Sunday, August 27, 2017

Dungeonless OSR Gameplay: Selling Occult Information as Generic Quests

Artist Unknown

So I think that the mechanic of a characters gaining XP for treasure collected inside of a dungeon are fantastic for numerous reasons. The majority of resource management within OSR games is based on the principle and all serve to mechanically incentivize the thematic elements of entering dangerous holes in the ground to become wealthy. I would even claim that it is as central of a component as modifying a d20 roll with bonuses or penalties in order to resolve character action for OSR games.

All that being said I still think that OSR game systems provide an incredibly resilient and robust method for running games and I don't think you would even really need dungeons for it to work. As far as I know, most OSR games function as either a series of dungeoncrawls or hexcrawls. This is one of the things that make them so thematically distinct from other "RPGs". While you can have intrigue and quests in OSR systems there are mechanical gaps in doing so. I think that one of the many reasons that they are so prevalent in other RPG systems which focus on a more narrative approach such as World of Darkness or Apocalypse World. Those game systems are designed with those objectives in mind and likely are able to mechanically incentivize their thematic elements so well because of that approach. 

I don't think that a complete reworking of most OSR mechanics is necessary to achieve the ability to run games with a focus on quests or intrigue. Instead one can simply integrate those two elements to the central mechanic of a character gaining XP for treasure collected by converting quests and intrigue into treasure. One of my favorite videogames is Sunless Sea for a variety of reasons, chief of which is the way the game mechanically reinforces thematic elements central to gameplay. The game has a type of item which is referred to as "curiosities", unlike fuel and supplies these items represent meta objects such as secrets or knowledge. I've seen a few blogs bring up the idea of secrets and knowledge as treasure which may be sold to others, and I think that may be a way to seamlessly integrate intrigue into the general OSR XP gain mechanic. While it may be a minor paradigm shift for players to understand the value of hidden information which may be sold for wealth or leveraged over others in order to achieve something. 

By giving players access to information brokers to whom they can sell secrets, a referee would create incentive for players to focus on the secrets and mysteries of a setting at relatively low effort. When creating NPC's or Dungeons a referee implicitly makes two sets of information. One known to the majority of people and one not known to many. People may know that there is a dungeon hidden in the swamp, but likely the majority do not know that there is valuable treasure inside or the tomb of an ancient warrior. Similarly, many may know that the chief of a tribe is named Mark but few may know that he is the bastard child of the emperor and would make a viable replacement to the current despot. I feel I've explained this concept adequately.

Generic Quests as Items Sold by Characters

The following table lists items which may be sold to information brokers or specialists and allow characters to gain XP as if they had gotten treasure from a dungeon. 

Terrain Map25 silver per 5 hexes mapped outCartographer Guild
Monster's Head10 silver per HD over 3Wizard College/King
Outlaw's Head5 silver per HDSheriff
Dungeon Map5 silver per 10 rooms mapped outAdventurers
Dungeon Histography100 silver per level past 2Historian
SecretVaries (1d6 * 1d6 * 5?)Information Brokers
Secret Spell Scrolls20 per spell levelWizards
State SecretsVaries (1d8 * 1d8 * 10?)Spies
Rare Ingredients Varies (1d4 * 1d4 * 6?)Pharmacists/Chefs
Tokens of FriendshipVaries (1d6 * 1d6 * 5?)Kings/Jarls/Chiefs

By allowing the characters to sell the following items you may incentivize different things. Terrain Maps would incentivize exploration in hex crawls. Monster or Outlaw heads would incentivize characters to confront foes. Dungeon Maps and Histographies would incentivize exploration of dungeons. Secret Spell Scrolls would incentivize robbing wizards. State secrets would incentivize espionage. Rare ingredients and Tokens of Friendship would incentivize exploration of possibly dangerous places by creating alternative "treasures". Rather than having a figure giving the characters a quest they would instead choose to attempt to get the quest objectives on their own. Ideally, this would provide characters internal motivation to do the quests for their own sake. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Dungeon Construction and Stocking in Around 20 Minutes

Hopefully this can help you quickly make dungeons, if something doesn't seem to make sense to you or doesn't necessary fit the theme or tone of your game you can simply change it. Proof of Concept here


1d6 Cumulative Dungeon Layout Table

1Level 1a: 2d4+1 Rooms + Entrance
2Level 1b: 1d4+1 Rooms
3Level 1c: Secret Door to 1d4+1 Rooms
4Level 2a: 1d4+1 Rooms + Visible Stairs from Level 1a to Level 2
5Level 2b: 1d4 Rooms + Secret Stairs from Level 1b to Level 2
6 Level 3a: 1d4+1 Rooms + Visible Stairs from Level 2 to Level 3

Explanation: You roll a 1d6 which determines the contents of the Dungeon. If you have happened to roll a 4 for this dungeon it would then have 2 levels. The first would have 2d4+1d4+1 Rooms (Levels 1a and 1b), 1d4 Rooms hidden by a secret door (Level 1c), and 1 set of stairs going down. The second would have 1d4+1 Rooms (Level 2a).

Now, nothing says that Levels 2 and 3 have to be below Level 1. In theory they can be above Level 1 and the overall complex can be a ziggurat or tower ascending upwards.

Layout of Rooms

Level 1a

Imagine the possible layout of the 2d4+1 rooms as a 3x3 matrix. Each room is connected horizontally and then each row is connected by a single vertical pathway.

Level 1b

Imagine the possible layout of the 1d4+1 rooms as a cross. The Level 1b complex is then connected to the Level 1a complex by two random pathways.

Level 1c

Arranged as Level 1b but is only connected to the Level 1a complex by a single pathway from a hidden door.

Level 2a and Level 2b

If there are both Level 2a and 2b then Level 2 as a whole is arranged as Level 1a. Otherwise Level 2a is arranged as Level 1b.

Visible Stairs: A single Room on Level 1 that connects to 3 other rooms contains stairs which descend to Room 1 of Level 2.
Secret Stairs: A random Room on level 1 contains stairs which descend to a random Room on level 2.

Level 3a

Arranged as Level 1b and with visible stairs as previously explained in Level 2.

Example Dungeon: On rolling a 6 on the Cumulative Dungeon Layout Table

So the Dungeon has each part with the following number of rooms
Level 1a 2d4+1 possible, rolled a 4

Level 1b 1d4+1 possible, rolled a 4
Level 1c 1d4+1 possible, rolled a 2

Level 2a + Level 2b 2d4+1 possible, rolled a 6
Level 3a 1d4+1 possible 1d4+1 rolled a 4

Author's Notes: Our example dungeon looks like this


The Deepest Level of the Dungeon has a single room which serves as the prime function of the dungeon.

Prime Function Table


Tomb Room 25% chance of entombed person to be undead
Entommbed Figure has 1d6+1 HD and is covered in wealth worth Level of Tomb * HD * 10 silver

Prison Room 25% chance to be empty/dead
Prisoner has 2d4 HD

Treasury Room 25% chance of the treasure to be rotted/ruined
Sum of wealth worth Level of Treasury * 1d6 * 15 silver

Reliquary Room 25% chance of the relic to be horribly cursed
Relic may be sold for Level of Reliquary * 1d6 * 5 silver

Author's Notes: For Our example dungeon we rolled a 2 so it's base function was a Prison,  turns out the prisoner also escaped. well have Room 4 of Level 3 be where it was kept.

Aside from this room every other room is filled by the following table
1-5Empty aside from Aesthetics
6Monsters (HD based on Level where encountered 1=1HD 2=1d4HD 3=1d6HD
7Treasure (75% chance of monster) worth Level * 1d8 * 5 silver


I like to have dungeons as a result of at least two different aesthetics because this allows for a comparison and contrast of each room

General Dungeon Aestheics are based on the Prime Function Table

Tombs often contain: statues of soldiers, mummified servants, emblems of victory, busts and frescoes of ancestors, rusted arms and armor
Prisons often contain: sigils of protection, dire warnings etched in archaic languages, long burnt out candles, rotted scrolls
Treasuries often contain: chests and vases, impressive stone work, inlaid mosaics, beautiful craftwork
Reliquaries often contain: religious artworks, faded paintings, urns of oil and water

Specific Dungeon Aesthetics are added as the result of the environment or the passage of time

Inhabited: Top filled with inhabitants who use the dungeon as a fortified structure
Flooded: Half of bottom level flooded, upper level damp and dripping from roof
Fungal: Walls covered in fungi, spores fill the air, awful stenches
Hiveish: Signs of many insects, empty egg cases, incessant buzzing
Tangible Darkness: Torches shed less light, eyes follow you from the darkness, haunting laughing
Burnt: Many rooms covered in ash, faint remnants of smoke, blast shadows on walls
Once Reused: Many rooms contain artifacts of a different era, remnants of some shadowy purpose
Crystalline: Some floors and walls translucent and can be seen through, each step causes resonance echoes

Finishing Touches of our Example Dungeon

Author's Notes: We rolled a 3 on the Specific Dungeon Aesthetic so our dungeon is Fungal!

Room Contents

Level 1
Room 1 - Empty
Room 2 - Empty
Room 3 - Treasure (10 silver) + Monster + Secret Stairs to Room 3 Level 2
Room 4 - Empty
Room 5 - Empty
Room 6 - 1HD Monster + Stairs Down to Room 1 Level 2 + Secret door to Room 9
Room 7 - 1HD Monster
Room 8 - Empty
Room 9 - Empty
Room 10 - Empty

Level 2
Room 1 - Empty + Stairs Up to Room 6 Level 1
Room 2 - Treasure (70 silver)
Room 3 - Empty + Secret Stairs to Room 3 Level 1
Room 4 - Treasure (40 silver) + 1 HD Monster
Room 5 - Empty + Stairs Down to Room 1 Level 3
Room 6 - Empty

Level 3
Room 1 - Treasure (75 silver) + 3HD Monster + Stairs up to Room 1 Level 2
Room 2 - Empty
Room 3 - Empty
Room 4 - Treasure (120 silver)

Room Contents + Aesthetics

Author's Notes: There is nothing within the prison and it's fungal with a large HD monster at the bottom so I figure that thing will be the cause of the fungus spreading (The corrupted guardian of what was kept here originally). I figure level 1 will be largely well maintained and as you descend down the dungeon there appear more and more fungal and ruined.

Level 1
Room 1 - A vast pair of doors opens into a small chamber filled with lithoglyphs of eyes.
Room 2 - Two vast basins of oil long expunged fill up the room as well as a pile of rotted scrolls.
Room 3 - Covered in grime a elongated vase carved from bronze can be seen in the corner (10 silver) + 3 shambling statues of clay animated by mushroom like tumors [Stats as zombies] + Secret Stairs to Room 3 Level 2 activated by pulling a lever on the wall.
Room 4 - A vast frieze of a giant skeleton with a expanding ribcage and eyes of flame can be barely seen above the various fungal mounds in the room.
Room 5 - What may have been once a cloister is filled with the remains of candles and rotted scrolls.
Room 6 - 2 vast eyes on the south wall + 4 shambling statues of clay animated by mushroom like tumors [Stats as zombies] + Stairs Down to Room 1 Level 2 + Secret door to Room 9 activated by pressing on both pupils simultaneously.
Room 7 - A two headed serpent spilling spores from the numerous gaps in it's body [Stats as snake but with two attacks per round] + water slowly dripping from the ceiling.
Room 8 - The walls are covered in thin mushrooms 
Room 9 - An entirely barren room, clean unlike the other rooms.
Room 10 - A pristine room still illuminated by candles, a mural of a massive toadstool with eyes instead of spots it's center piece.

Level 2
Room 1 - The air here reeks of mildew and as you enter you find the air is humid + Stairs Up to Room 6 Level 1.
Room 2 - A vast candelabra of silver, 2 feet high and 1 foto wide, a miniature silver tree  (70 silver) + spores filling the air
Room 3 - Fungal mounds descending down from the ceiling each dripping spores + Secret Stairs to Room 3 Level 1
Room 4 - A lengthy and ornate silver spear (40 silver) + 8 shambling statues of clay animated by mushroom like tumors [Stats as zombies] + Sigils of eyes at each corner of the room, looming almost watching.
Room 5 - Massive Toadstools half the size of a man make travel through this room slow + Stairs Down to Room 1 Level 3
Room 6 - A broken ceiling and a massive mass of mushrooms emanating from a large corner.

Level 3
Room 1 -  Argus Morel [Stats Below] + bronze diadem with a thick ruby embedded within the Morel (75 silver) + Stairs up to Room 1 Level 2
Room 2 - What may one have been the site of a large tree is filled with rotting wood and the stench of rot
Room 3 - A massive skeletal arm fills up the room. Each digit twice the size of a man's forearm. It reeks of acid.
Room 4 - 40 feet of ruined shackles made of Orichalchum (120 silver) alongside a massive man-sized hole 50 feet deep into the earth

Argus Morel

Description: A vast toadstool the size of a large tree looms before you on a litany of chitinous psuedopods. Where each spot would be on a regular toadstool, this being instead has vast luminiferous eyes. It reeks of ozone and glows in the darkness.

HD: 3
Def: 4
Dam: 1d8 ranged
Move: 1
Save: 14
Morale: 16

Focus Eye: Every 1d4-1 rounds a Argus Morel may open up another one of it's sigil eyes. In doing so it may either dispel an ongoing magical effect or force a target within 10 feet to save or become paralyzed for 1d4-1 rounds.

Feed on Necrosis: If there are any corpses brought within 20 feet of a Argus Morel it heals 1d6 HP and the corpse disentigrates

Author's Notes: This is just a quick guide for making dungeons in more or less 15 minutes. If something doesn't make sense or you want to change something, go ahead.