Sunday, December 17, 2017

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

Part 1
Part 2

4. The Slime Castle

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


The hardest part is reaching the dry seafloor.

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

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

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

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

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

The Slime Castle

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Local Allies

The displaced merfolk are the obvious one.

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

You can probably figure out which one I like better.

by Lloyd Allen

5. The Queen's Castle

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

The key is made from a rib.


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Queen's Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The boss is this:

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

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

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

Alternate name: the Prince Deferred.

Local Allies

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

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Moon Castle Part 2: Skeleton Castle and Counterfeit Castle

See part 1 here.

3. The Skeleton Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. The Counterfeit Castle

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

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

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

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

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

After 1 Castle Cleared

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

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

After 2 Castles Cleared

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

After 3 Castles Cleared

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

After 4 Castles Cleared

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

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

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

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

After 5 Castles Cleared

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

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

The Miniboss is the Counterfeit Dragon, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Moon Castle: a Zelda-Inspired Dungeon Campaign

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

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

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

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

by zikwaga

The Moon Castle

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

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

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

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

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

That was a generation ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Eight Dungeons

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

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

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

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

The first two dungeons are common knowledge.

1. The Forest Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. The Siege Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expect lots of gladitorial matches.

Other Castles

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 5, 2017


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

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

The encounter is shit because the encounter has no impact.

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

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

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

by Jakub Rozalski
How To Increase Impact

Deplete Resources

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

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

Killing Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mutating Your Character Sheet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And everyone knows to avoid gurgans.  Ew.

"I Search The Body"

Yeah, bread and butter.  I know.

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

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

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

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

Gaining XP

Yes, this is a thing that exists.

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

Relates to Other Parts of the Map

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Fluff is Okay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using Impact Wrong

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

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

Monday, October 2, 2017


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


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

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

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

They lay fertile eggs, but compulsively devour their young.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

picture unrelated
by Marco Nelor

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

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

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

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

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

Other Wurms

Slow, Conquerer, and Heartstring.  TBA.