Thursday, July 22, 2021

Firehold Megadungeon

This might turn into yet another project I don't have time to write or run, but it's been on my mind lately, so I might as well put it here. (Long time readers might recall my plans for a Carcosan megadungeon; apart from a single session nested in my long-running D&D game, I haven't had a chance to initiate it. Although there is always the future.)

When the dwarves fled from bondage under the tyrannical rule of the giants, they settled across the Sorrowfell Plains, most of them settling into cities and towns that are now familiar to the folk of the world (such as Khuragzar or Sorgforge), but one group of now-forgotten clans settled beneath one of the mountains of the world. 

They called this place "Firehold."

Industrious and versed in runecraft, they made wonders unknown even to other dwarves. The secret of their success was the beating heart of the mountain itself: a uranium deposit beneath the mountain, creating a naturally-occurring fission reactor. When they initially found it, they realized only that it generated heat and made the miners sick. (Although their superior dwarven constitutions protected somewhat, many of them still died, but they were given heroes' burials for their sacrifice to the clan.) But the industrious dwarves soon learned how to harness this energy for their own purposes, building containment units and enriching centers and steam engines. They were the most advanced civilization on Khaldun.

But no one has ever heard of them.

When the lands of Men fell to corruption and devil-worship, the dwarves consulted their histories and feared what they saw coming: another cycle of darkness and subjugation beneath the whips and chains of another oppressor. So they did the most sensible thing they could consider: they withdrew. They secured their gardens and redoubled their mining efforts and ensured that they had supplies for centuries — millennia, even — and then they sealed their highways with rune-magic.

This was their folly.

The corruption of the surface empires did not last long before heroes rose to stop it, and before long it was washed away. But the lost dwarves did not know of the turning of ages; they merely waited for a sign, some manner of augury to return them to the surface.

They never received it.

Whether the gods did not speak to them or they merely misinterpreted the signs, the old priests refused to risk the safety of their clans, and so the dwarves stayed underground in their secure shelter.

But the deep dwarves were builders, not soldiers. One by one, monsters emerged from below, and one by one, districts of the city fell. The deep dwarves were forced to retreat, refugees in their own city, withdrawing to the safety of centralized, defensible locations. Now, the last of the dwimmer dwarves take refuge in the quays and the foreign quarter, praying for a sign to save their civilization.

And all the while, the danger grows beneath their feet, for no one has tended the reactor in generations. If the reactor burns hotter than the reservoir replenishes, or if some tunneling wurm or ambitious underdweller should damage it, it could cause a meltdown or an explosion, contaminating the ground water or spreading radioactive fallout across the Sorrowfell Plains.

In addition to references in ancient archives, there is one other hint as to the location of lost Firehold: the rocs that lair upon the mountaintop build their nest over the exhaust port, so that the steam keeps their eggs warm while they are in flight.

Rules Notes:

A player character who delves into the right archive or uses the right divination spell or asks the right questions might find and unlock Firehold as an adventuring location. A lost megadungeon of advanced dwarven technology, it has long since been overrun by monsters, but is a palace of wonders. (In addition to the standard treasure, the dwarves of Firehold potentially hold lost secrets of arcane, historical, and technological varieties.)

Anyone who finds lost Firehold also unlocks a new playable variety of dwarves: called dwimmer dwarves or bone dwarves in my notes, they have a facility with rune-crafting and artifact manufacture that most modern dwarves lack. (In old-school games, they would be able to craft magic items and undertake other sorts of spell research. In 5e-ish games, they have innate transmutation spells, and are best suited for the wizard or artificer classes.)

Thursday, July 15, 2021

The World of Ysat'naf

 A bog-standard fantasy world for dungeon-y, dragon-y fantasy systems.

Use all the same fantasy assumptions those sorts of games bring to the table with one major exception: all alignments are inverted. (So chaotic becomes lawful, good becomes evil, and the like. Neutral alignments stay the same, as do unaligned alignments if you're using 4e or 5e.)

We'll keep it straightforward with two simple rules:

1) All extraplanar creatures summoned to Ysat'naf have their alignments inverted automatically. (Depending on how the Game Master interprets things, this may or may not change their core programming. It will at the very least change how they attempt to complete their goals and what sorts of behaviors they attempt to instill in the creatures they encounter.) Why this happens is not terribly clear, and finding the source of this phenomenon would obviously make a good goal for player characters to achieve. (I'm thinking it's some sort of curse upon the land, or maybe some kind of magical radiation that suffuses the atmosphere.)

2) All creatures native to the world also have their alignments inverted, although there is no supernatural force backing this up. (We can casually surmise that this inversion is due to the influence of extraplanar visitors who have had their alignments inverted and then proceeded to proselytize among the native populations.) As such, individual members of the various fantasy races can have any alignment and you might have the occasional "rogue" good elf or evil orc, but populations as a whole tend to stabilize to the opposite of their bestiary-listed alignments. They can retain their well-trod personalities and niches, now recast through the lens of their new alignments, so you get Lawful Evil elves in a strict hierarchy whose aesthetic predilections come across as Toreador antitribu-like displays of blood-daubed wicked decadence — like a whole race of Hannibal Lecters — while Lawful Good orcs now fulfill the Proud Warrior niche, a Klingon-like Golden Horde trying to throw elven imperialists off their land.

To fully embrace the potential Mirror Universe sensibility of such a place, it does not affect most Prime Material natives who might travel here by extradimensional gate or what have you. (So your characters are unaffected when they come through, although their familiars and summoned allies might behave very differently if they originate from another plane.)

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Ours vs. Theirs

This isn't an important update, just something about which I've been ruminating lately. There's functionally no "conclusion" or gameable content to this post; I'm just putting wordcount into the aether so that it is out of me.

Years ago at a local convention, I bought a copy of Tome of Beasts and was busily showing everyone the ridiculous monsters inside when a friend asked the following question:

"Why did you buy that when you can make up any monster you want?"

(An odd question, particularly given that said friend is an author and no doubt realizes that you can write any story you want and yet choose to consume other stories anyway.)

It's a pervasive role-playing game argument that has people firmly entrenched on both sides. On the one hand, why buy material when you can make it up? On the other, why create material when professionals have done the hard work for you?

Surprising no one, I (and I suspect most RPG gamers who aren't Extremely Online™) fall somewhere in the vast middle. I like to use my own content because I create a vast amount of it and because I always make things I enjoy. I like to use others' content because I only have my perspective and using something someone else made gives an air of verisimilitude to any game I run. (I can come up with anything I conceive, but others might create something of which I did not conceive.)

Using others' content comes with two important disclaimers, though:
1) I usually select things I like, and I'm the guy running it, so it's going to sound at least a little like me anyway. (Nicole thought Scarlet Jax was my own creation for years until I offhandedly mentioned that I cribbed her from Dungeon #186.)
2) I do fall in the camp of finding prepping other people's work to be difficult, so the author either needs to make it easy or compelling. (For instance, I understand King for a Day* has a lot of good ideas in it, but the work I would need to do to keep all the details straight means that I am unlikely to use it and would be better served making my own adventure whose details I can keep in my head.)

Those concerns aside, I find the mix of styles to be engaging, and I don't think my players notice the seams terribly often.

What about the rest of you? Do you use published content, homebrew content, or a mix of both?

*A protip for authors: if I have to take more notes to prep your 300+ page adventure containing "nearly 200 NPCs and dozens of unique locations and stories" than I took for a graduate-level course, it's probably too much work.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

The Orc Problem, redux

I wrote about The Dreaded Orc Discourse™ a little over a year ago, and like most of the things I write, you probably shouldn't read it.

However, vagabundork wrote a post on the same subject about seven months ago, and he said it far more eloquently than I. (To the point that it should probably be the last word on the subject, at least until the situation radically changes.)

Go read it:

Can racism be fixed? on Chaos Magick-User

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