Wednesday, October 27, 2021

GLOGtober Day 6: Bird Deals, Bird Crime

me doing my best scrap princess impression


There are merchants to whom you can sell your height, your fears, your memories, your dreams, your ambitions. Everything you thought could not be bought or sold can in fact be bought or sold, but only by them. They call themselves Cygnor├ęs or Cygnards, two rival famiglias.
 

They have avian heads and long, stiff necks (because they swallow all their coinage). Their fingers are skeletal and webbed. And because they are birds, they do a lot of crime.

 

It is said they never haggle, because they can see the true value of all things. This is a lie, perhaps not incepted but certainly encouraged by them.

 

Bird Deals* (d10)

  1. 2-for-1 deal on human souls. Need I say more?
  2. Special Offer: 1cm/20gp! Noblemen are lined up around the block, and walk away no taller than they were before.
  3. An attempt to corner the market on worldly suffering; they'll buy your hunger to sell as a novelty to celestials. You'll need to eat twice as much to avoid starving to death.
  4. 50% off the Fate of a Chosen One.
  5. Memories of a long lost loved one, bottled, advertised as an "interactive multi-media experience." Literally painful to recollect.
  6. Curses and mutations. They'll remove them for cheap, then turn and sell them at a premium to local bog witches, who will hex you all over again. That's business baby.
  7. They want 6-8 hours of sleep each night, to sell to insomniacs.
  8. 5 gp for a lifelong friendship with some rando, who will recognize you and clap you on the back and invite you into his home to meet his wife and sometimes his hand drifts to yours under the dinner table but no he couldn't possibly have meant anything by it. What a steal!
  9. An excellent singing voice. There's a few competing bidders; it's up to 70gp.
  10. Exotic ancestry. (d6) Elf; Royal; Dragon; Troll; Bird; Lion.

Bird Crime (d10)

  1. Shitting in the streets, or on people's laundry, from the rooftops.
  2. Local officials have yet to suss out the sales tax on their wares, which technically makes all their transactions illegal.
  3. Casual necromancy.
  4. Stealing silverware, ransoming them back for crazy shit like your sense of smell.
  5. Murder. Mostly geese.
  6. Unlawfully parking their bison caravans under bridges.
  7. Digging up graves to trade with ghosts.
  8. Knocking on your second-story window in the dead of night as part of an aggressive marketing campaign.
  9. Business-casual necromancy.
  10. Jaywalking.

*Don't think too hard about the vendor/consumer on the other side of this interaction. Or do--I'm sure they have quite a story to tell.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

GLOGtober Day 4: Domain-Level Locks and Keys

overgrown railroads are just cool in general
Thinking a lot about Hollow Knight recently, and the way its world unfolds as you play. It’s that Metroidvania thing where you worm your way into a new area and unlock the door from the other side, and now every time you walk through you remember all the work you went thru to open up that pathway and it feels special.

I want to do that, but for a whole campaign world. And I’m not talking about a mega dungeon (although Hollow Knight is probably definitely one of those). I’m talking about a domain level metroidvania.

The gameplay loop I’m after is this:

Lock → Key → Reward

Normally, on the dungeoncrawl level, you’re opening new pathways, doors, etc., things that let you maneuver the dungeon. On the domain level, you’re discovering new ways to maneuver thru a MUCH larger space.

Instead of overthinking the theory, I’m just gonna slap down examples to get the gears turning:

The Railroad

Lock: Train tracks tracing the countryside, train stations in a great number of towns, yet no trains running. In fact, there are no trains, period.
Key: Journey to the Trainyard. You’ll need to best the scrapper gang before you can ride their “iron rhinos” (not a euphemism). You also need to clear each track connection—removing barriers, killing tunnel-beasts, relocating communities—before these lines can run reliably.
Reward: Trains! Limited fast travel for yourself and your communities, provided you can keep the lines open. (The druids will be pissed to see trains running again; they are ancient enemies.)

[sidebar: I think you could run a whole campaign around becoming trainlords. I’m sure the glittering city over the mountain will have their own trains, and you could do industrial espionage to learn the secrets of their trains, or discover novel fuel sources (can an internal combustion engine burn ectoplasm?), and now all of a sudden you’re playing Railroad Tycoon.]

[sidebar 2: Also, trains are rad as fuck; they’re super customizable and powerful transportation options without being overwhelming because they’re on tracks. Consider putting more trains in your campaign.]

The River

Lock: A canyon, a dry riverbed served by a tiny stream. At the mouth, a desiccated township, the husk of a once bustling trade city.
Key: Up in the Lich King’s aqueducts, the river has been dammed and diminished to a trickle. You’ll need to delve down and release it somehow. Could involve a series of pipes and valves, could be as simple as blowing up the dam.
Reward: Trade becomes possible up and down the renewed river. Some communities will flourish, some will be wiped away by the flood. Sea raiders travel further inland along this new route, pillaging with impunity.

The Waterfall

Lock: A mountain pass or cave entrance, blocked by a torrential waterfall. The waterfall is obvious; the path is not, but rumors abound.
Key: At the top of a mountain, a dragon weeps for his shattered pride. It’s tears form the waterfall. Stop his crying somehow, and the waterfall will cease. Note that you’ll probably have to climb the whole damn mountain to figure this out, let alone solve the problem.
Reward: A new area is accessible! New hexes beyond the mountain pass, or a new dungeon behind the cave entrance.

The Ocean

Lock: The East Wind was captured and bottled. Until she is rescued, no easterly wind blows, making westward travel impossible on the high seas. The same is not true in the opposite direction, which is why empires of the Western Continent banish their criminals by setting them adrift in our direction. They land in Worstport, a town with a self-explanatory name.
Key: Find the East Wind. She’s deep deep deep in the earth (underdark?), trapped in a tiny blue cloth bag. You have a choice: keep her contained, and only your ships will sail west (so long as you are on board). Release her, and everyone can explore the Western Continent. Careful, she holds a grudge. Alternatively, convince one of the other winds to blow from the East, perhaps for a specific amount of time, in exchange for some favor.
Reward: Literally a whole new continent to explore. A lordship is promised to whoever brings back the most samarine, the rare “blue gold” worn by exiles in Worstport. Also, if the West figures out people can sail back from the East, they’ll a) send conquistadores and b) put bounties on all the criminals they abandoned over here (that’ll be a fun international incident).

Long-Range Communication

Lock: The trollstones are basically an open channel magic HAM radio. They’re unusable because some jag off has been screaming into it nonstop for the last three million years, like the worst discord voice chat ever.
Key: Track their fantasy IP number, find their fantasy house, and fantasy beat their brains in. Alternatively, use your brain. They’re probably in someplace obvious, like the Hall of Screaming Stone. Alternatively, recruit an orpheme.
Reward: Actual instantaneous long-range communication, for everyone who can afford it. No private frequencies, so secret missives can’t be sent without careful encryption. Consider hiring a team of codebreakers. Consider destroying everyone else’s trollstones.

Teleportation

Lock: A long long time ago, a monster set up shop in the space-between-space, eating whoever passes through. It isn’t omnipotent, so you could theoretically sneak past, but it’s lethal enough that no one uses the teleport spell unless absolutely necessary (1-in-20 chance of success, +1 for each good idea for distracting/pacifying the beast).
Key: Use the teleport spell, survive the beast, and then STAY in the space-between-space (extra dimensional dungeon!!!!) until you find a way to get rid of the beast for good. A fools errand, naturally. Alternatively, teleport other monsters in until something kills it. Careful: the beast might poke its head out to see who’s dumping trash into their home.
Reward: Teleportation of all kinds works again, although the remaining spells are still sort of shitty versions of the original teleport. The beast’s progeny disseminate across the world; the Hounds of Tindalos hunt once more. Some sort of ancient evil is unleashed, for sure.

Space

Lock: Someone put a ceiling on the sky (to keep humanity from reaching the moon). It’s like a forcefield made of stained glass. It’s really pretty at sunset.
Key: It’s held up by six pillars of glass (BIG ass dungeons). If you climb one and punch a hole in it, it’ll splinter like ice on your driver’s side window and fall all at once, which is about as bad as it sounds.
Reward: You can be certain all the wizards in their towers will immediately try to colonize the moon once the ceiling comes down (space race!!!!!!). And of course, when you open the ceiling, things are going to start coming in; outsiders who have been fogging up the glass for aeons, looking for a crack.

Essential principles:
Interhex relationships. A lock in one hex should yield rewards in another hex.
No single path. Hopefully, the keys are open-ended enough to not feel constraining.
Two-way streets. With each reward comes new and unexpected complications.

The scale is important. The locks are huge, known features of the world, visible from a mile off. Ideally, you remember them from level 1. The keys are their own dungeons; you’ll have to crawl them to unlock the new content. The rewards are entirely new hexes, new lands to conquer, new tools with which to assert your despotic(?) reign.

Tramways, breached borders, actual fucking infrastructure; these are the carrots that keep the game running thru domain level.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

GLOGtober Day 3: Metauniversal Texts

Dmitry Khrapovitsky
These are slim paperbacks, some nearly pamphlets. Each varies wildly in content and print quality. Some are utilitarian arrangements in sensible fonts. Others appear to have been illustrated by six-year-old child suffering night terrors. They are always found in dungeons, still crisp and warm to the touch as if freshly transcribed.

Each tome describes a reality that DOES NOT EXIST. They detail FICTIONAL realms with NO BASIS IN TRUTH, where spells cannot speak and magic tastes like blood. Few themes are shared among the larger body of literature: the four-fold life cycle of Man; the near-obsessive tabulation of Wizardly Cubes.

For all intents and purposes, they should be harmless speculative fiction, but the Church confiscates every copy they come across. This is reason enough for everyone else to value them highly.

THE WRETCHED TEXTS

PCs can use a metauniversal text to literally change the rules of the game. This takes as much time in-game as it takes you to identify the rules you want to change irl. Small tweaks (like removing fall damage) can be made on the fly. Significant changes (i.e. anything that takes more than 20 seconds to figure out as a table) don’t occur until the party gets a few minutes to breathe.

Each text comes with a coupon for the Fundamentum (a metauniversal text containing your original ruleset). You’ll need it to reverse any changes you make. Copies are sold by gretchlings.

Oh yeah, gretchlings.

Ripping a hole in reality has consequences, and they are one of them. Whenever you use a metauniversal text, more gretchlings stumble into the world. They invariably live in the deepest dungeons, where they subsist on pity and blogposts. They’ll sell you metauniversal texts, some of their own creation.

You should probably kill them on sight. If enough accumulate in one place, they’ll gnaw thru your campaign’s suspension of disbelief and drop you into Phlox’s Discord.

It is trivially easy to write a metauniversal text. Encourage players to do so.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Hkepites & What Happened to the Giants

masashi kageyama
All you need to know about the giants is they were massive, grade-A, Greek-God-level dickweeds. They were the beloved children of a greater race before them, spoiled and arrogant, and all the world belonged to them. They made love to mountains and had thousands of children, which they abused for their own amusement. They had shitty asshole names like Bezos and Kanye. They were big, they were smart, they ruled the earth for a couple millennia, and then they all died.

There was one female giant, ever. In most accounts, she hunts her brothers to the last, probably out of shame.

Anyway.

The people named Hkepite (meaning “earwig” in a tongue time has forgotten) are not hunters of giants. They are scavengers and detritivores, living in the ancient corpses, standing guard at the tombs of the godlings.

You’ll find them in the Dessication. They don’t get many visitors—the desert expands with each passing year—so expect a lavish welcome.

They’re a sedentary people, prone to obesity, inclined to merriment and religiosity. They give good hugs and sing when they pray. They wear sun-scorched leather and drink cactus juice. They drawl. They laugh. They make really stunning stained sand art.

They were led here by a dream about a whale.

Each family is tasked with eating an entire giant, which they believe will prevent the giant’s reincarnation. The flesh is perfectly edible; decay can’t seem to make a dent in it. After a particularly wet rainy season, the bodies even seem to grow.

Once a giant is fully consumed, the family builds a boat from their bones and sails into the ocean for their eternal reward. This has only happened four times.

Before the feast began, they were carvers and butchers. They recall bits and pieces of this heritage, now expressed as a mastery of bladecraft and an odd dance form. A cut from a Hkepite blade is imperceptible, at least until the skin flap gets caught on something. They’re made of giant bones (pretty much everything here is) so they keep the edge as long as they don’t touch anything harder than a tough hide.

The Hkepites build very little. Mostly they carve new chambers. Sometimes they build lookout towers, forgetting the last few endeavors, and are freshly disappointed by the lack of things to look out for.

About whales

There’s a rumor about whales; they don’t need to swim. Anything with that much power and gray matter could figure out walking if they wanted to. Rumor among sailors is they’re afraid of something, which is why they ran to the sea.

These tales are told only by long-retired sailors, in taverns far from the sea. The risk of a whale overhearing is too great shoreside.

armando veve

 

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The Dream Nail (the only magic item you will ever need)

charging up
The Dream Nail. This forum post explains why it’s awesome in Hollow Knight. I’ll elaborate on why it works just as well in D&D.

---

The Dream Nail is a magic sword. It does not cut the physical; instead, the Nail is used to carve one’s way into dreams.
The depth of the cut dictates the depth of access. A scratch reveals surface-level thoughts. A deep cut lays the conscious mind bare. Drive the Nail hilt-deep into the forebrain, and one can cross the threshold into dream.
The Dream Nail cuts the spirit, and thus works on the living and dead in equal measure.

---

On the face of it, the Dream Nail is like a Zone of Truth/Speak with Dead that you stab people with, which is already fantastic. However, it gets even better because it opens

DREAM DUNGEONS

In a world rife with mind-readers and truth serums, those who bear great secrets must hide them from even themselves. They accomplish this by constructing Dream Dungeons; hostile dreamscapes designed to rebuff attempts at recollection OR infiltration.
These are dungeons! You can crawl them, meet people from the host’s memory, and fight monsters! You can use them to pry information out of those driven mad, those long dead, and wizards. You can pull an inception and influence them outside their dreams.
You can even dream-delve therapeutically, assisting the host by actually physically fighting their repressed trauma or unlocking their memories.

More things to do with Dream Dungeons:

  • Explore an extinct civilization in its prime, as depicted in the interwoven dreams of the king’s mummified advisors.
  • Undo an imperial sleeper agent’s brainwashing.
  • Rescue a prince who has been spirited away in the dreams of a Grey Maiden.
  • Defeat a memetic parasite in the mind of a mad paladin.
  • Dive 5 dreams deep to incept the evil overlord’s downfall.
  • Dungeon-delve through your own repressed memories.

Basically, the Dream Nail can nestle dungeons within dungeons, turn emotional challenges into dungeon crawls, and inject fantastical set pieces into temporally/physically/genre-ifically distant locales.

It’s a good idea. Steal it.