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I'm currently working on a campaign where time is moving faster within a certain region than in the rest of the world. As the players enter this region, I have some NPCs that I want them to rescue. The problem is that I need a convincing reason as to how these characters could have survived in this area for so long without being harmed.

Conceptually I'm imagining a spider trapping things in its web, but I'm looking for something more magical. It also doesn't necessarily need to be a monster, but maybe some kind of effect on the area that they could dispel.

What are some monsters or spells that would work for this kind of story? Or is this time dilation mechanic just going to cause too much of a headache?

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    \$\begingroup\$ With the time dilation, do you need the NPCs to have been 'frozen in time' so that they haven't aged since entering the dilation? Or are you just looking for some way for them to have been physically prevented from leaving? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kayndarr
    Jun 21, 2023 at 6:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kayndarr they don't necessarily need to be frozen, the time dilation won't be significant enough for it to really matter, it's more a way to prevent events from happening in areas where time is supposedly running faster before the players get there. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 23, 2023 at 3:23

9 Answers 9

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Petrification monsters

The Petrified condition states:

A petrified creature is transformed, along with any nonmagical object it is wearing or carrying, into a solid inanimate substance (usually stone). Its weight increases by a factor of ten, and it ceases aging.

Many monsters can cause it, for example the Medusa and the Basilisk, and it does not require a willing target. Once the characters have secured the statues, they can undo it with Greater Restoration.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to Medusa's garden, where you can see and kiss the hand of famous heroes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Jun 21, 2023 at 9:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1, important characters being petrified to be "conserved" and saved by the main characters ages later is a trope common enough that it has proved itself, in my experience. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Jun 23, 2023 at 9:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Matthieu you make me think of Medusa actually being a good girl - she petrifies selfless proven heroes that want to join her version of the Einherjar. They strike a pose in some temple, then Medusa unveils herself, kisses them for their sacrifice and places them in the garden storage. When the apocalypse comes, Medusa herself puts on a blindfold and begins to cast greater restoration on her gardens together with a group of mages... or just some magic artifact does it... Either way: Avengers Assemble! \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Jun 23, 2023 at 10:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Or... Medusa runs a "Door to Summer" setup: you choose when you want to be awakened, pay in your restoration fee, get a glimpse of Medusa, then are displayed in the gardens till your time comes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Jun 23, 2023 at 10:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Trish's comments made me think of the book Pandora's Jar by Natalie Haynes. It's a good read if you want to go back to the original (far more interesting) depictions of Medusa and many other female characters from Greek mythology \$\endgroup\$
    – Chris H
    Jun 23, 2023 at 13:28
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Sequester

By means of this spell, a willing creature or an object can be hidden away, safe from detection for the duration. When you cast the spell and touch the target, it becomes invisible and can't be targeted by divination spells or perceived through scrying sensors created by divination spells.

If the target is a creature, it falls into a state of suspended animation. Time ceases to flow for it, and it doesn't grow older.

You can set a condition for the spell to end early. The condition can be anything you choose, but it must occur or be visible within 1 mile of the target. Examples include "after 1,000 years" or "when the tarrasque awakens." This spell also ends if the target takes any damage.

It covers all your bases so long as you can say the NPCs were "willing". Just make the wake up condition something that the PCs can pull off.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1. I am not sure why someone downvoted this, I think it is a valid method, if the opponents have access to high level spell casting, and maybe could con the targets into agreement. Maybe the issue is that none of the standard spellcasters from the MM has Sequester in their spell list. Its a bit hard to find those sequestered victims too, but a DM can modify spell lists and provide clues for that. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 21, 2023 at 10:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Could also just be that the NPC got trapped and suspended himself to wait for help. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jemox
    Jun 21, 2023 at 13:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ About finding the sequestered NPC, sure, you can't target their person with divination...but their equipment can be. If it's someone the party knows, and they know the NPC happens to wear a distinctive ring or amulet... \$\endgroup\$
    – biziclop
    Jun 21, 2023 at 14:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @biziclop If their equipment is part of the target, then it also can't be targetted. if it isn't, then it isn't invisible, which is a very strange thing for a spell that makes a creature invisible to do. (as a general rule, when you target a creature it includes the creature's equipment) \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Jun 21, 2023 at 19:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Relevant to whether the NPCs are "willing" is the definition of "willing" used in your game. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 21, 2023 at 19:57
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In addition to the other answers, if you want a magic item solution, I would recommend

Mirror of Life Trapping

This prevents your average Joe from escaping, since they likely don't have magic that permits planar travel. The specific section that is relevant to you:

Creatures trapped in the mirror's cells don't age, and they don't need to eat, drink, or sleep. A creature trapped within a cell can escape using magic that permits planar travel. Otherwise, the creature is confined to the cell until freed.

(Emphasis mine)

This solution does not necessarily require the creature to be willing, or the adventurers to have the ability to cure petrification, but does give them access to a very nice magic item, so use it at your own risk.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I can imagine the npc would use this on themselves to survive from monster outside that want to kill them, however they are not able to leave the mirror without external help \$\endgroup\$
    – LLL
    Jun 21, 2023 at 16:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LLL Unfortunately, the description states "Any creature other than you that sees its reflection in the activated mirror while within 30 feet of it must succeed on a DC 15 Charisma saving throw or be trapped" Meaning, you can't trap yourself. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Jun 21, 2023 at 19:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ And this also has the drawback that all of the NPCs need to be stuck in one location whereas a lot of the other answers would allow NPCs to be in different locations to be rescued one by one. Not a huge problem, but just limiting storytelling possibilities unless you have multiple mirrors. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Jun 21, 2023 at 19:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott That's when you make each NPC have a different reason for being stuck. One was in the Mirror, another one trapped by the Sphinx, another one turned to stone, etc. Different solutions to different problems, and boom you have a dungeon. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 21, 2023 at 19:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ and if you don't want to give the mirror to the party you can sovereign glue the mirror in place \$\endgroup\$ Jun 22, 2023 at 13:06
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Any intelligent monsters with social organization will do. Even old boring humans.

Your NPCs were arrested or enslaved.

This works well into years of NPC time. Push it over a decade and you have to worry about aging.

No magic is required, but plenty of magic would help their captors enormously to watch or restrain them. If you're looking for something very magical, I'd go with the old trope of "mind controlled to do menial household work". Sorry that I don't know the relevant 5E spell nor whether it's a believable use case of high-power magic.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the twist in the question was that these captives are in an area where time passes faster, so they just would risk to die of old age, if you kept them in mundane prisons. You need some effect that stops ageing. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 21, 2023 at 18:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NobodytheHobgoblin possible, but so is "weeks-to-years" levels of time distortion, the question didn't specify, and the answer works for years. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 21, 2023 at 19:08
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Sphinx

Since your whole campaign seems to be focused on time, why not use a sphinx? One of the sphinx' abilities is that they can move people either backyards or forward in time by 10 years.

So maybe you have the adventure focusing on the NPCs being stuck inside a sphinx' time loop, and in order to escape the loop, they need to solve the sphinx' riddle or something but they're stuck, so that's when the heroes show up and get stuck in the same time loop, or they solve the problem by killing the sphinx (after a long slog through a dungeon or something).

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Fractines!

They're magic mirror monsters that can trap creatures within them, and creatures they trap don't suffer from hunger or thirst. Perfect for all your NPC-imprisoning needs (and also fun to throw players into if they're not careful).

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Frozen

White Dragons classically freeze their food to keep it fresh before they eat it - while it isn't realistic for creatures to stay alive during this process, this is supernatural ice from a supernatural dragon's ice breath, so you could have them frozen in the White Dragon's stores of meat, waiting to be freed.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Dragons' breath are not magical: see the Sage Advice Compendium. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Jun 21, 2023 at 17:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage I think that's being a bit nitpicky. We can perhaps say their breath is fantastical even if it's not magic-per-se according to the rule book. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 21, 2023 at 17:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DarthPseudonym Yep, as a DM one could rule that the breath of, for example, an Ancient White Dragon is so powerful that may put a creature in a "cryogenic" state, instead of killing it. But this falls under rule 0, overcoming the "true" rules. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Jun 21, 2023 at 17:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage there is a difference between the rule-related term "magical" and the english meaning. One is used to determine which effects can interact with things like antimagic fields, the other is used to designate anything that doesn't work according to the standard rules of logic and physics we all know. I'm fairly certain dragons and their abilities fall into that second category, so allowing their breath to have more unusual effects, like conservation of life, doesn't sound too far-fetched. Although I agree it's a DM call. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Jun 22, 2023 at 8:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe for this specific circumstance, we could just call it "Supernatural". \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    Jun 22, 2023 at 12:32
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Imprisonment

This is precisely what this spell is for.

You create a magical restraint to hold a creature that you can see within range. The target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or be bound by the spell; if it succeeds, it is immune to this spell if you cast it again. While affected by this spell, the creature doesn't need to breathe, eat, or drink, and it doesn't age. Divination spells can't locate or perceive the target.

When you cast the spell, you choose one of the following forms of imprisonment.

Burial. The target is entombed far beneath the earth in a sphere of magical force that is just large enough to contain the target. Nothing can pass through the sphere, nor can any creature teleport or use planar travel to get into or out of it...

[other options elided]

Ending the Spell. During the casting of the spell, in any of its versions, you can specify a condition that will cause the spell to end and release the target. The condition can be as specific or as elaborate as you choose, but the GM must agree that the condition is reasonable and has a likelihood of coming to pass. The conditions can be based on a creature's name, identity, or deity but otherwise must be based on observable actions or qualities and not based on intangibles such as level, class, or hit points.

For the literary inspiration, see Jack Vance, The Eyes of the Overworld (1966):

I have decided to apply the Charm of Forlorn Encystment, which constricts the subject in a pore some forty-five miles below the surface of the earth...

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Think big!

Belly of the Beast

Picture Jonah stuck in the belly of the whale, surviving off of lesser creatures the whale also ingested while trying to avoid being digested himself.

Honorable mention: Venus flytraps and antlions. The latter would literally follow the "hole" storytelling pattern. Pretty sure there was a Star Wars EU story (Boba Fett's?) in which someone fell into and lived inside a sarlacc until they were able to escape.

Colossus

The monster is the size of a landmass, too high for the NPC to climb down. They live off of natural flora growing on its back or have some sort of symbiotic relationship. The creature sleeps on its feet and there is no real way to get down short of killing it, prompting the question of whether it's worth it to kill a gentle giant to save a single flea.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ An idea to explain why they haven't aged: the monster that swallowed them might have skin that repels magical effects (like a Tarrasque's Reflective Carapace), so the monster - and coincidentally other creatures inside the monster - are immune to the accelerated aging. \$\endgroup\$
    – Toddleson
    Jun 21, 2023 at 21:52

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