Fifth of the Seven Seas: The Missing Sea

Important Locations

  1. The HMS Insurmountable – A titanic shop, sailing crisscross the Missing Sea. It is a triple decker and is stacked with a full barracks. Soldiers march too and from on the decks, and a blue coated captain looks out with a spy glass in search of the missing home they once sallied from.
  2. The HMS Revelation – a black and metal clad prison ship. Once manned by imperial soldiers who carried slaves back to their capitol, the slaves have overtaken their captors and have joined the imperial search for their capitol in order to gain their revenge.
  3. The Hole – somewhere in the Missing Sea is a hole, not some mythical maelstrom, but a place where the water grows dark as if an entire isle had been uprooted from the bottom of the sea.

 

Questions:

  1. What did the PCs do here? The Missing Sea is a quiet place dogged only by the imperial ships searching for the home country, many people find it a good place to meet with no one the wiser. As long as you aren’t the missing home, the imperial soldiers don’t seem to see you.
  2. Is Sally here?

 

The People:

  1. Captain Nelson – an immortal admiral with no country to serve. He rides imperial ships returning back from the other seas, no longer the conqueror. He and all like him search for the missing country.
Advertisements

Game Lab: Monster Cleanup

I have a long list of monster ideas based on a variety of sources. To work through this I’ll post a quick idea for a monster every so often. Enjoy!

The inspiration this week was the one line from my ideas notes: “AOE Blind wandering monster.” I can’t recall where I got this idea. I probably should add more context when I write these down.

Vague indeed. To add at least a little context first I should decide what type of game this would be for. The AOE part makes me think of a D&D enemy. But its blindness seems a more gothic/macabre detail so it could be a dark fantasy creature or even a horror monster. Since the AOE part is so D&D it will be more interesting to think about it as a horror thing.

As I’ve mentioned before most monsters are more horrible when they aren’t fatal. If a PC is killed by a monster then the fear vanishes. If this creature is to be a horror monster it should do something weird, out of place, and disturbing that can transport the PCs somewhere far worse than death.

Since it is an AOE creature it should be reasonably easy to avoid, so a shambling slow thing is best, its blindness will let it follow sounds. Stealth rolls would be required to avoid its attention.

Non fatal AOE attacks are… a little hard to think of.

So instead I’ll focus on the nature of the creature. A shambling thing, seen from far away should have a clear shambling silhouette. I see this thing as hunched over, headless, instead a mounded shape with its arms out and also mounded over. Perhaps its covered in wax, candles burning on its back. The light will make it clear where the creature is, signaling to the players that danger is coming.

This lends us what its effect is. A creature made of wax, or at least obsessed with creating the candles on its body, will need ways to create its candles. To do this it uses magic to melt the fat of living creatures in a radius around it. The fat liquifies and seeps out of their skin or orifices. The creature then collects the fat and begins rendering it into candles. If it can catch a living creature it steals clumps of hair to make wicks.

While around the creature within its magical radius its victims lose fat, at first it seems good, they gain charisma or appearance from their new skinniness. But they also lose strength of constitution, slowly growing thinner. Eventually the increase in appearance stops. Soon its just a wasting away. No more does the loss of fat seem a shortcut to standard beauty ideals, it becomes a horrible experience.

Some final questions:

  1. Is the creature made of wax? Or does it just cover its body with candles, hiding some other horrific mystery? (Decomposing corpse, obsessed insane person, golem?)
  2. Who is the creature anyways? Are they a strange off cast of a villains mind? A spirit trapped in a horrid torture? An alien or demon or monster that simply is obsessed with light?
  3. Where does this creature live? A gothic mansion seems a good fit. But it could be a sewer inhabitant, or just wandering streets.

 

Random & Procedural Generation

Garry Newman recently wrote about the procedural created maps in Rust, his multiplayer survival game. He mentions how the random generation creates a boring experience; there is a lack of discovery and the algorithms and remade chunks start feeling familiar even as it is rearranged.

I think this really solidified my opinion on randomly created content in pen and paper games as well. Randomly created locations for games are boring.

I’ve often picked up interesting looking games and found its a book filled out with encounters and location details on any given number-d-number charts. No matter how interesting the encounter or locations on display its always incredibly disappointing.

For one a book of random encounters creates almost as much work for me GMing as creating my own content. The author might have done the hard work of deciding what monsters, terrain and what have you is in any given space, but I have to figure out how to make the PCs journey through the environment is satisfying, coherent, and naturally teaches them what is going on.

Natural Progression

When I play games I love learning the setting and getting a sense of the challenges in the scenario. If the dungeon is taking us to a challenging fight with a fire demon I want the game through the GM to be teaching us that.

We can figure out how to use anti-fire potions when we had to go through the lava trap room. We learn that spells creating ice and water might or might nor hurt the fire creatures in the dungeon. And all the while we also get a better idea of our characters, their powers and how to work as a team.

That sense of building disappears when the next room is a 1d20 on a chart. We might have only fought zombies so far but a high number and now we have to figure out what to do with gargoyles.

As a GM I would prefer a book with encyclopedic entries on monsters and locations more like Petty Gods. I can read the book as I want, scanning through it without having to figure out the complex random generation system. During a game if a player suddenly asks what sort of statuettes are around or what minor gods they might offer a quick prayer to I can pull up the PDF and open to any random page.

Sense of Discovery

Some might argue that the random creation creates a sense of discovery. But like Garry mentions in his blog the procedural generation either creates a sense of bland sameness as it must rely on similar elements jammed together in scrambled orientations, or it destroys any sense of cohesion.

Even with a “themed” chart of the same type a random chart can quickly rob an area of sense and actual discovery. A chart that generates random lava themed castle rooms might teach players they are in a castle with lava in it, they still will never be able to predict that the hot kitchen will be behind the back door of the dining hall when there’s just the same chance its a bathroom or a lava pit.

Discovery really isn’t the need to find whatever new thing is coming, but instead a sense of finding new things in a predictable manner. As usual the Angry GM has written all that needs to be said on this matter.

Predictable discovery isn’t only about flagging hidden treasure though. Every video game about exploration worth its salt in recent years has done the same thing, put important locations on the horizon and then let you get there. Dark Souls, Minecraft, Witcher III, they all show you the cool thing on the horizon and you can literally walk/sail/ride/fly there.

If you’re players come to a mountain pass into a new area and look out over a plain filled with interesting looking woods, towers, and towns and as they descend every location is rolled on a chart how can they ever pick a meaningful direction to travel. “Heading towards that ice tower” becomes walk aimlessly through the fields chart, the forest chart, and the ice tower chart. The GM can’t build up to the moment they arrive, or authentically give that sense of the game opening up.

The Place for Charts

Of course random generation isn’t useless. When its used in place of smart location or encounter design it is. But sometimes it can work.

A lot of OSR games have made random charts  work, but mostly because OSR games rely on a sense of weirdness and novelty to keep the quirky grimy edge they always strive for.

But randomly generated locations can work to create a sense of senselessness. In Fields of Carcosa: The Iceberg I have included an area where as the PCs move through it the next locations are made randomly. The area is meant to feel like they’re moving, shifting and can never be charted.

Random charts can help build a thematically consistent world. The header image is from a short lived Mongoose Traveller campaign. The galaxy generating rules in Traveller create the background to create a more complex world. The system takes away the boring part of creating the infinite worlds players might visit. Instead of having to decide every atmosphere and tech level of each planet the game does it for you and you can focus on the characters, story and events that will take the PCs through space.

Of course using Traveller’s galaxy building the GM has to acknowledge just how much work it still takes. The system is confusing and it takes work to remember each and every combination and adjustment. At the end you might realize you don’t have any systems with the right tech level for something you wanted in the game, or there are systems just floating unreachable in space. The GM still has to do most of the work, the game just puts a framework in place to get the basic parts out of the way.

The other place for charts is in gambling. And by that I don’t just mean when the players want to hit the slots. Some mechanics can create a sense of reward for player effort through a simple gambling mechanic. Stardew Valley uses this for most of its industries. Fishing, mining, and foraging all use a random chance to generate a feeling of potential reward. By using better gear and other perks you increase your ability to get those rewards.

I’ve borrowed the sense of potential reward in Fields of Carcosa by including fishing zones. The players can use better rods and bait to catch fish.

Random treasure doesn’t work for this since the players only effort is in finding the objects. They have no way of improving their chance to find better treasure without out of game meta powers.

A lot of video games that including scavenging under cut their resources by having them randomly generated. Why can the PC get a power that increases their gold found by 5%? The player hasn’t done anything to increase this chance. It makes no sense that the PCs abilities affects the outside world.


Overall there are things that make exploration fun in games. A sense  of discovery and artistry and progression that randomly generated areas simply doesn’t bring to the table.

The best randomly generated RPG content has to be especially connected. Last Gasp and Vornheim both use interconnected city building to build moody and weird places with randomness.

Otherwise so many game books using randomly generated content feel like they are half full of half baked encounters and half filled with bandages to make it have any sense of coherence. If a game wants to do my work for me, I’d prefer an author to put as much work into the path through the game as the content instead of resorting to 1d100 charts.

Game Lab: Train Shootout

A tense moment on a train. The landscape outside plays back drop to the tight corridor, the space between chairs, the rush of air outside as people clamber on the roof or jump between carriages.

How might you run a tense shoot out in a train?

Trains are a dynamic place to set an encounter. They naturally change with time, they shake, go around turns, and theres a risk of a massive crash if things go really wrong. Carriages can be disconnected and it can be jumped off.

Any fight in a train should take advantage of this sort of movement.


Charts charts everywhere

(A short aside. I hate random charts. But as I widen by scope of games I find they’re annoyingly useful.)

Set up a chart like this:

 1. Train takes a turn. For the next 1d4 rounds there is no line of sight down the train between carriages.
 2. The train goes over a rickety bridge. For the next 1d4 rounds the train shakes. Any physical rolls are done with penalty. Anyone falling from the train is in danger of dying unless they are escaping to a river.
3. The conductor blows the horn. Combatants must roll to not be distracted by the sudden loud noise.
 4. The train goes through a tunnel. For the next 1d4 rounds the outside of the train is completely dark and anyone on top of a carriage must roll to not get clonked on the head. People inside the train might have a moment of confusion as the light changes.
 5. The train slows for a stop or someone hits the emergency break. Combatants must roll to not stumble as it slows. New enemies might arrive, other passengers might arrive to fill the corridors and contain a tense fight, or police might be waiting.
 6. A switch in the tracks is coming up in 1d4 rounds. Changing the course of the train might derail it, cause it to hit another train, or simply cause a bump to cause an enemy to stumble.

Cover and Tight Places

The other exciting part of battles on trains is the tight constraints the environment create. Trains are long but narrow. Seats provide easy cover, but a hand to hand fight will be tightly constricted. A tussle in a bathroom will be extremely compact.

But as much as the seats, compartments and size of train will keep fights small, the train can also open up into sudden long spread out areas. On a straight away the central corridor can make a long shot possible. Equally moving a fight onto the top or side of a train opens up range very quickly.

Some simple rules can be put in place. First characters using seats or other parts of the train as cover impose disadvantages to shooters.

You might want to rule that a fight in a small space can’t impose damage until they maneuver their enemy into an advantageous place, or all attacks have disadvantage. This way a player can slowly force an enemy into a position where they can slam a door into their head, or they can push them from a window, but with no room to move they can’t do more than jab and choke.

Once the space has opened up the train itself will matter a great deal. A fight on a roof top changes suddenly as it goes through a tunnel. See charts above.


Dangers of Trains

Further the excitement of combat on a train is born in the multitude of dangers. Falling off a train can easily be lethal. Fights out windows or on the roof is subjected to low lights, mail bags, tunnels, and other hazards. In the tighter parts of the train the doors, windows, and chairs are necessary to do real damage.

However its important to note that dangers should be consistent. If players know that climbing up or down from a carriage imposes a certain challenge don’t change it without making clear how the train as a whole is changing.

(A bitter note: in one game a party member easily climbed from roof to carriage with one dice roll and when I tried peaking over the roof I was summarily thrown off and killed with a single save. Apparently climbing up was more likely to buck me off while climbing down was safe. Suffice it to say I disagreed.)

Have fun!

Free Adventure: Camp Sasquatch

Get your pay what you want copy of Camp Sasquatch!

A horror scenario of kids surviving the worst summer camp experience of their life.

When these children’s parents sent them to Camp Sasquatch for a week in the summer they didn’t expect to hear stories of giant pink monsters, aliens, and bad guys, but that’s what they got.

Can be run with the inbuilt rules or any other percentile based horror system.

 

Dungeon Design: FoC The Hub (2/3)

Last Time on Dungeon Design I shared how I had begun to design a quest and dungeon in the “Midden” area of my new game Fields of Carcosa. The final part is the Boss Fight.

We created two monsters for this area: the Rabid Urchin and the Nun Toad.

Rabid Urchin

Small / Humanoids

Someone has cursed these street urchins with a rabid fever and painful growths. The urchins have grown spikes and suppurating sores. They’re hunched over and sport nasty spikes.

AC: 10

HP: 15 (Upon death they trigger their spike attack.)

Speed: 40ft

Damage Immunities: poison

Dagger: Melee weapon attack: +3 to hit, reach 5ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d6+2) piercing damage.

Sling: Ranged weapon attack: +6 to hit, reach 60ft., one target. Hit: 3 (1d4+1) bludgeoning damage.

Urchin Spike: Anyone within 5ft of the urchin is pushed away 5ft as their spikes extend violently. Those pierced must make a CON or DEX save of DC 10 or take 2d8 poison damage. Other urchins hit by the attack take no damage and trigger their own spike attack.

STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
9 (-1) 10 (0) 9 (-1) 6 (-2) 6 (-2) 6 (-2)

Loot: 1gp

 

Nun Toad

Large / Beasts

A huge toad with alert eyes and a white stripe painted down it in chalk. Preparing potions against acid would aid in this fight.

AC: 12

HP: 50

Speed: 15ft / leap 50ft

Sticky Tongue: Melee weapon attack: +7 to hit, reach 10ft., one target. Hit: 12 (1d8) bludgeoning damage plus 4 (2d4) acid damage. Once struck a target is grappled requiring a DC of 14 to escape.

Confessional Purification: Once stuck to a nun’s tongue the target is dragged into the air where they begin being coated by thick acidic juices to “cleanse” the spirit. This does 4d8 acid damage. Once dead the nun swallows the target whole. As an action the nun can stop its grapple and throw the target 15ft away from itself.

Telepathy: The nun speaks in whispers in the minds of those around it. As an action the nun can launch a mental assault on a target. If they fail a WIS save of DC 12 the nun can issue simple commands.

STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
9 (-1) 10 (0) 9 (-1) 6 (-2) 6 (-2) 6 (-2)

Loot: Toad Tongue. (25gp) This reach does 1d4 bludgeoning damage and grapples target when hit. The target must make a DC 10 DEX save to escape.

With these enemies designed we can begin thinking about how to lay out the galleon. First lets sum up the information we want to use:

  1. The nun is a semi-boss fight that should challenge the players.
  2. The toad can leap, and can use its tongue to grapple targets from a distance.
  3. The urchins are pretty easy to kill, but on their deaths they trigger their spike attack, and this can cause a chain reaction with other urchins. The spike attack pushes targets away from the urchin.

Area Design

As with all game plots there must be a reason for the players to go in where others do not. In this case Noatalba needs a reason to want the players to go in, and why he can’t. For one he’s a coward, unlikely to fight even though he is a priest of some significant power. Furthermore as stated the galleon has been locked and the urchins inside have the key.

This also provides the first design question for the area: how can the players get inside?

Since this is a galleon it must have several entrances already. There will be hatches on deck, a possible doorway into a captain’s cabin or fore-cabin, holes in the sides for an anchor or hatches for cannon. The ship could also have cracks that players could sneak into.

Hatches on the deck and a crack or hatch hidden somewhere around the side will be fun. One will require a dangerous climb up the side, the other will require searching for hidden crannies. There is also the locked door where Noatalba stands. Players could just knock it down, but the priest would likely frown on destroying his temple no matter how temporary. However its good to remember it’s there.

I also have an idea for several rooms:

  • Narrow hallways with multiple slave cells off of them. This would be ripe for traps, hidden treasure, and ambushes.
  • A large open area with an altar, some sort of balcony and/or raised areas. This is probably the central encounter with the nun and the last of the urchins. I like the idea of the players being able to enter this room on high up balconies and skirting around it before getting into a proper fight.
  • Other rooms could be cabins for important crew, open decks with rows of rusting cannon, or storage rooms.

The urchins are also clever and unlikely to have invaded something as valuable as the galleon temple without having planned on protecting themselves, so they may have left traps and scouts to warn each other.

I think the route of the dungeon will be a vertical fork, so to speak, with one path from the hatches on top and one from a lower crack that is hidden below. There might be minor or hidden paths between these but they will generally meet at a central point where both converge on the wide open room with the altar.

The top route from the hatches will be the one the urchins expect, filled with traps and ambushes. The lower route will be a forgotten area, left alone but harder to travel through. Several places will cross between them where someone in the lower route could break through and surprise the urchins or skip traps. Otherwise players taking the upper route might find a hidden entrance to the lower one and avoid danger that way.

Well number the upper route 1 and the lower route 2.


Areas

1.1 Climbing to the Deck

The sides of the Galleon are plated in rough iron scales. While climbing the sides are easy the rough metal is often sharp. Climbing the sides is DC 12. Failing the check results in 1d4 slashing damage. Often I forget to include the result of failing an ability check. This is especially important when describing places where someone can fall. More than once I’ve bee running a game and realized that a failed check is probably an instant death as they fall into some abyss. Think about the consequences of each roll you require. If they aren’t interesting or too risky you might need to change them.)


1.2 Deck Hatches

The deck of the galleon hasn’t been used in years. Trash fallen from the Palace above lies in haphazard piles, partially covering the starboard hatch to the decks below. (The hatches are the most important thing here so they’re described early on.)

A large grate, now rusted in place and immovable, opens above the yawning slave pit in the galleon’s heart. Light can be seen flickering below as Rabid Urchins scurry around filling sacks with loot. One urchin, with several criss crossed belts can be seen fiddling with some keys at a door. As the urchin manages to open the door a giant toad tongue snakes around the door and pulls her inside. The toad leaps through the door and leers around at the urchins around the hall. The urchins begin to back away slowly, however after a moment they stop and seem to nod at some silent voice and return to their looting. (To make this dungeon riskier I like the idea of the Toad Nun mentally controlling the urchins, however this means the toad nun needs a telepathic power and during the fight killing the nun might cause the urchins to flee after its control is broken.)

Shooting through the large grate imposes a penalty die. If any urchins or the toad are hit they will retreat into the rooms around the outside of the pit and hide until the danger has passed.

The starboard hatch to the lower deck is easy to lever open. A steep ladder descends foreword to the 1.3 Cannon Deck.


1.3 Cannon Deck

A long hall lined with rusting ancient cannon. (I’d like the first encounter with the urchins to take place here. It can also teach the players that the urchins are laying traps.) A turn away from the Adventurers is a trapdoor with two urchins behind the raised hatch only partially visible. Another turn behind them is a third urchin attaching something to a door in the bulkhead at the other end of the hall.

At the beginning of their turns the two urchins at the hatch will lower the trap door and move behind the rusted cannon nearest them to use their slingshots as cover. The urchin at the back will close the door and move forwards. (The Players normal reaction would be to rush the urchins, however the trapdoor requires them to go around it. The urchins will use their spike attack to try to push them into it. Meanwhile they will use the extra time to pelt the players with rocks while in the relative safety of cover.)

The trapdoor is a simple trap with a flimsy rod holding it closed. When stood on an Adventurer may make one quick action before it falls open and deposits them into the chamber below. Throwing themselves off the trap door requires a DC 12 Dexterity Save. Falling does 1d10 bludgeoning damage. It also takes a DC 12 ability check to disarm the trap while out of combat. The chamber below is Prison Cell 2.

The door is rigged with a thin trip wire. When triggered a heavy spiked iron ball dripping with poison on a chain is released and swings into the doorway hitting anyone in front of it. The Adventurer who triggers the trap has a quick action before it strikes them. It requires a DC 14 Dexterity Save to leap out of the way. It does 1d6 bludgeoning damage + 1d4 poison damage. It requires a DC 14 ability check to disarm the trap while out of combat. The door opens onto 1.4 Stairs.


1.4 Stairs

The door opens onto a square space with a steep staircase descending.


1.5 Slave Hall

The stairs end a deck below in a narrow hallway. The hallway is 5ft wide and only allows one person to pass at a time. Ask for marching order before the Adventurers continue.

Along the hallway are eight cells with 5ft of iron bars on either side with a sliding iron bar door in the middle. The cells doors are spaced out 20 feet from each other. Each cell is 15ft by 15ft. The cells are numbered 1-4 on the left from the stairs and 5-8 on the right from the stairs.

Cell 1 & 5

A tripwire has been placed between the open door of cell 1 and the closed and locked door of cell 5. When broken it triggers another swinging poisoned spiked ball. DC 14 Dexterity Save or take 1d6 bludgeoning +1d4 poison damage. DC 14 ability check to disarm.

Cell 5’s door is locked and requires a DC 14 ability check to unlock. Inside is a skeleton shackled to the far wall. Around their neck is a metal chain with a flat collar. On it reads: “Slave 5: Morris Strong Tall Healthy”

Cell 2 & 6

Cell 2 and 6 are open. A Rabid Urchin hides in cell 6 and won’t attack anyone until they are standing directly in the middle of the cells. Cell 2 has a trapdoor that will break and drop a person into #######.

Cell 6 has a hole in the wall. Inside has been pushed a purse containing two shards of ruby worth 50gp each. There is also a note. “For anyone who finds this, This ship is evil and this treasure is a testament to my sins. I worked for a decade bringing prisoners to the slave docks of the City of Song, sold like cattle to the Ravenous Resort, Death Masks in the rift. No matter where we went we disposed of human goods for gold. Now I repent. When humans become items to be sold any human appears to be worth a sale. My eternal regrets. H.Z.” The note is from Harrington another NPC in the Hub.

Cell 2 has piles of skeletons on either side of the trapdoor. 1d6 gold coins are hidden in the piles. There are three metal slave collars: “Slave 2: Tanya Weak Short Healthy” “Slave 3: Anya Strong Short Sick” “Slave 6: Palia Pretty Short Healthy”

Cell 3 & 7

Cell 3 is locked. It requires a DC 12 ability check to open the door. Inside are two skeletons locked to opposite walls. One still wears a worn cloak that seems not to have decomposed. On closer inspection the inside is embroidered with green threads in complex droplet patterns. The holes in the cloak seem to have been melted into it. The cloak is resistant to poison and grants +1 poison damage to all attacks while wearing it. It is worth 100gp. The skeletons both have slave collars: “Slave 4: Aboraga Pretty Tall Healthy” “Slave 7: Gustovus Strong Short Sick”

Cell 7 is unlocked and the back wall has been broken away. The boards have been put back to hide the hole. Anyone with Passive Perception above 8 will notice the hole. The hole leads down into the deck below to the 2.4 Carpenter’s Shop. A slave collar has been left on the floor with a broken chain: “Slave 1: Troya Strong Tall Healthy”

Cell 4 & 8

A trip wire crosses the hall from the bars of cell 8 to the door of Cell 4. If triggered another poisoned ball swings across and strikes anyone in the hall. It takes a DC 14 Dexterity Save to avoid, or DC 12 ability check to disarm while out of combat. A Rabid Urchin hides in cell 4. The Urchin will attempt to use its spike attack to push people into the trap.

Cell 8 has a table set up in it with a ribbon, a vase with a wilted flower, and several candles on it. The candles have mostly melted down. A note is attached to the table by a large knife. In the center of the table are two salve collars. “Slave 8: Sophie Strong Tall Sick” “Slave 9: Maia Weak Child Unhealthy.”

The note reads: “You were the fairest port in any storm and in the calmest weather. I always knew I had you to come back to. I will forever look for your wave and glowing lantern smile as I sail. I will find you again under the ocean or in the stars. Fare ye well.” 

The Knife is the Knife of Sword Revenge (100gp) does 1d4 piercing damage and no attack bonus is added. If you target the last enemy that has done damage to you it does an additional 1d4 damage per point of damage you took. (This weapon is probably overpowered. However it ties into Harrington’s story so letting the players know something is this important can be useful. Use at your own risk.)

Cell 4 is empty.

The end of the hall opens onto 1.6 Catwalk.


1.6 Walkway

A railed walkway of 5ft in width extends around the large multistory open space in the center of the galleon. Ahead of the players against the starboard side of the hull the walkway has collapsed leaving a huge gap. To the left the walkway crosses the ship to the port side. There it crosses to the foreword deck of the ship.

Below two floors can be seen, a second walkway mostly in ruin with several rooms off of it, and the bottom deck where pews and an altar have been arranged. At least five urchins scurry back and forth looting the temple while a huge Toad Nun gloats from atop the altar. Falling from the walkway does 1d10+10 bludgeoning damage.

If the Adventurers make too much noise the nun will angrily croak and the urchins will begin pelting them with their slings. It is DC 12 the sneak around the walkway. The Nun will hide in one of the adjoining rooms if threatened. The urchins will also run for cover if they take too much damage.

To the left the walkway extends to the port side. But halfway along a portion of the floor has been broken. The railing is still supported and a dexterous person could walk across it. It takes a DC 15 ability check to cross. To the left is a door. Another two doors can be seen on the other side of the hole. The door leads to 1.7 Overseer’s Office.

The second door leads to 1.8 Armory. The walkway ends at the Port side of the hull where it continues forward.

The second door past the hole is to a cell hall like the one on the starboard side. Broken beams have filled the hall making it unpassable. A Rabid Urchin hides inside the doorway and will try to surprise attack passing Adventurers. She will try to use her spike attack to push adventurers off the walkway.

At its end it enters 1.9 Crew Quarters.


1.7 Overseer’s Office

A rectangular room with a built in bed against the left wall. A large table is bolted to the floor. There is a large cabinet on the right next to a door in the middle of the wall to the 1.8 Armory. Behind the table in the middle of the back wall is a open door way and a ladder descending to the 2.6 Powder Room.

Two Rabid Urchins are scrabbling around searching the room. They have a sack of loot worth 200gp already from the candle sticks, plates, and silver plating from the room.

If the urchins are attacked they will be joined one turn later by two more urchins from the 1.8 Armory.

The cabinet is locked and requires a DC 15 ability check to open. Inside is a note, a Tricorn (50gp), and a small purse of 1d10+12 gold coins.

The note reads “Captain Rince, I warn that if we continue with this plan Grin will discover what you’ve done. We should return the woman and her daughter to the islands. If he finds out and still has a heart beating in his chest he will search you out. Me too if I am not careful. Theodora Baggs, Overseer.”


1.8 Armory

There is a door to the 1.7 Overseer’s Office and another to the far side of the hole on the 1.6 Walkway. There is a large iron door at the back of the room that contains another Nun Toad.

The rest of the room is lined with low chests containing old weapons. Most are so rusted they are useless. One contains a Rusty Cutlass that is still useable. It does 1d6 slashing damage + 1d4 poison damage and is worth 50gp.

Three Rabid Urchins hunker around a cannon. It is too big to wheel through the doors. If someone enters the room one of the urchins will light the fuse. It fires directly into the Overseer’s Office and does 4d10 bludgeoning damage to anyone fails a DC 17 Dexterity Save to get out of the way.

If the urchins hear fighting in the office two will go and join the fight while the third will wait until an enemy is in line with the doorway and they will fire the cannon. It takes them a full round before they can reload the cannon. They can fire it every other round.

If an Adventurer approaches the iron door at the back of the armory they hear a whispering voice in their head. The Nun Toad tries to convince them to let her out. She will try to dominate them. It requires a DC 12 Wisdom Save to not be taken over. She can issue simple commands including instructions to open the door.


1.9 Crew Quarters

The walkway continues along the port side of the hull to an open doorway. Inside is a long rectangular room extending from port to starboard with posts in the center of it. Hammocks have been hung across the room haphazardly. They swing back and forth eerily. The room can be crossed by zig zagging around the hammocks or crawling underneath them. There is nothing else in this room.

At the end of the crew quarters is a ladder descending a small empty room that opens onto 3.1 The Hall.


2.1 The Hidden Entrance (And now we go back to the other entrance. They’ll meet up again at 3.1)

With passive perception of 12 or higher or succeeding on a DC 10 ability check a secret entrance can be found.At the edge of the paved area in front of the Galleon is a walkway constructed of planks of wood balanced on beams over the Ocean far below. It snakes around the aft of the ship to the flat back where a huge rudder hangs over the water. A crack has formed in the aft of the ship which can be used to sneak inside.

(While this is a place where you might include an ability check having the Adventurers fall to an early demise in the Ocean isn’t a great way to begin the dungeon.)


2.2 Bilges

The crack at the back of the boat leads into the galleon’s bilges, filled with the water and the garbage washed off of the decks.

(I’m tempted here to add in a new monster, something one off. But no I’ll hold to my design so far and make the environment the challenge. This means that there have to be choices of path for the players, if there’s just a series of ability checks all this is doing is forcing the players through a series of hp sucks.)

The bilges on the galleon are larger than most ships, the crack at the back has slowly drained the ballast that would take up most of the room leaving the back end where the crack leads a rubble filled beach slowly dipping into dark dank water. (A weird quirk of this game is that its supposed to be a MMO in my Call of Cthulhu game, so I can’t use smell, or temperature descriptions. Feel free to add your own disgusting scents.)

A gouge has been taken out of a bulkhead 30 feet up above the water leaving deck planks dangling over the water. Climbing the planks would be very difficult, slick with moss and over the deepest part of the pool. There is a slight ramp of ballast against the hull that curls to nearly just underneath the far edge of the hole opposite the planks. But a slip could cause the whole pile to collapse potentially pulling the climber under it.

It’s a DC 12 Ability check to swim in the pool, failing it means the cold over comes them and they must make a DC 12 Con Save to not take 1d4 cold damage. Climbing the planks takes a DC 20 Ability check and falling back into the water incurs another Con Save.

Climbing up the ballast takes a DC 15 Dexterity Check. If the Adventurer fails the pile collapses into the water and does 1d8+4 bludgeoning damage as huge stones crush them. It can’t be attempted again.

The hole leads to 2.3 Lost Storage Room


2.3 Lost Storage Room

A tiny room at the back of the Galleon that once contained carpentry materials. It has been lost long ago to the inhabitants of the ship since it has been added to the Midden.

(Because why not lets add in a new mechanic here. Cobwebs that can only be burned through. Players with torches will have an excuse to use them, wizards can waste their fire balls here. I’ll break my design a little bit by having some wandering urchins with torches as well. Not to mention cobwebs are a great way to make the players think there are some dangerous giant spiders around.)

The room ends in a broken bulkhead with a narrow crack 20ft long. Half way along on on the left of the crack are thick cobwebs. It takes a DC 12 Dexterity Check to pass them without being stuck to them. A DC 12 Ability Check is also required to pull someone off of the web. Once stuck in the web the player is not able to move their limbs. The webs can be broken with fire of any kind. Behind the webs is 2.5 Hidden Passageway. The crack in the bulkhead leads to 2.4 Carpenter’s Shop.

Under one of the boxes is a small chest containing a bag of 80 gold coins and a dagger worth 25gp.


2.4 Carpenter’s Shop

A low hall that extends 100ft in a gloomy half light. Low tables, capable of hiding one person, have slidden against the wall. There are five clumps of three tables every 20ft. The tops of the tables are strewn with old carpentry tools and scraps of wood. These are flammable.

Halfway along the hall is a urchin searching amongst the old carpentry tools. The urchin holds a torch shining a light 60ft around him.

There are two doors halfway down the hall. The left one is coated with a spider web and leads to 2.5 Hidden Passageway if the urchin is left alone at first he’ll move over to the cobwebs and burn them. He’ll proceed down the passageway and search the chest there unless he hears movement.

The right door is open and opens onto a ladder that leads to a small room that opens onto  3.1 The Hall. There is also a door at the far end of the hall coated in cobwebs. Behind the webs are stairs leading to 2.6 The Powder Room.


2.5 Hidden Passageway

A hallway connecting the Lost Storage Room and the Carpenter’s Workshop. In a nook near the door to the workshop is a chest. The top of the chest has the name “Zell” scratched into it. Inside is an old battered shield worth 50gp, a heart shaped ruby with a crack on it worth 50gp or 100gp if sold to Harrington. It grants +2 AC when wielded and as a reaction the person holding it can take the damage meant for a different ally within 10ft of them. The wielder then takes the damage minus their AC. (The assisting action of these shield is powerful, but it’s meant to let a player play a serious tank with less penalties to helping others than protecting oneself.)


2.6 Powder Room

A square room with a central wall splitting it down the middle with 10ft gaps on either end. The wall is surrounded with shelves with bags of gun powder stacked around them. If any of the powder is touched by flames they start to burn and after 1 round explode doing 10d8 damage to anyone in the room, 4d8 to anyone in adjacent rooms and 2d8 to anyone still in the ship as the explosion rips out the ship’s bowels, throws shrapnel everywhere and the galleon slowly disintegrates. 

(Here is my first draft for this room. Note that the players could get their hands on multiple sacks of gun powder. While the video game nature of FoC could negate this problem it seems unfair. Instead I’ll reduce the quantity, turn it into a treasure item (flash paper, which I use in a later area as well) and lower the damage and threat of the room.)

A square room with a central wall splitting it down the middle with 10ft gaps on either end. The wall is surrounded with shelves where bags of gun powder were once stacked. A few bags remain. If touched with fire they explode doing 2d8 damage to anyone in the room. However the bags are old and if anyone tries to remove them the powder spills out and is spoiled. Careful collection of powder results in enough to create 1d6 Flash Paper, which when applied to a weapon converts all damage to fire for 10 rounds or 1 minute. Flash paper is worth 25gp in the Hub and 1125gp in the Rift. (That price hike is massive yes, but understand that the prices are tiered to level and area. Plus in the Rift there’s way more undead so it makes sense that an item that lets you do fire damage would be in more demand. By the time the players get to the Rift they should be level 14 and 1125gp will seen like a lot less.)

A ladder at the far end climbs to 1.8 Armory. On the other side is a doorway clogged with webs leading to the 2.4 Carpenter’s Shop.


3.1 The Hall

Here’s the big boss fight room… aaaaand this post got really long. So there’ll be a part III!

Part I covers the ideas that went into the dungeon and Part III will cover the boss fight.

 

 

Dungeon Design: FoC The Hub (1/3)

I thought I would leave my notes and a few bits of my new dungeon project here as I go to let people see how a game might be designed. Part II and Part III.


First Step: Design Documet

My first step is to usually bash my head against a wall for awhile.

But then I stop myself and sit down and write a “design document” which is really just a list of things I want in the game.

Fields of Carcosa is meant to play like a video game, something like a mix of Diablo, Sunless Sea, and Dark Souls. Here’s my design doc for the entire game:

FoC Design Document:

  • FoC should be very challenging and requires learning to succeed.

  • It should reward exploration and experimentation.

  • It plays like a video game while still gives roleplaying choices and interactions.

  • It contains several distinct zones with central quests, with side quests involving NPCs in that area.

Then I need some ideas for the Hub.

Hub Design Document

  • The Hub should be an introductory section that teaches FoC play style.

  • The Hub should involve a series of areas that introduce the main NPCs and their stories.

  • The NPCs in the Hub will provide essential services, as well as side quests.

  • There are secret areas that can be found with exploration and some problem solving.

  • The Hub will expand over time to reflect the progress of the players.


Basic Area Design & Central NPCs

Now I know what direction I should take my ideas. I already know what sorts of characters I have in the Hub so I begin working on the areas that will intoduce the NPCs and their services.

The Hub is made up of two parts:

The Midden

As explorers, just like the players, have arrived to help the Queen they have left their vessels stranded in a huge heap underneath the Palace. Made up of slave galleons, temple ships, galleys, frigates, iron clads, and submersibles, the Midden is a hive.

Pirates, magicians, and demons share the space equally. There’s always a bar, shop, or fight around the corner.

The Palace of Three Thousand Pillars

A floating palace of black and white stone looms out of the mist. Its roofs are held aloft by countless (or exactly 3000) pillars. At four corners huge chains strain upwards attached to a iron structure not unlike a slave collar around a large craggy chunk of moon rock. The moon pulses with alien light.

Among the pillars winds Queen Cassilda and her train. Marking her path are the millions of salves, servants, accountants, generals, supplicants, and attendants all clamoring for the silent grieving Queen’s attention. 

These main areas will be where players return in between exploration of the rest of the world to visit shops and get main quests. Throughout the game as they complete quests the palace will be expanded with more services. But at the beginning the hub is only for speaking to the Queen and Priest Noatalba.

There are three main NPCs other than the Queen I want to introduce with a whole area. By making a quest around them that also serves as an introduction to the feeling of FoC’s world hopefully the players will be hooked by their longer term stories, and will remember to return to these NPCs for side quests and supplies.

Zolona

A craggy old witch that runs a potion shop in the more residential part of the Midden. She ages slightly every time the players leave. Zolona knows she will die soon and has sworn that she will use her powers of sight to help people in need across the planet. 

Harrington “Evil Grin” Zell

A part man, part machine harbor master. He looks the part of a sailor/pirate. Peg leg, pipe, ship captain’s hat. But the bottom of his face and one eye has been replaced by crude machinery and he carries a burning boiler on his back belching steam. Harrington wants to convert himself entirely into a machine. He often has a store of items to sell, either washed up in the sea of confiscated from merchants who don’t pay their dues.

Priest Noatalba

A strange priest of the Old Nameless Idiot Gods who seems to have the Queens ear. He whispers that he can help players get an audience with the Queen if only they help him first. He may indeed be the designer of her woe in the end, but for now he seems friendly and pathetic enough not to fear. He will trade for magical items and can revive dead comrades.


Planning

This is an introductory area and the players will be starting at 1st level and ending at 3rd level during this section. I usually award xp per “room” or encounter. This means that if the players manage to skip and encounter they still get that xp. If they talk, fight, or burn their way through they get the xp.

However one of my design goals is to reward exploration and I’m basing this game off the likes of Dark Souls. To create an interesting difference I considered some alternate xp systems.

  1. Make xp gold. Players must work to find gold, or do quests to earn it and spend it on levels, or items. D&D 5e is lacking in economy already so giving the players something to buy could help this problem. I could make life hard for myself and let players buy feats and abilities separately and ignore levels entirely.
  2. Use a “souls” currency where killing enemies or finding dead bodies would reward a special level up currency. However this negates the reward for skipping fights. It could allow for a re-spawn mechanic like Dark Souls but in practice I found players didn’t mind making new characters on death instead of reviving them.

Since I want shops to be important and this is supposed to be video gamey I decided on the xp gold idea. This solves multiple problems. For one 5E’s xp per level is non linear, but I’ve chopped the areas of FoC up into even level blocks. Normally this would mean players zoom through levels and then slog through the rest of the zone on a higher level, or are stuck for longer at a lower level until near the end when they get a sudden boost. It also means that shops are more important.

The Hub will take players from level 1 to level 3. After some figuring level 2 costs 100gp, level 3 costs 200gp. That means 500gp for an average party to get to level 2, and 1000gp to level 3. With a little extra for shopping we can round that up to 650 and 1350 respectively.

The area with the priest is meant to be harder and more appropriate for level 2 players. It should have about 1000gp in it.


Overall Design

I’ll focus on Priest Noatalba first of all. Since the next “zone” of the game will be the Chapel of the palace the Priest doesn’t have somewhere to pray. This gave me the idea of an old ship he has turned into a temple. This also makes a good way to introduce some of FoC’s world religion into the mix. The history of the boat will also help to add some mystery that the players can investigate if they want or leave alone.

I imagined Noatalba would choose something grim and forbidding for his temple, like a fort like slave galleon. Something black with metal columns up along the hull. The priest is also meant to seem a little pathetic so his problem should be rather self pitying.

First Sight

As the players climb the ramps towards the palace they rise onto a flat area leading to a black galleon set into the Midden at an angle. The ship’s hull has been plated with crude iron with raised towers making it appear like a fortified wall. Short broken masts stab upwards barely scraping the bottom of the palace.

A small man stands near the hull fidgeting. He wears a robe of green and gold with a long trail and many frills. His hood is up and only two bright pinpricks of eyes can be seen. This is Priest Noatalba. 

This is the players introduction to the galleon and the priest. Approaching him they will hear his problem: some street urchins robbed him of his key and broke into the galleon. He can’t get in himself and he fears the urchins would have released the “nuns” from their cells.

The nuns will be an introduction to an enemy the players face in the next zone. Since players of this section will only be 2nd level the nuns will be a challenge that should be used sparingly. The urchins on the other hand should be easy to kill, even if it is slightly morally wrong to do so. With this in mind I can design the monsters that players will face in the galleon.

I do monster design before actually writing out each room because how a monster fights will be crucial to what sorts of spaces I put them in. The nuns are a intelligent giant frog like creature so a space where they can leap and use their sticky tongues will give them an advantage. An enclosed space will put the nuns at a disadvantage. Likewise urchins probably use traps and tricky fighting techniques that will have to be figured out before I put them anywhere.


Monster Design

I use a monster template to speed up the process of creating 5e monsters. I’ve already customized this to fit with what types of monsters exist in FoC. At the bottom of the monster I include a chart of ability modifiers and damage types.

Monster Name Here

Tiny, Small, Medium, Large, Huge, Gargantuan / Aberrations, Beasts, Constructs, Dragons, Giants, Humanoids, Monstrosities, Plants, Undead

AC: 20-10

HP: 10 (The monster’s death action goes here)

Speed: 30ft-120ft

Damage Weaknesses: various damage types go here

Damage Resistance: various damage types go here

Damage Immunities: various damage types go here

Special Weakness: special ways of defeating the monster go here

Attack Name Here: Melee weapon attack: +# to hit, reach 5-20ft., one target. Hit: 6 (2d6+3) type damage.

Attack Name Here: Ranged weapon attack: +# to hit, reach 20-120ft., one target. Hit: 6 (2d6+3) type damage.

Special Attack Here: Description of special types of attack go here.

STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
17 (+3) 9 (-1) 10 (+0) 10 (+0) 12 (+1) 12 (+1)
1 -5 16 to 17 3
2 to 3 -4 18 to 19 4
4 to 5 -3 20 to 21 5
6 to 7 -2 22 to 23 6
8 to 9 -1 24 to 25 7
10 to 11 0 26 to 27 8
12 to 13 1 28 to 29 9
14 to 15 2 30 10

Acid, bludgeoning, cold, fire, force, lightning, necrotic, piercing, poison, psychic, radiant, slashing, thunder

We can now create monsters for the Slave Galleon.

In a first play-test my players fought urchins. Some were less incentivized to kill children with no discernible monstrous traits. Later when I changed them to “rabid urchins” with sea urchin spikes the players had no problem. This will play in nicely to another side quest that will give the players the option of curing the urchins. Suddenly their slaughter will seem heartless again.

Rabid Urchin

Small / Humanoids

Someone has cursed these street urchins with a rabid fever and painful growths. The urchins have grown spikes and suppurating sores. They’re hunched over and sport nasty spikes.

AC: 10

HP: 15 (Upon death they trigger their spike attack.)

Speed: 40ft

Damage Immunities: poison

Dagger: Melee weapon attack: +3 to hit, reach 5ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d6+2) piercing damage.

Sling: Ranged weapon attack: +6 to hit, reach 60ft., one target. Hit: 3 (1d4+1) bludgeoning damage.

Urchin Spike: Anyone within 5ft of the urchin is pushed away 5ft as their spikes extend violently. Those pierced must make a CON or DEX save of DC 10 or take 2d8 poison damage. Other urchins hit by the attack take no damage and trigger their own spike attack.

STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
9 (-1) 10 (0) 9 (-1) 6 (-2) 6 (-2) 6 (-2)

Loot: 1gp

The urchins should be an easy opponent, with only the danger of their spikes. In a group they might really mess with the Adventurers as they push them around.

The original toads in my notes are from the main rules. Since I’ve added the detail that the toads are intelligent and nuns they should probably have different powers. Remember they’re supposed to appear in a later section, so their use here should be almost like a boss fight. The text in bold explains my reasons for powers and features.

Nun Toad

Large / Beasts

A huge toad with alert eyes, and a white stripe painted down it in chalk. Preparing potions against acid would aid in this fight. (In this description I’ve noted that potions or gear that helps against acid would help. I’ll make sure to hint about this in the Priest’s quest description as well.)

AC: 12

HP: 50

Speed: 15ft / leap 50ft (I never liked the fact that the giant toads can only leap the same distance they an walk.)

Sticky Tongue: Melee weapon attack: +7 to hit, reach 10ft., one target. Hit: 12 (1d8) bludgeoning damage plus 4 (2d4) acid damage. Once struck a target is grappled requiring a DC of 14 to escape.

Confessional Purification: Once stuck to a nun’s tongue the target is dragged into the air where they begin being coated by thick acidic juices to “cleanse” the spirit. This does 4d8 acid damage (The toad has no attacks while doing this, so tactically they should retreat once they’ve stuck an enemy. It’s also a good time to have a wave of different enemies.)

Telepathy: The nun speaks in whispers in the minds of those around it. As an action the nun can launch a mental assault on a target. If they fail a WIS save of DC 12 the nun can issue simple commands. (This was added after beginning the room descriptions.)

STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
9 (-1) 10 (0) 9 (-1) 6 (-2) 6 (-2) 6 (-2)

Loot: Toad Tongue. (25gp) This reach does 1d4 bludgeoning damage and grapples target when hit. The target must make a DC 10 DEX save to escape. (This item should be fun to let players grapple targets from a distance.)

With these enemies designed we can begin thinking about how to lay out the galleon. First lets sum up the information we want to use:

  1. The nun is a semi-boss fight that should challenge the players.
  2. The toad can leap, and can use its tongue to grapple targets from a distance.
  3. The urchins are pretty easy to kill, but on their deaths they trigger their spike attack, and this can cause a chain reaction with other urchins. The spike attack pushes targets away from the urchin.

Next time: Area Design and the Boss Fight.