A Peek at Quests from the Infinite Staircase

To further celebrate the 50th anniversary of D&D, Wizards is releasing another adventure anthology, Quests from the Infinite Staircase.

To further celebrate the 50th anniversary of D&D, Wizards is releasing another adventure anthology, Quests from the Infinite Staircase, specifically one akin to Tales of the Yawning Portal or Ghosts of Saltmarsh wherein old adventures are revised and updated for 2024.

“I always try to treat projects with reverence, especially if it's these instances where we're taking something that has been and bringing it forward to be explored by new players [and] returning players,” said Justice Ramin Arman, senior game designer. “Like when I worked on Planescape with Wes Schneider, I'm looking at that material and making sure that we preserved the spirit of it when it comes forward is very important”

The infinite staircase was first mentioned in 2nd Edition in Planescape, and there's a similarly named book called Tales from the Infinite Staircase, where it first appeared. It was then was mentioned again more recently in the 2014 Dungeon Masters Guide.

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What Is the Infinite Staircase?

“What makes [the Infinite Staircase] a special way to travel the multiverse is that it has all these doors that lead to all places – every plane, every world, and perhaps some places that normally are very hard to get to,” said Arman. “What makes it special, as opposed to the City of Sigil or the Plane Shift spell is you really only have to happen upon the right door to find the Infinite Staircase.”

“So as a DM, it's a really easy way to explain planar travel,” continued Arman. “You don't have to deal with faction politics in the City of Sigil. You don't have to wait until your players can cast Plane Shift or make them meet a high-level NPC. They could just be adventuring in a dungeon, open a dusty old door and suddenly see a vista like this.”

One of the first chapters in the book is on this extra dimensional staircase itself, which winds endlessly in the infinite expanse.

“Noor Rahman, one of our concept artists, was really the first one on our team to truly nail the look of the Staircase,” said Arman. “You know when describing this in an art order or with a concept artist, it's kind of a hard thing to describe. You have these stairs that have a specific look to them. You can see upside-down doors, and you know, there's a dial there [in how the Staircase is portrayed] ... tilting too far toward M.C. Escher and then too spacious, but he truly nailed it.”

The first chapter delves into the Infinite Staircase's features: How does gravity work in this realm? What happens if I fall off the Staircase or drop a magic item off the Staircase? What encounters might I have when I'm going from one door to another? And how long does that take? How do I find a specific door in this infinite expanse? And then, of course, what did the doors look like and where do they lead?

“There's a huge table in this chapter on sample doors that might be found. So if your players are anything like mine, and they decide to open a random door because they're curious about what's on the other side, you can roll on that table,” said Arman.

The first chapter also introduces the primary quest giver for this adventure, who is Nafas, a noble genie.

“If you've ever spoken a wish out to a shooting star or perhaps blown a candle out for your birthday, and said what your wish was, Nafas hears it and he wants to make that wish a reality,” said Arman. “But due to the circumstances of his creation, Nafas can't leave the Staircase, so he plays this role kind of akin to like [the Marvel comic and cinematic universes'] Watcher, this distant character who wants to intervene but has these rules that prevent him from doing so.”

“'Nafas' is actually Persian for 'breath' because he is the breath of the multiverse,” added Arman. “Nafas can't be bound by an iron flask, so people who come with a preconceived notion of a genie, and how they're going to find it to do their bidding, they're going to get a rude awakening with this character if they try that."

There are penalties associated with stretching the limits of the wish spell, but noble genies' wishes are not bound by the same rules. “This is somebody you don't want to get on their bad side because he might be able to say, 'I wish you never came here' and suddenly you and your party of adventurers are sitting in a tavern many miles from the infinite staircase,” said Arman.

Because Nafas hears wishes, he fulfills them through adventures. Since he can't leave the staircase he might offer a proposal instead: “Why don't you go do this for me, and then I can make your wish come true the next time you come back?”

Arman also said that Nafas has something very unique in his stat block. They wouldn't reveal it during our press preview but said that readers would find it very cool.

Boat in The Clouds_Titus Lunter Pharoah's smaller.png

Behind the Covers

Like most D&D book releases, QftIS has two covers – one for mass market and an alternative cover for game and hobby shops. Arman said that art director Emi Tangi gave the book “a unique look to it that feels different from, say, the astral plane or ethereal plane, especially when you get into these kind of infinite extra dimensional spaces.”

Nafas, the noble genie, is front and center on both versions of the cover. Syd Mills does the traditional cover, featuring the books' primary quest giver.

The alt cover by Patrick Ganas almost has a texture to it. Ganas is known for artwork featuring air, if you look at his Instagram account, so the alt cover emphasizes the elemental nature of Nafas.

Infintate Staircase_Noor Rahman smaller.jpg

Climbing the Infinite Staircase

All of the adventures start with an illustration of a door along the Infinite Staircase so you can show your players the door they find. Each adventure comes with a quest hook for the Infinite Staircase, as well as more general quest hooks if you don't want to tie it to the Staircase directly.

This anthology of six adventures can be played in order by level. Not interested in a particular adventure? The DM can swap in an adventure from a different anthology. All of the adventures also start with an illustration of a door along the Infinite Staircase so you can show your players the door they find.

These adventures aren't one shots. Most would take between three and four sessions. That said, it depends upon the party and the adventure; some might run longer if you try to explore everything.

Pharoah by Tomas Duchek.PNG

What's In the Book?

The first adventure is The Lost City for levels 1-4, which involves The Lost City of Cynidicea from the 1982 module by Tom Moldvay. The original has an air of intrigue in a big dungeon crawl because the characters are going to meet these weird factions of Cynidicea vying to restore its former glory. Each faction wears a mask and devotes themselves to this ancient god and its tenets. Characters can join a faction and get rewards for doing so.

“In the original adventure, the factions were divided by gender. That's not the case any more. You don't have to be a man to join the Guardians of Gorm, and we've made them easier to join,” said Arman.

The adventures have rebalanced encounters and treasure, and in some cases are fleshed out. For example, “old adventures would just say 'there are pixies in a room full of fireworks.' For this adventure, the designers asked themselves, 'why are pixies in this fireworks room, what are the pixies doing in this room, what do they want, what information might they tell the characters, what are the rules for the fireworks, what if I want to take one?'” said Arman.

Additionally, some NPCs are gambling nearby. Gambling rules are provided so a DM doesn't have to make them up on the fly.

The second adventure, When a Star Falls, levels 4-6, is from a 1984 Graeme Morris module for TSR UK. Originally designed for 8-10 players of levels 3-5, it's another example of how adventures were rebalanced. Similarly, in the end, instead of giving you “two wyrmlings” they changed it to one red dragon.

Characters are going to retrieve a fallen star to protect the power of prophecy from evil that wants to twist it for nefarious purposes. The original kicked off with an encounter in the memory web, which is a weird living web that feeds on memories. When it's slain, it releases those memories in a flood to the creatures around it. “It's a great way to deliver a plot to a group of murder-hobos,” said Arman.

“I love the UK adventures because... the UK TSR team emphasized narrative whereas the American TSR team emphasized kind of game play more than anything, and maybe it's a fascination with theater....it's interesting to see the story structure all the way back to the '80s for this adventure kind of resembles a modern adventure you might see today where distinct parts are linking together different stories,” said Arman.

Next is Beyond the Crystal Cave for level 6-7, from TSR UK. This 1986 adventure is set in the world of Greyhawk, and is inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. It was also ahead of its time in that the adventure could be resolved without combat. Chris Perkins has cited it as inspiration for The Wild Beyond the Witchlight.

This adventure pre-dates the creation of the Feywild so they updated a garden setting in the adventure as taking place in the Garden of Delight in the Feywild. The leprechaun stat block in the book is inspired by its mythological origins so they're in red clothing, not green, as per the original myths and folklore.

Pharaoh for levels 7-9 originally debuted in 1982. Here, the rebalancing actually made it a more deadly dungeon as the titular character asks for help to remove curse from the pharaoh's soul and the land itself. It also features new and improved diagrams as well as “gorgeous full color maps.”

“A year or two ago, we instituted these sweeping inclusion review process,” said Arman, “so all of the adventures in here have gone through an inclusion review pass on the art and the material itself, and this one actually we reached out to someone who specialized in ancient Egypt. So it still features the pharaoh's story told through these hieroglyphs through the dungeon that the characters can translate, but we've removed some of the more culturally insensitive things or repositioned them to really help preserve the spirit of the adventure and make it shine in the best way.” Arman also added that they aren't adding a lot of text, just updating what's there.

Arman also noted that Titus Lunter's Boat in the Clouds artwork was made in a physical medium so when it needed to be tweaked, he was tweaking an acrylic painting.

The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth
for level 9-11 is from 1982, with the original written by Gary Gygax. Set in the Yatal Mountains, emphasis is placed on the location being the former home of the Witch Queen Iggwilv (a.k.a. Tasha).

The last adventure is also by Gygax – 1980's Expedition to the Barrier Peaks for levels 11-13. When selecting these adventures, Arman thought back to how iconic it was to have the Tomb of Horrors as the last adventure in Tales of the Yawning Portal so he thought, “what adventure is going to draw that curiosity the same way?” Expedition to the Barrier Peaks seemed like the obvious answer.

This adventure has two pages of technology from new grenades to laser pistols from the DMG, etc. in the appendix. If you really, really don't want your players to have such weapons for long, you can decrease the energy cells they find.

EttBP tilts a little further into pure science fiction than the science fantasy of Spelljammer. The monsters are similar to the original monsters, but in adjusting the adventure, unique monsters from the original take priority over including more routine monsters. The revised version also gave it a loose narrative structure, which guides the characters to fun places, and filled in ideas for what's in the dance club.

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Wrapping Up​

Arman also addressed the proverbial elephant in the room regard to the current core trinity and the new versions coming.

“This adventure is truly playable whether you're using the 2014 PHB or 2024 PHB, and same for the DMG,” said Arman, adding that it gives more general guidance that's intuitive than making people cross reference.

“I like to think of this book rather than as the last book with the 2014 rules, I like to think of it as the first adventure first book for the 2024 rules, and the reason why is so much of our work, as we designed these adventures, we had an eye on the future, making sure that there wasn't any points of friction between it. So it's kind of like the bridge between the old and the new, which is nice.”

Quests from the Infinite Staircase will be in stores on July 16.
 

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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

Zarithar

Adventurer
They have made it pretty clear the past couple years that they have no intention of publishing any booms with real world gods, past or present, ever again. Like in Plamescape, which was wiped clean of rela gods, or the recent OD&D collection which discussed the last OD&D book on terms of "we can print this now".
They need to do some work on the FR then. Tyr, Loviatar, and Mielikki are all deities from real earth cultures (though now long defunct). Tiamat is another one as well as the names of many of the arch devils, demon lords, etc. I wonder how far they plan to go with this? Does this also mean that the 2015 PHB appendix with the ancient Greek, Norse, Celtic, Egyptian pantheons is no longer canon to the game as well? Seems like a lot to "clean up" so to speak.
 

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Parmandur

Book-Friend
They need to do some work on the FR then. Tyr, Loviatar, and Mielikki are all deities from real earth cultures (though now long defunct). Tiamat is another one as well as the names of many of the arch devils, demon lords, etc. I wonder how far they plan to go with this? Does this also mean that the 2015 PHB appendix with the ancient Greek, Norse, Celtic, Egyptian pantheons is no longer canon to the game as well? Seems like a lot to "clean up" so to speak.
I expect that the 2024 PHB will not have Greek, Norse, Celtic or Epmgyptian pantheons again.

I would not be surprised if those Forgotten Realms deities get renamed or retired. Tiamat and Bahumet...might make it through.
 

I think there's an important distinction between "they shouldn't touch on IRL deities without plenty of cultural sensitivity consultation first" and "they shouldn't touch on IRL deities at all".

I'm all for the former. The latter would be highly disappointing. If taken to the extremes (i.e. no references to IRL mythology of any kind), it would require excising large chunks of the Great Wheel cosmology, including some aspects that they've been leaning into rather heavily, like Yggdrasil the World Tree.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
I think there's an important distinction between "they shouldn't touch on IRL deities without plenty of cultural sensitivity consultation first" and "they shouldn't touch on IRL deities at all".

I'm all for the former. The latter would be highly disappointing. If taken to the extremes (i.e. no references to IRL mythology of any kind), it would require excising large chunks of the Great Wheel cosmology, including some aspects that they've been leaning into rather heavily, like Yggdrasil the World Tree.
Admittedly, it is a spectrum, but I think the evidence from the past couple of years shows WptC is leaning towards the extre.ely cautious end of the scale.
 

Zarithar

Adventurer
I think there's an important distinction between "they shouldn't touch on IRL deities without plenty of cultural sensitivity consultation first" and "they shouldn't touch on IRL deities at all".

I'm all for the former. The latter would be highly disappointing. If taken to the extremes (i.e. no references to IRL mythology of any kind), it would require excising large chunks of the Great Wheel cosmology, including some aspects that they've been leaning into rather heavily, like Yggdrasil the World Tree.
This. However, "modern" religions shouldn't be touched at all in D&D in my opinion unless it takes place in your homebrew world. I always found the inclusion of Hindu deities in Deities & Demigods to be a strange, and likely offensive choice for example.
 

This. However, "modern" religions shouldn't be touched at all in D&D in my opinion unless it takes place in your homebrew world. I always found the inclusion of Hindu deities in Deities & Demigods to be a strange, and likely offensive choice for example.
Certainly. Religions that are still actively practiced today, such as Hinduism, should be off the table, in my opinion.

But ancient religions such as the Greco-Roman, Norse, and Egyptian pantheons, that spent centuries or more without being actively practiced and were long "dead" for all practical purposes, should be fair game, if for no other reason than that they and the varying mythos surrounding them are in many ways foundational to fantasy as a genre. Even if you're not using the gods or the cosmological elements, how many creatures from the Monster Manual originate in real-world mythology?

They've already mentioned overhauling the "sphinx" family of monsters in the new Monster Manual. I expect that is a sign of their new processes at work - I hope to see great things from it. Apply those same processes to IRL pantheons, treat them and the cultures they arose from with the respect and dignity they deserve, and I think they can work just fine in modern D&D, and enrich the cosmology in the process.

By contrast, trying to sweep them under the proverbial rug and pretend that they were never there just ends up leaving glaring holes everywhere you find names like Yggdrasil, Ysgard, Niflheim, Hades, Elyisum, Thebestys, etc. on the Great Wheel cosmological charts.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
First, this is the first WotC adventure book I've been excited about in a long time. I'm very interested in what they do with Pharoah. This is also the case where I'm excited about the changes they will make to a classic adventure. I'm very interested to see the new version of this classic adventure after an egyptologist has helped rework it.

I especially love the conceit of the genie lord and the infinite stair case, making this so easy to drop into any existing campaign. I loved the Yawning Portal, but it always seemed to work better for one shots or several stand alone sessions than trying to work it into my campaign. The infinite staircase concept and rules gives a nice mechanism to work in not only this book's adventures but also those from the Yawning Portal and others. I'll have to wait and read it to see if I really like it in practice, but I like the idea of using it for an entire campaign, allowing me to bring back the days of running players through whatever modules I could get at B Daltons but now with an interesting supernatural NPC quest giver and extraplanar connective tissue to better tie them together.

As for how to treat realworld religious, the issue with dividing them between living and "dead" religions is that there are neo-pagan groups who are working to revive the grecro-roman, norse, and other religions. So it is too easy to fall into the trap of choosing to respect one religion over another based on the number of followers. Better to have entirely fictional religions, though they can be inspired by real world religions if done carefully.
 


Do we know what might have been removed and/or tweaked? Pharaoh (and the two follow up modules) are among my favorites in the history of the game. I have a soft spot for the Ancient Egyptian vibe and mythos as a whole, and love the kind of pulp feel it had. Am assuming maybe they worked on the portrayal of the native inhabitants of the Desert of Desolation itself maybe?
There is only one page on the Dessert of Desolation, so a lot of that stuff must have been cut.
 

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