This is the first of my dungeon23 entries about the Catacombs of the North Wind. For an introduction to the dungeon, see this post. I start with the journal where I am physically recording the dungeon, and then present a cleaned up, digitized version below. The lovely map was donated by Gus L, bless his heart. As usual, his illustration pushed me to imagine the area much more fully. His cartography has been a huge stimulus to my work in general.
I began using this journal during the early days of the pandemic. Those were hard days. I had to launch all of my classes remotely with only 1 weeks notice, constantly record lecture videos, and both my children were out of school. My wife was even more jammed with work than I was, since she is a union organizer who works with health care workers. Although I was working around the clock and providing full time childcare, I found that I had to do something creative by myself for 30 minutes every day or I found myself spinning out of control.
So I began this journal, where I recorded my thoughts, wrote down quotations from books I was reading, transcribed some blog posts and podcast snippets that caught my fancy. I had never done journalling before. I used collage, stapling or gluing wondrous things to the pages.
When life got easier, and I felt I no longer needed the journal, I stopped journalling. The large double graph paper pages make a perfect home for Dungeon23. I also love the idea of returning to this journal now, and filling the remaining pages with my dungeon materials. Here's the space for the introduction to the dungeon, which I haven't written yet. I decorated it with a very relevant clipping from Huargo's glorious White Jungle poster.
I have been working on it every night with my son, who is also pursuing a dungeon23 project (more on that another time). It tickles me that this is now a family activity. Here are pictures of the pages describing the first seven locations. I've been doing them in pencil for now (I may go over them with ink), so they're a little hard to read in the current photos.
Here is a clean, digitized version for your reading pleasure.
Below the Walls of Cusp
In the neighborhood of Cusp, the city begins to spill down a great incline to the north that eventually becomes too steep for homes. There is set the Wall of Cusp, a mad press of tall buildings, fused into a single retaining wall. Within this labyrinth, one finds the arcades of Cusp, the most famous of which is Kaleidoscope Alley, lit by colored pools of stained glass, channeled through lenses and mirrors.
In the Wall of Cusp is set the Gate of Remembrance, a wooden door carved with a single flapping sail. Its hinges are rusted shut, but a side door is sometimes used by old women who, stepping with sure feet, pick sea grass from amongst the rocks to deftly weave into rugs. Beyond the Gate of Remembrance a rocky scree begins, loose stones tumbling down to the Endless Azure Sea, punctuated by occasional ledges and escarpments from which sprout thickets of sea grass and desperately clinging scrawny trees.
Sights, Sounds, and Scents
: Scouring winds; the cry of nervous birds; faint smell of the sea.
1. The Headlong Stair
Beginning at the Gate of Remembrance in the Wall of Cusp, precipitous, it spills amidst a rocky scree. White marble veined sea-green, crumbling, submerged now and again by tumbled stone. Midway, a path of broken tiles, worn to faintest impression, winds on past a grove (2), towards a domed building (3). The stairs continue on to the seashore below (5).
2. Windblown Grove
Gnarled trees, silver leaved, windblown and bent. Six plots of sandy soil with flat stone slabs at their feet. From five of the six, worn monuments rise.
- A bow sprit, weather beaten to driftwood.
- A port hole of rusted purple metal, glass long gone.
- A peeling wooden nook made by an upright prow.
- A trio of corroded carillon bells hanging from a ruined frame.
- A statue of a maiden, its wooden features worn away by time.
Only desiccated traces of offerings remain on the slabs, excepting the empty plot, where a wilting bouquet and painted goose ceramic figurine are neatly placed.
3. The Doors of Euryphras
Atop a scarp, a square marble building, domed with tall double doors, all copper stained with verdigris. The dome is mottled white with droppings, the doors embossed with an elfin face, cheeks puffed, blowing a gust that billows down across both doors.
Two of the Knights Orchidium stand at guard, clad in white plate with a surcoat adorned with an eye weeping an indigo tear. Near stands their portglave, a youth bent under an arsenal of swords, morningstars, and crossbows. The knights remind those approaching that the king forbids trespass in the Catacombs of the North Wind and that entry hazards mischief from spirits of the air. For those who nonetheless insist, stepping back, they allow them to approach the doors.
When closed, the doors are under the elemental dominion of Euryphras, Scion Designate of the House of Squalls. Those stepping within 10’ are blasted by gale winds, tumbling like rag dolls towards the edge of the scarp (save vs. breath weapon or fall to area 4, taking 3d6 damage). Only those who have recently taken the Orchid Eucharist may approach safely and open the doors. The knights wear around their necks a vial filled with this mystical substance, a pearly liquid, sweet and refreshing.
Bribery attempts elicit a reaction roll. 10+ they are corrupt and will trade the eucharist for ½ the treasure on exit. 4- they attack. The knights will also attack in self-defense or to protect the doors and the structure from harm. In a fight, they will call the Kestreller in area 4 for help, who arrives with the giant kestrels in 1 round.
2 Knights Orchidium HD4 (24) AC3 Sword 1d8+2, Morningstar 1d8+2, Polearm 1d10+2, or Crossbow 1d8. Treasure: fine jewelry (200 gp) and 1 dose of the Orchid Eucharist each.
1 Portglave HD1 (4) AC8 Dam: Sword 1d8 or Crossbow 1d8.
4. Kestrel Roost
Improbably loud bird cries pierce the air. At an escarpment below area 3, two giant birds are tethered to wooden roosts. Their heads are grey, backs rust hued, with a creamy underbelly speckled black. They wear barding and double saddles.
The Kestreller wears a white lion mask. She will warn people away, for the birds become nervous at their approach, fluttering up on their tethers and crying out. She will allow people to proceed to area 5 or up to area 4 unmolested. The birds are among the last of their kind, and she is devoted to their care.
2 Giant Kestrels HD7 (35) AC4 Dam: Bite 1d10 + Claws 1d8 MV360/60 MR7 Special: On a hit with claws the Kestrel can, in lieu of dealing damage, grab someone, and on the subsequent round drop them from heights dealing 4d6 damage.
Kestreller HD5 (20) AC7 Dam: Bow 1d8 or Lance 1d10 Special: She can sing magical songs each 1 x per day. A calming lullaby: counters the first failed morale check of the birds. A protective canticle: shatters arrows targeting the bird she rides (as protection from normal missiles). The canticle remains in effect as long as she continues the song unbroken.
5. The Seashore
The stairs travel past a ruined tower with a shattered onion dome, its lower entrances now choked with rock and sand (7). At bottom, the scree levels off at a long and wide rocky ledge.
Wind crashes and hisses in the rocks. In the recesses amongst silver-barnacled stones, blue crabs scuttle past sable velvet sea stars, and tiny flying fish dart. Beyond the cliffs, the Endless Azure Sea, magisterial and dizzying, dotted by clouds like foam or soft woolen isles. A ways off the shore, out to sea a tiny archipelago floats.
Beneath the stairs, darkened recesses provide shelter from the winds of the beach. The remains of an old encampment are there: tattered blankets, a tarp the color of the rocky beach, and an old fire pit built from rock. In a rotting picnic basket, there are coils of rope, climbing spikes, and a rusted file and crowbar. A careful search reveals a phylactery hidden under a buckled tile: an antique silver lobster claw set in a leather circlet.*
At the back of the space, an old door, wood paneled with traces of golden paint, is warped shut. If forced it leads to an atrium with a spiral staircase leading up to an impassible door to the Ruined Pleasure Dome, the space beyond choked with rock and dirt.
*This item detects as magical. It was a ritual artifact used by the Nephroditic Children, a cult or secret society of the Sky Singers. However, it can be sold to any uncomprehending curio dealer for 200 gp.
6. The Cliff Face
Leaning over the edge, the heavens below appear as dappled fields of color glimpsed in murky depths. The red cliff face is scoured by a hissing wind. It is riddled with tiny holes, some large enough to serve as handholds, and is broken up by a few ledges where tufts of seaweed dance in the rough currents. Four gated apertures can be glimpsed spread across the cliff face below. Further down, the cliff angles inward and is lost to view.
Without a firmly anchored rope, climbing down requires a climb check (failure plummets one into the heavens below). Unless an arrangement has been reached, obvious attempts at climbing attract the Kestreller and Knights Orchidium astride the two giant kestrels (see 3 & 4) in 1 turn. They drive climbers away from the area, engaging those who refuse in combat, dropping foes into the heavens below without mercy.
Three of the gated apertures are roughly 60’ apart on the same level (50’ below the seashore). The apertures are 3’ wide and 4’ tall. They are blocked by thick metal bars, except for one which has been filed through and bent sufficiently for a child to pass through. The wind blows through them fiercely, whistling hauntingly in the hallways within. The lower half of the hallways is covered in blue glazed tile stamped with seashell patterns, the upper half and ceiling is of rough-hewn rock. Deeper, where the light becomes dim and shadowy, nooks sporting monstrous marble statuary is just visible, figures with leering elfin faces, bodies half human and half sea creature.
The fourth, lower (75’ below the seashore) aperture opens high into an opulent circular chamber, illuminated by the aquamarine light of a frosted glass globe, in which glowing forms like jellies swim. The walls are of molded plaster, chipped and flaking. At the bottom marble benches are arrayed around a tiled pool. At the back of the room, indistinct in shadow, there seems to be a large statue and an archway leading deeper.
Where the cliff declines, it descends 100’, before opening into a large cave that runs from 250-350’ below the seashore above. The cavern within is sheltered by the overhang, and the wind breaks against the shore rhythmically with a gentle crashing roar. The floor is covered in pink sand, smooth pebbles, and congeries of fantastical seashells. This is the Beach of Pink Sands in level 3 of the Catacombs.
7. Ruined Pleasure Dome
This gaudy tower rises crookedly from the rocky scree, its lower levels choked with stone and tumbled earth. A network of cracks run through every inch of its stone structure like an eggshell rapped against the sharp edge of a pot. The upper levels look basically intact, apart from the shattered glass onion dome at the very top. A colonnaded area is visible, as well as the space in the now open domed portion.
The upper levels are accessible by climbing from the base of the Headlong Stairs. The colonnaded portion is an open air overlook with a breathtaking view of the cloud spotted Azure Sea and the crescent-shaped floating archipelago offshore, with their wind bent trees, icy crystal ponds, and fantastical roosting birds. One also has a clear view from here of the Knights Orchidium before the Doors of Euryphras (3) and the Kestreller and her enormous birds (4).
The interior of the tower has been long stripped bare. It seems to have contained lodgings, and common areas, arrayed around a central stair. The upper dome is a roost of seagull now, covered in white guano over shattered glass and a ruined parquet floor. A careful looting in 6 turns reveals a few pieces of silverware (20 gp), a half-ruined carpet (10 gp), and a decorative mosaic that can be removed intact with care (35 gp).