May 10, 2017

Credit Where Credit's Due

It turns out Talysman over at Nine and Thirty Kingdoms came up with the idea of using reaction rolls for weather first. (I wrote this blog post recently with the same idea). It was probably cryptomnesia since I discovered it while reviewing a random collection of links to OSR house rules (I think it was this thread on in a forum. In general, I think using reaction rolls for random events is a solid idea, one I'll probably be implementing more to handle other random situations requiring a range of possible outcomes (instead of the relatively binary outcome of a saving throw). I like how it makes the charisma attribute more useful (and restores its sense of being favoured by the divine).

Apr 27, 2017

Feuerberg: The Abandoned Dig Adventure Site

1 hex = 1 km side to side

This is a map of the area immediately surrounding Hoch, including a small portion of the north-eastern slope of Feuerberg (Feuerberg and Himmelberg together cover about 714 km^2, about a tenth of the total ground area of the sub-range they belong to, which is comparable to Mahadur Himchal, the subrange that Everest belongs to). The blue post-its are above-ground sites, the purple post-it notes are sites with access to the subsurface of Feuerberg, the yellow post-its are terrain that poses a simple challenge, while the orange post-it means dangerous terrain that is non-trivial to cross. The below adventure site is statted up for Into the Depths.


One of the first areas PCs are likely to be interested in is the abandoned dig site. A few years ago, an archaeomancer led an expedition to this spot, seeking to unearth an ancient prehuman temple. No one has heard from them since. The dig site itself is frequently used as a staging area by goat men for their raids. This batch seems to particularly like kidnapping people and sacrificing them at the full moon.

WHY DO YOU WANT TO KILL THESE GOAT MEN? (1d6 or just pick a bunch)

1) They kidnapped someone you care about. If you want them back, better go get them before the next full moon.
2) They're blocking trade from the kingdom on the far side of the mountains. If you wipe them out and prevent more from taking over the site, all prices in Hoch will come down 10% and the baron will owe you a big enough favour to let you out of jail for free once.
3) The ghost of the archaeomancer, Jumara Thayne, needs you to recover the brain from her corpse and then burn it in a fancy ceremony so she can regain her memories and power. She'll cast one spell for free per month in gratitude.
4) Someone said there's a dangerous and mysterious prehuman monolith out there that will give you awesome powers if you sacrifice people (like goat men) to it.
5) The goat men ate the last missionary the Church of the Hidden God sent out. Yazdan Burjani, the local priest, has issued a fatwa against them, and will totally shrive your many sins in exchange for a little divinely-sanctioned murder. (PCs can change their alignment to Good/Lawful no matter how bad they've been previously)
6) The Cult of Vorkallian needs a pile of goat man hearts for what are no doubt uninteresting and wholly legitimate reasons. They're paying 20 sp (gp in systems on the gold standard) for each fresh heart (less than a day old).


It's about four kilometres due west of town. Once you hit the lower slope of Feuerberg, there are coniferous thickets and rocky outcroppings scattered across an incline that takes you up about two hundred metres, past the sealed entrance to the salt mine full of restless undead and along a deer path. You know you're in the right area when you can feel your skin begin to crawl. During the day, the smoke from the goat men's campfires is visible once PCs enter the hex.


The goat men have all been driven violently insane by a phenomenon they refer to as "the purple light" which seems to involve great and terrible revelations of incoherent character. They wield slings (1d6), crude spears (2H; 1d10) and sharpened pieces of rebar (1d8). They don't use their horns in combat (that would be undignified). HD 1+1 AT 1 weapon (+0) AC 13 MV 9 MR 6 There are 1d4 patrols in groups of 1d4+1 roaming around the dig site at any given time.

The abandoned dig site. The green things are thickets of conifers.


1. The crumbled ruins of shrines built by intelligent saurids from before the age of man have been dug out carefully, then left to rot in the sun and rain for several years. A heavily-weathered, armless statue of a dinosaur wearing fancy robes stands on a pedestal. Ehkt, a goat man, is clacking pebbles together while muttering about the purple light and its demands. If questioned, he claims to be talking to the ghost living in the statue (there is no ghost), which is teaching him how to resist the purple light's revelations. He is visibily swollen with tumours, and the other goat men hate him.

2. A deep pit, clearly the last site of activity before the dig was abandoned and now a dump. At the bottom of the pit is a half-buried fossilised dinosaur skeleton that appears to be posed in meditation and is covered by the weathered and rotting bodies of the victims of the goat men (three dozen). All lack skulls. Phehth, a goat man, sneaks here to nibble on the corpses when the others aren't looking. Sometimes he hides amongst them, pretending to be one.

Rooting through the charnel pit reveals 146 silver pieces and 67 copper pieces; a gummy vial of poison (half-drunk); a ruby worth 159 silver pieces in the stomach of one of the corpses; a rotted and blood-soaked book that if repaired magically is revealed to be a spellbook with 3 spells; a rotted and blood-soaked book that if repaired magically is a guide to fine cookery worth 32 silver pieces; the arms of the statue at location 1, which grip a tablet showing a coded map to the cave of ancient art in hex 16:22; several armloads of damp and rotting wood, and a mixture of broken and rusted tools. There is a 1 in 6 chance of contracting an unpleasant rash (-1 to hit, MV and Armour Mod.) every turn spent rooting through the bodies. Each person-turn spent searching recovers one item from the above list (roll 1d8).

3. A statue of three interwined and spire-like tentacles emerging from a stone surface carved to look like a wave pool. The stone is white marble, with faint purple veins in the rock. It looks much newer than anything else here. The goat men stack the skulls of the people they kill here (Jumara Thayne's is here, recognisable through the spell-swelled brain-pan of an archaeomancer). The statue is the source of the skin-crawling feeling. Touching it ages you 1d100 years (save for half), and is not necessary to remove the skulls.

4. The goat men's campsite. Two tents, a bonfire with something unwholesome roasting on a spit, and a lot of blankets strewn about. One tent holds the liquor and food. The other holds Gragh, the leader of this band of goat men [HD 3+3 AT 1 sledgehammer (+2 1d8) AC 15 MV 6 MR 9] and his three wives / bodyguards, Blech, Blegh and Blagh (MR 9). Gragh and his wives are having a grand time lording it over the other goat men and have no larger plans than pleasing the purple light with sacrifices obtained through raiding caravans and kidnapping travelers. If it seems like it'd be less trouble, they'll trade prisoners for new sacrifices to replace them.

There are another dozen goat men here at any time, drunk, bored, or agitated by private crises induced by the purple light. There are eight barrels of liquor, each worth 22 sp if hauled back to civilisation and their origins concealed. The food is a collection of delicacies (salt fish stuffed with chopped peanuts, mostly) from the kingdom across the mountains, unsaleable due to rough handling but still quite hearty and in significant portions (47 rations worth, all spoiled by the end of the week). Prisoners will be tied up here, in between the rings of blankets and the campfire itself.

5. A guard tower. Three goat men are on guard here at all times with slings and torches. Waght, the goat woman who takes guard duty the most frequently, is actually sane and uninfected by the purple light, but pretends so the others don't suss her out. She is willing to sell out the rest for the chance to escape, but only if approached alone. She often pretends to "go scouting" in the woods by herself. The guard tower has a small collection of well-loved books (Waght's), mostly well-thumbed travelogues, worth about 15 sp total.

6. A hollow obsidian tetrahedron 3m long on each edge, sticking up out of the ground with 30cm or so still buried. For each 13 points of damage dealt to it within a single hour, one of the faces begins to glow with a constellation of stars. The first face is of an ancient constellation, the second of the contemporary night sky, the third shows a possible future night sky. Once all three are lit, you may ask any one question and receive a truthful answer to it (via a telepathic image). One of the stars in the night sky above you burns out in a flash. The tetrahedron radiates evil palpably within 3m. If the tetrahedron is used 13 times total, all stars, including the sun, will burn out. It has been used four times previously. Erckt, Yurch, Wamch and Gruk, goat men, hang around it, egging one another into giving it an occasional slap and laughing at the lights. The tetrahedron is indestructible by mundane means, but Mad Bill Danger, the trash oracle in the ruined city of hex 8:24, knows how to destroy it.

7. A white marble monolith with purple veins in the stone. It is carved with a spiral pattern descending into a mouth-like vortex at the centre on both sides. The monolith and the ground around it are caked with bloodstains. Yechkt, a priestess of the purple light, meditates here [HD 4+4 AT 1 dagger (+2 1d4) AC 11 MV 12 MR 9]. She can spend an action to animate 1d4+1 bodies at a time from the charnel pit [HD 1+1 AT 1 fist (+0 1d3) AC 15 MV 6 MR 12], summon a 3 HD demonic being to defend her [HD 3 AT 2 (+2 1d6; save or be confused) AC 15 MV 12 MR 10], or shoot deadly bolts of purple light from her eyes (1d6 damage, save or weep helplessly for 1d4 rounds). When not trying to kill you, she is usually inebriated on hallucinogens, ranting about "the Relict" and the purple light. Half the goat men and women here are her children or nieces and nephews, and they will martyr themselves for her (MR 11 so long as she is threatened). She knows how the monolith works, but won't tell you willingly.

When the full moon is in the sky, unwilling sentient beings may be sacrificed to the purple light by slitting their throats and splashing the blood on the monolith. The first death gives the officiant and their allies a +1 to all attacks and damage for 1 day. The third provides 2d8 points of healing within 10m. The fifth lifts the effects of all curses, diseases and maladies (other than its own) from anyone within the same radius.  If someone without wounds, curses, maladies, etc. is within 10m for the fifth and further deaths, they get cancer, though they won't realise it until later (cancer counts as a malady for the next use). The seventh death causes anyone within 10m to save or acquire a mutation, as does the 10th death. The monolith radiates evil divine magic. Anyone who has deciphered the ancient languages of the saurids will notice the spiral pattern is composed of claw-letters repeating a word that roughly means "the hatred of all life".

Apr 23, 2017

Bonus Grubbing in Into the Depths

For new readers, Into the Depths is a one-page D&D-like inspired by Searchers of the Unknown that I wrote over Christmas break. It's compatible with most Swords and Wizardry material. You can download it for free here. I'm going to eventually write a magic supplement for it, but in the mean time I'm using Wonder and Wickedness as the spell system.

Into the Depths uses a fairly simple skill system. Any time you try to do something with a risk of failure and a consequence for failing, you roll a d6 and try to get a result of 5 or higher. If someone helps you, you roll a d8. If you're "Good At" doing the thing in question, you add +2 to your roll. If a group is doing something that they all succeed or fail on together, then they nominate someone to roll on their behalf.

The "5 or higher" is basically a DC (a "difficulty class" from d20) and can be adjusted up or down as you desire. I mostly only adjust it up, while things that make the task easier add bonuses to the PCs' rolls, simply to keep it all as simple addition. Most equipment typically doesn't add bonuses, it either allows you to do things you couldn't otherwise or allows you to avoid having to make rolls by automatically allowing you to succeed (a few pieces allow you reroll a failed roll).

One of the things this system is intended to do is to give the PCs kind of a crappy initial chance to do anything (unless it's an area of core expertise) and so encourage them to grub around for bonuses to their rolls. Here are some of the ways that I let them do so, that you might want to try in turn.

+1 to rolls for:

Taking double the usual time to complete the task
Having a clue, secret, or other inobvious but relevant information
Someone else has done the hardest part of the task
Having a specialised piece of equipment (Specialised equipment should only apply to a small set of predefined situations)
Magical assistance, including blessings
Executing a plausible, well-described plan of action

+1 to the DC for:

Each person past the first two in a group where one person is rolling on behalf of the group
Rushing (1/2 normal time or less)
Crappy equipment
Plans relying on seriously flawed or incorrect assumptions
Magical interference
Difficult environmental conditions

These lists aren't meant to be exhaustive, they're just prompts to get referees and PCs alike thinking about how they can fiddle with the difficulty of any given challenge.

Apr 22, 2017

Feuerberg: The Basics

The two mountains are "Feuerberg" and "Vogelberg". The town nearby is "Hoch", a bustling town of about 5,000. The dragon is called "Vorkallian". There is a cult that worships the dragon in town, but they are quite open, and common belief is that their worship keeps the dragon from harming the residents of Hoch (they're wrong).

I'm busy keying the Salt Catacombs, the starting section of Feuerberg, having already mapped them, so here's some starter stuff to tide folks over in the meantime.

Recent events:

The dragon's eggs are supposed to have started hatching a century ago. But instead of the rapturous cataclysm that would bring, each baby dragon appears to die during hatching. The Church of Vorkallian blames a necromancer who moved to the area at about the same time, and wants adventurers to hunt him down and slay him. They also want several of the fouler caves, catacombs, ruins and dungeons cleared out, in case they are polluting the dragon's nest. They're paying good money for it.

About a month ago, a group of noble knights, priests and adventurers from afar rode in on griffons to slay the red dragon. Their vanguard vanished into a cloud that rained blood, while others were slain or injured by bolts of lightning. Whoever survived has gone to ground on the mountains. The locals are split over whether to find them and kill them while they're weak, or to plead with them to leave Feuerberg alone. People suspect they're probably hiding with some of the hermits in the Forest of Woe.

An old diviner who lived in the trash dump at the edge of town was driven out for blaspheming against the dragon two weeks ago. He used to trade strange artifacts he found in the cursed inhuman ruins on the far side of Feuerberg, but something he found there convinced him that the dragon needed to be destroyed.

The goatmen were peaceful until a few years ago, but they've become violent raiders since then. Now all they jabber about is a serving a purple light that no one's heard of before. They're also digging all over Feuerberg and Vogelberg, though no one knows why.


Vogelburg is believed to contain the secret of immortality if you can scale to the temple at the peak and convince the guardians there that you are worthy.

The goatmen are bewitched by the necromancer. The purple light is just a spell he's using.

If a baby dragon isn't born soon, Vorkallian will abandon the nest, blowing the mountain apart and killing everyone in Hoch.

They dumped the dead from the last plague in the old abandoned salt mine, but they're not resting easy in there.

If you spend too long in the petrified forest, you turn to stone yourself.

Lizardmen still live under the mountains, and are plotting to bring a powerful demon back to life.

Feuerberg is steeper, but Vogelberg's faces are less stable.

The cursed city on the far side of Feuerberg wasn't built by human hands - or even mortal ones.

This whole area was once ruled by a vampire, and he's buried somewhere around here.

The stone circles and monoliths actually keep the dragon bound in the mountain. If they were ever damaged, it would escape and destroy everyone.

The crows around Vogelberg are immortal. They've been there longer than mankind has existed.

Some of the ancient caves on Feuerberg have art that shows lizardmen, snakemen and birdmen worshipping strange gods.

Apr 20, 2017

Feuerberg: First Steps Planning

I plotted out the local area around Feuerberg using a simple overhead diagram with a hex grid underlay. There's Feuerberg, its companion mountain, the local town, and the road that passes the town and then through the valley between the two mountains. I'm thinking each cell of the grid will be 1 km across. I've begun drawing up ideas on post-its and sticking them on the cells. Bright yellow post-its are sites, orange are danger. Eventually there will be a finer level of colour discrimination between post-its, probably green, yellow and red for terrain (indicating its relative ease of transit vs. danger and risk), blue for aboveground sites, and purple for entrances to the subsurface of the mountain. (This is all using Realtimeboard)

Last night, I broke each mountain's surface into four faces, and then decided that there would be one signature dungeon or challenge per face to begin, plus one at the peak of each. Only some of these zones would lead below the surface. I decided to err on the side making the mountain less easily transited rather than more, in order to encourage the use of the subsurface zones (which will extend vertically up and down) to move past them.

An image of what the above process looks like

I'm feeling my creative juices flow on this project like they weren't on some of my other recent ones. I think I've got some solid ideas for landmarks - a ruined city of the ancients partly buried in lava; the rotting carcass of a headless male dragon that the female decapitated after mating that now lays draped over the side of the caldera, a meteoric lake filled with tiny mollusk-philosophers; an old town that fell into a chasm and now lays scattered amongst beams of light at the bottom; a cave that's Lascaux by way of the Mountains of Madness, etc.

The mountain is one of the paradigmatic examples of the sublime, and this will be an affect I'm going to try to play extensively with in this. I want expressions of deep time and vertigo to undergird much of how of the pieces fit together.

The giant is both dead and not dead. Really, the giant isn't a thing that can be dead, because that would imply it was alive. The giant is an elemental force, just as the dragon is (the dragon is weaker, closer to a living thing, but more active). Its brain is made of obsidian that when chipped becomes humanoids. Its heart is molten gold. Its breath causes either death or immortality, unpredictably, if you can make it breathe again. You might think it's human-shaped, but it predates humanoids, who are shaped roughly like it. The other mountain is a musical instrument it was building, though what exactly it wanted to play (or why) is unknown.
Detail of the area surrounding the caldera

Apr 19, 2017

Megadungeon Idea: Feuerberg

I'm not exactly the next Picasso, I'll admit
I was thinking about a megadungeon set in and on a giant that fell asleep for countless aeons and became a mountain, with dungeon levels being each of the various chunks of the mountain's surface (canyons and gullies and cliffs forming "rooms") and then the various caves, mines, and excavations into it (and eventually, into the giant itself still sleeping under all that dirt). The end boss is a giant red dragon who has dug into the top of the mountain to build its nest, and is currently laying eggs in the brain of the giant. Because of the red dragon, the giant's mountain has become a volcano and threatens everyone around. Your job is to get the dragon out of there so it stops being a volcano, or at least get rich enough to get away from the eventual eruption (a continent or two should do). Add some wizard towers, goatmen forts, etc. and other tough foes who control the major approaches, a forest full of people who've been hung and come back as undead, ice elves, obsidian men made from shards of the giant's brain, a major trading route that passes beside the mountain, and a small town of locals who profit from that trade, and I think you've got enough for a full megadungeon plus surrounds. Anyhow, I'm tentatively titling it "Feuerberg" ("Fire Mountain").

Apr 18, 2017


There's been another kerfuffle about copyright in the OSR. So, to reiterate and clarify: Everything on this blog is done under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license. So are all documents that I've produced and linked to via it unless they have another explicit notice on them (the OGL or something) or are work for hire. You can read up on what a "CC BY-NC" license means here.

If you want to use something I wrote for commercial purposes (or hire me for stuff), shoot me an email at johnbell17 at Google's email service, and we can work something out. My main concern is not to scab on other people by replacing their paid work (or realistic possibility thereof) with free stuff, so bear that in mind.