10 Noises in the Darkness

We’ve all been in the situation where your PC is exploring some sort of underground dungeon, lit only by the flickering light of their lantern, suddenly someone falls into a trap or there is an unexpected gust of wind that extinguishes the lamp and plunges the group into darkness. In the darkness the PCs are forced to rely on senses other than sight, this can be challenging for a GM to come up with something on the fly since we’re so used to the convenience of visual short-hand.

Below is a D10 table of sounds and other sensory input that might occur to worry your PCs in the dark:

No.Description
1A sound like something wet being dragged over stone echoes through the darkness.
2Your foot plunges into something some and sticky like a ripe melon and a foul smell wafts into the air.
3The ground becomes sharp and fragmented under foot, cracking into dagger-like shards as you walk.
4In the distance a dull, monotonous tone like sombre drumming begins.
5The high-pitched shriek of a beast or someone in trouble echoes in the blackness, but it is impossible to tell where the sound is coming from.
6In the quiet darkness only the echoes of your own footfalls and your heart beating in your chest accompany you.
7Something hisses quietly nearby and the smell of rotten grass fills the area.
8From somewhere you can hear the constant dripping of water.
9You hear a scraping sound like someone sharpening a knife and–for just a second–you see sparks up ahead, bursting and then vanishing in the gloom, leaving only an after-image.
10Up ahead you hear the sound of stone grinding against stone, like an avalanche occurring in slow motion or perhaps the working of some great and ancient machine.

20 Abandoned Dwarf-hold Encounters

Ancient–and often abandoned–Dwarven strongholds have been a staple of the fantasy genre ever since the mines of Moria captured the imagination of readers, and perhaps for even longer. There’s something about the great stone halls of the Dwarves, delving deep below the surface of the earth, bedecked in the faded grandeur of a one mighty race that speaks to the typical role-player and is–of course–pretty much tailor made for dungeon delving.

Below is a D20 table of people, creatures and events that your PCs might encounter whilst exploring the dark passageways and cobweb strewn chambers of an ancient Dwarf stronghold.

Please note: Each of these would benefit from a bit of elaboration by the GM, nor do they apply specific game mechanics.

No.Description
1A crumbling statue of an ancient Dwarf hero stands as a reminder of the proud heroes that once occupied this place, in one hand he holds an axe whilst the other points towards the entrance of the once grand structure.
2A group of D6 Dwarven adventurers are exploring the passageways, each of them is equipped for spending a prolonged period underground. The leader of the party has ancestors who once occupied the abandoned stronghold.
3The walls of this chamber are covered in crude chalk drawings and the remains of several crushes cots attest to the fact that this was once a nursery of some sort.
4The broken remnants of the statue of a Dwarven forge god are strewn over the uneven floor. Old, dried blood-stains and damage to the walls and statues attests to a fierce combat having been fought here long ago.
5The characters enter a series of seemingly random tunnels, branching off from the main thoroughfares of the Dwarven Hold. These tunnels seem more naturally and rounded, in contrast with the strange lines and angles of the previous corridors. This area is the lair of a purple worm, for each hour the PCs spend in it's domain there is a 1 in 6 chance they attract it's attention, this rises to a 3 in 6 chance if they're particularly noisy.
6A group of 1D6 goblins are scavenging in this area, they aren't much threat to a group of armed PCs and will most likely flee if challenged. However if attacked, the noise they make pretty much guarantees that something else will come to investigate.
7A hole in the wall of this chamber leads to one of the many thin shafts that bring air from the surface to the stronghold, the air current will extinguish any unshielded lantern bought into this area.
8The chamber is covered in thick webbing and will be difficult to cross unless the webbing can be removed or burnt away, there is a 50% chance that there is a spider swarm or a giant spider (50% chance of each) in the web when the heroes enter.
9This area is criss-crossed with rusted–but still functional–metal tracks that would have once carried Dwarves to and from a mine-face.
10A tiny door (fair too small for even a Halfling) in the wall of this chamber leads to a small alcove where a shrine to the ancestors was housed, there is a 50% chance that the shrine is undisturbed and may contains offerings made long ago.
11A flock of bats, harmless but startled by the PCs progress briefly fill the chamber as they seek to find a quieter resting place.
12A shining golden helmet hangs in mid-air in the centre of this chamber. In-fact the helmet is a lure used by the 1D12 giant spiders that have made their home here, hanging it from almost invisible threads of webbing to entice explorers and scavengers into their grasp.
13The walls of this chamber and the bones lying here are scorched black by some sort of magical conflagration, anyone capable of sensing magic can still feel echoes of the heat and pain that were summoned into existence by the Dwarves enemies. Anyone lingering in this room will occasionally hear screams or feel sharp (but non-damaging) stabbing pains. The spirits of the Dwarves killed here cannot rest, if given a decent burial the spirits will point the PCs towards a magical hammer, covered in blackened soot (but still usable and with magic intact) before departing for the afterlife.
14The sound of distant, primitive drumming echoes through the corridors.
15The forgotten remnants of an ancient Dwarven forge, although much of the finery has been looted or rotted away, a deligent PC can find some salvagable Blacksmith's tools and some serviceable weaponry here. If the forge could be restored then it would be capable of producing great wonders, its flue may also offer a way to the surface for those mad enough to climb it.
16A dust covered mine cart lies here, tipped over on its side. Most of the items in it have been looted or were taken as the mine was abandoned, however, a PC looking though the dust can find some miners tools and 1D3 gems in a small sack pushed down into the bottom of the cart.
17A half-mad survivor of the original attack on the Dwarven Hold has made this part of the ruins his home, driven mad by the bloodshed that he saw the Dwarf survives by eating cave moss and goblins, spending most of his time pointlessly trying to seal the dungeon and attacking anyone he perceives as being in league with the ancient enemy.
18The rotting remains of a huge, heavy bound book written in Ancient Dwarven lies half-burned amidst the remains of a shattered stone lectern. The book details the final last desperate defence of the stronghold, it may also offer some hint as to the nature of the ancient enemy.
19The heroes encounter a group of 1D12 Troglodytes who seem to be stringing up dead animal and bones around the walls of this tunnel. They are part of a small tribe that worships/fears the Purple Worm, they leave these offerings in the hope that they will be spared it's wrath.
20A pile of rotting wooden and stone items in the centre of this room were once formed into a barricade by the Dwarven defenders against enemy forces, their bones litter the floor around the crumbling barricades, attesting to their failure.

20 Random Fumbles and Misses

We’ve all been in this situation at one point or another, you’re fighting your way through hordes of goblins or you’re defending an ally, when the dice desert you and the dreaded fumble is rolled. These can be challenging for GMs to come up with on the fly, especially if they occur unexpectedly.

Below is a D20 table of descriptions that can be used when an unexpected fumble occurs.

Please note: Each of these would benefit from a bit of elaboration by the GM, nor do they apply specific game mechanics.

No.Description
1Your opponent strikes you on the side of your head causing your vision to blur and your own attack to miss.
2The enemy blocks your attack with their own weapon sending your weapon flying from your hand.
3Your enemy hurls dust or mud into your face, throwing you off your game and causing the attack to miss.
4A glint of sunlight shining off your foe's weapons and armour momentarily blinds you, allowing them to dodge your attack.
5Sweat from your exertions drips into your eyes, causing your vision to blue for a few moments, your adversary takes advantage of this and sidesteps your attack.
6Recent events have caused you to neglect your weapon maintenance, a dull clang is your reward as your blunted weapon fails to penetrate your opponents armour.
7Your opponent lashes out with a foot, causing you to instinctively jerk bacwards, you avade their dirty trick but miss with your own attack.
8At the last moment your enemy sidesteps your attack and your weapon thuds into the ground.
9You slip on a damp patch of ground causing your attack to go wide.
10Your opponent throws themselves backwards at the last moment, your weapon slices a shallow cut in their clothing.
11Your adversary reveals a hidden small weapon, whipping it out and parrying your blow.
12Lighting conditions cause you underestimate how far away your opponent is and your strike falls short.
13Your weapon slips in your sweaty hand, throwing off your aim.
14A previously unseen opponent bursts out of the shadows, you raise your weapon to block this new attack but are unable to press your advantage on your previous
15You step forward to deliver a punishing strike to your opponent but your foot sinks into a pothole causing you to stagger and miss your target.
16The ground below you is slippery and you struggle to maintain your balance, forfeiting your attack.
17A stray blow from a nearby conflict causes you to duck and parry, busy defending yourself you're unable to lash out at your opponent.
18Your enemy lashes out with their foot, aiming for your midrif, you duck back dodging the treacherous blow but it causes your own attack to miss the mark.
19Your enemy slices your forearm, sendin your weapon flying from your grasp.
20Your opponent's armour seems to turn aside the force of your blow.

20 Port Town Encounters

Port towns are a hotbed of activity, most of which is centred around the sea since that’s where most people make their livelihood.

Below is a D20 table of random encounters that can be used to inject some life into the coastal towns and villages in your campaign.

Please note: Each of these would benefit from a bit of elaboration by the GM, nor do they apply specific game mechanics.

No.Description
1There is a cursing and swearing as a man unloading a boat drops a crate of fish and it spills all over the docks.
2A group of children are sat at the waters edge throwing stones, they've seen everything that has occurred in the area during the day and might be persuaded to part with the information.
3A smuggler runs through the dock area, leaping over crates and upending barrels as he tries to flee from the pursuing town guard.
4A battered ship limps into harbour, it is barely afloat and shows signs of having been attacked. Anyone speaking to the crew find out that their vessel was set upon by a pirate vessel flying the banner of a red skeletal hand.
5A bumper crops of fish have recently been hauled in, forcing down prices.
6High winds have roused the sea into a crashing frenzy of waves that lash the harbour, most locals have retreated to the safety of their homes or a tavern to wait for it to blow over, giving the dock area an eerie deserted feel.
7A local peddler is attempted to sell a seal-skin that he claims was taken from a Selkie, a creature that looks like a large seal but can become human by removing it's seal-skin coat.
8A ship's captain has a cargo if wine barrels that he needs loading, he's looking for some cheap labour willing to do the job in a hurry.
9The sound of a cannon rings out as a local sea-fortress marks the hour.
10A group of local folk are busily throwing wreathes of flowers into the sea, mourning the deaths of a boat of their kin lost in a recent storm.
11Due to a recent rise in smuggling there is a higher concentration of guards than normal in the port, causing great annoyance to the merchants as every consignment is being stopped and searched.
12A ship's Captain chases a bedraggled man clutching a red stone off his ship, the man attempts to bargain with the Captain claiming that he desperately needs passage, but it is to no avail.
13A small fleet of ships is gathering in the harbour, planning to go and hunt the dread pirate Robert Rawbones.
14An agitator loudly protests the recent rise in import taxes, a crowd is gathering around him and it wouldn't take much for this scene to turn into a riot.
15An old, mutilated sailor sits by the dockside staring wistfully out at the sea, for a few pennies he'll tell a story from his extensive store of old naval tales.
16A group of young sailors enjoying some shore-leave stand clapping one of their fellows as he plays a medley of popular sea shanties on his harmonica.
17A crowd of people are working on the shore to carve up and cart away the body of a large whale that washed up recently, scars along it's side attest to a terrible sea battle.
18A merchant stands beside a small stall that claims contains the body of a mermaid. For a small fee, passers by are allowed into the stall to view the shrivelled, preserved body of a creature resembling a combination of small monkey and fish.
19A group of merchants have arrived from a foreign land bringing unusual foods and trinkets with them, they unroll their wares from carpets at the dockside, to the astonishment of the locals.
20A fist-fight erupts between two groups of inebriated sailors, if nothing occurs to prevent it, after a few minutes the town guard turn up and break up the fight, dragging the worst offenders away to the town drunk-tank.

How like the Midderlands is Rose of Westhaven?

As I’ve mentioned in my main campaign page, our Rose of Westhaven campaign is heavily influenced by Monkey Blood Design’s Midderlands OSR campaign setting and bestiary, I wanted to jot down some notes about how far that inspiration goes.

Campaign Genesis

The Rose of Westhaven first started germinating as a campaign idea after I picked up a copy of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, the OSR game written by James Raggi. I’d steered clear of it previously because–every time I saw people talking about the game–they had either one or two reactions, it was either “Ewww, no, it’s obscene and weird” or people going “Yeah, it’s so metal and extreme, wooooo!”

The reality–as if often the case–was somewhere between the two, yes LotFP does have some artwork that’s risqué and a lot of the supplements tend to really ramp up the gruesomeness or the weird horror vibe (which I don’t mind TBH), but the actual corebook itself is a well written and tidy OSR game. Without getting into the system details, LotFP posits a fairly brutal version of old-school D&D with a streamlined skill system and a slightly darker background, more akin to the old WFRP than more traditional D&D. As someone who started roleplaying with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay I found this style very appealing, the game also contains optional rules for blackpowder firearms, with many of the supplements being set in worlds that have a more renaissance vibe to them than the traditional pseudo-medieval worlds used in a lot of OSR games.

I’m a big fan of this book, so it didn’t take me long to start looking around for a group of players and thinking about what sort of campaign I would run with it, I’m lucky enough to have a group of people who were enthusiastic to give it a shot.

Creating the Campaign

Originally when I sat down, I had loads of ideas racing through my head so I grabbed my trusty notebook and jotted down a few things I definitely wanted to be in the world that I was designing:

  • A slightly later time-period than normal.
  • Black powder firearms.
  • Some sort of large-scale conflict as a backdrop.
  • A conflict between modern and ancient religions.
  • A rationale for dungeon-crawling.
  • A world with ancient mythology.
  • The Mythos.

After taking a short while to look at this list and mull it over I decided that–whilst not impossible–creating all of this stuff from scratch was going to be a massive investment of time for a game whose lifespan was (at the time of creation) uncertain, I’ve seen lots of games where the GM has spent ages creating a world and the campaign itself never really gets of the ground or folds. Of course you can always recycle stuff and use it in other games, but I also didn’t want to have to be making loads of stuff up entirely on the fly.

Familiar Ground

I often find that–if I want to create a campaign but not make it up whole-cloth–taking inspiration from a film, a book series or the real-world can be a great shortcut. You just file the serial numbers off it, and it can serve as a great source of inspiration, and if you do have to make up something you can refer back to your source material for guidance. I decided to go for using a fantasy version of Great Britain and Ireland, since this gives me a wealth of folklore to draw on and is also quite familiar to myself, originally I decided to start the players on the coast (since I’d been reading Alas for the Awful Sea) near a small made-up village near the coat of Wales (originally referred to as Fada Siar in our campaign).

Research & Decisions

It was about this time that I started considering what sort of time period I wanted to run it in, since I’d already decided that I wanted to run the game in a slightly later time period than the standard medieval and wanted a background conflict, I started looking at the English Civil Wars and the Tudor Period. I decided to take inspiration from both of them, creating a setting torn apart by a conflict between staunch Royalists and freedom-loving Parliamentarians. Previously the countries had been ruled by a strong royal dynasty, but a leader amongst the common(er) folk had arisen and was leading a rebellion against the old ways.

I grabbed a number of books from local shops at this point and watched a number of BBC documentaries to supplement my historical knowledge (since I’m no history buff), and found that I was enjoying reading about history far more knowing I was going to be using the information to inspire a project rather than simply reciting them at school or similar.

Further Inspiration

Whilst creating the campaign I had noticed the kickstarter for Monkey Blood Design’s Midderlands campaign, I originally backed it because it was set in a fantasy version of the Midlands in England, which is where I live. When I received the book I was blown away by it (as you can no doubt tell from my review) and was surprised by just how neatly the material in the Midderlands book dovetailed with the game that we’d already established. I decided to start overtly using information and ideas from the Midderlands book in my campaign, after letting my players know I then started to move some of the campaign information (which had originally been in a PDF for the players) to this website (you can see it by clicking on the Rose of Westhaven link).

Potential Issues

One of the potential issues with importing a lot of the Midderlands wholesale is that my characters began far to the south of the area that has been detailed thus far in the Midderlands book. Luckily Monkey Blood Design are releasing a second book for this setting soon (as of time of writing) that is going to expand the setting to cover the rest of Britain and Ireland, Glynn Seal was kind enough to send me a low-resolution copy of the map that will be in the second book so I have a vague idea what sort of stuff is going to be covered. However, if my players decide they want to go somewhere before I get my hands on the book then I’m just going to have to create a version of the area myself (taking inspiration from the real-life source material) and then either ignore or reconcile the “official” version when I get my hands on that sweet, sweet second book.

TBH although I’ve called this a potential issue, it’s not really much of a problem. A lot of our campaign was made up wholesale and then fitted around the stuff that I wanted to incorporate from the Midderlands campaign setting, for example my use of the Old Ones from the Cthulhu Mythos as pagan gods worshipped by some of the Fade Siar tribes. In-fact the name of the Welsh analogue in our campaign is a good example, when I originally created the setting I called it Fada Siar, meaning Far Land in the Elven tongue (I used a celtic online translator or something similar for this), but in the Midderlands campaign book it is called Oldenwale. It wasn’t difficult to say that Fada Siar is the Elven name for the country and that Oldenwale is the more commonly used human name. I’m pretty sure that if I continue taking inspiration from the real-world (as the writers of Midderlands obviously do) then I should be able to flex my setting to incorporate other stuff; however, if we do come across bits in the new book that can’t be used as they are then I’ll go with what we’ve already established in the campaign.

My players are already making noises about heading to the nearby Hexenmoor which–looking at the map and similarities of the name–would appear to be based largely on Exmoor (presumably with a magical twist), it’s pretty easy to find some of that areas folklore and customs online so if they get there before I’ve got the book then I’ll take inspiration from this and see where we end up. I’ve already warned them about a devilish beast that is believed to prowl the area.

 

A few things I’ve learnt about LOTFP low-level dungeon crawling

As you may or may not be aware, I’m currently running a Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign called Rose of Westhaven, the aim of the campaign was to get me some more experience at running OSR and also to do a game where old-school dungeon-crawling was a big part of it. Currently we’ve had a few sessions to establish a bit about the world background (you can find out more here in the player handout if you’re interested) and a couple of sessions ago the discovery of a corrupted and partially ruined Elven Temple lead to the characters encountering their first larger dungeon.

I’ve had great fun running the game, my players seem to be enjoying it and I’ve already learnt the following about low-level dungeon-crawling in LOTFP:

  • Low-level characters are extremely fragile, if even a basic human antagonist gets a lucky hit in during combat then someone is going down.
  • Healing is extremely hard to come by necessitating a lot of resting.
  • The importance of the Cleric cannot be overstated, that single cure light wounds spell can allow the party to continue for far longer than they otherwise might.
  • Having a 10′ pole to check for traps, along with lanterns and ample supplies of oil is an absolute necessity.
  • As a GM tracking how many turns the characters lanterns are going to be burning for (and knocking a turn off about every minute when they’re not in combat rounds) is actually perversely enjoyable.
  • Having people track rations and stuff like is far more important in a dungeon environment where the players can’t just pop into town and re-supply.

Random Things: Embarrassing Adventurer Antics

10 Embarrassing Adventurer Antics

It’s a familiar scene, your adventurers have just rolled into town after mostly surviving a terrible dungeon. Songs will be sung, ale quaffed and fallen comrades lamented. Often these scenes are handled off-screen, but potentially this is missing out a source of fun/adventure–after all–think about how much trouble rowdy celebrants get into in the real-world and that’s without the powers of adventurers.

Below is a D10 table of potentially embarrassing antics that your hungover PC could wake up to find out they were involved in.

No.Description
1Someone has defaced the statue of a local dignitary, inventively using mud and dung to give them a large beard and moustache.
2Several barrels of ale were stolen from a local tavern, they were found a couple of streets away drained of their contents.
3The son/daughter of a local noble claims to have been visited in their budoir by a dashing young adventurer.
4A pig was dressed in a stolen nobles wig and released into the main street, leading to much chaos and hilarity.
5The town/city guard are currently looking for an adventurer (matching one of the PC's description) who assaulted one of their officers after they tried to arrest then for urinating into a public fountain.
6Authorities are looking for a person responsible for menacing a nearby halfling settlement, the inebriating person rampaged through the settlement claiming to be a giant.
7The Thieves Guild have placed a bounty on the head of one of the PCs after they drunkenly interfered with the operations of one of their operatives, leading to the operatives arrest by the guard.
8The PC is wanted for questionning concerning damage to a local tavern when a bar brawl got out of control.
9The PC wakes up a in a farmer's barn wearing a jester's hat with a sat full of live frogs lying next to them.
10A person matching the description of one of the PCs was heard proclaiming the short-comings of a local person of influence, whilst drinking ale and playing a drum in the town square.

Is OSR combat deadlier than 5E?

I’ve been running my Rose of Westhaven LOTFP campaign for a little while now, we’re running every other week (schedules allowing) and have just wrapped up session 4 (as of the time of writing this blog).

Prior to running this campaign my experience of playing OSR style games was minimal and my experience with running it was non-existent, although I’ve been a fan of the idea of OSR for a while and have been steadily accumulating games such as White Star, ASSH 2E, LOTFP and the like, so I’m by no means an expert. Given that I’m still finding my way around the whole OSR deal–although my players seem to be enjoying it at the moment–and having come more from a background of highly cinematic games such as Fate, one thing that I have noticed is that the combat in OSR games seems to be extremely deadly. Continue reading “Is OSR combat deadlier than 5E?”

October 2017 Blog Carnival – Superstitions

I’ve not written anything on the Blog Carnival for a while, I finally put pen to paper (well fingers to keyboard but you get the idea) when I read a post on Of Dice and Dragons talking about superstitions in RPG campaign worlds. In the post a challenge was thrown down to write about a superstition in our own campaign world. I’ve just started up my Rose of Westhaven, Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign set in a fantasy world roughly based on Civil War/Tudor England. Lamentations has three non-human races by default: Dwarves, Elves and Halflings, to create a slightly more phobic and close-minded atmosphere I wanted to make these races a little more eerie and inhuman.

The race where this is most obvious at the moment (because a player rolled one as a character) is the Elves, they have bluish skin and bleed a clear liquid that smells like elder-flowers.

When it comes to the Elves in my setting there are a few superstitions that may or may not be true:

Continue reading “October 2017 Blog Carnival – Superstitions”