April 15, 2024

Asking The Right Questions (Worldbuilding By Bibliomancy)

This is an intuitive method of building a setting based off asking questions and interpolating answers with the help of literature. First, something I suspect many of us suffer from - the need to be utterly unique. I often find myself being overly precious in the planning phase when making a setting, be it a smaller dungeon or a wider world. I fear that if I were to carry out the thoughts that come to my head on first instinct they would be trite garbage not worth the labor of execution.

When I sit here and type it out, it all becomes quite silly. Ideas are cheap, especially if you have nothing to show for it because you spent all your time mulling over new, better ideas. But as children of a culture that puts so much weight on the value of ideas the fear still persists and can be paralyzing. As a person building a world, this paralysis becomes worse when you can visualize what may be the starts of a good idea but cannot justify it in a way that has a level of verisimilitude or connection to other things within the world. There is no greater disappointment than coming up with something you think would be iconic, having no clue how to slot it into the setting, and then casting it aside. There's the initial rush and passion of an idea, but then the logistics anxiety sets in on if it will work or be worth it.

Often I've combated this feeling by worldbuilding with friends with systems like The Quiet Year and Microscope. The collaboration between multiple minds can really affirm that an idea stands on solid ground, and the prompting of one person may take the world in a direction that reinvigorates your interest in the world and makes you feel that everybody at the table is a genius. Of course, this comes with three primary disadvantages:

  • You need friends. I am lucky enough to have them, but all of us are students with very little time to spend.
  • These systems have rules that every player must understand. You can only really depend on yourself to arrive knowing the rules and what you want to get out of this experience.
  • It is often done in one session. It is quite hard to pick up where you left off in a worldbuilding game. When I worldbuild it tends to come in inspired sprints, it's not like I can call up my friends to play Microscope at 1 AM. The ability to worldbuild with prompting while on a bus or in insomnia-riddled fits is incredibly valuable but hard to achieve.

The question remains, how do we handle this irrational but still very influential feeling of idea paralysis?

Art by Alariko
Despite being too busy to worldbuild with friends, I've been suffering from this feeling less and less. A month ago I got my issue of KNOCK #4 (check it out, I'm in it) and read a post by Jens Turesson at The Acorn Afloat that changed the way I approach building settings almost entirely. It's an older post, but I did the digging for you and you can find it here. I will sum it up in a simple and generalized manner:

  1. Start with what elements you want in the setting. Jens does this in the form of a map, but you can describe it as well. Statues of a strange God looming over the horizon, a glowing lake, spider-dogs, etc. Go crazy, go wild.
    Visual thinkers will shine here. For those who are less attuned to visualizing, come up with a main element (a lake, for instance) and then place something that doesn't belong within that element (it's glowing, it's made of blood, there's a cabin in the middle of it, etc.)
  2. Pick an element of the world and ask yourself, "Why is X there?/Why is X this way?"
  3. Take a book and flip to a random page, read the first sentence that catches your eye.
  4. Use the sentence as a prompt for an answer.
  5. Repeat until satisfied.

This method is brilliant for multiple reasons. Mostly, you can focus far more easily on establishing iconic encounters and elements without having to immediately worry about how these fit into the world. Also, through asking enough why's you can easily establish more ideas that aren't necessarily thematically related to the idea that made you start this method of worldbuilding in the first place but are still related diegetically.

Art by Alariko
This being said, rules as written the method can produce underwhelming results sometimes because you are trapped into asking "why". Sometimes "why" is not the question. The full potential of an idea can more easily be tapped by knowing the right questions to ask. So, I have changed the process with some notes that have worked in my time using this:

  1. Start with what elements you want in the setting.
    Be sure to arrange elements with contrast in mind to give yourself enough questions to ask about these elements (i.e. "Why is this lake made of blood" is a far more easy question to answer (and therefore has less potential as an idea) if the lake is located in Hell or wherever else you may reasonably find a lake of blood)
  2. Pick an element and ask yourself one of the following:
    • Why, if you're looking for a reason or motive behind why an element is there or the way it is.
    • How, if you're looking for the logistics behind an element or what means it may have.
    • Who, if you're looking to add an NPC related to the element.
    • What, if you're looking to add another element related to this current element.
    • When, if you're looking to mention the past or a prophesied future, and add that time as a new element (this question is not often used)
    • Where, if a part of the element is present somewhere other than here, and add that place as a new element (also rarely used)
  3. Take a book and flip to a random page, read the first sentence that catches your eye.
  4. Use the sentence as a prompt for the answer. One to two sentences is often a good length. Do not be afraid of reaching or using an answer that you feel is unrelated to the prompt. This is not a standard to hold your world to, simply a method to help you build a world in an intuitive way.
  5. Note down any new elements established through this line of questioning. These will come in handy to remind you of where you left off and further possible elements to develop.
  6. Repeat on new elements or this element until satisfied. I find that three questions asked about one element is often enough to define it pretty well before moving onto an element related to it - but play to your taste.

And, some design notes: 

  • Avoid asking Do/Does/Are/Is questions. These can often be answered with a simple yes or no. They are still important to define, but a coin is the correct tool for that, not a book. Yes is typically the correct answer.
  • Books don't need to be the only media used in this exercise. Song lyrics work as well as long as your taste isn't limited to ambience. For books, I recommend poetry, but I've had a friend who got good use out of a coding textbook as well - so anything will do. If you do use a book, the best ones for this are those not heavy in short bursts of dialogue.
  • Limiting yourself to one book or similar songs can help in getting a more consistent tone of answers if that is what you seek. 
  • This method can also be tried on defining NPCs! This does not need to just be reserved for spaces and settings. Ask questions on why they wear certain clothes or how they got their weird gear.
  • This does not completely replace the usefulness of a friend's help. I frequently vent ideas to Archon of Archon's Court, who aside from being an excellent writer is lovely for listening to my ramblings. This is a good method for still maintaining the surprise of your world to your friends, but I think any GM would go insane if they couldn't talk about what they were working on to somebody.
Art by Alariko

And finally, an example with a few more notes: 

A RUINED CABIN IN THE WOODS, A DRIED RIVER RUNS CLOSE TO IT.

  • Why did someone build this cabin here?
    • "Like winged stars the fire-flies flash and glance, / Pale in the open moonshine, but each one..." - Letter to Maria Gisborne, Percy Bysshe Shelley
      • This cabin was built to harvest firefly-liquor, also known as Sunshine. The low trees and fertile insect-breeding grounds make this a good place to collect the mass amount of fireflies needed for this.
  • What caused the cabin's destruction?
    • "Close by the waterfall, the column slants, / And feels its ceaseless breeze. But what is this?" - The Picture, Samuel Taylor Coleridge
      • A water elemental ruined the shack.
        Hm, a fine start. Perhaps it's a liquor elemental! Yeah, that's fun, it's a liquor elemental. Never be afraid to reach if another answer that comes from this questioning seems more fun or thematically appropriate!
        A barrel of firefly-liquor became an elemental and trashed the place, causing its previous inhabitants to flee.
  • Who lived here before the cabin's destruction?
    • "Titan! to whose immortal eyes / The sufferings of mortality," - Prometheus, Lord Byron
      • A 12 foot tall immortal man, with the red puffy face of an alcoholic - locals report his name was Noryb.
        If you're out of ideas for NPC names, use the author's one scrambled or backwards!
  • Where does the dried river start?
    • "Can Ariel ever find his own. / From Prospero's enchanted cell, [...]" - With a Guitar, to Jane, Percy Bysshe Shelley
      • An abandoned prison.
        Another fine start, but with the prompt "enchanted" and the information we have, we can easily attach this to more context. You may start to see how the order in which you ask certain questions can play out in forming a location!
         An abandoned prison for immortals, meant to keep them from committing crimes out of disdain for mortal men.
  • How did Noryb the Immortal defend himself from the nearby prison?
    • "But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet / Wherewith the seasonable month endows." - Ode to a Nightingale, John Keats
      • The shadows within the cabin's confines are magical. If you slip into one, you turn invisible - which allowed Noryb to hide from prison patrols and scare off intruders.
        I could have easily said that Noryb is able to turn invisible in shadows, but tying this effect to the location instead of just one NPC makes it more interesting and allows you to use it as a springboard for more questions.
  • When did the cabin become abandoned?
    • "Ten thousand saw I at a glance, / Tossing their heads in sprightly dance." - I wandered Lonely as a Cloud, William Wordsworth
      • During the Ousting Of The Immortals, when peasants from hamlets all round came to burn anybody accused of Immortal Practices.
        Giving anything a proper name is an easy way to establish it as a new element you can explore later!

Look at that - just by asking a few questions we have got a place with a fun background and connection to the world around it while still having more elements to prod at if we so desire! I could easily see this all as a hexcrawl or something similar. Let's list those elements established in this line of questioning so we may prod at them later if we ever want to pick this back up:

  • The Dried River
  • Firefly-liquor (Known as Sunshine)
  • The Sunshine Elemental
  • Noryb the Immortal
  • Abandoned Immortal Prison
  • Magical Shadows
  • Ousting Of The Immortals
  • Nearby Hamlets
  • Immortal Practices

For the sake of example I relied pretty heavily on using every different type of question and using the books quite often. Typically I'd do around 3 questions before feeling satisfied instead of 6, and use duplicate questions if need be (I really wanted to ask Why did the elemental destroy the cabin but I restrained myself). I'm also completely fine with leaving some questions unanswered - not everything needs to be detailed out.

But remember that your instincts are not as bad as you think they are. If you are confident you know the answer to a question, you don't need a book to tell you otherwise. The goal of this procedure is to reinvigorate your surprise and wonder in creating a setting. To get you more excited and confident in your own ideas because now they are shared between you and an author of the past. To encourage some healthy spontaneity and make you take guided steps toward making the damn thing!

March 09, 2024

Beginning Of The End (How To Finish A Campaign)

These are a few methods to help end a campaign in a way that satisfactory toward everybody at the table. If you've been a player or a GM in more than one long-running campaign, you've likely experienced the fizzle. Simply, the game dies with a whimper and not the bang we all envision when we picture a game's climactic end. The fizzle happens most commonly in three different ways:

  • Things are going well, then slowly scheduling problems occur. Nobody seems able to remedy them. The game dies in stasis with empty promises to pick it up again before it is abandoned.
  • The players meander around for a few sessions. Player interest begins to die down. The GM's interest dies down as well. The game is abandoned to move onto the next great thing while this world and its characters are left to be forgotten.
  • The GM cannot bear the weight of their own ambition when they started this game. They put it on hiatus. It never starts again. It becomes a sore point of conversation.

The Tower by Ferenc Pinter

These are largely symptoms that come from the intersection of wildly overestimating the mortality of your game and not having a clear objective for the players to fulfill. As much as we in the OSR community tote the phrase "run situations, not stories" (or variations thereof), as a storytelling species we naturally crave a narrative and it's disheartening to see the fizzle rid a game of a fulfilling ending. But, there is a principle we as GMs can apply to prevent the fizzle:

When beginning a game, have a planned end condition. This can be anything from "this game will end when the semester ends" to "this game will end when you have collected a certain object in the dungeon or die trying". Choose a timeframe or objective that works best for you and your group's circumstances. Discuss it openly with them.

Tie the end condition into the world. "This game will end when the semester ends" is not exactly a graceful way to end a story and does not complete the objectives we are looking for. Try to tie this timeframe into the world. For instance, spinning it as "The dragonfire bomb will consume the world in flame when the semester ends" immediately says a lot about your world and gets players interested. It does not always have to be the end of the world, though, even if that is the easiest way to tie the timeframe of the campaign into the world. "The last boat leaves off this island by semester's end" and "your debtees will have your kneecaps come semester end" are lower stakes but equally as valid. All that matters is that it ties into the world and affects the players to where it'd feasibly be an end.

Be very transparent with players about this end condition. Don't keep the end condition a secret from them, even if it feels like it should be because of how it is tied to the world. Knowledge of the game's mortality will make players act in more brave ways that leads to more interesting gaming and storytelling.

Have the player's starting conditions be influenced by the end condition. If the game ends when the players escape the megadungeon-prison of Cath-Dunn, it makes no sense to have them roll 3d6x10 gp and buy their gear from the equipment list. Once the players are informed of the end condition and are comfortable with it, be unafraid to throw them into their situation with nothing but rags, loose manacles, and a skewer of cooked rats. Specificity like this adds flavor to the game and verisimilitude to the world and the situation your players are in.

Foreshadow the end condition through the world, give it a focus. The dragonfire bomb ticking deep beneath the earth, increasing in volume as the end approaches. Ships slowly leaving port, the town becomes less populated until it is just you and the last boat. Increasingly threatening letters from your debtees. Remind the players of the game's mortality from time to time to increase pressure, remind them of their circumstances, or add a grim ambiance.

Let the players define their own victory. Listen to their plans and encourage their own exploration of the world in the time they have. If their original goal was to pay off their debts but now they want a final confrontation with their powerful debtees, let them have it, even if it was not in your original vision. This tip is more for games that end over a timeframe rather than games that end when a certain objective is met (i.e. retrieve the Sword Of The Holy Wyrm from the dungeon or die trying). Games that end on an objective already have a defined victory condition - completing the objective. As a note, generally objective-based end conditions require more talk between players and GM beforehand to confirm that everybody is okay with the premise.

I have personally been using these principles for a long while and I've found them to be successful. There's been a significant drop in the amount of times the fizzle occurs. Scheduling problems still happen, gathering three to six adults in one room for several hours is a surprisingly difficult task as any GM knows - but the knowledge of the game's end motivates people to schedule more purposefully, encourages player exploration in the limited time they have, and limits the GM's scope. All of this leads to a more smooth and complete game experience.

Before utilizing these principles, I have found myself being influenced by the expectation that is rampant in Fifth Edition circles (despite not even using 5e), that a campaign should last until players naturally wander into the climactic encounter the GM was planning all along. This expectation is nigh-impossible to live up to, as herding players toward a planned climax and having them believe that this was actually what they wanted all along leads to the player's choices feeling obsolete and the world being flattened. This expectation often requires a lot of scope creep, as players naturally want to explore the world and waltz away from your climactic encounter or are simply not ready to handle it yet. The limiting of scope creep has helped me become a happier GM and get more restful hours of sleep.

Acknowledging the mortality of a campaign is uncomfortable and strange, but ultimately beneficial to how the game pans out. The times you have with your friends are limited - the times you spend together in worlds of collective imagination even more so - it is best to spend these times in a way that offers closure and completeness to you, your friends, the characters, and your world so you may speak of them with fondness instead of regret.

The Fool by Ferenc Pinter

Now for some informal additions to this post. I got carried away writing this post and wrote a small table of example end conditions, some I've even used in the past. Remember if you use these that the end conditions should influence the player's starting conditions. I hope you enjoy these:

  1. When the semester is over, the dragonfire bomb deep beneath the earth will explode bathing the world in spectral green fire.
  2. When Spring is over, your mage-debtees will come to take your organs as payment.
  3. When the sunlight touches your flesh and you are free from the labyrinth, the game will end.
  4. When the weekend is over, the archpriest shall leave the county and the heist shall have to be called off.
  5. When Winter is over, Immortal Deustresses will cast judgement upon you and either smite you or make you living saints.
  6. When you have found a way to the moon, the game will end.
  7. When we return to campus, the Golden Rot will turn your bodies to brilliant golden statues.
  8. When Fall is over, the dungeon will collapse.
  9. When Summer is over, all magic loses its potency, and as mages your legacies will end.
  10. When tax season arrives, if you have not paid 1,000,000 gp to the King you will be beheaded. If successfully paid, you will be freed from your knightly servitude and retire. Either way the game will end.

Additionally, some final design notes:

  • End-conditions set within a timeframe are FAR easier to pull off than ones based around an objective. I recommend you start with timeframes if you are unfamiliar with these principles. It immediately adds pressure to the players to act in interesting ways in a way that pursuing an objective does not. Although, objective-based and timeframe-based end conditions can be mixed for fun and profit. Number 10 on the example table is a fine example of this.
  • I cannot stress enough the importance of being transparent about your end conditions with your players. A game can be something that people get incredibly emotionally invested in, and to rob invested players of the game with an end they did not see coming can cause even more sour feelings than the fizzle. Additionally, you must remember that you can only make meaningful decisions as a player when given enough information about your situation. I believe that the game's end conditions fall into that set of information that is critical to decision-making.
  • Remember that these are end-conditions. Start them with When, not If. The game's end will always come, this post is about ending it on terms everybody is happy with.

February 24, 2024

Knots (A Procedure For Elegant Jaquaysing)

This is an approach to automatically Jaquays your dungeons while building them. For those unfamiliar - Jaquaysing is a term popularized by Justin Alexander, named after the late Jennell Jaquays. It refers to a specific set of tricks you can use to make your dungeon (or any space, really) have a greater sense of interconnectivity and nonlinearity. Jaquaysing is important because to Jaquays your dungeon is to make it a more playable space that allows for player freedom.

Labyrinth II by Erik Desmazières

The principles of Jaquaysing are generally to:

  • Add loops to your dungeon. Loops provide the players multiple options to tackle their problems, and the ability to approach problems from behind. For instance, rooms 14 through 17 in the imaginary Loathsome Frog Caverns form a loop (14 connects to 15, which connects to 16, which connects to 17, and 17 connects to 14). 17 has a Frog-Curse Blade in a glass display case, but the way between 14 and 17 is blocked by a punji pit. Meanwhile 15 is home to a Froghemoth. Here players who enter 14 are presented with two different problems - but because 15 leads to 16 leads to 17, players can still get the Frog-Curse Blade if they are feeling down to fight the Froghemoth instead of traverse the punji pit.
  • Add multiple entrances/exits to your dungeon. Each entrance/exit can have its own difficulties and level of obviousness. For instance, the main entrance to the Loathsome Frog Caverns is well known but is frequented by bandit patrols looking to shake up adventurers for taxes. There is a secret tunnel a half mile away but it is only known by guides and slime harvesters, but it can also be discovered in a strange side-path within the dungeon.
  • Add multiple ways to traverse the levels within your dungeon. Most dungeons of a considerable size to be Jaquaysed have multiple levels of increasing danger - and just the same way that multiple entrances helps players find easier (or just different) paths to approach new environments, so to does having multiple paths between levels. For instance, the most obvious way to Level 2 of the Loathsome Frog Caverns is by a grand stairwell guarded by a council of Croaking Ghosts who demand tribute. If players do not have appropriate tribute (or enchanted weapons), room 21 is host to a large snail-pit that descends to room 49 on Level 3.

Now that the basics are out of the way: among writers in the OSR space, this topic has been talked about a lot - although I always have a problem with the way it is talked about. Good tips, talk, and examples from other modules are often given, but I am a big fan of procedure, which these posts often lack. The ways to execute upon these ideas requires very active thought or renovating a dungeon you already have made - and sometimes I just want to spontaneously make a dungeon and have it work well in play.

Jaquaysing may sound easy to do in the moment - just add more exits to rooms. This pitfall leads to a few issues:

  • The players get analysis paralysis and spend hard-scheduled game hours arguing in the 10-exit room you made about which door to go through rather than doing anything fun or exciting. Choice is great and integral to impactful play, but giving too many choices in a constricted environment (like the dungeon where Jaquaysing is most commonly applied) can be meaningless if it leads to  paralysis that makes players freeze or just pick a random door because they feel that they are all the same and they should keep the game moving.
  • It confuses systems which are integral to dungeon travel. Things like torch usage and dungeon turns rely on the traversal of many rooms instead of just two rooms (the 10-exit monstrosity and one of its branches). By making your room 2 connect to rooms 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9, you've pinched travel that could have happened if you instead had room 2 connect to rooms 3 and 4, and 3 connect to 5, and etc.
  • It's harder to get players to care for where in the dungeon to go next. This may be my own personal preference, but I find that describing what may come in the next room via sounds, sights, and smells at a room's exit is just as important as the upcoming room itself because sensory information like this allows for players to make informed decisions about their travel. For instance, the way between rooms 2 and 3 is described as having "an overwhelmingly earthy scent, audible noise of squelching footsteps frolicking." Clues like this both reward players for immersing themselves and investigating the world while giving them some things to suspect about the upcoming room without giving the game away. If you have a 10-exit monstrosity and you're taking this sensory approach, you've both put much more work onto yourself and more information to process for the players, which they may get exhausted from.

Needless to say - we don't want these issues. We want to Jaquays elegantly. 

With this in mind, I've made a procedure that you can use in the process of creating your dungeon to ensure that it is Jaquaysed without running into the issues above. This procedure is purely for dungeon layout and composition, and assumes that you already have themes/trappings decided for your dungeon (as any good dungeon ought to have).

The procedure is a series of questions you should ask yourself with each room placed on the map. The questions are as follows:

  1. Does this room connect to more than three other rooms? If so, remove exits until you have two or three. For the purposes of this procedure, entrances/exits to the dungeon itself count as a room as well, and will be the only valid dead-ends on the map.
  2. Does this room only connect to one other room? If so, add another exit until you have two or three. If you cannot think of an exit to the room, you can always add an exit to the dungeon. Additionally, you can add a more obscure way of traversal (a secret door that loops back to another room, a pit that leads down a level, etc)
  3. Does this room have more than one exit on any given wall? If so, rearrange exits until there is a maximum of one exit per wall. This is for the sake of clarity for both yourself and the players. Having three exits on the north wall can quickly get confusing if players return to the room (which they will often do at least once if the dungeon is Jaquaysed properly). 
  4. Define each connection this room has as either obvious or obscure.
    Obvious connections
    are things players will immediately see as a simple, safe way to exit this room. For example, a wooden door, an archway, a stairwell, etc. These will likely be most exits in the dungeon. The only interaction they often offer is passing through them or forcing them open.
    Obscure connections are where you can get creative with travel and cater to different player styles. They can be exits that players don't immediately see and reward investigation (i.e., a secret door, a sliding bookshelf, etc.) They can be exits that are dangerous (i.e., a wall of fire, a trapped door, etc.) They can just be exits that are thematic to the dungeon (i.e. vents, sewers, chutes, a pit, etc) Whatever the obscure connection is, have fun with it and allow for interesting player interaction with it.

I typically make the map in this fashion before I define the contents of the rooms, because a critical advantage of this procedure is that it lets you know what rooms will be important to further exploration of the dungeon. Players are likely to return to rooms with three obvious connections if they want to explore the full dungeon. These junctions are ripe opportunities for you to place visually striking, or setting significant room contents - because the players will more likely than not return to this room to explore the other branch the dungeon has to offer at this point. This is not to say that all rooms should have three obvious connections - use your better judgement.

 I have been using this procedure for a while now and it has quite a few benefits:

  • It guarantees a Jaquaysed dungeon. Because the only dead-ends on the map are entrances and exits to the dungeon complex itself, if you use this procedure to its full potential the connections between rooms form large loops and junctions that always present the players somewhere to go without having to rely on rooms with too many exits. Even if you get criminally lazy and make a dungeon that is a straight line with entrances at both ends, it still follows one principle of Jaquaysing.
  • It's simple and allows for spontaneous creation that can lead to pleasant surprises. When using this procedure I've occasionally had to abandon obvious design conventions that first come to mind in favor of something more interesting. For instance, there's been a few times I've had to add exits to the dungeon complex near the center of the map because the only valid dead-ends are exits and the dungeon geometry won't allow for me to expand further in one direction or another
  • When you break the rules, it heightens the significance or weirdness of a specific room.

La Tour De Babel by Erik Desmazières
With the notes about the procedure done, I can't lie, I got a bit carried away with the examples and made a table of obscure connections. I hope you enjoy them.

D12 Obscure Connections:

  1. A sewer - a slimy cramped crawl into the next room.
  2. An electrified metal gate - hums threateningly.
  3. A mouth - if you taste too good it may close after you enter.
  4. A metal door with a slot - requires appropriate offerings in the slot to be opened.
  5. Cracked glass - easily broken and allows vision into the next room.
  6. A hidden door behind torture implements - smells awful.
  7. A trapped staircase that has already been activated - its stairs now a slope downward.
  8. A sheer drop downward into darkness.
  9. A well - bucket and rope still intact.
  10. Wind tunnels - industrial fans still spin and threaten to bisect those who aren't careful.
  11. A blabbering wall of flesh - must be bargained with for entry and exit.
  12. A sheer ascent - with only overgrown vines and the occasional foothold to assist your way to the next room. 

Edit After Post:

I mention it only briefly, but knowing when to break the rules of the procedure deserves a little more talk. The procedure definitely makes dungeon layouts have a few quirks, most notably that there are no dead-ends outside of entrances/exits to the dungeon complex itself. This is not always a good thing, as this kind of layout can be at odds with the themes or setting of your dungeon. I like to use the procedure listed above as a way to sort of lay out a map before I know its specifics - with the layout and themes in mind then I find ways to break rules where it would benefit the dungeon. Use your best artistic judgement when breaking the rules, but I find that these are cases where you may want to ignore parts of the procedure:

  • If the verisimilitude of the dungeon would not benefit from the procedure. For instance, a prison cell is not likely to have at least two ways to exit it, otherwise that would be a poorly crafted prison. A dead end in a room like this would benefit how believable the space in your dungeon is, and your players' immersion. The procedure is still good to use as a baseline to generate a map - but once you figure out the exact identity of an area in the dungeon (for instance, rooms 20-32 of the Loathsome Frog Caverns are a prison for the human sacrifices) remember that your first draft is not your final draft and you can always edit the layout to support these themes.
  • If you want to keep your players on their toes. While on a zoomed out level the procedure generates organic structures, there's a certain order to the whole procedure. When you insert a carefully crafted room that has many exits or a complete dead end, it highlights the weirdness of that room and serves to throw off player navigation if they are getting used to the order of the dungeon's layout. Rooms like these should be done with a purpose, though - as too many rooms like these can threaten the Jaquaysing of the dungeon or mess with player navigation too much and run into the issues of analysis paralysis.
  • If you feel like it deep down. At the end of the day, dungeons are an artform - from mapping to keying to the table. The procedure is here to serve as a nice default way to guarantee a well-Jaquaysed space, but don't let that get in the way of your own vision or satisfaction. While not true of real life, in art, rules like these are made to be broken.

October 09, 2023

Of Men, You Make Beasts

 This is a table of horrible beasts for the more grisly parts of your games. Largely inspired by Loch's Ashes to Ashes game and PRIMEUMATON's GLOGtober prompt "Cool things to replace your eyes, teeth, and fingernails with,"

Obvious content warning - body horror.

(Cursed Wolf (2012) by Morgan Allen)
  1. A man. Its jaw distends to its knees and is brimming with snakes. It has the eyes of a cat and bear paws instead of feet. Every snake is venomous - roll for a random poison on your nastiest table when bitten.

  2. A woman. It has the head of a star-nosed mole - the size of a human ribcage. It has antlers instead of arms and rooster combs instead of nipples. When threatened or curious it makes a horrible gurgling sound and then begins to spray acid from its nose like a garden sprinkler.

  3. An old woman. Its skin sags so much that it trails behind like a long robe. Beneath the sags it has the legs of a spider and an arm-length proboscis. Anyone stung ages 1d10 years.

  4. A baby boy. Its head is a giant flea and it has the legs of a frog. It can mimic any voice it hears perfectly. If it can smell you - it gains knowledge of your greatest deeds, worst failures, parent's names, where you were born, and the names of the people you've killed.

  5. A man. Every inch of its skin is covered in ears. It has two pairs of bat wings which grow from its back and buttocks. If a spell is cast in earshot of it, the ears begin to scream and cast the spell back at the caster.

  6. A gibbon. Instead of a head, it has two human legs which it uses to walk. Ten beaks from different birds sprout from its chest. As long as its beaks chirp, everyone within earshot is deafened and moves as if intoxicated.

  7. A bull. It has horse legs for horns and hooves for teeth. Twenty infant arms dangle uselessly from its underside and clap when it charges. Its mere presence is supernaturally unnerving. Every round save vs fear or flee. Gain one sleep paralysis demon per save made.

  8. A hyena. Its neck is 7 feet long and frilled with human nipples. Its shoulders are covered in bleeding barnacles. The nipples persistently leak fire oil, leaving a puddle wherever this creature goes.

  9. A rat the size of a wolf. Its head is weighed down by a large crown of sharpened phalanges. Its tail is replaced with an elephant's trunk. In its presence all currency becomes white-hot.

  10. Twenty-eight tigers grafted together with human gums - collectively the size of a cabin. Somehow it can still sprint at the speed of a man. No supernatural abilities - but who needs those when you have the sheer force of twenty-eight tigers piled atop one another.

  11. A snapping turtle the size of a wolf. Its shell is replaced with a giant mound of gums dotted with ingrown teeth. Staring at it makes any recent wounds open and bleed profusely.

  12. An anaconda. It has six meaty frog-legs protruding out of its eye sockets. Human canines cover its underside. The grip of its frog legs is equivalent to an industrial vice.

  13. A shark. It has two massive sloth arms growing from the sides of its head which allow for clumsy movement on land. Instead of teeth it has barbed human tongues and a goat's eye at the end of its throat. If it can see you, it can attack you. The tongues extend to unnatural lengths to rip into your flesh.

  14. A knotted mass of moray eels, collectively the size of a boulder. Instead of a face, each eel has a human hand with a bony spike sticking out of the palm. If disturbed the bony spikes fire in all directions like a volley of arrows. They take an hour to regrow.

  15. A wasp the size of a human head. Instead of wings it has a pair of beating human lungs. Growing beside its abdomen is the bulging abdomens of a spider and ant. On death it releases a small cloud of purple gas that quickly combusts.

  16. A beetle the size of a wolf. Its horns are replaced with the biting heads of caiman. Its carapace is replaced with matted human hair. If you get close to it, human arms will emerge from the hair and try to grab your weapons.

  17. A hummingbird. Eight large spider legs jut from its sides. It has the large bulging eyes of a tarsier drooping off its head. Its pecks lay eggs. Over the course of three days a fist-sized pimple will grow on the pecking site and burst, releasing 1d6 identical hummingbird-beasts.

  18. An owl the size of an aircraft. Instead of feathers it has luxurious locks of human hair. Giant gibbering mouths reveal themselves from beneath its wingspan. Areas it flies over experience brief showers of acid rain, increased crime rates, and visceral apocalyptic visions.

  19. A mass of dog legs, collectively the size of a man. Rolls across the landscape like a tumbleweed in the wind. As harmless as it is useless.

  20. A sluggish mass of sclera and vitreous fluid - its surface pockmarked with the irises of hundreds of different animals. Anyone who touches it with bare skin goes blind for an hour. A copy of their iris is added to the growing mass.


Design Notes

This table is obviously not exhaustive. If I have learned anything from Loch's Ashes to Ashes - it's that there's an infinite number of ways to fuck a living creature up. Use this table as a jumping off point - run wild. In the age of beasts, nothing is too absurd to walk the Earth.

September 18, 2023

Bullfighter Jacket (D100 Fantasy Cloak Patches)

 This is a collection of d100 patches to be sewn onto your adventurer's cloak.

For those unfamiliar, in the sci-fi TTRPG Mothership every PC is given a patch sewn onto their coveralls. It does not have any explicit mechanical benefit but it adds so much flavor to your PC and how they present themselves to the world.

I want to have a fantasy equivalent of this, and from observing many character designs I have found a coverall's fantasy equal appears to be a nice cloak. I recommend you roll these at the beginning of character creation as Mothership does - as this allows players to speculate why their characters have these patches and what it says about their personality, past, occupation, etc.

If a cloak doesn't work, patches can always be sewn onto the pack your adventurers carry their beloved loot or used as tattoos for those who like commitment.

Without further ado:

D100 Patches
(Art by the brilliant Dominik Mayer)

  1. "Not A Mimic" (Arrow Pointing Up)
  2. "FIRST" (Hand Clenching Gold Coins)
  3. "Tread Lightly" (10 Foot Pole)
  4. "Flrghlrghhud" ("Fuck Off" In Goblin)
  5. "Stand Clear" (Fireball)
  6. Dark Shape With Three Red Eyes
  7. "Too Young To Die" (Cherub)
  8. "Manifesting" (Pile Of Gems)
  9. "Designated Lantern Boy"
  10. "GREETINGS, I AM:" (Character's Name)
  11. "We Come In Peace" (Praying Hands)
  12. "Chin Up, Soldier" (Torch With Halo)
  13. Goblin (Horribly Drawn)
  14. Grinning Moon
  15. "I'm Parched" (Potion)
  16. "Open Up" (Hand With Lockpicks For Fingers)
  17. "Approaching Rock Bottom" (Unlit Torch)
  18. "SEEK PHYSICAL PERFECTION" (Crossed Scimitars)
  19. "HAVE YOU SEEN THIS MAN?" (Person's Face)
  20. "No Rest For The Wicked"
  21. Plowshares (Crossed)
  22. Elf Ear (Bite Taken Out Of It)
  23. "Knock Knock" (Warhammer)
  24. "All Is Fair In Love And War" (Red Coins)
  25. Knotted Dwarven Beard, Shaped Into A Fist
  26. Rope Shaped Into Infinity
  27. "Halt!" (Tower Shield)
  28. "Don't Talk To Me Before I've Had My Ale"
  29. "Sticks And Stones / May Break My Bones / But Words Will Never Hurt Me"
  30. "KINGKILLER" (Flamberge)
  31. Symbol To An Obscure Deity
  32. Chess Pawn Carrying Banner
  33. "Zzz" (Shut Eye)
  34. Pinup Model (Barmaid)
  35. "Lucky Patch / DO NOT REMOVE"
  36. Knife Wedged Into A Human Spine
  37. Snake Eyes On Dice
  38. Ace Of Spades
  39. "Guide My Hand" (Constellation)
  40. A Fine-Print Description Of What To Do With Your Remains
  41. "Goo-Drinker" (Open Mouth)
  42. "First One In / Last One Out"
  43. Grocery List
  44. Jester Tripping
  45. "Dirty Worker" (Hand, Shovel, Heart)
  46. Self Portrait
  47. "Strength Is The Only Virtue" (A Dog Eating A Dog)
  48. Three Sunflowers
  49. "I'm Fine" (Face Wearing Mask)
  50. "The Gods Are Our Greatest Teachers" (Bruised Face Smiling)
  51. "Angel Of Death" (Halo Of Teeth)
  52. "Trust No One" (Deformed Human Figure)
  53. Hand With Six Curled Fingers
  54. Pinup Model (Dwarf)
  55. "Once Upon A Time..." (Blackletter)
  56. "Love Thy Brother" (Two Fawns Sleeping)
  57. "Live Free Die Young" (Dancing Skeleton)
  58. "Hardly Broke A Sweat" (Dragon Skull)
  59. "Too Old For This Shit"
  60. "All Mine!" (Hissing Cat)
  61. "Don't Bother Me, I'm Pondering" (Orb)
  62. "Take Me Away From Here" (Boat)
  63. Pinup Model (Holding Knife Behind Back)
  64. "All Shall Be Revealed In Time" (Open Spellbook)
  65. Portrait (Player Character's Mother)
  66. "In Need Of Repair"
  67. "Omens Abound" (Ravens)
  68. "Keep Talking And Nobody Dies"
  69. "I Want To Have Fuck With You"
  70. "Never Forget" (Person's Portrait)
  71. "Upstart Hero" (Knight Helm)
  72. Ship In A Bottle
  73. Portrait (Indescribably Grotesque)
  74. "Give Me Money / Give Me Love"
  75. Pinup Model (Blushing Noble)
  76. "Don't Die On Me"
  77. "DRINK / DELVE / DINNER"
  78. Horse (Horribly Drawn)
  79. "Think Outside The Box" (Gelatinous Cube)
  80. Three Names (One Crossed Off)
  81. "Death Comes Faster Than The Realization"
  82. "Stay Alive At All Costs" (Amputee Adventurer)
  83. "BEND BARS / LIFT GATES"
  84. A Folkloric Hero
  85. Crown Atop A Throne
  86. "Powered By Ale"
  87. "The Dungeon IS My Home" (Sad Adventurer)
  88. "NOPE."
  89. "Out Of My Sight, Insect"
  90. "Sorry, Mom / Sorry, Dad"
  91. "MEAT SHIELD" (Scarred Muscles)
  92. Obscure Country's Flag
  93. "PROPERTY OF:" (Another Character's Name)
  94. "Made You Look" (Laughing Man)
  95. "It's The Thought That Counts" (Lit Lantern)
  96. "If You Are Reading This / I Love You"
  97. "Stop Touching My Shit"
  98. "Help Wanted"
  99. "Next One's On Me" (Raised Tankard)
  100. "Victory Is Ours!" (Merry Band Of Adventurers)

Closing Thoughts

You can always roll these up for rival adventuring parties to get a better hold of their personalities or just have an identifying feature that is a little more strange.

Obviously using patches will immediately give your game a bit more of a "punk" flavoring and make your PCs view themselves as more scrappy. Many of these are a little goofy because adventurers are an weird lot and patches are often made to be quirky. If you're running a campaign for more dignified folks, you can always use banners or family crests instead.

Additionally, put enough of the same patch on people of similar beliefs and you may have a guild or secret society forming. Perhaps "Designated Lantern Boy" patch is something given by the Lantern Boy Union - premium dungeon fodder who demand pesky things like worker's rights. Let the free association flow - run wild.

September 17, 2023

Eyes of the Hidden

 This is a table of d6 x d20 sixth senses all adventurers may have.

As a reminder to potential aliens or gelatinous cubes in the audience, all senses give information, just through different ways. With this in mind, this table is divided into two pieces. Roll 1d6 on the first table to get the way something is sensed, and 1d20 on the second table to get the information sensed. Combine the two results for fun and profit:

5/6ths Of The Way To True Attunement
(Art by the wonderful Konstantin Vavilov)

If you...
  1. See something very closely
  2. Smell something
  3. Taste something
  4. Touch something
  5. Hear something
  6. Read about something
... you can intuitively determine...
  1. Who created it
  2. Its exact weight and height
  3. Its name (not true name) and any nicknames
  4. Its purpose and its thoughts on the meaning of life
  5. If it is magical (not how, just if)
  6. If it is cursed or blessed
  7. What diseases it carries
  8. Its greatest deed
  9. Its most shameful secret
  10. How many lives it has taken
  11. Its closest friend
  12. Its worst enemy
  13. Its strongest desire
  14. Its worst fear
  15. Any languages it speaks
  16. Where and when it was created
  17. Everything it has done in the past hour in chronological order
  18. Its recurring dreams
  19. Its exact monetary value
  20. Its emotional value to its owner (if it has an owner)

Closing Thoughts
I find that gifting these senses to adventurers can be done in three fun ways:
  • Through magical or alchemic mutation. This is obvious but also a tried and true classic.
  • Through birth. Perhaps if you have these senses, you are bound for the grim gold-laden path of being an adventurer. This obviously has implications on your setting.
  • After your first successful adventure. Perhaps the dungeon changes you and you leave with a piece of the Mythic Underworld with you. If you want to go real crazy, roll a new sense each level-up.
Odd scenarios will arise when your player asks you "I lick the mushroom, who is its closest friend?" Feel free to give an odd response back like "Sarro Fogmoon, Druid of the Stonewood, Ally of All Things Fungal and Creeping". Giving information like this is a great way to plant adventure seeds and give information about the mechanics and places of your world at large.

Although, you don't need to give some groundbreaking information through these senses all the time. Perhaps the answer to "I lick the mushroom, who is its closest friend?" is "I don't know, it's a mushroom, most mushrooms don't have friends,"

To cut the work on yourself, you don't need to describe every instance of when something is tasted, touched, smelled, etc. Only give out this information when a player asks for it and takes the appropriate action with the appropriate sense deliberately. Additionally, make sure that the players know that you will not be automatically describing whether every meal they eat is magical and whatnot and that they must explicitly ask if they wish to receive information.

Feel free to add to the list. Nothing is stopping you from putting "Kill something", "Kiss something" or even "Prank something" on the d6 list, or "Its response to the trolley problem", "Who it has romantic feelings for" or "The last lie it told" on the d20 list as well. Just be aware that these will often be more specific than the classic few senses listed up there and it will also encourage your players to interact with the world in certain ways.

August 26, 2023

Fifteen Blows (Five Duelist Styles)

 I couldn't resist. Required reading, Loch's excellent Duelist - a fighter that's actually kinda fun.

A Duelist's Halo
Art By Konstantin Vavilov


Ψ - Mercy
The style of the warrior nuns on the Northern frontier, where the sun bleaches all. Requires a blunt weapon.
You might have learned it from one of their fold, or in a near-death experience
  1. Technique: Liturgical Waltz - When you would make two successful attacks on a target, you may shove them up to 20' for free.
  2. Stance: Divine Repose - Brace your arms in prayer and fall to your knees. You cannot cause any harm to others in any way and you move at a crawl. But you cannot die and you cannot be dismembered.
  3. Technique: Make Them See God - When you could riposte, you can instead make the opponent go into Divine Repose for a round by beating them into that position.
  4. Stance: Deathtrap Enlightenment - Your eyes glow a yellow weirdlight. Murderers of the first degree cannot make eye contact with you. Cursed items quiver under your gaze.

Ψ - Hadal
The style of unknowable things come to rise from the ocean and cynic's nightmares.
You might have learned it from an indescribable fish in your dreams, or etched on the ocean floor.

  1. Technique: We All Float Down Here - Upon a successful attack, you may change the opponent's gravity. They move and fight as if they were swimming in water. Fighters get a save.
  2. Technique: Abyss On Earth - Forgo one of your attacks to vomit a vantablack fog. It covers a 20' by 20' area and lingers for 3 rounds. It is impossible by any means mundane or magical to see through it or dispel it.
  3. Stance: Flight Of The Fish - If in darkness, you can move in the air as if you were swimming in water.
  4. Stance: Trench Fighting - Your extra AC from panache isn't lost when you're submerged in water.

Ψ - School Of Flight
The style of the Students of Flight in their fortress-academy high in the mountains.
You might have learned it from the lessons of the school, or in the entrails of a roc.

  1. Technique: Rising Action - When you would riposte, you instead launch yourself off the opponent's weapon up to 20' in the air.
  2. Technique: Falling Action - If you are above someone's head, you can make an extra attack with advantage for free.
  3. Stance: Airborne Fighting - Your extra AC from panache isn't lost when you're in air. You always fall on your feet and take no damage from falls you prepared for.
  4. Stance: Stolen Flight - You can jump up to 10' in the air given you have an arm's length of space to move.

Ψ - Ultraviolent
The style of imperceptible light. Needless to say, its students are elusive.
You might have learned it from an invisible mentor, or on a blank notebook reeking of lemon juice.

  1. Technique: Blinding Blood - When you would take damage, your wounds bleed a strong purple weirdlight. Everybody who can see you hurt must make a save or be blinded.
  2. Technique: Speed Of Light - If you can see a strong light source you can teleport on top of it in the blink of an eye. Using this to teleport to the sun is an inadvisable, but possible decision.
  3. Stance: UV Cloak - Your body becomes invisible. Your equipment does not benefit from this invisibility.
  4. Stance: Light's Witness - You can see invisible foes. They glow a strange fluorescent pale and have trailing afterimages.

Ψ - Ook
The style of the primates in the West whose weaponry consists of sticks and stones. Requires a rock.
You might have learned it over tea by a wise orangutan chieftain, or by bonding with your own special rock in a way incomprehensible to others.

  1. Technique: Skipping Stones - You can make melee attacks on anybody you see by skipping your stone across their heads. 
  2. Technique: OOK OOK AAH - If you deal max damage, you may disable the opponent's ability to communicate in anything but ooks, aahs, and eeks.
  3. Stance: Rollout - As long as you are rolling in one direction, you cannot be stopped or moved against your will.
  4. Stance: Primal Respect - Take a posture ridiculous to civilized folk but revered by animals. Animals will not attack you unless you have attacked them first. If you are hostile to them, you are the sole focus of their attention.

August 24, 2023

Class-As-Species (Anatomically Correct Wizards)

Adventurers are different from all other kind of folk in every aspect, mainly as a result of their class. But nobody seems to know what a class is other than it makes you better at killing shit and getting fat stacks. What if we took it in an absolute direction:

Fighters, Thieves, Wizards and the like are not occupations, they are all species that appear human on the surface, but are anatomically unique. 

All branching evolutions come from and still inherit the traits of:

ADVENTURER 𝚫 - AURUM FICEDULA
If you take any other class-as-species Delta, you must take this Delta. Be born (or rebirthed) with numinous qualities.
  • With a mere look you know any given object's monetary value.
  • You give off pheromones that have a certain effect on people. People treat you as more important than you often actually are.
  • You metabolize gold. All other food tastes like ash, but gold? Indescribable ambrosia. You must adventure to live - your appetite is voracious.
A flock of Adventurer subspecies (called a Party)
(By Konstantin Vavilov)


FIGHTER 𝚫 - URSUS LORICATUS
If not born a Fighter , you can be reborn as one by: Bathing in the burning blood of a dragon and melting into a Fighter; Wearing a piece of armor for a month without ever taking it off; Divine blessing.
  • What people mistake for a suit of armor is actually your flesh. Add [LEVEL + 1] to your AC. You are never treated as unarmored, as it is embedded into your skin.
  • Your sympathetic nervous system works wonders. When in extreme danger, pick either fight or flight. If you choose fight, gain +1 attack per round and you cannot die until you are out of danger (but can still be damaged and dismembered while in danger). If you choose flight, gain +[LEVEL] Dexterity, run twice as fast, and clamber up surfaces like a mountain goat.
THIEF 𝚫 - ACUTI CATTUS
If not born a Thief , you can be reborn as one by: Embracing a grue with mutual love; Drinking Cocoon Poison from the Underworld and waiting a month; An unholy pact.
  • The tips of your fingers are sharpened like fangs (count as dual-wielding knives if unarmed). You are immune to poisons that are transmitted by skin contact.
  • You make no sound you didn't intend to make. Your eyes look like those of a cat.
WIZARD 𝚫 - MAGICIS PARISITIS
If not born a Wizard, you can be reborn as one by: Eating a lich's phylactery; Placing your soul in a hat and renouncing your humanity; ; Drinking the wrong potion.
  • You are not a humanoid, instead you are a parasitic hat piloting a body. If placed on the head of a creature with [LEVEL] or less HD than you, you can pilot it. Creatures get an Intelligence save to resist. Even if the creature is not magical, you have an inherent 1 MD.
  • You can smell magic. Different schools of magic have different scents. Cinnamon for pyromancy, vanilla for necromancy, onion for illusions, etc.

August 16, 2023

Blood Of The Fang

This is a collection of Delta templates related to classic monsters, massively inspired by Loch's recent post on Delta templates. For those unfamiliar with GLOG, a Delta template is a set of abilities you can gain dietetically through weird rite, ritual, and other odd action. It provides a diegetic way of advancement through experimentation and narrative costs to the PCs. Maybe if you had a whole monster manual accompanied by Deltas for each entry the players would engage even the smallest kobold with interest and ambition.

This is not an exhaustive list, but you knew that already. Edit as suits your wants and needs:
Power Takes Many Forms (art by Konstantin Vavilov)

BASILISK 𝚫 - GRAVEN TYRANT'S PRIDE
Petrify a basilisk. Place the statue in a town square as a permanent installation. If the statue is torn down, moved from its location, or the basilisk is unpetrified, start again.
  • When you kill, the victim turns to stone.
  • You can tear into stone and other earthwork with your body as if it were ground beef.
  • When you first meet someone who has heard of you, but has never seen your face, they freeze and cower instinctively.

BEAR 𝚫 -  WILD LUNG'S ROAR
Land the killing blow on a bear with your bare hands. Show its mother what you've done, laugh, and walk away. After this, all bears you meet conspire to ruin your life. Start again once a bear has mauled you within an inch of your life.
  • You are immune to being ignored and the most notable person in a group when you will it.
  • You can perfectly mimic the roar of any beast you've heard that has HD less than or equal to your own.
  • You cannot be knocked prone unwillingly.

BEHOLDER 𝚫 - EVIL EYE'S CLOAK
Replace one of your eyes with an eye from a living beholder. If the beholder dies or the eye is removed, start again.
  • When people make eye contact with you, the ringing of mosquitoes fills their head, deafening them for the duration eye contact is made and leaving a nauseous aftertaste.
  • ALL rolls for morale or Wisdom in your presence have their penalties doubled (if there are any negative modifiers). This does not affect you.
  • You can communicate with the beholder in your dreams. If the beholder dies, you are shown who and what caused their death in your dreams.

DRAGON 𝚫 - GLUTTON KING'S CLARITY
Eat the most valuable item in a dragon's hoard. If you cannot find a way to eat it or keep it down, start again. Beware - knaves' eyes and dwarves' noses will be able to sense the treasure lingering in your guts.
  • You have an innate sense of how valuable items are both monetarily and emotionally to their owner.
  • You can move nearby gold objects you could reasonably wield in one hand with your mind.
  • You deal +1d4 damage against those with less money on their person than you.

ENT 𝚫 -  HEAVEN FRUIT'S VIGOR
Eat the highest-hanging fruit on an ent's body. Survive the wrath of the forest while the fruit digests. If you ever discard the digested fruit from your person, start again.
  • When you will it, you can turn your skin to bark. You take half damage from bludgeoning, piercing, and falling. You take double damage from fire and necromancy.
  • You cannot be killed by poisoning. Surviving poison still remains an incredibly unpleasant experience.
  • When you lie prone on dirt or stone, a cloak of foliage and underbrush quickly grows and effectively conceals you over the course of a minute.

FISHMAN 𝚫 - ABYSSAL FOOL'S CROWN
Wear a fishman's head over your own. Decry your humanity in a public display including a crowd of strangers, a body of water, and the destruction of 100 gp. After this, if the fishman's head is removed, start again.
  • When you will it, you can emit a foul odor that blinds all who smell it, including yourself.
  • You can talk to bodies of water. Their language sounds like moving sand. Only ones that are particularly old or sacred have much to say. They are often wise but poetically obtuse. Oceans and seas are too busy to talk unless you're very important.
  • You can breathe underwater, unless the body of water does not like you.

GELATINOUS CUBE 𝚫 - BLUE BLOOD'S FLUX
Trap a gelatinous cube in a suit of armor. Once half an hour has passed and it has accepted its new shell, climb into the armor. If the suit of armor is removed, start again.
  • You can turn into a sentient puddle of gelatin over the course of a minute. You  move at the pace of a toddler and take double damage from the cold but you can also fit through cracks the size of your pinky and are immune to piercing, acid, and suffocation. When you reform, one detail about your original form is off.
  • Attempts to read your mind or alter it fail. The person attempting to read/manipulate you leaks slime from their mouth and nostrils for a minute.
  • When you will it, your feet and hands leave a trail of slippery slime.

GHOUL 𝚫 - ROTTING LIP'S GIFT
Romance a ghoul. Get it to kiss you with genuine passion, which requires it to overcome the urge to rip off gnaw on your face-meat. If the ghoul falls out of love with you, start again.
  • Your kiss can paralyze if you will it. The length of paralysis is equal to the length of the kiss.
  • Your mouth has the grip strength of an industrial vice.
  • You can appear as any age you desire. The process takes as many hours as years you are advancing if you are becoming older. The process as many days as years you are regressing if you are becoming younger.

GIANT 𝚫 - DREAD GOD'S GUTS
Make a comfortable home within a giant's innards. Store something of great value in there and fall asleep. You will wake up changed. If the house is destroyed or looted, start again. Beware, dead giants are teeming with other wannabe tenants.
  • You are 10 feet tall. Adjust Strength and inventory space as appropriate. 
  • Your voice is far deeper. If you will it, you can let out a scream that breaks all glass in earshot.
  • You deal +1d4 damage against people with less self-confidence than you.

GOBLIN 𝚫 - TWISTED FIGURE'S FOLLY
Observe a live goblin long enough to draw them. Decry your humanity in a public display including a crowd of strangers and willing participants who will beat you into the shape you have drawn. If the drawing is destroyed, you will heal over the course of a week and have to start again.
  • You no longer take fall damage. Instead, you bounce.
  • Your fingers count as lockpicks.
  • If you are naked and on all fours you can climb walls like a spider and run as fast as a rabid dog.

GRUE 𝚫 - LOOMING MOON'S PRESENCE
Eat a grue's tongue. Easier said than done. There is no reversing this - you are no longer truly safe in shadows or dreams.
  • You can turn your skin and all equipment worn vantablack (the purest black) if you will it. 
  • You can store three items in your shadow. Each item must not be bigger than you and must have taken a life. The weightier the shadow, the more grue attention it attracts.
  • You can put out any light source in earshot if you will it. This attracts the attention of grues.

MIMIC 𝚫 - GREAT PRETENDER'S ART
Domesticate a mimic. Feed 1,000 gp worth of treasure to it. It will produce one dose of mimic milk for you to drink. If you take back the treasure you donated, start again.
  • You can instantly disguise yourself as an object you have seen before, smaller than a cart but big enough to contain your body. Objects you  mimic work perfectly well for mundane purposes. You are still harmed normally while in disguise if something attacks.
  • You can talk to traps. Their language sounds like mechanical clicking and electrical whirring. They are naturally duplicitous but very eager to brag how many people they have killed and how you are certainly next. Gaining a trap's respect is nigh-impossible.
  • By tasting an object, you know if it is magic or not.

DESIGN NOTES

I like Deltas because I am a big fan of diegetic advancement while also liking the template system of GLOG. The issue is that designing Deltas is surprisingly difficult. I think I have devised of a way to make a compelling Delta while still being easy for the GM to generate, though. This process helped me:

First and above all, every Delta you make should get players scheming how to fulfill its requirements and imagining what they'd do with the given powers. Throw sense out the window when making the requirements to get a Delta, the weirder the ritual to get the Delta, the better, because that captures attention and gives you more material to work with. Get evocative, let the funk take over.

Ideally with Deltas related to monsters, you want the requirements and the abilities granted to relate to the monster's primary characteristics (e.g., a dragon obviously has fire as a theming) or secondary characteristics (but a dragon also keeps hoards of gold, which could be something to tap into)

I've found that going back to the old maxim of "fast, cheap, or good - pick two" is great for making the requirements for a Delta. When designing most of my Delta's requirements, I returned to this reliable "here's three options, pick two,":
  • It is hard to execute. This is simple - the requirement needs a lot of problem solving and thinking in order to work in the first place. For example: petrifying a basilisk asks a lot of the players but it is achievable.
  • It comes with a lingering cost or drawback. The requirement either needs you to uphold some kind of maintenance you didn't have to before or inflicts a considerable drawback on you as long as the requirement is upheld. For example: you may need to care for a beholder's life if you want to continue benefitting from the Delta they provide.
  • It requires you to do something that will certainly make you a pariah in society's eyes. The requirement needs a public display of devotion which risks putting you at odds with certain sects of society. For example: adventurers who know (or sense, in the case of dwarves) that you have eaten part of a dragon's hoard will want to have a search around your guts.
Personally, I have found the most success in always picking the first option and then picking one of the other two options, or at least designing around the first option primarily. I feel as if choosing just the bottom two options makes this a downtime event with some consequences, which is less exciting to me than an adventure players must actively seek to improve themselves in strange ways.

As goes in the OSR, you should be open to accepting multiple answers to any problem a requirement presents. If a player is thinking cleverly, they should be rewarded. For example: a player does not petrify the basilisk in a conventional way, rather, petrifies it with fear for an extended period of time, or a paralyzing poison, or what have you. These are delightful solutions and should be accepted as valid in my opinion. 

As for abilities, each Delta template should give 2-3 abilities as a job well done. I don't have any particular advice around the design of abilities aside from also trying to relate these abilities to the particular monster or ritual required to get the Delta template. Don't be stingy with the abilities, especially if the Delta template can be taken away.

You can also always go more minimal with your Deltas. A recent example of this is Phlox's Fighter Deltas here. A few sentences can do the trick. I just like going big or going home with my Deltas so they feel more like strange, epic quests that change your character in some unignorable way.

All in all, Delta templates should get the players dreaming of what to do to get them, and then what to do with the abilities provided. Knowledge of how to get a Delta template can be a reward of its own, if the requirement is not already known to the players. 

Oh, also give your Deltas a kick-ass name - that always helps.

May 16, 2022

Making Good Factions (For Your Dungeon)

 Hello. Today we will be diving into yet another aspect of dungeoncraft: factions. I feel like it's pretty well known among the OSR community that your dungeon should have factions, but rarely do I hear what a faction should be aside from a group of people with matching uniforms/aesthetics. So, today I will give criteria for what I find makes a good faction. Like the last post, this can also be a fine jumping-off point for making your own dungeon from scratch, as groups of people can define a place just as well as what people say about a place.

Factions, like people, need homes. They cannot exist in a vacuum, and need a backdrop (in this case, a dungeon) for their antics. Additionally, this setting backdrop can further reinforce faction themes or give you inspiration for further factions.

For this example, I will use the basic structure of the dungeon I implied in my last post. For those who don't want to read that post: the surface is the ruins of a keep, the first level is a set of dungeons which houses now-undead prisoners, the second level is a wizard's alchemical laboratory which is nestled deep within a set of subterranean caves and tunnels, and the third level is a set of overgrown catacombs which is the final resting place for an ancient wizard and their familiars.

With the setting established, let us begin.

Art by Konstantin Vavilov

Before we get to the specifics, I feel that it is important to define what makes a good faction. I believe a good faction is comprised of three specific things:

  • An aesthetic. Be general so you can have some wiggle-room to make unique faction members, but be sure to be weird enough to have them stick in the player's heads. For instance, a group of roving skeleton guards is a workable aesthetic, but it becomes much more memorable if they have cast-iron helmets that look like fish heads. This is all to say, blend general and specific elements to get a unique result players will remember.
  • A hierarchy of power. Factions are made of people, and people have varying amounts of influence. Defining a leader or two, their relation to their grunts, and how they hold power above their grunts is often enough to cement a leader. Although, you can get bonus points if you bend the faction's aesthetic in a unique way so they stand out among the crowd. Additionally, when people gain power, they begin to form goals of their own beyond the rest of the group. Giving a leader ulterior motives or other goals that the rest of the faction is not interested in/does not know about/must be kept a secret can lead to more intrigue.
  • A goal. Something to ground them in the location (in our case, the dungeon) they are meddling with. Again, I feel as if having factions/NPCs with goals is often talked about in the OSR, but rarely with good examples given. Since a goal defines a faction's actions and reasons for staying in the dungeon, I will go to extra lengths to define good goals. They are:
    • Not a means to an end. As vague as this sounds, it is important, because it is quite common to put "power" or "wealth" as a faction's goal in many adventures/dungeons. "Power" or "wealth" is not a goal, they are instead means to achieve a goal. Instead of just stating these means as a goal in and of themselves, we must step into the shoes of our faction we're making and get a little strange.
    • Proactive. Reactive goals (like "guard the vault", etc) give you very little wiggle-room for intrigue and interest. For example, a reactive goal would be for a group of elves to "guard the forest" This gives them little action to do aside from sitting around and maybe picking off the occasional outsider. If you want to make this a proactive goal, first ask yourself if the elves want to achieve their protection of the forest destructively or constructively. For instance, a destructive (yet proactive) goal would be to "kill all non-elves in the nearby industrial city of Littleplume". Meanwhile, a constructive goal would be to "build a great wall around the forest," Both of these more proactive goals give the elves specific outlets to achieve their goals, and are more unique than to simply "acquire power/wealth" You can essentially roll up means with an end to create a more dynamic goal for a faction.
    • Self-serving. There are rarely completely morally good/bad goals in factions. Do not be afraid to have factions with conflicting goals. If two factions have the same goal, consider rolling them into one faction for simplification.

While this sounds quite complicated, on paper it can be distilled into a few short snippets for each faction. When making your own factions and relationship maps, remember that you can always go over it again and use these bullets like a checklist, reworking the base idea that you had until it satisfies you.


Now, I want to take you through a process I'm using to generate my own factions and the relationships they have with each other/the environment. Remember, the basic setting I'm using is a dungeon. The surface is a ruined keep. The first level is a prison filled with undead, the second is an alchemical lab in a cave, the third is a set of catacombs that serve as the resting place for a mage and their familiars. 


I first begin ruining a blank piece of paper with the central setting, the dungeon. I split this into levels because factions can have relationships to (or goals towards) different environments, as well as each other. In the case of dungeons, I like to think of each level as a house for a family, and each level is an uncomfortable neighbor with each other. 

Next, I list out the main body of the factions, or the grunts, just sticking to a general concept, name, and look. I then like to go down the bullet points like a checklist, first making sure that each faction has an aesthetic before leaders or concrete goals. I also list the reasons why these factions currently dwell in these areas of the dungeon. This may or may not be necessary to (for instance, if it's a more beastly faction, it may be harder to say the purpose they live there aside from "it's their habitat), but I find that it can be useful to elaborate on the faction's relationship with the environment.

After this, I tackle the next item on the checklist, the faction leaders/notables. For these, I just try to add what the grunts of the faction would logically have as a leader. For instance, guards without a noble to oversee them would be strange. Wizardly pets without an owner would also be strange. Etc. I also attempt to bend the faction's aesthetic by either amplifying it or altering it (but not altering it to be unrecognizable) so when players see these notables, they can safely assume that they belong to their respective factions and are people of importance. Additionally, I add more relationships between the grunts and their leaders, along with leaders and other leaders that I can think of at the moment. If you cannot come up with relationships between different leaders, think about how you would respond to said leader given the circumstances. For instance, if I was Veroy the Green I'd feel uncomfortable with Sir Nic the Bold burying himself in my set of catacombs, and would have a negative relationship with him.

Once this is done, we get to the last main part of the factioncraft, the goals. Here, I give each main faction its own real-estate on the page. Then I will give each faction a general goal or two, and later I will give leaders their own motivations in the dungeon rooms. Feel free to get more specific during this part of the process, as now you should have somewhat of an idea of what each faction gen

Step 5 is optional, but I like it. Basically, just add some short complicating factions. These complicating factions are largely just grunts, and occupy a smaller area than main factions. Don't feel the need to give them some grand ambitions like the other factions. You can essentially treat these as bands of rival adventurers that may live inside of the dungeon and making life a mess for the rest of the inhabitants.


And that concludes this post. Compared to the last post, I think that it would likely be harder to use this method of mapping factions as a direct way to make a dungeon. The gears turn much easier if you have a very broad idea of what you want, and you can start with some really bold and interesting foundations if you use the rumor generation method of dungeon ideation. I think I find having a set number of principles to stick to when making a faction is the most useful, as compared to the overall mapping of the factions and their relations. This dungeon project is still undergoing massive amounts of work, so don't take anything you've seen here as something you will see in the final draft. I hope you found this helpful!


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