Tuesday, 31 October 2017

The Shattered Gate

In the marshy lowlands of the Grinvolt, there once stood a mansion, home to sorcerers. So perverse were their bargains that the earth itself opened up to meet them, and the yawning Ur-Menig rose up from the depths to whisper its secrets. Although the mansion is gone now, once-hallowed ground rarely loses its power, and a bestial mockery of the sorcerers' faith is still practiced in the darkness.

This month's adventure is a collaboration with Sean Winslow. I've been gaming face-to-face with Sean for six years now, but sadly he's headed off to central Europe. Here's his parting gift!

Monday, 30 October 2017

Narwhal Part 3

Next step, making the harness. As with the centaur, I used aluminum straps. You can bend them by hand, and with self-tapping screws, they're very easy to join with one another.

Getting the shape of the shoulder strap is surprisingly hard, and requires a very patient wearer.

Note of caution: big suits like this that are held up by small harnesses can produce a lot of leverage. If a boisterous kid slams the wearer, or if the wearer falls down (e.g. some porch steps while trick or treating), the full force is going to jab them with the harness.

If you look carefully, there's a really dangerous design element in this harness: the bottom tip, which has the potential to dig in like a can opener, if (for example) the narwhal takes a blow to the forehead. I addressed this by adding a long strap vertically, which holds the tail.

Still, a better design would be to add a horizontal piece across the buttocks to prevent any force hitting the spine at all.

Once the harness is in place, I add another bent piece of metal for the lower 'jaw bone'.

Next step is to start draping. You can more or less take fabric, drape it over the foam body, and cut it along the seams.

Here I'm cutting out a 'dart' from end of the tail so it will join up nicely without wrinkling, as shown in the next image:

This takes a while for something this large, but I used the same technique everywhere. When you sew it together, it's inside-out (so the seams wind up inside). This makes it almost impossible to keep track of where you are. I find I have to label it with bits of tape so I can make sense of the limp octopus-like tangle of fabric at the sewing table.

Here it is, with all the main body drapery done! We're going to make the eyes black, but it's just pinned in place for now to get the placement.

L is determined to trick-or-treat for hours and hours, so I've cut arm holes in the front, along with little sleeves cinched with elastic:

Once L mastered the glue gun, she wanted to do all the gluing. Here she is working on attaching the front fins.

This is the current state. Lots more to do, especially around the mouth and flippers!

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Narwhal Part 2

Cutting into fresh foam is such a delicious feeling. Hope I don't mess it up!

As I mentioned previously, I've cut the foam block into three pieces on diagonal lines in order to allow for a gentle S-curve in the body shape.

Cat for scale. (She's 1.8 bananas long.)

The box cutter is so much sharper than the kitchen knife, but it's short. Here I'm turning the three big blocks into cylinders.

Once that's done, I started carving down the top block into a dome for the narwhal's head.

Here's the final outer body shape. The foam shape is very faceted - I can't do any better with the tools I'm using, but when I did the centaur, the cloth covering obscured all of this.

I've carved a spiral horn out of foam, too. Here it is, with L inside holding it up from the bottom. (Nothing's attached, except the horn being held on with a pin, so this is a wobbly stack.)

I can't shake the impression that it looks like a Dalek made from meringue!

Now I need to start figuring out how the jaw is going to look - there are lots of little problems. Just the sculpt is one task, but then - how to join the lower lip (which is a tube of pipe insulation) at the corners of the mouth? How will I cover it with fabric in a way that doesn't make it look like a terrifying wrinked-up skin. Who knows..

Monday, 2 October 2017

Narwhal Part 1

Halloween approaches, and with no time to spare we've started on L's costume. This time it's her turn to have an elaborate costume, after the centaur and giant that E got years ago.

She's gonna be a narwhal! Here it is, freshly delivered from the foam store!

It's hard to tell that it's actually a narwhal, but we still need to extract it from the foam block. Shouldn't be too hard, right?

It takes years of practice and planning to get the perfect amount of derp.

I'm using scale cutouts to plan the carving. The current thinking is an articulated jaw, possibly using bungee cord to spring-load it so it stays half open, but L can make it move up and down.

Because the narwhal has something of an S-curve to its body shape, I'm going to be cutting the foam block into three sections with diagonal cuts, and reassembling it so the block has a slight zig-zag shape to it.

A scale cut-out of L helps verify that she'll still be able to fit inside. In later postings I'll show the plans for how her arms will attach to the flippers, the harness that holds it off her head, and the jaw assembly.

Stay tuned!

Friday, 8 September 2017

Map Update

I've updated the map to v1.12, adding the last few adventures. I'm also going to be maintaining two versions - the original, with all the adventures located on it in blue..

..and a second, 'Atlast-style' version that has all the adventures removed and only shows the place names that surface-dwellers would know:

I've also changed the legend from 24 miles/hex to 8 leagues/hex, which is about the same distance, but is my preferred unit these days (along with 'paces') given the whole imperial vs. metric deal.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Basilica of the Leper Messiah

The inestimable (and generous) Andy Action hit me up with a concept for a short adventure over a year ago. I'd always intended to do it up, but time sure flies.

Nestled within the city of Owlshade is a walled-off enclave, filled with everyone afflicted by the plague. This miserable patch is ruled over by Husmanna, a cadaverous sorcerer who blasphemously extended his own life centuries ago.

Basilica is deadly back door into Owlshade (or whatever fantasy city of your own design you insert it into). Using treatments only he can provide, Husmanna adopts the afflicted from wealthy families, extending their lives. For centuries, he has cultivated his influence over the noble families this way.

The Basilica would make a suitable addition to a fantasy city where the players are looking for a seedy way to buy influence.

There's a downright apocalyptic angle to this adventure, however. If adventurers are careful it won't trigger, but this has the potential to completely explode.

As always, the text and art are released under CC-BY-NC thanks to generous Patrons.. like Andy!

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

51 Black Doors

In Ben Robbins' original West Marches campaign, some parts of the dungeon were dramatically tougher (but more lucrative) than others:
Dungeons generally had the same or near encounter level as the region they were in (for all the obvious reasons), but to make things interesting I designed many of the dungeons with “treasure rooms” that were harder than the standard encounter level, well hidden, or just plain impossible to crack. So even when a party could slog through and slaughter everything they met, there was a spot or two they couldn’t clear, whether it was the fearsome Black Door, the ghoul-infested crypts of the ruined monastery, or the perilous Hall of Swords. They usually had to give up and make a strong mental note to come back later when they were higher level.
Lots of times they never came back. They really wanted to, they talked about it all the time, but they never got around to it because they were busy exploring new territory. Rather than being frustrating each new “incomplete” seemed to make players even more interested in the game world.
Was there actually good treasure in the treasure rooms? Yes, really good treasure. Every time the players cracked one it just made them more certain that all those other sealed or well-guarded rooms they couldn’t beat were chock full of goodness.

I was in the mood for brainstorming some 'black doors', and here's what a bunch of creative folks came up with:

d% What bars the adventurers' way?
1-2A slab of black granite, positioned like a door but actually built in place. It extends several feet into the surrounding masonry.
3-4A trap door at the top of a long natural chimney--above it is a room filled with ghouls (dozens) that walk back and forth over the trap door.
5-6A 20' section of corridor, the floor is literal lava. It's flowing from a rent in one wall and draining through a wide cracking I to a chamber below.
7-8A door of gnarled and bulbous vigorous oak. Every attempt to chop it causes it to sprout extra thickness.
9-10A gale force wind that howls down the corridor extinguishing all natural flames.
11-12The opening in the top of the chamber is smooth and slopes upwards, like a reverse whirlpool. Acidic oozes drip along the surface.
13-14A sphere of annihilation blocking a corridor. On the ground nearby, many skeletons missing a head or arm or more.
15-16An aquarium, positioned like a door. It is filled with water and anti-pufferfishes (they are full of explosive gas that ignites as soon as they are not in water anymore). One glass pane is super thick and can be drilled while the one on the other side will shatter as soon as it is hit or pierced.
17-18A door of living wood that grows thorny arms and claws to tear the flesh of anyone who comes close.
19-20A door rooted into the living rock around it, made entirely of a solid plank of magically treated trollbone. Any attempt to penetrate it rapidly spawns one or more angry, confused trolls with (healing) wounds from the tools. Meanwhile the door itself heals itself from the power of the mountain and borrows the rock's invulnerability to acid and fire.
21-22A reverse gravity spell that makes you fall onto the stalactites at the ceiling, 100+ ft above.
23-24A glassy abyss that quickly shears ropes.
25-26An open archway, flanked by silent statues, gazing down on the path between. Anyone who passes between is vapourized by energy beams fired from the eyes of the statues. (Lifted wholecloth from The Neverending Story.)
27-28The veins of metal collect here into a single polished mirror. Anything that goes in instantly comes out. Any spell or object thrown, any individual that goes in walks right back out. Any mirror carried through is instantly rendered opaque.
29-30Seven buttons must be pressed at the same time to open the door. Each is encased in a heavily enchanted portal in the room, locked tight and wreathed in a curse or elemental trap.
31-32A frictionless corridor that gently slopes upwards. 80' long.
33-34An oily pool surrounded by glowing stones. One stone is taller than the others and covered in glyphs, and acts as a control.
35-36A series of climbs and falls through a long hallway, 30' high, with small locked doors at the top and bottom. The top 15' is bathed in positive energy, the bottom 15' in negative energy. See Planescape elemental planes for effects.
37A 40x40x40' room; the entrance is a small round opening in the dead middle of the ceiling.
38-39A petrified gelatinous cube blocks the corridor. Its semi transparent carcass still holds some treasure, and can allow you to see the movement of indistinct shapes and light on the other side. How did the gelatinous cube wind up in such a fashion? A rare disease or some magic? Would stone to flesh return it to normal?
40-41An earthquake has caused the stone to shear - a 10' wide corridor has been offset by 9'10" leaving only a two-inch gap.
42-43An empty stone arch sits at the bottom of the dungeon, rune-rimed and inert. Ancient writing covers the walls, describing a ritual, a portal - but those who study them are compelled to leave.
44A small labyrinth where the dead ends are formed by grills of heavy iron bars. Deadly oozes move through them unimpeded, and take the shortest path toward living creatures.
45-46100' corridor ends in a room. In the room is a crackling metal globe on a post. Occasionally, lightning cracks off the globe and hits the wall of the room. It also zaps the nearest thing in corridor with lightning once every five to ten seconds.
47-48An area of the room (e.g. the ceiling) is actually a powerful magnet that draws all ferrous material to it. Not even a storm giant is strong enough to dislodge it (though he could certainly create an offsetting electric field...). Not as useful vs. bronze age technology.
49-50A 100', pitch dark hallway of trip wires and pits ends in a door with a detailed demonic face twisted in rage. The door causes fear in any who lay eyes on it - the power of the fear is greater the more clearly the face can be seen. When dim torchlights merely brush its shadows, it's just a sense of imminent and growing doom, but in full light the intricate details of its horrors can be seen and inspire a panicky flight in those who behold it. The door is not locked.
51-52A wall of seemingly impenetrable glass stands before you, treasures beyond your imagining lay just on the other side.
53-54This looks to be a dead end, save for the tiny opening at the bottom of the wall, just wide enough to fit an arm through.
55-56A small, naked -- androgynous and neuter -- humanoid figure with mayfly wings and glittering white skin sits in a diminutive high backed velvet armchair reading a book. Calmly addressing the party, it looks at them with black, void like eyes and speaks in a hauntingly beautiful voice, "Welcome. I am the door of black. Do you have my key?" The book and chair are illusions, and the powerful fey wields unlimited spheres of annihilation in the same way a child would throw rocks, plucking them out of thin air. If attacked, the first action is to simply eliminate the weapons used and calmly respond, "No, young one, that is not the key."
57-58Reverse door: The treasure mcguffin / thing you've been sent to recover can be reached with relatively little difficulty, but it is mystically tethered to the room or the dungeon, impeding your escape. This could manifest in a few ways. The object grows in weight with each step you take. Its weight is tracked per person based on how many 5' or 1m squares they travel with it item while in the dungeon. The doors all close and you must find a way to open them all. Roll d20 on this chart for each "door". Reroll this result. There is a literal tether attached to it, but you can only see it with detect magic / see invisible or similar. It can't be broken by brute strength.
59-60The corridor is split by a ravine 18' across. The inner walls of the ravine are soft and porous, and crumble easily.
61-62Giant stone golems surrounded by anti-magic cloud.
63-64A pool of liquid, 30' wide, with a 30' high ceiling. There is a very narrow and slippery path around the pool. In the centre of the ceiling there is a hole with a ladder that leads to the next room. You barely see the ladder from the edge of the room. The liquid in the pool feels greasy like soap and is much, much less dense than water. It weighs next to nothing. Wood floats, but just barely. People sink dramatically.
65-66A submerged passageway, too long for a swimmer to simply hold his breath.
67-68A wide chasm, 100' or more across, filled by giant spider webs, with a narrow plank bridge set in the webs themselves. The webs are occupied, and burning them removes the plank bridge as well.
69-70A literal black door, haunted by the souls of every PC and hireling who has died in the dungeon. If any bear a grudge the door is held shut; if all are satisfied with the surviving party it opens freely. Accusatory wails give clues to how they can be appeased.
71-72A collapsed tunnel requiring reasonable engineering skills, a block and tackle, sweat, and a lot of wood to clear and shore up.
73-74A corcscrewing and twisting mile long, 2 foot high tunnel, very warm, filled with stinging ants.
75-76A few friendly but quite strict museum guards or park rangers with views on poaching and interfering with exhibits.
77-78A hallway that is incinerated with flame every 30 seconds. Usain Bolt could run across it in 31 seconds.
79-80Motherfucking pool with a couple of submerged froghemoths. Eyes visible. Get across it.
81-82Another standard: just a big-ass descent. Better come back with 500 feet of rope (and not the cheap stuff, because the cheap stuff will break if it has to hold up 500 feet of heavy hempen rope).
83-84A long tunnel. Like 50 miles long, devoid of water.
85-86Wall of fire. Come back with the sigil of Eldrune, an anti-fire spell, or just more hit points.
87-88A door of sacrifice, with an obvious sacrificial altar mouth, that requires the brain of a sentient creature. The door is also some sort of punchy, fighty golem thing.
89-90The classic puzzle thing, e.g. a portal of burning flames that deals 66 hp damage to everyone passing through, except those who are completely naked. Above, an inscription, "Leave your mother. The world awaits." or some other stuff like that.
91-92A metal door in an echo prone room where unsavory creatures sleep. I'm thinking batfolk goblins on the ceiling, or a swarm of styrges, or drowsy zombies. More than an average party can comfortably deal with.
93-94The door is a bit more difficult to break down than normal, and it cannot be done fast without magic. Most mundane attempts will awaken the monsters.
95-96A set of runes written in paint; anything not flesh becomes immaterial if it gets within 10 feet.
97-98A wailing door. It's cries can be deafening and responds violently to any interaction with it. Unknown to the party, it just needs to be sung to sleep.
99-100A blind and somewhat senile ancient Beholder whose eye-bolts still function -- or, most of them do, or some of them have random effects due to experiments the Beholder attempted on itself. Does it still have a full mouth of teeth?

Skerples was in the mood to get through some of these doors with a small party of 1st level adventurers, and posted how they would go about it along with a review of some doors he didn't like. It's a fun read!

A few notes in response to the responses I've seen floating around. None of this is conceptually new! I was reminded that 'gating' is an old concept from video game level design--familiar from 'you need the red key card' situations.

Obstacles also serve lots of different purposes, depending on how they're written.

  • You can have very constrained railroady things that try to force players to do a side quest first (the aforementioned, 'fetch the red key card').
  • Similarly, you could have gates that are puzzles which the designer wants the party to solve in a particular way, with railroady dissuasion of alternate solutions.
  • You can have gates that are meant to act as filters to guarantee that characters have specific abilities or pieces of equipment (which can also be a bit railroady).
  • The gate might be serving primarily as a marker to the players that the ecosystems/dungeon fauna on either side could be dramatically different--in the same way that mythic underworld entrances do. Perhaps bad stuff has been sealed in.
  • The gate might just be an obstacle which demands the players invent a solution (but without prescribing what that is), an old-school staple.
  • Some doors could be all of these things - a door with powerful active defenses (e.g. lightning) that blasts away at parties who don't have the red key card (but tough, magically defended might be able to slog through and defeat the door directly), but which even determined and inventive (e.g. by hiring a team of miners and tunneling around the damn thing).
Doubtless there are more!


Many thanks to: Adam "Bison Court" D, Andrew Muttersbach, Ara Winter, Arnold K., Brent Newhall, Brian Lee, Brian Murphy, Claytonian JP, Dave R, Eric Nieudan, Evan Edwards, Follow Me, And Die!, James Shields, Jason Abdin, Jean-François Lebreton (Jarnos), Jesse Alford, Jesse Cox, Luka Rejec, Matt Kay, Michael Atlin, Mike Edwards, Perttu Vedenoja, Rob Brennan, Skerples, William Altman, William Benjamin John Davis (SinbadEV) .. for their contributions.