Random Things you might encounter in the Underdark

Mushroom_(PSF)These random things articles are designed as quick idea generators for time-pressed GMs who want to inject some additional details into their game,in this article we are taking a look at that most infamous of realms the Underdark, a realm of sunless seas and lightless caverns deep below the known world. The Underdark is home of the evil Drow, the Kuo-Toa and other abominations that dwell in the deep far from the light of the surface world.

When you need some inspiration just roll a D20 and consult the table. Continue reading

All about Aspects: D&D Races for High Concepts

Okay, now we’ve explained the basic formatting that we’re going to use to create High Concepts in this previous post and also discussed briefly using D&D concepts. In this post we look a little more closely at the idea of using the core D&D character races from the PHB as part of a High Concept. Continue reading

Some of my planning materials from the last session of my Dark Sun Dungeon World game

I’m a great fan of notebooks and prepping stuff for sessions (without unnecessarily restricting your players) so thought i’d share some of the notes I made for my last Dark Sun Dungeon World game.
A couple of pages from my smallest notebook that I use to jot down random ideas and plan out sessions beforehand.

Some of the NPC cards that I use for my game, they most don’t include stats since Dungeon World is a very simple system to stat NPCs for, the notes mostly include personality, NPC goals, knowledge and appearance.

My larger notebook (a diary my wife bought me), used for jotting down what actually occurs in the session.

Making use of Fate Zones during Dungeon Crawls in Dungeonworld

Now i’ve never been a particularly big fan of the stereotypical dungeon crawl in RPGs for a number of reasons, mapping out a sprawlingly huge (often unreasonably so) underground complex has never really ticked my roleplaying boxes, I find a lot (not all) dungeons to be a little ill thought out and normally have no real logic behind them behind being a large space for a GM/writer to cram full of bizarre traps and monsters that seldom interact with each other in anything resembling an eco-system (despite all living in close proximity to each other).

In fact i’m such a non-fan of the traditional dungeon crawls that one of the earlist RPG Bugbears videos I did on my Youtube Channel dealt with this subject (I have embedded the video below for anyone interested in seeing some more of the details behind my dislike).

  
However, i’m currently at a point in my Dark Sun Dungeon World game where the players have trekked north to the dwarven city of Sandstone, Sandstone was once a watchtower of a much larger dwarven city in ancient times, however, now it is little more than a single tower containing a shanty-town of tents where the malnourished dwarven occupants (descendants of escaped slaves from the city-state of Arrakis) huddle together.
The players have discovered (through various means) that Drakkar, the dwarf slave who lead his people to reclaim Sandstone, discovered an unholy creature described as a demon of water lurking in the old mineworks and catacombs beneath the tower, according to the dwarven legends Drakkar called for the services of 10 loyal warriors to serve as eternal guards for the beast, he then descended into the depths with these warriors and none of them were even seen again. Given that the ancient water works under Arrakis have been sabotaged by the competing city-state of Pharn, the players are keen to locate this demon of water in case it can help with the current plight of the city and have ventured down into the depths.
This leaves me with an interesting dilemna, I don’t want to forbid the player characters from exploring the ancient and partially collapsed caverns that compose the remnants of the ancient dwarven city (after all, helping the dwarves to reclaim their homeland could gain them valuable allies and potential a home base for future operations), however neither do I want them to have to slog through a massive dungeon crawl where they slowly and meticulously trawl through the vast network of subterranean passages, clearing them out and making them safe for habitation.
So what do I do about it?
One possible solution occurred to me when I was reading some posts on G+ where a question was being asked about the use of zones in Fate; for those who don’t know, a zone is effectively a way of conveniently labelling and splitting up and area, used in combat in Fate it saves having to keep track of square by square grid movement, allowing PCs to travel between discrete areas.
A more detailed explanation of zones in Fate can be found on the excellent Fate SRD website: http://fate-srd.com/fate-system-toolkit/zones
This seems to me a great way to represent the undercity of the ancient dwarves without having to capture a ridiculously large amount of detail, I suppose it’s a little like when you’re looking at the street view on Google Maps, if you zoom out the overall map stays the same but a lot of the fiddly details disappear.
I think that using zones, combined with the travel rules and making custom moves from Dungeon World will allow me to capture the broad strokes of a dungeon without having to do extensive mapping.
A more detail explanation of the travel rules from Dungeon World can be found here: http://www.dungeonworldsrd.com/moves#TOC-Undertake-a-Perilous-Journey

Essential journeys are measured in the number of rations consumed and dangers faced, the group picks a trailblazer, scout and quartermaster. Each character with a job makes a Wisdom roll and can achieve various effects on a success such as reducing the amount of time it takes to reach your destination, spotting any potential danger and reducing the number of rations consumed during the journey.

For each area I will write down the consequences of failing these rolls; i’d probably come up with something like the map below (please note: this is only an example, not my final design, and uses a map taken from this website – http://henchmanabuse.blogspot.co.uk/2011_03_01_archive.html).

Each of the zones would be a journey requiring a number of rations (depending on the distance) and would have a list of hazards associated with it for if the Scout fails their roll.
For example I might have something like the following list of encounters:
Catacombs Below Sandstone
  • The PCs encounter a party of Sandstone dwarves attempting to excavate in the ruins of the catacombs.
  • A desert creature has entered the catacombs through a tunnel/collapsed section.
  • The characters comes across some old mineworks that allow them excess the the ruins of the dwarven city at a reduced ration cost (but they must make a roll to avoid a collapse).

Ruins of the Dwarven City
  • The degenerate remnants of the original dwarven settlers still live here, a savage raiding party attacks.
  • A clutch of mantis men have colonised several of the tunnels.

Lair of the Water Demon
  • The characters encounter one of the Magmin guardians, intent on preventing anyone releasing the demon.
  • A lesser water elemental spawned by the demon attacks.
  • The rock in the area is weakened by the aura of the demon and collapses.


Obviously these are just a few examples, but I think this system will allow me to highlight a couple of key encounters in each zone and maintain the feel of a dungeon crawl without having to resort to the sort of dungeon crawling that I dislike.
Plus, it combines two of my favourite systems (Fate and Dungeon World) – looking forward to giving this a try in my next game 🙂

Dungeon World tester game Session Write-up

In the basement of a grocers in the city of Trademeet, Rundrig warily circled his opponent, the burly shaven headed man grinned as he stared back at him, from around came the cheers of the spectators; Jack smiled as he moved through the crowd, none of them knew his friend the dwarf fighter and so the odds on him has been long, if Rundrig won (and the poison that Jack had slipped the other combatant said his chances were good) then the young thief would clean up, minus his partners percentage of course, not that Rundrig knew anything about the poison, dwarven honour and all that.
Across town Xeno and Priscilla were exploring the bizarres and markets, accompanied by Sistranalle the elven bard who stared with delighted eyes at the bustle and general hubbub around him, whilst to the wizard Xeno this place represented a potential gold mine of arcane ingredients and ritual foci that he could use; his associate Jack had sloped off somewhere with the dwarf Rudrig, no doubt off to another prize fight, and so it looked as though he would have to resort to actually purchasing something for once. The sound of commotion drew them to where a bedraggled looking human figure was emptying various bric-a-brac out of a torn rucksack and attempting to sell it to passersby; Xeno was about to move on when, amidst the rubbish, he spotted a small pyramid like sculpture forged of blue/purple metal and inscribed with strange runes. Immediately recognising the script of his homeland and the arcane metal found thereon (although the language appeared to be in some kind of code), but trying to conceal his eagerness, Xeno offered the rough looking trader two healing potions for the sculpture; unfortunately something about the look in his eyes betrayed him and the shrewd seller claimed that it had been given to him as a gift and he could not think of selling it for such a paltry price.
Priscilla pointed out that the sellers story about receiving it as a gift contradicted what he had been telling another person as they had approached; backed up by her threats, and Xenos offer of a third potion, the old man agreed to sell it and passed it into the waiting arms of the human wizard. A few short streets away Durga, priest of the Dwarf Father had been attempting to preach his creed of honour and glory in battle to any who would listen, unfortunately this was a city of traders and merchants, not of glorious warriors although he did manage to attract a small gathering; as Xeno and Priscilla headed to a nearby tavern ‘The Cockatrice in Cider’, Sistranalle said that he would go and meet Rudrig. Spotting Sistranalle as he left the others, he finished his speech and ran to join them.
Arriving outside the grocers where Rudrig and Jack had told them to meet, Sistranalles elven hearing picked up the sounds of cheering and celebration from somewhere below the shop; walking in they were met by a kindly old woman called Doris who chatted merrily to them about her shop having the finest turnips in the Known World. Distracting the old woman by saying that his companion would like to try her famous turnip gumbo, Sistranalle located a hidden trapdoor down to a cellar and slipped down the stairway; charmed by Durga calling her a young woman, Doris mentioned that she was sure a strong, strapped dwarf like him could make a good living in the city, and asked if he’d ever considered fighting for money? Feigning interest, Durga allowed the woman to lead him down the trapdoor where he was in time to witness Rudrig deliver the finishing blow to his slightly dazed opponent as Jack rubbed his hands in glee and collected his prize money.
Doris escorted Durga over to an armoured human with a stern face who introduced himself as Captain Morgan of the Trademeet city guard and said that he’d willingly introduce Durga to some of his contacts if that was his wish; the Captain had been impressed by the fortitude of the dwarf Rudrig and, as he talked, it became obvious that the city guard were well aware of these “underground” fighting areas and actively encouraged it because it made it far easier for them to monitor and control violence in the city by giving it an outlet. Clapping his hands on the shoulders of his fellows Rudrig said that they should probably get going, after all Jack had volunteered to buy them all a drink from his winnings.
Pushing open the door of the ‘Cockatrice in Cider’ they were greeted by the sight of Priscilla gleefully challenging all and sundry to unarmed combat and arm wrestling for drinks (although the list of potential challengers was becoming shorter with every victory), Xeno was sat in a shaded alcove as he studied intently the sculpture that he had purchased; he could sense some sort of energy emanating from it and occasionally the writing seemed to glint with a warm golden sheen, but he could only make out the word dragon of the writing. Jack ordered some drinks and was soon scoping out a patron who seemed far too well dressed for such a low-class establishment, Rudrig is accompanied by Gregor, one of the others fighters, and the two of them commence getting extremely drunk.
Jack is about to follow his mark outside when suddenly there is a scream from outside, the door flies open and the man staggers inside on fire, falling to the floor; outside panicked crowds of people are running in a huge mob away from a large shadow that falls across the city, peering over Jack’s shoulder Sistranalle looks up and sees the shadow of a huge beast flying over the city, fire gouting from its lizard-like face. Shuddering the elf recognises one of the legendary fire-drakes from the ancient myths of his people, creatures who were deemed little more than fables even in the younger days of his people, long before they left to the west. Shrugging off his drunken haze Rudrig grasps his ancestral weapon and dashes up the stairs to the second floor of the building whilst Durga and Priscilla join Jack and Sistranalle at the door; the barbarian woman shoves the elven bard out of the way as a blast of white hot fire engulfs her, leaping into the air as her hair, flesh and clothes catch fire the warrior woman swings her weapon at the snarling beast.
Realising that the appearance of this beast cannot be coincidental, Xeno realises that he needs an opposing energy or a blood sacrifice to cancel out the energy beacon that his sculpture is broadcasting; refusing to fall back on the bloody religion of his people he eventually is joined by Sistranelle who channels tendrils of icey magic into the mage, who then sheds his own blood, falling as frozen crimson crystals onto the sculpture.
Outside the beast roars as Rudrig leaps from the second floor onto its back and sinks his axe into its flesh, gasping as the creature burning blood sears his skin, the dwarf fighter none-the-less holds on as it tries to shake him off and scrape him against nearby buildings. Xeno continues to shed his frozen blood over the sculpture and gradually the energy emanating from it stutters, slows and stops; with a bewildered roar the fire-drake suddenly loses interest in its rampage of destruction and with great beats of its wings begins to head westwards, Rudrig manages to leap from its back onto a nearby building before it soars too high and is lost in the clouds. Jack meanwhile has been tending to the delirious burned man and attempting to con the man out of his life savings into the bargain.
Days later the adventurers are rewarded for their saving of the city and many local buildings by the Master of the Brewers Guild, Marlow Tombé and each of them is gifted with 100 coins in recognition of their valiant defence of both the city and its citizens, but some questions remain unanswered, how did the sculpture get to the known world? Who was the strange merchant? And more unsettlingly, over the next couple of days, rumours begin to filter in from the dwarves of the western mountains that other drakes have been sighted, if this true what is bringing these creatures to the Known World? 

So what characters did we have in our recent Dungeon World game?

Recently I ran an impromptu tester game for Dungeon World for six of my local player, you can see my review of how it played here:
For this initial game we decided to just go with the basic options as presented on the Dungeon World character sheets, after genning characters we talked out the player characters bonds to each other and some elements of their backgrounds as directed by the rulebook; we ended up with the following characters:
  • Rundrig – Dwarf fighter – Come from a loud and proud family of warriors who have helped guard their dwarven mountain hold since memory began, his ancient axe has been handed down from father to son for many, many years. A few years before the game began, Rundrig freed Sistranalle from orcish slavers, allowing the elven bard to advise the barbarian Priscilla (saving her life); Rundrig considers that she owes him a life-debt although the barbarian woman does not agree, however the dwarf has sworn to protect the human wizard Xenos and worries about the abilities of Durga and Sistranalle to survive in the harsh environments where warriors such as himself tread.
  • Xeno – Human wizard – A sharp eye, wild haired human who comes from a mysterious land rules by powerful mages that lies somewhere across the western sea, knowledge of it having faded into myth and legend; not satisfied with the religious zealotry that his people head as a central tenant of their magics and outcast for his belief in magic as a science, Xeno fled eastwards to the known world. His arcane powers lead him to Priscilla, a vision of a shadow dragon and the girl telling him that she would play some pivotal role in the future of the world.
  • Jack – Human thief – A mysterious figure shrouded in mystery, the shifty thief tells contradicting stories of his background and wears the talismans of many gods hanging around his neck; working for Xeno he has stolen many things and arcane baubles for the wizard, including what seemed to be a roughly hewn jewel from the barbarian woman Priscilla, but that the human wizard Xeno knew to be a fossilised dragon egg.
  • Durga – Dwarf cleric – The older dwarf cleric has a sadness in his eyes and seems to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders; a follower of the Dwarf Father, god of honourable combat and conquest through strength of arms he places less value on upbringing or race and more on actions and deeds. Distrustful of Xeno and anyone who doesn’t believe in the power of the deities he none-the-less admires Priscilla’s strength and sees his attempts to convert her as a test worthy of his skills.
  • Sistranalle – Elf bard – One of the rare elves enamoured of the lives of the younger races, who chose to stay behind when his people sailed westwards across the sea to the mythic lands beyond human knowledge, Sistranalle finds beauty in the chaotically short lives of the younger races and, after being freed from orcish slavers by Rundrig and helped Priscilla escape from a desert basilisk he has set himself the task of chronicling her (mis)adventures. Delighted to have met the famous fighter Rudrig (who he had sung many ballads about), the elf has a friendly rivalry with the dwarf cleric Durga who, he thinks, takes life far too seriously; he accompanies the band playing ballads and histories on the mandalin that his father left behind as a memory of him. 
  • Priscilla the Triumphant – Human barbarian – A warrior from the icy northern wastes who travelled south, forsaking her tribe, when a new chief took over and outlawed women fighting alongside their men-folk; this did not sit well with Priscilla and she travelled south, reasoning that she could make a legend of herself in the soft southern lands beyond the deserts. She finds many of her new companions ways bewildering, especially Durga and his (amusing) attempts to convert her, she has appointed herself protector of Jack, knowing that the thief will eventually slip up and get himself in trouble; although unwilling to admit it she is flattered by Sistranalle’s attentions and sees in him someone who shares her thirst for glory.


All of these characters were created using the basic rules (including the names and epithets chosen) and by spending a bit of time chatting about the world elements connected with them; it probably took about half an hour in all, if that, to get ready to play.