Saturday, 24 July 2021

The Well of Blood - a one page dungeon

You have heard worrying news about your friend Bolster the Giant. He is trying to fill a well with his own blood! He says he's doing it for his true love - and that he needs your help. The well isn't filling up properly. There must be a leak that needs to be plugged. That has to be the reason, right? Go down there and have a look.

Here is my entry to the 2021 One Page Dungeon Contest. It features a twist, creatures both strange and familiar, tricks, traps, toys, magic-items, villains, a boat on a lake of blood, newfound allies, enemies who can become allies, a big jewel and more. The dungeon comes with a simple hook for one-shot games but can easily be inserted into campaign play with rumours of a blood-soaked and love-crazed giant offering gold for the assistance of adventurers. If you are a player, don't spoil this dungeon for yourself, close the page now.  

Get the dungeon HERE

If you liked this dungeon check out my other bigger, more gruesome dungeon; 'Sulphur and Snuff' which is available on my blog. If you want to get more use out of the alchemy station featured in the dungeon, I recommend my 'Naively Simple Alchemy System'. 

Special thanks to aseigo of the OSR discord and SquigBoss of Caput Caprae for their invaluable feedback and layout advice. 

A truly fantastic piece of art sent to me by Slappy74, who said "I really enjoyed this. Here is a gift - not much. I wanted to depict Anne as a corrupt noble (poor giant) and as how a fantasy royal lady may look in funerary. Your dungeon is wonderfully peppered with solutions, problems, the absurd and the dark. It's whimsically dark!". I'm honoured. 

Monday, 3 May 2021

Fantasy Names from Scrabble and Other Word Games

There’s nothing clever or original about this blogpost but it might help you to be clever and original. 

What is his name?

Sometimes I lose games of Scrabble because I’m making up fantasy names instead of playing the game properly. I’ve used Scrabble, Upwords, Bananagrams and Bananagrams Duel (which uses letter-dice rather than tiles) to make names for characters, places, creatures - anything nameable for my campaign. You should do it also. Using actual game pieces works better than using purely random letters rolled up online as these word games are cleverly designed to have an interesting and useful distribution of letters as well as being much more manipulable + tactile. This fun little name-game is good because it forces you to create names you wouldn’t normally think of; names that are often outside the familiar linguistic phonemes and cultural naming conventions that you might be used to (especially if you get an unusual combination of letters). This cognitive jolt is good, an unforeseen prompt in a game of guided daydreaming. And a self-imposed 7 letter limit restrains your syllable count and helps ensure the name's memorability too - never use apostrophes. 

I have used names generated using this method in my campaign. Names include Atzorig - a well-traveled, would-be conqueror leading the scant survivors of a rootless barbarian-folk, Yuban Yu - a red-white clad dignitary from the Southern Continent and the Tone-Men - a militant, copy-cat faction of martially inclined colour-cultists.    

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Naively Simple Mad Science - A System for Player Invention (updated)

Mad Science, impossible to implement? Probably. Here’s my attempt. The system is recommended for gonzo, science-fiction and science-fantasy games. Skip to the end of the post for the TLDR of the process.

I made this as a personal challenge. In roleplaying games, the main problem with Mad Science themed mechanics is finding ways to deal with players possessing unlimited free-form creative abilities - preventing deus ex machina, keeping game balance, assigning costs, construction times and needed resources all while trying not to stifle player freedom. Hopefully, this system deals with those potential issues while keeping the process fun and creative for players, all while not ruining your campaign world too much. Still, this is a decadent system. I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions so I can amend and update this post and get it in a more realisable state. 

Mad Science is a downtime activity, from research to construction the process will always take 1 month and is accessible to all player classes. Mad Science must be performed in a laboratory. The end goal of the downtime is the construction of a Creation. This Creation is inspired by Ideas. Ideas are words that are randomly rolled and combined to form an initial Creation concept. Once the concept is decided upon, the DM can apply drawbacks to balance the Creation. Then resources and funds are gathered and the Creation is constructed. This funding/construction phase is the most dangerous and the potential for mishaps is high! 

The first step of Mad Science is research. At this stage the Scientist is gathering Ideas and inspiration in his laboratory. The player rolls to discover what Ideas they will be working with. These Ideas will form the basis for their Creation. There is a d200 table of Idea words included alongside this post and here
The base amount of Ideas to be rolled is 4.  This score is modified by; 
+1 for each 1000gp invested in the Scientist’s laboratory. 
+1 if the Scientist is a Magic-User (or Specialist with 6/6 Tinker skill)
+/- the Scientist’s Intelligence modifier. 
+1? At this stage the Scientist may also reverse-engineer a device/invention/thing to gain an additional Idea. An Idea specific to the thing being reverse-engineered. At its simplest, a laser-gun could be reverse engineered to produce the Idea laser or gun, a thermonuclear missile could give the Idea atomic or just bomb. This way the Scientist might be able to impart some direction into his Creation but they will have to go out adventuring to find a device related to the thing they want to create. 

There are 200 words here. Use an online number generator or use a d20 for the 100's die (with a result of 20 being 00) and a d10 for the tens and digits. These words are generic and intended for a fantasy or science-fantasy game. 50 words list possible forms for the Creation, 75 words are fantastic and the final 75 words are more scientific. Players should be encouraged to reverse engineer items they already possess to choose a bonus Idea. Rewrite this table to better fit your setting. 

Once the Ideas have been gathered, the player combines two or more words into a concept for a Creation - anything that fits the Mad Science theme and is logically derived from the words they have selected. Any unused words are forgotten. The player writes down the name of the Creation and a short description of what it is/its effects in as few words as possible. The mechanical bit comes during play. 

An Example. A Scientist rolls the IdeasImplantBladeRayDisintegrationGestate and reverse-engineers a necromantic magic item to gain the bonus IdeaDeath. The Scientist combines the Ideas Death and Ray - Death-Ray - simple. Other combinations could be Blade-Implants, Blade-Disintegration-Ray... Death-Implant (a kind of cyanide pill?) there are many possibilities but only one concept can be selected and detailed. Idea words can be altered to a degree; plurals, synonyms, changes in grammar are acceptable. The words do not have to form the name of the Creation, they simply inform the Creation's function.

Once the Creation is described the DM adds drawbacks. The drawback(s) must be worded in a way that uses half the word count of the Creation’s description (rounded up). This way, any Creation can be balanced by the DM and encourages players not to be too verbose or overladen their Creation with features. Drawbacks shouldn't render an invention useless but should hinder or wrinkle its usage in a way unintended by its creator. An unimpeded doomsday device, like a death ray could massively throw off a campaign - a huge, slow-charging death ray would throw off a campaign slightly less and prove more interesting logistically. A smoke bomb with the description 'explodes into concealing smoke' doesn't need so much of a drawback, 'really stinks' would suffice. For the sake of evenness, all inventions must have DM attached drawbacks, be fair and consistent - don't annoy your players but don't let your game be thrown out of balance either. 

A simple example:
Creation name: Death Ray
Description: A gun that kills everything it shoots (7 words, half rounded up to 4)
Drawback: Colossal and charges slowly (4 words)

The final step is Construction. Prices and resource requirements are kept abstracted. The Mad Scientist needs patronage and connections, funding and resources for their Creation. This cost is always assumed to be beyond the current wealth and means of the player character, these things need to be gathered via secret dealings or public support. The fruitfulness of this resource gathering stage determines how the fraught the Creation's construction is. The inventing player rolls a reaction roll, adding their charisma modifier as normal. If the DM deems the Creation to be abhorrent, roll with a -2 modifier. 

Construction Table
2-4: A mishap, a disaster! Follow this flowchart or apply the most applicable outcome. There is an industrial accident, the Creation goes rogue, turns out evil or is stolen. The Creation is complete but something must be done or dealt with before it can be used - retrieved from a huge acid spill, from an exploding workshop, from a thief. Perhaps the Creation, if sentient, rebels against its creator. Perhaps the Creation fuses with the Creator?
5-6: A detestable success. Your weird science has destroyed your reputation, the locals hate you and barely tolerate your presumably diabolical Creation. Any slight or provocation would see them gladly take up torches and pitch forks against you, your lab and your Creation. Maybe it's time to leave town?  
7-9: Success, the Creation is completed without an issue.
10-11: Excess resources. Creation is completed. The process was inspiring. Gain an additional word during your next mad science downtime. 
12: Very successful. You have made 2 copies of your Creation rather than one. 

Once this table has been rolled on, the downtime is over and the Creation (though it's status might be fraught) is complete and adventuring may resume. The DM determines the mechanical properties and effects of the Creation based on its description and drawbacks if necessary. 

Other Rules 

Assistants: For each assistant hired an additional copy of a Creation can be constructed per month of downtime. Assistants can also be used to create previously invented Creations of which the blue print is available. Assistants cost 100gp for each month of Mad Science in which they are involved and 10gp a month when otherwise maintaining the laboratory. Assistants cannot produce Creations without the oversight of a PC. 

Not all devices can be mass-produced by lab assistants. As a rule of thumb, if a Creation is man-sized or larger and non-consumable only one of it can be produced per downtime. Many grenades can be manufactured but flying cars cannot be.    

Laboratories: Laboratories should have everything a mad scientist would need - electrodes, bubbling vials, operating tables. They cost 10,000gp and 1 month to set up. It's easier and cheaper if the adventuring party just take one over. 

The Mad Science Process - takes 1 month
1. Roll 4 Ideas/Words. +1 word if Magic-User, +1  for each 1000gp invested in the laboratory being used, +/- intelligence modifier. +1 custom Idea if player reverse-engineers something.
2. Combine 2 or more Ideas into a Creation concept
4. Name the Creation and describe what it does, keep the description's word count low. 
5. DM applies appropriate drawback(s) to the Creation using half the word count of the Creation’s description (rounded up)
6. Roll on the Construction Table (2d6+CHA modifier, -2 if Creation is abhorrent)
7. The Creation is complete. Deal with the resultant situation caused by a low roll on the Construction table using this flowchart or DM fiat if applicable.

Sunday, 21 March 2021

A Mechanical Use for Whetstones

I thought of this today. Whetstones sharpen blades. For adventurers a nice sharp blade would be better than a dull one. However, I've never seen whetstones used in games, other than as dressing or as useless items you would find or never buy because they had no mechanical use... until now! This isn't about weapon maintenance, characters are assumed to be doing that - it's an elective bonus, a rule for when the party dramatically sharpen their swords to razors before going into battle. 

It takes 10 minutes (or 1 hour, you choose) to sharpen a bladed weapon with a whetstone. Once sharpened the weapon deals a minimum of 2 damage. Damage rolls of 1 are bumped up to 2. The player writes [sharp] next to the weapon on their character sheet. This effect lasts...  (select one)
  • for a single battle (in which the weapon is used)
  • for the whole day (even if the weapon is unused)
  • until a result of 1 is rolled on an attack roll using the sharpened weapon 
  • until the weapon is notched 
A whetstone doesn't last forever. When a whetstone is used, roll a d20, if you roll under the maximum damage of the weapon being sharpened (e.g 6 for a d6 weapon) the whetstone cannot be used again.

Monday, 15 February 2021

Sulphur and Snuff, a Horror Dungeon

A wicked theatre, a blue-skinned vizier, an imprisoned demon, evil noblemen and lots of torture, mutilation and cannibalism (and more within!). Sulphur and Snuff - A Devilish Performance is a rather horrible 11-page dungeon with horror and heist elements for Old School games. It would be a good fit for Lamentations of the Flame Princess or Mörk Borg.

Find the PDF of the dungeon below by clicking on the map or the link. I'd appreciate any feedback as it will help my future dungeons to be even better. 


Comments and Reviews: 

"No Regerts"

Bryce Lynch,

"Damn that way of doing maps is really clever, usable and a TON of flavor"
"Yeah I really wanna run that, and a lot of that is from the map alone"

Johan Nohr, MÖRK BORG artist and graphic designer (via Discord)

"Excellent work! This is better stuff than many published dungeons. It features a compelling layout and visual design. Just looking at this pdf invites me into a horror story with teasing secrets.

The more I read this, the more I love it, as an excellent opportunity for mixed violence and social engagement. Something of a weird fever dream, the core interior concept informs suspension of disbelief and all of the characters. Bullwain Boque for example is a character without much prose dedicated to explaining his personality, but because of the context he seems full of potential. I applaud your design for canny delegation of detail.

The puzzle-like pieces of the map which are scattered throughout the .pdf create a portrait of the internal space which is both easy to refer to, because the pieces are right there next to their details text, and easy to memorize, because the pieces fit together with a clear logic which is distinct for each piece. Thus it is easy for me to follow, page-to-page"

Peter Webb, Instadeath (via Facebook)

Friday, 12 February 2021

A Peer Beyond the Alchemical Aleph Null - a Poem-Dungeon

A dungeon (or dungeons) for False Machine's poem-dungeon challenge

I certainly found the challenge interesting, the poetic style is reminiscent of how I make dungeons for my own use; terse, personally evocative (unusable by others). Making a dungeon this way, especially for an audience is a very different experience. I found the limited space and a keen adherence to terseness, limited the text's utility and overall, holistic descriptiveness. At the same time the 'poetic language', while fun, used up that same space I lacked. I consider my effort an interesting failure (a critique I have of most things on my blog). 

With this is mind, the dungeon had to become binitarian; two dungeons constituting one whole. A LIGHT (more utilitarian, 'clearer' and 'useful') dungeon and a DARK (evocative and murky) dungeon. They should be used at the same time in concert with one another. Work will have to be done on the part of a DM running the dungeon to flesh it out but I hope the ideas within kindle imaginations.        

The Dungeon: Alchemists push their art beyond God's limits discovering unknowable elements. Disaster ensues. I tried to include standard D&D'isms, traps, treasures, magic swords and boss battles but it's all just a little odd and creepy.  

Aleph Null or  0  is the mathematical term for the smallest infinite number.

Monday, 1 February 2021

Dark/Pulp Dungeon Name Generator

By Esteban Maroto

 A run-of-the-mill table for inspiration or fun. Roll 1d20 for each column. 


Word 1

Of The...

Word 2

















































































Saturday, 9 January 2021

Books as Character Advancement

Books as Character Advancement

A book can provide a character with a skill. For example, +1 to hit with a scythe (see above). The character accesses this benefit after a single evening of reading a particular book and will continue to have that particular skill so long as they are in possession of that book and the book is completely undamaged (characters are assumed to be reading the book during downtime, a player isn’t required to say ‘I’m reading my book’). While characters can only use the skill derived from one book at a time, characters can absorb a book’s skill permanently by studying the entire work. It takes one evenings worth of reading to transition from one book-skill to another.

Studying a book is a lengthy process, the average book takes 3d20 evenings to completely study (add more d20’s depending on how useful and broadly applicable the skill being taught is). This amount of time is only discovered after an evening spent reading the book. Studying is modified by a character’s intelligence; subtract a character’s intelligence modifier to each of the d20’s rolled. The minimum number of evenings to study a book is 7. This amount of time is character dependent and should be rerolled if the book is lent to another player character. 

The player is expected to keep track of each evening spent reading, tallying towards the total completion of the books study. An entire day spent reading counts as 2 evenings. While players do not have to announce they are reading, tallying should not be done retroactively - if a player forgets to read (and keep tally of their reading) so did their character. However, once a character has finished reading a book that skill is now permanent and should be recorded as such on the character sheet. Now a new book can start being read and a new, additional skill can be obtained. 

Forgetting. Should for whatever reason a player stop or be unable to continue reading a book, not only will they lose (after a single evening) that book's derived skill, they will forget their study progress after an amount of time. To keep things simple and save on daily tracking or juggling dates, a character is assumed to have forgotten their progress (on any and all books they are not currently reading/in possession of) after they have levelled up. A book being read during levelling up retains its study progress whilst others are forgotten.

Learning Languages from Books

Learning a language from a book follows the same rules as learning a skill from a book. While a character is in possession of a language-learning book they can attempt to speak the language detailed in that book. To do so a character rolls under their intelligence score with a d20. The character must make an intelligence roll every time they speak. If the character is successful what they have said is understood clearly. If unsuccessful the character must roll/reroll a reaction roll at -2, whatever was said may cause great offence or inadvertently improve the situation, the DM will tell the player what they actually said. Once a player has completely studied their language-book the character can competently speak that language. 

Learning Lore from Books

Players with a high intelligence often ask ‘can I roll to see if my character knows X pertinent detail about Y piece of campaign lore?’. With this book rule you can say yes or no. Lore-books allow players to ask and answer specific questions about a campaign’s lore - or the author’s interpretation of the campaign’s lore. Detailing the author is very important. 

Just as with other books, when in possession of a lore-book and having read if for one evening, a player character will be able to ask relevant questions about the book’s subject matter. The DM will attempt to roll under the character’s intelligence score in secret. If successful the DM will tell the player the correct answer, if the roll is unsuccessful the DM will answer with the author’s biased/antiquated/bizarre/misleading answer. When the book is finished being read, the character can be assumed to have a good knowledge of the topic, the player can have their questions answered truthfully without having to roll under their intelligence. 

Lore-books are best used for very specific topics, don’t have a book that allows a player to ask questions about all dwarves everywhere, have a book on a specific dwarven stronghold or the common gods of the dwarves. 

Learning Spells from Books

Non-magic users can learn spells. A spell book can be read as any other book can be. When a character possesses a spell-book and has read it for a single evening they can cast a spell as a 1st level magic-user/cleric once per day (provided they continue reading the book of an evening). Use your system’s spellcasting rules or have the character roll under their intelligence score when they attempt to cast the spell - if they fail, roll on a spell failure/chaos table of your choice, otherwise the spell is cast successfully. When the book has been studied fully the character can cast that spell that spell without fear of strange eldritch occurrences. Non-caster characters lack the magical aptitude to learn spells above 1st level. 

To Summarize 

  • Character finds book.
  • Character reads book in the evening. 
  • Player rolls 3d20 to see how long book takes to read, subtracting their intelligence modifier for each d20. The roll equals X evenings, minimum 7. 
  • The following morning the character is able to use said book which provides them with a skill/language/spell/knowledge. 
  • Only one book can be read at a time.
  • After X number of evenings the character has learnt the skill and no longer requires the book to use the skill/language/spell/knowledge.
  • Character starts reading another book. Repeat.
  • If character starts reading a different book before finishing the first one, the skill obtained from the first book is lost at the end of the day and the new skill (from the new book) gained the following morning. Characters lose their reading progress upon leveling up if they are no longer reading a book or if it is lost or damaged. 

Just a few example skills and books to be found in your campaign:

Etiquette, +2 to reactions when dealing with certain people/creatures - On the Fey-Courts of the Waxwood Fairies

Survival against X,  roll +2 on saving throws against a certain thing, for example ghosts - Beatitudes Against Apparitions 

+1 to hit with any specific weapon, the more specific the better. Fighters cannot benefit from books written about common weapons such as swords - The Garotte Codex; how a man shall be slain

+1 when escaping from or initiating a grapple/wrestle. Not a flat +1 to all grappling manoeuvres, something specific - The Pugilistic Deeds of Ordlaff Strong-Arms

+1 bushcraft. If running LotFP, be sparing with skill books. They should be rare and written by masters - The Scrolls of Green Cernunnos.