Podcast Episode 39 – Running a City Like a Dungeon

In the latest episode of the podcast I answer some voicemail messages about previous installments and muse on an idea I’ve been considering for my Rose of Westhaven campaign:

Music on Podcast Title

Shinigami by XTaKeRuX:

Used under creative commons licence:

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.

[RPG] D&D 5E character background – Skamos Sorrowson

I’m going to be playing in my first D&D 5E game in a few days, it’s a two-shot dungeon crawl inspired by the Tomb of Horrors being run by Rob ‘theSwamper’ Davis and featuring a host of other great players such as Alex ‘Captain Gothnog’ Gillot, Thashif Muran and Sameoldji; really looking forward to it, we’re genning 15th level characters and i’ve settled on a Tiefling rogue called Skamos Sorrowson, during my dinner break I though that i’d have a quick go at knocking up a background, below is what I came up with:

Alignment – CG

Skamos Sorrowson was born to the noble house of Turuval in the great City of Marapolean; whilst initially happy to be given a son at last the Patriarch of the family Michael Turuval was incensed when the childs infernally tainted features became obvious shortly after the birth, for a long time the child was shut up in doors and Michael would speak to no-one, not even his wife Sareena, who he secretly suspected of having been unfaithful to him, after all there was no way that such devilish features could have originated in his own family. The knowledge ate away at him like a cancer until it drove Michael mad and, one dark night, he gathered his loyal bodyguard to him and strode through the house determined to put an end to the cursed child; Sareena stood blocking their path, determined that no-one would kill her child, she was stabbed fatally for her efforts, but even with her last breath she triumphed, her sacrifice had given a loyal manservant time to steal away from the house carrying the child with him.

Originally the plan had been for the manservant Tollamy to carry the child to Sareena’s own family in a distant steading, but as with many things in life, things did not go according to plan and Tollamy ran afoul of the noted thief and footpad Vernius Mudge and his burgeoning gang of the thieves, the Clawed Hand. Determined to carry out his final orders the manservant refused to surrender his charge and was shot before he could leave the bounds of the city, throwing open the carriage, the robbers found not the gold and jewels they expected but a strange child who had an odd devilish look abot him; Mudge’s second in command, a half-orc brute by the name of Ramus, pulled out a knife ready to end the child’s life and as he did so the knife vanished to reappear in the crib next to the infant, smiling Mudge pronounced it a sign from the gods that the clawed hand was destined for greatness and that he would take the child as his own, naming it Skamos (after a child that he had long ago in another life, who had died along with it’s mother).

Mudge’s prophesy seemed to be true as the Clawed Hand, with Skamos as a member, rose to become the ruling thieves guild in the city.

Skamos initially harboured a great deal of hatred against the nobility (although Mudge had only told him the very basics about his history, raising him like his own son) and initially began adventuring as a way to make himself powerful enough to take revenge on those who had cast him; over the course of a long adventuring career he came to understand that the worth of a person was not defined by their class or their riches but by their own actions and the people they regarded as friends and finally he achieved some measure of peace before retiring from his adventuring days and returning to rule the Clawed Hand thieves as second, alongside the aging Verinus Mudge, who welcomed the return of his beloved son. 

(Please note the Tiefling picture is copyright 2009 Wizards of the Coast, it is used for non-profit making purposes and no challenge is intended to copyright)

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 🙂