Friday, January 3, 2014

Personalities of Harrow Home

Harrow Home Manor and Xibalba have pulled way ahead of the Greek mega dungeon in the poll - as of the time of writing, there are 88 votes, with Xibalba leading at 42%.  I don't get a ton of traffic, so if we clear 100 votes I'll be pretty happy.  Did you know you can change your vote, too?  In the interests of stirring the pot, here's some of the design philosophy behind Harrow Home (and why it's a mega dungeon like no other).

I've mentioned before that I think of it as a "character-driven mega dungeon".  Harrow Home is a place where various mad wizards, sorcerers, and occult initiates have congregated to research an otherworldly phenomenon (the Black Cyst) deep in the depths.  The various levels and sub levels of the dungeon are the lairs, sanctums, and hidden laboratories of these mad men (and ladies).  It opens up a degree of strategic play during exploration as the party has options how to knock over some of these lairs - they can plan them like heists, or use political approaches and make alliances - different from just kicking the door down and stabbing the monsters.  Although that works too.

There are arcane covenants between the wizards of Harrow Home that limit their ability to act directly against their rivals - and the consequences for breaking the covenants are quite awful!  For that reason, the presence of adventurers is part inconvenience, but part opportunity to the inhabitants.  Adventurers make excellent cat's paws and proxies to get around the strictures of the covenants.

In a post on the design philosophy of Harrow Home, I mentioned how the character-driven approach plays out by taking a look at the lair of one such wizard, Nicoletto the Reanimator:

Consider the lair of Nicoletto the Reanimator.  Hook-nosed and ill cast, Nicoletto sits on a crooked throne, wearing a metal cap and rough fur cape.  His warrens are filled with alchemical homonculi imbued with the lustful spirits of outsiders (demons).  (I realized after writing up the character, he sounded a bit like the Moleman with his Moloids).  Nicoletto's lair is full of spacious, well-appointed living spaces with high peaked halls.  Isolated and paranoid, he's filled his living areas with traps and chutes that drop intruders down into the warrens of his misshapen creations.  The ever-present traps makes it tough on his servants and guests!  Because Nicoletto needs a steady stream of reagents and victims for his experiments, he's one of the first magicians that can be targeted when players defeat some of the bandits and thugs that camp in the cellars of the old manse and learn of Nicoletto's contact with the surface world.

What follows is a survey of the other malefactors that can be found in the depths of Harrow Home.

One of the main figures goes by the witch-name Cassandra.  Cassandra is decadent and vain, the chief architect of the covenants, and the mastermind behind the current state of affairs in Harrow Home.  Just about every other witch or wizard is gunning for Cassandra (or her true name).  She has a fantastic oven that allows her to make a wide range of potions and magical ingredients from beings that she burns to ash within it.

Mordeleg the Blood Drinker was once a human, member of an early druid cult that revered the Black Cyst (back when it was much smaller).  Over the ages, he's mutated into a bloated, grotesque, vampiric monster with a ropy tongue - Jabba the Hutt with fangs.  He's served by cave hobs, primitive and violent fairies.  In Harrow Home, the Black Cyst has been slowly sinking, so the earliest levels are also chronologically the oldest, and Mordeleg's cave-like lair is ancient.

Perhaps the oldest inhabitant is The Caretaker, a robed and cowled figure that communicates only through gestures.  It's said the Caretaker's physical form beneath the robes is comprised of worms and insects and that his tenure dates back to the Hyperborean wizards of old.

Gorm Norsen is a violent, blood drinking Viking berserker (vampire).  Gorm's gang of Viking fang-men are imprisoned at the start of the campaign, but it's possible\likely that adventurers end up freeing them, letting Gorm run havoc on the countryside.  Adventurers are "bulls in the china shop" after all.  The poisonous exhalations of the Black Cyst warp and mutate beings exposed to them, so a number of figures that have directly confronted the cyst through the ages have ended up like Gorm's gang.

Yusuf Al-Kindi is a scientist and philosopher; he has the most complete notes and archives on the cyst.  He's also a mummy.  We already met Nicoletto the Reanimator in the excerpt above.  Ricardus Venator and Isabel de Avila are both body thieves, maintaining their immortality by jumping mortal shells when age becomes a problem.  They're rivals, and both of them have expensive tastes.  Neither is terribly interested in the cyst.  They came to Harrow Home fleeing the Inquisition.  Isabel's project is to gather the fragments of the Key of Solomon.  Ricardus is just shallow.

The Conways are a cannibal ghoul family that live in the upper levels.  They help keep the various "masters down below" stocked with subjects and victims.  Doesn't every dungeon need hillbilly cannibal ghouls?  I don't know what the Yorkshire equivalent of the American hillbilly is, but I'll have to ask one of the Brits out there for guidance.

Gerrit Arrentz is a foppish, devil worshiping warlock attempting to open a hell-gate.  He runs his sanctum like a pyramid scheme.  Tryfena Vosper lost her body to possession by a demonic outsider, and her sanctum is now haunted and demon infested.  Teresa Medeiros is a life stealer who lives off stolen youth; Meyer Schultheis is essentially a brain-in-a-jar, obsessed with the fae realm, who entertains himself by hosting violent blood sports in a gladiatorial pit.

Ryksa Sprosna seems like an articulate, fashionable old lady, if you overlook her withered limbs and death rictus.  Although polite, she has a tendency to view the living with clinical detachment that can land them on the specimen table.

Gregorius was reincarnated in a child's body, but don't underestimate his level of viciousness and cruelty.  Petrus Magnus is a lich obsessed with a book called the Dream Codex, and maintains the Scriptorium of Sighs.  He'd love to get his hands on Cassandra's oven and use it to collect more dream fragments.

There are a few more characters as well, but the more interesting ones are The Descendant and The Severed Sorcerer, both victims of the covenant curse.  The Descendant is one of the few characters that knows Cassandra's true name, though it's sealed away by a powerful geas.  He was one of her descendants who brought her back from beyond when he explored the ancestral property, but made the mistake of developing cold feet, and plotted against her.  (When Brendan called Harrow Home "Charles Dexter Ward: The Megadungeon", his arrows flew straight and true).

The Severed Sorcerer was also overthrown by the curse, and his sanctum lies open and empty.  His screaming head is in a sealed box at the bottom of a well, but the rest of his parts crawl around the dungeon endlessly, and show up on the wandering monster tables.  One of the side quests could be getting all the parts back together again.  Wonder what he has to say?

So that's an overview of the mad inhabitants of Harrow Home.  Some werewolves used to lair there as well, escaping the fires of the church in Europe, but they've long since relocated to the wild moors, maintaining tenuous ties with the inhabitants of the dungeon.  Harrow Home the campaign setting definitely involves the moorlands as a hex crawl.

With Harrow Home and Xibalba in the clear lead, it comes down to a choice between the gothic themed Harrow Home (with it's bevy of trope-based wizards and witches) or the strange blend of Xibalba - pirates and buccaneers exploring a mysterious island, home to Mesoamerican ruins and evidence of the ancients.  I'll post more about Xibalba in a few days, after I get caught up on some recent Black City game reports.


  1. Is it wrong of me to want Gorm Norsen to be a callback/pseudocrossover with the Black City setting? I don't know if your plans for the Black Cyst indicate a compatible cosmology or not . . . I'll have to go back and check. Darn.

    Also, concerning the Conways, they sound way too similar to Sawney Bean and family for you not to have heard of them, but just in case it was a coincidence, I'll point you towards the latter:

  2. Thanks for the heads up - those Sawney Bean stories are gruesome and amazing. Who knew "The Hills Have Eyes" was based on Scottish legend?

    Harrow Home is 600-700 years after the Black City era, so it's definitely possibly for some Easter Eggs. I like the suggestion!