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Alex Drummond1. Species that simply prefer living underground (either because they fear the sun like the drow or because they love the dark like the dwarves).

2. Magical construction techniques that make huge, underground constructions more plausible.

3. Magical creatures that either have an instinctual need to create underground complexes or which create them as an unintentional byproduct. (Where did all these twisting tunnels come from? Well, they started as purple worm trails. Then the goblins moved in.)

4. Catastrophes on the surface world that prompt people to flee underground are also a great explanation for underground complexes. (See Earthdawn. Or just an Age of Dragons.) Mix-and-match with the techniques above to explain how the huge cataclysm refuges were built. Then simply remove the danger and/or (better yet) introduce some new danger that came up from below and drove all the vault dwellers back onto the surface.

It’s also useful to establish a method for underground species to generate food. In my campaign world there’s fey moss, which serves as the basis for fungal gardens. Huge, artificial suns left behind in underdark chasms by the vault builders or the under-dwarves also work.

I don’t find it valuable to do full-scale urban planning or figure out exactly how many toilets the goblins need, but I do find that at least some degree verisimilitude makes for better games: If the goblins get their food from fungal gardens, then their food supply can be jeopardized by destroying those gardens. And that’s either the basis for an interesting scenario hook or it’s a strategic master-stroke from the players or it’s some other surprise that I hadn’t even thought of before the campaign started.

Thought of the Day – Fey Moss

December 9th, 2014

Fey moss itself is useless. It’s a black, scummy substance. If left unchecked it will cover almost any surface with a thick, tar-like substance.

Sunlight almost instantly destroys fey moss, causing it to burst into flame. Unadulterated fey moss is also extremely flammable.

But, like the plankton of the ocean, fey moss is the bedrock of the underdark’s ecosystem.  Ecosystems on the surface all ultimately draw their energy from the powerful rays of the sun – plants capture that energy; herbivores eat the plants; and carnivores eat the herbivores. But in the underdark the ecosystem ultimately derives its energy from fey moss (which, in turn, draws it directly from the magical ley lines).

Animals in the underdark either eat the fey moss directly or they eat the wide variety of fungal species which have adapted themselves to parasitically grow upon the fey moss. Civilized species establish vast fungal gardens to feed their populace.

Technoir - Jeremy KellerVornheim includes a set of stripped down guidelines for giving PCs a set of contacts in an urban setting: The PCs can hit up their contacts for information about a particular topic and there’s a table for randomly determining what their reaction to the question is. (Here’s an example of the system in practice.)

Technoir is built around a plot-mapping mechanic in which PCs are created with a set of contacts: When the PCs hit up one of their contacts, there’s a system for randomly determining what they know. (And here’s an example of that system in play.)

The Technoir approach is built around the assumption that the GM — taking into account the subject indicated, that subject’s position on the plot map, the contact’s relationship to the plot map, and the specific question that was asked of the contact — will provide an act of creative closure and figure out what the contact says. And, in general, that works just fine.

But I thought to myself: Wouldn’t it be useful and nifty if I had a Vornheim-style contacts table for Technoir? So that the rules of Technoir would produce the lead the contact was pointing them towards and then the Vornheim-like table would give some guidance on how they ended up pointing them at it?

The Vornheim contacts table includes some null value (“I don’t know anything about”) values, which don’t work well in Technoir. So I tweaked the table a bit and ended up with this:

d10
Response
1
Pretends they don't know anything, but tips off an interested party. (Who'll come looking and provide the lead.)
2
Give them inaccurate information. (This might be intentional or it could just be an honest mistake.)
3
Doesn't know anything personally, but can make introductions with someone who does. (The "someone who does" might be the node rolled.)
4
Says they don't know anything, but seems afraid to say.
5
Doesn't know anything, but somebody else was asking them about the same thing.
6
"Maybe. What's in it for me?"
7
Doesn't know anything, but has a different proposition for them.
8
Doesn't know anything, but has a vested interest in the PCs finding the answer and will pay for it.
9
"Maybe. Come back tomorrow." (When the PCs come back, something has happened.)
10
Knows the answer to their question.

 

If you’ve been hanging around the Alexandrian for awhile, then you know that I like procedural content generators. A few examples from the past include:

They’re useful for rapidly refreshing the core content of an open table. They’re valuable improvisation tools while running the game. And they’re an excellent way of getting your creative juices flowing when you’re creating content.

MAGIC THE GATHERING

Here’s a system proposed by Baldr12 on reddit recently. Take your Magic the Gathering cards (or use a random card generator) and draw five times to determine:

THE PROBLEM (Creature/Enchantment): This is the problem. It may have just appeared or it may have just gotten worse.

THE SETTING (Non-Base Land): This is the primary location. It’s either where the problem is located, where it needs to be solved, or both.

THE SOLUTION (Artifact/Sorcery): The macguffin that will solve the problem.

THE FRIEND (Creature): This is somebody that wants the problem removed or can help the PCs remove it.

THE ANTAGONIST (Creature): This is the person who doesn’t want the problem resolved. They may have been the one to cause it or they might be profiting from it.

EXAMPLE SCENARIO

Emissary of Hope - Magic the GatheringTHE PROBLEM (Emissary of Hope): An “angel” claiming to represent the Nine Gods is offering people absolution from their sins with the promise of immediate entry into a heavenly afterlife. Those who agree to the Emissary of Hope’s offer, however, turn up dead.

THE SETTING (Cursed Land): A place known as Devil’s Hollow, deep within the Old Wood.

THE SOLUTION (Envelop): An old holy ritual which will unknit the flames of the soulbright flamekin. Unfortunately, the Emissary of Hope has destroyed all the local holy books which contain the ritual.

THE FRIEND (Canker Abomination): These evil creatures of legend are coming out of the Old Wood. The local church is condemning them. But if the heroes investigate, they’ll discover that some of the canker abominations are speaking with the voices of those “taken to Heaven” by the Emissary of Hope.

THE ANTAGONIST (Soulbright Flamekin): The source of all this confusion and horror is a soulbright flamekin sorcerer who has taken up residence in Devil’s Hollow. The Emissary of Hope is the soulbright’s creation, trapping the souls of its victims into trees which become canker abominations. The soulbright then draws the canker abominations to itself and burns the wood, claiming the souls for itself.

NETRUNNER

Here’s a quick variant I threw together for using Netrunner cards to generate cyberpunk heists.

THE CLIENT (Identity): This is either the person looking to hire the PCs or the corporation the pseudonymous Mr. Johnson works for.

THE TARGET (Agenda/Asset/Upgrade): This is what they want.

THE JOB (Operation/Event): This desscribes the nature of the job. (You can draw this option multiple times to enrich the difficulty or the complications of the mission.)

THE PROBLEM (Asset/Hardware): This is a hurdle that is going to make finishing the job difficult. (You generally want to draw one problem for each job card you pull.)

THE TWIST (Operation/Resource): Finally, no heist is complete without an unexpected complication somewhere along the way.

 EXAMPLE SCENARIO

Traffic Accident - Android: NetrunnerTHE CLIENT (The Foundry): A lunar mining facility that produces the advanced materials required to build bioroids.

THE TARGET (Net Police): A division of the Lunar PD that recently executed a secret warrant on the Foundry’s databases. The Net Police now have a dossier containing information that the Foundry can’t afford to let out into the wild.

THE JOB (Traffic Accident): The lead investigator for the Lunar PD needs to be taken out of the equation, but it needs to look like an accident. Literally. The PCs need to sabotage her flier. Once she’s out of commission, the case will pass to her deputy.

THE PROBLEM (Deep Red): The deputy is clean, but the Foundry has access to the deputy’s passkeys. Unfortunately, the only way to use the passkeys is to gain access to the Lunar PD’s evidence databases. And those are hyper-secure. The only way to get reliable access from outside Lunar PD headquarters? Cutting edge Caissa ICE. You’ll have to heist a Deep Red unit with the latest Caissa releases.

THE TWIST (Rework): When they pull the file and burn the evidence database, the PCs discover that a copy of the secure file has already been made to a grand jury database. To finish the job, they’re gonna have to hit the courthouse!

The Strange: Eschatology Code - Bruce CordellBruce Cordell’s Eschatology Code is an absolutely fabulous introductory scenario for The Strange.

I’ve run it four times and the opening scene has immediately grabbed hold of the players, yanked them off their feet, and plunged them into a deep end of extreme excitement every single time. The rest of the scenario is a pleasant little mystery capped with a health dose of awesome.

As with Monte Cook’s Into the Violet Vale, I prepped a bunch of resources for the Eschatology Code while preparing to run it at GenCon this year. And now that this scenario, too, has been released to the public I’d like to share them with you so that you can use ‘em at your own table.

MISSION BRIEFING

Eschatology Code - Mission Briefing

(click here for PDF)

We’ll start with an ESTATES EYES ONLY briefing document. You can use this to pitch the scenario to your players. Or you can hand it to them as they arrive for the game.

(Note: DL1770 is an actual Delta flight that goes from Seattle to Sioux Falls to Minneapolis.)

GM CHEAT SHEET

Eschatology Code - GM Cheat Sheet

(click for PDF)

This cheat sheet should be fairly self-explanatory.

The OPENING SPIEL is a brief outline for introducing new players to both the rules and milieu of The Strange.

The DATE REFERENCE was designed to have the scenario dates land on the dates for GenCon when I first ran the adventure.

Most of the rest of the cheat sheet just consolidates the relevant stat blocks. However, I’ve also indicated where the appropriate HANDOUTS (see below) should be used. I’ve also added a few creepy details to flesh out the All Souls Church of Deliverance.

OTHER RESOURCES

In addition the mission briefing and master cheat sheet, I’ve also prepped these resources:

  • Cypher and Ability Cheat Sheets: These are designed to eliminate book look-ups for the pregenerated characters in the adventure. I’ve found that they save about 20-30 minuets of playing time, so their use greatly improves the pace of the scenario if you’re using Eschatology Code as  a one-shot for introducing people to the game.
  • PC Tent Cards: Once again featuring the pregen characters. I prep these and put them in the middle of the table. As people approach, they can select whichever character looks appealing to them and put the tent card in front of them. It’s a nice, quick way to facilitate character selection and also means that you (and other players) can quickly identify who’s playing who with a quick glance during play. These files are designed to be printed with Avery “Small Tent Cards” (template 5302), but you could also just print them on normal cardstock. What you need to do is take each A file and then flip it and print the matching B file. (Each sheet has four tent cards, so I’ve designed the three files so that I get two complete sets of character names if I print all three (to minimize wastage). If you just want one set, print sets 1 and 2 and you should be good to go.)
  • Eschatology Code Handouts: These include a blueprint reference for the 787 flight the PCs are on at the beginning of the scenario; an informational handout for the All Souls Church of Delivereance; and graphical handouts photoshopped from the scenario. (These graphical handouts are designed to be printed as 4 x 6 photos.)

 

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