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Tuesday 5 December 2023
(I) Readily available and observable information
(II) Requires closer observance or aid (eg: light)
(III) Can only be observed with the Third Eye
- Acts of Sedition
1. Rob the tower.
2. Rescue a prisoner.
3. Calm the tower’s ghost.
4. Send a message by raven.
5. Extinguish the light.
6. Take over the tower.
(I) Also called Smocklehythe Tower, The Lord’s Prick, Serpent’s Tooth. A lighthouse and gaol for those awaiting execution by the House, its foundations are an island in the middle of the river.
Separated from the rest of Smocklehythe by a short boat ride, the pale edifice looms over South Lanton, twenty-one yards tall from the point of its spired roof to the cold waters below.
(II) Stone steps emerge from the water and alight at the only entrance, a door of black iron bars in the tower’s south face where a guard keeps watch.
The top of the tower is open on all sides, its spired roof held up by pillars. A guard keeps watch and, by night, a great fire is kept burning.
There are four windows in the east wall, one on each floor, about four yards apart. A third guard can sometimes be seen passing the upper of the middle two windows by night and the lower by day.
All three guard wear gaoler’s uniforms. Shifts change at sunrise and sunset, with reinforcements arriving by boat.
(I) The top of the tower is a flat platform from which four pillars hold aloft a canopy spire. It is a sixteen-yard drop to the water below.
In the centre is a huge brazier of black iron laden with firewood, lit and tended by a guard from sunset to sunrise. The day shift replacement merely watches the surrounding river.
- Guard. Official truncheon (?), hot pork pasty (2d), vial of oil (6d), tinderbox (10d).
A spiral staircase alights here. The cawing and flapping of several large birds can be heard below.
(I) The floor is lined with feathers and guano, the air thick with smell and noise. Seven messenger ravens are kept here, tethered to their perches by silver chains (£1 each).
On the floor is a pouch of bird seed (2d) and a sturdy black cage (£1).
From upstairs comes the sound of wind, and by night a roaring fire’s red glow. The staircase leads both up and down.
(II) The ravens’ chains and the window in the east wall are locked. The guard in the guardhouse has the keys.
(I) Enclosed by stone walls. A heavy wood door leads to the guardhouse.
The noise of the rookery echoes faintly from above. By day the sounds of a busy kitchen can be heard downstairs, by night silence.
(II) At night the guard can be heard snoring by anyone eavesdropping at the guardhouse door, lantern light barely visible through the cracks.
(I) Empty by day, the night shift guard catches forty winks in an old wooden rocking-chair (£1&1d).
- Guard. Official truncheon (?), ring of keys (?), hooded lantern (£1), deck of cards (10d).
Black iron bars divide this room from the cell, the gate locked. A wooden door adjoins the stairwell. There is a window in the east wall.
(II) After dusk the guard arrives and lights a hooded lantern, and can be seen through the window.
The four keys on the ring open the cell on this floor, the shackles within and the chains and window in the rookery. Each resembles the lock it opens.
(III) Soft wailing drifts from the cell on an otherworldly breeze.
(I) The gaol proper, separated from the guardhouse by a locked gate.
Prisoners are kept in shackles chained to a heavy iron ball (£2). The guard in the guardhouse has the key.
There is a spectral presence here, felt first as a chill, unnatural wind and then in terrifying visions of death.
(II) A thorough search unearths a metal file (6d) hidden away behind a loose stone along with a rat skull.
(III) The ghost of a woman killed here long ago moans inconsolably, searching for her lost head. If reunited with the skull in the whalesbourne, she passes on.
(I) Enclosed by stone walls. By day, sounds of the cookhouse through a wooden door. By night, only the wind and water from the gatehouse downstairs.
(I) A large pot (3d) atop a simple wood-burning stove, set into the wall below the window.
The day shift guard makes gruel here, steam filling the room. After sunset, the fire is put out and the room goes silent.
- Guard. Official truncheon (?), wooden spoon (2d), vial of oil (6d), pouch of black pepper (6d).
Two doors connect to the stairwell and pantry.
(I) A large barrel of clean water, a stack of dirty wooden bowls (1d each), two heavy sacks of oats (2d each), a chamberpot (2d), several rotting turnips and an unopened vial of black treacle (6d). Roll a die to see how many rats are about.
There is a door to the cookhouse.
(I) Entry to the stairwell is barred by a sturdy gate of black iron. A guard stands watch outside atop a short flight of stone steps that descend into the water, where a post is used to moor boats.
- Guard. Official truncheon (?), hooded lantern (£1).
(I) A spiralling stone staircase begins here and continues up to the roof, alighting at every floor in-between.
To the side is a wooden door labelled records.
(I) A desk with paper (1d/sheaf), quill pen (10d) and two vials of black and red ink (6d apiece).
There is a window overlooking the water outside, as well as a door to the stairwell, and another labelled store.
(II) Searching the desk uncovers ledgers detailing the names and crimes of prisoners kept at the tower through its history, beginning after the occupation of the House.
(I) Several empty barrels, six yards of rope (2d/yard), a hooded lantern (£1), a vial of glue (6d), and a small pouch of gunpowder (£6).
(II) Beneath some of the goods is a trap door leading down to the whalesbourne.
(I) A cell beneath the store for troublesome prisoners. Pitch dark and heavy with mould. A metal grate in the middle of the floor is all but rusted away.
Laying discarded on the floor are a human skull and a blunt and corroded sword. Roll a die to see how many rats are about.
(II) Light reveals scratches in the wall reading WATCHED FROM BELOW and the glint of something large and pale from the crypt beneath the grate.
(II) Built into the foundations of the tower. Strangely peaceful, utterly dark. There is a rusty grate in the ceiling adjoining the whalesbourne above.
A giant skull sits in the centre of a square symbol carved into the stone floor. There is a solid gold coin within the hollow of its eye, worth £3.
(III) The spirit of this skull is ancient. It is not seen so much as sensed, a being long faded from this world.
It offers those marked with the Third Eye a gift of one of its teeth. Brannwn’s Blessing, a fist-sized lump of dull ivory, allows its bearer to temporarily expel their spirit from their own body and into that of a raven.
Thursday 23 November 2023
Over on Mindstorm Press, Ty posted a whole setting module, with art and cartography and even more updates to come. This is definitely going into my next game of Journeylands.
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you about Mythic Bastionland. There’s still time to back!
Scrap has d100 of my new favourite ever character names
Just found out about this upcoming miniatures game with a killer premise - vampires competing to drain the most blood in a night. Maybe I should get back to work on my own miniatures game…
Speaking of, if you’re not following me on bluesky yet you’re missing out on pictures of my badly painted skeletons. dgchapman.bsky.social over there, hmu x
And finally, since it’s Black Friday I’m doing a special sale on my store! Everything is the same price. You need games, I need to eat, it’s a win-win.
Thursday 16 November 2023
aka reactive dungeons, aka Dungeon No Likey
This is a type of adventure game location I’ve done a few of, and there are many more out there. The basic idea is that the more the players delve, the more the space itself reacts to their intrusion.
Most dungeon crawling games loosely mechanise this to some degree. Spend too long exploring in classic D&D and you’ll trigger a wandering monster encounter. My own Graverobbers makes characters lose the game’s HP equivalent when they make too much light or noise.
Right now though I’m thinking about more specific ways in which individual adventures can model reactions and some of the possibilities for fun and interesting play you can get out of them
For instance, we can consider what triggers might cause the response in the first place. Graverobbers is a stealth game so one of them is being un-stealthy. And I feel like the general default trigger is “being here”, which is a good one when you’re delving in places where people Were Not Meant To Tread.
Stuff that adventure games tend to disincentivise, like combat, make good triggers. In my Mothership adventure The Horror on Tau Sigma 7, the dungeon reacts when damage is done to the structure itself (like breaking through a door instead of unlocking it) or its inhabitants. The forest from The Postbox in the Woods likewise reacts to violence and destruction.
Thinking up more specific triggers can help flavour a dungeon and force creative solutions. Maybe the wizard who built this tower despises the colour yellow, or the titan whose navel you’re exploring is allergic to gold.
The dungeon’s response should be clear, even if it starts subtly and builds over time like in TS7. Players have to be clued into this being a cause-and-effect or they won’t be able to use the information practically. A low rumbling sound or cold wind every time a player starts to unsheathe their sword that abruptly cuts off when they put it away again would be easy to understand, even if the specifics haven’t been discovered yet. The response, like the best traps, shouldn’t shut off options but force new ones
Like all the best curses and mutations though, the response doesn’t have to be all bad. If there’s an upside the players are encouraged to use the information creatively and game the system. In the most recent episode of Into the Megadungeon, Miranda Elkins talks about how there are places in Nightwick Abbey that are inaccessible without triggering the dungeon’s geomorph rearranging mechanic.
You could even reverse the concept, have specific actions or events the dungeon wants and rewards. If players figure out the right offering to bring they can open secret doors in the cultists’ lair, for instance. These kinds of interactions are more like typical lock and key, call and response mechanics, but having a sliding scale of just how appeased the dungeon is could be interesting.
These kinds of dungeons benefit from being large, thereby encouraging exploration and letting the response build or even ebb and flow over time. For smaller dungeons a pitcher-plant structure can be useful, or a simple depthcrawl, where players want to go deeper for cooler stuff but going further makes coming back that much harder.
Anyway, just a concept I’m thinking over at the minute, trying to see if there are new fun places I can take it. If you haven’t used something similar in an adventure before I’d recommend it, and if you know any great adventures that do this well then let me know!
Friday 10 November 2023
New issue of MNKRM out now! Read free here.
New issues come out on the 10th of every month. You can subscribe for free to get each one sent to your email when it comes out, or if you want to tip me a few quid a month you can do a paid subscription.
If we get just 10 more paid subs in the next couple of weeks, I won’t have to worry about rent this month which hasn’t happened in a while! So tell ur friends, see you in the next one x
Sunday 5 November 2023
Happy Bonfire Night! To celebrate this most Graverobbers of holidays, here’s an in-world card game I’ve been working on. Like all card games in Lanton (you can get the rules to Pauper’s Crown as part of the starter adventure The Bell of Blackside, and I’m tinkering with a third game called Third Eye’s Folly) it uses a single suit of cards. I like the feeling playing with one suit gives you - the more predictable range gives the average player gets a taste of being a suave, card-counting gambler
(I’m also working on new rules for Graverobbers itself that supplant the standard mechanics of deck, dice and coins with just a suit of cards - it’s fun but I do think it loses something from the Bare Bones so will only ever be released as a variant rather than any kind of second edition. Characters from each version will work with the other, too.)
Anyway, the plan was to have a big update to A Pocket Guide to Smocklehythe out today, but I’ve had to shelve those plans for now. Still, if you download it now you’ll receive the current version of the rules with some lovely art and a nice character sheet, and you’ll get the full Guide as a free update when that does finally emerge.
(The last couple of posts on this blog are free adventures that go perfectly with the Smocklehythe rules, if you’re looking for a fun, seasonal one-shot heist!)
For now, though, here’s Lockpick Solitaire. I’ve caught myself playing a few hands now and then when i should be working, hope you enjoy.
A game to while away the hours or practice one’s numbers. For one player with one suit of cards.
Cards are played directly from the top of the face-down deck into face up positions. First, the player plays two cards side by side in a “lock”. Then, the player must make a choice to “pick the lock” or move on.
To “pick the lock”, the player plays the next card in between the two played cards. If the value of the third card lies between those of the first two, the lock is picked and the player scores a point.
Alternatively, if the two cards played are subsequent in value, the lock is picked if the third card is either the next or previous in sequence.
To move on, the player continues by playing the next two cards to create a new lock.
Play ends when the player plays a card incorrectly, or when the entire suit is played without any locks having been successfully picked. If the entire suit is played and play has not yet ended, or if at any point there are not enough cards in the suit to continue play, played cards are collected and reshuffled and play continues.
Wednesday 1 November 2023
“Right, here’s the job. There’s this old crypt we used to smuggle goods through from the graving dock. Trouble is, now the House has closed down the Smocklehythe warehouses, there’s no getting into the tunnels that way.”
“As luck would have it, though… Turns out there might be another way in. Through the sewers.”
“You need to find a passage through to the crypt, grab the loot that’s lying there and bring it back here. You do that, there’s a pound apiece in it for you. That and you can keep any tosh you find lying about.”
“Oh, and do yourselves a favour. Don’t get caught.”
1. Entrance. A huge stone face in the riverbank wall, its mouth agape with fetid dribble. Inside, pitch black and foul. Roll a die to see how many rats are about, and another for how many lost pence are scattered across the grimy floor.
The tunnel is just wide enough to walk single file. Waste trickles from skull sized holes that line the walls.
From one such hole, the Rat Queen beckons. A spirit of the sewers, she asks that you deal with the monster who has corrupted her halls, rewarding any who expel the snake in the sewer depths (2) with a bite mark. Those who bear this scar can be understood by all rats.
2. Depths. Further in from the entrance (1), the stench thickens. A side tunnel (3) leads out of the muck while the main sewer continues, eventually ending in a wide, shallow cesspool.
The monstrous snake that dwells within attacks any who disturb the water, fangs dripping deadly venom. Glinting from amongst the bones below the surface are a die roll’s worth of pence, a black athame knife (£2), and a vial containing a potion of hiding (£3), which conceals the drinker for as long as they can hold their breath.
Beyond the pool, the sewer adjoins the crypt (6).
3. Tunnel. Connects the sewer depths (2) to the crypt (6) via a gate (5). Laying around are an empty vial (2d) and a long wooden pole (1d). Roll a die to see how many rats are about.
In an alcove a stone serpent bares its fangs, dried blood caked on its forked tongue. A fresh offering causes the secret door it guards to open, revealing the sanctum (4).
4. Sanctum. A small, square chamber, rough-hewn pillars holding up a low, cobwebbed ceiling. In its centre sits a hunched grotesque, older than even the chamber itself.
The statue offers a deal. Player characters may pay 1 Luck and learn how to vomit up a venomous serpent. The snake obeys none but the Devil.
5. Gate. Black iron bars block the connection between the side tunnel (3) and the crypt (6). The hinge is rusty and screeches loudly if opened. Rust has also eaten a hole in the gate itself, wide enough for a person but lined with jagged metal.
A coffin is stuck in the hole. Its lid, sprouting black fungus, bears the inscription “let none who stir my bones know peace”.
The skeleton within inflicts terrible visions on anyone who open it. Also inside are two funerary coins (1d each) and a silver ring (£2&6d) in the likeness of a snake, engraved with the words “silver for blood”. Its bearer may open the sanctum (4) without sacrifice.
6. Crypt. A vaulted catacomb paved with gravestones, its many sepulchres long since looted. In one is a heavy, padlocked chest holding twelve vials of rum (6d each). An archway borders the sewer depths (2), and the gate (5) leads to the tunnel (3).
From the far end of the tunnel come echoing footsteps and a blood red glow. A uniformed House guard patrols the crypt, carrying a hooded lantern (£1) and official truncheon (£13).
Monday 23 October 2023
When the House closed down the docks, they scuttled the cargo ship Gilt Fawn and left her here to rot. By day, folk still congregate in search of work, forcefully dispersed by the local House guards. By night, the abandoned shipyard falls silent.
I. DRY DOCK
The ship has settled into the silt, its upper deck six yards up. A hole in the hold is too choked with muck to fit through.
A winch controls the dock’s huge sluice. Roll a die to see how many rats are about. A grate leads to Smocklehythe sewer.
II. UPPER DECK
Six yards above the dry dock dirt. Bare masts, one lifeboat. Doors leading to the captain’s cabin and crew’s quarters.
III. CAPTAIN’S CABIN
Locked. Vial of rum (6d), hand mirror (£1&1d), spyglass (£6).
IV. CREW’S QUARTERS
Cramped. Amongst old rags are six yards rope (1d/yard) and a dagger (£2). Door to upper deck, stairs to lower deck.
IV. LOWER DECK
Long since looted. Stairs to the crew’s quarters and hold.
Corpse in fine clothing (£2), a key around its neck and dagger in hand. It is haunted, attacking if any dare take its treasures. A half-filled hole to the dry dock, stairs to the lower deck.
Tuesday 17 October 2023
Sounds like a good Mothership adventure, doesn’t it? No dice, we’re back in Lanton town. ‘Tis the season for Graverobbers, and while I plan next moves for the Pocket Guide I’m thinking about the best way to include a starter adventure. This is an adventure game, so no adventure would be like cutlery without soup.
I honestly hadn’t considered randomly generating a starter adventure as an option. I love bespoke, playable spaces put together by level designers. It’s most of what I do and a lot of why I love this hobby in the first place, and while randomly generating a dungeon is fun in its own way you undoubtedly lose something.
However! Let’s consider our needs in this specific instance. We want a quick, introductory adventure. Quick is important - even the six-room dungeon I had been working on for this has branching paths, sticky decisions and potential pitfalls that could easily see a group, especially a new one, delving for hours. It’s easy to underestimate play time when writing one-shots - I wrote The Haunting of Ypsilon 14 for quick convention play and I’ve heard stories of folk getting multiple session mini-campaigns out of it. I ran a second session of it Sunday night and we’re still not done.
So, quick is good but we can go quicker. Why not a simple series of randomly generated obstacles? One or two things in the way of some treasure, a half-hour maximum of play to get to grips with the world and the basics of the game. And if a session does run longer, that lets the players experience the Black Market / Red Moon loop as well, win-win.
This also keys in to the “introductory” aspect, as a Dealer who wants to run this multiple times will be able to keep things fresh. Could even be done with the same group. Plus a bunch of random tables is one of the best ways to describe an adventure game setting - plus plus, that’s a bunch of material to pull from for other sessions, even more easily than from something more structured. An adventure comprised solely of random tables almost functions as a GM screen in this way, and I’m all for material pulling double duty.
Anyway, it’s an idea I’m toying with. Below are some tables, the likes of which you may be seeing in the upcoming final version of A Pocket Guide to Smocklehythe. As always, remember to pick up this “early access” release, and you’ll get the full version free when it comes out and avoid the price going up.
Tonight, beneath a Red Moon…
On the Smocklehythe riverbank is an old graveyard, surrounded by…
1. A six-foot, old brick wall
2. A jagged, rusting iron fence
3. An old, low dry-stone wall
4. Thick, thorny hedgerows
5. A shallow, stagnant moat
6. Badly mended wooden fences
The night guard wields a hooded lantern (£1), official truncheon (£13) and…
1. A hungry bandog (£10) on a heavy iron chain (6d)
2. A pistol (£13), powder and shot for one firing (1d each)
3. A silver whistle (£1&6d)
4. A vial of good whiskey (6d)
5. An accomplice, walking in step
6. A hot meat pasty (2d)
You know that somewhere here lies your prize, a grave…
1. Within a mortsafe, the guard has the key
2. Beneath a great stone statue
3. Unmarked, therefore conspicuous
4. In one of four identical vaults in the crypt
5. Under a worn headstone, nearly unreadable
6. Yet to be buried, six feet down in a freshly dug plot
The treasure in the coffin turns out to be…
1. Only the usual, two large funerary coins (£1 each)
2. A solid silver ring in the shape of a serpent (£1&4d)
3. A gold tooth in the skull, sharply pointed (£1)
4. A little stone talisman, protects against possession (6d)
5. A vial of deadly poison tucked in the inside pocket (£3)
6. Nothing. Old bones, black fungus eating at the coffin
But you are not alone…
1. An incompetent rival bumbles about nearby
2. A mourner has snuck in to keep vigil by candlelight
3. The beleaguered old gravedigger whistles as they work
4. A fox in the undergrowth, watchful and wary
5. An adder in the grass, quick to strike if disturbed
6. Roll a die to see how many rats are about
And in the darkness stirs…
1. A roaming spirit, a chill on the wind
2. One final scream as the spirit of your quarry departs
3. The bones and sinew in the coffin grasp hungrily
4. An imp dedicated to mischief, eating candle-flames
5. A grim, the local warden spirit, bark without bite
6. The graveyard cat