Monday, September 16, 2019

Lost World Miscellany - Greater Adria, Lotharingia, Doggerland

Lost Continent Revealed in New Reconstruction of Geologic History
Robin George Andrews
National Geographic

"This continent first separated from what is now Spain, southern France, and northern Africa, forming a separate landmass the team has formally dubbed Greater Adria. But as the planet’s rocky plates continued to inexorably jostle about, this continent tumbled down into several subduction zones, Earth’s destructive geological maws."
Did the Vanished Kingdom Foreshadow the EU?
Michael O'Loughlin
The Irish Times

"Lotharingia can be defined as that huge stretch of land, including the Netherlands, Belgium, and large parts of France, Germany and Switzerland, that runs down through the heart of Europe from the North Sea to the Alps. Squeezed between the great states of France and Germany, it long ago ceased to exist, becoming one of Europe’s vanished kingdoms, like the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. But it continues to lead a ghostly afterlife."
Searching for Doggerland
Laura Spinney
National Geographic

"Eighteen thousand years ago, the seas around northern Europe were some 400 feet lower than today. Britain was not an island but the uninhabited northwest corner of Europe, and between it and the rest of the continent stretched frozen tundra. As the world warmed and the ice receded, deer, aurochs, and wild boar headed northward and westward. The hunters followed. Coming off the uplands of what is now continental Europe, they found themselves in a vast, low-lying plain."

"Archaeologists call that vanished plain Doggerland, after the North Sea sandbank and occasional shipping hazard Dogger Bank. Once thought of as a largely uninhabited land bridge between modern-day continental Europe and Britain - a place on the way to somewhere else - Doggerland is now believed to have been settled by Mesolithic people, probably in large numbers, until they were forced out of it thousands of years later by the relentlessly rising sea."

Note - I've decided to adopt the "Unholy Misc" format from Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque (a blog so gothic, even its miscellany is unholy!) This will be an occasional feature, because I don't want to overdo it, but I have always considered inspirational media to have a home on my blog. This first miscellany is devoted to recent (-ish) news about "lost worlds" in Europe.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Dungeon Alphabet Dozen - D is for DOORWAYS

Roll 1d12!

Random Pain-in-the-Ass Doorways of the Underworld

1 The door opens draw-bridge style, falling on whoever opens it for 1d12 damage and pinning them to the ground, unless they save vs paralysis to dodge out of the way.

2 Thick, oversized door has another smaller door right behind it, 1d12 smaller doors in fact, each new door revealed as the previous one opens.

3 The door revolves on a central axis instead of opening on a hinge. Each time a player character tries to go through, flip a coin. Heads they make it through, tails they're back where they started.

4 Door flies open violently at the slightest touch, throwing the first player character who attempts to open it 10' into the next room. They're unhurt, but spend 1 combat round lying prone.

5 Astonishingly transparent sliding glass door does 1d3 damage to anyone who walks into it (unless wearing a helmet.) Impossible to tell there's a door there at all until someone blunders into it, 1-in-6 chance of silently closing after each person passes through, super-slick surface frustratingly causes all attempts at marking the glass to slide off onto the floor.

6 Door loudly slams shut between each player character who uses it. It's no trouble to re-open it, but the noise means that there's a 1-in-6 chance that a wandering monster will appear in the emptier of the two rooms immediately after it closes.

7 Door cannot be opened by any means by player characters, but each exploration turn they spend attempting to open it, there's a 2-in-6 chance that a wandering monster will come through the door, opening it with ease and shutting it too quickly for the characters to keep it open.

8 Door was the entry-way to previous room occupant's lair. Previous room occupant was utterly paranoid, and door has 6 locking mechanisms. They all use the same key, but unless the player characters have it, they all have to be picked separately. All those locks also mean that it's twice as difficult as usual to batter down.

9 Door has a coin-slot and opens automatically after player characters insert 1d12€.

10 Largest available reasonably-intelligent wandering monster serving as a "bouncer" for the door, with an identical monster on the other side. It demands to see identification papers or hear "the password" before letting anyone through. It will also accept a bribe of 1d12€ per character, but would never be so gauche as to broach the subject itself. If the player characters attack, two more bouncers are nearby waiting for the shift change.

11 Door features large red button next to it. If player characters push the button, a bell dings, a light goes on above the door, soft music plays, and the door opens 1d6 exploration turns later. The door can be pried open without waiting, but reveals only empty black space, and anyone who passes through falls 50' before landing on back in the original room.

12 Door cannot be lock-picked or bashed down, but whenever player characters knock, instead of knocking sound, they hear a voice saying "Knock, knock." If they answer "Who's there?" and allow the door to finish the entire joke, it opens on its own.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

A Mechanic for Misinformation

Okay, so your player characters are trying to gather information.

Maybe they're detectives on a case, or chthonic investigators looking for clues, maybe they're picaros out rumormongering, buying drinks for the house, trying to loose some rival adventuring party's tongues, or vagabonds accumulating a collection of bardic lore.

What have you. There's information, and they're trying to gather it.

Okay, so you assign a Difficulty Class or a Target Number or whatever, and you ask them to roll the dice, and they roll too low.

What happens next?

Well, you could just decide that they failed to gather any information. Or, you could roll on the Random Misinformation Table, below.

1 Dangerous Rumor - Not just a lie, you learn something like the opposite of the truth. Acting on this rumor will put your life in danger. If you're directed to another site, the place is a deathtrap or ambush.

2 Wild Goose Chase - No information, but you're directed to another site, which will supply more random misinformation.

3 Harmless Rumor - A lie, but incorrect without being dangerous. Acting on this rumor will inconvenience you.

4 Trivia - No information, or at least not what you're looking for. But at least you know that you don't know.

5 Treasure Map - No information, but you're directed to another site, which will supply the information you're looking for.

6 Partial Clue - The truth, or at least part of it. The information might be incomplete or cryptic, but it's correct, and might combine with other clues or partial clues. If you're directed to another site, you'll learn more than you were originally asking for.
You could also assign these results their own DCs or TNs, or you could break them up to create subtables corresponding to different degrees of misinformation.

I would assign results 1-2 to a critical miss, 3-4 to a miss, and 5-6 to a partial hit in a system with three degrees of failure, and assign 1-3 to a miss and 4-6 to a partial hit in a system with two degrees. Considering the alternatives, "no information" is a beneficial outcome.

The results of receiving random misinformation tend to be action-focused, so that even if your players didn't learn what they wanted to know, they probably at least know what they're doing next.

The problem with "no information" as a result is that it can kill any forward momentum. (This could also be a problem with a partial clue.) Reducing the frequency of that outcome should reduce the risk of your players getting stuck. If they do seem stymied, encourage them to think of their other possible leads and follow up on one of those instead.

I generally roll most dice out in the open, but I suspect this will work better if the players don't know in advance what type of misinformation they're receiving.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Dungeon Alphabet Dozen - H is for HALLWAYS

Roll 1d12!

Random Pain-in-the-Ass Hallways of the Underworld

1 Hallway looks twice as long as it really is, walls narrow and ceiling dips to the point where you're squeezing through at the other end. Coming back it looks only half as long as it is. Understanding the geometry doesn't help un-see the unavoidable optical illusion.

2 Hallway looks normal, but is subtly slanted and preternaturally smooth. Roll under Dexterity to avoid falling prone and taking 1d6 damage while sliding down to the lower side. Getting back up to the higher side is going to require a climb walls skill check, or the use of a rope fastened to something at the top.

3 Hallway holds queue of 2d12 human peasants waiting in line. The peasants move through the door at the far end at a rate of one per exploration turn. They'll get angry if the player characters try to cut. If questioned, they're either thrilled with anticipation but assume the characters are in on the excitement, or impatient with no time to talk to someone who doesn't even know what they're doing here. When the player characters finally make it through the door, there'll be no sign of any of the peasants, and no indication of what they were waiting for.

4 Hallway is a stinking open sewer. Effluent runs down a wall near the door from a grate in the ceiling, flows in a wide river of filth to the far end, then disappears down a drain in the floor. Rotting garbage and solid waste line the walls. Anyone who's been recently injured should save vs poison or catch a DISEASE.

5 Hallway acts as a wind tunnel. Characters can only move at a crawl through the fierce gale, light sources are extinguished, missile fire is impossible.

6 Hallway must gently rotate on a central axis (although no one but a gnome could possibly feel it, and who can believe a word they say?) Each time the characters walk down the hall, flip a coin. Heads the door opens to the other side, tails it opens to the room they just came from. Walking back through the door they just came through never works to circumvent this problem though.

7 Hallway is seriously 10x as long as it appears on maps, feels like it takes forever to get to the other side, no one can see either doorway once they're deep enough in to the damn thing. Get ready to burn through torches, waste time dealing with equally perplexed wandering monsters.

8 Hallway is literally a maze of branching tunnels, ramps, dead-ends, and hairpin turns. Enter the hall only where it appears on the map, but exit to a completely random room. Roll under Intelligence to go back the way you came, or under half-Intelligence to return to any previous destination. Once you close the door on the hall though, the ONLY way back to the maze is through the original entrance.

9 Hallway is painted with dozens of arrows pointing back the way the characters came. Signs hang everywhere extolling the virtues of the room the characters just left: "This way to the greatest wonders of the dungeon!", "Suffer no more! Behold the mystical secret door to the fabled land!", "Leave poverty behind! Treasures abound in the region ahead!", "Say goodbye to boredom! Wonders and splendors galore!", "See the sights! Become the envy of your friends!"

10 Both the inward facing doors in the hall are identical pain-in-the-ass DOORWAYS.

11 Less of a hallway and more of a "fall-way," or rather, a pain-in-the-ass PIT. 2-in-6 chance the first character in the marching order just falls right down to the bottom the moment they walk through the door. Continued danger for each additional character until someone manages not to fall in. Exit door is at the bottom.

12 More like a "crawl-way" really, hall is only waist-high. Requires squeezing through on all fours at half normal speed. Any gnomes in the party feel obnoxiously smug about being able to remain upright.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Non-Core Underworld & Dungeon Alphabet Dozen

I was going through some old files on my computer recently, when I came across an idea I had before I started blogging, one that I actually continued to write about even after I started my blog, although I never posted it about here before.

The idea was for a "non-core campaign" - a campaign that excludes all core classes, monsters, magic items, and spells. Non-core gaming would use only supplemental materials, only additions and extras, and no core-rules materials at all. (I suppose you could also call this a "peripheral campaign", after the core-periphery binary from geo-politics, but I like sound of "non-core" better, personally.)

There are as many possible non-core campaigns as there are core rulesets and coherent bundles of supplemental material, but in addition to thinking about non-core gaming as a general concept, at the time, I was also thinking about a specific non-core campaign set in the Mythic Underworld, using only the supplemental materials from 1st edition AD&D, as well as the things added new in AD&D,  and the things from OD&D and the two Basic editions that weren't included in AD&D.

Although it was something I used to think about, it wasn't originally my idea. I got the idea from seeing a series of posts about gaming using only the classes from the Unearthed Arcana, and only the monsters and gods from the Fiend Folio.

Jeff's Gameblog first proposed the idea of running a game using only materials in the AD&D module S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. Then years later, Jeff's Gameblog again suggested running a campaign using only the gods and deities from the Fiend Folio.  Around the same time, Vaults of Nagoh created wandering monster tables using only the Fiend Folio, and City of Iron considered what it would look like to only allow spellcasters to use the spells contained in Unearthed Arcana.

So I'm hardly the only one to toy with these ideas, although to-date, as far as I'm aware, all anyone has done is toy with them. At one time, I fancied myself the publisher-to-be of this project, although I've since abandoned that idea. I like to write, and I would like to publish, but I don't want to become a publisher. Also, depending on your perspective, publishing anything for this project is either unnecessary, or inevitable, or something that's already been done.

It's already possible to run this particular non-core campaign using the original supplemental rulebooks, and I have no doubt that as long as Necrotic Gnome continues to exist as a company, they will eventually publish versions of these materials, doubtless in their trademark smartly organized two-page spread format. The logic of the Old-School Essentials project makes this inevitable. (Especially since he already expressed interest in the idea back when he was City of Iron.)

Also, the more I've thought about it, the more I think that Veins of the Earth is essentially a non-core campaign, using the canonical non-core races of the Underdark, but combined with False Machine's own supplemental bestiary, which is mostly better than the admittedly hit-and-miss menagerie inside the Fiend Folio. (Whether he intended it that way, I don't know, but the result is that Veins fills a very similar niche to what I'm talking about.) It's also inevitable that, sooner or later, someone will publish another non-core campaign setting in the vein of Veins of the Earth - it was simply too popular to not inspire both imitation and response.

So this idea actually has been given form - at least a kind of form - already, and it's likely to appear eventually in a form very close to what I originally imagined reading those old blog posts. This is a project that doesn't need me to do anything.

However, what I find most interesting, thinking about the non-core underworld, is trying to imagine its implied setting. Over the years, I know I've seen many people discussing the "implied setting" of OD&D - the kind of world that's implied by the available classes, lists of spells, monsters, maps, and campaign-building advice. Semper Initativus Unum did a particularly through examination. Aside from one post by Swords & Dorkery however, I've never seen anyone ask about the implied setting of the non-core underworld, which is a shame, because it's worth asking about.

I mean, what kind of world has barbarians, cavaliers, paladins, and rangers, but no ordinary fighting-men? What kind of world has assassins, bards, and mountebanks, but no regular thieves? Druids and monks, but no clerics? Illusionists without general magic-users? Half-elves and half-orcs, but no elves and no orcs?

What kind of setting has all the weird latter-edition spells, but none of the originals? All the extra monsters, but none of the basic ones? No familiar magic items, but crazy high-tech gizmos from S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks and random artifacts from the Dungeon Master's Guide? A pantheon of "gods" who're all arch-demons and lords of elemental evil?

The non-core underworld is gonzo AF.

By now, most of those additional classes, spells, and monsters have become nearly as canonical as the originals, but there's still something inherently weird about making them stand on their own, without any original material alongside them. There's still something unsettling and uncanny about an Underdark-only campaign, where the most familiar entities are like funhouse parodies of the ones we really know and love.

By this point, I consider most of what I originally wrote for the non-core campaign (back when I still had "when I grow up" dreams of being the next star publisher of the OSR) to be unneeded, or derivative, or both. But there is one bright spot in my old files. For awhile, I worked on my own "dungeon alphabet dozen" - a combination of the Dungeon Alphabet and the Dungeon Dozen as a way to generate gozno content to help fill out the campaign world. After all, if good artists borrow, and great artists steal, then surely the greatest artists of all time are those who do mash-ups, right?

Anyway, back then I actually finished a few of the 12-item lists I started, and wrote a decent amount for a few more. I never put any of them on my blog before, because I was both afraid of success and afraid of failure. I was afraid that if I posted them and people liked them, that I'd attract the wrong kind of attention, and become subject to harassment. I was also afraid that I'd disappoint people. I feel like there's an implicit promise when you start something like this, that you'll post every letter, in order, in a timely manner, and they'll be good. I think maybe I was always more afraid of success than I needed to be. As for failure, let me make you an explicit promise - I probably won't post every letter, and they definitely won't be in order, and it definitely won't be in a timely manner. As for their quality, I'll trust that if I like them, you'll like some of them, though maybe not all.

So for now, until Michael Curtis and Jason Sholtis team up to take me for a long walk off a short lawsuit, viva la non-core underworld!