Sunday, October 18, 2020

Land's End Town Map

Once a staging-point for Imperial military ventures in the region, the town has since shrunk to a fraction of its former population, only farmers and fishermen. Almost all current residents live north of the river in newer adobe buildings, leaving the decaying army barracks-blocks on the south side alone. These decaying buildings can be had for cheap by outlaws, adventurers, eccentrics, and others with a few coins who make it to the last station before the edge of the world.




 The guys have been based out of this town for the entire campaign. After scouring the internet for a small farming village with a river going through the middle (seemed like it would be an easy thing to find...) with no luck, I decided to draw one myself. Came out half-decently I think, thanks to some internet tutorials - enough to fool my players into thinking I downloaded it from somewhere.

You'll notice there is no 7 on the map for "Home." That's because my players haven't picked out which house is theirs yet. Gotta make em do that before we play next, but I'm still working on the next ultra nasty dungeon, which will be a bit complicated and is taking me a long while. In the mean time, enjoy my hand-cramping digital artwork.


*****



Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Play Report: No Salvation For Witches! [LotFP]

The kickoff to my (currently online) Labyrinth Lord game based around the City-State of the World Emperor was last Halloween, when I ran an ostensible one-shot for my regulars and some of their friends who had never gamed before. 

I wrote this report up for all of them to read, and may as well share it with you folks here. Now that we're making progress in this campaign, you can expect other fun material forthwith. 

I also included what I thought would be a fun campaign kickoff, combined with NSFW - the adventure idea at the back of Kelvin Green's Forgive Us, called "Death And Taxes." Mixing these adventures together went pretty well, and of course I had to add in some of my own ideas as well. Later play reports will show that the PCs, in classic fashion, have not pursued ANY of the leads discovered in this session.


*****

NO SALVATION FOR WITCHES


1st Meadowlark, 4433

Characters

Aladar IX, half-elf M-U 1
Tullius Jr, human fighter 1
Lothos the Undesirable, elf 1
Eric Withakay, human cleric 1
Avala, human elementalist 1
Two-Faced Humphrey, human spy 1


Funeral For a Friend

The characters met at the funeral of James Blake, an old army buddy who died under mysterious circumstances. They assembled to pay their respects on the way to Drydale Priory where longstanding rumours suggested heretical activities and/or valuable treasure.

A neighbouring farmer was the only other attendee. He was confused that Bishop Gray hadn't sent at least a junior priest to officiate and worried about Blake's missing 11-year old daughter Deotina. He also mentioned a group of tax collectors had been asking questions, and asked the group to find out anything they could. A search of Blake's home turned up little except his old Legion gear and a scrap of paper torn from his diary about the taxmen. There were signs someone had packed and left in a hurry.

At the caravanserai, the party found human bodies everywhere killed and mutilated in the most horrible ways. The only two people left alive were a terrified, useless traveler named Arrerand and the concussed woman Naniela, who was beyond his power to help. She mumbled and raved about "red lights in the sky... the dancing woman with skin of diamonds" and clutched her bleeding head wound. Eric healed her injury and she became more lucid. The two helpless travelers were interrogated about the tax collectors and recent events but didn't know much. The party sent them on their way.

The priory itself was unreachable, covered by an impassable dome of lambent red light. Leaving it for the moment, the group proceeded to Drydale for clues and found the citizens in the middle of a witch trial! Leading the event was a thin, intense man named Kynnakon. Four women had already been killed and a fifth cried upon the scaffold, pleading for mercy. At the back of the village, a strange glow similar to the red dome could be seen.

Thinking quickly, Eric stepped in and engaged the man in a discussion about witches and their verification. As a man of the cloth his words carried weight on these matters and he convinced the crowd to disperse. Without his mob, Kynnakon was less confident. He released the "witch" Mertysa to the party's care and told them a strange story: six women had passed through towards the priory a few days ago armed and armoured, dressed in strange clothes. Since then all their livestock had died and they blamed witchcraft.

Lothos circled around the village to investigate the red glow. A small red sphere floated at head height, softly glowing. While the townsfolk were distracted he took it in his cloak and rejoined the group, who departed before the crowd's temper could change again. Returning to the priory, the small red sphere crumbled into dust, sympathetically bringing down the giant glowing dome and allowing entry. Unluckily for the elf, the sphere destroyed a few of his possessions as it vanished from the world - including his spellbook!



Inside The Priory

The party entered the grounds, avoiding the church for now. Searching the outbuildings revealed a succession of horrors - women giving birth to mutated children, a man and woman fused together while still alive and a puddle of fast-moving scarlet bile.

Outside the baths, they were greeted by an imposing figure - Sir Karavon, a knight in gleaming white plate mail. He demanded to know their business and claimed to serve the cause of Mistress Orelia. After all his tough talk, battle was inevitable. Lothos sustained a terrible blow from Karavon's greatsword but the group felled him together and stripped the body.

The group had had enough of these horrors. They barricaded the infirmary full of aberrant children and set the roof on fire. While they were debating their next move, Kynnakon arrived on the scene leading a small torch-and-pitchfork mob. The group took up ambush positions, Tullius Jr slipped inside incognito as Sir Karavon while Eric addressed the mob, whipping them into a witch-hunting frenzy.

Inside the church was a whirl of activity: dozens of peasant women dancing in a mad frenzy guarded by five heavily armed foreign women, overseen by two robed & hooded men and an ice-pale Avalonian sorceress in a red sash. Orelia called out to "Sir Karavon," asking the knight for a report. Tullius Jr indicated the angry mob outside and mobilized the warrior-women to battle, remaining indoors at Orelia's side in case of emergency.

Battle was joined in front of the church! The Five Bishops (as they called themselves) guarded the door in a wedge formation, bravely meeting the mob's charge. What they weren't prepared for was the party's vicious ambush: Humphrey ran up behind one for a backstab while Aladar and Lothos peppered them from a safe distance. The Bishops couldn't withstand this assault for long and began a fighting retreat into the church. This turned out to be a mistake, as the mob charged in and held the door open! Things began to happen very quickly. Tullius Jr showed his true colours when he struck Orelia by surprise with his greatsword, nearly killing her in one strike. Retaliation with her magic wand did not have its intended effect. Two-Faced Humphrey ran around to the back and climbed up to a window for a surprise attack. Eric began smashing windows which allowed Lothos, Aladar and Avala to take up firing positions.

In a deft use of magic, Aladar used his Unseen Servant to snatch Orelia's magic wand right from her hand before she could use it again. Tullius' greatsword finished her off after that. With magical support from Avala's earth elementine, a diving attack by Humphrey and a magical grasping fist from Aladar, the two robed figures were destroyed and revealed to be only the flayed skins of men animated by Orelia's witchcraft.

With all opponents defeated, the mob began dragging the dancers off the platform and the party felt the beginnings of a tremor run through the building. Thinking quickly they fled the scene just in time for the church to come crashing down in a blaze of light and magic, killing or wounding all inside! The rubble began to burn, but Eric and Humphrey dragged over a tub of water from the baths, buying everyone time to sift the wreckage, rescue a few townsfolk and recover some valuables and the mysterious book they originally sought.


Exhumation

The smoky priory grounds were visited by a new group - the much-talked-about tax collectors! Their leader was a turbaned Viridian named Irmugar, sent by the Padishah to investigate rumours that Blake had stolen or unreported wealth. They seemed not to know he was dead. The party convinced the taxmen to take the peasant survivors back to Drydale - Irmugar indicated Tullius Jr and agreed the situation was well in hand with a "Knight of the Cockatrice" present. But something else he said got the group thinking...

The adventure ended where it began with the party exhuming James Blake by torchlight. Inside his coffin with his body was a locked oak box. Prying it open revealed a battered knife in an old scabbard, a locket containing a single golden hair, Blake's diary and a strange leatherbound book called The Great Devourer.

Eric meanwhile was perusing the blackened tome he had found in the rubble and touched its faded pages with his bloodstained hands. They blossomed into fresh crimson runes and symbols, while words formed in Imperial: "Greetings. Whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?"


ENEMIES DEFEATED

Charles & Gwendolin
the scarlet bile
Sir Karavon
"The Five Bishops"
Orelia Woolcott
2 animated skin guardians


TREASURE

Sir Karavon's white plate mail & greatsword (Tullius Jr.)
Assorted armour, weapons and ammunition from the Bishops (various)
Orelia's ivory-tipped magic wand (Aladar IX) and red sash (Tullius Jr.)
A mysterious blackened tome (Eric)
Blake's diary (Aladar IX)
The Great Devourer (Lothos)
Locket with a golden hair (Eric)

Silver drinking horn, carved with runes and studded with garnets, slightly scuffed (640 sp)
A silver-gilt radiated brooch ringed with amethysts (1200 sp)
Solid-gold decorative phallus (800 sp)

Treasure value: 2640 sp
Each character gets 440 sp and 490 xp


*****

Don't worry - more Land's End material is in progress. Honestly the biggest obstacle to my blogging is that I'm gaming more often than I'm used to! It's a great problem to have, but one I was unfamiliar with before now.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

E6: Overleveling yourself for fun & profit

I haven't been blogging as much of late because I've spent all my time prepping for our online q-teen game in the City-State of the World Emperor. I have a big pool of players and it's a lot of fun, but we are playing more frequently than I'm used to! As the game develops I'll eventually have a backlog of material that I can share, but for now I am focusing on the most immediately useful stuff.

Here's a post I've been thinking about for a while, as I look to the future of the Land's End game:




What Happens After 6th Level?

Epic 6: The Game Inside The World's Most Popular Roleplaying Game.

Go read it, I'll wait.
Back?
Good.

This modification to the core of 3.x/d20 is the only way I will consent to playing damned Mathfinder. It allows me to chop, flog and edit the system to my heart's content without fretting overly about the rules not working consistently across all 20 levels. If it works with normal humans and 1st level characters, a modification will probably be fine at level 6.

The party just reached level four, and I have to start thinking about how to handle the PCs reaching level 6. More feats will be necessary, obviously. But I think the fun of E6 will be attempting epic-level stuff. Killing legendary monsters, stealing the golden fleece, things that heroes of legends do. When all you get is one fireball, you'd better make it count. How else can the players make the best use of their power in the game world?

First of all, the core tenets of E6 won't change:


Six Hit Dice
It doesn't matter how many cool abilities you have - falling off a cliff, being swallowed whole by a dragon or chopped up by a motivated mob of lowly orcs are all deadly. That doesn't mean you can't take feats like Toughness to get more hit points, of course.


BAB +6
Feats could give situational bonuses and modifiers, or allow fighters to chain up to feats that require a higher BAB. But the whole idea is that the best swordsmen in the world are only a certain degree above a normal human.

Look at it this way: a 0-level peasant with a +5 sword (a godlike weapon, impossible for normal humans to make) is almost even with a 6th-level master armed with his old campaigning sword. I love that symmetry.


No Generalized Power Increases
Bonuses after 6th should improve specific aspects of the character, not upgrade their overall power level. Anything that increases a character's power across multiple dimensions (like lycanthropy increasing hit points, attack bonus, armour class, etc) should come with stiff drawbacks or be only situationally useful.


Extraordinary Results Require Extraordinary Effort
Not a core tenet of E6, but it flows from what I'm thinking about. Taking your allotted feats after sixth level is the natural order of things. Spending a feat or two to take abilities from a prestige class or something takes extra XP, but no extra work.

PCs who want to go above and beyond need to go on quests, consult sages, spend money, peruse forgotten tomes, take risks, utilize lost treasures, risk sanity loss, etc. in addition to gaining the required XP. All the good player-directed adventuring sandbox stuff that I try to encourage!


A Dangerous World
It should be obvious, but things ramp up at this level. Not as dangerous as your standard level 1-20 world - after all, part of the E6 magic is that the ecology of the game world can be at least a bit fucking comprehensible. The world nevertheless needs dreadful monsters that can't be defeated readily in a straight-up fight. Why bother opening up the Necronomicon and risking mutation & madness on the off-chance your wizard can make all his rolls and learn Finger of Death - unless you really need it to kill the dreaded Sludge Dragon of the Drowned Lands and your solitary 3rd-level spell won't cut it?

Players that reach 6th and become "epic level" might think they have no need to take risks. Epic 6 should be more like finishing an apprenticeship: a license to take on bigger challenges, and a sign that your initial 'adventurer puberty' of rapid learning and growth is over. Development now takes hard work.

Epic Problems require Epic Solutions.

E6 POWER-UP METHODS

Finding The Weird Stuff
The most basic option. The epic-level dungeons in Land's End are plentiful: the Tomb of Abysthor, catacombs beneath the lost city, serpent-men ruins, other dimensions, crashed alien... well, I've said too much already. All of these ultra-dangerous dungeons are crammed with as much cool shit as I can fit, and none of it is available anywhere else in the setting. Balancing that out are brutal traps and hordes of tough foes. Most of these locales are optional, extremely hard to find/get into, or both.


Magic Item Creation
A classic of high-level play. In E6, level limits on feats still apply. Based on the feat requirements in the PF core rulebook, 6th-level casters can create scrolls, potions, wondrous items, wands, magic arms & armour. Rods, staves & rings are beyond mortal abilities completely (LotR anyone?).

Of course some items in each of these categories are beyond a 6th-level caster anyway. A +2 enhancement bonus and a handful of special properties (distance, merciful & thundering) are all the magic weapons a 6th-level enchanter can create. This is perfect for me - even aligned weapons (axiomatic, etc) are beyond the PCs' ability, as they're products of extraplanar energies.

If the PCs want even better magical gear, they need to pick up the various lost relics & demon-haunted weapons throughout the landscape, grappling with their personalities, properties & curses.

Of course the long & more fun way is available also. Through mighty deeds, the players may create weapons normally impossible for mortal 6th-level heroes, and these weapons will hopefully pass on into song & story after their adventuring careers are over, where a more straightforward sword +2 created by choosing a feat and spending money (yawn....) will not.


Covenants
You all know how much I love Dark Souls and Warhammer!

Entering into a pact with one of the ruinous powers usually helps out. For a while, anyway. None of the PCs are Lawful, so it seems pointless to even detail the benefits those entities would grant. Instead, I'll work up more chaos patron tables for Abraxas, Tsathoggua, Jubilex, maybe a few others as the setting demands. If the PCs want to sign on with the forces of darkness, that's fine with me (they aren't too far off as of now).

Meanwhile, some ancient beings survive from the times before mankind. If they could be bargained with, perhaps their secrets can be learned (this is a subset of Finding the Weird Stuff). For example, the sorcerous giant Nibolcus (see The Man From Before) knows magics long lost to the world. At what price would he take on a new student?



Mutations
I mentioned a giant mutation chart in an old post a while back. Very difficult to control, but maybe a "potion of beneficial mutation" (or an updated version) could be found or created that would limit the number of really harsh effects. Probably too risky for the fearful players in my game, but might come up as a desperate gambit or side-effect of something else. The Metamorphica will come in handy here.


Night Hag
Wouldn't give your witchy PC more levels, but upgrades your Hit Dice and give you more spells at the cost of stat & alignment change, some new vulnerabilities, being cast out of polite society and having to help your coven with various tasks. The process for this will be similar to lichdom - an esoteric ritual known only to few. There is a witch in the swamp attempting this right now, maybe she can be persuaded to give up her secrets? (also see Witchy Wednesday)


Lycanthropy
Easy to contract, hard to get rid of. We know the rules. The dread forvalaka roams the wilderness, so the changing disease could be contracted during the normal course of the game if the PCs aren't careful. The weakest form of transformation probably. It's hard to control and comes with serious drawbacks (I'll be using that chart in the AD&D DMG) but it could be narrowly useful for a fighter or barbarian who needs an edge from time to time.


Vampirism
So far there is one vampire in the setting, a hold-over from a bygone age. Trapped in a lead coffin, it has been waiting for centuries, hopelessly mad. Letting it out is probably a big mistake... but in a land covered in perpetual clouds, being a vampire might not be so bad? Increased stats, undead immunities and some great special abilities make this transformation a great move in a setting with very few high-level clerics. This option is open to PCs, but then we'll have to mess with templates and it will be a real fiddle-fuck. And of course the trapped vampire might just kill them all.



Lichdom
There are a few liches in the region. Mostly they are happy to kill anyone they see, but one of them can be negotiated with. Prying his secrets will be a serious challenge but it could happen. Certainly this would lead to some great immunities, better hit dice and perhaps some more spell slots - I'll have to give it some thought, and dig up PF's stupid rules for templates.

Vagelis Petikas

Other Undead
Servants of Orcus (see link above) might be turned into skeletons, zombies or ghouls up to 6th level, or perhaps wights if they have a great deal of experience beyond 6th. There are other undead in the wilderness that might strike the players and transform them - shadows, ghosts, etc. Still, this is more of a fail state than anything the players will likely aspire to. If they do get transformed, I will offer them the option of continuing play as an undead character with all the relevant drawbacks or relegating the unfortunate to NPC status (possibly a new villain).


Brainstormer/Fuse Meister
Sort of like special cases of lichdom. These two are much more difficult to make work as PCs, and perhaps I'll leave as antagonists, unless someone is really that crazy!


Destiny
As I said back in this post about the black pyramid:

"Ivory Tablets: One of the many long term sub-sub-subplots of the campaign. My attempt to fix the stupid Deck of Many Things into a powerful divination tool & force to rewrite one's destiny. Created by the high elves 5000 years ago. The individual "cards" must be assembled and brought to the shrine of Divine Providence deep beneath the Lost City where the Chthonic Elves dwell. I haven't decided what each card does yet, but I really dug myself in deep with this one. All the major arcana and 4 cards from each suit, for a total of 38!"

Well, luckily Mithril & Mages pointed me in the right direction. Dragon Magazine #77 has rules for an expanded Deck of Many Things based on all the tarot cards. Awesome! The powers aren't annoying things like "dead" or "gain 100,000 xp," rather stat changes (I'll rule that this can increase above normal maximums), strange events in one's life, saving throw modifiers, gaining tremendous wealth or losing all your money, getting pranked by magical creatures, etc. Very cool stuff and if the PCs ever assemble the deck (a tall order indeed, considering where a few of the cards are kept!) they can try their luck with it.


*****

[EDIT: I forgot about the cards! Getting back into a setting you haven't looked at in a few months can take a bit of work...]

As you can see there are plenty of options for the power-hungry player character. Whether they take any of these, well... that remains to be seen. My next move is to seed clues, hints & fragments pointing towards these options throughout the world. Off I go to do that, and write up some more big dungeons. Excelsior!


Sunday, July 19, 2020

Keying my Hexcrawl

In a comment on the last Land's End play report, GFC wrote:

[... I'd love to read more about these factions, and your process for prepping these richly detailed hexmaps. Looking forward to reading more play reports!]


*****

Thanks for the commentary, GFC!

My hex-stocking procedure is painfully slow and perhaps not worth emulating. After playing music for 20 years and D&D for closer to 25 (wow!), I have learned a little bit about my creative process. The best bloggers that I read seem to be able to create their own settings top-to-bottom (or nearly so), while I will always be using a lot of existing material, and perhaps stitching it together in an interesting way if I'm lucky.

When I do dream up something creative & interesting, it tends to come damnably slow. Nevertheless, I have fumbled along despite these handicaps and built Land's End in the following way. I hope it may provide some help in your own games.

My basic ideas are not too far from Blair's classic How I key a Hex Map.
There are tons of other guides on the basics of hexmapping out there for those who are new to it, so I'll just leave this starting point here for those who might be interested: Hexcrawl Resources at Ars Phantasia


Almost two years of exploration


Starting Out

I began with a mental picture of the campaign setting: a "lost world" cut off from civilization. The adventurers leaving known territory and mapping brand-new lands, scattered with the remains of former empires. I wanted an aesthetic of cavemen, lizardfolk, swamps and jungle ruins. That suggested locations, terrain & possible encounters to start with.

In two years of play, my group has travelled halfway across my 8.5"x11" paper map of six-mile hexes on the long axis, and three quarters of the way on the short axis. They have by no means seen everything within that area, either (as you can see on the map above). I usually only have 20-ish hexes stocked that they haven't been to yet. Just enough that I have my bases covered if they take a wrong turn. I come up with new locations quite slowly.

What helps is that travel in jungles & swamps is slow - the players can't get far in a day even at light encumbrance (they take pains to never get weighed down with too much stuff) so I only need a few extra hexes stocked in any direction. They often revisit the same adventure locations multiple times for various reasons (strategic chokepoints, stocking up on resources, landmarks and paths through the jungle, to say nothing of repeat dungeon delves). The region is small but has become dense with connections and history.

See: Shallow & Deep Wilderness Sandboxes


Grab From Everywhere

I have praised d4 Caltrops before on this blog. A huge number of my hex locations are from his "100 Wilderness Hexes" document. This thing is fantastic, so check it out. Many of the hexes interconnect with each other (especially the swamp hexes), which adds further layers of adventure possibility. I have taken many of these and spun them into a whole game session, or connected them to something across the map for my players to go check out.

See: 100 Wilderness Hexes

You might have a few modules gathering dust on your shelf that you'd like to include on your map. So far I have added the The Tomb of Abysthor, The Spire of Quetzel and a few two-pagers from the excellent Trilemma Adventures compendium.

Modules aren't just useful for saving time. Each one added to your setting can be spun off into new elements if you put a little effort in. Using The Tomb of Abysthor for example, I reworked the included wilderness locations into larger, more detailed locales. I created more NPCs for the cult of Orcus and the Tsathar, spread them around the hexmap, added them to the region's encounter tables and gave them new lairs, dungeons, motivations, things to do, equipment & treasure, etc. All of a sudden, a single dungeon module has added a new layer of texture & meaning to the world. Even if they never set foot inside, the players will get involved with the dungeon's factions and NPCs one way or another. Do this for three or four modules and you should have a whole campaign's worth of material in no time.


Random Generation

Sometimes you get stuck, and that's OK. Judges Guild is here to help: go get the Wilderness Hexplore Document. Compiled based on material from the Ready Ref Sheets and elsewhere, it amounts to a complete random wilderness stocking system. I don't use it that way exactly - I roll on it for ideas when I can't think of anything. It gives just enough detail to jog the mind into doing something new. You might also try the Tome of Adventure Design, some of the tables at the back of the DMG, or another of your favourites.


Example

I was stocking the Drowned Lands (the great swamp at the centre of the hexmap, where the lizardmen live) and after 20 or so hexes, I felt a bit gassed. I opened up the tables and this is what happened:

Rolling on the feature table on pg. 8 gives a result of 7 - Temples & Shrines. I roll for the temple's size & shape (an obelisk of metal), age, number of followers, type and number of leadership, treasury (very important for PCs), the type of shrine (a holy statue), defensive measures and traps, effects of defiling the shrine, the deity's sphere of influence and plenty of other things. Occasionally results need to be tweaked to fit the system (there are no 11th level clerics in Land's End!).

Rolling for the deity's appearance resulted in these traits: goddess; elf; alien; wasp wings. That sounded familiar, so I dug through the Book of the Damned (one of the few Pathfinder books I actually like). I found the Oni Daimyo pictured below, whose divine portfolio matched some of the random table results and gave me more useful details. Jumping back & forth between various books like this really works for me.





Putting it all together I get this basic hex info:


Hex 0612 -TEMPLE OF INMA - Obelisk of unknown metal, surrounded by 40’ walls adorned with tallow candles & reed torches. 23 chthonian elf worshippers inside, led by triumvirate of priests (Cle 2nd, 4th, 4th). Statue of goddess Inma, "The Empress of the World" has three eyes, four arms, alien features and wasp wings. An obscure demoness of blood who bestows wealth on worshippers when appropriate sacrifices are made. The temple is rich and fanatical.

Ceremonies: Regularly at dusk (all - public, lizardman blood), midnight (high priests - public, platinum) and dawn (high priests only, copper). Special ones - a month of fasting and prayer, the longest day of the year, goddess’ “day of death,” death of a high priest. 


This only leads to more questions. Who built this place? What is the obelisk actually made of? What do Inma's worshippers want with treasure, anyway? Where do they get the coinage for their sacrifices? Why risk death at the hands of lizardfolk? Are the clergy isolationist hermits, or will they deal with the outside world? How are relations with the lizardfolk who (at least nominally) control the whole swamp? Are they apostates from chthonic elf society, or does Inma have a place in their larger pantheon? How will they react to the PCs: as allies, enemies, potential sacrifices or something else?

Answering these might result in a dumb adventure location or something fun & memorable. The effects might spiral outwards and change any number of things in your game world. I don't have it all figured out yet. The important thing is that I now have something I wouldn't have made up myself, and I can flesh it out and see where things lead. The setting just got slightly more complex, more textured.

The Wilderness Hexplore Document is quite wide-ranging. It could just as easily have given me a ruined bridge; a sunken canoe guarded by giant frogs; or a castle with a samurai and his djinn servant (I have rolled all these before). Adapting & reskinning the results to my game world is always an enjoyable exercise that expands my thinking about the setting and fills in details that I otherwise would never have included.


Putting it All Together

This is where two DMs with the same raw material might run completely different games. Remember that aesthetic I mentioned earlier? I think of it as a filter. Everything I use from a module or blog, everything I roll on a random table - it all gets filtered through my own view of the setting, tweaked a little bit until it gels, and then set down.

There is no strict hierarchy or step-by-step procedure to follow. I like to bounce around between all these options as the mood strikes me. When I get stuck, I change my approach and continue. At a certain point you have to trust yourself to make the connections, to adjust elements to fit into a larger structure that only you can see.

See: The Dirt Cheap Sandbox

I hope these examples are useful. Read the links, because those guys usually say it better than I can. If I missed something, let me have it in the comments!


*****

It's funny to be writing about my wilderness hexcrawl while I'm neck-deep in keying a gigantic city sandbox for a different game with some new people. It's proving to be quite the unfamiliar challenge!

And now for a bit of classic '90s gaming music.



Saturday, June 27, 2020

Random Monster Generator Shootout 6 - Blogosphere Rabbit Hole Remix!

So I stumbled across this somehow.
Probably on MeWe, where I follow some cool kids.
If you use it too, add me eh?

From that link I checked out several different monster generators on a few blogs, including some linked from the comments. Here is what I discovered:


*****

BUILT BY GODS LONG FORGOTTEN
Monster Remixes - links are on the right side of that page

Released as PDFs, one for each monster category (as delineated by Sham here). These are wild. I really wish they were compiled in one giant pdf document, but they were written years ago so what can you do?

Each one consists of a single page. They basically strip apart the traits, characteristics & special abilities of a particular category or flavour of monster, and spread them out across a series of tables. Each one is different, and the formatting & layout are all over the place. Let's look at the categories:

-"Beasts" of Fey Woodlands: animals with fairy tale abilities
-Humanoids of Fey Woodlands: elves, pixies and the like
-Dragons, Dragonesques & Chimera: an odd one, dragons share a page with grab-bag mixed animal shape beasts
-Esoteric Animals: random mundane animals with strange abilities
-Gorgons, Lycanthropes & Gargoyles: any monster that turns you to stone, or changes shape
-Humanoids: people-types, where they lair, what they look like and some of their behaviours
-Humans: for determining the size, composition and traits of a human fighting force
-Slimes, Molds and Jellies!: just like it says
-The Otherworldly: elementals & similar beings
-Undead: you get it

Let's have a few examples.

ESOTERIC ANIMALS
Type: cat
Size: large, horse-sized (3 HD)
Number: small group (d10)
Esoteric Trait: holding or touching one confers immunity to petrification

Well, that's an odd one...

UNDEAD
Form: corpse, child
Descriptor: bandaged (d8 damage)
Attacks: Mob, affected by normal weapons (-2 HD); Summons rats 3/day (+1 HD)
Vulnerabilities: magic, wood
HD: 3
AC: 5
No. Appearing: 3d6

This is good! A pack of bandaged-up children's corpses that can summon a horde of rats! Very Silent Hill. Perhaps they have a hive-mind and are treated as a single creature? Creepy.

DRAGONS, DRAGONESQUE & CHIMERA
Type: Chimera
Body: Big Cat (d8 damage)
Tail: Dragon (+1 AC, extra attack)
Wings: Yes
Trait: Headless Toothy Maw (swallowed if hit, or damage if body too large to swallow)
HD: 5
AC: 4
Attacks: 2*1d8
No. Appearing: 1d4

A great cat with a dragon's tail & wings and a fanged mouth instead of a head? That sounds hella gross and pretty cool. I am imagining a great cat-version of the Gaping Dragon from Dark Souls. I imagine it might be able to swallow a halfling whole, but not a human. Still would make a great abomination for the heroes to fight!

I must say that these really exceeded my expectations! A little recombination of familiar elements can yield cool results, and I would happily use these monsters in my game. If I had a complaint about these generators, it would be a matter of scope. The undead table will only give you undead, the slimes & molds table will only give you slimes & molds. The tables seem to only include possibilities that already exist in the monster books, and few (if any) new additions by the author. You won't find an undead monster with a breath weapon or an ooze that can drain levels. Also, these pdfs are laid out a bit crudely and are sometimes tough to parse, if that's important to you.

Having said that, the results you get are pretty damn cool. If you want a lightning-fast generator that'll give you a monster blending familiar elements in a new way, these will do that.

How Many Rolls: Lowest is 3, most common 5, highest extreme for one of the pages is 14.
Would I use these in the middle of a session: Yes. The upside of using familiar elements is the short learning curve. If I needed a monster was just a bit different (instead of completely crazy like what the RECG turns out), I could easily turn to these tables.
Variety and Reusability: Limited variety. But the reusability is good, as you can mix these basic elements together extensively.





SAVE VS. DRAGON
d30 Generators - there are quite a lot of them. If you just want the monsters, better to go to the post on DIY and dragons linked at the top, which links the monster generators individually.

This guy has a TON of different generators. Mr. LeBlanc also wrote the d30 Sandbox Generator (which I quite liked and perhaps should review some day soon). For now, we'll stay on topic with the monster tables. LeBlanc has done so many of these, they are all small one-page affairs but each one is a really nice-looking pdf, laid out cleanly and professionally. Far better than I could do in a month, and he seems to knock them out in a day! I found 29 of these one-page monster generators in a few minutes on his site.

They seem to take a few forms. For humanoids (bandits, elves, dwarves, berserkers, goblins, gnolls, things like that) there is a standard layout. The first table is "Group Background/Descriptions," with motivations and organizational cues for the group, like "explorers: lost as a result of a dwarvish prank" or "tribal unit/thugs: seeking slaves." This is a good start. Then we have "No. Appearing," which doubles as a leader/champion generator. Then "Arms/Armour/Mounts," which offers a bit of variety (orcs with flails riding dire wolves, or orcs with axes & crossbows? etc).

This is a basic template which is departed from in some cases: the orc page has an "Orc Tribe Name" table (like "vicious bone" and "baneful axe"), the berserker page has a "Celebrate Victory By..." table. These add some welcome colour if you're stuck trying to think of something.

Other creature types have completely different generators. Generally the less humanoid the creature is, the more different its page. I approve of this. The Sea Creature Generator comes with nice little pictures to illustrate various aquatic body shapes, and an old woodcut in the corner of some great beast smashing a ship. The Fiend Generator is the only two-page entry, and looks fun. Let's try a few:

BERSERKERS
Group Background/Description: transporting captives to use as slaves
Celebrate Victory By: cutting off opponents' hands and feet
No. Appearing: 20
Additional Fighters: 2 1st-level, 1 2nd-level, 1 7th-level subchief
Motivation: bloodlust
Weapon: polearm

Huh, that's quite detailed! I'll wager this would add some excitement to your "(3d10) Men, Berserkers" on the standard encounter table. Maybe the party comes across them just as they're be-handing a few victims and tying up the survivors as captives? Or maybe they carry the severed hands of their victims on big garlands? Either way it's going to be harsh!

FIENDS
General Form: ape-like
Size: medium
Base HD: 5
Visage: stretched
Body Shape/Muscle: skeletal, +0 HD
Body Surface/Density: hairy/bristled, thin (+1 AC)
Back/Wings: crested, insect-like
Appendages: 2 short arms, 6 long legs
Hand/Arm Features: animal-like talons
Foot/Leg Features: octopus-like suckers
Head: goat-like
Head Adornment: grotesque spine
Eyes: amber, multi-faceted
Ears/Mouth: trumpet-like, gaping toothed
Special Abilities: immunity: acid, electricity; electric breath; gas breath; regeneration; paralyzing touch
Talon Damage: 1d8
Bite Damage: 2d4

What...

the...

FUCK.

I love it! This can go on the shelf with Appendix D, which I reviewed in the very first edition of RMGS! This monster is very difficult to picture, which is honestly what I want in a demon generator. I will 100% use this, guaranteed. Top tier. Seal of fucking approval.

How Many Rolls: Many are only 3 rolls. Some only 1. The most complex might have 5 or 6, except the Fiend Generator which has 15+!
Would I use these in the middle of a session: Fuck yes. Not the Fiend Generator though, it's in a class of its own.
Variety and Reusability: Well. If you have stuff like Berserkers, Goblins and Orcs on your encounter table, there is simply no reason not to use these! Having said that, these tables don't really 'interlock' like some random monster generators in a way that would give you 13,000 possible results or what-have-you. What they can do is add variety & interest for those bog-standard monsters on your encounter table that we're all used to. Go check them out!




OLD GUARD GAMING
The Unexpurgated Dragon Generator

This blog has been around for a long time, and I never came across it. It's really good. I'm just going to quote Palmer at length here:

"...I make a distinction between monsters (species in the Gygaxian Naturalism tradition), and MONSTERS (unnatural unique creatures which don't have to follow the rules of Nature). I employ both in my own Greyhawk, and my players can never be certain just what the hell they're up against in any given encounter. It adds spice to the game and checks the overconfidence that leads to complacency and boredom. Dragons especially seem to get over-defined in the game. Ancient and medieval dragons were extremely varied in form. Like elves and goblins and such in myth, they were rarely described in the same way consistently.
A randomly generated dragon will bring to your game some of that fear of the unknown which was the norm for people before the reign of technology."

That's what I'm talking about. This generator randomly determines age, size, hit dice and attacks like you'd expect. Also there are tables for special attacks & defenses, unique breath weapons, colours, special motivations and other strange things. I'll just show you with an example:

Int: very
AL: lawful
Age: adult (5 hp/die)
Size: enormous
AC: 6
HD: 11-14
Move: 9 ground/24 flying
Attacks: 2
Damage: 2-12, 2-12
Breath Weapon: cone of sound (1-8 dmg per hit die, save or be deafened permanently)
General Characteristics: construct
General Form: serpentine, bipedal rear legs, forearms, wings
Primary/Secondary colours: red, black
% in Lair: 10%
Speaking: Yes
Magic Use: No
Sleeping: Yes
Purpose or Obsession: to accumulate treasure
Allies/Minions: a non-dragon mate (the dragon is capable of breeding with other creatures!)

Wow, what to make of this one? A construct dragon with a monstrous mate? Perhaps it's a fleshly dragon-golem of some kind, created or commissioned by its mate for companionship, like the Bride of Frankenstein? Maybe a robo-dragon that found another robot to team up with, and they're building a new monstrous "child"? I could just throw this thing at my players, or I could sit down and explore the possibilities. Seems like there is a whole adventure or two in here if you want it. Awesome.

How Many Rolls: 26-32!
Would I use this in the middle of a session: Hmmm it's pretty long. It wouldn't be my first choice under time pressure. If I needed a dragon that quickly, I'd use stock stats and roll on a few of these tables to turn it away from the norm just slightly.
Variety and Reusability: Well... you're going to get a dragon. But since dragons are normally all the same, I'd say you could reuse this basically forever!


IN CONCLUSION

I thought this series had run out of steam. I'm glad to be proved wrong by folks releasing cool things on their blogs. No glossy books or fancy production values (well, LeBlanc's pdfs are a bit fancy).

If I could only pick one favourite, it's a toss-up between LeBlanc's Fiend Generator and the Unexpurgated Dragon Generator. Obviously the utterly bizarre multiplicity of demonic forms is a topic very close to my heart. But that dragon generator, man... it's a thing of beauty. The fact is that I will use almost everything I looked at today (except the orc generator, because I don't have orcs in my campaign setting!).

Just go out and download 'em, okay?


*****

Well this has rambled on for quite a while. Time to relax!!


Saturday, May 9, 2020

Play Report: Return to Land's End - Catching Up

OKAY, OKAY.

I should have learned by now not to say "next, I'm going to..." because my plans are instantly upended. The new drop-in, large-party city game set in the City-State of the World Emperor has been put on hold, for obvious reasons. Instead we've been playing in Land's End with my roommates while my brother joins in over Google Hangouts. We are up to session 18 or so, and things are getting really interesting.

I have been reading various folks throughout the blogosphere mentioning how important actual play reports are. I find them very hard to write, but I do like a challenge! I will say that it's great to have comprehensive summaries I can look back on in the future. I'll endeavour to bring us up to speed on the last year (!!!) of gameplay, by touching on the main points:



CAST

Vuk Thuul - wild half-elf serpent oracle, in search of his mysterious origins
Nahash - lizardman barbarian, cast out from the Black Wings for a crime he didn't commit
Liliana Vess - sylph witch, on the run from Imperial witch-hunters


THE WHITE TOWERS

The party explored partially buried towers built by the ancient snake-men. One spiralled upwards, the other downwards (on the inside) in defiance of all physical laws. The observatory at the top of this tower faced subjectively "down" into the sky - none of the party were brave enough to jump out and see what happened, although they got a demonstration later.

Many clues were found. The snake-men had computers made of metal, plastic and crystal, powered by glass spirit-bottles. (See the Stygian Library for more details.) Only some lucky rolls by Vuk Thuul to recall his dreams at the standing stone allowed interpretation of the language and controls, and he managed to type in a few questions. They learned of the long-lost Bright Empire, which once covered the known world, and several names for Vuk Thuul's mysterious infernal patron, Abraxas - "Cruelty of the Heavens," "Master of the Final Incantation," "The Fourth Way Through Immeasurable Darkness," etc. The library of metallic scrolls in the tower was described as a shrine to this very entity, but none of the scrolls were deciphered.

Wisely bypassing two or three altars to strange & forgotten gods of chaos, they came to a room with seven great sarcophagi. Each the resting-place of a snake-man champion of old. Some held monsters, like the necrophidius that nearly killed them all on the bridge in a tense end-of-session fight: Vuk Thuul tried to grapple it and nearly fell off the bridge, then Leliana cast enlarge on Nahash and the raging barbarian bull-rushed it over the side.

Others had treasure of immense value: like a colossal snake-man greatsword too big for human use, or the False Eye of Abraxas, an artifact which grants insight into the nature of things by allowing the user to view a realm of pure information. Nobody had the stomach for removing their own eye to make room for it, and so it rests in their house in Land's End, nothing but a strange curio (for now).

One of the sarcophagi was packed completely full of tiny spiders, spilling out over Nahash in a flood! While the PCs ran away, the vermin scuttled down the stairwell to the observatory and 'fell' out of the top, flying into the sky and scattering all over the jungle! Will this deed haunt them in the future, or indeed change the ecology of the jungle?

Yes.

The party killed the huge & hungry spider-women infesting the tower, but not without Vuk Thuul suffering immense CON damage from their acidic bites (this would become a theme in his life). This endeared them to the Caiman tribe, who could see his battle-scars with their own eyes. The caimans are their devoted friends now, and the party has been gifted some of the tarnished silver rings they wear.


PUSHING SOUTH

Jeregosh, leader of the the Caimans told them about a great field of cairns & barrows to the south, and they travelled in that direction, completely missing it. Instead, they found a great silver tower on a hill, surrounded by a ruined curtain wall. It glowed and shone even under the clouded sky, flickering blue-green afterimages. They opened the grand doors and saw two great vulture-headed demons bearing polearms, who croaked "ahhhh... guests!" Immediately they slammed the doors shut and ran.

Wandering back to the broken stone road, they followed it west towards the cliffs. The land became grey and dead, even the dense jungle undergrowth thinning out. At the bottom of the cliff they found the great pit of bones, and entered the Tomb of Abysthor.

This didn't last long either, as the endless skeletons issuing from the Font of Bones inside eventually put them off exploring. They tried smashing, Mending, and casting any spell they could think of to shut it down, but wave after wave of skeletons drove them away.

To the north, they found a sacred cave inhabited by the hostile Wolf-totem tribesmen and slaughtered them all. Looted some nice gear, including a fossilized shark-jawbone mask which spews forth a black gas of confusion. What I wasn't expecting was for Vuk Thuul to go full fucking Colonel Kurtz and hang the Wolf shaman's corpse upside-down in front of the cave entrance, the mark of the demon Abraxas burnt into his chest!

What the PCs didn't know at this time was that this sacred cave was devoted to the demon of beasts, rage and hunting, called Droquatraxl. Is this the beginning of a new infernal power-struggle? We'll see...


DOWNTIME

They bought a house in town and dug a storage room out beneath it, using Mending to seal up the floorboards after placing their loot inside. After this they started spending more time in town, and I eventually realized the error of my ways in making this last-stop podunk town too conservative. I basically told the lizardman's player that I would start making the town weirder so that he would fit in a little better.

The first oddball NPC that showed up was Baridian, a scarred, taciturn monk devoted to a secret cult called the Postulants of the New Sun. He has gradually been attempting to recruit the PCs to his side, inviting them to the secret meetings he holds in town where he sits & preaches from inside a brazier full of hot coals! The players attended a few holiday festivals and met some of the Altanians who live a barbaric life in the hills and mountains. They recruited one named Bolgrim to come with them on their adventures, and let me tell you - Pathfinder is not set up to have classed & levelled henchmen following you around. The next one they hire is going to have stats of 11 across the board - I'm not rolling for them.

Later on they heard a rumour that a strange foreigner from up north wearing a holy symbol of Mitra was asking about Leliana, the witch. They concluded that he is a spy sent by Imperial witch-hunters. (That's exactly right.) They added a spiked pit trap just inside the front door of their house, and paid a boy in town to water their plants while they're away on adventures. Oh boy...


THE BLACK PYRAMID

Recently, the action has come fast & furious. Their alliance with the goblins dissolved after the greenskins' leader Guzboch found out who really raided his adamantine treasure-vault (the PCs did it of course). Who told him? It was Absalom Glop, the sinister & manipulative abhorrer the party released from a magical circle in one of the goblins' underground bases.

Pushing northeast along the river, they found a hermit named Idokan living in a cabin on stilts above the swamp. He seemed friendly enough for a half-crazed weirdo. He told them of the lizardfolk, the fearsome witches and other rumours of the swamp. He directed them to a black pyramid in the jungle to the north, having sighted black-robed fellows poking around it. This piqued the party's interest.

Many adventures were had in the black pyramid and mighty treasures gained. They defeated the fearsome death worm which lurked inside and looted some treasures of the old priests: The Sword of Eyes and a mysterious & magical black spear with unknown properties. When Leliana cast Identify on it she learned nothing, only hearing a phrase in her mind: "Our voices are open graves, through which the never-dead escape!"

A major clue concerned Vuk Thuul's mysterious patron Abraxas: as it turned out, those black-robed fellows were the cult of Yredelemnul, the bloated & hircine demon-lord of the dead otherwise known as Orcus. All initiates into this cult are taught elementary demonology, including the names of the greatest Chaos Lords: Yredelemnul, Jubilex, Tsathoggua and Abraxas! Now knowing his spells are granted by an entity unambiguously low in the infernal hierarchy, will Vuk Thuul start behaving even worse? We'll see.

The group learned this by interrogating a captured cultist on their second visit to the pyramid, but failed to pursue his co-religionists inside. This was a bit of a mistake. The remaining cultists have recovered all the loot the PCs missed on their first visit, and are now in possession of some good magic items and the Bone Key.




THE DROWNED LANDS

From the rickety cabin of the hermit Idokan, the party built a log raft and set out into the dark and mysterious swamps. The first strange location they found was a brass tower, 100' high, rising out of a patch of dry ground. Covered in alien scripts that proved unreadable but induced fainting & blackouts when the spellcasters tried read magic.

The party had a few fights here, including one against zombie lizardfolk that emerged sodden and rotting from the swamp water. These foes precipitated a full-scale retreat when the tiny white crabs inside one scuttled all over Bolgrim and almost devoured him right away!

They met some friendly lizardfolk and managed to parley, learning much of the situation in the swamps. Long ago, they were one unified society. About a generation ago, the last time human outsiders visited [1], they brought such strange ideas that the lizardfolk were divided politically and have never recovered. Since then they have formed into four tribes: Yellow Eyes, Black Wings, Purple Claw and Red Fangs. The Red Fangs have not been heard from in a year or more, rumoured to have been destroyed entire by the hateful, toadlike Tsathar. Paralyzed by factional differences, the tribes have not mustered a unified response to this threat.




THE GREAT CITY

Iron-Heel, the leader of the lizardfolk hunting party, urged Nahash to give up adventuring and join his people but the barbarian was having none of that. Nevertheless he brought the group to the Great City of the Yellow Eyes to meet their leader and see the tribe's power. Built on the edge of a great central lake in the swamps, this cyclopean stone city was not made by the lizardfolk. Its walls were raised in the ancient days of the snake-men and thousands of years later their former servants still live inside.

The gang were introduced to the aged warchief Far-Walker who seemed preoccupied with his own thoughts and his witch-doctor Murk-Watcher, whose magic can discern truth from falsehood. Murk-Watcher tested the tale of Nahash's origins, and he was careful enough to pass without revealing the entirety of his exile, imprisonment and escape.

Things seemed to be going well in the city until one more player revealed itself: Absalom Glop stepped from the shadows of Far-Walker's throne room, grinning its hateful grin! What designs does it have with the Yellow Eyes? It wasn't telling - only making cryptic remarks that incensed the players.

When they left the great city shaking their fists at Absalom's mysterious return, Iron-Heel entreated them to find the Red Fangs rumoured to still survive in the swamps, and introduce his ideas of pan-lizardfolk unification to them. This they are now attempting as they wander the desolate Drowned Lands, getting lost and looking for trouble!


*****

[1] - This was the original Land's End game, back in... 2012? Oh lord have mercy.

My group LOVES the swamps, and I do too. It's starting to get actually dangerous out there for them (which I like), and they really seem to like faction play and making alliances. I have a huge spreadsheet of factions and NPCs in this campaign, and most of them are based in the swamps.

As of this writing there are at least eleven factions of varying strength around the swamp, plus lone NPCs like the witches who basically are factions of their own. It's an interconnected web of relationships that I am still developing. Every time I don't know what to work on, I open up my spreadsheet and add a few things. This article on faction play has been a fantastic guideline for simple and gameable prep.

Also, these guys level up REALLY slowly! They are almost at 4th level. Maybe I am not including enough treasure, but that's easily remedied in upcoming dungeons.

This is my main jam when I need to get into the zome for Land's End:



Monday, May 4, 2020

Tomb of Abysthor Special - The Black Pyramid

My players have barely scratched the surface of the Tomb of Abysthor. To be fair, they aren't tough or well-equipped enough to last long and I'm glad they have played it safe. Instead, they have found the locations of two outlying sites that cultists of Orcus have taken an interest in. In my remix, these will take the place of the ruined shrines of Thyr and Muir.

In the wild & frightening lands beyond the barrier, even the gods of Law are bizarre & strange. So instead of Muir, I'll use MORDIGGIAN, the charnel god, eater of the dead! I've been waiting to do a dungeon like this ever since I discovered Clark Ashton Smith all those years ago.

Got the 3rd edition version in print!

When I ran this for my players I didn't include any surviving cultists wandering about. There were plenty of corpses to communicate the gravity of the situation, but it made for a slow-paced exploration with only one mobile foe and no incentive to move quickly once the death worm was defeated. If I could do it again, I would add random encounters with cultists as well. Perhaps also I'd bring out the death worm sooner, roll or no roll, and have it chase them around the dungeon. A God That Crawls-type thing.

I ran this for three 3rd-level Pathfinder characters and their 1st-level barbarian henchman (holy shit was HE useful). So it's more or less a low-level dungeon, although the death worm can definitely kill those unprepared for it. I use the silver standard in my own game. For pure xp-for-treasure systems instead of my bastardised conglomeration of xp rewards, I would perhaps double all treasure values.

This dungeon is intended as a small to middling hexcrawl location. More than an odd curiosity or simple monster lair, but not large enough to be a full-fledged dungeon crawl. It was good for one long session of play, although it could easily have been 2 had my players returned to explore fully. They killed the death worm, although it brought their henchman Bolgrim to -5 hp and almost killed Vuk Thuul. The party left with two magic items and a bit of loot, but missed the big payoff at the bottom. Since then the cultists have returned and cleaned the dungeon out! Now they have the bone key, allowing further progress into the Tomb of Abysthor.


*****

Mordiggian was a giant carnivorous worm, big enough to swallow men whole. In ancient days before Land's End was covered in sweltering jungles, it slithered up from caves deep in the earth. The humans who lived nearby could only placate its hunger by casting their dead to it. A severe religion formed around it, overseen by enigmatic & shrouded priests. These worshippers built a great pyramid of black stone above its cave, adding to it over the centuries, refining their practises, preparing and seasoning the dead to best please and satiate their hungry god.

The great worm died of old age long ago. It wasn't really a god, only a beast. The priests fed the dead to its offspring, and theirs, and so on down the years, but none ever grew as large as the original. Over the centuries, the danger of the hungry worm lessened and the priesthood declined, until none remained. One of Mordiggian's great-great-grandchildren still slithers the halls of the temple looking for food, but usually just eats wandering jungle animals. The cult of Orcus tried to plunder the temples' treasures and got chewed to pieces instead!


Dungeon Conditions

- The jungle outside is rainy and damp. There are puddles and trails of wet stone where the cultists have walked, but the air becomes dry as you descend further.

- The walls are black quarried stone, set expertly without mortar. They are solid and functional, not ornamented.

-Doors are swollen with years of moisture: STR check DC 14 to open. On a modified result of 21 or more, the door breaks or crumbles during opening and can't be reclosed.

-No undead can survive inside the pyramid. Mindless ones like skeletons and zombies start to break down at the entrance and fall apart completely by room 2. Free-willed undead can feel this effect and may make a save every round, giving them time to escape.


Wandering Monsters

Once every 30 mins of exploration, check an encounter with the hungry death worm. The chance is 1/20 in rooms 1 to 3B; 1/12 from 3B to 13; 1/6 from the glyph outside 13 until room 19; a 50% chance of appearing in 20; and a 100% chance of waiting in 21 if not already encountered.

Death Worm stats from the Tome of Horrors. I removed the lightning breath and advanced it to 10 HD. If I did it again, I might go up to 12.

If the death worm doesn't appear, there is a 1/8 chance of encountering 1d6 initiates of Orcus led by a 1st-level cleric. The Orcus cult corrupted the wild men of the Ape tribe to their service, and any initiates or low-level clerics in the jungles are drawn from their ranks. In Pathfinder I use orc stats, but in Labyrinth Lord or similar systems I would use neanderthal stats since that's what they are.

Initiates of Orcus wear leering devil-face masks made of lead, iron, bone, bronze, etc worth 100 sp. Clerics wear similar masks of copper, ivory, silver or gold worth 100 sp per cleric level. Special NPCs in the cult may wear masks worth far more made of rare metals, exotic materials or studded with gems.

Click to enlarge



Room Key

0 - Outside -  40' black stone pyramid covered in vines & creepers, camouflaged against the jungle until very close.

Open doorway flanked by worm statues with gaping, five-lobed mouths. Each is unique, with different twists & turns. All statues marked on the map are similar.

Three corpses - cultists of Orcus in shreds of black robes, stripped of valuables. Worn down by the rain and chewed by animals.

1 - Reception - Bare stone walls, empty blackened torch sconces. Stone chair and 'reception desk' built into the floor at the back of the room.

Four corpses in black robes. Stone & bone clubs, light fiber armour (+1 AC). Bite marks and acid burns.
A trail of blood on the floor leads downstairs.

2 - Waiting Room - Low stone benches line the walls. Six stone slabs spaced evenly throughout, slightly concave surfaces sized for bodies.

A 6' diameter pile of dust, bones and rags fills the centre of the room.
Hole in NE corner leads down 45' to room 17. Smells of minerals & rot. Handholds carved into the stone.

3 - Hallway - This corridor gradually slopes down throughout the whole dungeon. Watch for the depth notations at the bottom of the map.

3A - Secret Door - Can't be opened from the hallway side, DC 22 to even notice it. If opened from 9 it remains open for d4+1 rounds, then closes automatically.

3B - Law Glyphs - When a Chaotic being approaches within 20', bright blue runes glow from the floor, walls and ceiling. If translated from Old High Imperial, they read "All bound together by the Law, under the celestial sky."

Chaotic beings touching/crossing the runes make a DC 17 Will save or suffer agony each round. Choose 1d8 electrical damage, or collapse in pain unable to act. This choice can be made again each round. Roll a new save every 2nd round to end the effect.
[This red symbol on the map denotes the same glyph]

Corpse of a cultist lies here in the stiffness of death, a rictus of agony on his face. Wears a black robe and an iron mask carved into a leering devil face (100 sp).

4 - Confessional - A stone chair built into the floor against the east wall.

Tiny holes drilled high up on the wall at 1' intervals between 4A and 4B allow sound to pass through. Except the holes at each end, which have buttons inside - pushing on both simultaneously until a click is heard will rotate the entire wall on its horizontal axis.

4B - Piles of debris, rotted furniture, rusting weapons (daggers, sickles) and three dry-rotted and partially mummified corpses, wrapped in rags. The bodies lean up against a well-preserved cupboard containing two jars of red honey.

5 - Vestry - Rags, piles of rotted mummy-wraps, scraps of leather.

A cultist's corpse leans against the door. Severe acid burns on his hands and chest. Wears a mask of bone (250 sp).

6 - Repose Room - Flaking frescoes of mummy-wrapped priests slicing corpses and removing organs, waving tools around, sliding bodies along on tables like an assembly line.

The stone tables here have body-shaped concave depressions, stained with ancient blood.

7 - Grand Doors - Blood pools into the hallway from under the doors. They are held shut by something, require combined STR of 40+ to push inwards from this side.

(The rubble around the corner might lead to a whole other section of the pyramid, should the DM desire.)

8 - Grand Hall - Pillars reach up to the 30' arched ceiling. Echoing and dark.

Three cultists' corpses piled against the door, as if they died holding it closed. Each has acid burns and melted useless weapons, their robes fused to their skin. They wear masks of lead (100 sp), copper (300 sp) and steel (disfigured by the acid, 150 sp).

Frescoes decorate the walls:
West - Mummy-wrapped priests and armoured knights battle armies of skeletons, bone & barbed devils, fat goat-demons and other horrors. A colossal mountain looms in the background.
East - A great horned & winged demon battles a huge black lamprey, while tiny humanoids struggle in the foreground. As the fresco progresses north, the lamprey chews the demon up, breaking its teeth in the process. Then vomits up a river of demon-gore that flows in great waves towards the North wall.
North - The priests & knights take up the lamprey's broken teeth, wielding them in battle against the hordes of demons & undead.

The third statue from the left on the back wall is distinctive - it faces its head downwards and has its mouth closed, while the others face upwards, open-mouthed. A combined STR of 50 will slide it aside, opening a narrow pit with carved handholds 35' down to 18.

9 - Back Passage - Debris and junk piled everywhere. A trail of dried blood leads up the stairs.

Secret door is quite visible from this side, and can be opened with the nearby lever. It remains open 1d4+1 rounds, then closes automatically.

10 - Storage - Rotted, dusty wooden shelves. Rusty flensing knives, embalming tools, meathooks & blades, old clay jars with sticky red residue.

Behind the back shelves, covered by wood, plaster and a layer of dust, a 3' high hole leads to 10B. If the shelves are moved it is easy to see where it was concealed.

10B - Secret Storage - Dry, dusty and empty. A few notable objects rest on chunks of broken stone:

The Bloodbow
2 jars of red honey
A sack of 650 silver coins, depicting a cloud-wrapped mountain on one side and the Unsleeping Knight's helmed head on the other.

11 - Angled Hall - Debris, rotted wood, crumbling benches & cots.

A dead cultist lies outside the door to 12. His worthless iron mask melted to his face with acid, whole body burnt. Crude hide armour and a heavy stone mace. On his chest, a deep black brand of Orcus' sigil can be seen - a skeletal goat's face.

12 - Survivor - Storage room of rotted wood, broken stone benches, the remains of metal vats and wheeled stretchers, all useless now.

Cultist Zulgha is nearly dead (1 hp, CON 5). Face is a skinless rictus beneath a half-melted iron mask (worthless). Left arm bubbled and ran like wax, robes scorched with acid. Stone mace, bone dagger. Will make any possible bargain to survive, then betray PCs and return to the cult with details about them, hoping for a reduced punishment for his failure. Torture might induce him to talk. Due to a gift of Orcus, he is harmed by cure and healed by inflict spells.

Knows About:
Tomb of Abysthor: Entrance, Levels 1 and 4. Knows how to pass Osneth Bucroth the crypt thing, operate the statue & secret door on the entrance level.
The Glyphs at 3B: How they're triggered, what they do.
Who recruited him: Tavik, one of the charau-ka (ape-men) from the south in Orcus' service.
The death worm: It is an incarnation of Orcus' ancient foe & must be slain or controlled.

13 - Pit Room - Featureless black stone, empty.

The smooth round hole in the floor descends 35' to 19B. No handholds. Hard to see except in bright light. The floor below is shrouded in knee-deep mist and piled with broken stone.

14 - The Bone Key - Door from main hallway has a leering skull carved into it.  Crumbling letters in Old High Imperial: "For The Honoured Ones."

Small holes spaced evenly all over the ceiling of the room. Faint spicy smell. Trail of blood leads toward 15, where a faint splash & gurgle is heard.

The bone key is suspended in the corner of the room, 8' off the ground by thin steel wires tied around it, leading into holes in the ceiling & floor. Six thin threads (like fishing line) stabilise the key, anchored to eyelets bolted into the floor & ceiling 15' away. The steel wires are under tension. Any force on either one (pulling the bottom wire upwards or the top one downwards) triggers poison gas jets from the ceiling. Fort DC 16, 1/round for 6 rounds, 1d3 CON, cured with 2 saves. If standing outside the room proper (hallway to 15, or passage back towards the main hallway) save DC is reduced to 14.

The thin threads are there to stabilize the key, but striking or yanking them will load the metal wires enough to trigger the trap also. Every time it is triggered after the first, it runs out of gas on 2/6. (If you're not playing in PF, just use save-or-die.)

15 - Pool Room - A raised basin of brackish water cycled up from the swamp river nearby. 2/6 of a giant leech or giant frog lurking in the pool.

Corpse of a cultist covered in great bite-marks, headfirst in the basin. Skin & robes shredded. Ivory mask (500 sp), jungle bear-hide armour, heavy mace adorned with a bluish swamp pearl in the pommel (double normal value). A map of the area showing the relative locations of Mordiggian's Pyramid, the Tomb of Abysthor, the Puzzle Cube and the Island of the Dead Legion.

16 - Anteroom - Carvings of mummies cutting corpses' organs out, dressing them in shrouds. Anointing bodies with liquids and leading them in a procession under a great black pyramid.

17 - Anointing Room - Smell of minerals, pitch, decay. Metal-lined stone vats with black tarry residues.

Door to 17B visible, but no handle or means of opening is obvious.
Frescoes circle the room in clockwise order:
West - Mummy-wrapped priests battle red horned demons & undead
North - Priests meet and parlay with knights in exotic spiked plate armour
East - The priests pour liquids from boiling vats onto laid-out corpses. The frescoes are chipped off around the door
South - Priests push carts of bodies down a slope towards a deep black pit. The paint is like vantablack here, absorbing the light and showing no contour. In the darkest corner of the wall there is a recess that can only be felt, not seen. Inside is a button which opens 17B.

17B - Storage Room - Clean and dust-free. Moldering chunks of disintegrated leather & cloth. White stone blocks display strange items:

The Sword of Eyes
Three clay urns filled with dirt. One has 100 gold coins buried at the bottom, adorned with the Unsleeping Knight's helm on one side & a seven-pointed star on the reverse. The two other jars have foul slime fermenting beneath the dirt: if touched, Fortitude save DC 14 or contract filth fever.
Two Ivory Tablets

18 - Darkening Hallway - A thin black mist pools along the ground, licking at your feet. It pools thicker and deeper as you descend.

Hole in the ceiling (10' above the floor) leads up to 8, handholds carved into the stone. If the statue above hasn't been moved, it cannot be pushed up from below.

19 - Dissection Theatre & Storage - The mist is knee-deep. Sarcophagi stand up throughout the room facing all directions All empty and stained black inside. Lines of archaic names cover every wall in varying styles & texts, floor to ceiling - a list of those fed to the charnel god.

On the main table:
Ritual tools & flensing instruments on top, rusty but nice (200 sp for set of six)
Carvings on the sides depict the processing of the dead:
-North - wrapping a body, interring in a standing sarcophagus
-East - Body's organs are cut out - heart, lungs, vitals
-South - Bodies thrown towards a deep black pit
-West - Worm climbs out of the pit, feasts on corpses
The heart on the east face and the worm's mouth on the west face are buttons. If both are pressed simultaneously, a small hidden panel opens on each face containing a heart charm. If only one button is pressed, a rusty needle jabs the finger, risk of tetanus - Fort DC 13, 1/day, 1d6 DEX, cure 2 consecutive saves.

The secret door in the back of the room is just a small crawl-way covered by a sarcophagus. Observation will reveal a draft creating ripples in the mists here.

Moving a sarcophagi requires a STR or DEX check DC 17 with one character, -2 difficulty for each person helping. Failure means it is knocked over, smashing with an ungodly noise that echoes throughout the pyramid. Make a random encounter check, then another 10 minutes later.

19B - Heaps - Jumbled piles of half-broken sarcophagi and black mist. Under two broken sarcophagi in the NE corner is a single intact one. Inside is the Rotting Horn resting on a bed of fine, glittering white dust.

20 - Feeding Room - Smooth black stone. The mist is almost waist-high, billowing out of the central pit. Shallow body-sized 'feeding pits' carved into the floor.

A giant worm statue, mouth agape towards the door. Carvings cover it in archaic languages. In Old High Imperial, one says "HAIL MORDIGGIAN, devourer of death, all-consuming one, the charnel god, to whose gullet we are all fated."

50% of the death worm emerging from the pit if not encountered yet.

21 - Mordiggian's Lair - Uncut rock, worn smooth by centuries of worm-crawling. 15' drop can be climbed down easily, will be difficult to ascend without gear. Black mist is thick and fills the cavern. Visibility is 20' with a torch or 30' with a light spell.

100% chance of the death worm being here if not encountered yet.

The cave is littered with treasure:
5000 copper guineas of the Old Empire, scattered across the cave from one end to the other.

Death worm egg - black, slightly sticky, 30 lbs. Worth 2000 sp to the right buyer. The death worm will defend this to the death, targeting anyone who touches it.

The skeleton of an Undigested Saint of Mordiggian (4600 sp). Pure white incorruptible bones inlaid with mother-of-pearl and rose quartz, carved & silver-chased in geometric patterns. Posed sitting in prayer with its back against the eastern wall.
It wears an ancient breastplate of yellowed steel, mildly corroded but serviceable, built with sculpted muscles in the Old Empire style. AC penalty of -1 until repaired and made to fit its new owner (whatever repair costs are in your system, plus 1d100+100 sp). Or can be sold as a collector's item for 1000 sp.
On its head is the Cannibal Crown.


MAGIC ITEMS

Well, you caught me on a good day! In Land's End the characters have almost no decent weapons. They made do with stone, bone & shoddy peasant equipment until they had enough money to buy some decent gear (everything costs about 10x book value). The best armour anyone has as of this writing (3rd level) is a single chain shirt, and it cost a LOT of money. They don't have a single healing potion yet! So I don't mind giving a few cool pieces of magic gear, especially when they have weird drawbacks.

Big ups to Eric Diaz for 100 Magic Weapons, wherein I found two of these weapons. Check it out!

Red Honey: Honey made by bees that harvest corpses. Heals 3d4 hp or cures poison if the whole jar is eaten.

Bloodbow: A recurved short bow of dark reddish-purple wood, sticky to the touch. It has no slot for a string, and will not function with a normal one.
When the wielder has suffered 1d8 (reroll every day) points of slashing/piercing damage, the bow bends on its own and a string of dull red appears. It functions as a +1 bow until the wielder's cuts are healed.

Bone Key: An ornate, oversized key carved from bone. It is the mirror-twin of the iron key, found in the Puzzle Cube (I'll get to it, I promise). Unlocks some of the crypts and secrets of the Tomb of Abysthor. It powerfully radiates law: the bearer's alignment counts as lawful for the purpose of know alignment, detect law/chaos, the glyphs at 3B & similar traps, using magic items, etc.

Sword of Eyes: The sword has three alien eyes with eight-ball pupils set along the fuller. If they perceive danger they'll animate & look around, warning the user with a tingling sensation when they see a threat he cannot (in the dark, when the enemy is invisible or hidden behind an illusion, etc). Only works when unsheathed & wielded freely. When meeting new people in this circumstance, the DM rolls 1d6+6. The sword will induce feelings of dread & paranoia if an NPC reaction roll is exactly that number.

Ivory Tablets
: One of the many long term sub-sub-subplots of the campaign. My attempt to fix the stupid Deck of Many Things into a powerful divination tool & force to rewrite one's destiny. Created by the high elves 5000 years ago. The individual "cards" must be assembled and brought to the shrine of Divine Providence deep beneath the Lost City where the Chthonic Elves dwell. I haven't decided what each card does yet, but I really dug myself in deep with this one. All the major arcana and 4 cards from each suit, for a total of 38!

Rotting Horn: INT 13, EGO 11, Demonic Spear +2. An ebony haft tipped with a curlicue of bone, like a narwhal or unicorn's horn. Sheds luminous mother-of-pearl fragments, which slowly crumble to a sparkling grit.
Its goal is to destroy Law & it communicates with its wielder via empathy.
+1d6 damage against living foes, necrotizing them from within.
Double damage against Lawful outsiders
Those slain by the Rotting Horn will rise in 1d6 days as zombies, possessed by minor demons called up to serve the Horn. Glad to be free on the material plane, they will attempt to cause as much havoc and fun as possible. Simple but cunning alone, dangerous if banded together. Cannot be turned or commanded as normal undead, but their bodies can be damaged or destroyed with positive energy as normal (holy water, "D" results on a turning table, etc). If they see the Horn they will attempt to seize it and bring as many of their friends into the world as possible.

[I'm still working on those demonic weapon rules, so this is fairly basic right now. Thanks to the Metamorphica Revised though!]

Heart Charm: Looks like a glistening droplet of blood, small enough to rest on your fingertip. Slightly tacky and squishy, like a blob of half-dried paint. Eat it to heal 2d6 hp.

Cannibal Crown: Hideous circlet made of bone, gristle & troll's fangs, ancient & yellowed.
+2 to AC if worn without a helmet
+4 to save vs. ingested poisons, +2 vs. other poisons & disease
Wearer may eat ANY animal meat, no matter its origin or how spoiled, but requires 3x normal food per day to survive (eating poisonous things has normal effects, save with the bonus above)
Every week the wearer eats something he wouldn't normally (carrion, human flesh, etc) make a Will save DC 18 or else acquire an intense craving for that forbidden meat.
+1 to reaction rolls with ghouls, ghasts, cannibals, trolls, Chthonic Elves, etc if the wearer has eaten something unpleasant, rotted or part of a humanoid in the last 2 days.


*****

Phew! The first full dungeon I've posted up on the blog. I hope everyone gets a kick out of this one. I had fun running it and I think my players did too.

Play this next song whilst the players tensely creep about under the pyramid, looking at the frescoes, looting corpses and avoiding the traps. I'm so glad for youtube sometimes - I made an extended cut of this track myself for a gaming mix maybe ten years ago. I had to splice the thing together 15 times in Audacity!




Then, play this when the Death Worm appears to devour your players. You knew it would happen eventually: