The Maw. The Abyss. Hell. All names of a hidden valley, smote by the gods, forever shrouded in a corrupting fog, a poisonous wound filled with unplundered treasures and terror, and a haven for those who hunger to flee the world. For a whole society of exiles, criminals, and refugees hide in its murky depths, in safe harbours carved out of the wasteland. Maybe small, overcrowded and filthy, but to you, torchbearer, they’re heaven.Torchbearer campaign: Abyssal flames
Most outsiders consider the Abyss an uninhabitable ruin, a void. Yet people live in the Abyss, some precisely because the world avoids it.
I thought Torchbearer would be good for adventures in this region because it’s focused on exploring and surviving hostile environments. And I’m interested in discovering how the fog creates a different space of play in Torchbearer.
This is a design post where I’m working through my ideas. Comments are welcome.
The ancient ruins of a city lie hidden deep beneath this fog. Legends say the city once shone atop these mountains, its towers a jewel at the highest peaks. Then the city was smitten, the very ground beneath plunged to where it now lies, surrounded by sheer stone walls and sealed off from the world. The ancient ruin is eternally choked with a monstrous fog, hiding terrors and treasures alike.
who lives there
I think of the fogbound as like Belters from the Expanse:
- surrounded and connected by an uncaring void (space=fog)
- finding safety and a home in something cobbled together (spacecraft=settlement)
- obsessively checking their equipment and life support systems because those who don’t die.
This means that the town phase in Torchbearer would be where people have built defences against the fog: vaults, buildings, caverns and the passages between. Most of these settlements will be cramped and crowded. Resources would be limited, even the air you breath has to be paid for.
Extending the Belter analogy, I like the idea that those exposed longterm to the fog become so adapted that they can’t live anywhere else, like Belter born in space can never live safely on Earth. Maybe the fogbound become fogbreathers?
The journey between settlements in the Abyss can be an adventure in itself. There are two essential ways: through the fog or on fog-free paths.
The Abyss is no an enormous land, but it is treacherous to navigate. This means that, as the crow flies, neighbouring settlements are never far apart in the Abyss; most are a few hours walk from their closest neighbour. However, a few hours walk in the fog is a mad, terrible adventure, even for the well-prepared. PCs travelling through the fog are squarely in the adventure phase. This puts extra pressure on PCs when they’re going to a ruin or other adventure location, since getting to a safe haven will typically take a roll or two. And finding a safe camp in the fog is nigh impossible.
There are a few hard-won paths between settlements that are barricaded against the fog and its denizens. Some of these are incomplete, only providing safe passage between halfway stations; others have fallen into disrepair and been infiltrated; or where brigands and toll keepers have set up camp and harass and beset travellers. All up though, the fog-free paths are much safer. However, the paths are often indirect, tortuously narrow, and sometimes crowded, so a day’s travel often only takes you a short distance, as the crow flies. PCs travelling these paths use the Torchbearer Overland Travel Rules (playtest), so essentially use up food and resources to avoid consequences.
Depending on how dangerous adventuring is in the fog, and on the inconvenience of the fog-free around the Abyss, this seems to offer interesting choices for the PCs. Definitely another reason not to make the fog too punishing.
The foggy void between settlements is a wilderness of lurking dangers. Running two blocks on an ancient street is crazy risky: there’s monsters, brigands, and the fog itself.
But why is the fog dangerous?
I’m still exploring the possibilities. I do want the fog to provide interesting choices, not to just be another tax for the adventurers. Torchbearer surely has enough already.
twists & weather
I find Stone Dragon Mountain inspiring in the way it has a list of different twists for each part of the adventure on the mountain. I’m keen on cutting up the Abyss into different zones. No more than six zones, but that’s a hunch.
I can imagine fewer treasure hunters have ventured into the more treacherous zones so this could be a way to balance risk and reward to give players interesting choices.
I’m hoping to make twists related to each zone’s geography and the ruins, peoples, and monsters located there. So I’m thinking of rivers, crevasses, geothermal vents, bridges, fogwyrms, etc.
I’m also thinking about twists related to changes in the fog. Because while the fog is always there, I can imagine a variety of fog types which present different types of dangers and opportunities. Maybe different zones could tend to have different climates and different types of weather. A source of inspiration for this is the seasons and weather types in Middarmark. I think most will work as is, only needing a little foggy twist.
Here some examples of twists for some (but not all) types of fog:
- Twist: Bad air. Counts as factor recovering for recovering from exhausted.
- Twist: Thin air. Torches only give off half-light (light for 1, dim for 1).
- Condition: Sick from bad air.
- Condition: Injured. Corrosive fog burns the skin.
Wind is interesting. I can see that clearing an area of fog, even if only temporarily could be a blessing and a curse. It may mean people need less protection against the fog’s ill effects, but could also mean that characters cannot sneak through the fog and are more easily spotted by enemies.
Similarly, I like the idea of some areas having a wind that pushes and pulls the fog like the tides of the sea. I think this could provide interesting opportunities for journeying between adventures, but also in adventures where areas are tidal, sometimes clear and sometimes befogged, like clockwork. I like the idea of tying this tide to the turn count, perhaps every six turns the tide changes.
There are also some ideas to play around with from my post on poison triggers. For example, breathing this fog will only make you sick if you run or otherwise build up a sweat, otherwise its inert.
At its most basic, fog limits visibility and distorts sounds. So it will make travelling treacherous. So I think most fog is a factor in all Pathfinder test and any action that depends upon seeing any great distance, like spotting enemies lurking.
On the other hand, this also means characters in the fog have +1D for sneaking or stealth.
I can imagine most fog in the Abyss obscures the sunlight. Maybe there are a few hours of daylight around noon, but otherwise its dim light. Perhaps some places at higher altitudes or where the fog thins, this window of daylight is longer.
I have a few ideas for throwing in some Torchbearer resource management. Air filters to protect against bad air, clothing and greases when the fog is corrosive, enchanted bells that thin surrounding fog, bellowstones that expel currents of fresh air, etc.
I have considered that adventuring in the fog could be akin to winter adventuring, where you earn a condition every three turns, instead of four. I mean this might make sense if the fog is particularly noxious. But I think this makes things more dangerous than I want. And what if they go winter adventuring in the fog. Madness I know, but I’d have to work out a way to manage that! I’m not convinced it’s a good way to go.
What if exposure to the fog changes people? For example, maybe it taxes a character’s nature; the more dangerous the fog, the more taxing. Or maybe some types of fog have healing qualities: if you expose yourself to the fog it removes a condition but also taxes your nature. I can imagine some interesting traits relating to a person adapting to the fog. You know, becoming a fog breather.
Hopefully, I can work these ideas up into something usable for my forthcoming Torchbearer game. Let me know if you have thoughts or ideas, as you can see this is still a work in progress.