Monday 27 July 2015

On-the-Fly Village Generation

Ah yes, the humble generic D&D village. The well, the washerwomen, the loosely described homes, and who can forget the remarkably large tavern?
This is all especially true since the nearest adventure locale is a few miles away and so you haven't really thought about this place. You can just sit back and say "uh yea uh sure" to most requests the players will make about local village services, so it isn't a big deal.

But! What if it could be ever so slightly more interesting? Here's a way to do that.

Some notes:
- This is meant to spice up a generic village, not create a proper adventure locale like Scenic Dunnsmouth. If you want a proper adventure locale, Logan at Last Gasp has got you covered.
- This is for creating a village quickly at the table when your players stop in. If they hang around, definitely bulk up the descriptions in the place between sessions.
- This is for making a small village of a few hundred people, most of whom the PCs won't meet immediately.


  • Throw a bunch of stuff onto the table. These are the buildings in the village centre.
    • I use a handful of the ever-useful Jenga blocks due to their excitingly chunky shapes.
    • You could also use dice, cards, or possibly snacks.
    • Don't worry too much about how many, 10-20 is about right. You can always add more later.
    • Every village will have a watersource, a church, and an alehouse. Place these wherever.
      • The Watersource depends on the area. Mostly this will be a well in the largest open space in town.
      • If you've got a range of socially acceptable gods, feel free to roll for which one the Church is devoted to. Otherwise it's the prevailing religion of the region.
      • An Alehouse (or Public House from where we get the term Pub) was the current house in the village where someone's wife (an Alewife) had finished brewing up a whole lot of ale. This was important because the water all stank like shit.
        In medieval times this could be any woman who wanted to make a living, but in the Early Modern era it was married women working alongside their husbands in an increasingly male-dominated industry.
        If the village is on a thoroughfare the alehouse will likely be the classic country pub where the proprietors live upstairs. In a backwater this is definitely just someone's house.
    • Every village will have three interesting tradespeople amongst the Generic Townfolk who are probably farmers or something. Place these wherever.
      • Three tradespeople probably isn't that realistic, but it's enough choice without being overwhelming.
      • I drop some dice on the Vornheim buildings chart to generate these tradespeople, but you could roll on my failed medieval careers table and re-roll anything that's dumb. Or not! It's up to you!
    You're done! You just tossed some stuff on the table, added a few key buildings, and added some random tradespersons. That's enough to get going with and only took a minute or two.

    In the example below, there was a house way out to the side so I made it the Church. The standing block totally represents the steeple.
    The blue gem is the location of a well in the village green.
    I usually make the Alehouse one of the blocks that lands on-edge (marked with coin in picture) but if you're using dice pick one of the 6's.
    Rolling for tradesmen I got Mason, Fortuneteller and Furrier, so I marked them with the coloured disks.


    Now the PCs can enter the village and start deciding what to do. When you've got a chance, you can quickly establish some relationships between people in the town. I use whichever people the PCs have interacted with so far, which usually ties the Alewife and a few of the Tradespeople into a little web of intrigue.
    Vornheim, again, has a Connections Between NPCs Diagram which is very helpful in this regard.
    Alternatively Logan has a list of relationships in the post I linked to before.

    Make sure to add some sort of small-town intrigue in case the party ever comes back. It doesn't always have to be secret cults and mutant children chained in basements, just a bit of simmering jealousy brought to the boil by the sexy Fighter when he passed through or maybe a kid who wants to learn from the Magic User in spite of his apprenticeship to his father's trade.

    Sunday 5 July 2015

    So I Ran Deep Carbon Observatory

    ... and my players want to go back?!

    Usually I'd start this off with a few choice quotes from my players, but I got 7 sessions out of this with potentially more if they return.
    Instead, here's a list of where characters and retainers died.
    • Davril Burtey of Thujin Vale, Level 1 Magic User. Saw two wizards dueling on a sunken bridge. Jumped into Wall of Fog, shanked one in the back but was thrown into the water where he was attacked by a giant 3-metre pike. Managed to put out its eye before being devoured. Rest of party booked it out of there when his familiar erupted into a smoke demon.
    • Wit "Simon" Tamdoun, Level 0 Lovable Urchin. Tied to a rope and sent diving down into the river to inspect a suspected golden boat. Accidentally used as bait for a giant 3-metre pike with one eye which dragged the skiff into greater danger.
    • Dwain William Arthus Remus Froide (aka D.W.A.R.F), Level 2 Dwarf. Lowered on a vast chain into the infinite blackness beneath the earth. Attacked and eaten by a giant bat creature after an hour of descent. He never saw the bottom.
    • Labradoodle, Labrador 1/Poodle 1. Thrown at living tapestry woven from silk and bones because dogs eat bones. Dog's bones added to tapestry in short order.
    • Titus DeCosta, Level 2 Cleric. Crassly asked a bunch of skinny chemical ladies where the nearest treasure was. They snarkily replied that he could find it by jumping off the nearby ledge into infinite blackness. To my incredulous amusement, he believed them.
    • Jack "Danger" Wilbur, Level 1 Fighter. Fought chemical women to avenge Titus' death. He fought well despite being occasionally charmed, but was slain when their burning chlorine fingers turned his heart to glass.
    • Fungonius, Level 5 Cleric. Asked toxic beings from the elemental plane of poison to coat his blade in a poison so virulent that it can kill anything is touches. Accidentally released said toxic beings and exploded in a cloud of poison so virulent it can kill everything it touches. They were very embarrassed by this and shouted their apologies to the rest of the rapidly fleeing party.

    So what's the deal?

    You probably already know the content because if you read my blog you likely move in the same RPG niche-in-a-niche as me and so own it. 
    If you don't, please read a review from one of those scrubs who reviews something without running it first. Ha ha.
    But really, do. I don't want to retread old ground and other people review things way better.
    Oh shit some people did run it before reviewing it.

    So after that you will know that it is four main areas, the flooded town of Carrowmore, the more widely flooded area before the Dam, the no longer flooded area behind the dam, and the eponymous dungeon at the end.

    It is basically a humanitarian disaster zone filled with wacko giant animals and crazy people. Everything will kill you so stay in the goddamn boat.

    This is my favourite monster text in the world.

    The Writing and Art.

    You've got to talk about the writing if Patrick is writing something.
    And the art if Scrap is drawing something.

    These are both things you must get to appreciate them.
    I would show my players a picture of a giant killer platypus or a newt man and they would say "it looks like a child's drawing" or something to which I wanted to say "Do you not SEE the FURIOUS ENERGY in these penstrokes!? Do you not FEEL the lines STRUGGLING TO ESCAPE THE PAGE?!?" but obviously this is an in-crowd thing.
    Patrick's writing is often difficult to parse in the heat of play, to the point where I would often miss something or fill in a gap only to find myself having to paper over contradictions later. Luckily I had read the thing a bunch of times but you still miss stuff.
    But it is really nice to read and jams PSYCHIC ENERGY into your head. Reading through the book the first time there is no overview or explanation of events so your first reading is the same experience that your players get when they're playing through the thing.
    If I wasn't into his writing already I'd probably find it irritatingly difficult to parse.
    I think that's an in-crowd thing too.

    I like it and you likely like it and if you don't like it you are not part of the social clique and thus likely too ill-bred to take part in a discussion of Stuart's work. Harrumph.

    Anyway, you've definitely got to give it a good read before you run it for real. It's dense and hard to parse but there isn't ever a wasted word. Everything is beautiful desolation and sadness.

    Back to the art, it's scribbly and Scrappy. I like this because I appreciate stuff where it's close enough and you have to fill in the blanks with your brain.
    Somehow wooden jenga blocks create a more realistic dungeon environment than the most badass modular terrain. Same thing with these things. The golem looks like a scribbly motherfucker but he's big and blocky and imposing and that's enough.
    It's the same amount of detail as the players need in their heads, basically. I'm a fan.

    The only thing is THE MAPS. Other people have said the maps but THE MAPS.
    It's actually all fine and usable. No scale, but I didn't actually notice that myself! My Drowned Lands were big enough to get from Carrowmore to the Dam in half a day or so by boat. Especially boat pulled by horse until horse is eaten.
    BUT THEN. The Observatory dungeon itself. Room sizes don't line up being the main thing, there are descriptions that imply a much bigger room than shown. I kind of messed up the first room due to accidental map problems, and made the mistake of demarcating the room then looking at its contents.
    I stuck with the side view rather than go the top-down route
    For a game with a fair amount of gameplay based around depth, we haven't really cracked the 3D space problem yet. That's not Scrap's fault though.

    See? Perfectly workable!

    Things that make this thing special

    So the main thing with this module is how fucking awful it is to get to the actual dungeon.
    This is so abnormal as to be almost unique. At least as far as I know.
    Most times there's an outside-dungeon area detailed it's a hex map around the dungeon with a few landmarks and factions based on the dungeon's factions and the occasional joke encounter.
    Here the players were like "Dungeon full of ancient treasures? Let's go!" and found themselves slogging through the worst place in the world. Every time someone suggested turning back others said "we haven't even reached the dungeon yet!".

    Deep Carbon Observatory is typified by its complete lack of shit-giving. The dungeon is completely unrelated to all the stuff happening in the valley. The creatures in the overworld are completely unrelated to the dungeon. This isn't "goblins are attacking the village please clear the goblin dungeon", it's "the dam broke and now everything is horrible and you are part of the problem".
    To get to the dungeon you've got to slog your way through a mile of grim yet impersonal horror. Everything is starving or will starve. The people, the animals, even the immortal golem guardians of the dam. Things are terrible but they don't care whether you think they're terrible or not. They just Are, and here's you trying to make a quick buck off the situation maybe while also hopefully not spending any time rolling up a new character.
    This fits my M.O. perfectly, by the way.

    Another thing that doesn't give a shit about you is the giant. When you get to the actual dungeon this fucking giant follows you around squeezing through passages and being a scary fucker.
    My giant pretended to be a freaky frieze that moved about when the players were in another room, until someone got close to inspect him and he tried to scoop them up and gobble them.
    My players rolled impeccably with this guy, but damn were they scared.
    My favourite tactic was to have the giant form a tube with his hand atop a ladder hole. When someone climbed up the ladder I'd say something like "The rung holes stop, and now there's a lumpy rippled stone tube going up to the top. There's sort of three regular striations you could climb quite easily though so it's no big deal" and IT WAS THE GIANT'S HAND THEY WERE CLIMBING INTO.
    This worked twice (two separate sessions) but the players rolled annoyingly well and the giant killed nobody.
    They killed him with one of their hyper-poisonous crossbow bolts "blessed" by the Poison Dimension's Tox-Men in exchange for their freedom. Now there is no giant but there are three naive and curious beings formed of the platonic ideal of poison down there. They promised to give the players a head start of one year before they emerge to explore the world which is like the 15th player-created apocalypse scenario in my campaign.

    Just look at this fucker.

    Another fairly special thing is the Crows who are a rival adventuring party.
    My players sped through the area so fast that they only saw fleeting glimpses of the Crows in the distance, it was when they emerged from the dungeon that they encountered them properly.
    I played them as real dicks, Hooloch stood out in the open atop the wall where nobody at the bottom could hit him and chatted obnoxiously to gain information.
    This was my downfall since someone critted him with a crossbow bolt made out of super-poison. My bad. At least Ghar Zaghouan got someone with the eye-bolt that allows him to see out of their eye.
    If my players had been slower I would have started smacking them with the Crows but there was no need.

    There's also a sequence of events at the end which tells you what will happen in the ensuing weeks, months and years if the players don't stop it.
    It's basically Raggi-level your-world-is-fucked events, but at least it's over a few years so your players can totally try to stop it.
    This is all good, adventure-generating stuff.

    A final thought - everything is very scientificy.
    The dungeon is not properly magic, it is mainly deep and warped fantastical science. You've got core samples of strata showing a geological layer of compressed vampires and women wearing robes of chlorine. If you kill said women an Elemental of "high atomic weight" pursues you.
    And in terminology terms, from the Profundal Zone to Insolation, I needed to whip out Wikipedia a few times just to look things up.
    Nobody glimpsed the weird stuff through the telescope (yet?) but I think the Underdark here could be typified as deeply fucked.
    Actually Deeply Fucked would be a fantastic name for an Underdark/Deep Sea module.

    I had the giant's face look like this.

    Stop rambling! Was it fun in play?

    Yea it was great fun.

    The opening choose-the-least-worst-option thing worked incredibly well. Everything the players did was balanced out by at least one horrible thing happening that they couldn't stop.

    The drowned lands were good because everything in the water would eat them and was probably giant. There was no potential recourse to stabbing things.
    I love the witch. The witch is amazing. I had the children all yell out "Nooooo!" and things like it's a kid's show, all the while their parents patted them on the heads and said "quiet dear" and tried to bargain for food and passage back to town for their children.
    All the while the witch slid under the water, making ripples in the black corn.
    The players spent a good while thinking of how to kill the witch and eventually just said "fuck that, I'm not messing with this chick" and rowed away.
    On their way back they discovered half the children and parents on the roofs had blank, dead eyes and stared silently at them as the party drifted back in. They gave their spare skiff to the non-creepy parents and kids, spent another good while thinking of how to kill the witch, then said "fuck that, we're still not messing with this chick" and rowed away.
    If (when) this comes back to bite them, at least they'll have some foreknowledge.

    They baited the golems around the place for a while but didn't want to attack, so they climbed the dam and got in that way. Pursuing golems were forestalled by skillful use of oil and some lucky rolls.
    That means they never entered the dam itself.

    The profundal zone behind the dam was quieter. After the constant we're-gonna-die of the drowned lands, it was almost relaxing.
    They ended up not helping the People of the Reeds vs the Kapeks. I had the Reed People with shitty weapons, sort of long umbrellas made of reeds that they'd ordinarily use to just push the Kapeks off their floating reed houses.
    The Kapeks themselves had no weapons, just gummy bites and tiny claws.
    The players watched from their camp in a sun-scoop as the two ancient peoples slowly fought to the death like tired octogenarians.

    Later they emerged from the dungeon to find the Kapeks had won and the surviving Reed People had been driven back to their ancient chieftains. I had the chieftains be bumbling and confused and amazed by modern technology and apparently unable to understand that the village was threatened. The Reed People said they had lost their souls.
    The players tricked the Reed People into thinking that the Halfling had given a chieftain's soul back by mind-controlling him into marching across the river and assaulting the reed village.
    "Finally, we did something to help people!" said one player.

    The Dungeon itself is awesome. I've already talked about the giant, but there is a dense profusion of cool stuff here.
    It is like a funhouse dungeon that ties together. Everything is wacky but related to the fallen underdark empire theme.
    There are no truly empty rooms and each place speaks of what this facility might have once been.
    They'd barely explored the smaller stalactite before getting out of there alive, but they completely understood that this is all weird shit from deeper underground that they could barely comprehend.
    It helps that the minor treasure they took (silk bales, diamond hearts of salt dryads, bags of heatproof ceramic, a mining machine that runs on blood) was worth more than any treasure hoard yet seen.

    Being chased by the giant was a lot of fun (for me) and basically God That Crawls 2.0 for them. Luckily the group composition has changed significantly since I ran God That Crawls last year so it was a new experience. The giant was shutting them off from a known exit, rather than chasing them as they tried to find an exit, so I think this is the superior being-chased-by-an-amorphous-horror experience. Plus a man shaped thing that wants to eat you is for more horrific than an amorphous goop that wants to eat you.
    I enjoyed the Salt Dryads a whole lot. I figured that they'd act nicer towards people with higher charisma, but apparently everyone's an uncultured oaf in the party at the moment. Persuading a character to jump to his death was possibly one of my finest moments, the fact that a terrible elemental will now be hunting them down for the hearts (which they've already sold) is even better.

    The Tox-Men in their sealed glass container were fun. I had a pressure-sealed hatch in the floor that allowed them to exchange stuff with the players, and they totally wanted to explore the world and begged the players to let them out. Any object they touch turns completely to poison, so a player exchanged 20 hypertoxified crossbow bolts for a promise that he'll open their escape hatch as long as they give the party a head start to get out.
    "A year? How about a year?" they said, and the players were all "oh awesome we were going to say an hour but that's much better." 
    If you touch a crossbow bolt directly you have to Save or Die. Anyone pierced by a bolt explodes into a cloud of noxious green gas, no save.
    Another player tried to exploit them by making them turn his sword into super-poison, but they thought he was letting them out and got exploded into poison himself. C'est la mort.
    Can you tell I enjoy dangerous monsters that talk?

    Final Scores:
    7+ sessions of play
    Average of 0.7 PC deaths/session.
    2-3 apocalyptic scenarios inbound.

    It is good and you should run it.