Thursday, March 10, 2022

Lighthouse at Shipbreaker Shoals

An adventure I wrote, Lighthouse at Shipbreaker Shoals, has just recently been published! The pdf is available now at DriveThruRPG, and a print edition will be available soon at the Goodman Games webstore. 

Earlier this week, I appeared on the Maw of Mike podcast to promote the adventure. I thought I should also take the opportunity to talk here about my design process. 

Before the pandemic, in a time that now feels like it belongs to a different era of history, Stephen Newton, author of a half-dozen DCC modules and publisher of Thick Skull Adventures, reached out to me to write an adventure for him. This was my first time being commissioned to write an entire adventure.

Stephen's pitch was that this new adventure would take place in the same setting as Attack of the Frawgs and The Haunting of Larvik Island, and should serve as an optional bridge between the two. 

I agreed that I was interested, and started brainstorming possible ideas. I read Fawgs and Larvik, as well as several reviews of them, both positive and critical. I noted a few things that ended up being relevant to the final form of the adventure. 

The first was that Stephen's other two adventures were set in a fairly realistic medieval environment with most of the weirdness coming from the monsters who were invading it. So I decided that whatever I wrote should be grounded in an interesting, but essentially ordinary structure that could exist in the real world. I initially thought of the brewery that gets introduced in Frawgs, but decided against that because of the second thing I noted, which was that the first adventure is set in the characters' hometown, and the second takes place on a distant island. 

So I thought that whatever I wrote should give the newly ascended 1st level characters, who'd just survived a Zero Level Funnel, a reason to leave home and a reason to go onward to the islands. This led me to decide on a coastal adventure, with the beach as a kind of juncture point between the landlocked village and islands surrounded by sea. Thinking about things that happen right on the coastline that might motivate people to travel outside their hometown for the first time, I hit upon the idea of a lighthouse in trouble. 

cover art by FRK Pyron
What should be the source of the trouble? Well, Larvik begins to introduce the cosmology of Stephen's gameworld, which, without spoiling the details, involves a elderly sea god and some sibling rivalries between his children. Making one of the children a spiritual protector of the lighthouse, and the other two the source of the monsters, turning the battle for the site into a kind of proxy war in the squabblings of childish divinities, sounded promising to me. I also double-checked with Stephen to make sure I'd gotten my understanding of his gameworld's theology right. 

In retrospect, by this point, the adventure was shaping up to be much more of a prequel to Larvik than a sequel to Frawgs. So I had my site, and I had my source of danger. Now it was time to decide how they were interrelated. In keeping with the setup of the other two adventures, I decided that the lighthouse had gone dark because of an incursion of weird monsters. That would be a worthy reason for newly forged heroes to come investigate, and if the trouble at the lighthouse is being caused by gods who are also related to the problems on Larvik Island, then the players both have a reason to go off and learn more about them, and Larvik is slightly enriched by providing more background on the gods of its setting.

At this point, I free associated a bit. One episode of the show Connections, which I'd watched recently at the time, talks about the history of lighting technology. Limelight was was on the first really bright lights that people figured out during the Industrial Revolution. It was never widely used in lighthouses, but it theoretically could have been. Limelight is named that because chemical compounds containing calcium are often called lime-something, for example, limestone. A form of limestone is what makes the famous White Cliffs of Dover so white. Now, it turns out that limelight works by burning something called quicklime rather than limestone - but it was easy enough to set aside the inconvenience of that detail and imagine a lighthouse set on some white limestone cliffs, and to imagine that the lighthouse uses a magical lantern that burns limestone as fuel to make an impossibly bright signal beam. All this was inspired by reality, but since no one who's not a chemist or construction worker has heard of quicklime, it's slightly easier to understand than the truth.

Also in the news around the same time, for whatever reason, was something about hagfish and their fascinating slime. I can't remember why hagfish were considered newsworthy at the time, but what matters for the adventure is that (a) hagfish vaguely look like worms, or even more vaguely, like dragons, and (b) hagfish slime looks just like water until you try to touch it. The idea of a giant hagfish as the climactic encounter for the adventure appealed to me very quickly. You can see the beast up there on the cover. The fact that the effect of the hagfish might be invisible until you investigate it closely appealed to me as a possible source of mystery to investigate.

And so the adventure I ended up writing is structured as a kind of mystery. It's a crime scene, and as you explore it, you find out information about the victim, and you discover evidence in the form of signs and portents that show you what kinds of monsters the gods sent to commit their crime. Because the perpetrators are godlings, and because it's D&D, some of that evidence is quite dangerous to the investigators. Since there are two gods, there are two kinds of incursion, and although the Barnacle Bear is inspired more by the appearance of the character Doomsday from DC Comics than it is by actual barnacles. It functions as a mini-boss of the site, and you can see it in the art below.

As I built the adventure site, I thought about making a fairly realistic map of a lighthouse and lighthouse keeper's house and estate, and I thought about how to make each "clue" different and interesting. What might happen in the well? The kitchen? How would these monsters be affected if the lighthouse keeper had a sauna? Both the big monsters have vulnerabilities that you can learn about by investigating the estate. I added a turnspit dog to the kitchen, both because it was another interesting thing I'd learned about on Connections, and because it tells you something interesting about how the lighthouse functions. 

The climactic encounter is something I'm proud of, and involved a lot of back-and-forth with Stephen to get right. But if you've been wondering for the past couple paragraphs how a party of 1st level characters stands any chance of defeating a dragon, the answer is that there are clues about its weaknesses in the adventure, and I wrote explicit GM advice about what to do if the players try to act on those clues. You definitely won't win just by swinging your sword at it - it's much too big and powerful. But there are ways to hurt it badly, to maybe defeat it, or at least drive it away. But if you don't learn enough from the investigation - or think quickly on your feet during the battle - then your 1st level characters probably will die. And since they were fighting a seemingly overwhelming opponent, I hope those deaths will feel appropriate. Victory is possible, but it's not guaranteed.

interior art by FRK Pyron

One last thing I want to note is the reason that Stephen is listed as doing "additional writing" and not just "editing" or "publishing" on the cover. Stephen's editing was invaluable. This was the first of a couple projects where I've really, REALLY benefited from having an editor with a keen eye for quality who has noticed my weakest areas and pushed me to do better. But in Stephen's case, he also stepped up and added some of his own writing to a couple places that most needed it. 

At the beginning of the adventure, I'd written a table of interactions between the party and the townspeople of Sagewood. It was essentially just a rumor table with a bit of advice and an extra piece of equipment for each standard character class. Stephen expanded it into more of a roleplaying opportunity. 

My idea for the magic lantern was - aside from the fact that it could burn rocks as fuel - a little lacking in terms of seeming all that magical, and it didn't particularly have a role to play in the final fight, except that ideally you'd want to keep it from getting destroyed in the fracas. Stephen rewrote it to be a real artifact, something truly important and precious. Both those inclusions make the overall adventure stronger and better, and I'm glad that it looks the way it does now, instead of how I wrote it.


  1. Anne,

    I got this on the strength of your name even though I don't have either of the linked adventures. (I should rectify that soon.) Good work. Like the critters and the mystery. I plan on adapting it to MCC sooner or later.

    Which makes this review frustrating as it isn't exactly positive:

    (And you may want to do some clean up in the comments in your previous post. Damn spambots.)

    1. Thank you for your faith in my writing, Derek! I'm glad you like the monsters and the adventure. I think it would be a good fit for MCC. The lantern might be an artifact of the pre-apocalyptic age?

      (I usually check for spam comments and get rid of them each time I log in to my blog, but thank you for letting me know. The worst vandalism was a huge number of roofing ads on a couple of older posts.)

  2. Reading through a post-mortem on a project is always insightful to me—it's probably my favorite type of blog post.

    Great work, I can't wait to check out the adventure! Having just finished playing through Ganshoggr by Gus, I can confirm that there's something very fun about a low level party dealing with a dragon of some sort.

    Do you know how long the adventure took you to write, from start to finish?

    1. I think the nice thing about a dragon is that you KNOW you will have to employ unconventional tactics to beat it. There's no false hope of winning a fair fight to trick you into approaching it straighforwardly, you know from the start that you will have to look for any possible source of advantage or else get destroyed.

      I would say that from when Stephen first approached me, through the brainstorming, the couple rounds of drafts and revisions, and the playtesting ... maybe 6-9 months?

  3. Post mortem is interesting and fun, and a haunted lighthouse slots perfectly into my piratical wavecrawl game. Yoinked!

    1. That's great! I hope you and your players enjoy it!

  4. Anne,

    This seems very good news, congratulations on the good work. I'm not finding another way to contact you, so first, sorry for using this space in a non-intended way.

    My name is Josep, and I'm part of a small gamer community at the shores of Mediterranean Sea that uses our mother tongue, Catalan, to play. Last year, we started producing a fan made magazine ( and for this year edition we would like to publish a translation of your post “Landmark, Hidden, Secret”, evidently with the proper credit and permission.

    Please, could you reach me by mail on jeptorra_at_gmail_dot_com to nail the details?

    Thanks in advance,


    1. Hi Josep, Thank you for asking about this, and for sending the link to the zine! I've emailed you so that we can discuss your offer there!

  5. Writing something meant to exist between two already-published adventures sounds like a fun challenge. Thanks for sharing these insights into your process. :D

    1. Thanks Nick! It was an interesting challenge.


  6. Hey Anne,

    So first of all, I want to thank you once again for coming up with such an interesting and exciting adventure. I’m really pleased with how this adventure came out and I love having it as part of the Frawgs/Larvik universe (or the “frawg-iverse” as I’m now playfully calling it.)

    From my perspective, your instincts reading the background material were spot on. Sagewood & Dead Goblin Lake (setting for Attack of the Frawgs) was based on remote hunting/trapping areas in Alaska I’d read about. Larvik Island is based on the Money Pit of Oak Island mystery (which wasn’t as well known when I originally wrote that adventure, but is much more widely known thanks to that History Channel show…) In addition, I’ve actually written a draft of the sequel to Larvik, and the interfamily deity squabbling (and the effects it has on human-kind) becomes much more prominent in that adventures. So Lighthouse is great foreshadowing (assuming I ever finish Larvik 2).

    I am a sucker for coastal adventures. Stories/movies/adventures like Storm of the Century, Anchorhead, Midnight Mass, and others are very appealing to me, so your setting fits perfectly.

    Thanks again for working with me on this project, and hope we can collaborate again on something in the future.

    1. Hi Stephen,

      Thank you for sharing some of your own design process here! I didn't realize that Sagewood and Larvik Island had real world inspirations.

      I think the next Frawg-iverse adventure is well positioned to feature the sea gods in a larger role!