Dungeon: MOON COLLEGE OF THE SPECTROMANTIC OCULARIA


The majority of this dungeon came to me over a couple of days, lots of interconnected ideas around a central theme. I was aware of the Pamphlet Jam started by Nate Treme of the "Highland Paranormal Society" (some really cool stuff over there; I particularly like his recent Bad Frog Bargain one-pager). So as impetus to actually Make A Thing, I decided I'd cram all these ideas down into the pamphlet format. I also love self-imposed constraints to stimulate creativity.

The format necessitated a lot of paring down to the core components of what I'd generated. At the same time, I didn't want it to feel too simple, like a maze on the back of a cereal box. The core is still a fairly rigid puzzle, but there's room to turn it into more than a one-shot.

So it's still more of a puzzle dungeon than a toybox dungeon (though I'm keeping toybox as a descriptor since there is leeway for the Ocularia and other elements to be used beyond their nominal key-and-lock progression). To use the vidya game analogy, this is more similar to an old-school Zelda dungeon, or Myst or other traditional adventure game, than the "systemic" design of Breath of the Wild, which more closely embodies an OSR design philosophy that all but demands lateral thinking by default.

Keeping the "extra" stuff in also made it, for better or worse, a bit of a study in information density. It may be possible to run on the fly, but there are some intricate relationships between bits of the text that want to be read and correlated thoroughly.

I'm considering expanding this into a larger product, bringing back some of the discarded pieces, better visuals (maybe some commissioned art?), a bit more elbow room for exploration and player-generated shenanigans. So it would be interesting to redeem these sins of information design in a less cramped, format. At the same time, I'm a bit burned out on the concept and ready to move to other things, so... we'll see.

This is also the first thing that I have created entirely and then "published". I have not created many dungeons, and finished much fewer. I've read recent discussion that we should default to setting a price for things we make, so as an experiment I have made this PWYW. It feels surreal for someone (edit: now two!) to have given me money for a thing I have made. I think it's the first time? Anyhow, I encourage you to download it first, see what you think, and then PWYW.

Monster: A Naturalist Mimic - The Carcass Crab

The Carcass Crab

HD: choose or roll
     1: Squirrel, ermine, etc. Dmg: 1x1d2, 2x1d2
     2: Fox, wildcat, etc. Dmg: 1x1d4, 2x1d2
     3: Wolf, badger, etc. Dmg: 1x1d6, 2x1d2
     4: Goat, boar, etc. Dmg: 1x1d8, 2x1d4
     5: Deer, horse, etc. Dmg: 1x1d10, 2x1d4
     6: Bear, etc. Dmg: 1x1d12, 2x1d4
     7+: More formidable monsters Dmg: 1x1d12, 2x1d6
AC: As Plate (thick chitin)
Attacks:
     1xBite (damage as above) & if 5HD+ decapitate on crit if Gripped
     2xClaw (damage as above), and Grip
MV: 30' sideways scuttle (can only attack with 1 claw unless it moves 20' or less)
NA: 1
Treasure: HDx10x1d10 gp "pearl"

The Carcass Crab has elbowed its way into a very particular evolutionary niche. Most often found in areas of lush wildlife, each resembles a dead animal (usually a mammal), lying on its side, head missing, chest rent open, ribs protruding. The chest is in fact its wide maw; the ribs sharp teeth, jaw hinges capable of opening up to 120 degrees. The legs jutting out from either side are cleverly camouflaged clawed arms, used to grip victims if they narrowly escape the initial snap of the maw. It's real, multiple crustacean legs remain tucked under it, out of sight.

Completing the effect is the very real blood and viscera of its most recent kill, flies buzzing. The blood attracts further prospective victims: largely scavengers, but often curious predators. Even if it's too big to swallow whole, the crab will attempt to bite off its head (likely curious and sniffing near the mouth already), and consume the rest at its own pace. More agile escapees likely soon give up on piercing its hard shell.

Larger specimens may attract intelligent prey due to regurgitated weapons and armor, or its eyes, between rib-teeth, resembling shiny black orbs; perhaps the jeweled pommels of daggers, abandoned after the kill? A special gland, colloquially known as the Treasure Sack, accumulates smaller indigestible objects and material. As the crab grows, precious metals form pearl-like agglomerations, typically worth HDx10x1d10 gp.

The crab will molt multiple times during it's life as it grows fat on easy prey. Each phase resembles a slightly larger animal, maintaining verisimilitude. Its thick chitinous shell is detailed with fine ridges, mocking glossy fur, if a bit matted. Most phases appear headless, likely due to it being much easier to mimic asymmetrically than a full head.

Characters have a base 1-in-6 chance to notice something is wrong from outside of bite range.


Conceptual Status: Warning - Untested but Play-Ready



Commentary
Mythic Underworld creatures are all well and good, but rarely can I resist considering how something resembling them could be plausibly evolved. The absurd degree of mimicry that real-world insects achieve almost makes me accept traditional mimics as-is, but having been exposed to enough biology (see the wonderful Endless Forms Most Beautiful for some truly mindblowing revelations about how life works that I, at least, didn't hear about in school), I fail my save to suspend disbelief.


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Souls-like Knave Hack Alpha

Here's a thing I've been working on recently; side project sixty three of eleventy seven. Yeah yeah, too much design, not enough play, I know. Get used to it.

This is a Souls-like hack of Ben Milton's lean Old School ruleset Knave. Bits of how Knave works are really suitable to emulating the digital games, such as stat-building and tight equipment management.

Conceptual Status: Warning - Unfinished, Untested, Ungrounded Notional Design

It deserves a more interesting name, but this certainly gets the idea across.
Feel free to comment on the doc with suggestions!

Gameplay Assumptions
Note that, in service of emulating the digital games, this is much more of a mathfinder-style thing than my usual fare. While Knave is created for and suited to Old School Style gameplay, Knave Souls embraces aspects of its inspiration in ways that don't always align with that set of principles.

The most notable differences: Combat is the central focus and more Sport than War, with a crunchier action system to support rich decision-making in that context. Character stats are upgraded early and often, and building and optimizing stats and inventory loadout are major factors. The world, environments, and options for progress may be less open-ended, but also more dungeon-like. The Referee and group must decide the amount and nature of play outside of combat encounters.

Development Progress
I have no real intentions of making a big production out of this and no firm plans to proceed with developing it, so feel free to rip out and reuse bits as you see fit. It will likely return to the backburner while I get distracted by shinier things. But the next step might be to run some solo combat simulations to root out the most obviously broken parts in the stat/combat system.

Of course, if you're inspired to actually put it in play for some testing, I'd be delighted; please do report back.

Inspirations
This is yet another of a long line of Dark Souls-y RPGs and hacks thereof. A few that were influential to this instantiation:


There have also been many great pieces written about the intersections of RPGs and Souls-like gameplay that I'd love to assemble in one place, but my threshold for bloating this post has just been crossed.

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Quintessential BX

Quintessential BX is a trimming and tweaking of Gavin Norman's B/X Essentials, itself a revision of Tom Moldvay and David Cook's Basic/Expert edition of the Original Fantasy Adventure Game. It includes a few refinements, additions, and options from myself, Gavin, and Lamentations of the Flame Princess, such as ascending AC, a reasonable Encumbrance system, and various new options in combat. QBX is intended to serve as a solid base upon which to layer other, modular rules; it does not include classes, monster stats, or spells. These can be referenced from original or new sources, or created yourself. Season to taste.


Suitable for printing as a zine-style booklet

The primary differences from BX are ascending AC, consolidation of some fiddly bits like ability score adjustments into standardized modifiers, and trimming of some things I see as extraneous like prime requisite XP adjustments, extensive rules for water and air travel, and encumbrance by tracking the weight of every item (two new Encumbrance options are added).

Special thanks to Gavin for both taking on the endeavor of creating B/X Essentials, and for conferring with me on attribution. It should also be noted that Gavin is further refining, compiling, and re-branding B/X Essentials to Old School Essentials, and the new editions will include Ascending AC.

As a side note, this (along with the original version of Principia Apocrypha) also serves as an example of how one can wring decent-looking, printable zine-booklets out of Google Docs. I might eventually write up a guide and templates for what I've learned.

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Grotty PC Relationships

Your PC's relationship with the PC to your right:
  1. You're connected quite literally, by ten feet of chain, shackled to an ankle each.
  2. You're revolted by them, but somehow they're the only thing keeping your shit together.
  3. You're old friends, but always take credit for their accomplishments.
  4. You both know damning secrets about each other. Like, really bad.
  5. You stole their Wand of Self-Pleasure after finding them asleep with it in an alley.
  6. You both ripped off a crime boss in The City and owe them way more coin than you'd be able to earn in a lifetime of honest work.
  7. You discovered you both collect something gross, and have only confided in each other since.
  8. You were both somewhat accomplished adventurers, until the incident. One of you lost their shield-hand, the other half their face.
  9. You really look up to them. They always overlook you. Seriously, you're way shorter than them. But, figuratively, too.
  10. You're positive they covet your pig (loyal, obedient, and loving).
  11. They look very much like the face on a bounty poster you found. The others don't see the resemblance.
  12. You grew close in the trenches of The War. Very close. Whether you can even stand each other now is another question.

Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress. The duo on the right were inspiration for R2D2 and C3PO.

Conceptual Status: Warning - Untested but Play-Ready

Commentary


I have vague intentions of running some fast, loose, funnel-style OSRish one-shots at local pub game nights. The system would be pretty rules-light, and character creation would be dead-simple and lightning fast to get into the gameplay ASAP. These would probably be on cards, along with two other character aspect cards, randomly selected.

I want these and the other related character aspects to...

  • Not be as boring as most PC relationship tables ("18: Siblings.")
  • Give the players something to grab on to RP-wise, when everything else is also random and they're plopped into a weird situation with little context
  • Give the players reason to interact among themselves in the absence of external pressure to do so, because this is where a big chunk of the fun of one-shots always seems to arise
  • Encourage a wee bit of PVP, or at least dramatic irony, which are likewise generally good in a one-shot
  • Naturally generate "leading questions" without forcing them
  • Establish an appropriately grotty tone and aesthetic for the flavor of modules I want to run, and that your characters are not Heroes
  • Let it be clear that they're free to lean-in to the Murderhobo instinct

Related Resources

Somewhat inspired by:



Do you know any other really good, flavorful tables for PC relationships?



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Dinozoids

Dinosaurs, played straight, annoy me. Something about the dissonance of them existing alongside rust monsters and bulettes. If a module calls for a dinosaur, I intend to reskin them with this.

In rough order of increasing weirdness (adjust die size accordingly)

1. Too many horns
2. Big, sharp, scissor-like beak
3. Mouth too wide, splitting down the neck or torso
4. Proboscis tongue, flicks out with startling speed and range, injects strange toxins
5. Head like a giant reptilian claw
6. Moth-like antennae, communicates with static sounds, limited intelligence
7. Big faceted gem-like eyes that shoot frickin' laser beams
8. Articulated exoskeleton, can fold up into egg like shape for protection like a crab
9. Elongated body, 1d4 exploding extra sets of limbs
10. It never evolved limbs, remove them
11. Thick, gummy, rubbery skin and meat, cartilaginous skeleton, lower damage but higher HP, lose weapons in it
12. Encrusted in crystals, longest on the back where they don't get broken off
13. Fed by the heat of a radioactive heart-stone, exposed to the air through the ribcage for thermal regulation
14. Glow-in-the-dark skin, with that gross pale translucent quality in normal light, absorbs magic
15. Still mostly a fish; replace limbs with fins, somehow gets along on land
16. Saurotaur - replace head with an intelligent humanoid upper body
17. Take the 1-4: front, 5-6: back half of it, jam 2d4 of them together like a starfish
18. Crudely simple skeletal structure and body plan, too few joints, like a children's drawing, viscerally unsettling
19. Badly made; mouth sealed shut, webbed digits and limbs indistinct from trunk, seam-like lines, eyes seem painted directly on flesh
20. God's plaything; composed of glazed porcelain with gold embellishments, moving in clay-motion, cracking, flowing, re-firing itself as it moves

Youtube video "11 worst dinosaurs in my collection"

Conceptual Status: Warning - Untested but Play-Ready

Commentary

I tried to add things that might give these creatures a slightly-to-highly gonzo charm, reminiscent of that of the original D&D monsters, which Gygax based a number of on knock-off toy "dinosaurs".

Speaking of that brand of charm, I don't think I've seen a monster resource that comes closer to reproducing it than Roger GS's Varlets & Vermin (and that includes the Creature Compendium). It's straight-up D&D canon, in my book! And free. Print it. Put it on the table.


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House Rule: Dungeon Logistics & Supply Bundles


Encumbrance, Dungeon Exploration Logistics, and Combat

When exploring a dungeon, unless you have enough porter hirelings to carry them, you are assumed to put most of your most encumbering items (including Supply Bundles) into a pile while you explore carefully, returning to move them forward after scouting ahead. Encumbering items carried during exploration may reduce your movement rate and possibly impact your ability to react to surprises such as traps.

In combat, each encumbering item you carry (other than Armor, Shields, and a Weapon being used) imposes a cumulative -1 penalty to AC, and Attack and Damage rolls. You may use the first round that you are not Surprised to carefully drop all carried encumbering items, but may not move or attack while doing so.

For easy reference on your character sheet, mark items that you only carry during overland travel and leave outside of dungeons with a "T", items that you leave in the supply pile with a "P", and items you always have on you even during combat with a "C".

Supply Bundles

A Supply Bundle can contain 9 to 30 “faces” in any combination of Supply Usage Dice. Track the composition of your Supply Bundle with one of these cards. These bundles usually take the form of an over-shoulder sack or bag distinct from your Pack (which carries more specific items and is not encumbering unless "full"). Each bundle counts as an Encumbering Item. 8 or fewer total faces can simply fit into a Pack among other items. A D4 can fit on a belt in a pouch or small bundle.

Supplies & Usage Dice

Common supplies are tracked with Usage Dice. These are dice from D4 to D20 which correspond to the approximate amount of that supply you have. The Usage Die for a type of Supply is rolled when a normal amount of it is used. On a result of 1 or 2, the Usage Die steps down one size, or, when on a D4, you are out of that supply.

Supply Types

Fuel: Roll when any portable light source gutters out to replace it (approximately once an hour).
Rations: Roll before a long rest and/or after a phase of travel (~8 hours), and during short rests (only once for the whole party).
Ammunition: Roll after firing a missile weapon.
Medicants: Roll when First Aid or other medical treatment is performed.
Miscellany: Roll for materials for simple repairs, or other incidentals such as an iron spike, a short length of cord, a small pot of grease, or other items as the GM deems reasonable. If there is disagreement, perhaps allow an Intelligence or Wisdom check to have a specific item on hand.

Man with Bag (aka Market Wallet or Martebo Sack) - Duparc Françoise

Conceptual Status: Seems To Works In My Game

Commentary

By default, most games assume all of the party's possessions are carried on their person at all times, with the occasional exception of pack animals during overland travel. For campaigns that emphasize resource management, separating the party from the bulk of their supplies adds a bit of verismilitude, and a gameplay dynamic I haven't really seen before in RPGs.

In addition to the advantages of Usage Dice (which I won't detail here since you're probably already familiar, but can be summed up as highlighting the tension of running out of materials earlier than expected while simultaneously reducing the tedious accounting required), I think tracking a pile of supplies separate from the party while exploring has these benefits & effects:
  • It naturally creates difficult choices, and the risk of getting separated from your supplies. 
    • Do you cling tightly to your supplies, but compromise your ability to avoid traps and fight?
    • When descending on a rope, do you keep the Bundle on you, perhaps imposing a penalty to climbing checks, or do you leave it at the top and risk getting separated from it?
    • If you need to flee, do pick up your pack on the way to save precious supplies, or stay unladen to hasten your retreat?
  • It helps clear up the dissonance between having enough supplies for a dungeon expedition, but not being awkwardly encumbered by a heavy backpack when combat begins.
  • It helps justify the traditionally slow pace of dungeon exploration, since it adds the necessity of returning to the pile and move it forward.
  • Leaving the pile behind makes it vulnerable to inhabitants of the dungeon, giving you an additional way to threaten them and cause resource attrition. They might learn to carry a bit of Fuel on their person at all times.
  • It creates additional incentive to pay non-combatant porters to follow you, another reason to engage in the dynamic of hirelings.

This house rule assumes an encumbrance system similar to Lamentations of the Flame Princess, where only "significant items" count towards encumbrance. I think the concept may still be suitable for a system which takes an even more "lightweight" approach to encumbrance, by making the supply bundles explicitly encumbering in a way that other items and containers are not. In fact this may be even more impactful than in an LotFP style encumbrance system...

In My Campaign

In Tolmenwode Tales, my ongoing campaign of ~25 sessions so far, the first third of which were dungeon delving, there have been a few situations where the separation between the party and their supplies came into play. They usually involved tension around whether the party could retrieve their supplies if they needed to retreat from a charged situation. And there was at least one instance of a PC wanting to produce an item that would be in their Supplies during combat, which they could not access since it was in the pile a room back. We haven't done a huge amount of dungeon delving, but I look forward to more of these interesting situations in the future.

As GM, it was somewhat easy to forget this regime during play, but it wasn't that big a deal to suddenly remember it was a factor in the current situation; it's something the players should be accounting for anyhow. Describing returning to the pile to move it forward can be elided after the first few times. I think the dynamic it adds is worth the occasional hiccup.

Supply Bundles using Usage Dice pairs well with a Hazard Die type system, where every one or two Turns, it may indicate light sources gutter out, or the party needs to rest and consume a ration. I use a version of this in Tolmenwode Tales.

Related Resources

There are a bunch of recent posts and hacks for inventory management recently. Here's a partial compilation:

Usage Dice were popularized by their inclusion in The Black Hack. David Black also has some good reflections on what makes them good and when not to use them.

Brendan at Necropraxis covers some good inventory management/bookkeeping alternatives in his State of the Art post.

Anne Hunter at DIY & Dragons made a few great posts on resource management in her consistently great analytical style.


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House Rule: Gradually Reveal Character Details

House Rule: Gradually Reveal Character Details

During character creation, only determine stats and gear. Then, if the character survives the session, they earn more detail. At the start of the following sessions, let everyone roll on one of a number of character aspect tables to flesh out their character, background, and relationships.


Atlas Slave - Michelangelo

Conceptual Status:
 Seems To Works In My Game

Commentary

I think this simple house rule can have these benefits/effects for old school style play:
  • It helps speeds up the first session to get into gameplay more quickly
  • It adds a fun ritual to the start of every session
  • It dulls the impact of an early death, due to being less attached to a particular persona
  • It increases their desire to survive in order to discover more about their character
  • It emphasizes the tentative nature of the PCs
  • It helps orient the players' focus on the game situation and environment, rather than inward to their character

Alignment as the effect of a spell

Align Soul

Cleric/Divine, Level 20
Duration: Permanent until overwritten by this spell or overridden by the target's volition (see below)
Range: Infinite within plane

Enchant an individual with an aura of, and variably strong inclinations to follow behaviors circumscribed by, an Alignment of Law, Chaos, or Neutrality, and (optionally) fluency in a language known only by others of the same Alignment.

The individual may at times act against those circumscriptions, but in extreme circumstances may be compelled after an introspective struggle (roll under WIS/CHA or save vs magic, etc).

After a series of such struggles, their Alignment may change toward that associated with the individual's actions.

Conceptual Status: Warning - Notional Idea

Commentary

Alignment is a perennially debated topic, but I was struck by the notion of looking at it from a different perspective. If magic exists, perhaps Alignment could be tied to the effect of a spell, like a cosmic-level "Charm Person". This explains both its ability to be "detected" and other mechanical interactions, while leaning into, instead of dodging the fact that it feels "artificial".

Principia Apocrypha file updated

Just a quick note that the booklet version of Principia Apocrypha now has outlined fonts, which may fix issues with printing that some folks were experiencing.