Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Two Horrors from Nightwick Abbey

These two undead are commonly believed to be creations of the Baroness.

Broken dead  are the victims of the Baroness's torture on breaking wheels. Forever locked in their devices of death, they are enchanted to roll around and use their breaking wheels to attack intruders into the abbey. Sources from the siege of the abbey speak of the horrific absurdity of their rolling by and crushing men to death; all the while their skulls open wide in a wordless scream of ecstasy and pain.

Caged ones are a bit of a misnomer, as their hideous bodies are an amalgam of victims forced into a gibbet whose bodies fused together in the process of decomposing - whether by natural or unnatural means is unknown. It is likely that these poor victims waited in their camped cages awaiting the tortures of the Baroness and her cronies, not realizing that their confinement was, itself, the torture.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Calendar of the Dark Country

These are the months and days of the week as understood by the people of the Dark Country. I wanted them for my benefit, but note that I will continue to use our calendar in "translation" because it's clearer, and there are aspects of the Nightwick Calendar that would be confusing if I replaced it. I have included their corresponding feast days (always the first of the month, except for December/Saint Santa Claus.

Primus - March - St Gax
Elders - April - St Simian the Fool
Youngers - May - St Notappearinginthisfilm
Leftember - June - St Twiddle
Quintember - July - St Richard the Prior
Sextember - August - St Ralph the Liar
September - September - St Simon the Wise
Shocktober - October - St Toad
November - November - St Wayne the Pilgrim
December - December - Saint Santa Claus
Undecember - January - The Lady
Duodecember - February - St Valens the Turgid

The days of the week are:


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

20 Questions for the City State of the Invincible Overlord

1. What is the deal with my cleric's religion?
If they worship one of the common gods in the City State then they belong to one of the following temples (shown with their associated domains):

Odin - War, Trickery, Knowledge Thoth the Terrible - War, Knowledge Hamarkhis - Death Nephthlys the Spider God - Grave, Nature (Death) The Toad - Nature Manannan - Tempest

Also popular is Mitra, though his nearest temple is in Modron and not in the City State itself. Other temples, such as the Temple of the Gargoyle, the Temple of Pegana, and the Hellbridge Temple are too mysterious and spooky for players to be part of at the start.

2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment? There are shops throughout the City State though few that sell all of the standard equipment in one place. Shopping in my game is usually done during downtime to avoid tedium. Extremely special items may require playing out though.

3. Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster we befriended?
There is an armorer in the shadow of the Wizard's Keep in the thieves' quarter. There are other smiths found throughout the city.

4.Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?
Most would say Llangwellan the Blue, whose keep was referred to in the answer to the previous question. He rarely leaves his keep and usually his presence is felt in the City State when his Amazon guards go out on errands. A drunkard in the Cutthroat Inn said that he was looking for an apprentice, but that seems unlikely.

However, there are rumors that some votaries of the Hellbridge Temples are even more powerful in the arcane arts. If so, they are good at hiding it.

5. Who is the greatest warrior in the land? Without a doubt the Invincible Overlord himself. He was a peerless fighter even before becoming a demi-god.

6. Who is the richest person in the land?
Likely Psinar of the Outlands, heirophant of the Spider God. The Spider God temple is both dedicated to wealth and acts as a bank for many in the city. Muelash Bahdar the Moneylender may be a close contender, as well as the tax collectors scattered around the city.

The only true rival to Psinar though is likely to be the Overlord himself, or perhaps his vizier Balarnega.

7. Where can we go to get some magical healing?
The temples of Odin, Thoth, and Manannan offer healing at a price. The other temples are too sinister of aspect to even offer it.

8. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?
Some of these may be handled by any of the temples in the city; however, healing for some of the more major conditions may only be had at the temple of Mitra in Modron or in other temples in more far off lands.

9. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or I can join to get new spells?
No such guild exists but there are a few wizards one could apprentice under within the city. Strangely, there is a club for clerics regardless of alignment. Go figure.

10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage, or other expert NPC?
There is the Sages Guild near the Overlord's palace, the monkish devotees of Thoth who run the School of Ancient Knowledge, and of course the Temple of Thoth the Terrible itself.

11. Where can I hire mercenaries?
There is a mercenaries guild just north of the Tanglebones Tavern.

12. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed, or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?
Weapons may be peacebonded in some towns, like Modron, but in the City State they are disturbingly rampant. However, just about everything has been illegal at some point or another in the City State and it is often up to the constables which set of laws they want to enforce on a given day.

13. Which way to the nearest tavern?
Part of the conceit of my current two games is that each party is associated with a separate tavern; the Tanglebones Tavern and the Cutthroat Inn. The Tanglebones Tavern is a seedy joint where games of chance are run by trolls. The house usually wins. The Cutthroat Inn is both the cleanest inn in the thieves' quarter and the deadliest.

Those in the Cutthroat Inn have been debating moving to a different inn closer to Regal Street. I think the most likely one to settle on if the do that is the Seahawk Tavern, but who knows.

14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous? There's a ghost that haunts Oracle Lake everyone's been talking about recently. Finally defeating the Orcs of the Purple Claw is a big ask but would certainly bring fame. A group of flying snakes with extremely potent venom have been attacking patrols in the Dearthwood. Killing the snakes is unlikely to bring much fame, but it will at least bring the admiration of the Overlord's Light Cavalry.

15. Are there any wars brewing that I could go fight in?
The Overlord is currently on campaign in the west - the land that still belongs to the Tharabian horselords and is debatable between the City State and Viridistan. The Skandiks are always fighting someone, usually each other. Warwick has also taken the Overlord's absence as a chance to raid south, and the pirates of the Hargost and the orcs of the Dearthwood are always itching for a fight.

16. How about gladiatorial arenas with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?
The Cutthroat Inn and Tanglebones Tavern both have pit fights as entertainment, but real gladiators will want to seek out the gladiator school and stadium north of the city walls.

17. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I can join and/or fight?
The Hellbridge Temple is both secret and sinister and also seems to have some kind of in with the Overlord no one can quite explain. The Temple of Pegana also has a great deal of rumors surrounding it. There's also the Thieves' Guild, the Assassins Guild, and the Black Lotus whose members infiltrate other organizations to act as spies and assassins for the Overlord.

18. What is there to eat around here?
Each tavern has its own specialty. The Tanglebones Tavern serves "alligator milk" with fried trout while the Cutthroat Inn serves sour ale with biscuits and gravy.

19. Any legendary lost treasures I should be looking for?
The regulars at the Cutthroat Inn overheard a rumor that an ancient pirate fortress, long sunken in the Winedark Sea, has reemerged - presumably containing the loot from the sack of Modron many hundreds of years ago.

20. Where is the nearest dragon or monster with type H treasure?
There are rumors of a dragon in the Dearthwood, and also of stranger monsters that are perhaps even more puissant. A dragon formerly lived in the Majestic Fastness and its hoard is likely there still, though collected by groups of smaller monsters.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Baroness

I used to make these sorts of posts a great deal more, but I stopped because I didn't wish to provide spoilers for my online group - who reads this blog regularly. Since this villain is now gone, I can discuss her in some detail.

During the last generation to know the Sword Brothers before the siege of Nightwick Abbey, the Baroness came to the Dark Country from the county of Averois in the Realm. Her name is lost to, or perhaps deliberately hidden from, time. In the chronicles of the Sword Brothers she is referred to only as the Baroness, and those few sources from that era written by others that still survive she is called the Witch of Averois. She was the sole heir to a barony in the forest choked province of her birth. During her youth she proved to be a difficult child and one with a gift for manipulating others.  As she grew older her manipulative nature combined with her burgeoning womanhood into disturbing turpitiudes. Some legends tell of dalliances with both men and demons, but surely this could not have happened before she came to the abbey.

Her father sent her to the Dark Country to stay in Nightwick Abbey so that she would learn holiness at the feet of the Sword Brothers. In hindsight this move was extremely counterproductive, but one must remember that at that time the truth of the Sword Brothers was not yet known - their depredations of the countryside considered evidence of their unflappable devotion to the law instead of the influence of the Pit. It is said that he sent her there out of fear for her mortal soul, but there are dark whispers that even then Nightwick's taint was such that it could call out to the evil of heart.  Perhaps it called her and she forced her father to allow her to leave.  

From almost the very beginning her acts were blasphemous, and many think that it was her presence that first revealed the true evils in the abbey. She dressed herself as the Lady and demanded to be addressed as such. She would further modify the Lady's traditional garment to expose aspects of her womanly figure in deliberate mockery of the Lady's chastity. A segment of the Sword Brothers indulged her in this lustful play acting, often in public for all to see. She would select pagan captives to be brought back to the abbey, and many at the time thought these victims were to provide her with sexual favors.  However, when some escaped the horrors of the dungeons beneath they recounted how she delighted in the torture of her chosen victims and also had her devoted Sword Brothers visit pain upon her, forcing them to drink her blood as she drank the blood of her victims.

Some say it was she who first invited magicians to the abbey to begin construction of the Sunless Garden and the twisted army they failed to perfect in time for the siege. It is certainly true that she aided their efforts with her perverse knowledge of human anatomy - gained over her years of torturing captives - and that many of the forms of undead created within the abbey are her handiwork.  Notably those referred to as the Caged Ones and the Broken Dead were likely created from her necromantic experiments.

When the forces of the West finally stormed the abbey, some sources say, the Sword Brothers had been split into two factions. The most powerful and largest worshiped a demon that, in the year 1393, was determined to be none of than Armadeus, the Emperor of Lies. However, a smaller cult dedicated to "the Lady" (that is, the Witch of Averois), had splintered off and refused to acknowledge any power higher than her. When the men of the West came to the torture chambers under the abbey, they found these two cults were already slaying each other - despite the fact that the abbey was under siege from outside forces! The slaying of her mortal form is not recorded, though it clearly must have transpired given the events that followed.

In the years after the fall, rumors circulated of robed figures entering the ruins to pay homage to "the Lady." Those about the village of Nightwick believe she was fed on the blood of dogs, pigs, and other animals taken to the abbey in order to give her unnatural life. The Howling Kommandos first found evidence of her existence on the first level of the dungeon, where depictions of the Lady seemed to represent an oddly specific person rather than an icon of the church.  Kozel, a devotee of Saint Santa Claus, began to research this figure and discovered the title of the Witch of Averois. 

Soon after the Kommandos began encountering cultists who clad themselves in black robes covered in stylized blood drops. The worst of these were the berserkers, who added human skin leather to their uniform and, according to a cultist they interrogated, drank blood from "the Lady's" teats.  Eventually they made their way onto what they called "the Baroness" level, which seemed to be comprised mostly of her old torture chambers. After avoiding her for many sessions, the Kommandos were eventually able to build up a posse of enough men to dare to venture into her lair.  They slew her and even thought to cover her blood-drenched remains with holy water to keep her from rising again.  As of their last delve it seems to have been effective.  Her cult is dispersed and her evil is no more.

However, it is known that there are many "instances" of the abbey and that the realities within are particular to the men and women who seek to wrest fortune from its darkened halls.  Perhaps, in some other abbey, she still lives.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Mastering the Megadungeon Take 2: Tips for 5e

My First Megadungeon

My first attempt at this received some flak for using some Old School D&D blogosphere jargon terms.  I'm going to try to do better about that this time and make it more friendly for people who haven't been reading about these things for a decade now.  What better way to do that than to talk about how to make them for the latest version of D&D?

I am not going to cover why you would ever make a megadungeon in this post, but may handle it later if there is interest.  Instead I'm going to assume you already see the fun in exploring a big, weird space and in making one to be explored.  Based on your hypothetical desire to run this style of game, I'm going to assume you would benefit from a houserule: half xp for monsters but you get 1xp per 1gp of treasure found.  This will, hopefully, encourage players to spend resources going deeper into the dungeon to find treasure instead of trying to play the world's weirdest version of Rainbow Six.

Another assumption I'm making is that you want to follow the traditional megadungeon model where the level of the dungeon is roughly equivalent to the level of the PCs exploring it.  Unfortunately, this is difficult in 5e given the nature of low levels.  A fix I recommend (and that I use in the 5e version of Nightwick Abbey) is to have the first level of the dungeon have challenges for characters levels 1-3, and then each level after that is equal to one character (so dungeon level 2 is for character level 4, 3 is for 5, etc.).  If you have c. 70 rooms on a level this should work fine with the other methods mentioned in this post.

Nightwick Abbey was inspired by films such as the Blind Dead.

As I said in the first post, if you want to run your megadungeon for a long time and not get too bored with it, you're gonna need to have a theme that resonates with you.  The old "built by a mad wizard" potentially allows for a wide variety of potential content but may not grab you enough to work on it in the long term. My two most developed megadungeons (Nightwick Abbey and the Uz undercity) were based on the midcentury horror cinema I liked. A Tolkien fan might want to do a riff on the ruins of the Pits of Utumno or Angband. A fan of classic sci fi may want to do some version of the huge Krell machine in Forbidden Planet. Someone who is more familiar with the works of the big three pulp authors might want to base their dungeons on Mt Voormithadreth or the city in "Red Nails." There are a lot of possibilities but the important thing is that they resonate with you and are broad enough in terms of genre that you can draw from a wide variety of sources.

Once you have determined you're overall theme, you'll need themes for the different levels of your dungeon.  Gygax suggested starting with 6 levels, but I think 3 is plenty and you can get by even with one with the judicious use of something like the Greyhawk Construction Company (in Nightwick I used purple mist). Each level should have a theme, like "the catacombs," "the sunless garden," "the orc spawning pits," "the house of portals," etc. This theme should fit within the broader theme of the dungeon (catacombs in a haunted abbey, for example) but provide a different flavor from the levels adjoining it.  Each sub area should also fit within this theme.

Your New Best Friends

But what the hell do I mean by sub area? Your dungeon is going to be made up of smaller complexes with themes connected together on a level that has a theme in a dungeon that has a theme. M A R Barker, the creator of Tekumel, called these "Saturday Night Specials" - the dungeons within a dungeon.  What I did for Nightwick Abbey, and what i recommend for your first time, is that you generate a level using a 4 x 3 set of dungeon geomorphs like those created by Dyson Logos. His geomorphs and those of his imitators are 10x10 sections of dungeon that all have exits at the same points so that they can easily be connected into larger complexes.  Using Dave's Mapper can help you make a level with very little effort, and you can replace geomorphs that don't fit the theme very easily.  However, you'll most likely need to add the connections to other levels to the map in the forms of staircases, ladders, pits, chutes, etc. I cheated with Nightwick Abbey and made the nature of the dungeon such that space is bent within it and thus the stairs didn't need to match up. You could also draw your own, which I have done with more recent iterations of Nightwick Abbey.

There are of course other ways to create these sub-complexes, but we're going to stick with geomorphs right now because tools like the ones above make them easy to work with.  If you follow my advice, you should have about 12 geomorphs (with the open edged option on Dave's Mapper) to come up with sub area ideas for.  Now some of your complexes might just be "storage" or some similarly vague thing like that that doesn't differentiate that geomorph much from the background themes of the level and the dungeon as a whole.  That's fine, but you'll definitely want at least a few that are very unique.  The more you have generally the better.

But What's Inside a Room?

To stock any dungeon, I use the following algorithm to quiet my body thetans: between 1/3 and 1/2 of the rooms will have monsters in them. This number is taken from old school D&D but I find it works just as well in 5e.  I use a set of monster types including Bosses, Sub Bosses, Grunts, and Mooks.  The CRs of these will be dependent on dungeon level. For every thirty rooms I have 1 boss encounter, 2 sub boss encounters, 3 grunt encounters, and 4 mook encounters.  I've found that 12 geomorphs usually works out to 75-90 rooms, so a given level is likely to have three sets totaling 3 boss encounters, 6 sub boss encounters, 9 grunt encounters, and 12 mook encounters.  I tend to determine these encounters based on the whole level, but one could hypothetically stock every geomorph with a smaller version of this setup; however, I find this produces too many boss encounters, so I use total dungeon rooms to determine how many monsters exist.

There will be a number of rooms with treasure in them equal to the number of rooms with monsters in them.  Half of these will be a room that already has a monster, and half will be rooms where the treasure is merely hidden, trapped, or unguarded.  To determine the total amount of treasure in a dungeon level, I generate treasure as though the level was the lair of each boss on that level.  Typically this means 2-3 bosses. Look at their CR, and then roll in the DMG or pick based on whatever method you prefer the amount of treasure they would get for a creature of that CR.  I recommend then using courtney's treasure document to divide treasure into parcels and make the stacks of money something more interesting.  I then group these parcels into however many hoards I need to sprinkle around the dungeon (again equal to the number of monster encounters) and sprinkle them based on what I think is appropriate.

The map to a metroidvania, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

I hope to do an example of this kind of stocking soon, but this post is already one of my longest and I still have another topic to cover: Metroidvanias. This is a style of video game that has nonlinear paths but some are only accessible after certain progress is made in the game.  Usually this is in the form of new powers granted to the character that allow them to overcome previous obstacles; however, for D&D megadungeons I recommend just using interesting keys. Have areas on some levels that can't be accessed until a key is found or an object manipulated on a lower level.  This can make having to go through previously cleared areas to get to new dungeon levels more interesting because the players may realize "wait a minute, there's something still to be explored on this level and we just found that weird octagon stone like the hole in that wall."

I love that kind of stuff but it has a potential problem.  The first several times I tried to implement it, the PCs found the key before they found the lock and ended up selling it between delves. This is part of why I specify that the key should be on a lower level than what it unlocks.  It is still possible they'll sell or get rid of a key before using it, not realizing its true value, but sometimes it's more interesting if a door remains secret forever. If it wasn't, why have secrets in the first place?

Monday, March 4, 2019

Tales from the Cutthroat Inn: Against the Son of the Spider God!

The patrons of the Cutthroat Inn, along with the adventurers they had met outside the Halls of The Black Spider last time, awoke on the 3rd day of the month of the Crocodile and decided to make for the dungeon to kill the Son of the Spider God. At Green Sonya’ssuggestion they left the city by a new route – through Cutpurse Row and the Street of Shadows. This area was of ill repute, but Sonya knew that such a group of armed warriors as themselves was unlikely to be accosted.
The only hiccup came while passing near a group of the Overlord’s guards interrogating a sneak thief on the Street of Shadows. One of the guards directing people away from the scene spit at Einarrand called him a nonsensical, but clearly anti-skandik slur. Annapurna rested her hand on Einarr’s shoulder and assured him they didn’t have time for a struggle. Ion made sure to note the Alryan guard’s features, as well as listen in on the interrogation. It seems the sneak thief was accused of spying for Warwick, whose armies even now raided the area north of the Dearthwood.

The rest of their journey out of the city was uneventful, and indeed their trip through the Dearthwood has little to speak of as well. While the group camped, Ion and Sonya did see some armed men in camoflauge pass near them, but the Skandik scout they had hired in the City State, a massive man name Grafari, had ably hid their location. Grafari was also able to find the entrance to the dungeon after a minor error by Einarr got them lost.
Once inside the dungeon they quickly made their way to the chapel where they had previously fought both moonrakers and a flamming skull. This time there was no skull (nor the remains of one), but a door to the north had a green, flickering light coming through the cracks and the party realized their was one in the next room. Grafari moved ahead to cover the bottom of the door with the party’s bedrolls so that they might slip past without the creature noticing.

Beyond the chapel they found a great hall with numerous doors. The first they checked was locked, and they realized that the key the found earlier on an acolyte they slew must have winded up with either one of the dead party members or Wickerbobbile, who was not present. Grafari attempted to pick the lock and failed, but Sonya was able to fix his mistakes and grant access inside. The room was bare except for a large coffer of dark wood and iron bars. It was locked with a great padlock. Ion attempted to trigger any potential traps with a shove from his thaumaturgy spell. Grafari then tried to open it and found that Ion had been unsuccessful as a burst of acrid gas hit him in the face. Luckily it seems to have lost its potency with time.
The chest contained a great deal of coins, mostly copper and electrum, and the party decided to leave it either for the end of this excursion or a later one due to its immense weight. At this point Father Thorne awoke from a drug-fueled “meditation” and remembered a strange feature he noticed in the previous hall. This feature was an attempt by the builders to make the fitted stones make a spider-web shape. Investigating further Father Thorne realized that there was a small stone in the shape of a “mummy” within the spider-web feature.

Pressing it with his mage hand, he revealed a secret door that seemed to be a bedroom of some sort. Under the bed was a smaller coffer that was not locked but was smeared with a green goop the group correctly surmised to be poison. The party took some time figuring out how to open it, moving the bed, in the process to get it out of the way and to prop open the door. This attracted a giant spider, which Einarr spotted before it was able to ambush the party. A short battle ensued with the spider slain relatively easy and with Father Thorne marveling at the powers Set had granted Ion.
Father Thorne then opened the chest with his mage hand, revealing a great deal of “wizardly” accouterments, a book titled The Codex Arachnos, a spider-silk robe, a silver broach in the shape of a spider with emerald eyes, and a scroll of protection from poison.
This last item was given to Einarr, in the hopes that he could use it to strengthen his resolve against the Son of the Spider God when it was found.

The next room they checked turned out to be a small hall with a large tapestry depicting a giant spider surrounded by smaller spiders and the hanging bodies of human victims. Behind this tapestry was an occluded door, which Anex opened to reveal a small room in the same style as the trapped rooms the party had encountered weeks ago. Two doors led out, and the party debated which one to take. After noticing that one area was far less trafficked, Grafari suggested they go that way and Anex opened the door without further hesitation.
The door took some effort to open but after doing so Anex could not figure out why. No bonds were present, the door swung easily on its hinge, and no object had been moved out of its way. She found herself in a huge hall while the others stood a few feet behind her in the trapped chamber. As she was pondering this mystery an enormous spider appeared before her, larger than the one fought previously and far uglier. It reared up as though to spray web but seemingly nothing emerged from it. However, Anex suddenly disappeared from the party’s sight.

The rest of the party, unsure what had happened, moved in to fight the spider. Some shooting and skirmishing while Einarr and Green Sonya rushed to engage. Ion was able to notice that bits of Anex’s form appeared above the ground where she had disappeared, as though poking through linen bonds. Anex was wrapped in invisible web, and when the web covered her eyes she could see that the whole hall was covered in the stuff. The spider then attempted to attack Einarr, its fangs bursting through his shield twice but not connecting with his flesh. Then it disappeared.
Ion, hoping the creature had not moved, opened his mouth and spread forth a great gulf of sand from Set’s desert. For a brief moment the outline of the spider was visible and the party was able to attack it, though it seemed only magical attacks did any harm. At this point, Anex, who could see the creature through the webs, burst through her bonds to find herself back in the world of the living.
The party waited for a second attack but none came. Anex relayed that the hall was filled with invisible webs and Father Thorne set out to set the webs ablaze. The hall began to fill with smoke and fire, and we paused the adventure here until next week.