Quicksilver Hourglass

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 101: Quicksilver Hourglass




One of the best things about Planescape was its decision to base planar adventuring around low- and medium-leveled characters. You didn’t need to be a level 100 monstrosity from The Throne of Bloodstone to visit the Beastlands, or even level five. The setting established that most people in other planes of existence are commoners just like anywhere else, and wizards with godlike powers are the minority there as well. This contrasted with most previous depictions of the planes, where they seemed like locations fit only for superpowered characters. Once Planescape was killed off, though, it wasn’t too long before the Epic Level Handbook came around and brought back the conception that the planes are only for stupid-high level adventures, and even when things weren’t quite that ridiculous, they still didn’t head towards the planes until characters were still ludicrously powerful in any of the third edition adventure paths. Unfortunately, in this edition, the planes are firmly the domain of the overleveled. 

Still, the Epic Level Handbook was an outlier with its level 21+ heroes, and not much material was written to support it. Its nonsensical hub city Union remained obscure, and most of the game had no problem ignoring epic levels in its statistics for gods, demon lords, and all other creatures. But the fact is, some people did enjoy epic campaigns, and for them the rare super high-level adventures in Dungeon were the only real source for published material. “Quicksilver Hourglass” from issue #123 of Dungeon (June 2005), was by all accounts one of the better epic adventures they published, though I’m not about to playtest it myself in order to find out the truth of the matter—the adventure is balanced (seemingly quite well from reports online) around a party of four level 30 adventurers, and the idea of running such an affair sounds absolutely miserable to me, though for once reading through this gauntlet was interesting enough. 


The concept of “Quicksilver Hourglass” is actually pretty cool. Ages ago, during a war between deities of some unknown part of the Prime Material Plane (the article implies it’s the entirety of the Prime, but that doesn’t really make sense…), the evil, losing side got pissed off and its chief goddess decided that if she couldn’t win she was taking her toys and going home. Taking her toys and going home in this case meant killing all life on the Prime through an elaborate plan involving another god sacrificing himself to speed up time and age everything to death. In order to prevent this from happening, other gods intervened, and ultimately another deity had to sacrifice himself to lock this first god into a “timevoid,” which is to say a demiplane out of time with the rest of the multiverse. Evil folks found out about this, though, and plan to reactivate the original kill-everyone-on-the-Prime plan, and only the PCs can stop this from happening because, umm, I guess everyone else in Union was busy or something. 

This scene is the type of ridiculous nonsense epic-level adventures are filled with. Every encounter is like a bad Metal-album cover from the early 80s.

This somewhat elaborate setup plot has a couple good points that counteract the insanity of level 30 characters. That this is a pocket dimension with only one obscure entrance means that some of their travel abilities are removed, and this is even moreso the case inside the demiplane because it’s disconnected from the Ethereal, Shadow, and Astral planes. What’s more, time within this location is accelerating, which means there’s a timer for how long players can take that prevents rest-spamming. This is the way I like to see epic level scenarios devised, as it’s a location with a coherent explanation for working the way it does without also affecting the rest of the multiverse.


The dungeon itself is cleverly designed and filled with ridiculously powerful monsters and reams of traps. The combination of no gravity and no possibility of using spells like Dimension Door is going to throw off most groups’ usual battle strategies, too. The shape of the dungeon, being essentially an hourglass, also means that it’s a neat place to navigate, but this adventure is still ultimately a dungeon crawl. There are a couple characters who might be spoken with, but there’s barely any point to this, and ultimately the PCs are going to have to smash in the faces of everyone they meet. And despite taking up 26 pages of material (not including some nice handouts included for free on Paizo’s website1), it’s not actually a terribly long adventure, as many of those pages are saturated with the overly complicated backstory explaining this location’s cosmological oddities and the fact that epic level statblocks are crazy long and sometimes take up more than a page for just one individual.

Rob Lazzaretti does a great job with this adventure’s maps. Trust me, you’ll want to check out Paizo’s handouts for additional help with these if you’re running this adventure.

Assuming players survive this gauntlet and save the Prime, they’re greeted by Morwel, the Queen of Stars, and a tertian modron who thank them for their efforts and help with healing etc. I found this part of the story amusing because Morwel is only CR 31, and so probably weaker than anyone in the party after they made it all the way through this adventure, and a tertian modron is essentially a joke at CR 16—this party could problem wipe the entire modron race from Mechanus without too much difficulty, so I don’t see why the players give two shits what he or even Primus has to say about things (nor, for that matter, why deities capable of wiping out the Prime ever cared about his disapproval in the adventure’s backstory). 


Unlike the adventure prompts in the actual Epic Level Handbook, “Quicksilver Hourglass” actually seemed pretty fun… if this level of play is something you’re interested in. I’m not, but for once I could see the draw. Perhaps because mapping this location was no easy feat, Robert Lazzaretti himself was brought in to do the cartography, which is excellent, and the accompanying art is also pretty good. In all, it’s a surprisingly attractive and well-made package that almost makes epic campaigns seem like a good idea, despite the fact that characters within it sure use the word “epic” far, far too frequently when describing practically everything.

  1. The handouts pdf is wonderful, but I found no mention of this within the actual issue. It was just something I stumbled upon while googling around to see what else has been written about this adventure, and to my surprise this was still hosted on Paizo’s website. Some additional searching around taught me that many, many other issues of Dungeon have these as well, but not all of them… I think? Anyone know of an index of these web enhancements? Not that I was thinking about running any of these anytime soon, but, well, it’d be nice to know for anyone who does. 

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