and release hallucinogenic gasses. Eventually thick limbs armed with razor-sharp thorns and sharp spikes strike with unerring aim, dense pollen clouds cause blindness and life-threatening asthma attacks, and exploding pods launch hard seeds like crossbow bolts. By the time a party cuts half-way through the maze it will probably be dead.

If the party uses elemental attacks like fire or cold, the hedge ecology is prepared: burning it will release clouds of noxious gasses in several grades of deadliness, while those trying to freeze it will find that it has a large base of anit-freeze producing material to fight off this form of attack. Water attacks will only make it healthier unless they are overwhelmingly powerful, and air attacks will just rustle the branches and leaves, again unless hurricane-force winds are produced. The hedge will still fight back with its natural weapons as long as it is able. Nature-oriented characters like druids, barbarians, or rangers should get a bonus on checks to realize the hedge's capacities in this regard.

If, however, the attackers decide to retreat, the hedge will continue its attack for a brief interval, until it decides that the retreat is real and not just a strategem (exiting along the entrance cut so as to avoid further damage would be a good way to convince the hedge of one's good intentions...)

Once the attackers have left the maze, it begins to repair itself, from the interior to the outer wall. And it will remember the attackers for the rest of the day, until nightfall: whether they try to hack their way in or enter peaceably by one of the four entrances, the maze will respond at the same level of resistance at which it left off.

The next morning, the maze will have "forgiven" them and be willing to let them enter to solve it, or meet them with the initial mild reaction if they are so rash as to choose to hack their way in again. Obviously the hedge goes dormant at night, thus allowing it to forgive and forget. It might be thought easier to try the maze at night: the wizard thought differently and graved those runes around the arrow-slits. Depending on the time of day and the damage already done, what comes to defend the maze and tower might be anything from a murder of ravens to a tribe of night-gaunts or other demons.

Obviously the wizard of this tower is an Elf-friend of no mean stature, with access to powerful elven magic and the special secret plants that elves use to defend their own forests. Repeated attacks on the maze might incur the wrath of the elf Goddess Herself. Such enmity would likely manifest as a curse of barrenness, not just on the party, but also on the regions where they travel. Eventually someone will trace the pattern of crop failures and bad harvests back to the party involved. At that point there would need to be *serious* penance done to appease the anger of the Goddess visited on a large part of the local continent...

And what does the tower contain, that it is guarded so well? (Perhaps it is the maze that is the prize: traversing it in just the right way might grant a plant-based power, anything from Talk to Plants to Summon Ent...)

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Comments ( 12 )
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Voted knowman
September 5, 2013, 13:10
I like it, and think it could be used verily easily in most fantasy campaigns with just a little tweaking.

I appreciate that the entry is system-neutral, but do you have any suggestions as to how the hedge would respond to magic - druidic magic comes to mind - or nature-oriented characters like druids, rangers and elves. Obviously any GM using it could come up with their own answers, I was just curious what your thoughts were as the creator.

Also, fire. I get that it's green and that it won't burn easily, but most organic things will burn. Something like an additional line explaining the noxious gases that billow forth were such a strategy to be tried might be a good way to head off what seems like an obvious strategy for less nature-inclined or more pragmatic parties.
Voted Shadoweagle
September 5, 2013, 21:05
Its a handy maze which can be slotted into any number of campaigns, just by slapping whatever goal the party needs to accomplish in the tower in the middle.
Voted Ted
September 5, 2013, 23:15
Voted Gossamer
September 6, 2013, 7:03
Felt somewhat lazy and not original at all. Could do with some surprises. Like maybe the tower is empty and the real structure is inside the maze itself.
September 6, 2013, 20:43
Thanks for the thoughtful comments on "The Hedge Maze".
@knowman, I thank you for pointing out those two omissions: the hedge is made up of several parts, as noted--it's more of an ecology than a single lifeform--and if one part were controlled by druidic magic, the others would respond indignantly ("How dare you use *that* stuff on me!"); on the other hand, nature-oriented characters would probably get a bonus (+2 situational bonus?) to solve the maze ("Hey, those yellow flowers only grow in dryad groves: this must be the way to the centre!"), and a correspondingly more aggressive response if they are so foolhardy as to attack it.

Fire would definitely produce dense clouds of poisonous gas. Other elemental attacks are problematical: the hedge could preserve itself for a while from cold attacks with a natural anti-freeze (it has a very large and green base to produce such stuff from).

@Ted, I must say I never saw that other wiki page. Shall we put it down to "Great minds think alike?" :P

@Gossamer, you are devious! Perhaps the tower is just a red herring, and the maze is the thing, like the Pattern in Amber--those who complete it gain some plant-based power depending on "level" (or path through the maze?), such as permanent Speak to Plants, Command Plants, Summon Ent..., while those who get lost in it (at sundown?) are absorbed into the hedge and lost forever.

That reminds me: the hedge goes dormant overnight, of course: that's why it forgives and forgets its attackers. So an attack by night would seem to be the way to go. Of course the wizard who made the thing would have considered that possibility--hence the defensive runes on the arrow slits. Night-time attackers will no doubt be met by Things summoned by those runes, perhaps wraiths or demons, depending on how far into the maze the attackers get: the wizard seemed to like to have things ramped-up.
Voted Cheka Man
September 7, 2013, 19:35
Maybe the wizard just really wants to be left alone?
Voted Darkstand
September 8, 2013, 2:31
Simple yet effective.
Eric the Grey
September 9, 2013, 12:24
Just voted
Voted valadaar
September 10, 2013, 11:48
Not bad, but the specific association with wizards seems fairly weak, since there is no overt Wizard included.

Some suggested plants:

Voted MysticMoon
September 27, 2013, 12:44
Only voted
Voted Eric the Grey
September 28, 2013, 17:14
After thinking on this entry, I came up with a neat background for this:

The creator of the tower and the maze was a prophet. The curse of prophecy came upon this poor individual at an early age, driving him to build the tower and maze and then wait inside for "the chosen" who would be the first to solve the maze. That of course could very well be one of the players...

Meanwhile, he lives within, growing older and crazier as time passes. The man lives on the plants of the maze, the exact combination has slowed his aging, causing him to become ever crazier, and ever madder at the long wait...
Voted PoisonAlchemist
October 18, 2014, 20:42
This sub just doesn't do it for me I guess, it feels like just any proper magical hedge maze. It should also be updated with the additional information provided in the comment section.
July 20, 2015, 20:28
Update: Responded to comments and feedback with updates and corrections.

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