Monday, June 3, 2024

Group Downtime Activities: Remembering the Dead



The system of downtime actions I created is individual by design, built as a counterbalance to OSR games where the action is focused relentlessly on cooperative exploration, so that characters might develop as individuals and chart their own path between adventures. (If you are unfamiliar, for an illustrative downtime activity, see here.) However, I have come to believe that it is desirable to incorporate some group downtime actions into this system in cases that involve the need for group buy-in or where the experience is inherently collective.

Group downtime activities differ from individual ones in that they require a quorum of at least 3 participating characters all of whom must spend their downtime action performing the group activity. If they are unable to form a quorum, then the action is not available. Having formed the quorum, in some cases each player rolls separately for the outcome of the action where the relationship to the group activity is more personal. In other cases, where the upshot is more collective, a single roll is made for the entire group. As usual, these rolls are 2d6, subject to a base modifier and a situational modifier with a result of 6- a failure, 7-9 a mixed result, and 10+ a success. What the follows is the first of several group downtime activities I have been working on. More to follow soon.

Remembering the Dead


Howard Pyle

To lose an adventuring companion is no easy thing, especially having shared many hazards and tight spots. Rites of remembrance give communal form to grief. They take many ritual forms from the bright dancing flames of a funeral pyre to the return of a corpse to the dark earth; from solemn visitations when sitting shiva to the boisterous celebrations of a wake. These rituals provide a way to commemorate and honor the dead so that the living may carry on without forsaking the memory of those who are gone.

All that is required for a humble rite of remembrance is the gathering of a few friends to share some memories over a libation, or a few words spoken before a hastily assembled cairn. But a proper rite of remembrance, befitting the individual’s achievements and stature in the community, respectfully planned and resourced, is more fitting for both the living and the dead. Thus, the base modifier is set by the collective expenditure on the funeral, which may come from any source.

Once the funds have be secured, the group should describe the rite of remembrance, where it occurs, according to what rituals, and which NPCs if any are invited. Before rolling each player character may opt to say some words commemorating their fallen comrade: sharing a memory of the character or saying something heartfelt about what they appreciated about them. This provides a further situational modiferOnce this is completed, each player rolls 2d6, adding the following modifiers:

Base Modifier


0         GP                     -1
250     GP x Level         + 0
500     GP x Level         +1
1000   GP x Level         +2

Situational Modifier: 


+1 for words commemorating the deceased character.

Results:


6-      No Closure: The rite of remembrance leaves you cold.
7-9    Mourning is Hard: Roll on the Memories table and take the Unresolved Mourning condition.
10+   The Dead Live On: Roll on the Memories table.

Memories (1d6)


  1. An Example to Us all: Gain XP equal to deceased character’s level x 200. 
  2. Unexpected Inheritance: The player of the deceased character may specify what remarkable item they have bequeathed to the living character. If no such item exists, the GM may invent one that no one knew the deceased character had.
  3. Carry on the Work: The player of the deceased character may specify which downtime project to bequeath to the living character, transferring the associated downtime tracker, but decreasing it by one step (to a minimum of 1). For example, the living character might pick up a relationship with one of the friends of the deceased, or acquire steps towards mastering a martial technique, skill, magical research, or spiritual exercise, or inherit an institution the deceased was building alone.
  4. Channel their Memory: Taking inspiration from the deceased, the living character can perform one extraordinary feat. The GM in collaboration with the player of the deceased character will devise a one-use power that is a tribute to the character’s achievements or endearing features. For example, if the character did some great fast talking, the one-use power might be used to persuade any NPC of one thing.
  5. Protection of the Dead: The character is watched over by the spirit of their fallen comrade who will intervene to a replace the results of any single roll with the best success possible (e.g. the highest roll on the die). The player may declare they are spending this one-use power after they see the results of this roll. There is no expiration on this power.
  6. Visitations: The character may declare that they have been visited by the dead, receiving vital information of a helpful nature in a dream. The GM will provide real, vital intelligence, of great help to the character on the topic they have selected, even if there is no way for living to know about it.

Unresolved Mourning

Mourning is messy. The rites of remembrance have stirred up unresolved feelings for your character. The GM and player should agree on the form this unresolved grief takes. Perhaps the character feels guilty about the death of their comrade, or angry at someone responsible, or are afraid of suffering a similar fate. The GM will determine what effect the condition of unresolved mourning has, drawing from the following list as examples.

  • Progress on one downtime tracker is stalled.
  • Use of one class power is impeded.
  • -4 on saving throws.

The GM will inform the player what adventuring goal they must achieve to remove the condition, such as getting revenge for the character’s death, or achieving some adventuring objective that would be meaningful for the character or somehow honor their memory.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Downtime: Home away from Home

 I had some more thoughts on downtime I wanted to share. But first, speaking of downtime, it was just announced that my supplement, Downtime in Zyan, is one of the winners of The Awards 2023! You can check out the full list of winners here. It’s an honor I share with my team. Downtime in Zyan is what it is thanks both to the meticulous layout of Lester B. Portley, and especially to Evlyn Moreau’s superb mole rat illustrations, without which the supplement would be a hollow shell. But back to the topic at hand.

My downtime system is designed to deliver various goods. It serves as an antidote to the relentlessly cooperative and world-focused character of OSR play by allowing PCs to develop some uniqueness and depth. It facilitates the pursuit of individual ends in addition to the collective ones. By not gating downtime behind name level play it allow players to pursue their dreams and leave their mark on the campaign world from early levels. It is also designed to be part of a virtuous circle with adventuring, so that downtime itself creates hooks and problems to be solved through adventuring, and adventuring creates the possibility of further downtime.

Last time I was talking about the problem of the transition in an OSR style campaign between the quick jaunts of early sessions, in and out of perilous adventure locales in 1 or 2 sessions, and the more ambitious many (4-8) session adventures that tend to organically arise starting at mid levels. The thought was that if you have reached the point in the campaign where players adventure for 4+ sessions, and you give players one downtime session every time they return to home base, downtime dwindles in significance. To keep players invested in downtime, I suggested calibrating downtime to the number of sessions adventuring, giving multiple downtimes when returning home after longer adventures.

This time I wanted to talk about a different trick you can use to allow downtime to work with longer jaunts into dangerous territory. The setup I’m thinking of here is one where there is a homebase that is safe where downtime usually happens and most or all adventuring happens in some perilous terra incognita, a hostile area to be explored that lies in some sense “outside” the homebase. A classic example would be a megadungeon, where there is a “town”, and all (or most) adventuring happens in the exploration of the hostile subterranean dungeon. Other examples might include a West Marches style wilderness crawl with a town on the edge of some howling wilderness, or what is on the other side of a certain printmaker’s door in the waking world. In these cases, to penetrate deeper you must often travel further and further from home base, which in turn leads to longer adventures.

One way to limit this problem is to create discoverable shortcuts, e.g. secret doors, hidden elevators in a dungeon, or secret entrances that lead directly into deeper levels. But another way to handle it and keep downtime going is to establish possible basecamps where downtime can happen that also serve as staging areas for deeper exploration. These are, in essence, a home away from home. I’ve been thinking a lot about what you need to do to make this option sing.

Introducing a second space for downtime is a delicate balance. If you design the basecamp so that it provides everything the homebase does, and it is more conveniently located, then your basecamp will predicatably become the campaign’s new homebase. While I think it’s great if this arises organically, I don’t think you want to design the basecamp to force that decision. The biggest problem is that many downtime activities are tied to a location and so not transferable, particularly two of the most important: cultivating relationships and building institutions. It’s unfortunately when some PCs have been sinking time and resources into building something special back at the original homebase and the GM more or less mandates that downtime play shifts to a new arena.

My way of handling this problem is to treat basecamps as scaled down version that presents a smaller world of possibilities than homebases. What you want is enough for people to become invested and pursue downtime while on larger expeditions, while also welcoming the eventual return home to the original homebase.

In fact, there is a spectrum here. At one end, you might have locations in the dungeon or wilderness that offer primarily a single unique downtime action. A couple of options to incorporate in a dungeon might include:

  • A perpetual feast of viking ghosts in a Valhalla style mead hall that one can join for spectral revelry

  • A dungeon library, manned by demonic librarians, where can research the kinds of mysteries found in lower levels of the dungeon.

  • An efreet smithy who uses elemental fires to craft splendid weapons for visitors who can pay his price.

This designs a foothold, a stopover where some may want to do the main downtime action, and others might do an alternative one, like engaging in martial training with a drunken viking ghost, or cultivating a relationship with a demonic librarian, without there being much staying power to the location. At the other end, there are basecamps proper that have real opportunity to build something lasting. How can you build a proper basecamp?

The answer is that you should employ the same techniques you use to build an original homebase, which I talk about at the end of Downtime in Zyan, but give it a more limited and small scale flavor. In brief, since my system of downtime generates problems and adventure hooks with many mixed success rolls it also needs to be a space rife with factions, rival institutions, patrons, in short people with desires and an a potential interest in the PCs adventuring in.the unknown. If we just look at the core of my location specific downtime activities we can see some features we’ll need:

  • Build an institution: There should be some pre-existing institutions, including perhaps rivalries, along with space for building new institutions.

  • Cultivate a relationships and Gather Intelligence: There should be interesting NPCs, who have some tensions, and who may want various things that adventurers could provide through adventure, who have access to a rumor mill, and who may be interested in serving as adventuring companions.

  • Revelry: There should be some possibilities for debauches to blow off steam.

Others downtime actions are either more player driven, or seem more optional, but potential sources of fun might be to include some NPCs that have skills to teach, or some warriors who can engage in martial training, or some special site for spiritual exercises, or a trove of information to engage in research.

To really make a basecamp sing, I think you also need a new version of a campaign events table might used for a homebase, but geared towards the specific nature of the basecamp.


An Example: The Hanging Merchants


Illustration of the Hanging Merchants by Michael Raston


The most developed example from my 3 dreamlands campaigns are the hanging merchants, which is right outside the harbor near the Great Falls of the sewer river mentioned in issue 3 Through Ultan’s Door. I discussed a very early iteration of them on my blog here. (They will appear in a more developed form in the first issue of Through Ultan’s Door that takes us into the White Jungle. I’m not totally sure what number that will be.) The basic setup is this. When the Zyanese still traveled the White Jungle, the hanging merchants were a carnival like attraction for visitors to take a day trip down the sewer river to see the sewer falls and get a little taste of the white jungle. It also served as a staging ground for safaris and travel to the jungle manses of the aristocrats. The idea is that no one goes into the White Jungle anymore, and the platforms are now ruined and abandoned except for four merchants.

Each of the four merchants specializes in a different sort of goods. Two of the are over-merchants, from wealthy houses. Each of these over-merchants is locked in bitter rivalry with the other, and each is beholden to a powerful rival jungle patron who will seek the service of any party that uses the area as a basecamp. There are also two under-merchants, with much humbler shops, whom the over merchants look down upon. Finally, there are the Sons and Daughters of the Vigilant Watcher, a mercenary house that the merchants pay to provide protection against jungle incursion and river piracy.

I model the four merchants as four separate rival institutions the players can choose to bolster. (Certainly the Sons and Daughters taken together as a mercenary house are also an institution.) There is also the possibility of trying to open a fifth shop, or more grandly, of trying to restore the platforms of the hanging merchants to their earlier splendor by fixing the place up and attracting visitors. (Each of these two projects was pursued by in separate campaigns by players: one group tried to build up one of the under-merchants, and the other took on the task of restoring the whole place to its former grandeur.) Furthermore there are plenty of NPCs to befriend here, as well as sources of information. Since the Over-merchant are eager to host lavish parties there is the opportunity for revelry as well, and since each under-merchant has a specialty in respectively jungle botany and animal husbandry, there are skills that can be learned as well. 

 The campaign events for this basecamp includes special goods coming in to the merchants, restocks of sold wears, visitors to the platforms of the merchants from Zyan above, stranger visitors from the jungle below, a couple of jungle related events, and so on.

In short, if you’re doing the kind of campaign where you have a fixed homebase, with all adventuring happening in hostile terrain, consider introducing one or more footholds where downtime can be pursued in the deeper areas of exploration. This can provide variety and keep downtime relevant as the campaign often pushes further from homebase.  

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Further Thoughts on Downtime and the Campaign Arc

 

Art by Evlyn Moreau

I have been using my downtime system, published in Downtime in Zyan and originally presented across this blog here, for my face to face dreamlands campaign. This is a game with a stable group of 4 players rather than a bigger open table game. Over this campaign and my previous one, which also have shrunk to a 4 or 5 person group of stable players at the higher levels, I've discovered a tendency that undermines the use of downtime over time. I think it's a tendency that arises in games where the initial default at low levels is short jaunts to perilous adventuring locations--getting into and out of a dungeon in one or two sessions. In that context downtime as I've designed it works very well. 

On my system, each character gets one downtime action between adventures from a large menu of freeform options. It involves a 2d6 roll with base and situational modifiers. Generally, there's a tracker with a certain number of steps to complete the project. A 7-9 is a mixed result that often requires one to adventure to make progress or eliminate an obstacle. A 10+ is a straightforward success. The general idea is that in a game relentlessly focused on cooperative play, this allows player characters to pursue their individual dreams and leave their mark on the campaign world. 

In online games I handled downtime actions in discord between sessions. This was fun, because you could prep and go deep with downtime, dropping tons of lore or colorful NPCs. But sometimes it was hard to corral people to do downtime between sessions, and I very often found myself failing to "do my DM homework", which sucked the air out of downtime. In face to face games I've found it works better to resolve downtime at the start of a session in about 30 minutes at the table without much prep on my part. 

Here's how I start that 30 minute period. I have a system of tables for campaign events, along with some clocks that get triggered by past player actions. So I start by telling them the campaign news to give them something to react to if they want to, which every once in a while includes a threat that needs to be dealt with in downtime or the opportunity to perform time-sensitive downtime actions. Then I remind each player of all the downtime actions they had going in the past. Without keeping notes about this and reminding them what they've been doing, I find that they leave a ton of loose threads and have trouble remembering what they had going. This really diminishes the significance of downtime. But with a little reminder of what they've been up to in the past this problem vanishes.

I then move around the table to have them declare downtime actions. I then begin resolving the actions. I find that I weave between different players as they resolve the actions, switching the spotlight at dramatic moments. They often advise one another or make creative contributions along the way, so people stay pretty engaged. This makes for a very dynamic 30 minutes that players look forward to as a reward between adventures. But the main point is that it doesn't involve very much homework for me at all. Sometimes I think for about 15 or 30 minutes before the game about it, but sometimes I don't think about it at all. Everyone understands that it's more freeform and improvisational than the sessions we're running, and I think they like that rhythm of the more structured adventures and the more improvisational downtime. 

The problem I've identified is that as the party rises in level, and gets invested in the campaign world, they start going on longer and longer adventures. What was once one or two sessions in the dungeon becomes six or seven sessions of hex crawling, or city crawling, or hopping between three different adventure locations to accomplish some multi-part mission. I could try to stop this but I wouldn't want to because it feels organic and allows us to play a deeper game driven by more ambitious player objectives. This means that downtime diminishes in significance to a nearly vanishing point since it happens so rarely. People feel disconnected from their projects, which feel impossible to finish anyway. Downtime decreases in importance precisely at the point where it should matter the most, when the player characters become increasingly invested in the campaign world, and ought to care the most about accomplishing self-invented projects. 

My new solution to this problem is to grant the party multiple downtime actions after a longer adventure. The thin rationale is that if an adventure takes 4 or more sessions to complete, then the characters need a longer break and may take an extra downtime action. (This is related to an earlier idea I had about using downtime to model a campaign hiatus, discussed here.) I've found this solves the problem. The difference between 1 and 2 downtime actions is noticeable in play. It allows each character to pursue two different dreams at once, or to suddenly make a lot of progress on one project. Each downtime feels like a big deal. Given that downtime is happening less often, I think it really helps to keep them invested in the downtime phase. When they've just come back from a six or seven session adventure, it also creates a lovely feeling that we're closing one chapter and opening another. In an anarchic game that is a player driven sandbox without narrative arcs or discrete planned chapters, this is a nice organic substitute. 

Monday, October 30, 2023

Into the Megadungeon, Halloween Special Episode 07 "Literally Possessed by a Demon"


 In this special Halloween episode, I interview Miranda Elkins about her long-running Nightwick Abbey campaign--a dungeon literally possessed by a demon! We talk about the secrets of successful restocking, the importance of theme to an adventure location, and how to use geomorphs to craft your dungeon map. We also talk about how to run a horror themed dungeon by externalizing psychology and making metaphors literal. Without further ado, I present the episode on your platform of choice:

Episode 07 “Literally Possessed by a Demon” on Spotify here.

Episode 07 “Literally Possessed by a Demon” on Apple Podcasts here.

Episode 07 “Literally Possessed by a Demon” on Podcast Addict here.

Episode 07 “Literally Possessed by a Demon” on Overcast here.

Episode 07 “Literally Possessed by a Demon” on Pocket Casts here.

Episode 07 “Literally Possessed by a Demon” on Google Podcasts here.

You can read a transcript of the interview here

Reader’s Notes

In Places Deep: The Blog

Miranda is the author of a very long-running, wonderful blog In Places Deep. You can check it out here. Here are some helpful things from the blog, as well as posts we mention in the episode:

  • You can find a post with an overview of Nightwick Abbey here.

  • You can find Miranda’s post about the importance of theme in megadungeon creation that I refer to here.

  • You can find Miranda’s fantastic post about the GM as a Shuteye here.

In Places Deep: The Patreon

But the best news of all is that if you want full access to the complete geomorphs of the first three levels of Nightwick Abbey, along with the bestiary of hellish creatures, Miranda’s stocking procedures, and so much more, Patreon is the place to go. You literally can find everything you need to run a Nightwick Abbey today here.

Nightwick Abbey: Appendix N

Miranda first wrote about the Appendix N for Nightwick Abbey here.

Rose Red

She refers in the episode to the miniseries Rose Red, which was an inspiration for the living, changing character of the abbey. She’s written about that here. In the Halloween spirit, check out the trailer:

https://youtu.be/gyoTNUtInRM



Van Helsing and Hammer Horror

Miranda also refers to the influence of Van Helsing on Dave Arneson and the cleric class of OD&D. James Maliszewski (of Episode 01 fame) wrote about that influence here. Here is a glorious trailer of The Horror of Dracula with Peter Cushing as Van Helsing:



As Above So Below

Finally, Miranda when discussing the way horror externalizes our psychology, including rendering our anxieties and fears incarnate, she refers to the movie As Above so Below not as the world’s best movie, but as a clear example of what she’s talking about:


A Gentle Reminder in Closing

I hope you, dear friends of the podcast, have a Happy Halloween! Remember that the only proper response if a little goblin asks you “trick or treat” on this cursed holiday is to reply with genuine fear in your voice “TREAT, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD,. PLEASE, A TREAT!” along with a generous helping of the most select candies.

Art by Gus L


Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Naugomancy (Wreckcraft)

 I’m very excited for the upcoming Halloween Special episode of Into the Megadungeon, “Literally From Hell”, where I interview Miranda Elkins about her long running Nightwick Abbey campaign. To tide you over, here is a Halloween season installment of Missives Beyond the Veil of Sleep, presenting you with original never before seen dreamlands material, including a very black magic indeed, naugomancy a sort of naval necromancy. This material is intended to be background for 2 of the factions found on level 1 of the Catacombs of the North Wind, the Starlings and the Society of the Rusted Anchor, but it also gives you a further glimpse into some of the history of Zyan, the setting detailed in my zine Through Ultan’s Door.

Kai Nielsen


The Three Magics of the Sky Singers

The Sky Singers, ancestors of the Zyanese, were nomadic sailors of the Endless Azure Sea. They certainly practiced the sorcerous arts common to mortal Wishery, imported from the heavens below through pillage and exchange. The powers of the magicians at court in latter day Zyan mostly derive from these sources, as do the antique arts through which Zyanese shades were bound to service. But three magics were the invention of the Sky Singers, native to their peripatetic flying fleet.

High Song

The officers of all the vessels, and the crews of the great flagships, practiced the magic of high song. The endless canticle of the mizzen watch kept the ship aloft by resonating with the lyric stones distributed throughout the vessel. By altering their pitch and volume they could raise and lower a ship or tilt it fore or aft as needs might be for dainty maneuvers.

But this was only the beginning of the enchantments they could weave by clothing in sonic flesh the mystical runes of High Song, which were, according to their self-congratulatory lore, key to the secret harmonics of inmost reality. Through such song they could shatter missiles sent against their ships or weave harmonies of protection anathema to the spirits of the air; the aching clarions of the most powerful of the sky singers beckoned thunder, rumbling like percussion, and bolts, cracking like a sudden movement of violins, to sear the flesh of their enemies. 

High Song lives on through the houses that descend from the officers of the fleet. It is the source of the magic of the Guides, who are taught fragments of this ancient art through secret initiation into their hero cults. The historical memory of High Song lives on as well in the opera of Zyan, which vies with gamesmything and candymaking for the title of queen of the arts. The passion for musical theater in the higher families, the elevation of the honorifics attached to voice, the pomp and circumstance of the costumes, the elaborate names of the different movements and singing roles—all this is shaped by the patrimony of High Song.

Low Song

The Low Song belonged to the folk ways of the crew and those too young or old to serve. The magic of its song pervaded their ditties, lullabies, hymns, and folk dances. To say it was taught, although true, is misleading; for so much was it woven into the course of ordinary life that a child of the Sky Singers learned it as one learns to speak, without being able to say when, as light dawns slowly over the whole at daybreak. Through Low Song they tied knots and mended broken lines from afar through this humble song they removed the pangs of a hangover and brought warmth to stiff fingers in the chill winds of a crow’s nest. With it, they blessed a newly married couple and bestowed sea legs on a toddler with her first drunken steps.

Low Song lives on in the traditions of hedge magic, midwifery, and lay divination passed down among the lower families. The whistling magic of the Starlings, one of the many gangs of Zyan, is a debased form of Low Song. (More on the Starlings another time.) Low Song lives on as well in a thousand humble practices, in superstitious songs to banish fear when whistling winds creak in the eves, in the sing-song lilt of the accents of Volish Hill, and in the more popular bawdy musical forms of Turnabout and Gutter.

Naugomancy (Wreckcraft)

Unlike such voluable public enchantments, naugomancy—or wreckcraft as it was more commonly known—was practiced in silent secrecy. Once exposed, its practitioners were sentenced castaways under Zyanese maritime law, the scruples of which, it must be admitted, were set aside when practitioners were of use or the scions of officers. The naugomancer’s art was hated by all living ships, which could smell the stink of it about them. Those who escaped the long arm of maritime law often met their end by vigilante justice through freakish accidents at sea, tumbling to their death as the ship suddenly listed while they peered over a rail, or decapitated by a snapped cable in a high wind that conveniently coiled about their necks.

If we might spy them about their art, we might notice the naugomancer furtively slip from the fleet in a catamaran, under cover of the constant coming and going of fishermen, lovers seeking privacy, and scrouts. Once far enough off, we would see the little vessel turn toward discretely towards a grave of ships, vessels tossed by the stormy currents of the Endless Azure Sea or gleefully led by the spirits of the air to their final ruin. Disembarking, we would see the naugomancer flitting about, picking from among the wrecks. Their gaze alighting on a particularly splendid vessel, torn and cracked, they might laugh with delight, the breath quickening as the light of their lantern falls upon the visage of the figurehead of this once noble vessel. Quick to work he goes, with a saw and ropes in hand, breaking free the figurehead, wrapping it in burlap sack and hauling it back with great effort to his ship. Back to the fleet he goes. Watch under cover of night as he moves figurehead to somewhere dark and out of the way, a stinking bilge most likely. There he begins the work of wreckcraft in earnest.

To understand what happens next, you must know that in noble ships like that from which the figurehead was taken, the spark of life is implanted by the art of its shipwright, slumbering until kindled one day into true soul by remarkable events shared with its crew. When wrecked, the crew broken and destroyed, the spark of life departs and the ship dies. But this is only a prelude.

Waist deep in the bilgewater, watch as our naugomancer first binds the figurehead with symbolic shackles, perhaps tethering it to a single rusted anchor. Then, lit by floating candles, air thick with incense, the members of his cabal enter one by one. Hear their chanting as our naugomancer awakens the ship’s spirit from its final slumber with words of power, ensouling by force the masthead with a wretched half-life.

Waking to this dolorous condition, the ship is confused and weakened. Watch as he applies merciless torments, setting the masthead with a crown of metal thorns, or draping it in boring worms, or setting it ablaze and extinguishing it again and again, until blood runs like red tears down the figurehead's face. Hear the laughter of the cultists as they mock it in its suffering. It is then that the naugomancer comes close, whispering in its ears offers of sweet succor if only it will serve. If he knows enough about its history, he may provide further inducements—temptations—tailored shrewdly to its unique desires, to settle an old score, or return a lost treasure, or the like. When the vessel, broken and corrupted, consents at last to serve, the ordeal is ended and the bond is formed. Henceforth, we may see our naugomancer manifest spectral emanations of the dead ship. Witness him as he works his strange borrowed miracles through wreckcraft!

Spectral Emanations of the Ship

The ritual bond with a dead ship is intimate and the naugomancer can have only one such bond at a time. To bind a new ship, they must release the old one. How many emanations they master depends on the majesty of the bound vessel. This majesty does not always strictly correlate with size, although certainly the most potent ships of the Sky Singers were the flagships. 

Nobility I: 1 Minor Emanation

Nobility II: 2 Minor Emanations

Nobility III: 2 Minor Emanations, 1 Major Emanations

Nobility IV: 3 Minor Emanations, 2 Major Emanations

Nobility V: 3 Minor Emanations, 2 Major Emanations, 1 Majestic Emanations

Nobility VI: 4 Minor Emanations, 3 Major Emanations, 2 Majestic Emanations

Nobility VII : All Minor, Major, and Majestic Emanations, 1 Unique Emanation


Minor Emanations

Creaking Ward

Once per day the naugomancer may imbue up to 50’ square feet with the auditory effects of the bound ship’s creaking decks. Anyone stepping on this area of floor sets off a loud spectral creaking that alerts anyone within earshot of their presence. This effect lasts until the naugomancer dispels it.

Swinging Boom

Once per day, the naugomancer may summon a ghostly swinging boom. It extends 15’ from a point up to 120’ away and swings in a circular motion. Anyone in the path must save vs. wands or suffer 2d6 damage and be knocked prone.

Spectral Crew

Once per day, the naugomancer may manifest indistinct spectral sights and sounds of the crew in its operation to up to 2d6 bewitched individuals within 120’. The murmuring of the crew, distant shanties, indistinct lights or moving figures, the creaking of ropes, the feeling of a chill sea wind. These appear always at the edge of their perception and may function as a willow the wisp to draw them in a direction he controls, or perhaps to deter them from a course by striking fear into their hearts.  

Bitter End

Once per day, the naugomancer may choose a target within 120. They save vs. magic or are tethered with a spectral rope attached to a ghostly bollard on any surface within 5’ of the individual. This rope does not restrict their action but keeps stuck to one 5’ square. It lasts until the naugomancer moves out of range or breaks the enchantment.

Major Emanations

Possess Figurehead

Once per week, the naugomancer can cause the bound ship to inhabit another figurehead. This figurehead will serve the naugomancer for up to 12 turns, following all spoken commands. Possessed Figurehead AC 7 [12], HD Nobility Level, Att 2 fists

(2d6), THAC0 15 [+4], MV 90’ (30’), SV D10 W11 P12 B13 S14 (4), ML 12 Special: Takes double damage from fire.

Spectral Rigging

Once per day, the naugomancer can summon spectral rigging from the vessel that can be used to bind individuals within an area, as an entangle spell. Alternately, it can be used a climbing surface that allows one to climb upwards 60’ or swing up to 60’ feet.

Wake

Once per day, the naugomancer may summon a ghostly ship’s prow that moves ahead 60’ in a straight line beginning from the naugomancer. Anyone in the path must save vs. breathweapon or suffer 3d6 damage. Those within 20’ of either side of the line the prow passes through must save vs. breath weapon or be shoved by a showckwave of air as though pushed perpendicular to the line traveled by the prow by a gust of wind spell.

Reminisce

Once per week, the naugomancer may speak with the ship about its history. Treat this as a non-magical research downtime action that can reveal anything that had to do with the ship, including all events its undergone, places its visited, details about the crew on the ship, and so on. (Note to the GM: be generous—if it could reasonably be imagined as something the ship might remember, the research is legitimate.)

Majestic Emanations

Summon Figurehead

One per week, the naugomancer may summon the figurehead of the bond wreck to serve him for up to 12 turns. The figurehead will follow all spoken orders. If the figurehead is destroyed the bond with the ship is broken. Summoned Figurehead AC 5 [14], HD Nobility Level x 2, Att 2 fists (3d6), THAC0 12 [+7], MV 90’ (30’), SV D10 W11 P12 B13 S14 (4), ML 12. Special: Takes double damage from fire.

Velical Point

Once per day for a number of rounds equal to the bound ship’s nobility, the naugomancer may gain control over the ship’s velical point, the imaginary center of buoyancy of the vessel, placing it on the tip of their finger. The velical point is attached to a 60’ circle at a range of up to 120’. By moving the velical point the naugomancer causes everything on the surface of the floor within the area to react as though the floor beneath it is pitching. Each round he may cause everything on the surface to slide in any direction on the floor, perhaps pinning or crushing people if there are heavy enough objects or slamming them against walls, save vs. breath weapon or take 3d6 damage. He may also gyrate the whole area wildly, causing everyone effected to save vs. breath weapon or lose the next round of action to dizziness and vomiting.

Fusilade

Once per day, the naugamancer may deploy a spectral version of the bound wreck’s main weapon. Treat as a single volley of cannon fire striking foes in a 60’ square up to 240’ away for 6d6 save vs. breath weapons for ½ damage.  

Secrets of the Sea

Once per week, the naugamancer may control the bound wreck’s spirit as it roams the Endless Azure Sea. Treat this as a non-magical research roll about any desired location in the Endless Azure Sea. If the naugamancer simply wishes to follow the spirit wherever it goes, then the GM may provide a hook or possible adventure location in the Endless Azure Sea to the player.

Unique Emanations

Unique emanations are special to the vessel that is bound. Those vessels of the highest nobility were artifacts of tremendous power, with remarkable abilities. Unique emanations give the naugamancer control of a spectral version of the main power of the bound vessel. Generally this power will be usable once per week, and should be significantly stronger than majestic emanations.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Audio Fixed




This morning when I sent out Episode 6 of Into the Megadungeon, the audio for the episode was broken. As soon as this was pointed out to me I reuploaded a fixed version, but it took a couple of hours to refresh across the various platforms. Furthermore, I’ve found that if you have started playing the episode previously, it can be hard to force your platform to refresh to the updated audio.


In Spotify, for example, I could only make it work by running it through a web browser. On Apple I was only able to do it by unsubscribing to the podcast and resubscribing to it. And so on. In short, if you started listening to the broken version of the episode on your platform of choice. You may need to either switch to a different platform, or force your platform to update in order to listen to the episode. My sincerest apologies!

Here are links to the episode on a variety of platforms that all should work—at least if you come at them fresh or manage to force the platform to reload the episode you started earlier with whatever tech savvy you can muster. It’s a great interview with Luke Grearing, so I hope you are able to find your way to it by one path or another. (For all I know, the various apps do eventually update on their own, even if you've begun listening to the episode.)


Episode 6 “A Malignant Presence” on Spotify here.

Episode 6 “A Malignant Presence” on Apple Podcasts here.

Episode 6 “A Malignant Presence” on Podcast Addict here.

Episode 6 “A Malignant Presence” on Overcast here.

Episode 6 “A Malignant Presence” on Pocket Casts here.

Episode 6 “A Malignant Presence” on Google Podcasts here

Into the Megadungeon Episode 06 "A Malignant Presence"


I’m very excited to present the first of two blood curdling October episodes of the podcast. In this episode I take us into the megadungeon to interview Luke Gearing about his weekly lunchtime megadungeon campaign Rutghast, as well as his published sci-fi horror megadungeon Gradient Descent. We talk about why the dungeon is more fun if every creature is an NPC, how random stocking produces interesting results, and why empty rooms matter. We also talk about how science horror gaming differs other genres at the table, and how Gradient Descent personifies the dungeon itself as a malignant presence that haunts the player and not just their characters.


When I first published Episode 6 of Into the Megadungeon, the audio for the episode was broken. As soon as this was pointed out to me I reuploaded a fixed version, but it took a couple of hours to refresh across the various platforms. Furthermore, I’ve found that if you have started playing the episode previously, it can be hard to force your platform to refresh to the updated audio.

In Spotify, for example, I could only make it work by running it through a web browser. On Apple I was only able to do it by unsubscribing to the podcast and resubscribing to it. And so on. In short, if you started listening to the broken version of the episode on your platform of choice. You may need to either switch to a different platform, or force your platform to update in order to listen to the episode. My sincerest apologies!

Here are links to the episode on a variety of platforms that all should work—at least if you come at them fresh or manage to force the platform to reload the episode you started earlier with whatever tech savvy you can muster. It’s a great interview with Luke Grearing, so I hope you are able to find your way to it by one path or another. (For all I know, the various apps do eventually update on their own, even if you've begun listening to the episode.)

Episode 6 “A Malignant Presence” on Spotify here.

Episode 6 “A Malignant Presence” on Apple Podcasts here.

Episode 6 “A Malignant Presence” on Podcast Addict here.

Episode 6 “A Malignant Presence” on Overcast here.

Episode 6 “A Malignant Presence” on Pocket Casts here.

Episode 6 “A Malignant Presence” on Google Podcasts here.

Reader’s Notes

You can find Luke's blog ⁠here⁠, which is just chock full of useful things and wonderful creations of his remarkable digital pen.


Luke refers to two retro-clones or OSR rulesets. You can find Delving Deeper an(other) OD&D retroclone from which Luke quotes the random stocking procedures ⁠⁠here⁠⁠.


He also refers to Zarkov Kowolski's Neo-Classical Greek Revival, which has the innovative rule about increasing XP for each dungeon room explored. You can find it ⁠⁠here⁠⁠.




You can pre-order Sean McCoy's Warden's Operation Manual ⁠here⁠, which Luke mentions as the source of the simple but brilliant “ongoing concerns” campaign notebook page.


And, of course, you can find Gradient Descent ⁠here⁠.



You can access a transcript of this episode ⁠here⁠.