Friday, June 26, 2020

The Vendor of Miserable Things: A Troika! Encounter and List of Deadly Cursed Items

If you look at him with your right eye, he isn't there. If you look at him with your left eye, you see a man dragging his old cart along the forest's old path. He travels from town to town by moonlight. His cloths are tight and buttoned-up. His skin is pale white and stretches uncomfortably over his large, bulbous head.  He loves gambling. He wants to sell you his wares. His blood is made of shadow. He would never say outright, but he wants you (specifically) to die.

Skill 5 Stamina 14 Initiative 2 Armour 1 Damage as Sword
Special: Knows Sleep and True Seeing. Bargains and gambles at 7 skill

1 Distracted
2 Bleary
3 Foggy-minded
4 Speaks in non-sequitors
5 Eager for a bet (roll 2d6. He wins on 6,7, or 8. The player wins on any other number. The player wins double the stake on a 2 or 12)
6 Knows the future

The Vendor's wares:
1. Small porcelain horse. Exquisite, miniature craftsmanship. Test luck each night you place the horse under your pillow. On success, your spirit can ride the horse in the astral realm to any location in the sphere. On failure, the horse sits on your chest, suffocating you to death.

2. Cricket cage.
The cricket inside provides brilliant light that heals one stamina every hour you spend in it. The cricket inside is made of starfire and desperately wants out. Skill 9 Stamina 6 Initiative 5 Armour 2 (due to small size) Damage as Greatsword (It's body burns with celestial fire).

3. Basket of Hands
Inside the basket there are three hands, a red, a blue, and a black. The red hand floats in the air, carrying a sword of souls that does the owner's bidding for 4d6 hours (Skill 6 Stamina 10 Initiative 1 Armour 1 Damage as Sword). The Blue hand crawls along the ground, leading you to the closest available treasure. The Black hand instantly kills the user. The basked is a strange, four-dimensional object akin to a Klein bottle. Reaching inside it, you always pull out a hand at random.

4. The wooden tick
The tick gives you +N skill, but takes 2^N stamina every ten minutes, with n being the number of minutes divided by ten the tick has been attached. A successful skill test is required to remove the tick. The tick will attack anyone who tries to remove it. Skill 2N Stamina 2^n Armour .5N (rounded down) Initiative N Damage as (Small beast times times N)/2

5. Silk dress
A garment woven from spider-webs that sticks to the skin once put on. Detailed embroidery on the cuffs depicts strange, alien birds. Wearing the dress grants +1 to fly, but constantly drifts its owner upwards. Most wearers end up just floating right off the planet after hours of weary struggle.

6. Elderflower wine
A wine brewed from a flower that grows on a distant rocky planet. If you drink it, you know with perfect clarity exactly how and when you will die (permanently halves your luck score, but you can only die by the predicted means).

This blog post is an independent production by me and is not affiliated with the Melsonian Arts Council.

Friday, June 5, 2020

The Reading of the Will

Here is a little adventure that I originally tried to write for the Troika Pamphlet Jam. Unfortunately, I was never able to convert this to pamphlet form because I suck at layout and art, I don't know how to use Itch or Twitter, and I kind of prefer doing my own thing just in general.

Instead, I thought I would put the adventure on here for everyone's enjoyment. Check out the Troika! pamphlet jam at the link below! Please note that this blog is an independent production by me and is not affiliated with the Melsonian Arts Council.

Running the Game:

Jean-Michel de Warenne is dead, stabbed in the back in his own study. Since everyone in the party was named in De Warrene’s will, the party has been summoned to his elaborate mansion to attend the will reading. The party starts in room 1. When the party travels to another room, roll a d6 for each star on their path. On a 1-2, the party has an encounter. Roll a d6 to determine the type of the encounter: 1-3 a challenge specific to the connection type (see below), 4-6 wandering encounter (see wandering encounter table.).


Art by Ian Miller

The color of each line represents how the two rooms are connected. Each method of travel presents its own challenges.

Between the countless gables and steeples, between the gargoyles and the relief sculptures, it is possible to walk out on the roofs of the mansion. The abyss yawns below.

Rooftop challenges:
1. Roofs that slope dangerously—impossible to cross without a skill test.
2. Gusts of wind belching up from the abyss—test luck to avoid a random item of the party’s inventory to blow away
3. Vertigo attack—test luck or suffer -1 to all rolls for d3 hours.

An old-fashioned elevator operated by hand. Rickety.

Elevator Challenges:
1. Cord snaps—catch yourself or falll down to room 8 or 5, taking severe fall damage (as large beast)
2. Frightening voices—they are just trapped fragments of old arguments. Best to ignore them. Anything the voices say are lies.
3. Half-floor. The elevator opens to reveal a half-floor between the real levels of the mansion. The half-floor is a dark, unlit maze of empty grey rooms larger than the mansion itself. A minotaur lives here, only wanting escape and death Skill 10 Stamina 23 Armour 2 Initiative 3 Damage as Axe.

Thick green carpeting muffles steps. The hallways are lined with exquisite paintings made by Beryl.

Hallway Challenges:
1. One of the paintings is too beautiful. Must pass a test to stop looking at it. The painting blocks the way forward.
2. Lost! Pass a test to avoid circling back to Room 1.
3. In the beginning of her career, Beryl (Room 5) painted a likeness of De Warenne so excellent that it took all of Warenne's kindness and humanity, leaving only his ruthlessness and pride. The portrait, unable to face the cruelty of the real de Warenne left its original frame travelling from picture to picture, and can occasionally be spotted amongst the landscapes. The portrait wants to be taken to De Warenne's body and released so that he can reanimate the corpse.

Room Key:
1. Legal office

Stacks of books, boxes, and papers surround a simple wooden desk lit by a green lamp. A legal whip, Bertram, is here, sent by Rotier (see wandering encounter 5) to organize papers, but does not know anything about the will. He advises the party to seek out De Rotier.

• Wooden Desk—There is a fish bowl underneath a stack of papers. The fish inside, Mortimer, cannot speak, but is a chess grand master.
•Papers—The bybroduct of several decades of suits and countersuits. Land deals, artichoke holdings, tulip bulb futures, etc.
•Leather chairs—green faux leather
•Legal textbooks—A successful test shows that these textbooks are nonsense.

2. Knotted room
Hugh (wandering encounter 2) mischievously strung a knotted web of ropes over an otherwise normal study. Reeks of hemp. 2-in-6 chance Veronica bird is here (see wandering encounter 1).

•Ropes—Ordinary hemp ropes. It is easy enough to cross the criss-cross pattern even without a skill check, but significantly harder to do so without touching the ropes.
•Feathers—multicolored and muppet-y from the Veronica bird. Obviously dyed chicken feathers to anyone who knows anything about birds.

3. Nursery

Salamanders and teddy bears stare disapprovingly from peeling wallpaper. Toys and games litter the floor quite helter skelter. A crying noise can be heard coming from the crib in the center of the room.

•Crib—A bundle of tightly-bound rags are the source of the crying. Anyone disturbing the bundle is pulled head first into a warm and soft place. A tunnel back up to the nursery can be seen overhead, but the air inside the dimension is thick and gluey, making climbing difficult.
•Toys—Stuffed animals with glowering, stern faces; games of chutes and ladders with disturbing illustrations; whirligigs that don't spin; jack in the box (turning the crank imparts a feeling of dread. If the crank is turned enough for the device to “pop,” the user’s face is permanently painted like a clown); and a rocking horse ( The rocking horse rides backwards, forwards, or sideways through time, but cannot physically be moved. When used, 2-in-6 chance the horse attacks with flaming mane and terrible form. Skill 9 Stamina 15 Initiative 2 Damage as modest beast)

4. Bedroom

There are two gas lamps to either side of the double bed that dominates the room. Even though the lamps burn with a hot blue light, darkness still swallows the room. The fire inside the lamps flickers unusually loudly and there is a metallic scent in the air.

•Lamps—They are unusually hot. Damage as jolt spell if touched.
•Bed—The sheets are stained with blood.
•Closet—The ghost of Mary De Warrene, Jean-Michel’sfirst wife (whom he himself murdered), hides in this closet behind a large fur coat. She promises her eyes (poppies that grant +1 second sight) to anyone who can bring her baby back from room 3. Skill 6 Stamina 7 Initiative 1 Damage as Knife (from her long, green fingernails. If she rolls a 5+ on a damage roll, test luck or become poisoned as per poison spell in addition to normal damage)

5. Artist's studio
Unfinished canvases lean against the white walls marked with splotches of color. The scent of turpentine and toil. Hundreds of paintings line the walls of the mansion. They were all painted by Beryl Warner, who lives in this room. 2-in-6 chance Hughis here (see wandering encounter 2), taunting Beryl to madness. Skill 6 Stamina 10 Initiative 1 Damage as club (from her quite large brush)

6. Herbarium
The humid air of the herbarium is oddly cold, so it sticks to the skin like fog. The air smells sticky and sweet. The herbs are mostly dead.

•Herbs—the majority are dead kitchen-herb plants, but a suitable skill finds that one of the herbs is golden oregano. Nurse it back to health and eat its leaves to gain +1 in a random spell. A clever botanist could also find Dayshade, a berry that will wake any sleeping person.

7. The Darkroom

A throbbing red led casts shadows over the old photography supplies. A strong chemical smell wafts from the basin in a corner of the room. A black casket was taken here, apparently for a photograph, but then left.

•Photography supplies—An old camera, sundry chemicals, and 3 enchanted flash bulbs (squeeze to function as Flash spell. Only works once.)
•Casket—Jean-Michel’s body inside, forgotten.

8. The Study

De Warenne's dried blood stains the oaken desk where he was murdered. It runs down the desk to the plush green carpet. There are many books and uncomfortable chairs, but, for the most part, the books are blank—just for show. A large snake head sticks out of a hole in the wall. The door leading to room 9 is locked.

• Chairs—Leather. One has wings and can fly (pilot check to take off and land without crashing horribly, however)
•Snake head—The body of the massive two-headed garter snake winds around inside the walls of the mansion. The head at this end, Ari, promised not to give the key to anyone except the rightful owners of the snowglobe (the will in room 10 is proof enough for her). Ari hates the other head, Arnold, and wants him dead. (Skill 10 Stamina 12 Armour 1 Damage as Large beast)

9. Memorarium

The place where De Warenne kept all the innocent, nostalgic items that remind him of who he once was. The room is circular, lined with shelves full of junk.

•Trinkets—A load of junk. Old comic books, bicycles, practical jokes, etc.
•The Snow Globe— Shake during combat to look at the top three cards of the stack and put them back in any order. Sleeping with the globe grants +1 luck for the rest of the day. Break to create a terrible blizzard lasting 1d3 weeks.

10. The Armoury

De Warenne collected around twenty historical suits of armour. Most are utterly ridiculous, not designed for humans, or broken, but some are still usable. The other head of the two-headed garter snake comes out of the northern wall.

•Armour—of the twenty suits of armour, three are of particular interest. If the party chooses to investigate the armour roll below:

     1. The Burning Helm: Ignite this helm on fire at will. Fearsome, but painful. +1 Armour when activated, but take -3 stamina per round.
     2. Hempen Armour: Counts as light armour. Unbearably itchy. Can be unwound to produce up to 30’ of magically unbreakable rope.
     3. Porcelain armour: Incredibly delicate, finely made armour. +1 to Callous Strike spell. Counts as Heavy armour, but breaks if the wearer ever takes more than 3 damage. The ashes of the De Warenne family, long stored in the armour, have congealed into a pudding that will attack anyone who disturbs it. Skill 5 Stamina 8 Armour 0 (3 if they are using the armour) Initiative 2.

•Snake head—The other end of the two-headed garter snake comes out of the wall here. This head, named Arnold, haughtily explains that he was given De Warrene’s will, and says that it is too important to give away to anyone but Rotier (see wandering encounter 5). Arnold is easily flattered. He hates Ari and wants her dead. (Skill 10 Stamina 12 Armour 1 Damage as Large beast)
•The Will—If obtained from Arnold in some way, the will lists the party as the owners of the snow globe. It lists Beryl as the rightful owner of the mansion and the family fortune.

Wandering encounters

1. Richard the Somnambulist

Richard, an old business partner, fell asleep in the mansion and never quite woke up. If aroused with the Dayshade in room 6, he can guide the party to a room between 4 and 6 where De Warrene keeps a key made of bone that can open any door. 

•Skill 8 Stamina 14 Initiative 1 Damage as sword. Can cast Sleep.

Just five more minutes...
Don’t eat my crumb cake!
Go away, foul beast
Follow me (will lead party to a door that opens on the abyss)
Running in circles

2. Hugh De Warenne

Veronica de Warenne buried her baby Hugh in an urn and covered him in soil. Hugh's skin grew wooden, and his toes curled into gnarled roots. From his forehead, a small green shrubbery grew. Hugh hides in the pot under the small green shrubbery that comes out of the pot, moving about by sticking his long, viney arms out of the soil and dragging the whole pot along in a spider-like motion. He loves to hide in the shrub and scream “Boo!” at anyone who comes close.

• Skill 7 Stamina 10 Initiative 4 Armour 1 Damage as small beast


3. La Passementerie Horrible

A rope knotted into an elaborate tassel floats like a jellyfish down the carpeted halls of the mansion. It is as big as a man's chest and smelling of old hemp. It buzzes ominously. The worn fringes of the passementrie are laced with the terrible ennui. 

• Skill 7 Stamina 16 Initiative 1 Armour 1 Damage as per the table below:

* The fringes of the passementrie sting their victim, inflicting terrible ennui. The afflicted find themselves sitting and staring at patches of drab wall paper or cracks in faded plaster. They will move to avoid danger, but otherwise will not attack. The only known antivenom is suitable light entertainment.

Bobbing along
Hungry (it eats shadows)

4. Jerome the Butler

In his left pocket, Jerome keeps the golden knife still stained with the blood from when he stabbed Jean Michelto death, and a packet of deadly poison. Jarvis had a long love affair with Veronica, who convinced him to kill Jean-Michel. 
• Skill 4 Stamina 6 Initiative 2 Damage as knife

Pleased to serve
Quietly murderous
Inwardly lamentful

5. Edward Rotier and 2d3 Legal Whips

De Warrene's faithful lawyer (and lover) lost most of his corporeal form in a tragic litigation accident. All that remains of him now is his fake golden leg, his shadow (dark as a bottle of spilled ink), and his thin, horn rimmed glasses (+1 litigation skill if worn). He knows where the 
will is located, but will extract heavy payment for knowledge of it. Wants the party to forfeit the snow globe to him.

•Skill 7 Stamina 10 Initiative 3 Damage as Whip. Can cast Illusion and Mirror self.

Legal Whips
Snivelling, survile creatures mutated by exposure to legal documents. They carry mounds of paper and staplers that they use as a club.
• Skill 5 Stamina 6 Initiative 1 Damage as club

6. The Veronica Bird
Veronica, De Warenne's wife, never leaves her rainbow-colored, muppet-like bird costume. The costum has become merged to her skin. Will try to convince the party to kill Beryl. She has forgotten much of human language, primarily speaking in squawks and whistles. 

• Skill 5 Stamina 10 Armour 1 Initiative 2 Damage as modest beast


Sunday, March 29, 2020

Cards from a fortune telling machine

Most residents of Queensmouth have the good sense to avoid fortune telling machines if they see one; unfortunately, good sense is never the strength of an adventurer. The machine proudly boasts “Find love, reveal truth, uncover riches! Ask Zentovo, the greatest of prognosticators, for your fortune today! Only one silver pence!” Inside the cabinet is a small doll dressed as a wizard sitting at a little table. After inserting a coin and turning the knob, one of these cards pops out of the doll’s mouth, down a chute, and into a dull iron tray.

1.  In one hour, the last person to have touched this card will die.
There is no test to avoid this affect. After the hour passes, the last person to have touched the card will suffer violent seizures and then die.

2. Please excuse me, I am trapped in this apparatus to my great disadvantage! Please be so kind as to rescue me?

The doll behind the glass case of the machine is sentient and wants to escape. There is a lock in the back of the case, but it is trapped with a particularly nasty poison gas [Test luck or lose 1d6 skill temporarily while experiencing terrible hallucinations for 4d6 hours.]

The doll is telepathic. It looks like a little wizard with black eyes, pale skin, and a stringy red beard. It can read minds perfectly, but it cannot move and can only communicate by means of a little card that it pushes out its mouth once per day. The doll is a bit of a romantic, and is prone to fall in love with any person that rescues him, although he will respect his rescuer’s wishes if the feeling is not reciprocated.

3. Plant this card

When planted in sufficient soil, this card will spout into a small tree in about three months. Caring for the tree requires about 10 silver pence in soil, fertilizer, potting, etc. All but one of the fruits are a strange red color with an exotic, floral taste worth 100 silver pence per bushel of fruit to a gourmand. The last fruit is a cloudy black-ish purple-ish gemstone, inside which sleeps the lost thumb-size prince of King Urso, whose magnificent miniature kingdom is located far outside Queensmouth, in the stump of a rotten log. Urso will pay handsomely for the return of his son...or so the thumb-sized prince claims if awoken.

4. Beware the tall man with the blue cravat

His breath is sweet and his eyes are kind. He whistles a strange tune to himself on park benches on warm summer days. His cravat is deep, deep cerulean blue. He talks little, but smiles often.

If you approach him, he may tell you about a certain mirror worth thousands of silver pence unguarded in an abandoned little cottage at the edge of Bastion. The mirror is floor length and made of unclouded silver. He says it belonged to his grandmother, but alas he cannot bear to look at it as the loss of her is still to fresh. It would be a shame, he says, if anyone were to steal it—but you wouldn’t do that, would you? He will never tell you his name.

If you follow him, keeping your distance so that he doesn’t see you, you will see him leave his little park bench at the end of the day to stroll through the streets of Queensmouth, sliding through the crowds and down alleys paved with cobblestones to the edge of town where he quietly enters a nice cottage just like the one he described. The inside of the cottage is filthy, covered in rat feces and smelling of rot. The man walks down the stairs to the basement, whistling his strange tune. If the man is lucky, one or more people may already be there, unmoving, their eyes glued to the mirror from which glows a pale blue light. The man opens his skull and absorbs those lost to the mirror with a sickening slurp.

5. You will win the next game of tiddlywinks you play.

Tiddlywinks is something of an obsession in Queensmouth, especially at the University.  Any given evening will see at least one table of students huddled around a table playing the game.

6. Your fortune is not available at this time. Please inquire within for a full refund.

A small door opens in the machine, revealing a rickety metal staircase that descends to Room 1. All the stats in the dungeon described below are written for Troika!

Random Encounters
—1. Arrogant, fat, blond businessman unsatisfied with his fortune (which reads "You will be ripped off by a fortune-telling machine"). Will assume the party works here and will pushily demand a better fortune.
—2. Lucille, Zentovo's wife, floats in the air like a drowning person. Her red hair obscures her face. She is a ghost, but refuses to acknowledge it. She wants to find her husband, Zentovo (in room 5, long dead)
Skill 5 Stamina 10 Initiative 2 Armour 0 Damage as Modest Beast (her screams will pierce your ears)
—3. The dancing sisters, Zara and Tara. They are Zentovo's former lovers. Whenever Zara speaks, flowers drop from her mouth (crush a handful to restore d6 Stamina). Whenever Tara speaks, coins fall from her mouth (varying denominations and sources). They dance with their eyes close, because beams of energized light come out of their sockets whenever they open them (damage as Jolt).
Skill 8 Stamina 14 Initiative 2 Armour 0 Damage as Knife
*Special—three random spells
—4. Dismembered hand tries to steal stuff from the party.
—5. 2d3 peacocks, escaped from the pens in room 7.
Skill 3 Stamina 4 Initiative 1 Armour 0 Damage as small beast
—6. Swarm of flying fortune cards. They will attack anyone whom they perceive as resisting their fate.
Skill 6 Stamina 10 Initiative 4 Armour 3 (any attacks are likely to go right through them) Damage as small beast

Room Key

1. The Landing. The rickety metal staircase from above leads to this landing, with further stairs leading down to 4 and 2.
- Walls decorated in peacock wallpaper.
- Small table with crystal orb on it (+1 to second sight if held in one hand with the other hand pointing to the forehead).

2. Scribe Room. The scribes in this room are busy at work writing new cards, but, since they are out of ink, the scribes are currently just futilely scratching at the cards with oversize peacock quills.
- Smells like quiet sweat and paper.
- Stacks of cards in the back. Scribes carefully arrange the cards in the order prescribed by Zentovo in a large, brown book.
-The scribes wear different colored robes in order of which "level" they have attained: brown for level one, gold for level two, and blue for level three.
-The scribes are nice enough, but give off kind of a cult-y vibe.

- Head Scribe, Ichabod, wears the pink robes and odd, circular headdress of a level four scribe. He needs new ink for the scribes and is willing to trade knowledge of the dungeon for a bottle of it--for example, he would be willing to tell the party about the zoetrope strip prepared for the party by Zentovo in room 10.

3. Parlor. An excellent room for putting up ones feet.
- Potted fern in the corner.
- More of that peacock wallpaper
- Nice chairs situated around a chess table, forgotten chessman waiting on the board midgame.
- Goldfish in a bowl. The goldfish, Morty, cannot speak any human language, but is quite good at chess (chess skill 9).

4. Cold Room. This is the place strongest with magic, the place where Zentovo hid his hate. There is no light in this room.
-Cold iron chains hang from the ceiling.
-Jared, Zentovo and Lucille's son, lives here. Ink pours from his mouth. He is filled with rage and speaks in incoherent patterns. He will make nonsensical demands of the party and become enraged when they can't fulfill them.
Skill 7 Stamina 16 Initiative 3 Armour 1 Damage as medium beast (melee) or ink spit (range)
Ink Spit:
* Blinds target, preventing them from seeing well enough do anything unless they pass a skill /luck test or spend an action to clear off the ink.
-Predictions written in Jared's blood are more likely to become true.

5. Zentovo's Room. The final resting place of Zentovo.
-Zentovo's dessicated corpse sunken into a leather chair. His silk clothes and elaborate feathered turban are still intact. Keys to the doors in room 7 and 10 are in Zentovo's pocket..
-Stacks of books, all handwritten by Zentovo. They contain hundreds of predictions, all accurate, most mundane. The book in Zentovo's lap reads, in its last entry, "[name of character] will stand in this room, standing over my corpse, and read this sentence."
-The party's refund is hidden in Zentovo's turban, a brass coin bearing Zentovo's winking face. Once per session, the owner of the coin can test luck to make one theoretically possible but very serendipitous thing happen.
-A small table with a zoetrope device on it. The strip currently in the device shows the moon going in and out of phase. (A strip meant for the party is in room 10)
-The ceiling above is an elaborate astrological mural.

6. The Rams. Level two scribes must ritualistically walk through this room blindfolded to ascend to level three. Most don't make it.
-Censor full of incense.
-Mangled bodies in gold robes in the center of the room.
-Two ram statues stand on either side of the room. The ram statues will smash into each other at full speed if anyone attempts to walk through the center of this room (test luck or suffer damage as Large Beast +1)

7. Peacock Pens. This room supplies the scribes with peacock quills.
- 2d8 peacocks in this room always. The peacocks bear the malice and ill-will inherent to all of their kind.
Skill 3 Stamina 4 Initiative 1 Armour 0 Damage as small beast
-10' tall Marble pillar in the middle of the room. Above this pillar is a trap door leading to room 10.
-The peacocks are taken care of by Jessica, a level 1 scribe, who is perched on the pillar. She has not left the pillar in 12 years. She is a kindly woman who genuinely cares for her peacocks. Every now and then, she scatters a hand full of seeds down to the peacocks who peck at them eagerly. She does all her cleaning etc. with the use of a long, claw-like apparatus.

8. Paper Garden. The paper for all the cards used by the scribes are actually the petals of the orchids grown in this room.
-Rows of orchids set up in indoor hothouses.
-The Orchids are tended by the orcess Henrietta. She is hideous in visage, with humped back, drooping eye, and rotted teeth. She is gentle and kind to her orchids, but painfully shy with people.
-There is a blue door in one of the back of one of the hothouses. There is no keyhole. Only blue things can pass through the door. The door leads to room 10.

9. Lucille's Room. This is the room of Zentovo's wife, Lucille. Her ghost still haunts this place (see wandering encounter table.
-Bed with purple satin sheets.
-Nightstand bearing dying purple rose. It is always dying, but as long as Lucille's ghost is not put to rest, it will never die.
-Room lit by the valuable brazier of prismatic flame (the flame can change color on whim).

10. Zentovo's Chambers. This is Zentovo's living chambers.
-Bed with checkered sheets.
-A nightstand with a zoetrope strip on it. Put this paper in the zoetrope device in room 5 and it will show an image of Zentovo. A voice plays in the viewers head telling the viewer that their refund is located in his turban.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Tarot Card Dungeon Generator: The Magic Tree

When I write my own adventures, I find that the “large scale” writing—the NPC’s, the factions, etc.—comes relatively easily for me, but the “small scale” writing—maps, rooms, and the content within (namely, the important stuff)—is more difficult. This generator makes dungeons big enough for at least a single session, and fast enough that you could theoretically improvise the dungeon during play (although I would still recommend preparing the dungeon beforehand whenever possible) depending on how familiar you are with reading your tarot deck. Plus you get to roll a bunch of dice right on top of your tarot cards which gives me a thrill every time.

First, deal out nine tarot cards in a 3x3 grid. To me, the true spirit of a dungeon is hidden in the wandering encounter table; so, before starting in with maps and rooms, take a moment to fill out a d6 wandering encounter table with the grid of tarot cards. I like to read multiple cards at the same time—I believe that cards in a well designed deck "talk" to each other in interesting ways when read in clumps. Use the three cards in the top row for the first wandering encounter entry, the middle row for the second entry, the bottom row for the third entry, the right-most column for the fourth entry, the middle column for the fifth entry, and of course the left-most column for the sixth entry. Remember that a wandering encounter doesn't need to be a monster—it can be someone to talk to, an interesting environmental factor, a mysterious event, and so on. Of course, if you’re improvising a dungeon, you can skip this step for now until you need a wandering encounter.

Now take nine dice and drop them on top of the tarot cards. If any spill outside the grid, just drop them back on the grid. Next, drop an additional number of dice equal to the number of “1’s” you rolled. Make sure that you rolled a good mix of numbers: you want at least one die in the 1-2 range, one in the 3-4 range, and one in the 5-6 range. No value should come up more than three times; if you have more than three dice with the same value, re-roll the extra.

On your sheet of paper, make a note of roughly where the dice landed with circles, and then sequentially number them. Connect the circles with lines to form a graph. No need to over-think it—it should be relatively obvious which circles connect to which. A good graph will have three or four interconnected loops and a dead end or three. Put an "S" on a line or two to indicate a secret door of some type between two circles.

This graph is your dungeon map. Each circle is a room or a hallway junction with something interesting inside, and each line on the graph is an empty hallway. I call this dungeon generation method "The Magic Tree" because the graph, um... looks a bit like a tree when its done.

Now the fun part—putting interesting things in the circles of your graph. Each circle is a room of the type rolled on the circle's corresponding die according to this table:

1. "Blank" empty room
2. "Detailed" empty room/possible dungeon entrance
3. Obstacle room
4. Treasure room
5. "Talky" monster/NPC
6. "Fighty" monster/NPC

Read the tarot card on which the die landed to determine what is actually inside the room. If the die landed in-between two cards, read both the cards to find your answer. While reading the cards, keep balance in mind. If you rolled a lot of treasure rooms, they might be smaller treasures or the real valuable treasure might be well hidden in the room. If you only rolled one monster, make it a doozy.

That is essentially the entire generator, but here is a greater description of each type of room along with some questions to think about when reading the tarot card.

"Blank" Empty Room—these are the rooms that only have one or two things in them—your "there is a table and a few chairs in this room" kinds of rooms. Keep in mind that even the barest of rooms tell a story!

What furniture is in this room? What does it smell like? How is the room decorated? What plants grow here? What color are the walls?

"Detailed" Empty Room—these are the empty rooms that might not have any obvious obstacles, but still tell a story. There is usually a thing or two in this kind of dungeon that players can interact with—a chest to open, a window to inspect, a mysterious glove to examine.

Who uses this room? What did they leave behind? What's in the chest? What happened in this room? What is the interesting thing in this room?

Obstacle Room—these rooms contain some sort of trap or obstacle that the players have to use their wits to overcome. A good obstacle doesn't need to be riddle with a "correct" solution—its your job to get the PCs into trouble and their job to think their way out of it.

What is the obstacle in this room? What does the obstacle hide? Is the obstacle a hidden trap or an obvious impediment? is there a trick to the room? How do the people who live here get around this obstacle?

Treasure Room—these are the rooms with the good stuff: treasure. Keep in mind that not all treasure lays about in heaps on the floor. Sometimes great treasure might not be obvious—the powerful sentient broom might be haphazardly leaning in the corner, ironically caked in dust.

What is the treasure in this room? Where is it? How much of it is there? Is it magical? Is it hidden in the room?

"Talky" Monster/NPC—these rooms contain the kinds of monsters that are at least sentient and able to talk...if they chose to do so. They might have their own goals and motivations that players can leverage to their advantage.

What does the monster/NPC want? Is it something the players have or want for themselves? How many of them are there? Why are they in this room?

"Fighty" Monster/NPC—these rooms contain monsters/NPCs that are either not-sentient or not willing to talk. "Fighty" monsters aren't just there for players to use the combat chapter of the Player's Handbook—they're there to make the dungeon dangerous. There's no reward without risk.

What makes this monster interesting? Is there anything interesting in the environment that could be used in the ensuing combat? How does this monster fight? Why does this monster fight? Is there something interesting that the monster guards?

I was hoping to write an example dungeon using this method, but I underestimated how involved this post would be. In any case, I hope that this simple generator is useful. Many thanks to Logan Knight for his many, wonderful die drop generators.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Monster, Map, and Mini-dungeon #2: The Bone Key

I’ve been working hard on some more stuff for Queensmouth, but it has been taking a while. In the meantime, here is another in the Monster, Map, and Mini-dungeon series, this time set in hell. The idea with this series is that it gives you some starting ideas for a sphere and a mini-dungeon to get your game rolling. Any mechanical information is for the Troika! system, but if you hack it to something else, then your secret is safe with me.

Monster: Jora

Art above was done by my four-year old daughter (who loves monsters). Jora is a demon made of regret that has been heated and hardened into glass. Jora’s body is sharp and hard, but light catches and glows within beautifully, casting rainbows wherever she walks. She lives in a glass house on the banks of a river of blood. The house is stained and twisted like the shards of a broken stained glass window that have been swept up in a pile. Imprisoned there is her daughter, Jaral, the half-demon. Jaral took pity on her father, the ancient Mesopotamian King Nezzo, and visited him in the Honeycomb of Suffering. There, she taught him how to fashion a key from one of his ribs—the Bone Key. Jora never forgives and imprisoned Jaral for this trespass.

Skill: 7
Stamina: 20
Initiative: 2
Armour: 1
Damage as Longsword

1. Inconsolable
2. Lashing out in grief
3. Blaming
4. Quietly judgemental
5. Irrational
6. Serene


In the above map, the red thread represents the river of blood, the purple thread represents the road of weapons (a road made from weapons descended to hell from earth’s wars, hammered down to make a road), and the brown thread represents a trail in the forest of bone. Travel to each “dot” takes four hours.


Glass House of Jora: Please see mini-dungeon below.

Honeycomb of Suffering: an immense prison of human souls. It is built like a honeycomb and looks like a wasp nest from the outside. It is guarded by an industrious tribe of demons. King Nezzo is imprisoned inside, keeping the bone key secret. King Nezzo desires only to give the Bone Key to his son, Nazrad.

Toll Both: An old man (who looks and sounds a bit like Noam Chomsky) attends the tall blue tollbooth (Stamina 5 Skill 5 Initiative 1 damage as knife). He demands 7 copper pennies for passage along the road of weapons or along the banks of the river of blood. Copper pennies are a treasure of extraordinary value in Hell.

The Eye Tree: This tree is protected by seven knights (Stamina 8 Skill 8 Initiative 1 Armour 1 damage as sword). There is a large eye on top of the tree, radiantly glowing. The eye will answer one question per day, but it answers by psychic transmission of sometimes cryptic images. It belonged to the demon Azzazz, who would desperately like it back.

The Sanguine Priest: Hundreds of years ago by the way time is reckoned in Hell, a priest traded his own soul to free the soul of his illegitimate son from Hell. The priest lays on a stone table, a knife in his gut. The blood pouring from the wound is the source of the blood river that flows through this part of Hell.

The Bone Shaman: A crazy shaman lives in the bone forest (Stamina 8 Skill 8 Initiative 2 damage as knife 3 random spells) in a hut that she carved from a giant’s femur. She wants the knife from The Sanguine Priest’s wound.

The Mist: Inside this mist is an open door that leads out of Hell to freedom. Unfortunately, space bends around the mist, so it is impossible to walk directly into the maze. Only those who hold King Nezzo’s bone key can enter the mist.

The Tower: In this tower lives King Nezzo’s earthly son, Nazrad. Nazrad has cut ties with his father and became a wizard. The tower is hidden deep in the Bone Forest. Does living in a tower make you become a wizard, or does wizardry require a tower?

Random encounters: Roll for an encounter every four hours

1. Artist, vain and narcissistic believes that the he created the Mist from his sighs of love (false). He seeks his beloved in the strange hills (he doesn’t actually have a beloved). Stamina 6 Skill 6 Initiative 2 Knows the poison spell and will use it every opportunity possible.

2. Horse Demon riding a team of men. Seeks to punish all those he meets. Stamina 15 Skill 12 Armour 2 Initiative 3 Damage as Hammer.

3 Lion with three legs ten feet long seeks the tower of Nazrad, as the flesh of wizards is a rare delicacy. Will settle for adventurers in a pinch. Stamina 12 Skill 8 Initiative 2 damage as medium beast.

4. Angel in the form of a tree is spying on hell. Will follow adventurers around for a while. The tree looks conspicuously beautiful for Hell.

5. An encounter with Jora

6. Large vulture with 8 swords stuck in its side. Will attack any who approach out of fear, but will be immensely grateful if swords are removed and act as mount. Stamina 18 (10 when first encountered due to wounds) Skill 7 Initiative 1 Damage as medium beast.

Mini-Dungeon: The Glass House of Jora

1. Glass Entrance Chamber
     — Whispering voices encourage you to stand still. If you do, test luck or suffer damage as jolt from flying shards of glass
     — Two Doors on eastern wall. North-most door (leasing to room 2) is blue. South-most door (leading to room 4) is made of unmoving fire (damage as knife if touched directly)

2. Jora’s Chambers
     — Pile of pillows. Jora’s sword buried beneath pillows—it is blood red and made of glass. It can turn about five gallons of blood into potable water per hour if thrust into blood.
     —A black chest. Ornately carved. Deadly venomous snake inside (Stamina 6 Skill 5 Initiative 2 damage as small beast, but test luck or suffer further damage as large beast from the venom). Keys to Jaral’s chains and 4 copper pennies also in chest.
     —3-in-6 chance of encounter with Jora

3. Dining Room
     —A large table
     —The glass walls in this room occasionally flash color

4. The Mouth

     —The mouth, a minor demon that Jora hires to clean the place is the source of the voices heard in room 1. Stamina 10 Skill 11 Initiative 1 Damage as medium beast.
     —Mosaic of star on eastern wall. Touch it to open door to room 5.

5. Jaral’s Prison
     —Jaral imprisoned here. Will tell party of King Nezzo

6. Smoking Lounge
     —Lounge with several leather chairs.
     —Cigar box with 6 rare, valuable earth cigars.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Bell Man

Here is what I can remember of a conversation that I had with my son some years ago—he was about four at the time. I was giving him a bath when my wife accidentally bumped into a toy in the other room which made a bell-ringing noise.

Son: Dad, what was that?
Father: It was Bell Man.
Son: Who is Bell Man?
Father: He is the one who rings bells.
Son: Why does he ring bells?
Father: Because he likes to hear their sound.
[A pause as my son contemplates this]
Son: What does Bell Man look like?
Father: Only glimpses of his wild hair and tattered cloak have been seen.
Son: No one has been able to race after him or catch him?
Father: No one
Son: How is this possible?
Father: Bell Man has powerful magic, my son.
Son: Where does Bell Man live?
Father: In a castle called Garrangia
Son: Where is this castle?
Father: On top of a large oak tree.
Son: What is inside the castle?
Father: A large golden hall in which Bell Man keeps his collection.
Son: What does Bell Man collect?
Father: Small odds and ends. Missing things. But, primarily, bells.
Son: what kinds of bells?
Father: All kinds, bells that ring for days, bells that ring with a human voice, bells tiny and large.

Of course I told him the truth later, but, to this day, whenever we hear a bell but don’t know where it came from, we say that we were just visited by Bell Man.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Queensmouth, the City Between Stars

Queensmouth, a City Between Stars
Queensmouth does not exist, it is revealed. Queensmouth is made of the space behind the sooty factories, the candy shops, the vendors of star-whale oil; the space beneath the gutters, the loose cobblestones, the prim mansions; and the space among the rows of identical flats, the light of the pale fire from the humming arclights, the ones called vespers singing the raspy, discordant melody of their disease (footnote 1). The city is like a lump of clay suspended in a glass jar of cloudy gasoline, suggesting a form that can only be inferred.

People are the blood cells of the city, and the many streets are it’s veins. Pulsating through the streets are waves of people, some flitting from mansion to mansion, some tracing a circuit from home to work and back, but others with no apparent reason at all. Here is one of those people: Jehosophat, veteran of the smoke war (footnote 2) stood on a street corner in a well-pressed suit, and sold all his words to a faerie lawyer for a magic pocket-watch. Whenever he opened it, a newly minted gold coin plopped out. Jehosophat spent the first week dining like an elector-prince and bought himself a fine house. Soon, however, he found it harder and harder to remember where his house is, who he is, what clothes are, etc. without the words to so. Now he stares at the watch, unable to understand the watch’s meaning.

Here is another person. Sara is the respectable wife of the king of a small kingdom (a few miles of city blocks and a factory or two). She has five children, but the third had a face that filled her with loathing. She had a maze filled with mirrors, traps, and stairways built for the third child and locked them inside. The third child was clever, though and made for themselves a wondrous violin. The third child became so excellent at playing the violin that the other four children decided to break into the maze to find the source of the amazing music. The four children were not familiar with the maze, though, and quickly became lost. Sara went in to find them, but was constantly dogged by the music of the third child’s violin. Losing her step, she fell down a stairway and crashed into mirror to her death.

Queensmouth’s planet was untethered from its star long ago. Free from any sun, it relies almost totally on trade for wealth and sustenance. Nightships with sails of gold hammered impossibly thin are propelled by the force of light into the ocean between the spheres. Although the Church of the Holy Hunger (footnote 3) deems such talk heresy, some say that Queensmouth’s planet was untethered deliberately some time long ago towards a destination now forgotten. Indeed, somewhere in the city there is a tower in the old style—needle shaped with elaborately carved spikes radiating from the center—the upper floors of which are now the simple offices of tax attorneys, faerie lawyers, dentists and the like, but in one of basement levels, which go deep in the planet and can only be reached by stairway, there lives an impossibly ancient accountant-wizard. He will gladly show you, laughing at the irony, the documents he himself signed officiating an agreement between two companies, both since dissolved, to loose Queensmouth’s planet from its orbit, sending it on a long journey towards the star known as the Bird Crystal.

Factories and industry dominate the Queensmouth skyline. Any ranking manager, her robes embroidered with the traditional birds and thorns, is fiercely proud of her factory’s productivity. This is natural, as managers may be punished with hanging not productive. This is a right most nobles cherish as the key axis of Queensmouth’s competitive success. For example, 22 women were working in a textile mill when it caught fire. The manager, fearing that her workers would use the fire as an excuse to slacken production, locked the women inside. The factory still burns. Peer inside, and see the burning women weaving cloth of flame.

The government of Queensmouth is ruled by an Emperor, Empress, or Emprey elected by a council of prince-electors known as the “Capitalista.” The most important and most feared of these electors are Him Most Fasted of the Church of the Holy Hunger and the invisible Queen of the Faeries. Here is one story told about the Queen of the Faeries. Old Ruth was sweeping outside her small apartment when she found a small coin. Picking it up, she was surprised to find her own face on the reverse. She took it to her wife, who told Ruth it must be a cursed thing from the Queen and to throw it back on the street. Ruth refused. That night, Ruth’s wife, awakening from strange dreams, strangled Ruth in their bed. Ruth’s wife then silently took the coin to an abandoned church and danced the quadrille in the basement. Old Ruth and the Queen of the Faeries watched from behind the mirror.

Adventuring in Queensmouth
I have been working on a city generator that uses Tarot cards. The idea is hopefully something in between a table with pre-planned content and the more loosely-goosey interpretation of the Tarot cards. It’s not near done yet, but I wanted the city the generator creates to have its own unique identity. This post is an attempt at creating that city—hopefully something that feels like a unique and interesting place to adventure in.

The generator is not done yet, but, in the meantime, here is a table you can use to create a “spark” for an adventure. After generating the spark, you can use the Magic Square to further flesh out the adventure.

(1) Vespasia is a brain degenerating, contagious disease. It is only transmitted by prolonged, skin-to-skin contact, but the disease has spread enough that the larger Queensmouth population still hates and fears the infected, calling them “vespers.” Vespasia affects the brain, causing the infected to make a constant, horribly discordant music. In late stages of the disease, the infected huddle together in the center of the vesper community sing-shouting loudly around the strange blue rent in space their singing has opened.

(2) The smoke war began when Him Most Fasted of the Holy Hunger (see footnote 3–Him Most Fasted is the name shared by all the leaders of the Church of the Holy Hunger, but before ascending to the position, this particular incarnation of Him Most Fasted had been called Leopold) decided to have his brother elected the King of the Faeries, paving the way for that incarnation of Him Most Fasted to become Emperor. The Faeries did not appreciate this usurpation of power and elected their own Queen. The Queen prevailed with the terrible curse of smoke, and a new balance was struck.

(3) The Church of the Holy Hunger was founded by Agatha Faerole, the central tenet being that hunger itself is a god. To be hungry is to be god. Agatha turned against her own church near the end of her life, after receiving a message from an Angel who claimed to be from the Bird Crystal.