Friday, December 29, 2017

PLANTS: Monsters, Spells, Items

So I'm writing a plant-themed dungeon.

I've never written something so strongly-themed before.  It just seems cheesy.  Lava dungeon with fire monsters.  Snowy mountain with ice monsters and slippery floors.

I'm having more fun with it than I thought I would.  There's plenty of diversity in plants.

What is This Post?

I'm going to try to invent some content for my forest dungeon.  I'm going to do that by identifying plant themes and then expanding them.

Godzilla vs Biollante
Theme: Growth

Okay, this one is a little stupid.  When you see plant magic in video games and fiction, it's always about growth.  Bellsprout used growth, etc.  The fact is that everything grows.  And I'd argue that a baby whale's growth (gaining 200 lbs every day) is way more impressive than any feats of growth that plants do.

It's anthropocentric.  We can think of all sorts of things that whale's do, but when it comes to plants, we're stumped.  What do plants do?  I guess they just. . . grow.

I don't want to discard Growth, because its so universal though.  Maybe we can make it interesting?

Monster: Evil Tree
HD 10  AC chain  Int 10
Drop Seeds -- An evil tree has 2d6 evil seeds growing from it.  As a standard action, it can drop as many or as few as it wants.  Dropped seeds immediately begin gaining HD (see below).  They can grow 1d4 seeds per day.  It is possible to attack seeds on the tree (HD 0, HP 1), but only with a ranged weapon.

Wants: General evil stuff.  Blood.  Sacrifices.  Cults.  The "performance" of evil.

Evil trees have no attacks besides their seeds.  They are reluctant to drop all of them at once, because they would be defenseless once all of the seeds die.  They are smart enough to use this ability intelligently.

They are capable of speech.  Horrible, groaning speech.

Monster: Evil Seed
HD 0/1/2/3/4  AC chain  Claw 0/d4/d6/d8/d10
Move as human  Int 6
Impossible Growth -- At the beginning of each round, an evil seed gains 1 HD (HP increases as well) and increasing their damage by 1 die size (starting with 1d4), up to a max of 4 HD and 1d10 damage.  If an evil seed reaches HD 4, it gains the ability to shoot a laser from its eye (1d10, 50' range).  They die after they've been alive for 1 hour.

The seeds begin growing immediately into horrible little plant creatures, with shriveled bark, mouthless faces, cyclopean eyes, tentacular hair, and bony claws.

Item/Spell: Oak Elixir
If administered to plant, it immediately grows to be a large adult specimen of the appropriate type (as if 50 years had passed).  If consumed by an animal, immediately grows to be a large adult (1d4 inches taller than average, for a human).

Item/Spell: Acorn Elixir
The opposite of an Oak Elixir. It turns plants into seeds and adult animals into adorable juveniles.
Item/Spell: Potion of Monstrosity
Pour on a plant or object.  That plant or object is now a monster of HD 1d6 that is ready to rampage.  If someone drinks it, they get all monstrous and rage.

Theme: Immobility

Sure, I guess I can't argue with that one. Plants don't move much.

How do we make it interesting in combat?  Gus mentioned a reskinned roper: that's a good one.  A tree that constantly throws lassos (or nooses) and tries to drag people into its toothy maw.

Or we could give it ranged attacks.  Darts, spines, or perhaps EXPLODING FRUIT.

Seriously, bombfruit tree.  Great idea.  Especially if combined with

Monster: Dendroid

This is just a tree with a skinny version of mind-flayer powers.  Telepathy, mind blast, illusion, dominate person.  When it gets damaged, it pulls itself into the ground.  To fully kill it, you have to dig it out.

All of these things are possible because its actually a sessile species of octopus, not a tree.  (Octopi are capable of other feats of amazing mimicry, so this seems entirely plausible to me.)

Item: Arboreal Helm
At will, you can turn into a tree, quadrupling your height but not allowing you to break through ceilings (your branches grow to the side instead).  As a tree, you heal 1 HP per hour in sunlight.

Item: Oaken Sword
A creature stabbed with this magic sword must make a save vs magic.  If they fail, they are immediately turned into a small oak tree.  (Yes, this effectively makes the sword a single use item.)

Inverted Theme: Hypermobile Plants

Zelda's peahats are a good example.  Let's invert it as hard as we can.

Monster: Astronemic Pines

These are ancient pine trees.  When you piss one off, it blasts off like a rocket ship.  Fire shoots from the tip of each of its roots.  It looks messily efficient, with every root tip twisting independently-but-nearly mindlessly.

It can fire lasers straight down, and only straight down.  The lasers come from the central tap root.

Alternatively, it can cast levitate offensively, in order to pull you up to its roots, where it can grab you and crush you.

Monster: Tumblesnatchers
HD AC leather  Snatch 0+grab
Move 12  Int 4

These are monstrous tumbleweeds.  They appear in groups of 1d4+2.  Each tumbleweed attempts to trap someone inside itself.  Once it has a prisoner, the tumblesnatcher immediately heads off in a random direction, exposing the poor prisoner to whatever perils await in that (potentially unexplored) room.  If allowed, they just keep rolling around.

<Design Note>This is a good example of a monster integrating into the dungeoncrawl.  Party cohesion is a very important thing for surviving a dungeon.  Having a monster that attacks that is rare, but potentially effective.  A more extreme example would be a trap/monster that teleports you to a different part of the dungeon.</Design Note>

Theme: Poison

This is potentially a very broad theme.  You've got the pokemon trio of effects (HP poison, paralysis, sleep) plus hallucinations and a bunch of boring debuffs.

HP poison should be horrible (given that it has more chances to be stopped, compared to regular HP damage).  For very poisonous creatures (save or die), the deadly poison should be telegraphed beforehand.  (Similar to how players should never be surprised when they get level drained.)

Nightshade Boy
HD 1  AC leather  Touch 0+poison (1d6)
Elites -- Nightshade boys with maximum HP carry a fruit, which functions as an antidote to their poison.

Glass cannons.  They can potentially do 3d6 damage  on a hit (if the Con check is also failed).  That alone, should give the players pause.  They're a bit like spiders in that regard (lil guys with horrible poisons).

Nightshade boys are also intelligent enough to spread their attacks around, in order to poison the greatest number of people possible.

Poppy Boy

Like a nightshade boy, except their touch does 1d6+sleep.

Glory Boy

Big blue flowers.  Cause hallucinations even before they walk into the room.

Hemlock Boys

Hemlock causes ascending paralysis before death.  It's pretty cool.  Instead of damaging HP, they just paralyze your legs, then your arms, then your heart.  You have to find the antidote before you die.  Fun!

Could be a part of a puzzle, or a dungeon-specific challenge.

Poison Tree

Everyone in this room of takes 1 HP damage per round until the tree is dead.  A very videogamey mechanic, but still a fun one, I think.  Must be paired with other things in the room that are trying to kill you (in order to give players an interesting choice).

I wouldn't try to disguise the fact that the tree is causing the deadly room effect.  That seems too much like pixel bitching.

Theme: Fire Vulnerability

This is pretty anthropocentric.  We think of things that plants do and we're like "I guess you can use them as firewood, too" even though trees are way less vulnerable to fire than humans are.  I'd like to see a human survive a forest fire.

If you wanted to gameify it, you could just say that all plants take half damage from bludgeoning and double +50% damage from fire.  That seems mechanically satisfying, I guess.

Treants could make morale checks when confronted with large amounts of fire (more than just a few torches).

Inverted Theme: Fire Power

Monster: Dragon Tree

Stats as dragon, except immobile.  Looks cool as fuck.  Arrows combust before they strike it, and slingstones can't hurt it.  More of a puzzle than a monster.  How to get past it is one puzzle.  How to kill it is another.

Theme: Fruit

This one also seems pretty anthropocentric, but alright.

Well, I already mentioned bombfruit, didn't I?

Tumble melons were one of my first blog posts ever.

Item: Dancing Mango

Look sorta like a starfish.  When it falls off the tree (or is plucked) it starts dancing.  If you eat it, you start dancing (and cannot stop until you collapse of exhaustion).  Everyone who you start dancing with is affected by the same thing (as irresistible dance) except you are the only "contagious" one.

Item: Potion Fruit

Fruits make great replacement potions.  That's what you get when the wizard waters a strawberry plant with displacer beast droppings and wizard jism.

Theme: Parasitic Plants

Monster: Slavedriver Orchid

This is an orchid that grows on your head and it drives you like a chariot.  It yells (squeaks?) and pulls on your ears to direct you where to go.

Theme: Sun Power

This one's a little bit silly, because sunlight isn't as energy dense as we depict it in fiction.  Superman would get more energy by eating a hamburger than he would by laying in the sun all day.

But like Growth and Fire Weakness, Sun Power is difficult to shake.

Item: Black Phantom Bushes

So there is a huge arms race among plants for sunlight.  Trees win it by being taller than their neighbors, and by spreading their arms wider.  Vines win it by climbing trees.  Smaller plants win it by requiring less sunlight altogether.

The black phantom bush has solved this problem by making things invisible.  You see, if its neighboring trees are invisible, then sunlight goes right through them, allowing the black phantom bush to bask in all of the sunlight that is wishes.

They are sometimes surrounded by invisible trees, or by invisible logs (from invisible trees that died due to lack of sunlight).

If you kick a black phantom bush, you will piss it off, and it will turn you invisible.  This also causes you to go blind (because how would you see, if light is going straight through your eyeballs

Theme: Mimicry

Item: The Orchid Wife

It's an enormous skin-colored orchid.  It changes colors to match the skin tones of its prey.

From a distance, it looks like a woman, opening her arms invitingly.  Players will feel compelled to embrace her.  This is not like a suggestion spell, just. . . it seems like the thing to do.

Anyone who embraces the orchid will lose 1d6 Con as the lotus drinks their blood through their skin.  During this feeding, the orchid will fill their head with peaceful dreams and botanical wisdom, causing them to gain 10 XP for every point of Con lost.

As they pull away from the orchid, it will seem to carefully dab the blood from their skin, similar to a human grooming another.  This is just the flower collecting the last of the blood.

Once a player has gained 100 XP from the orchid, they will be compelled (magically, forcefully this time) to protect the orchid.  They will consider it to be their orchid, and will not want to share it.  They will probably want to marry it.  At this point, they can choose to feed or not feed the orchid whenever they wish (it can survive without blood).  They can still gain XP from the orchid once per session.

They'll probably put it next to a window, in their house.  If they don't have a house, the orchid will motivate them to settle down and get one.  You want to protect your orchid, right?  You don't want to take your precious orchid dungeoneering with you, right?

Most "spouses" talk to their orchids while feeding them.  Pillow-talk, really.  The strange wisdom imparted by the orchid sometimes allows the feeder to come to useful, common-sense conclusions.  (DM: Feel free to insert any information here that you think the party should have got, but missed.  Example: The shopkeeper is obviously a vampire.)

Honorable Mention: Little Petshop of Horrors

I guess Audrey II would make a good villain, but she's make a much better ally.  Especially if the players find her when she's all small and cute.

Wizard: Botanimancer 

You can make a botanimancer pretty easily by just pulling ideas from the themes above.


You cannot cast spells unless sunlight (or reasonable facsimile) has shone on you in the last 24 hours.


If you ever lose a limb, you can grow a new botanical one in 2 weeks.  Additionally, if you have speak with plants as one of your memorized spells, you can cast a 1 MP version of it for free.

Spell List

  1. Entangle
  2. Growth (as enlarge, except only on living things, long duration on plants)
  3. Light
  4. Tree Form*
  5. Speak with Plant
  6. Warp Wood
  7. Awaken Treant
  8. Hallucinate (or Confusion)
  9. Heal
  10. Poison Touch
  11. Dessicate (AoE similar to fireball, efficacy varies by target type)
  12. Wall of Wood
  13. Legendary Spell: Seed* 
  14. Legendary Spell: Treant Form

R: touch  T: object  D: permanent
An object gets turned into a seed.  It turns back into the original object only when submerged in a body of water sufficiently large enough to reconstitute the item with water mass.  You can use this spell offensively, but it has no effect on targets with HP greater than [sum] * 3.  The size of the object is also limited by the casting dice invested.

1 MP = handheld object
2 MP = human or chair
3 MP = giant or cottage.
4 MP = dragon or ship.  Alternatively, immaterial things such as happiness.

Tree Form
R: touch  T: creature  D: permanent
Primarily used to turn yourself into a tree.  You can still see and hear.  If you are in a suitable climate, you do not need to eat or drink.  You can remain as a tree for as long as you like (until you choose to dispel it).  You can use this spell offensively, but it has no effect on targets with HP greater than [sum] * 3.  They will remain a tree until you choose to dispel it.  You choose the species.

Yes, this allows you to turn the boss into a tree, and then make him into a nice chair.  It would look great in your house, beside your orchid wife.

Note on Save or Die Spells

I'm considering having all of them have the clause "no effect on targets with HP greater than [sum] * 3."  Or perhaps just including a keyword.


More plant monsters here.

Forest Castle

Still working on my Zelda-themed octet of dungeons.

I now hate everything I wrote about the Moon City.  I'm going to scrap the whole thing and start over.  I need to make the city more boring, more focused on the Moon King, and work on making the NPCs more interesting (rather than the city's districts).

Certain parts will be frankensteined elsewhere.

What This Is

I'm trying to generate content for the Forest Castle and the surrounding area.  I'm constantly rewriting stuff, so expect things to stay in a state of flux for some time.

Normally, I wouldn't publish such early stuff in a blog post, but maybe it'll be useful to see how I do things.  (Basically, come up with a heap of ideas first, and then postpone stitching them together for as long as possible.)


Still trying to decide on names.  Current favorites:

Moon City = Casmir.  Sounds like a font, which I like.  Other options are cheesy shit like Maluna (but this is Zelda, not Shakespeare, so I might go for cheesy).

Fallen City = Gafferdy.  The location of the Forest Castle.  This place was destroyed by Siege Castle.

at the Gardens of Bomarzo

Getting to Gafferdy

Probably easy.  Overgrown road.  Ivy-covered mile markers tell the distance from Gafferdy (since Gafferdy was once the largest city-state of the region until the Moon King destroyed it).

Forest dungeon is a good first dungeon.  Players are introduced to a little bit of history, shown examples of the Moon King's strange cruelty, and lots of foreshadowing for the Siege Castle.

The Siege Pit

After the Siege Castle walked to Gafferdy, it stopped a short distance away squatted onto the farmland beneath it.  While its limbs were bombarding the city of Gafferdy, its ass was busy shitting out siege tunnels while turning the excavated earth into projectiles.

The city has fallen and the Siege Castle has moved on, but the tunnels still remain.

Their nexus is the Siege Pit.  It looks a lot like a small, shitty strip mine.  A pool of poisonous brown water at the bottom.  Tunnel mouths gape over the pit.  Most of them are collapsed.

This is a microdungeon, I guess.

A scarm is just a flying scimitar, except its a much larger category that includes all tools of war, not just things that are weapons.  (The Siege Castle is full of them.)

HD AC chain  Weapon 1d6
Fly as human  Int Mor 18
*Double damage from bludgeoning.
*Cannot fly more than 10' from the ground.  More of a hover, really.

The Fallen City of Gafferdy

After he conquered it, the Moon King decided to punish the filthy tree-worshippers in the most appropriate way possible--he turned them into trees.

So it's a fallen city--a  huge ruined pile.  Roofs have collapsed and roads have split open.  The aquaducts have toppled and now streams run through the streets.  Coyotes slink out of tilted doorframes.  The buildings are covered with thick tufts of grasses and wildflowers growing from between the bricks.

And everywhere: the trees!

Picture the bodies in Pompeii, except trees.  Clustered together indoors, hugging each other.  Sagging against a wall, pierced by a sword.  Cowering in corners.  Lined up in the town square, kneeling in surrender.

They've all be reduced to wood, with the crown of their head forming the bulk of the new growth of the tree.  You have to use a little imagination to see the human shape inside the tree, but not much.

The trees all show emotion.  Some are afraid.  Some are angry.  Most are hopeless.

The Elder Trees

Gafferdy used to have four plazas.  In the center of each plaza is an ancient tree.  These are the things that they worshipped.

The Moon King ordered them all to be chopped down, uprooted, and burnt.  The first of the elder trees was destroyed in this way, but they could never locate the other three.  You'd think that it would be easy, since each was located in a large plaza, but nope.

The three surviving elder trees can only be found if you follow their song through the ruins.  Let the music be your guide.

However, each tree only sings under certain circumstances.

The West Plaza can be found from the start.  This is where the Father Tree was cut down and burnt.  If you are undead, or if you can see invisible, then you can hear the Father Tree singing.  Disembodied but not voiceless.  This will probably tie into the Skeleton castle somehow.

Also located at the West Plaza: Plague House, or possibly the Taffen House.

The East Plaza can be found by following the voice of the Mother Tree.  She only sings during weddings.  If you want to find the East Plaza, someone needs to get married.  (The Plague Spirits would love to do it.  Cholera is an ordained priest, and they have a very beautiful garden out back.)

The North Plaza can be found by following the voice of the Sister Tree.  She only sings during festivals and dances.  Specifically, you need a bonfire and at least 20 people dancing around a maypole.  Your best bet is to conscript the Taffens somehow.

The South Plaza can be found by following the voice of the Brother Tree.  He only sings when the warriors set out to war, or when they return.  He hasn't sang since the fall of Gafferdy.  He'll sing if you kill the Forest King, but only once.

There are important things at their locations.  Exactly what, I'll decide later.  Perhaps Lucky Pig Statues or Professor Vekko or whatever.  Maybe they just give you good advice about the upcoming dungeon along with a useful item.  I'll figure it out later.


Lucky Pig Statues

Here, and in other places, you will find big stone pig statues with slots in their backs.  Put enough coins inside the pig statue, and it will vomit out advice.  Or perhaps a little pink, flying pig will appear and if you successfully chase it down, it will lead you to a certain location.

I haven't really figured it out yet, but there's probably going to be 8-16 of these things scattered around the campaign.

Professor Vekko

When people in Casmir hear that you are going adventuring, they'll tell you to keep an eye out for statues of an old man bearing a lantern, riding a crocodile.  That is Othellus, a wisdom spirit who is fond of helping travelers by providing maps.

The statues are always near a body of water.

You summon him by throwing some barbecued meat into the water.  (The barbecuing is mandatory.)  When he arrives, you must give him some liquor and tobacco.  Only then will he be inclined to answer questions and provide a map of the area.

If the players do all of these things near one of Othellus' statues, they'll successfully summon a giant albino crocodile.  The giant crocodile will eat the barbecued meat, eat the barbecue, drink all of the liquor, and then eat all of the tobacco.  Only then will the giant crocodile answer questions and provide a map.

The only question he won't answer is "Where is Othellus?" That question will cause him to leave in a huff.

He functions like Tingle.  Giving the player a map helps them get a handle on a new location quickly, and all of the secret locations aren't marked, so why the hell not?

<DM Note>Yes, crocodile spirit ate Othellus.  The wisdom spirit is in his brain now and its making him crazy.  He's behaving erratically, making him refer to himself by the name Professor Vekko. (All the whiskey and tobacco probably isn't helping, either.)  He's actually more of a hybrid of the two individuals, since both spirits are melding together inside the crocodile's brain.</DM Notes>

The Taffen Family

Most of the people living in the city are members of the same family: the Taffens.

The Taffens serve a huge aspen.  Long ago, the aspen captured the family elders.  It has been holding them hostage ever since.

Basically, there's two old people trapped inside a cage made from a living tree.  The tree is sentient (like all trees) and bosses the Taffens around.  If the family doesn't perform as expected, the old people get the squeeze.

What does it want the Taffens to do?  CRIMES

That, and also plant more of its children around town, in order to increase its spy network of loyal aspen mobsters, but mostly it wants CRIMES.

So the ruins of the city are full of these similar-looking people who flinch whenever they walk past a tree and will constantly be trying to rob/scan/tattle on the party.

How Do These Trees Talk?

They creak like motherfuckers when they want to say "no".

That's about it, really.

All the trees here are capable of talking like this.  Most of them prefer to ignore you.  Who wants to spend all day talking to mammals?

The Madman

He worships the Siege Castle as a god and is building a replica in order to summon it back.  He probably wants you to go fetch cogs from the Siege Pit or something.

The trees don't kill him because they're scared of the (mostly harmless) thing he's building.

Plague House

A bunch of friendly disease spirits trying to invent a cure for themselves.  They wear cute masks and struggle with human language+culture, adorably.

They want to throw parties and invite all those delightful humans over, but their guests keep dying on them.  This makes them sad.  It was rude of the guests to die at the party, but it was also rude of them to infect their hosts.

I guess these guys are quest-givers, too?  I might have too many.

They're actually pretty powerful.  So are some of the things in their house.  If you want to loot it, good luck.

Squirrel House

The squirrels will lay a trail of acorns, hoping to entice you into the mill.  Once you get inside, they'll ambush you.  You'll probably realize that you're in trouble when you open the silo and all these human bones come spilling out, and you realize that there are now thousands of squirrels gathered on the rooftops above you.

There is no treasure here.

Low level players can easily escape by diving into the nearby stream (3' deep).

Botanical Knights of Keldoon

I don't know anything else about them except that I like the sounds of Botanical Knights.  Possibly here to buy interesting plants off of you (unless that's why the Plague House is here).

Alternatively, recovering a deserter.

Alternatively, they open a new class option.  Now you can be a botanical knight!

at the Desert de Retz

Things Yet to Come

-Getting to the Castle
-The Courtyard Meadow
-Forest Castle

Monday, December 18, 2017

Moon City

Still thinking about my Zelda-inspired dungeon campaign.  (Here are six of the dungeons.)

The OSR seems to use cities as part of the adventure injection process.  They're full of hooks (or at least, intrusive things that are difficult to ignore), adversaries, tax-collectors, thieves, and escaped basilisks.  Cities tend to be uneasy places, only slightly less treacherous than dungeons.

In Zelda games, the hub city is none of those things.  They are safe places, where you restock with a minimum amount of fuss and then talk to everyone until someone tells you where to go next.  In that respect, they are as utilitarian as turning a crank.  

Towns in Zelda are also where sidequests tend to happen.  Talk to everyone, vandalize all the houses, and you tend to be given tasks, which range from tedious sidequests to inscrutable blue chickens that languish in your inventory until you buy a game guide from Wal-Mart.

I *do* want (at least part of Moon City) to be a safe haven, where players can rest and shop quickly and safely.  (Sorry, Gus.)

This will hopefully get players back out the city gates faster and with less fuss, so they can die in exotic locales.  

And of course, Moon City needs to be a labyrinth of quests and minidungeons.  (Honestly, discovering random, unnecessary minidungeons is one of my favorite parts of both Zelda and OSR games.)

Note: I'm probably too lazy to ever write all this in any detail.  Consider this an exercise in brainstorming, more than an actual to-do list.

from here

Under the principle of "people have a hard time remembering more than six things", there will only be a few districts.  Gatetown, Goldenclaw, Lavender Village, The Cones, Blackchapel, The Harbor.

There's also the Underground.

Each district will only have ~3 obvious landmarks.  (I've found that to be the sweet spot when it comes to figuring out how many objects I should stock this dungeon room with; hopefully it translates to city districts as well.)


This is the friendly little shantytown outside of the city walls.  This is the boring part, where you can sleep alongside farmers for a few coppers and buy basic equipment without hassle.  For everything else, you'll have to go into the city.

(Eh, I'm hesitant.  I might just nix Gatetown all together.)

Goldenclaw - Upper Class

Rich people!  Demonic bourgeoisie!  Dukes compete to build the tallest towers while also knocking down the towers of their rivals.  Imported hell-flora grows inside braziers full of glowing coals.  Cruelty competitions!  Game shows!  Butlers made into suits!  Orgies with succubi!  

Places where you can sell your body and be shunted into a cotter!  Places where you can buy a new body!  Places where you can sell your soul (and stop gaining XP as a result)!  Taste libraries for new poes!  Schools for poes, where naked adults who won't stop licking the table are taught how to take a shit.

Local gang: The Coxenhammers!  Rich kids who like to commit petty crimes because they're bored.  They dress in the newest fashions and breed giant, murderous fighting cocks.

Minidungeon: an insane party.  Invite only, but there are invites all over the place.  Let's put it on a pleasure yacht, in the middle of the river.

Another Minidungeon: Some aristocrat who wants to test you before hiring you.

Lavender Village - Middle Class Tradesmen

Before it was Moon City, it was a different place that had three sacred trees growing in it.  Each tree was supposed to be a goddess.  Supposedly, each one looked like a woman, or perhaps a woman's face.

The Moon King didn't like that, and ordered them all to be chopped down.

As soon as the first of the trees was felled, weeds and grass began choking the whole area.  A riot of plant life.

The Moon King said fuck that, we'll just seal them up then.  

And so a hasty vault was built around the trees, which was then covered with vegetation.  A very small, very dense forest grew there.  

And yes, you can cut down trees and burn weeds, but at a certain point it just wasn't worth it anymore.  An entire neighborhood was allowed to forest over.  There are a few shaggy demons that patrol it, in order to keep people away from the Sealed Sisters, but it's largely uninhabited.

Plants still grow there, though.  Lavender village grows a lot of herbs and perfume plants, such as lavender.  Perfumes are very in demand among the poes, who liberally drench themselves in the stuff.

There's a lot of craftsmen here, traders.  This is where the largest marketplace is.  

Duke Scaradine lives here, famous for turning his house into a wildlife preserve.  Apes lair in the attic.  Tigers stalk the gardens.  That sort of nonsense.

Local Gang: The Wolf Pack!  Animal-skin punks, fighting with claws and katars, pissing on walls to mark their territory.  Rumored to be led by an actual direwolf (a wolf that has grown huge and intelligent by eating enough sentient prey).

Minidungeons: Duke Scaradine's Gardens.  The Lavender Woods.  

The Cones - Magical Slums

Remnants of the much older city, built by the giants prior to human history.  Much of the district takes place inside enormous stone cones, each one several stories tall and only accessible through 1-2 choke points per cone (usually places where sappers excavated a hole).  

The inside of each cone is illuminated by glowing paint and enormous fireflies that the witches cultivate.  Each cone is filled with the shambles of Cyclopean architecture, sized for giants.  The cones are run by witches and warlocks, frequently nude except for neon bodypaint.  Enormous insects. A cabal of cursed spider-people will be your most likely allies in this place.

Living graffiti.  Strange-colored smoke emanating from the tips of the domes, dissipating into a luminous haze over the district.

The Salamandrine Bridge has been colonized by thousands of insect-level poltergeists.  Occasionally it animates, and it must be placated by the local shamans.  They usually herd it back to its original location, or close enough.

Local Gang: the Lotus Eaters.  Frequently accompanied by a lesser poltergeist (scared off by loud noises, everyone knows that).  Epees covered with hallucinogens.  Narcotic smoke bombs.  Teenagers too fucked up to know when they're dead.  Hyacinths sprout from their mouths within an hour of their death, harvested by their companions.

Minidungeons: The Sealed Cone.  A dungeon that only exists in a particularly potent hallucination.  Alternatively, everyone smokes black lotus, ejects their souls, possesses some insects, and then ventures into a tiny dungeon inside a Faberge egg, with the goal of unlocking the mechanism inside.

Blackchapel - Religious Slums

There was a mundane plague some years back, and so the entire district has been walled off.  There was also a problem with undead, and the walls were built higher.

The necromantic machinations were eventually traced back to the bishop by his paladins, who killed him at great cost.  A new bishop has not been sent.

It is still under quarantine.  In theory, it is forbidden to travel into or out of Blackchapel.  In practice, there are many points of ingress.

This is the corner where the Church has been relegated.  This is the tiny zone of the Pope's influence. 

It's also where you'll find paladins.  And I know the Church has been a morally ambiguous force throughout most of Centerra, but here they are most definitely the good guys.  Isolated underdogs, unable to act openly against a regime that they recognize and evil.  Priests wasting their years trying to take care of a city that barely notices them, and wouldn't thank them if it did.

The buildings are in terrible disrepair, and with the shanties collapsing under their own rot, lots of people have started living in the sprawling graveyard.  You'll find beggars living in crypts and old men farming turnips atop the graves.

Local Gang: The Skulls.  A bunch of youths who pretend to be undead.  They paint their faces white, rub chicken blood around their mouths, and pretend to be ghouls.  Cannibalism is reluctantly, timidly practiced.  They sleep in the cold ashes of their campfires up on cemetery hill.

There are real ghouls in Blackchapel.  They know about the Skulls and have taken a liking to them.  The ghouls sometimes leave small presents for the kids, and protect them on their noctural pretensions.

Minidungeons: The Sealed Hospital.  The Tomb of the Musicians.  The Laughing Crypt (which contains a wight--everyone knows that, and everyone knows to stay the fuck away).  The bottom of the well.

The Harbor - Nautical Slums

The jetties were also of giantish construction, and so you have these huge stone fingers sticking out into the ocean.  They're too high above the waterline for human-sized ships, and so all these smaller piers have to be built down off of them.  

There's also a bunch of refugee merfolk here, the lowest rung on the social ladder.  They aren't allowed to fish, and so you'll see them crawling through the streets, begging from deep puddles.  

You'll find families of them living in flooded basements, down among the roots and the cracked masonry.

Maybe there is a whole section of town built atop derelict ships.  That fits with the theme of a neglected metropolis.  The hulks.

Cults?  Sure.  Interspecies coupling?  Sure.  Abominable miscegenation?  I don't know--is Lovecraft's shadow that long?  Is the trope worth inverting?

Kingfishers lounge on the eaves.  At the command of a harbor-priest, they dive, spearing an accused thief through the heart.

The harbor keepers occasionally deal with the enormous eels that slither up out of the ocean and raid the fish stocks.  Thirty feet long and with a pharyngeal jaw.

Local Gang: The Hauler's Guild.  An actual guild that behaves like a gang, due to a large corpus of obscure bylaws and enough clout to enforce them.  

Minidungeons: Killing the giant psychic urchin hiding in plain sight..  The surprisingly deep pothole.  The shipwreck (available to parties who can breath water).  

The Sewers

A dungeon that connects the town but also a sort of treasure.  As you do favors for people, they'll teach you new points of travel.  Eventually you'll be able to travel across town safely (no wandering encounter checks).

Clearing certain areas will also give you places where you can disappear to, when you want a quiet corner.  

Sometimes a quiet room with a sturdy door is the best treasure of all.


For example: 

Goblin House -- Find the missing goblins (hidden all over the map) and escort the little critters back here.  For each goblin returned to their kin, you'll be rewarded with a goblin bomb.  Find all the goblins and you'll be rewarded with the Really Big Goblin Bomb.

+ 20 more.  Probably best saved for a later post.

Fuck it, maybe replace Gate Town with Goblin House. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Moon Castle Part 3: Slime Castle and Queen's Castle

Part 1
Part 2

4. The Slime Castle

The Moon King needed to kill the merfolk.  They were threatening his shipping lanes.

He tricked the king of the merfolk into accepting a gift (or perhaps he snuck it in).  It looked like a pearl, but in fact it was a miniature moon.  And just like the actual moon, it was capable of influencing the tides.

The Miniature Moon pushed all the water away from the merfolk's castle, and it ensorcelled their king, turning him into a horrible monster that immediately devoured most of his own subjects.

The merfolk tried to preserve themselves with their own magic, but they only succeeded in creating a bunch of mutants that led a failed attempt to reclaim the castle.

The dry seafloor is still inhabited by a few merfolk (who are capable of slithering across flat ground and breathing air) trying to reclaim what's left of their kingdom.


You can buy a merfolk princess egg in a shop.  She'll explain all of this stuff, and get the ball rolling.  None of the princesses can hatch until their father is killed.  Most of them are understandably pissed off about this.

There are also lots of people who would like to get their hands on a pearl capable of repelling water.  They'll send you in to reclaim it.

There is also a side dungeon called the Cloud Factory, where you can gain the ability to breath water.  (This is a useful ability for the Slime Dungeon, but not a necessary one.)

<digression>The high elves originally used the cloud factory for irrigation.  Instead of building ditches to water your crops, why not just build programmable clouds to drop water exactly where it is needed? The Cloud Factory is broken now, and is the reason why the desert exists.  The merfolk wizard that runs the place will give you the full breakdown.  It is also possible to bring water back to the desert by fixing the Cloud Factory.</digression>


The hardest part is reaching the dry seafloor.

It's possible to "park" a boat alongside the vertical cliff of water and swim down to the bottom.  Just swim in the water while sticking your head out into the air when you need to breathe.  It's easy in theory, but in practice, it's difficult to avoid falling out of the wall of water and plummeting to your death.

Descending an anchor rope abstracts the problem one step, but doesn't remove it.  Ships have a hard time holding perfectly steady.  If the ship drifts away from the wall, you can no longer reach the air while holding on to the rope.  If the ship drift towards the wall, it can fall off the water-cliff and plummet to its destruction below.

So really all you need is a crew that is both (a) talented, and (b) willing to risk everything for you.

Alternatively, you could just steal the baron's airship.

Alternatively, if you can already breathe water, you can just anchor a safe distance away and then swim down to ground level.

The Slime Castle

Sea shells and all that cliche shit.  I hate water level puzzles but maybe I can make one that doesn't suck.  Lots of slime, the acidic kind.

Enemies are mostly mutant fish that the merfolk sent to kill the now-monstrous king.  Also slimes.  Slimes in pipes!  Hydraulic slime pistons!  Peristaltic slime pumps!  Some hilarious version of sushi boats! Think of the versatility.


The Miniboss is a slime, obviously.  Potentially a puzzle boss: you have to strike its heart in order to kill it.  Even if you don't have a hookshot, you can still trick it into going through a narrow opening, and then just stab the heart when it passes through.  Or a desperate player could slather themselves down in vasoline and dive in.

The Slime King is probably just some big, gross, distorted merfolk.  There are a lot of directions this could take (coral reef, water wizard, fish sampler platter) but right now I'm thinking about what a grotesquely muscular merfolk would look like.

The clever way to defeat him is just to remove the pearl from his forehead, thereby returning him to normal.

Anyway, when you defeat the Slime King, you're not done yet.  You still need to get the pearl out of the dungeon in order to return the water to it's previous level.  The catch is that the pearl fights back: it grows larger and larger.  It casts certain spells to make your task more difficult.  It taunts you.  Hopefully it ends up chasing the party and crushing them like an Indiana Jones boulder.

Once you get the pearl outside, all of the unhatched princesses sing to it and it shatters with a rude noise.  Something cheesy like that.

Local Allies

The displaced merfolk are the obvious one.

A more interesting one might be a pair of scientists, intent on studying merfolk eggs as well as the biology of all the fucked up mutants.  I picture them kissing each other sweetly, romantically dissecting the twitching carcass of a mantis shrimp-manta that you brought back.

You can probably figure out which one I like better.

by Lloyd Allen

5. The Queen's Castle

Before the Moon King turned evil, he fell in love, got married, and had romantic weekends with his wife.  All of these romantic interludes were conducted in the Queen's Castle, a small castle that was built for this exclusive purpose.

The Queen was a sorceress herself, and of no small talent.  When the Moon King died and the whole kingdom went mad, the Queen was smart enough to flee the vicinity.

Not only did the Queen leave, but she seems to have absconded with the royal family and the entire Queen's Castle.  No one is quite sure about how she managed to steal the castle.

In reality, the Queen merely filled the castle with her family, shrank the castle, and then swallowed it.  A dozen sundry spirit-bargains ensured that the castle would be subject to Magic Schoolbus logic rather than the harsh light of empirical biology.

In fact, the Queen's innards became something quite unnatural.  She traded away most of her humanity for the ability to cultivate a miniature town inside her stomach.


The Queen is believed to be dead.  Her tomb (built after her disappearance, at her instructions) reads, "A queen, a life, a guide, a light.  She will be missed."  This is a clue to where she is located: in the lighthouse.

There's also a monstrous bird thing that has been stealing food.  If the party kills it, they can steal the key it wears, which bears the queen's seal.  If the party talks to it, they learn that his name is Rosicalum, a knight who failed the queen and now serves her in this fucked up form.


It turns out the Puldra Pudok (an enormous, friendly, talking, burrowing dog-thing that dispenses advice) was a friend of the departed queen.  She entrusted it with her key.  The dog will give you the key in exchange for killing a certain, aggravating member of the Moon King's lieutenants.  The dog knows that the queen's key opens the queen, but does not know where the queen is.


You can get the key from Scavverglum, a very old man who is rumored to be the eldest grandson of the queen (this is true).  He is so paranoid about assassins, that he lives in the walls of his mansion and fills his house with imitations of himself.  You can get the truth (or the key) from him.

I'll pick one later, I'm just brainstorming here.

The key is made from a rib.


You have to find the Queen, put the key in her bellybutton, and turn it.

She's hidden at the lighthouse (where the epitaph clue led).  The lighthouse keeper pretends that she is his insane sister.

The queen has retreated inside herself, literally.  Her mind (her four souls) are currently invested in a tiny homunculus living in her own stomach.  Her body (three souls) is a mumbling thing that sits in a rocking chair, watching the Moon Castle from beside a window.  The quilt on her lap is covered with depictions of the sun (a crime).

Her body isn't mindless.  The mineral, vegetable, and animal souls know a lot themselves.

Inserting and turning the key could open up a portal in her belly.  OR--depending on where we want the adventure's comfort level--could cause her face to go slack, her jaw to unhinge, and her skin to distend.  The players then stretch open her mouth (like hot cheese, each incisor six inches away from its neighbor) and slither on down.

This would be a good dungeon for the "you can bring no equipment with you" clause that some dungeons pull.  That always 'feels' very Zelda, since they are limited to the (known) tools that they'll be able to find in the dungeon.  It doesn't feel very OSR, though.  (Something that associate with players have a deep backpack full of tricky shit.)

The Queen's Castle

She's had to separate the princes and the princesses.  They kept breeding, and her guts are cramped enough as it is.

People always write flesh dungeons with an eye for disgust.  That's how I've always run them.  This time, though, I think I want to focus on how a dungeon made of flesh could be elegant, accommodating, and (dare I say) romantic.  Pleasant scents and diaphanous curtains of capillaries.  Loveseats upholstered with the softest skin imaginable.  Softer than your intimate bits.

The queen's castle was a romantic getaway, remember?  It was architecture for lovers.  Some of that must be preserved, surely.

Sure, this could include loveseats and scenic views over the lake, but it could also include a door that can only be bypassed if a married couple presents themselves.  (Remember, all you need to get married is a cleric and a witness.)

And yes, we'll have peristaltic hallways and leukocyte blobs and toothy doorways.  That's basically mandatory.  Cytokine storm sounds like a special attack anyway.

We'll also have a bunch of naive princelings who have literally never been outside of their grandmother's belly.

She had to keep them safe from their grandfather, you see.  You have to trust your granny.  Now go back to your bed of collagen.


I mean, it could be the Queen being insane.  Or distrustful.  And then you kick her ass and she become your ally.  That's what WoW would do, and those are sort of lame.

A disease or parasite is also a little predictable.  Maybe that could be a sidequest?

The miniboss is a trio of mindless Marrow Knights that were built to prevent all access to the inner sanctum (where the roleplaying happens).  They all have to die on the same turn or else they'll resurrect each other.

The boss is this:

When the Queen fled the castle, she was already pregnant with another son.  She did not know this at the time, and only discovered it some days after she had already imported her castle into her viscera.

The Little Prince is that unhappy creature: almost 100 years old now, still waiting his turn to be born.  A overdeveloped fetus, arrested in the earliest stages of pregnancy, still bearing gills and kidney antecedents.  A monstrous unbirth.

You can probably bargain with him.  If you kill his mother, he'll be born, and you'll have a powerful ally in a sorcerous child with a legitimate claim to the throne.  If you kill him, you'll gain the loyalty of his mother, who knows a hell of a lot about the Moon King and biomancy, but is unwilling to leave the sanctum of her own body.

Alternate name: the Prince Deferred.

Local Allies

I don't know.  I need to focus on refining the area outside of the dungeon.  The lighthouse, the Puldra Pudok, those are a good start.  Whalers who stock the lighthouse with oil.  The shepherds of the area who are actually just former knights of the castle, each with a flesh-flower tucked into one of their buttonholes.

Probably the most Zelda approach would be to have an "outdoors" area inside the queen that contained the castle, with another step required to open it.  That seems like a lot of shit to write, though.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Moon Castle Part 2: Skeleton Castle and Counterfeit Castle

See part 1 here.

3. The Skeleton Castle

The city of Gafferdy had a huge necropolis.  Within its crypts, generations of dead were revered, respected, and consulted.  When Gafferdy was destroyed by the Siege Castle, the city's honored dead strove to protect it.

The dead roused too slowly to save the living.  However, the necropolis succeeded in driving off the invaders and building the Skeleton Fence.  The powerful undead raised new ranks from the fallen and then fortified the city against further invasion.  They walled themselves off from the outside world, creating a city where the dead were the only citizens.

Now, the innermost parts of the ruined city are walled off, with the bone-white walls of the Skeleton Castle clearly visible from afar.

The Obstacle of the Skeleton Castle is getting past the Skeleton Fence.  Any living thing that passes over the Skeleton Fence dies.  Only the dead may pass freely.  The Skeleton Fence is very difficult to destroy.

The Breadcrumbs of the Skeleton Castle are:
 - Near the Cemetery Fence, there are several things (graffiti, undead parrot) that mention how Modest Madroff the Smuggler can smuggle you into the Skeleton Castle.
 - It's easy to track down Modest Madroff.  He died five years ago, and was buried in the cemetery back at the City of the Moon.
 - You'll probably need to beat up the Cemetery Kids to get access to the cemetery in the City of the Moon.  They have a large bell that they stole from Madroff's grave.
 - The grave is a small dungeon.  If you bring any light source into it, zombies will attack you.  If you make a wrong turn, zombies will attack you.  If you ring Madroff's bell, you'll hear Madroff ringing his corresponding bell to guide you through the dungeon.  (Any bell will work, not just the bell you recovered from the Cemetery Kids.)  Inscriptions at the beginning of the grave will inform you to (a) bring no light, and (b) ring a bell.
 - Meet up with the now-undead Modest Madroff, now captaining his sunken ship, the Modest Maiden through the rivers of the underworld.  Pay him the fee (1000g or his other bell) and he'll transport you.  It'll be exciting and spooky and eventually you'll arrive at the Skeleton Castle.

Alternatively, just find someone who will turn you into undead.  Then you can cross the Skeleton Fence without dying.

Alternatively, just find a way to get invited into the Skeleton Castle.  There's a skeleton princess somewhere that is looking for a suitor.  Do I hear wedding bells?

The Skeleton Castle is a massively overbuilt mausoleum, fortified against armies.  Lots of intelligent skeletons, honorable skeletaur knights, necrophidiuses, etc.  They'll probably assume that the characters are simply unrotted ghouls, since there are never any living creatures in the Skeleton Castle.  "Hey new guy!" they shout.  "Come eat some of this dead fisherman that someone threw over the fence!  He's nice and bloaty!"

Other fun skeletons: elephant skeletons, giant skeletons, self-assembling skeletons, skeletons who liberate their brothers from the flesh prisons of their enemies, hungry coffins, a graveyard nymph.  Didn't Scrap write a list of fun skeletons?

If the dungeon has a gimmick its going to be converting half the party to undead to solve certain puzzles, but honestly undead dungeons are so much fun they don't really need a gimmick.

The Skeleton King is basically a meta-lich, formed by all the heads of former ruling families fused into one big skeletal lump.  He probably looks like Gravelord Nito.  Powerful spellcaster, but prone to bickering and infighting.  Obsessed with spies.  Terrified of the Siege Castle.

The Local Allies are probably some hilariously somber pilgrims, struggling to pay a visit to their departed loved ones.  A little old lady, a tearful lumberjack, etc, all straight from a funeral.  Expect quests that involve treating the undead respectfully.

Also expect some horrific shit, because the undead are good at being both Halloween-spooky and inhumanly cruel.

by manbearpagan
I've decided not to write up the castles in order.  Partially because it's a loose order (the player's can mostly do them in any order they want, with the following exception).

7. The Counterfeit Castle

So the Moon King is basically withdrawn from his day-to-day ruling.  It's up to his lieutenants to run his evil kingdom.

One of his lieutenants is the Puppetmaster, who takes notice of the party and conspires to eliminate them.  His plan is to invite all enemies of the castle to a party where they will all be killed.  This nefarious plot unfolds as castles are cleared.

The party cannot access the Counterfeit Castle until at least four castles have been defeated and four of the swords reclaimed.

There aren't really any Breadcrumbs or Obstacles for the Counterfeit Castle.  It just shows up.

One very important thing about the Counterfeit Castle: it's a shoddy imitation of the actual Moon Castle.  The map is almost identical, which will greatly assist clever players.  For example, a obvious treasure in the Counterfeit Castle might correspond to a well-hidden treasure in the same place within the Moon Castle.  You'd never find it unless you knew which part of the wall to smash.

After 1 Castle Cleared

The evil city announces plans for the Festival of Dreams.  Fireworks, candy, a dance contest, etc.  Most notably: the doors of the Moon Castle will be opened on that night, and everyone will be allowed to enter and petition the Moon King.

The Puppetmaster hopes that this will draw out enemies of the Moon King, and he hopes to assassinate them all in one fell swoop.

After 2 Castles Cleared

The Festival preparations begin.  Lots of construction.  Wood, sawdust, plaster.  Huge armies of cotters are brought up from dusty basements.

After 3 Castles Cleared

The Festival preparations are in full swing.  Lots of errands (quests) that need to be performed.  Lots of happy people, for once.  Optimism.  The party is encouraged to build a float, to be entered into the parade.  The prize is a mask.

After 4 Castles Cleared

The real Moon Castle is removed to the Shuddering Mountain, far away.  This happens in the dead of the night.

A fake Moon Castle is built in its place, and a brilliant rainbow bridge constructed over the chasm.  Banners are hung.  This is what the cotters have been building these last few weeks, but it looks cheap and hasty (because it is).  This is the Counterfeit Castle.

If the party decides to enter the Counterfeit Castle, they will be surprised at how shitty the castle looks from up close (gaping plaster, sagging woodwork).  Once inside, they will be subject to a brutal assassination attempt.  Probably puppet ninjas, portcullis traps, and cloudkill.

If the party burns it down, it will be rebuilt by the next day.

After 5 Castles Cleared

The Counterfeit King becomes impatient and arrogant.  Mooncalves begin to venture out from the Counterfeit Castle's towers at night.  The evil city becomes a more horrible place until the party clears the Counterfeit Castle.

If the party continues to avoid the Counterfeit Castle, eventually it becomes an open secret with the Puppetmaster sending murder puppets after them, screaming "COME TO MY BIRTHDAY PARTY WE MADE A CAKE FOR YOU!" in increasingly deadly + deranged combinations.

The Miniboss is the Counterfeit Dragon, of course.

The Boss is the Youthful Moon King, a knight.  He is actually a puppet controlled by. . .

The Real Boss is the Counterfeit King, a wizened wizard atop the throne.  He is actually a puppet controlled by. . .

The Actual Boss is the Puppetmaster, hiding the rafters.  He is actually a puppet controlled by. . .

The For-Real Actual Boss is the Real Puppetmaster, hiding in a flying theater above the castle, poorly disguised as a cloud.

Your Local Allies are the unfortunate cotters.  Most of them just lie down in the gutters and watch the clouds pass overhead, but a few still have ambition and drive.  Expect some proletariat quests, as well as some heartbreaking ones "please take care of my family--they think that I am dead".

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Moon Castle: a Zelda-Inspired Dungeon Campaign

I've been trying to play through all of the Zelda games.  It's been a journey.

Anyway, there's something about the simplicity of it all that resonates.  Go to all of the dungeons, collect all of the items, defeat the evil boss in the center of the map.

Of course, I still want it to be OSR, so it has to be a sandbox.  And nothing should be a mandatory gate--players should be allowed to wander, exploit, and invent.  Bread crumbs will be placed (extensively, since I want all roads to lead to Rome) but fences will not.

The only things that I write seem to be the things that I'm actually running.  I just through some fresh level 1s onto the map last Wednesday (starting a new IRL campaign) so I'm undeservedly optimistic that this little zygote will come to term.

by zikwaga

The Moon Castle

Once a meteor fell onto the land of Gafferdy, and killed a great many people.

It wasn't a meteor, it was a piece of the moon, and no one was killed.  At least, the people that were killed weren't really killed; they got back up and were alive again.  They were different, though.

It wasn't a piece of the moon, it was a castle, and inside of it was a throne as white and as luminous as the moon.  The castle seemed to flow out from it like frozen milk.  Whoever sat on the throne inherited countless realms, all dreams, all imaginary.

The Moon Castle was claimed, eventually, and consolidated.  A city grew around it.  Rivals were destroyed; neighboring cities were razed.  Eventually the castle was the power center on the whole peninsula.  Even the dragon Beyoc was tamed.

And one king refused to yield his throne, as his predecessors had.  He was old and bitter and cruel, and he died seated in it.  And then something crept in his skull that had lingered in the throne, or perhaps some hidden corruption was finally revealed when the curtain of life was pulled back.  But then everything changed.

That was a generation ago.

Now the city is an evil place.  People starve, and the most desperate sell their bodies to the castle.  Their souls are moved into shells called cotters, the cheapest form of animate soul-vessel.  It's nothing more than a clay shell filled with dirt and ashes.  They no longer hunger or tire, but no longer do they feel the joys of the flesh.  Eventually the body crumbles, and the soul moves on to whatever afterlife it is due.  Or, more commonly, the soul despairs and loosens its hold on the clay construct, and the body is then reclaimed and rented to another.

Cotters are charged rent on their bodies, due on the first of each month.  Rent is usually required to be paid in a day of service, rather than coin.

They cannot speak.  They barely have faces.  They are almost blind.

The vacated bodies are then leased to lesser demons called poes.  Poes have skin and warmth, but their interiors are mostly filled with a strange mixture of smoke, blood, and light.  Young poes (incorporeal demons who have only just arrived from the underworld) usually behave like madmen for the first couple of weeks.  Having a body is a heady experience.

It is dangerous to kill a poe.  Unless you capture the escaping spirit, it will certainly report you to the authorities for the destruction of its skin.

Demons have been invited into the city.  Moneylender demons with golden skin and enormous horns.  Landowner demons who house dozens of servitor birds in their wooden bodies.  Guard demons that crawl over the roofs, enforcing strange laws that change almost daily.

The final castle is the Moon Castle.  It squats in the middle of the map, and its spires are rarely out of sight.

The players can choose to challenge the Moon Castle at any time.  Who knows how far a clever, lucky level 1 character can get?  

The Moon Castle has no gate and no key, but there are two large obstacles.  First, there is a chasm that surrounds the castle.  Second, the dragon Beyoc roosts amid its spires, watching for uninvited guests, and there are never any invited guests anymore.

Beyoc doesn't sleep because Beyoc is always sleeping.  His eyes are closed and his breathing is slow.  The Moon King steers him through dreams.  Who knows what he would do if he were woken?  Or what it would take to wake him?

The interior of the castle is unknown.  It is believed to be full of lunar organisms, demons, and dreams.  

The Moon King's power waxes and wanes with the moon.  The poes are only active during the night, and behave like extremely sleepy/drunk people during the day.

The Moon King rules through dreams, and all citizens must report their dreams to him.  (Dream audits are conducted to apprehend those that shirk this vital duty.)  People must sleep for 10 hours every day.

It is unknown why he does with all this collected information.  (But you can bet its something nefarious.)

The Eight Dungeons

Each dungeon is going to have multiple trails of breadcrumbs that converge on its door.  Some will be hard-locked and will require certain conditions to access.  Others will be soft-locked, and can be accessed as soon as you find out where it is.

Each one has a boss. Each boss has a connection to the Moon Castle, and a piece of the story that it tells.

Will there be a magical sword that you need to power up?  Maybe.  

Will there be a magical weapon in each dungeon?  I like that idea more.

The first two dungeons are common knowledge.

1. The Forest Castle

When the Moon Castle began attacking the forests (for lumber, but also to kill everyone who wouldn't immigrate to his new city), the druids fought back.

The druids lost, and all their people perished, but their counterstroke was deadly.  All of the survivors were turned into carnivorous plants--both defenders and attackers both.  None of the invading army survived (except for the Siege Castle, which limped away).  Now the place is full of carnivorous flora, preying on intruders but also on each other.

The Obstacle of the Forest Castle is simply fighting through the hungry forest, or finding a way to convince the plants not to attack you.  (Remember that they used to be soldiers.)

The Forest Castle is the remains of a natural cave system that the druids once dwelt in.

The Boss of the Forest Castle is King Golma, an earth spirit that the druids once served.

Your Local Ally is the Plague House, which is inhabited by four friendly plague demons.  Each demon wears a mask to keep the disease in--they've decided that they like humans too much to want to kill them.  They try to invite guests, and to be gracious hosts, but guests invariably succumb to the diseases eventually, so they try to survive on afternoon visitors and written correspondence.  Their names are Cholera, Typhoid, Cancer, and Plague.  

2. The Siege Castle

A thousand siege engines, heaped together, held together by a spine of twisted spears.  It plods along on armored feet, each made from a thousand iron boots.  It's head is a nest of ballistas and trebuchets.  

It was the Moon King's greatest weapon.  Now that the peninsula is pacified (and his attentions have turned elsewhere), the Siege Castle is retiring on the battlefield where it legs were first broken.

The Siege Castle wants war.  It wants to feel spears clash against its skin.  It wants to burn battalions under its lava spigots.  It wants to scoop up knights in its jaws and crush them inside their armor until the pulp runs down its chin.

But it can't move.  It's rusting apart, dying a slow death.  Rain has accomplished what armies could not.  It dies like a wolf; Fenris after Ragnarok.

It is still hungry.  It is still capable of assimilating metal and weapons into itself.  It is still capable of growing.  (That's how it got so big--it returned from the war bigger than when it set out.)

It has servants, too, but they are clumsy things, meant to kill, not to repair.  The knowledge and the tools needed to mend it are in the city.

At night, you can hear it groaning out on the battlefield.  You can see the forge-fires still smoldering behind its ribs.  Every once in a while, it makes an attempt to move.  You can hear the anguished metal tearing from a mile away. 

And yet it does move, slowly and painfully.  Every month it drags itself a few feet closer to the Moon Castle.  Does it still wish to curl up at the feet like a loyal dog?  Or does it wish revenge for its abandonment?

The Obstacle of the Siege Castle is just approaching it.  It fires at anyone that it sees approaching.  Expect trebuchets.  There's a whole battlefield surrounding it, probably with some trenches still intact.  It has also fortified itself against entry, but the metal is rotting apart.

The Siege Castle is the inner workings, the parts that were meant for human occupation.  The barracks, the command center.

The Boss is the Siege King, who is basically the rancor handler (Malakili) in Return of the Jedi, except he shepherds the Siege Castle instead of a rancor.

Your Local Allies are the Red Ring Army, a bunch of punks and pit-fighters that have befriended the Siege Castle by hosting gladitorial combats where the Siege Castle can watch.  They treat the Siege Castle like a Roman emperor when deciding when to kill an surrendering opponent.  

If the Siege Castle nods, they live.  If it roars, they die.  It doesn't nod very often.

Expect lots of gladitorial matches.

Other Castles

3. The Origami Castle - the same small dungeon repeated again and again and again with different themes, navigation is accomplished by non-Euclidean fuckery.

4. The Queen's Castle - the queen shrank her castle and her family, keeping them safe inside her own body.  This is the flesh dungeon.

5. The Skeleton Castle - a city that became a graveyard, EVERYTHING IS SKELETONS, SKELETON KING

6. The Slime Castle - the water dungeon, creating when the Moon King destroyed a merfolk city, degenerate merfolk

7. The Mirage Castle - they tried to escape the Moon King by hiding their utopia inside a desert mirage.  It didn't work; the Moon King found them in their dreams, where they are now imprisoned.

8. The Counterfeit Castle - a cheap mockery of the city and the actual castle, useful as a preview of what the actual castle holds.  Expect puppets and paper mache.

Thursday, October 5, 2017


So, you're playing D&D and you're fighting some orcs.  All the orcs are armed with feather dusters, so they actually incapable of harming anyone.  And your DM doesn't give XP for combat, so they'll  yield 0 xp upon death.

This combat is a waste of time.  You're just rolling dice until the orcs die.

The encounter is shit because the encounter has no impact.

Impact: the ability to permanently change the game.  The opposite of impact is fluff.

Impact correlates with how your players care.  If no one's invested in the outcome of this encounter, it's hard to have fun.  I think a lot of DMs make the mistake of crafting low-impact encounters.

I'll start by talking about combat encounters, but a lot of this applies to non-combat encounters as well.

by Jakub Rozalski
How To Increase Impact

Deplete Resources

Yes, depleting their spells/HP/potions is a form of impact.  It's low impact, almost by definition.  We can do better.

In a lot of published adventures, the fights are strongly stacked in favor of the PCs, who usually don't have to spend many resources to win.  The only reason to run a combat like this is to make the players feel cool/powerful (not something I recommend designing for--it happens on its own, when it's deserved) or to teach them the rules (and there are better ways to do this than wasting everyone's time with a fluff encounter).

Killing Characters

For most players, this is the most impactful thing that can happen.  It's also shitty when it happens.  We can have a talk about how much lethality is desirable on another post, but the point I want to make is. . .

High risks make people pay attention.  For this reason, difficult combats are necessarily high-impact.

Dear non-OSR readers: this is one reason why OSR folks are always advocating for potentially lethal combat.  Not because we enjoy rolling new characters, but because the combats are more significant.  It's the same reason why lots of sandbox DMs are okay with players deposing kings, burning down cities, and basically just making a mess of things.

I'm not gonna argue that you should make all of you combats brutally difficult.  Easy combats have their place.  But if you are going to make an easy combat, it needs to be impactful in a different way (see also: the rest of this post).

It's entirely possible for a high-lethality combat have everyone attentive, stressed, and bored.  Being trapped in a room with a wight, and no way to hurt it, rolling dice for 20 turns while all of your characters die inevitably.  (This is no different from the feather duster orcs, really.)

If you find yourself in a low-impact combat, hand-wave it.  Last time I played D&D, my players ambushed three old (non-magical, level 0) priests.  Combat took 30 seconds because I just let the player's narrate how they won.

Mutating Your Character Sheet

When I say "attack all parts of the character sheet", this is what I'm talking about.

This is a pretty broad category.  Yes, it includes actual mutations.  This is me telling you that giving the orcish raiders an Axe of Mutation is a great idea.

You can destroy items (rust monster), drain levels (wight), etc.  (PSA: big negative effects like that should be telegraphed and players given a chance to avoid the combat.  Don't ambush players with wights.)

You can also mutate items, mutate spells, turn gold coins into copper coins, turn copper coins into silver coins, permanently blind a PC, permanently give a PC the ability to see in the dark, mess with stats, mess with skills, steal an item out of their inventory, burn all the scrolls in their inventory with dragonfire, change their sex, give them curses.

And remember, all of these effects should be telegraphed before you smack the party with them.  The idea is to get the party invested in the outcome by raising the stakes, so it doesn't work if the players don't know the stakes.

Angels who can forcibly convert your character to their religion.  Since it takes a few "hits" before the PC converts, they have time to run away (which is the point of HP, really).

Nymphs who convince the party to live with her for a two years can also have a pretty big impact on the game.  Players should know the risk before they seek out a nymph.

And everyone knows to avoid gurgans.  Ew.

"I Search The Body"

Yeah, bread and butter.  I know.

PROTIP: Increase player investment by having enemies wield the cool item in combat; don't just leave it in their pocket for them to discover afterwards.

It doesn't even have to be magical.  Like, give one of the orcs a whip with an eagle claw on the end of it, and an eagle skull on the handle.  Fucking awesome.

Or they have crazy potions.  Permanently lose a point of Con to enter a super-rage.  Make sure at least one orc drinks the potion during combat, with more vials visible inside his vest, so the players know what they get if they win.

Or like, the next time the players crit on the orc, the orcs coin purse rips open and coins spill out all over the floor (in addition to the regular effects of the crit).  Show players what the stakes are.

Gaining XP

Yes, this is a thing that exists.

When I used quest XP in my Pathfinder games, I used to give the players a handout with all the available quests on it, and the associated rewards.  I kind of roll my eyes at that sort of thing now, but it accomplished the goal of showing what the stakes were.

Relates to Other Parts of the Map

This is what I mean when I say "random encounter doesn't mean unconnected encounter".

Maybe the really well-dressed orc is the chieftain's son, and asks to be ransomed back when he surrenders.  (Random encounters need to be connected to things outside of themselves.)

Maybe they're saving the king's life.  If they lose this combat, the king will be assassinated.

This is also a chance for your players to show their values.  Let them have the ability to change the game map, and make sure they know it.


Maybe the fact that one of the orcs are in the castle at all means that someone probably smuggled them in. . . but why?

Maybe one of the orcs has an incomplete map of the nearby dungeon.

Maybe the orcs promise to give you the password to the Wyvern's Tower if you let them escape.

They can also convey setting information, or useful information about the dungeon.

The orcs have their hands tattooed black, indicating that they've trained in Ungra, specialize in killing mages, and were hired at a steep cost.

One of the orcs is carrying lockpicks and is covered in recent acid burns.  (Nearby lock is trapped with acid hoses.)

Fluff is Okay

There's nothing wrong with a fun combat.  Fluff has its place.

Respite: Easy combats can be a nice respite after a recent meat-grinder.

Power Trip: Maybe you're playing with ten-year-olds and the birthday boy needs a magic sword.

Ambiance: A corpse being eaten by hungry ghosts can really set the mood.  (No useful information was learned, no real interaction except observation).

Personal Goals: There's no benefit to it, but maybe one of the PCs swore an oath to humiliate every bard they came across.  Whatever.  It's important to their character concept.

Comedy: Fighting drunk goblins in the middle of a pig stampede.

Just remember that you can raise the impact without raising the difficulty.  Maybe give one the goblins a red-hot branding iron.  Same damage, but now the character has a QQ permanently seared into their rump.

-Doesn't change the game.
-Can still be interesting (e.g. you meet peacock-man being devoured by hungry ghosts; he has nothing interesting to say or give).
-Can be good for an ego trip.

Using Impact Wrong

Impact is not the same thing as fun.  Use it in ways that your players react to.  Maybe they're scared of dying and despise lethal combat.  Maybe they want to be heroes and respond really well to civic heroics, such as king saving.

Just be mindful of impact the next time you throw a random group of 3d6 goblins at your party.  Don't let it be just fluff.

Monday, October 2, 2017


There is a voice crying out in the wilderness, babbling nonsense with locust-stained lips, scratching chaos into the dirt beneath her.  This is SCRAP PRINCESS, who is shunned by the WISE and feared by the BRAVE.  Her writings consist of nothing but NONSENSE and THE EGGS OF GAWPING SERPENTS.  Wise men shun both, lest they be afflicted by POLYPS and SNAKEBITE.


The opposite of a dragon is a wurm.  Like dragons, they are also hoarders and destroyers, but they tend to seek the metaphysical, rather than base metals.

Wurms are brothers to whales.  They are most closely related to certain breeds of malformed horses native to the Londeep Swamp, which feed on algae and bird's eggs.

They are hairy, limbless things, like pink-skinned slugs or shaggy worms.  They do not fly, but instead burrow.  Their features vary, but in most cases their faces tend towards the mammalian, and sometimes even the simian.  They have flattish faces, with forward facing eyes, and their teeth are often blunted.  The smallest of them is a furlong in length.

They lay fertile eggs, but compulsively devour their young.

HD 12+  AC plate  Bite 2d8 + swallow
Move human  Burrow 1/2 human  Int 10    Mor 7

*Slurp (30' cone, save or be pulled into mouth)
*Aura  (100', unique to each wurm, see below)
*Attendants (2d6, unique to each wurm, see below)


Its skin is bright gold, and it weighs 484,000 lbs.  Its expression has been described as fatuous.  It enjoys eating elephants, and this is how it does it.  First, it breaks the elephant's legs.  Then it sucks on the elephant for about 18 hours, like a gobstopper, until the elephant's skin comes off.

It lives in the Tau Solen, where it churns the rivers into pinkish foam.

The Laughing Wurm consumes joy.  That is why it is so happy.  All creatures in its aura must make a Charisma check each turn.  On a failure, they lose 1d6 Wisdom.  If their Wisdom reaches 0, the PC stops and sits down, overcome by regret, nostalgia, and nihilism.  Wisdom lost in this way is recovered as soon as they leave the aura.  They regain 1d6 Wisdom if an ally dies or is swallowed (first time only) or if something motivating occurs (first time only).  Creatures in the aura are unable to benefit from it.

The Laughing Wurm is surrounded by 2d6 despondent ibises (1 HD each).  Initially inert, they will attack once they wurm is bloodied.

When the Laughing Wurm is killed all creatures in 1000' must save or celebrate together for the next 1d20 hours.  Expect to spend the time dancing with wolves and kissing ibises.

The Heart of the Laughing Wurm is a tiny, shriveled grey thing the size of a fist.  It can be used to make a make any sentient creature suicidal.  (50' range, creature saves, failture means that they will attempt to kill themselves in the next 24 hours.  The heart is not used up by a successful save.)

picture unrelated
by Marco Nelor

The Verdant Wurm is bright, grassy green, except for its teeth (which are white) and its gums (which are red).  Its expression has been described as incredulous.  It enjoys impersonating a grassy hill, something that it is very bad at, since all the adjacent hills will be dead.  It weighs 660,000 lbs.

The Verdant Wurm consumes life.  That is why it is so vibrant.  All creatures in the aura lose 1d6 HP per turn (half on a successful save).  For each HP lost in this way, a butterfly is born from the Verdant Wurm's back.  They attack as a swarm.

The Verdant Wurm begins surrounded by 2d6 butterflies.  They are not true insects, and lack mouthparts or reproductive organs.  They have only a single leg, like a razor blade.

When the Verdant Wurm is killed, its stomach spills open and a forest grows explosively.  All creatures in 1000' must save or take 1d20 damage from being speared, tossed, or crushed.

The Heart of the Verdant Wurm can be used to restore a creature to life.  Creatures restored to life in this way will return larger (+1 Str), dumber (-1 Int), and with shaggy green hair.

Other Wurms

Slow, Conquerer, and Heartstring.  TBA.