dungeons as monsters

Aaron Griffin’s post Procedural Exploration reminded me how good Planarch Codex is and its procedural method for generating dungeons. I used it a fair bit a few years back; here’s one that I wrote up.

I’m definitely going to consider something like this for my Torchbearer game, should be perfect for exploring the fog.

Saved from G+ meltdown: 12 April 2013

So I used the Dungeon as Monsters method from the Planarch Codex DW supplement to create a warehouse in my Technoir (via Apocalypse World) game. I came up with three dangers, semi-randomly, and it all worked really well.

Madness: dominate choices XXXX
Sewers: befoul and disgorge XXX
Cliff: endanger OOXXX

One of the PCs has a flying surveillance drone “Bessy” that got badly hit by heavy-calibre rounds fired from a holy avenger’s high powered sniper rifle. So Bessy ended up crash landing in a warehouse leaking radioactive fuel.

I started tonight’s session with a couple of PCs scoping out the warehouse that stank of shit. Grey parkoured his arse to a second storey window (Cliff +1, Sewer +1).

Grey found himself on a walkaway above a huge pit dug out the length of the warehouse, 4 or 5 metres below street level, with broken pipes and filled with effluent and seething with worms.  He also spotted Block-Rockers working down there with sledgehammers, in the shit  (Madness +1, Sewer +1, Cliff +1).

Climbing a rope to the third floor, Grey crossed a room full of drugged, sick or exhausted people and has an interesting conversation with a Mind-Blower, who was smoking a peace pipe, about his mission to find the alien spacecraft (Madness +2). O yeah, he got a bucket of live worms in case he got the munchies.

Then Grey climbed the stairs into a room full of tall vats of sugar. He found Bessy wedged in the rafters and a bunch of kids dead beneath, blue-faced on her leaking radioactive fuel (Madness +1, Cliff +1).

Then Grey rolls snake eyes trying to get Bessy down and out of the building, the fire being she’d roll free and landed in the pit, deep in shit.

The sugar came in handy for dropping bags at height on Bessy’s owner when he came in, gunning down Block-Rockers and bossing people around. The proceeding battle got dangerous enough that both PCs backed off and regrouped.

Overall, Dungeons as Monsters worked, the dangers and rolling inspired me and the “dungeon” hung together well.

Advertisements

befogged: dangers of the fog

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.  

history

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?

journeys

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 fog

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.

factors

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.

resources

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. 

the grind

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.

unnatural

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.

next

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. 

fathoming the unfathomable

Torchbearer, like many old-styled RPGs, leaves open why the player characters came together as an adventure party. Why do they keep trusting and depending on each other? Why do they risk their lives for each other?

By Jeremy Weate from Abuja, Nigeria – Swords of Qādisīyah, CC BY 2.0, Link

Obviously in games like Torchbearer, the metagame reason is if they don’t, they die. But I feel it’s important for play to have an in-fiction touchstone. Not just for verisimilitude; I think it helps us care about the characters and gives players more to grab on to in play.

I made the list below a few years back. My idea was the players first agree on a shared background, a history or purpose that glues them together through thick or thin. Then they build characters to fit and support that concept. Not as a straitjacket or a wish list of power-ups, more a solid foundation to fall back on should things get existential.

There’s no reason for the PCs to have identical motivations, but sharing some will make sense of why they work together at all.

I put these motivations into four groups for convenience: desperation, money, ambition, and duty. Maybe they survived a disaster together, are paid by the same patron, or hunt the same enemy. Or all of the above: when you’re desperate, you often need money, which leads to ambitious plans…

This is similar to Into the Dark’s Adventuring Parties in the Twilight Empire, but higher level, more abstract. In many ways, I prefer Into the Dark’s approach. It has the benefit of providing depth to the setting, gives the players natural antagonists in the setting, and seems a little more gameable. It also reminds me a little of Blades in the Dark crews. Something like it might be useful for the Abyss, the adventure region I’m developing for Torchbearer. I’ll add to the list.

Nevertheless, a benefit of my motivational approach is it’s also useful for GM characters and people who aren’t adventurers. For example, the Abyss is such a terrible place, why does anyone live there at all? What drove them there in the first place, what keeps them there still?

This list may inspire some answers.  

desperation

  • Disaster – fleeing to find refuge, e.g. village destroyed, ongoing war, famine,…
  • Escape – fleeing persecution: slaves, gladiators, prisoners, criminals, soldiers…
  • Coerced – bullied into furthering goals of or entertaining <blackmailer/faction/god>
  • Conscripted – hoping for a pardon, citizenship,…

money

  • Poverty – climb out of the gutter any way they can
  • Indebted – owe money, fealty or favour to person/organisation
  • Heist – working on a really big con/theft/deception
  • Mercenary – Patron pays for bounty hunt, field research, discovery, mapping,…

ambition

  • Enemy – Bring down the <something or one>, revenge, assassination
  • Rescue – loved one, prince, persecuted people
  • Raiding – love of pillage and raiding
  • Pilgrimage – holy journey
  • Knowledge – Uncover ancient mystery, dangerous secret, personal history, wonder

duty

  • Diplomacy – foment strife, weaken powerful, incite unrest; or prevent such
  • Religious – recover holy relics/artefacts, rever divinity, save souls
  • Crusaders – Crusade against <distant threat or monster>
  • Vision – myths about fate, ancestor, lands, ascendance, downfall, demons
  • Family – this is your family’s place and all they have ever known

an intro

Roleplaying games: I love ’em. Playing, reading, dreaming, designing, whatever! They’re great. So I thought I’d share a little of that love. Here’s trying.

When I moved to a new city 10 years back, I founded my best and strongest friendships around a shared loved of roleplaying. The kind where you go to someone’s house, sit around a table and shout nonsense and brilliance at each other for a few hours. I played a range of games, with independent publishers being my bread and butter. I haven’t played D&D since I burned out on 2nd Edition in the nineties.

I usually play twice a week. I’m lucky that way. At the moment, that means a few games of Blades in the Dark (running Shadows and Assassins crews and playing in Hawkers) and playing in Legacy: Life among the Ruins. 

I’ve also had few stop-starts designing, but most of my energy for games has been playing and facilitating. I’ve certainly seen a few designs crumble in my hands, after many months of meanderings. But that comes with the territory.

At the moment, I’m designing a setting to string together a few Torchbearer games I’m planning to play next year. It’s inspired by the central location of the novel Boneshaker.

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

I’ll put up more of my ideas for this, and other things, here. Till then.

boneshaker

I just finished reading Boneshaker, a steampunk-zombie-dungeoncrawling novel by Cherie Priest. And now I keep thinking about Boneshaker as a setting for Torchbearer.

Like towns could be in the Outskirts or some of underground refuges Inside the Wall. The rest of the Walled City is clearly a wilderness of serious dangers, running two blocks on the street is crazy risky. But there’s plenty money to be made, if you’re desperate enough to risk the fog and rotters; either infiltrating the underground compounds of other factions or finding lost loot and secrets amongst the crumbling ruins of the city above.

I imagine it wouldn’t be hard to just colour in the steampunk—the gas-masks and “magic-like” tech—as magic spells, divine favour, alchemist or apothecary tricks. But I think it also wouldn’t be hard to port the walled city, the poisonous fog, etc., to the fantasy world of Torchbearer. I mean, there’s clearly at least one mighty wizard and his tower in the novel.