Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Harrow Home Level 1 - Entryways and Alchemist's Lair

Here's the next bit of Harrow Home, to accompany the level 1 dungeon map from the other day.  Harrow Home is structured as a series of related lairs and hideouts on each level, with a horror theme, so my approach will be to put together a lair or hideout each week - that seems like a sustainable pace for content on the blog while still doing some work on the Black City.

Crumbling stairs lead from the kitchen ruins to the dungeons beneath Harrow Home.  The chambers of the first level are ribbed vaults of brick supported by pillars.  Bricks show through where the plaster has cracked or fallen away.

Referee's Background:  Dungeon level 1 consists of the wine cellars and store rooms beneath the old manor.  Furtive visitors slip into the ruins by night, quickly passing underground and taking the stairs at area 22 down into the deeps, bypassing the rest of this level.  Unscrupulous traders, bandits, and grave robbers often come to the ruins to treat with the Thurman gang or the alchemist.  The lairs of level one belong to these debased profiteers who offer service to the deeper denizens.

1.  Undercroft
The plaster along the stairs and entry area is almost completely gone due to exposure to the surface elements.  A search of the room reveals a sheet of paper with a recent order for "Prodigioso".  The order covers exotic spirits from the continent ("wormwood wines") and food delicacies worth hundreds of silver pieces.  A merchant sigil on the page indicates the blue anchor (a Scarborough importer).

2.  Hidden Skeletons
Crumbling plaster here reveals a different style of brick and mortar here, added later.  Age has weakened it enough to smash through with a hammer.  The room is piled with hundred-year old skeletal revenants that clamber through the hole to attack!

9 skeletal revenants
(AC as leather, HD 1, attack 1, D 1-6, MV 6, ML 12, AL N)

The revenants wear the tattered livery of church soldiers (men from the Bishop of York) from a century ago.  They wield non functional arquebuses as clubs, rapiers, or rake with their claws and teeth (1-3 damage each).  One of them carries a scroll case tucked away in a satchel - it is a writ of arrest for man named Wil Fuller.

After dispatching the player characters and anyone else that gets in their way, the cursed revenants continue the hunt for Wil Fuller.

Writ of Arrest:
Written in a fine cursive script, difficult to read in the poor light of a dungeon, the document describes a reign of terror between the years 1511 and 1522 stretching across western Yorkshire - kidnappings, accusations of witchcraft, harboring of fugitives from the church, and diabolism - the writ identifies a "Wil Fuller", master of Harrow Home Manor and erstwhile resident of Scarborough, as the accused, and empowers a sheriff to arrest him.

3.  Undercroft
Splinters of wood and debris along the west wall suggest the area was a storage at one time.  On the south wall is a Greek inscription chiseled into the plaster.  "Look left from the eye to open the way".

4.  Alchemist's Entrance
Lurking in the northern corners (shadows) are a pair of living lead.  When characters approach the room, braziers flare alight along the southern wall and a magic mouth appears and speaks:

"In the footsteps of Albertus Magnus and Paracelsus, welcome to the laboratory of the great Oswald Boehm.  Toll the bell to conduct business."

A rope hangs from a bronze church bell hung in the southwest corner.  Besides rousing the alchemist's servant, Edward (see area 7), the bell forces an immediate wandering monster roll.  The locked door to room 7 has a sliding peep hole through which visitors can state their business - only characters wishing to do business with the alchemist are admitted.  Edward won't open the door if the characters are under attack!

The living dead are tethered by ankle chains but can reach the locked doors.  They only shamble forward to attack someone attempting to force their way past doors - otherwise they stand and drool, slack eyed and unresponsive.

Living Dead (hp 9, 8).  Dressed as yeoman farmers with ashen skin.

Note:  Rooms 5 through 10 represent the lair of the nightshade peddler, Oswald Boehm.  The area is lit by intermittent torches and the air is acrid with greasy smoke.

5.  Morgue
At any given time, there are 0-3 corpses laid out on the ground here (0-3 weeks old).  Oswald buys dead bodies from grave robbers in the area for use as ingredients.

6.  Supplies
A trio of living dead are shackled to the north wall by chains - they appear to be sleeping at first glance (and will surprise anyone who leans down to check on them with ferocious grabs and bites).  They're clothed in ragged dresses and bear a familial resemblance to each other - a matron, mother, and daughter.  Characters skirting the top half of the room can avoid their reach.

The south part of the room is full of supplies - barrels of wine and salt pork, lantern oil, greasy torches, and similar necessities.  The supplies could fill a wagon and are worth 200sp if recovered.  There are a pair of rat traps near the supplies.

Living Dead (hp 8, 6, 2).  Dressed as farm women.

7.  Workshop
The available wall space is blocked by workbenches and shelves, covered in jars and pots of every size and shape, exotic dried animals tacked to the wall and hanging bundles of herbs.  The center of the room is dominated by a pair of work tables similarly decked with mortars, pestles, alembics, and other accouterments of the alchemist's art, lit by candles spread around the room.

Oswald, the Alchemist, invariably retreats to the far side of the room, hefting a heavy crossbow and interrogating customers at "gun point".  If aggression breaks out, his plan is to plunk the lead combatant with a poisoned quarrel, cast a Sleep spell the following round (if possible), and uses a pinch of smoke powder from a belt pouch to obfuscate his escape out the back door.  He has two sets of powder, a hallucinogenic dust that needs to be cast into fire, and a smoke powder that creates a 20' x 20' cloud.  If an entire group is subdued, they'll find themselves shackled in the store room while Oswald negotiates to sell the characters to Thurman's gang for shipment below - they don't have long to escape!

Oswald Boehm, Alchemist (Magic User 2)
(AC as leather, HD 2, HP 6, attack 1 crossbow, D 1-6, MV 12, ML 5, AL C)

Oswald typically has Sleep and Floating Disc memorized for daily use - he likes to impress merchants and corpse haulers with his ability to move things around through magic.  He keeps a heavy crossbow handy (loaded with a poison quarrel - Save vs Poison or fall incapacitated \ ill for 24 hours) and also carries a dagger.  The alchemist is a wanted man in Europe for his ghoulish experiments.  He's grotesque, nervous, and "name drops" powerful characters from the depths in an attempt to intimidate aggressors - he conducts business with Prodigioso (Ricardus), Petrus Magnus, and the Mistress (Lady Fuller).

Edward, Addled Servant (Fighter 2)
(AC as leather, HD 2, HP 14, attack 1 club, D 1-6 +2, MV 12, ML 10, AL C)
Edward's brain has been addled by years of Charm Person and chemical abuse by the alchemist, confusing him to the point that he's forgotten the outside world and is fanatically loyal to 'master'.  He has hulking size (strength +2), is bald, goggle-eyed, and walks with a limp.

The room is full of valuable reagents and ingredients, but it would take a trained alchemist to properly identify the materials for use - if collected and sold as a lot in the city, the lab is worth 1,000sp and fills a wagon load.  Oswald has a heavy tome full of recipes written in a personal cipher.  The types of things in the room include nightshades and mandrake, smoke and flash powders, alcohol, exotic specimens in jars, various poison mixtures (ranging from subtle ingestive poisons to blade coats), and many foul reagents crafted from human remains - ashes, bone powders, and candles.  One bowl of powder radiates as magical - this holds a dose of Oswald's zombie powder (see the new spell description).

8.  Ovens
The east wall is piled high with firewood, barrels of kindling, and charcoal; the south wall is dominated by a brick oven, and the east wall features a cook pit with a large cauldron over it, casting the room in a hellish glow.  There's a large work table in the center of the room and a collection of knives and cleavers.  The room is hot and uncomfortable and reeks of rendering.  The alchemist uses the place to dry materials or render fats in the cauldron.  There are also cook pots and some water barrels in a corner.

9.  Servant's Room
Edward, the heavily dazed man-servant, sleeps here on a cot.  He keeps a collection of adders kept in some empty barrels and feeds them rodents he finds in the halls.  The room contains his cot, a trunk with clothes, a barrel of beer, and a pair of chamber pots to clean up after 'master'.

A wooden box under the bed holds another adder, which attacks when the box is opened; it's Edward's gift to thieves.

10.  Alchemist's Room
The alchemist's room features a glowing brazier surrounded by low couches and a few candle-stands.  If pursued, the alchemist throws a handful of powder from a belt pouch into the brazier, which quickly fills the room with a hazy smoke - characters in the area must Save vs Poison or suffer a Confusion effect.  Oswald hopes to recover his spell book and skulk out during the ensuing chaos (he's inured to the effects of the Confusion powder).  He stabs anyone that gets in his way, clutching his spell book with the other hand.

Besides a trunk with clothes and personal effects, the room features Oswald's pipes and smoking paraphernalia (he's addicted to Turkish poppy), as well as his spell book (containing Read Magic, Sleep, Floating Disc, Charm Person, and a new level 1 spell - Make Zombie Powder).  Beneath the clothes in the trunk, the alchemist keeps 1,000 cp, 300sp, and 4 gold pieces in the trunk.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Harrow Home - Dungeon Level 1 (Map)

Here's the map for level 1.  The first handful rooms of the key are done - I'll probably need to post each dungeon level over the course of a couple of weeks.

I've also added a page in the navigation to keep various Harrow Home related posts organized.

Harrow Home Surface Ruins (Map)

I'll be adding a page for organizing Harrow Home related contents.  Here's a placeholder for the surface map.  The description for the surface ruins has been updated to fit the map.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Harrow Home Bestiary

Here's the start of the Harrow Home bestiary file.  I expect to update this post as I add monsters.  It's starting with coverage for some of the random encounters in the surface ruins.

AC as Leather, MV 12, HD 1, Atk 1, Damage 1-6, ML 7, AL C.  1-8 appearing.  These unholy pilgrims from the far countryside have donned black robes and cowls as they approach Harrow Home, seeking the diabolic shrines in the dungeon depths.  If there's more than four of them, roll a D10 to determine the level of the leader ( 1-4 = 2nd level leader, 5-7 = 3rd level leader, 8-9 = 4th level leader, 10 = fifth level leader).  Any treasure they carry is incidental.

Angry Villagers
AC as Unarmored, MV 12, HD 0, Atk 1, Damage 1-6, ML 5, AL N.  1-20 appearing.  A mob of angry townsfolk here to find a missing villager.   -2 to reaction rolls as they assume anyone near Harrow Home is "with them".

AC as Leather, MV 12, HD 1, Atk 1, Damage 1-6, ML 8, AL C.  1-8 appearing.  Bandits near Harrow Home are filling the role of robbers, kidnappers, or grave robbers.  They're happy to rob, kidnap, or kill anyone they run into (if they think they can take them).  They'll have a mix of clubs, crossbows, pistols, and rapiers.

Bandits, Reavers
AC as Leather, MV 12, HD 1 + 1, Atk 1, Damage 1-8, ML 12, AL C.  1-8 appearing.  Reavers are bandits who have joined the Thurman Gang and taken on The Mark of the Beast (a claw-like scar on the chest).  They never check morale and get +2 to hit in combat.  Thurman's Reavers prefer heavy melee weapons - axes, mauls, and archaic swords.

Living Dead
AC as No Armor, MV 6, HD 2, Atk 1, Damage 1-8, ML 12, AL C.  1-8 appearing.  Living dead always attack last in the round.  They are human "zombies" created by subjugating their will through a magical substance, Zombie Powder.  They can't be Turned by clerics and don't have standard undead immunities.

AC as Leather, MV 12, HD 1, Atk 1, Damage 1-6, ML 7, AL N.  1-8 appearing.  A trader is a merchant guiding a pack mule or horse and wagon; all other members of the group are bodyguards.  Traders represent smugglers and unscrupulous merchants dealing goods to the inhabitants of Harrow Home.  [ I'll need to come up with a typical trade goods table to identify what they might be carrying… ]

Samples Encounters
Encounters with low level humans tend to appear the same on paper - there's not much to differentiate them from a stats perspective.  The trick is to (attempt) to cobble together interesting characters.  Here are some sample encounters from the bestiary list.  (Reavers will be detailed with the first dungeon level).

Sample Acolyte - William Barrett (leader)
Charismatic and striking, "Bloody Bill" was a sea dog decades ago in the time of Drake and the Spanish Armada.  He trades on old war stories.  He wears an eye patch and has a limp.  He uses his personal magnetism to lead groups of na├»ve followers to Harrow Home to pay homage to Old Scratch with him.  They usually don't leave when he leaves.

Sample Bandits
Ludlowe and Potts, Esquires
Ludlowe is a bully and Potts his sycophantic side kick.  Anyone else with them is rabble looking to get paid for their gruesome labors.  They rob graves and drive a wagon of corpses to sell to the mountebank in the dungeon cellars.  They have improvised weapons and shovels, but Ludlowe owns a pistol.

The Watkins Gang
John Watkins is young and illiterate, but makes up for it in ruthlessness.  He takes commissions from the Thurmans to perform kidnappings around the countryside.  Luckily, other people in the gang can read the descriptions of the marks!  No guns here  - clubs and knives only.

Tim Bodger's Boys
Bodger is a freeloader and prefers easy jobs, ambushes, and shortcuts.  He and his gang tend to drink their earnings away at the first opportunity.  Knives, bows, and Bodger owns a sword.

Sample Traders
Samuel Parsons
Parsons owns the Four Bells Trader, a London shop specializing in strange ingredients and rare imports from the continent.  He enjoys the high premium paid by Harrow Home's masters, and stays in the nicer inns when he travels north.  His bodyguards will be well armed with pistols and muskets, riding horses while Parsons rides on the wagon alongside a driver.

Richard Childs
Slick Dick climbs into the moors from the northern coast, his wagons laden with goods smuggled through places like Whitby or Robin Hood's Bay.  He has the personality of a snake oil salesman and tries to trick or con during encounters.  His merchant sign hanging off his wagon is the Two Black Dogs.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Harrow Home Surface Ruins

Harrow Home is a ruined English manor house atop a lonely moor.  The stone walls, gatehouse, and chapel, stand like the bones of a discarded corpse; the ceilings have collapsed and any house goods are long gone.  Despite the desolation and remote locale, worn pathways into the ruins bespeak of frequent visitors.

The surface ruins are uninhabited.  However, each time the players arrive at the site, roll on the encounter tables below to see if someone else is traversing the ruins at the same.

Surface locations
1. Gatehouse
The stone work of the gatehouse is intact, and there's evidence that the north tower has been kept in repair.  A stout wooden door bars entrance to the tower.  There's evidence that men occasionally stand guard or camp on the second floor of the tower - a stool, kindling, ashes and coals.  There's a heavy trap door in the floor leading to an iron ladder down.

2. Great Hall
The main building consists of a great hall and a twisting warren of half fallen walls and passages.  Rubble covers the floor from the remains of the rafters and collapsed ceilings.

3. Chapel
The chapel is cleared of any religious trappings,  A large stone angel, 10' tall, cradles a book in her arms, and dominates the center of the room.  There's evidence that people camp here from time to time - litter in the corner and further evidence of small indoor fires.  The statue radiates magic if detected and is a powerful artifact - The Dreaming Angel.

There is a slab in the floor that can be pried with a crowbar.  Beneath the slab is a narrow spiral staircase down to level 1.  Finding it requires a activity like searching for a secret door.

4. Kitchen
In the southeast corner of the great hall, near the old kitchen, there is a staircase leading into the undercroft.

Outside the kitchen is a stone-circled well on the property not far from the servant's entrance.  The well is false and the shaft is another entrance to the dungeons.

5. North Tower
Underneath a loose flagstone is an iron box holding an oilskin wrapped journal - the Diary of Wil Fuller, and a silver amulet with sapphire in the shape of the family crest - a half moon (the amulet is worth 488sp).

6. Standing Stones
A set of 5 weathered megaliths circle a nearby hilltop.  A runic script like Ogham is chiseled into the surface of four of the stones - the runes list a series of wizard names (major characters from within the dungeon).  The fifth stone is covered in chiseled magical symbols, decipherable with a Read Magic spell.  A character can learn a new first level spell, Join the Covenant, from the megalith.

The stones surround a walled shaft in the center of the hill.  The shaft descends hundreds of feet into the depths of Harrow Home.

[ The Covenant is a larger topic I'll address in it's own post ].

Site Encounters
Each time the player characters return to the site, roll a d6 for the day.  On a roll of 1, another group is accessing the ruins as well (leaving, approaching, or waiting in the ruins - 33% of each).

Daytime Encounters
1 Bandits
2 Bandits
3 Traders
4 Traders
5 Acolytes
6 Angry Townsfolk

These are violent members of the Thurman gang (dungeon level 1).  They'll have a mix of swords, clubs, and pistols.  If they're leaving the ruins, they've either received a commission to kidnap someone, or perhaps it's a few rowdies off to the nearest town.  Returning bandits are escorting a victim.

Unscrupulous merchants know the inhabitants of Harrow Home pay dearly for provisions, rare ingredients and reagents, and foreign artifacts smuggled in from the coast.

Pilgrims from around England make infrequent trips to and from Harrow Home to worship at the temple of Mammon.

Angry Townsfolk
Dark rumors have always swirled around the site of Harrow Home.  When family members go missing, it's not unusual for angry peasants to storm the ruin looking for their loved ones.

Nighttime Encounters
[ coming later ]

Blog Notes
I'm on a business trip, so I can't scan in the map of the surface until next week.  I have a ton of notes for Harrow Home, so I'm pretty sure I'm going to develop it here on the blog.  I'd like to develop a terse style and treat it as a series of one-page dungeons - not sure I can achieve that level of brevity, though - I blab a lot.  There are four entrance into the dungeons from the surface ruins - the well, the main stairs, the bandit's trap door, and the shaft at the standing stones.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Black City Game 30 - The Fractious Night Approaches

Bad weather and work assignments conspired this past weekend to ensure I had to skip the RPG (game 31 is delayed).  And an upcoming trip mean means we'll probably miss another game, too, so this report is going to have to satiate the Black City fans for a few weeks.  Luckily, there was plenty of action - and not the dice-rolling, monster stabbing action.  Adult entertainment!  Read on for the lurid details.

Last week ended with a hologram of Odin telling the players they'd be safe resting overnight in a control room the deity was protecting, but he left the players with an ominous warning… "the Fractious Night approaches".

The players mused if that meant they were going to have to do math (fractions), or whether computer fractals would assault them, or had I been reading too much Lewis Carroll ("O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!")

Instead, they learned that a great evil would boil out of the foreboding northern tower and pour across a stone bridge, rampaging into the south part of the cavern.  One night a year, on the Fractious Night, the Morlocks pillage and despoil the southern half of the cavern.  The players fought some Morlocks in the upper dungeon and were familiar with their "human wave" battle tactics and ferocity - they didn't care for a rematch!

Odin also pointed out that the controllers in the deeper levels would be sending a replacement detachment of sentinels to take over the control room, stronger than the detachments the party had defeated previously, so the players couldn't stay there indefinitely.  The destruction of the stone walker, a gigantic golem-like guardian that protected the domed building, could open the dome up to Morlock attack.

Injured, depleted, and low on water, they could head for the surface, but instead chose to make their way to the kingdom of the cavemen, in the far south of the sprawling cavern.

The cavemen were in a state of agitation, and after resuming diplomatic ties with the Blue Lady (the cave man's living goddess, a powerful wizardess), the players observed a peculiar lottery ritual, where various Neanderthal women were selected by the goddess to join her in the palace.  They later learned the women would accompany the Blue Lady to the Otherworld where the gods live, and thus escape the Fractious Night.  Over dinner that evening, the players learned that one night each year, one of the Secret Masters from the dungeon depths arises out of a well of sacrifice, flies around the cavern on a sled-like apparatus, and whips the Morlocks into a frenzy of blood lust and rage with promises of gifts and sweets for the taking.  Soon the Morlocks would be pouring over the bridge bearing torches, to pillage and despoil the southern cavern - especially the caveman area.  I pictured them like those boogeymen from the wooden soldiers movie - the old black and white one with Laurel and Hardy.

Maybe if they were given more time, the players would have guided the conversation towards asking the Blue Lady why the Morlocks left the cave people alone the other 364 days of the year.  It would have been a good question.  Instead, they started to notice how there was no pain, they were receding - a distant ship smoke on the horizon - the Blue Lady was only coming through in waves… "Dammit, she slipped us a Micky!", cried Borghild.  "...And now she's doing some kind of spell."  Never trust Blue People, that's all I'm saying.

So while the characters struggled to keep their minds sharp, senses blurred by exotic narcotics, they were assaulted by sultry, dulcet musical tones, the smell of relaxing incense, and a harem full of beautiful women in wispy clothes descended upon them.  A few characters made their saving throws (the Halfing, and one of the Elves) - they were pretty horrified by the [ sanitized redacted described euphemistically ] proceedings that followed - but since the Lady's two gigantic Neanderthal warlords, Krag and Krog were on guard duty to make sure no one left the room, they played it cool.  Timur the Elf was like, "Not listening, not looking, this isn't happening".  But all the time, some of her foreshadowing words from previous conversations echoed in his mind… "The cavemen have such a limited gene pool, I have to carefully arrange marriages to maintain the species.  I've become quite a genealogist you know."  "If only I had access to more breeding stock and an infusion of new DNA".   "Through careful breeding, I've tried to make the cave men smarter, closer to humans".  "I'm so glad men from the surface have found us again, it's been many years since the Romans were here…"

Never trust Blue People.

Ben Underfoot, thinking quickly, avoided the guards with ninja-like Halfling stealth skills, snuck out of the room, and trailed the Blue Lady to a place beyond her private chambers, near her labs, that was kitted out like an underground bunker.  Beds, rations, water supplies, and heavy doors like a bank vault.  Runes and magic inscriptions made him think the door was probably wizard-locked or similar.  His Halfling stealth kept him from being discovered, and he watched as the Blue Lady dressed the room with illusion magic so that the bunker appeared to be the cave entrance to a verdant paradise - the Otherworld she had promised the cave ladies.  He ducked out of the way when a bunch of disheveled cave ladies came by a little later, entered the Blue Lady's Otherworld paradise, and closed the vault.

Let's give the players credit, they took these shenanigans in stride - har har, we got tricked into smooching hairy cave ladies, nice one DM.  All those characters that failed their saving throws got a 'carousing kicker' for getting a chance to forget the stresses of the adventuring life for a bit, with only a mild hangover for their troubles.  We'll see if Timur and Ben tell the others what really happened - otherwise the other characters are blissfully picturing Raquel Welch in the fur bikini.

The next day, the stoic Neanderthals (men and remaining women) were preparing defenses by the walls.  The players weren't sure what to make of the Blue Lady - is she a philanthropist trying to keep the Neanderthal race alive, or a skeevy manipulator?  Should they flee into the recesses of the cavern and leave the Neanderthals to their fate, or stay and fight, helping the cave men to defend the stockade?  The rest of the game session involved the players surveying the deployment of the cave men and their defenses, and figuring out how they could help tilt the coming battle in the Neanderthal's favor.  Good guys to the end, they’re staying and fighting, and they helped plan the defenses to protect the stockade.

A horn blew from the north tower.  A steady stream of orange lights could be seen in the blackness as an unending line of Morlocks bearing torches poured across the bridge to the far north.  If the players could understand cave man, they might have heard the guard say, "The glow worm approaches".

Next game should be pretty awesome, as we undertake the siege of the Cave Man kingdom.

DM Note:
Long term readers may know we game with some kids (sixth graders these days).  I did have them step out for a bit (video game time) during the cave lady romance sequence.  We kept things fairly oblique and clean, but I don't need a mom calling me,  "My son's character did what?  What kind of D&D game are you running over there?"  I think it was the first time I had to balance the content a bit and separate the group.  I look forward to hearing if anyone else has had anything analogous in a game!

*The picture is Raquel Welch from One Million Years BC - the gold standard for cave man fantasies since 1966.

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.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Gentlemen of Fortune - A Prologue to Xibalba

I've had a poll up for a few days regarding the megadungeon project for 2014 - thanks for all of the interest!  It's shaping up to be a close vote between the Harrow Home Manor and the Vaults of Xibalba ideas.  I've had some posts about Harrow Home before, so here's a small prologue introducing Xibalba - it's the kind of background information that might get worked into a player's handout or kickoff for a first session.

21st March 1710.
From the Journal of Sebastian Osbourne, Captain of the St George

I found the place as described in the account of the Spanish priest.  West 30 degrees across the Gulf of Honduras from Puerto Caballos, allowing the Caribbean current to guide the ship north towards Isla de Providencia.  Halfway between Providencia and Cayos Miskitos, the hidden island appeared out of the morning mists.  What strange powers the heathen gods exert over these waters, to hide an entire island from the world!

The money spent for the Spaniard's book, an account of the new world by Father Juan de Santiago, was worth every Spanish reale I paid for it.  The priest's sojourn with the coastal peoples revealed fanciful legends of 52 year cycles, meticulous stone calendars, and a hidden "city of the gods" that appeared on the sea at the end of each cycle.  The priest found the place in 1554… he predicted it would appear next in 1606, then 1658, and now 1710.  I have found the lost Isla Mysteriosa, the place where the buccaneer Sanglantes hid a fabled treasure neither L'Olonnais or Morgan were able to find - and no wonder!  The island disappears for decades at a time.

The St George rocks gently in the cove called "Bahia Segura" on the Spaniard's map.  Tomorrow we drop our first long boats.  I have scoured the dock side taverns and seaman's pubs of Nassau and Kingston to fill out a weathered crew of sea dogs and gentlemen of fortune, hungry for the chance to find the lost treasure of Sanglantes and plunder the forgotten city hidden on the island.  Unknown splendors await.  The adventure begins tomorrow.

There's a bit to unpack here.  I like the idea of placing Xibalba on a lost island that appears and disappears at intervals; it promises a potentially pristine location for the adventurers before the game begins - and yet, its regular appearances in the 16th and 17th centuries means that evidence of past expeditions, the ruins of a Spanish fort or mission, the wrecks of 17th century buccaneers - aren't out of the question, either.

A megadungeon campaign needs a nearby home base.  How about a floating home base - the St George, a privateering brig (or frigate) anchored just off the coast?  First level characters are crewmen of the St George, and the St George is where characters return for healing and recruiting additional help.  I'd expect higher level characters to eventually purchase or hire their own vessel at some indeterminate point in the future when they return to Kingston.

There's a lot of time for the poll to run its course, and I'm very comfortable if either Harrow Home Manor or Xibalba ends up being the choice (I'm assuming the Greek megadungeon is falling out of the race).  Harrow Home borrows heavily from Poe and Lovecraft and the gothic monsters of European folklore - vampires, werewolves, ghouls, the things that go bump in the night.  This little excerpt gives a teaser of Xibalba - a campaign that promises steaming jungles, crumbling ziggurats, pirates, cut throats, the weird beings of the Mesoamerican mythos, and maybe a bit of cursed Aztec or Mayan gold.

I'll have to figure out what to call the campaign.  Goblins of the Spanish Main?  The Mysterious Island?  The dungeons are the Vaults of Xibalba - so it'll probably just end up as The Xibalba Campaign by default.  We'll see which idea is the boss in another week or two.

Oh - Happy New Year everyone!