Friday, 31 July 2020

Crafting Your Own Gravesite During Downtime

I love the Meta Prompt Generator that Lexi wrote over at A Blasted, Cratered Land. It is brilliant and evocative. I have used it before to write a d20 table about What Weird Thing Happens in the City at This Time of Day? I used it again and got another great prompt: 

death, downtime, and crafting

Obviously this means that I wrote some rules for a new downtime activity: crafting your own gravesite.

Crafting Your Own Gravesite During Downtime

When you have spare time on your hands, you may use it to craft components of your own gravesite. This can be geographically linked to a burial site, or be composed of extraneous articles which you carry with you. Crafting a proper gravesite, to the specifics of your personal tastes and the trappings of your religion or culture, can help ease your passage into the overworld, or allow the prevention or promotion of your undeath. 
As you prepare for death, you can choose in your heart of hearts a goal for your passage. Upon death, and subsequent interment of your body, you make an Interment Roll, against a target number (TN) based on the goal you chose. To make an Interment Roll, roll 1d6 and add any bonuses from Gravesite Construction Activities. Equaling or surpassing the TN allows the success of your goal. 

The goals and TNs are:
  1. to seek a secured place in a certain overworld (your god's version of heaven, reincarnation, blessed darkness for eternity, etc.) — TN 6
  2. to prevent your corpse's return as a creature of undeath — TN 8
  3. to expedite your corpse's return as a creature of undeath—with autonomous control over yourself, rather than being enslaved to some necromancer or dark priestess — TN 10

Gravesite Construction Activities

For each week of downtime spent constructing gravesite accoutrement, you can accomplish one of these tasks. Each completed task provides a +1 bonus on your Interment Roll. You must detail the process by which you construct these things, plus how they appear when finished. You always succeed in the construction of the aspect, as long as you spend the full week of downtime. 

Sourcing and Securing a Grave Site

  • A grave site must be physically located in a place. This can be your hometown, a place significant to you during life, or any random place you desire. To do work on this grave site, you must be physically present, or send an agent in your stead to be present themselves.
  • Securing a burial plot usually costs between 100 and 1000gp. The cost is usually on the higher end in urban areas with high land values. In more rural areas the cost is on the lower end. 
  • A shelf in a columbaria (resting place for cremation urns) may cost up to 50% less than a burial site. Creating a full Tomb or Mausoleum building can cost 200–300% more than a regular burial site. 

Planning Funerary Proceedings

  • This is often dictated by local custom and religion. Some call for mass gatherings of mourners, with extended family travelling long distances to pay their respects. Other ask for only close family and friends to gather, tell stories and jokes, and feast on the deceased's favourite foods. 
  • You must prepare a general description of the proceedings. 

Magical Wards, Ensorcellements, and Rituals

  • The specifics of these are dictated by your goal. 
  • Seeking a secured place in your chosen overworld usually requires an ensorcellment on your corpse. This means you must arrange for this to be done after your time of death. Maybe your friend can do it, or maybe you need to pay a deposit (100-500sp) for a skilled priest or magician. 
  • A magical ward cast over your gravesite can prevent your body's unwanted rise into undeath. This can be done before you have been interred, and usually wards will last for a long time (100-500sp). 
  • A ritual must be performed to help ensure your rise from death to undeath as an intelligent undead. This ritual must be performed as you are interred, so it must also be prepared in advanced, and paid for, of course (100-500sp). 

Creation of a Headstone, Memorial, Pyre, Cairn, Sarcophagus, etc.

  • A grave site requires a marker. These are traditionally made from stone, and carved by a professional. You may choose the specifics to your pleasure, and will usually need to pay around 100sp to have it prepared. It will then need to be stored until such time of your death, at the cost of 1sp per month. Might be smart to pre-pay for a few years. 

Writing an Epitaph

  • An epitaph is a snippet of writing—sometimes a catchphrase, quote, or piece of scripture—which is written at the gravesite of a deceased person. 
  • You as a player need to physically write down an epitaph. Your other party members can vote on your drafts with their approval and disapproval. An epitaph needs to pass with unanimous support to be considered complete. The writing still takes one week of in-game time regardless of your number of drafts. 

Saturday, 25 July 2020

High Lethality as Game Balance

Lethality and Game Balance are two concepts in RPG design and deliberation which have been covered again and again. Jeff from the eponymous Jeff's Gameblog has written about how low level and high lethality play is more fun for him as a referee, and his players. The Principia Apocrypha (written by Ben Milton, Steven Lumpkin, and David Perry) contains advice about how high lethality injects real tension into the game, because players who know that their characters really might die will tread carefully through the dungeon. Many other writers have discussed lethality and threat of character death as adding fun to their games. I usually agree with these people. 

There are—of course—other types of games where character death can be frustrating. If you want to play a campaign where you're taking your beloved character from level 1 to level 20, learning and growing over time, power to you. 

In terms of Game Balance, I find that people online often discuss this concept in regards to 5e D&D. Homebrew classes need to be balanced—Unearthed Arcana material needs to be balanced—encounters need to be balanced—magic items need to be balanced. Things might "break the game." Things need to be "fair." These are always subjective things, or if they're objective, they've been reduced down to such simple mechanical math-based attributes as to suck all the fun out of playing pretend. 

In OSR play we often ignore balance. Or rather, we have more important things to focus on—cool new monsters we invented, the interesting decisions the players make, interpreting the die rolls we made on a litany of random tables. We know that combat is avoidable, and that if a deadly encounter is 'unbalanced,' the players can 'balance' it by simply avoiding the situation, or fictionally gathering enough resources (allies, big weapons, ancient spells) to make it balanced. Again, the Principia Apocrypha has a lot to say about this which I won't bother repeating any more than I already have. 

Something I don't hear very often, however, is how high lethality can provide many of the so-called 'benefits' of game balance without having to worry about fiddly math and endless play testing. 

Ability Score Generation Methods

Many OSR-leaning gamers enjoy the random nature of generation methods, and love the stories that emerge when somebody with 6 STR ends up surviving longer than someone with 17 STR. Others criticize this random generation, saying it penalizes those players who roll low stats, taking away their enjoyment, for no reason. However, I find that most people laying that criticism make a character with the expectation that they will play them over and over in many sessions, over the entire campaign. When you expect your characters to die often, rolling bad stats doesn't become an overarching grey cloud over the entire campaign—it is simply one of the characters you roll. Maybe your player skill allows a low stat character to survive, or maybe the survival of the fittest kicks in, and any low stat character you roll dies quickly, until you roll a high stat one and they survive. Either way, high lethality flattens the overall distribution of ability score rolls over the lifetime of the entire campaign

Class Balance

In the GLOG, nobody cares about class balance. Where's the fun in that? Plus, with 477+ classes, who has time to peruse all these listings to compare and contrast for balance? Why even bother, since nobody will ever double-check your work? Much better to just create a class by focusing on awesome ideas, and diegetic abilities which cannot truly be balanced anyways. This results in another interlink between high lethality and game balance—in a campaign with high lethality, over time, characters with levels in 'weak' classes will die. And if they don't, their shortcomings become clear and it is an awesome story to behold this character survive time and time again despite their shortcomings. Characters with levels in 'strong' classes will survive, or it becomes clear that it actually doesn't matter very much. Either way is a win-win. 

Encounter Design

Many OSR referees agree that properly telegraphing danger is a key concept when players are facing monsters and traps. Giving players information before they make a decision that might get their character killed is an important part of play. When your dungeon is stocked with encounters of varying difficulties, and you telegraph danger beforehand, and the players are aware that the dungeon is unbalanced, they will self-select encounters for combat, and encounters for trickery, stealth, parley, and other tactics. There is no need to balance encounters for character level when the risk of lethality is real—players understand the risk and won't push themselves too far. They know that they will die if they do so. Taking away that risk of lethality just makes unbalanced encounters nonsensical. How can something be too powerful if it never actually kills you?


I wrote this whole thing in kind of a rambly method over the past couple days after having the idea rattling around in my brain for a few months. Apologies for any writing which is indecipherable. 

My general point is that beyond the traditional reasons we all profess for loving high lethality-play, it also provides an overarching balance to the game over long periods of time, releasing referees from the work of balancing their encounters, homebrew classes, and ability score generation. The meatgrinder balances it all for you. 

Thursday, 23 July 2020

What Weird Thing Happens in the City at This Time of Day? [random tables]

Over at A Blasted, Cratered Land, an excellent blog where you can find tons of content, Lexi put together a Meta Prompt Generator, which mixes and matches tags to prompt snippets of writing which are "conceptually dense and useful immediately at the table." 

I clicked a few times until I got something that sparked me:

d20 tables, cities, and time

Here is my result (took me longer than I thought it would—20 things is a lot of things):

What Weird Thing Happens in the City at This Time of Day?
  1. The hour right before dawn: garbage-pickers line up at the depot to trade their wares for pennies. 
  2. Just as the sun is rising: the lime bats return from the fruit groves and roost in the chapel rooftop. 
  3. Shortly after the sun peeks over the rooftops: a giant songbird, taller than a siege tower, circles the city and sings the morning song, which only penetrates the ears of noble-born citizens. 
  4. Once the dew burns off the cobbles: buckboard-for-hire drivers throng pedestrians, offering transportation in their carriages, each pulled by a different animal—reverse ostrich (two heads, one leg), giant fleas, enchanted rolling melons, horses with human teeth and hairstyles, etc. 
  5. When the shops are all open: you can buy anything you can think of—trained apes, gems with souls inside them, vegetables out of season. 
  6. Approaching lunchtime: secretaries and assistants all start running around outside clutching pieces of parchment with their masters' lunch orders scrawled on them. 
  7. When the noontime bells ring: philosophy students gather on the steps of the Academy and settle debates with ritual palm fronds duels. 
  8. When the afternoon sea breeze starts up: beachgoers congregate along the foreshore and drop their clothes to partake in an 'air bath'. 
  9. After the daytime church services let out: professional janitors discreetly enter churches to clean up the spittle and drool from all the speakers of tongues. 
  10. Right before the king leaves his castle to go hawking: a servant releases a sack full of clockwork doves, each stamped with the seal of the king ("IF FOUND PLEASE RETURN TO CASTLE").
  11. When the shadows get long: shadow-brownies depart the manor homes on the Purple Hilltop and descend into the dock district to repair ropes left out on doorsteps. 
  12. After the shops close but restaurants open: members of certain city political parties can be found at certain restaurants making certain orders for food, which are code for certain actions that their followers will take later this evening. 
  13. When the last traders leave the market square and the first youthful ruffians enters: lean youths lounge amongst the abandoned stalls and leer at each other across the square. 
  14. In the hour of indigo sky when the sun has alighted behind the rooftops: gangs of jackbooted thugs begin prowling for registered voters to beat into submission. 
  15. When the first star is spotted in the sky: ships with planned journeys more than one day long set out from the docks, guided by the single star's light, to make the best of the tides at this time. 
  16. Once the lamplighters have finished lighting lamps: they descend into the lamplighter's guild hall beneath the cobbles, swapping trade secrets and passing out flyers for different oil brands. 
  17. After the moon has risen: the were-pigeons awaken and begin fluttering in people's faces. 
  18. When there are more stars in the sky than people in the city: the street dogs come out to wrestle in the middle of the streets—everyone knows to avoid them. 
  19. When the heat from the ground has risen off, and there's a chill in the air even in summer: little ice demons scuttle up from the catacombs beneath the market district and begin licking the dust off the streets. 
  20. At midnight: the guards at the gates have their shift change. 

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

RED RUINS: Far-Future Post-Apocalyptic Science-Fantasy Mars

Everybody loves science-fantasy post-apocalyptica. A campaign setting where humankind is dwelling amongst the ruined planet-hopping civilization of a terraformed Mars is right up my personal alley. Setting a campaign on Mars allows for some interesting geography and the ruins of terraforming machinery. I've been writing notes and encounters for this setting for years. I call it Red Ruins

I have run two one-shot sessions in this world, both using different hacks: one using a one-page RPG called BLASTER, and one using my own combo hack of Ben Milton's Knave and Maze Rats—Maze Knaves. If I ran it again for a new group I might use Into the Odd with a new table of starting equipment flavoured for the setting. 

The fiction that inspired this setting includes films such as Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Mad Max, and books like Stephen King's The Dark Tower and Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy. Also the incredible RPG Numenera by Monte Cook Games, which is a great game in which the GM can really just make up anything they want, and there does not need to be a setting-consistent explanation. 

Here is some flavour text I wrote for the players to read before my last one-shot:

You live on Mars. In ancient times humankind settled the solar system, with technology so advanced it might as well have been magic. But a very long time ago something happened back on old Earth. Spaceships stopped landing, communications satellites crashed, and generations of famine, floods, and freezes pushed the red planet into a dark age. With old knowledge lost, technology has truly become magic. Mars today is a strange place full of strange things. Knights riding giant rabbits fight with swords. Mutant pig-people ride motorcycles through southern dust storms. Electric wizards live in glass towers and study ancient secrets. Trees a thousand feet tall sway in the low gravity. Cowboys herd lizard cattle through dry mountain passes. A thousand gods have shrines dotted around the dusty landscape. Red ruins of silent stone wait in the wilderness, full of treasure and danger. Mars is a beautiful place.

Here are 20 encounter ideas/plot hooks/adventure seeds for the setting:
  1. Ancient stairs are cut into a tall mesa; a glimmering yellow light can be seen up top. It's a seasonal camp for glider pilots scouting mine claims from the sky. They could use your help to ground-truth some aerial photography. 
  2. An old patriarch in control of an irrigation dam has gone nuts and is cutting farmers irrigation supply for the smallest infraction. He's barricaded himself in the dam with his family. 
  3. There is a ghost town along the Northern Ocean that is only accessible by gondola. It is full of friendly ghosts who try to get you to eat the food and therefore turn into a ghost also. 
  4. Señor Saguaro is a cactus ent who invites you for tacos in his cactus cave. His lithe husband is a sexy flower boy. He warns of giant burrowing owls that nest in the ground up ahead. 
  5. You must climb down the cliffs of the Valles Marineris—the deepest canyon in the solar system. 
  6. There's a gang of genial pirates driving a trash bus. They are searching for a relic which was prophesied to them by their grandparents. It will bring fresh water back to Mars. 
  7. Some power priests living inside an ancient power plant have discovered a weird vat of nanobots. Submerging one's arm in the vat totally dissolves the flesh but replaces the arm with a strong and self-healing tentacle thing. About half the priests have done this to one arm, a couple to both, one guy from the waist down. The most radical priest is planning on dipping his head into the vat and they're having a ceremony.
  8. A chance comes to steal some mega-olive oil from the pig-people. The pig-people tend the mega-olive groves to distill oil to fuel their motorcycles, and are generally real assholes to everyone else. 
  9. Prakon Lyons the bearded drunkard has found a laser sword and is challenging people to duels. 
  10. Two creepy sets of triplets are planning on fighting a gun duel (a sextual?) to the death. It has been scheduled for noon tomorrow, but somebody said that both sets of triplets are already starting in-fighting about who is designated as whose 'second.' 
  11. Somehow a child has gotten stuck on the tiny island in the middle of the poison lake. 
  12. You come upon a group of adventurers camped outside a ruined reserach complex. They are planning on entering the complex to find rumoured treasures of bio-engineered plants in glass vessels which can feed an entire village for a year. They all wear masks and appear to be breathing heavily—they refuse to take off the masks but politely ask for water for their mounts. 
  13. Coyotes with no lower jaw begin stalking you at dusk. They're easily spotted but wily and slip away each time. Their tongues grow longer and more furious each time they're spotted. 
  14. You find a boiling hot stream—following it upstream leads to the overflowing drainage pool of a nuclear power plant blasting along full power. 
  15. Six women roar up on stolen pig-person motorcycles. They try sticking you up for your valuables. They have pretty small arms, and if pressed admit to having limited fuel supplies.
  16. A hunting shack is found devoid of life; sausages and other cured meats hang from the ceiling. Later on the road you run into a hunter, her daughter, and their three dogs prowling for bison and bear. They are nice but turn hostile if they spot stolen sausages. 
  17. A flock of great roadrunners zings by chasing a coyote. They catch it and tear its flesh horrifically; they turn around and spot you with a crazed look in their eyes. If butchered after defeat their brains are covered in a terrifying black fungus that pulses and throbs, reaching out towards your brain. 
  18. A lone farmhouse has a recently murdered corpse just outside it. There are a dozen freshly turned bits of soil in the yard. If exhumed it reveals a dozen large clay pots of fermenting cabbage—delicious and nutritious. The murderers return shortly with a wagon and two mules, to cart off the kimchi. They will fight youfyou it.
  19. You meet some friendly dirty youths in a garbage dump who invite you to go “tubing.” This tubing ends up being digging around in old junk heaps for ancient vacuum tubes so that they can try to get an ancient computer going. They say that their great-aunt uploaded her brain to it before she got eaten by a colossal condor. 
  20. A sick woman has a throbbing purple jewel growing from her gums. It hurts and she’s desperate for assistance. Reluctantly, she reveals that she got her fortune told by a fortune teller, didn’t like the rest, and refused to pay. She thinks maybe she got cursed. 

Friday, 17 July 2020

Great Bear Rainforest (British Columbia-inspired fantasy fairy forest)

d8 Travellers to Meet Along a Forested Path
  1. A racoon ranger tracking an enormous buck deer. He believes the buck deer will lead him to a magical spring which will be able to heal his dying mother. 
  2. Two beetle knights on a pilgrimage far from home—they bid you tell them tales of the Granite Sepulchre, where an ancient beetle hero is purportedly buried. They wear simple tabards and carry spears carved from the carapaces of their cousins.
  3. A raven magician carrying an eagle’s egg in a backpack woven from cedar bark. She says it will hatch the king of all eagles, and she is delivering it to her master to be used in a dark ritual. 
  4. Two rat politicians and their rat servant. They act shifty and are clearly following the raven magician to destroy the golden eagle egg. 
  5. A non-binary slug priest blessing other travellers. They wear well-crafted bark armour and carry a dogwood staff as a weapon and tool. 
  6. A tall otter, dripping wet and joyously exiting a stream from which she just caught two hefty trout. She offers you the opportunity to join her for dinner. You’ll have to light your own fire if you want the trout cooked. 
  7. A stern barred owl standing guard at a bridge over a gorge. He is collecting a toll to pay for bridge repairs at another bridge downstream which was ripped out by a storm. He won’t fight you.
  8. A nervous heron father and his young children. His wife went away to sell some fish at market and she hasn't returned yet.

d10 Landmarks 
  1. Grand fir snag split in twain by lightning. 
  2. Deep canyon with a roaring river. 
  3. Open pond ringed by bountiful huckleberry bushes. 
  4. Huge nurse log covered in licorice ferns.
  5. Cracked boulder in the centre of a stream.
  6. Covered bridge over a creek.
  7. Treetop owl nest of the owl wizard Menzies.
  8. Thin waterfall cascading into a clear pool with a lilac-coloured boulder-sized crystal half-submerged in the centre.
  9. Big-leaf maple alone in a clearing, covered in thick moss.
  10. Narrow gully perpetually shrouded in fog.

d6 Small Settlements
  1. Fifty Mile House. The last refuge along a well-used trail before it splits off into more wild country. Low wooden houses and a bustling daily market.
  2. Huckleberry Meadow. A dozen tall, thin stone houses built in a sunny meadow, each surrounded by thick huckleberry bushes. In the centre is a four-storey tower, home to a friendly family of witches.
  3. Mossfountain. Half-hidden lean-to homes laid against a short cliff, shrouded by the shade of cedar trees and thick curtains of moss. Most denizens are racoons, but an elderly beetle operates a charming bakery.
  4. Ravendell. A small hamlet of rat dens clustered in a shady glen, with a cold creek running through the middle; in the tall hemlock trees there are raven nests, which house the other half of this settlement's citizens.
  5. Banana Spring. Simple homes with woven-leaf roofs surrounding a freshwater spring. Special sluglings live here, where the children of most families have a tendency to be born with bright yellow skin.
  6. Big Nest. Some folk call this the cultural capitol of the heron world: dozens upon dozens of tall herons stroll about this bustling village, trading amongst themselves on the market docks floating on Heron Pond, discussing heron literature on the steps of the Heron Museum and Archive Building, or  passing time with family in their wattle homes.

d4 Rumours about the 'Great Bear'
  1. The Great Bear slumbers beneath the ground—its breath and snorts are wind and rain, its tossing and turning are earthquakes.
  2. A hundred years ago a slugling hunter shot an arrow into the Great Bear's flank and it cursed the slugling people to be always covered in slime.
  3. Any water that the Great Bear touches with its claws will become purified and clean.
  4. The chain of lakes and ponds in the deepest part of the rainforest are actually paw prints from the Great Bear—follow them and you shall find its den.

Monday, 13 July 2020

The Lapidary Ossuary — namesake dungeon introduction

Lapidary Ossuary Megadungeon Maps & Keys:

  1. Topaz
  2. Ruby
  3. Sapphire
  4. Amethyst.  
  5. Emerald
  6. Onyx

This blog is named after a dungeon I have been on-and-off procrastinatingly crafting for months: the Lapidary Ossuary.

         relating to stone and gems and the work involved in engraving, cutting, or polishing.

It is a series of interconnected burial catacombs, with each level themed after a different gemstone. My two thematic goals for this dungeon are to shove every type of human burial vessel possible somewhere (ossuary, tomb, mausoleum, sarcophagus, sepulchre, etc.), and to create factions and rooms on each level inspired by the symbolic meanings of different gemstones. I am trying to collate my innumerable google doc brainstorm files into some more meaningful material. I might need to make maps for each levels and a corresponding key, in order to keep my thoughts lined up. I am imagining that this dungeon exists within an ancient hill outside a small village, with multiple entrances, possibly to multiple levels. 

The levels/themes are as follows:
  1. Topaz. Opulence, the Sun, Charisma.
  2. Ruby. Blood, Rage, War. 
  3. Sapphire. Wisdom, Chastity, Nighttime & Stars, Water. 
  4. Amethyst. Healing, Wine. 
  5. Emerald. Plants, Truth, Truth-seeing. 
  6. Onyx. Sadness, Slavery, Captured Demons, Darkness. 
Here is a rumour / hook table for the dungeon. Roll a single d6 and take both entries, or roll two d6 and take separate ones:

 d6Watch out for... (rumour)While you... (hook) 
 1 Animated bone monsters that protect the tombs. Search for the Count's son's bones, which were taken here by a necromancer.  
 2 Ancient magical glyphs which keep interlopers out of the catacombs. Take rubbings of any hieroglyphics which look like these drawings given to you by the Count's court historian.  
 3Things which look like gemstones, but come alive and attack you if you touch them. Gather seven ancient gemstones to be used in a ritual to cure a horse disease plaguing the countryside.  
 4Mysterious creatures that take offerings of corpses, extract the bones, and return the bloody flesh wrapped in embroidered burial blankets. Search for Gil, who ran into the tombs after his twin brother Ramon’s remains were placed outside for the bone-takers
 5Underground lakes and rivers that twist back upon themselves endlessly.Dissolve this cursed pearl in a navy lake underground, where ivory oysters grow—the place from which it was originally harvested
 6Giant yellow frogs, covered in poison.Loot ancient empire wine from the tomb depths—it will cure the Count’s depression caused by his son’s death.

I hope to follow this up with one post about each dungeon level, probably containing a map and key. Maybe when I'm finished I'll put it all together into a PDF. Any thoughts?

Bejeweled skeleton of a Catholic Saint

Sunday, 12 July 2020

One Page Dungeon 2020 — Horse Fort

This is my first year submitting something for the One Page Dungeon contest. I love concise dungeons—it leaves lots of flexibility to individual referees, while getting across the kernels of great ideas. There's no extra fluff to read through. Any little details that are missing can be easily made up on the spot during play.

My entry this year is called "Horse Fort" and is inspired by the Halifax Citadel in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where I used to live. The Citadel was built on top of a low hilltop overlooking the city, and served as a military fort for the British back when Canada's settler people were just British and French people invading each other's colonial territory over and over. It is now a National Historic Site and serves as a mild tourist attraction.

It is a star-shaped fort like many others. I love the grassy moat surrounding the walls. It isn't really built up from the hilltop, but rather carved out in negative space. There are great stone blocks forming walls, but they shore up natural earth that already existed. The idea of an open-air sunny grassy dungeon really appeals to me. There's no ceiling, but the claustrophobic walls and secluded nature still hit those dungeon notes for me.

I kept things pretty simple with this one. A party intent on solving the mystery of the Horse Fort could probably do so quickly. This isn't meant to be a campaign-driving location—merely an interesting footnote while travelling through an appropriate area. However, the horse god Ceffyl could be connected to more sinister things in your own home campaign. I am a fan of worlds with innumerable small gods, which may not work in your world—Ceffyl could be a demon or a trapped sorcerer instead.

Saturday, 11 July 2020

Political Ecology as Dungeon Ecology

Political ecology is a type of critical analysis interested in drawing attention to the political motivations of ecological policies (Robbins, 2010). This concept is similar to political economy, which seeks to observe the political motivations of economic policies. These are broad fields of critical discourse.

Certain political ecology case studies work excellently as inspiration for dungeon ecology. Human beings and our mixed motivations are endlessly interesting—porting these real-life examples over to the monstrous factions of a dungeon is a fun exercise and can yield very interesting results at the table.

Yeh et al. (2014) wrote a paper about Tibetan yak herders and the change in lifestyle they experience due to policies put in place by the Chinese communist government. In their traditional lifestyle, the yak herders had the power to react to snowstorms. Herders shared rangeland and therefore were able to transport their yaks from one area to another in anticipation of bad snowstorms. Chinese government policies subdivided land and forced families to keep their yaks only in certain areas. This meant that they were not able to move their herds into safer areas when snowstorms arrived. Furthermore, the government subsidized things like heated shelters and blankets for the herders to keep their yaks warm. But these subsidies were not followed up with additional support, meaning the heaters often broke and there weren't enough blankets. As climate change impacts have increased, the ability of yak herders to deal with the effects (i.e. snowstorms) has decreased—due to government policies.

At its core, this paper tells us that misaligned government control has prevented people from reacting to dangerous environmental effects.

This analysis of the political ecology of Tibetan yak herders can easily be ported over to the dungeon. Here are three ideas I came up with, each subsequent one taking another level of abstraction away from the original point:

  1. A snowy mountain is home to a tribe of yak-herding stone giants. An enormous dragon has taken residence in the caves at the peak. Using the threat of violence, the dragon has taken control of a considerable area, including all the family clans of the stone giants. In order to keep them cowed in fear, the dragon orders each family to stay on one slope of the mountain. This means that the stone giants are unable to move their herds from slope to slope in order to avoid snowstorms. The dragon, of course, is safe in her cave, and cares not for the troubles of the giants. This is an excellent starting point for some adventurers who hear of legendary treasure in the dragon's hoard—they can ally with the giants, travel under cover of snowstorm, or be the heroes who save the day. 
  2. There is an ancient tomb in the desert—preserved for a thousand years by the dry air. Shifting sandstorms have revealed a new entranceway, and nomadic scorpion folk have entered seeking shelter. They unwittingly broke an ancient seal, unleashing a curse upon their people that prevents them from warning each other of danger. The curse can only be broken by an artefact held in the skeletal hands of the ancient tomb dweller, who lays at rest in the deepest portion of the tomb. 
  3. One deep level of a megadungeon has thick humid air and warm water dripping from the ceiling and walls. Thin corridors and low rooms are home to row upon row of steel cages, full of creatures of all kinds, each throwing themselves at the bars and shrieking for help. The lord of this level is a steam demon, belching warm wet air and imprisoning intelligent beings for fun. With movement restricted, the prisoners are at the mercy of the hot geysers which erupt from cracks in the walls. Once a prisoner has been boiled alive by enough geyser hits, the steam demon consumes their flesh. 

Other political ecology analyses can be ported into dungeon concepts. The deforestation of Mexico to fuel silver mines by colonial Spain. The change in Amazonian soil when indigenous agricultural practices are banned. Shoddy wetland construction in the United States incentivized by slapdash policies about replacing destroyed wetlands with new ones.

Any other ideas?


Robbins, Paul. Political Ecology: A Critical Introduction (second edition), 2010.

Yeh, Emily T., et al. Tibetan Pastoralists’ Vulnerability to Climate Change: A Political
Ecology Analysis of Snowstorm Coping Capacity.; Human Ecology, vol. 42, no. 1, 2014,
pp. 61-74.

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Maze Knaves: my one-page hack of Ben Milton's Knave and Maze Rats

I love Ben Milton's games KNAVE and MAZE RATS. They're both available on DriveThurRPG and well worth the purchase. Ben Milton talks about both these games on his great blog Questing Beast.

I have run games with both systems, and I wanted to put together a hack that took my favourite parts from each of them—mainly the 2d6 rolls from Maze Rats and the Item Slots/Magic-as-Spell Items concepts from Knave. I was also going to be running a game for a group of brand new players who had never played an RPG, so I wanted to format the game onto one page with clear writing explaining the simple rules.

This ruleset alone is not enough to run a game of Maze Knaves. I used a separate list of pre-generated character backgrounds tailored to my setting (far-future post-apocalyptic science-fantasy Mars) with Ability Scores of +2/+1/+0 and a handful of pieces of starting equipment. I also used a separate price sheet of extra gear for my PCs to purchase, a separate spell list (basically just the levelless spells from Knave), and a quick dungeon of my own devising. I also think that these rules might not quite make sense unless somebody is there to explain things and answer questions—but that's the price you pay for one page!

Here is the PDF hosted on my google drive.

EDIT (to provide a source which provided much of my inspiration):

Dungeons and Possums has collected a great number of Knave resources, including multiple hacks which inspired me to do my own. 

Friday, 3 July 2020

Three Dungeon Lions

  1. TOMB GUARDIAN LIONS — Two red sandstone lion statues flank the entrance of an ancient tomb. When the sarcophagus inside is disturbed, an ancient hologram of Emperor Ekaf Enam crackles to life—a tall muscled man, barefoot, wearing a loose toga, a tall copper crown atop his head. He commands the statues alive and they spring towards you. 
  2. GRASS LION — A green lion lies sleeping in an open doorway. The blades of grass that make up its mane blow gently back and forth in time with its snores. Beyond its hulking mass you can see the treasure you have been seeking. 
  3. TEMPLE LION — High in the mountains there is a stone temple with low walls. In the antechamber there is an ancient mountain lion, packed in snow and salt in an alcove before the gate. It has been preserved, waiting for somebody to attempt to open the temple doors.