Category Archives: Adventure Sketch
‘Scrapers is a campaign concept, for whatever system or use interests you.
You live in Jenney Tower West. You were born here, you presume you’ll die here. The top of the tower is somewhere unseen above you, stretching like a ribbon into the sky. The bottom is equally invisible, down under the Vapor. You’ve never gone down to the Vapor levels. Jenney Tower East is visible. The middle of it anyway. A few hundred feet across the Empty. Sometimes there are crosswalks.
Which are always war zones. Easters are more than a little crazy.
You are a Scraper, one of the migrating scavengers who strips each floor of anything of value or use, and trades it to survive. As each level is, on average, roughly 4,500 square meters of floorspace, and there are 20-30 levels being Scraped at any time, you often trade to other Scraper gangs, or solo Scrapers. But more often, you depend on the Ele-Markets, hand-cranked mobile trade stalls that ratchet between the Scraper levels, the Middles in the 10-20 floors above you.
On the Middles levels, things still work… some. Warehouses haven’t been depleted of everything yet. Automated systems and assistants can still sometimes turn on and off lights, close windows, and so on. Power still comes from the walls… sometimes. The intercom is almost entirely functional, the vid-screens can run 24/7. Plumbing is mostly functional. It’s easier for Middle on the higher floors, of course. As they use up the things they prefer, those upper Middles migrate to the floors above them. The ones the Uppers left behind when they migrated upward seeking caviar and fully functional android assistants.
As the higher Middles move into new territories, the floors below them migrate up as well… as long as they can afford to. A level every month, more or less. Moving takes credit with the Ele-markets, and spare time, and manpower. Your ancestors might have been Middles, once. But they waited too long to shift up a few floors, so you’re all Scrapers now. You also move up roughly a level a month. If you run out of scavenge early, maybe you push those above you, or supplant them, a little early. You certainly don’t want to wait around too long.
You’re told there are Penters, up above even the Uppers. Just one floor of them, or maybe two. But you’re not sure you believe that. If there was just one floor worth of Penters, why wouldn’t the Uppers just rush those floors and move above them?
Below you are poorer and poorer Scrapers, groups unable to enforce claims to better scavenging grounds. You don’t have much, but at least you can still find food now and then, or trade with one of the scaffold farms hanging on the outside of the Tower, suspended from ropes that go…. up. Though honestly, what you have isn’t all that awesome. Security systems still work sometimes. Middles come down with better weapons and gear to take things they realize they left behind. THINGS come out of the vents, and ducts.
The THINGS live in the Vapor levels, but they’re climbing too. The Deep Vapor has worse creatures, but they can’t survive out of the Vapor, even for a moment. And between the lowest Scraper floor, and the highest Vapor floor?
Crazies, cults, broken machine angry at being abandoned, and the Uninsured. The Uninsured have a taint of the Vapor, be that boils, or sharp teeth and a taste for flesh, or weird mind powers. Even the lowliest Scraper can’t trust Uninsured.
You may have some Vapor taint too, but you want that to stay a secret.
Scrapers life is hard. Detritus comes down chutes, which you capture when you can. Bodies, sometimes. You can make mulch, and sell it up. Or pull up cables, carve off building materials, turn it into raw material for Middles to patch what they have. Or to sell as new things to Uppers. Uppers don’t know how to make anything. Or for Ele-markets to turn into cranks, and winches. You can gather water, from rain and from broken sewers above you. Grow a few things. And repurpose to make clothes. And tools. And barricades. And weapons.
Weapons kill a lot of Scrapers. So do traps, rogue machines, Middle mercenaries dipping down, Uninsured raiders popping up, and even other Scrapers often threaten you. Scrapers die faster than they breed, but that’s okay. Poor Middles who lost their spot become Scrapers fast enough to make up the difference. Every month, at least a dozen Middles discover their last neighbors moved on. Moved away.
The Vapor is moving up, too.
Faster than you are, in recent months.
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The AssassiNations is a conceptual paradigm, a rough description of a secret world and their rules and rulers, designed for use in TTRPG campaigns where something a step more involved than just secret societies is desired.
The AssassiNations are non-territorial governments that rule over populations of secret societies and superhuman clans, ruled with an iron fist by the Erebocracy and it’s regimented laws known as the Canon. They are also one of the least closely-guarded secrets in the world.
Nearly all classic world powers are aware of them. In most service industries between 10-15% of the members know enough to avoid violating the Canon, but that goes up for many fields such as train and bus employees, hotel concierges, sex workers, smugglers, and mercenaries. More than 3/4 of the cabbies in New York City are formally Read In, even if they are mostly nonpartisans.
Despite nearly 10% of the world’s population having some level of familiarity with the AssassiNations, that knowledge does not spread. No one who does not need to know is told, and this rule is very rarely broken. In part, this is because the Erebocracy forbids such revelations, and rules over the greatest sects of secret killers, spies, and double agents the world has ever known. And partly, it is because it’s better for everyone that way.
The AssassiNations are a solution to the problem of there being more than one clade of person in the world. While the classic governments of the world are sufficient for most people, there is a second kith of people with extraordinary abilities. They have been called many things over the eons–Argonauts, fey, djinn, even demigods. The next step in human evolution. Aliens. What is important is that the Shadowbreed exist, and are capable of acts of reasoning, endurance, resilience, accuracy, and strength literally impossible for typical humans.
The Shadowbreed vary between 2-15% of the human population, and are found in every nation, every ethnicity, every culture. If they are a different species, they are as broad and varied as humanity itself. If they are a mutation, they are one that does not seem to be spreading. If they are sidhe, they lack the vulnerabilities legend suggests they should possess.
The AssassiNations themselves are often strongly tied to their native cultures, though they evolve and adapt and adopt as any culture does. Whenever a territorial government or group explored, conquered, committed genocide, there were Shadowbreed AssassiNations present on both sides. Once, they warred in near-open conflicts, many of which are the source of ancient mythology. But with the rise of the Erebocracy and it’s Canon, their conflicts are much more regimented. Choreographed. Secret. Quiet.
Canon dictates no single conflict may include more than a dozen Shadowbreed without Ereborcracy sanction. Sanctions are generally in the form of contract hits, laying a price on the slaying of a rogue Shadowbreed that any member of an AssassiNation can claim. No one who is not Read In is ever to be involved in any AssassiNation business or conflict, and only regional Triararchs and their sworn Liturgies can read anyone in. Anyone not a formal member of an AssassiNation is nonpartisan, not to engage in violence against Shadowbreed, or be a target of it.
All AssasssiNation services, known as Custom, as available only to those in good standing with the Ereborcracy. Custom is paid for only in Blood Gold, red coins only the AssasiNations mint or use, and any single Custom has a cost of a single Blood Coin.
Specific locations are declared Moresnet — neutral zones where violence of any kind is forbidden. These include the headquarters of every AssasiNation, most churches and temples, and a significant number of hotels, pawn shops, bus stops, ships, and cemeteries. Most Moresnet are overseen by a Castellan, who within that single space is equal in rank to a Triararch, and is considered the match for a Liturgy even outside their domain. The Ereborcracy anoints Castellans, but cannot remove their title. It can, however, suspend the sanctions of anyone violating the neutrality of their Moresnet, and even place a price on their head. But only for 72 hours — if a Castellan has no been killed or capitulated within that time, their authority and sanctuary within their Domain is maintained for a year and a day.
No action by a Shadowbreed may ever expose the Ereborcracy, the AssassiNations, the Canon, or any element of the careful balance of this shadow world. As needed Triararchs can Read In non-Shadowbreed for the purpose of maintaining the ability of the AssasssiNations to function and fight among themselves, but any that abused this power will be sanctioned.
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My Patreon backers get even more! All my mega-patrons will get a PDF in a few days that has all my free content from September, including the 101 Mimics, but I also wanted to compile these in one post for anyone interested in them. So all my patrons have access to a Patreon post with 101 Mimics, plus I added ONE more mimic encounter idea as a bonus, at the end of that post!
So if you want more mimics (and similar material as time goes on), go join my Patreon!
- Mimic as the keystone in an arch (build by mimic minions). When it attacks and jumps free not only it there a bitey mimic, the room’s ceiling collapses on you.
- Mimic treasure map. The mimic pretends to be a treasure map that leads you to am ambush of the mimic’s allies. The mimic changes this location as needed to keep the news from getting out.
- Mimic bandage. It just quietly drinks your blood when you wrap it around your wound.
- Mimic haute couture. The mimic rents itself out to be brand-new, impossible-without-living-cloth high-end outfits and shoes that fit perfectly, match your coloration, hair, and jewelry, and you don’t have to put in a closet after wearing once. Hourly or daily rates available.
- Mimic rope. It waits until you are using it in a life-or-death situation, then extorts you with greater payment or it withdraws its (literal) support.
- Mimic golem: Easiest to pretend to be a wood golem or clay golem. You think it’s a construct, but it’s actually an aberration, giving it a distinct tactical advantage.
- Mimic rock at edge of common rest-stop campsite. Look, people are SUSPICIOUS of treasure chests these days, but no one looks twice at a rock that happens to be near where their head is going to be when they sleep.
- Mimic false bottom of a chest. Go ahead, check the chest for signs it’s a mimic all you want. then, once you are inside and your guard is done, and you get excited you’ve spotted a false bottom…
- Mimic hanging tapestry. May rent itself out to high-end castles as a magic every-changing tapestry that also shouts an alarm when people find the concealed door behind it, or may drop down on unsuspecting adventurers looking behind it for a concealed door. Or both.
- Mimic trash-can private investigator. You can learn a LOT about someone by sorting through their trash, and if they give it to you there’s no expectation of privacy.
- Mimic Spike at the Bottom of a Pit. If you fall into the pit and still look fine, it ignores you as too tough to handle. If you fall into the pit and seem badly injured or incapacitated…
- Mimic bookcase wizard. People have been placing powerful and dangerous books on it in the forbidden section of the library for decades.
- Mimic altar. Honestly, a faithful devotee of a god that has decided to serve as an altar. Of course, if you come to DESECRATE that temple…
- Mimic Kitchen Table. Mostly just eats scraps when no one is looking. But may be in trouble since it is now so fat, it doesn’t really fit in the same space anymore…
- Mimic Mirror in a Vampire’s Employ. Look, some vampires care how they look!
- Mimic Siege Tower. Always the right size and shape to reach the top of a wall, able to become a bridge to get over a moat, and able to be healed or buffed against fire with “1 target” spells.
- Mimic Wagon. Mostly lets your draft animals pull it along (while it dozes off), but for an extra fee and turn into a boat to cross rivers, walk itself out of mud, and so on.
- Mimic Wine Barrel. Takes a nip now and then, but mostly stays sober so it can eat the occasional vagrant that wonders by late at night, who no one will miss.
- Mimic Wishing Well. I mean, people just THROW money into it! Why risk combat when you can get paid to sleep, then go buy any food you want later?
- Mimic Coffin. Sneak into undertaker’s (or cut deal with them). Get corpse placed indie me. Eat it. Dig my way out of grave, making people panic about ghouls. Sneak back to undertaker’s.
- Mimic Iron Maiden. Torturers put people in me, I drink their blood, and they are kept alive to go back into me again and again.
Mimic smuggler. Can look like any crate, fake any needed seals or markings, hide among other crates and shuffle from warehouse to warehouse and hold to hold as needed.
- Mimic roulette wheel. Doesn’t detect as magic or illusion, but can still make sure the house gets more than its cut (or, if smuggled in as a ringer, it’s partner can take a huge bite out of the house).
- Mimic Spymaster Confessional. Look, if there’s a place people are going to just whisper their secrets anyway…
(Lots of other Mimic Spy possibilities, too.)
- Mimic sleeping bag guard hireling. Hires itself out to protect travelers. It can sleep during the day, eat all your leftovers, and quietly watch over you while you sleep at night, while being the perfect size and warmness for you.
- Mimic is a single wheel in a rented wagon. It can thus “fall off” at any time to make the wagon vulnerable to ambush, and attack from inside the defensive perimeter once the ambush begins.
- Mimic weapon rack. With luck, you disarm yourself and give it your weapons before the fight starts, and it’s certainly armed.
- Mimic as obviously trapped secret door. Everyone moves away from the rogue in case the trap goes off, leaving the rogue alone with the mimic.
- Mimic table in room convicts meet with lawyers. Might be spy for illicit law enforcement, or might be enforcer for the thieves’ guild ensuring people keep their yap shut.
- Mimic cloak. Rules a gang of cloakers who think it is a highly evolved version of themselves.
- Tiny mimic sheath for dueling rapier. One of two. Everything seems fine when your foe selects one of them, but once the fight starts, the mimics don’t let your foe even draw his weapon.
- Mimic fishing pole. Mostly works as advertised, but when hungry just eats a fish which you think is “one that got away.”
- Mimic emulating a corpse. When it starts moving and eating things, everyone thinks it’s an undead. But it’s not.
- Mimic big overstuffed chair. Is a consulting detective, but keeps hiring someone to sit in the chair and play the public role of detective, so no one suspects their cases are being solved by a mimic listening in.
- Mimic crystal ball. Works with fake psychic to show clients what they want to see, but can’t actually tell the future.
- Mimic workbench. Friend and ally to renowned craftsman, acts as his guard and assistant, moving tools to be in reach as needed.
- Mimic guillotine psychopath. Just wants to kill people, so as long as the revolution feeds its bloodshed, acts like a guillotine. If anyone tries to reign in the mob rule, sneaks out to kill that person.
- Mimic crossbow. Works with its hunter. Loads itself, can even fire itself as needed.
- Mimic printing press. Always well informed, and can tweak things it prints to move its own narrative or plots forward.
- Mimic sail. Self-trimming, self-furling, heals if damaged, and can help defend the ship if attacked.
- Mimic lump of clay. Works with fake sculptor to allow the sculptor to appear to be a great artist, then sneaks off with sculptor once a commission is paid.
- Mimic high-end furniture from antique store. Gets bought and placed in rich house. Waits to see where their valuables are. Steals them blind while antique dealer has alibi. Sneaks back to look like different high-end furniture at shop.
- Mimic banker’s or merchant’s scale. Check for false weights and magic all you want, it can still claim your valuable are 1-2% lighter than they really are, getting its merchant partner an extra profit margin.
- Mimic rock full of veins of gold and silver. Sits in a mine its partner wants to sell. Makes sure the potential buyer “happens” to see it, still wedged into the wall. Great for cycling through multiple played out mines.
- Mimic pile of hay. Only good for some seasons, but great way to hide in plain sight, and local children often sneak off to play near you, making them easy targets.
- Mimic outhouse. Perfect for catching prey with their paints down.
- Mimic dressmaker’s dummy. Can be the exact size and shape (and even weight) the dressmaker needs, often happy to work for scraps of cloth (leather, cotton, and other biomass). Plus, gets to feel like a pretty, pretty mimic.
- Mimic periscope. Fits in any shape, crack, or around any corner, can show you what it sees, and even report on what it hears.
- Mimic game table. Can play chess with you, or help you subtly cheat against others.
- Mimic elevator. Crawls up and down (and even sideways) though the large castle, giving easy access quickly in return for a fair daily wage.
This is barely a game. It’s more a way to track cooperative storytelling than a tactical exercise. It works only if everyone playing wants it to work, and is willing to overlook when it doesn’t work well.
Oroborous & Oubliettes
The Ouroboros is the dragon that encircles the world, unseen but everpresent, and survives by consuming itself. Agents of the Ouroboros wish to unleash it to consume the world, which will destroy everything within a few generations, but give those who release it vast power until that time.
This has been tried many times before, often by those who cannot be killed, or using objects that cannot be destroyed. In desperation, these things are placed in oubliettes, dark holes that go deep into the world’s crust, and thus deep into Oroboros itself, in the hopes of burying them forever.
But nothing is buried forever. When a new threat arises, the player characters must seek to stop it, often by delving into an oubliette to recover some lore or object that can aid them, or to beat some group of Ouroboros cultists from getting it first.
Making a Character
Describe your character in 2-3 sentences, between 10-40 total words.
Write down one thing you are good at.
Write down one thing you’re bad at.
Write down one important thing you have.
Write down one thing you want to accomplish.
The Game master sets a scene, the players say what their characters do, in order they are sitting at the table, and then the GM tells them if their actions automatically succeed (so extremely simple things), automatically fail (for impossible things), or are handled by a test.
Each scene is clearly defined as casual or dangerous when introduced. Casual scenes have no consequences. A casual scene can become dangerous, in which case the GM says so.
In a dangerous scene, there were normally 3 chances for each character to take an action. Actions aren’t blow-by blow things like “I stab a scorpion bandit,” but more like “I attack the bandits, trying to drive them back out of the mine shaft.”
A number of successful actions equal to the number of players but less than double that number is a draw–players ended up neither better off nor worse at the end of the scene.
A number of successful actions equal to at least double the number of players but less than x2.5 that number is a win. The players make progress on the adventure without any major setbacks.
Successes at least equal to x2.5 the number of players is a BIG win. The players proceed, and get some kind of permanent improvement.
Successes less than the number of players is a failure. A number of players equal to the difference between the successes they needed for a draw and those they got must take a wound. A wounded character must either give up one of their bonuses until she healed, or write down a new thing you are bad at (which the player got to pick) as a scar that is kept kept until the character succeeds at a task using that trial.
BIG wins might give special equipment (standard equipment is assumed), or new allies, or new abilities, or anything else the GM and players agree on.
For each action that needs a trial, a player rolls 1d6, and a result of 4, 5, or 6 is a success and 1, 2, or 3 is a failure. If the trial involves something you are good at or have an important thing for you get to roll two dice and succeed if either is 4, 5, or 6, while if it’s a thing you are bad at you have to roll two dice and get 4, 5, or 6 for both to succeed.
A typical campaign is 9-14 scenes. If all the characters end up with wounds, and at least one has two or more wounds, the campaign is a failure. Every 2-3 scenes, there should be a way for one player to make progress on the thing they want to accomplish.
For now, that’s it.
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Deputy Jensen Jackson was not particularly important. He knew that.
He was simply too young to be important. Or, at least, too young for someone from his social circles and economic circumstance to be important. That was fine. That was how the world worked.
But he did WORK for people who were important. Old Sheriff McCarter, of course, but “Mac” McCarter had stopped trying to elevate his own status, or those who worked for him, long before Deputy Jackson came along. Assuming, of course, he had ever made such efforts.
Deputy Jackson did assume that.
But Old Mac simply spent too much time hanging out with unimportant people to be a ticket to betterment. Oh, sure, being trusted by people on both side of the tracks — as well as townies, ranchers, drillers, hunters, natives, and even truckers — was useful when it came to policing. Deputy Jackson assumed that was why Mayor Gauge put up with Old Mac — he kept things quiet. And, it meant Mayor Gauge never had to worry about the sheriff looking to move into his job. Old Mac just ran in the wrong circles for that.
Mayor Bill Gauge very much ran in the right circles. When it came to being important in the town of Virtue, Oklahoma, Mayor Gauge defined the right circles.
So if the mayor called up and said “Jensen, my fellow… ” and it pleased Deputy Jackson that the mayor always called him ‘Jensen,’ “… I am having some folks over at the Boomer Barn, and I’d sure like if you were there to keep an eye on things.” Well then, Deputy Jackson would be there, keeping an eye on things.
He was not, in any formal sense, “on duty” when he stood near the mayor and his associates at the Boomer Barn. He was in uniform and thus, under Old Mac’s rules, couldn’t get a drink even though the Barn’s owner, Amos Lauren, would happily have given the deputy a free glass like he did for Mayor Gauge and whoever was sitting with the mayor. At least, Deputy Jackson was sure Amos would slide him a liquor-by-the-wink (as Apache County was dry) if he was out of uniform while keeping an eye on things for the mayor.
It had never come up.
Mostly, he just stood a bit away from the bar, in his tan and brown uniform, with his belt and holster and badge, between most of the Boomer Bar’s main room, and the leathertop table in the back corner where Mayor Gauge talked to folks and got things done. It was unofficial, of course, but efficient. No rules of order, no minutes of each meeting, no snoops, no party officers, at least unless the mayor invited them.
The government, people in Virtue said, was in town hall. Solutions came from the leathertop.
The mayor normally told Deputy Jackson who to expect so he could wave them to the leathertop, as Jackson knew everyone in town and most everyone important in the county. If anyone not on the list wandered up, the deputy stared at them until they got skittish and wondered away. If they seemed important enough that the mayor might want to talk to them even if they weren’t on the list, Jackson cleared his throat to get the mayor’s attention.
That was keeping an eye on things.
As a result, Deputy Jackson was surprised when Peg Shaw walked into the Boomer Barn, wearing her waitressing uniform and apron, kicking red dust off her boots, and then marched straight toward him. He was even more surprised she had a big, white cloth sheath hanging from her apron, with a knife stuck in it. His surprise grew only slightly more when he realized she was carrying a shotgun.
Shotguns were more common in Virtue than 12-inch-long knives.
She wasn’t pointing the gun at anyone, and she seemed calm enough. And Peg had been a law-abiding citizen her entire life, 32 years in town. There were stories that her mother had been a bit nuts, had maybe used grandpa Shaw’s tractor to run over a whole heard of razorbacks in ’31, but whenever the question had come up Old Mac always said that was, after all, not illegal
And while Peg was mostly a waitress at the “Ranch 66” diner by the highway, she had been known to step up and cook if the regular staff got sick, or had to go help family who lost a home in a tornado. Her family were ranchers and butchers going way back, so it was no shock she could cook. And, he recalled, when he had seen her running the Ranch 66’s grill once, she had been sporting that same cloth sheath and knife.
So Deputy Jackson could envision some odd scenarios where she needed to run an errand over to the Boomer Barn, and just happened to have a foot-long knife and a shotgun when she did them. And, honestly, those scenarios seemed more likely than Peg Shaw meaning to harm anyone at the local dance and social hall, so he didn’t feel the need to grab his gun or yell orders.
When it was clear that she was headed toward the leathertop, he decided his plan was simply to stare at her until she went away. Whatever she thought she needed from the mayor or his guests, Peg Shaw clearly was not important enough to skip the list.
That plan worked fine, right up to the moment Peg walked up to him, and matched his gaze.
“Peg,” he said casually, to remind her that even though she was a few years his senior and they weren’t friends, he had the position to use her given name.
“Jensen,” she replied even more coolly. Deputy Jackson had no idea what that was supposed to remind him of, but he suddenly felt like he had in elementary school, when Mrs. Floyd has asked him what 11 times 13 was, and he hadn’t known, even though he was supposed to know by then.
Her gaze became uncomfortable. If she found his stare in any way disconcerting, she wasn’t showing any sign of it. His sureness in her unimportance wavered. She also, he realized, had a book under one arm. It was a ragged, uneven thing with what seemed to be magazine pages and newspaper clippings and loose typed pages, all stuck hodge-podge between it’s covers. There were tabbed pages as well, and he could just read three of them, with tabs marked “breakfast,” and “desserts” and “therianthropes.”
It was, of course, rude to stare at a woman for this long. And it would be rude to suggest she go back out, or that she shouldn’t be wandering around with a big knife and shotgun. That was the only reason Deputy Jackson turned away from her gaze and pointedly cleared his throat at Mayor Gauge.
The mayor looked up, annoyed. His eyes flickered at Jackson, and then over to Peg Shaw. And then, to the deputy’s shock, the mayor looked concerned.
“Peg Shaw. You on the clock?”
Jackson’s eyes bounced back and forth between the mayor and Peg, and he felt his jaw relax a bit.
Peg’s voice was still cool. “I am, mayor. I need a minute.”
“It’s not a great time, Peg.” The mayor waved at the five men sitting at the leathertop with him. The most important of those was Bruce Shane, one of the wealthiest ranchers in the tri-county area. While most of the other men present seems as perplexed as the deputy (though none of them had either the annoyance or disdain Jackson would have expected from such a circumstance), Shane’s expression was as grim and serious as the mayor’s.
“Sorry, mayor. It can’t wait. Not unless Mr. Shane thinks he has cattle to spare. There’s already a truck rig missing, and it’s got to be belly coolers…”
The mayor held up a hand, which forestalled Peg finishing the description of whatever couldn’t wait.
“Gentlemen,” the mayor’s voice was calm, “forgive me, but a civil servant’s first duty must be to his constituency. We can finish this discussion another time. Bruce, can you stay?”
Peg walked past Jackson without any further invitation, and all the men not named Bruce stood from their chairs around the leathertop, and walked away without any grumbling.
Deputy Jackson was, as always, thrilled the mayor called him by his last name, and even more thrilled to be included in anything important enough to interrupt the major’s normal plans. He almost started to walk toward the table.
“Go get Old Mac, will you? Let him know there’s a Shaw Problem, and that Peg is here.”
The deputy swung his leg, which had been about to carry him toward the leathertop, in an arc he was sure looked natural and intended as he began walking toward the door. He heard a thump behind him, and the rustling of pages.
Peg’s voice followed. “There are signs, which ‘Nan Micah made note of back in ’04 here on her rules for boiling poke salad…”
Jensen hurried a bit, to go get Old Mac.
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This is the seed of an idea. The barest hint of a setting, a slight blush of a game mechanic.
There are great and mighty heroes of the land, movers and shakers who can face down armies, raise mountains, and challenge the gods themselves.
These titans are busy. Perhaps they must oppose the forces of Khernobog. But for whatever reason, while these paragons can do any twenty things they wish, there are always 100 more things to do.
You have been apprenticed to one of these mighty beings for years, cleaning weapons and cooking meals and cleaning up after familiars. But now, you are a journeyfolk. You are trusted to actually take care of some minor things on your own, dealing with some of of the 100 problems your great and powerful patron doesn’t have time for so they are freed to tackle other issues.
And if one of these lesser problems kills you, that will prove it’s important enough to draw your patron’s direct attention.
When you attempt something you might fail at, you make a roll. Every die that turns up as a 5 or more on that roll is a success. For typical things, one success means you have accomplished your task. Difficult things, or those actively opposed by others, might require 2 or more successes at once. Long, complex things might require many successes, earned over time.
Every turn, you get three action dice. These are normally d6s. (For our purposes these are colored green, though that’s not required by the rules). Anything you do on your turn must have at least one action die attached to it. If it’s something you can’t fail at (walk across the room), you just expend the die and take the action. If it’s an action you could fail, you roll the action die to see if you succeed.
You also have other dice, like Physcial dice (attribute dice are blue), Combat dice (skill dice are white), and Fire Spell dice (magic dice are red). These start at a d6 each. When you expend an action die to attempt something, you can add these dice if they are applicable.
You can keep adding dice to see if you succeed, until you roll a “1” on one or more dice, at which point you have to stop. However, you can only use each die you have one per turn, and every action must at least one action die attached to it.
You can spend experience points to buy up the value of your dice. Buying up skill dice is cheap (they only apply to a limited number of rolls), buying up attribute dice is more expensive (they apply to broad categories — in fact there may only be three attributes, like Mental, Physical, and Spiritual), and buying up action dice are extremely expensive (as they can apply to any action).
When you take damage, you have to degrade your dice. I’m not sure how yet. Maybe just your action dice degrade. They can go down to a d4, which can’t *succeed* at a task, but you can still expend those action dice to do things (you’ll just have to expend additional dice as well, if you are attempting a thing you could fail at).
Damage might be broken into categories, like physical (wounds), mental (confusion or insanity), social (reputation), and spiritual (possession, demoralization). If so, engaging in a public debate can’t result in physical damage (unless things escalate to violence), but might result in you taking damage to a Diplomacy or Mental Attribute die.
Your patron is also a die, but one you can only use out of combat, and which has a recharge time measured in days or weeks, rather than a turn. Need to talk your way past a guard? Invoke your patron’s name. Want a curse removed? get your patron to send you the materials needed to do so. Want to have a band of mercenaries guard a town? Ask your patron to pay for them.
The more often your patron helps journeyfolk like you, the fewer resources they can dedicate to help on each occasion. Your patron die begins at a d10, with a one week cooldown. You can move it up to a d12 with a month cooldown or a d20 with a season cooldown; or a d8 with a day cooldown.
This obviously isn’t a playable system yet, but it’s the nugget from which a game could be carved out.
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You can find the introduction, map, and index of the Bottomless Tombs here!
Area 2: The First Passage
Thirty feet down the shaft is the first passage, off the south wall. When the heroes are free to pay attention to it (likely after killing the centipedes in Area 1, though who knows how PCs will react to a vertical battle?), and assuming they have a light or can see in the dark, read or paraphrase the following.
An opening in the southern wall reveals a small space, no more than five feet wide and six feet tall. A 1-foot ledge sticks out into the shaft forming a narrow balcony that is part of that space’s floor. The opening is no more than a large hole in the shaft’s wall, with a broken door sitting in a stone frame 5 feet in. The floor is littered with bits of broken pottery, wood, and dirt, and the walls are stained by dark splashes of color.
More than one adventuring party has left a guard here over the years, and just left their refuse behind. The stains can be identified with a DC 10 Knowledge (dungeonering), or (nature) check to be a mix of water stains from when rain gets into the holw and old ichor, maybe from large vermin.
If more than one Small or Medium creature tries to fit within the space, they must squeeze.
The door was once fine preserved wood and brass, but has long since been smashed in and the brass fittings and hinges removed. A careful examination allows a DC 15 Perception check to realize the door was not designed to ever be opened once it was closed, and it had a trap built into the wall, though it is also long since gone.
The doorway leads to a 10-foot-long, 5-foot wide corridor, which ends in a portcullis. Read or paraphrase the following:
A portcullis blocks passage any further south. Made of rusted iron, it runs the width of the corridor, and its spiked bards set into small holes in the floor. It is covered in worn runs, and shows obvious signs of having been battered and hammered on, and one bar is bent outward toward you, making a space roughly the size of a cat. Just past the portcullis is a cross-corridor, running east and west. A lever, also of rusted iron, sits in the wall of that corridor, currently in the ‘down’ position. A rotting bag of sand is attached to the leaver by a frayed rope.
If you lift the leaver, the portcullis goes up. The last group of adventurers here tied a sandbag to the lever so it would be pulled down after they left. There’s no easy way to use a rope or similar flexible device to pull up on the lever from the north side of the portcullis.
The portcullis can be lifted by a DC 24 Strength check (so an 18 Strength character can do it by taking 20, though this is loud and time consuming). A Small creature can get through the bent-out bars with a DC 18 Escape Artist check, though failure results in 1 hp of damage from jagged edges. The portcullis has 8 hardness and 30 hp per bar, so a group could just hammer on it and hope to break open a bigger hole.
A DC 15 Disable Device check allows a character to find a way to trigger the lever, and a DC 15 Engineering check can be used to rig a staff or similar device to flip the lever u by using the crossbars on the portcullis as a leverage point, though this also requires a successful DC 15 Strength check.
Developments: The louder the PCs are, the more likely it is they draw out something from Area 3.
Design Philosophy: It’s a dungeon, so it should reward people ready for traps and mechanisms… but also not prevent groups without such preparation from getting to the fun part if they work at it. So this has lots of solutions, and is mostly about the players deciding how they want to handle such things.
It also establishes that doors here may have traps, which will matter later, with being a gotcha moment for players.
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So, it’s time to head down the shaft!
Area 1: Entering the Shaft [CR 1]
If the players closely examine the shaft before heading down, read or paraphrase the following.
The sides of the shaft are worked stone, but show signs of considerable wear. In a few places, smooth, though cracked, finishing stone still lines the walls but most of that has long-since chipped away. Most of the shaft is cracked stones, and in many cases these have large cracks, through which thick roots and vines grow to choke the shaft, tangled around the wreckage of worn logs and rope rigging from one or more some kind apparatuses that has fallen into the shaft in recent years.
If the PCs have darkvision, or a directional lightsource (such as a bullseye lantern), or wait until the sun is directly overhead, add the following.
It’s impossible to see more than 35-40 feet down the shaft, but a dark shadow just short of the limit of that range suggests a side passage extends off the southern wall of the shaft.
The first side passage is 30 feet down on the southern wall of the shaft. The only way to get to it, is to climb (or fly, but mostly 1st level characters can’t do that).
Hazards: The Climb DC for this section of the shaft is 10 if a PC just tries to climb along the roots and wreckage. If a rope is added (perhaps anchored to the iron ring in the staging area), the Climb DC drops to 5. Characters can take 10 on this check as long as nothing is attacking them. (Yeah… wait for it)
If a character fails a check by 5 or more, they fall. Luckily, the shaft of the Bottomless Tomb is so checked with roots and detritus, they eventually land on something able to hold their weight. When a character falls, roll 2d6 – 1d6. This value is both the damage they take, and the number of 5-foot squares they fall before landing on something. Most of the damage is from bouncing off roots or falling through rotted wood or frayed ropes. A character can fall 55 feet and only take 11 points of damage because they never build up much momentum.
If the value of the roll is 0 or less, the character is caught within 1 foot by something, and takes no damage.
Foes: There are house centipedes living in the cracks in the walls of the top of the shaft. they pretty well ignore ropes, rocks, or other things being thrown in (unless someone things to dangle meat on a rope, in which case they come out and swarm up the rope to get at the PCs), but once a creature is 20 feet down, they crawl out to attack any potential meal.
If you want to make their attack dramatic, read or paraphrase the following:
A noise like sand trickling over tight leather slowly fills the shaft. Movement rustles roots and ropes, beginning at one of the walls. A long centipede crawls out, more that a foot from it’s clicking mandibles to the end of its 100-legged body, the length of a halfling’s arm! Two more follow it, their heads swinging back and forth as the crawl along the sides and bottoms of the detritus choking the shaft and scuttle toward you!
Three centipedes attack when the first character gets down 20 feet. They have climb speeds, so they easily reach any point in the shaft. They attack any adjacent creature, or if none is adjacent the last creature to attack them.
They have cover from anyone more than 10 feet away, due to how clogged the shaft is.
Remember that despite their massive strength penalties, they do at least 1 hp on a successful attack.
Developments: After 1d4+1 rounds, three more house centipedes attack having been drawn by the sounds of combat.
Design Philosophy: There’s a lot going on with this encounter.
First, if you manage at least a +0 Climb bonus you can safely move around until the centipedes attack, and if you thought to have a rope anyone with at least a +4 (likely including anyone with a rank and a class skill and light armor) still can’t fail. this rewards more mobile characters even at 1st level.
Second, it’s a high-tension fight over a bottomless pit… carefully set up so if you fall you get caught before you go too far.
Third, anyone with even one point of DR can largely ignore the centipedes.
Fourth, it’s a 6-foe fight, which rarely happens until much higher level.
Fifth, the cover means melee characters in the shaft have a real advantage over ranged characters. This may not be true for most of their adventuring career, but it’s nice to start things off rewarding the nimble rogue on a rope with a dagger in one hand.
Sixth… poison. Not too serious, but anyone with bonuses to saves against poison gets to benefit from that immediately.
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We introduced the Bottomless tombs, and their map, yesterday.
Now, it’s time to get to some adventure!
The Top of the Tomb
The first issue is reaching the shaft, and examine the areas around it before the PCs even think of climbing down the the shaft into the tomb and reaching the first side-passage. As the PCs reach the top of the tomb shaft, read or paraphrase the following:
The top of the shaft is a square hole in the ground, roughly 15-feet to a side. Dirt, sod, and bits of refuse are piled up around the hole, and the shaft itself is choked with long tree roots, clumps of matted grass, and a tangle or what seem to be old and broken woodwork and rope rigging. It doesn’t look particularly stable, but it does offer numerous handholds. Light doesn’t penetrate more than 40-50 feet into the shaft, but there is certainly no sign of a bottom to it within that range.
An iron ring, showing just some signs of rust, is looped through a large wooden stake driven into the ground 5 feet to the north of the hole. Not far from that sits a well-defined fire pit, ringed in stones and filled with a dense layer of cold ash and charcoal. Bits of cloth, broken glass, chipped whetstones, and strips of rawhide are scattered about, more than half-buried in the grass. Old woven grass mats are laying on the ground in a semicircle around the firepit.
The firepit, mats, and refuse are the remains of numerous camps adventurers have made here over the past several decades, thought the gnomes who came through a few weeks ago didn’t use any of it.
Hazards: The mats are long-since riddled with lice, and anyone who sleeps on one must make a DC 10 Fortitude save or be at -1 to all Dexterity ability and skill checks from itching until they are deloused with a DC 10 Craft (alchemy) or Heal check. A DC 10 Survival check reveals the mats are infested, and can use smoke from a fire in the firepit to cleanse them.
Treasure: One sunrod, three pitons, a cold iron dagger, and 2 cp can be found with careful examination of the old campsite and refuse around the shaft. Each can be found with it’s own DC 10 Perception check, and an additional item found in one attempt for ever 5 the check exceeds that base DC.
Developments: Animals and outlaws both check this area from time to time, looking for food or valuables. They don’t make any dedicated searches, so any effort to bury or conceal items is successful. however, if tents, or mules, or food stores are left unattended and unguarded at the old campsite, there is a 1-in-12 chance each day that either a wolf of a brigand comes along and raids obvious materials.
Design Philosophy: It’s not that common for 1st level characters to get much use out of Survival (especially in dungeon-focused games), or from searching areas that aren’t obviously dangerous but that detail-oriented adventurers should want to check out.
This also already gives characters a reason to be happy to have an animal companion or basic hireling. If anyone (or, within limits, anything) watches their stuff they can safely use the old campsite as a base of operations. Neither wolves nor brigands will risk fighting for trail rations or spare blankets, though a guard left behind can let PCs know that someone has been prowling around after a week or more of time watching.
Low-level characters also often don’t get much benefit out of resistance to disease, or the ability to make basic alchemy and Heal checks. Lice isn;t life-threatening, but that’s the point,. Characters can begin to learn ways in which the game world is dangerous without risking having am arm drop off or becoming a mummy.
Not yet, anyway…
My father was an alcoholic. He went to rehab, once, in the 1990s and toward the end of that process we had ‘family week,’ where the whole family came in for group therapy and counseling. So the other members of my family and I went, and spent a week there. It was a bit like summer camp, but the activities were figuring out how badly screwed up you were and crying instead of archery and canoeing.
While there for family week, I met a young woman who had been badly abused. I did not get, and if I am honest did not at the time want, any details of what she had been through. She was there for her own addiction. I either never knew what she was addicted to, or I have long since forgotten. She wasn’t in any of the group or therapy sessions I was in with my father and family.
She saw some of my RPG books I had brought with me, and was fascinated by them. She understood the concept immediately but, faced with multiple books of hundreds of pages each for just a few games (I know I had Rolemaster with me, I may have also had some D&D and Champions), she claimed that she “wasn’t smart enough” to play RPGs.
I assured her she was. I promised I could show her how the concept worked and we could play a game, with just a few of sentences of explanation, and three sentences of rules. She agreed.
“Tell me about your character.”
She loved rabbits. She wanted to know if she could be a rabbit, I told her she could be anything she wanted. She decided she was an anthropomorphic rabbit scavenger in a post-apocalyptic world who hunted (and killed) carnivores, and defended herbivores.
I gave her a 3×5 index card.
“Write down one thing you are good at.”
She wrote down she was good at creeping.
“Write down one thing you’re bad at.”
She wrote she was bad at keeping calm.
“Write down one important thing you have.”
I had meant one object she possessed. She wrote she had ‘limitless determination.’ This game was for her. I was not about to tell her she’d done it wrong. Limitless determination it was.
“Write down one thing you want to accomplish.”
She wanted to find a safe place to bring orphan bunnies.
I gave her a penny.
“I’ll describe situations, and you tell me what you want your character to do. For anything you try you flip a coin – your action succeeds on heads and fails on tails. If you try something you are good at or have an important thing for you get to flip twice and succeed if either is heads, while if it’s the thing you are bad at you have to flip twice and get heads for both to succeed. That’s it.”
She asked if, since she was a rabbit, she could succeed on tails, and fail on heads. That seemed super-obvious, and I agreed.
And so the “Hares & Holocausts” game was born. Getting to flip twice and winning if either was tails was a bonus. Having to flip twice and winning only if both were tails was a trial.
We played 3-4 times over that week, mostly at lunch and once one morning after breakfast. I borrowed heavily from Gamma World, Rock & Rule, Watership Down, and Seven Samurai. Her character never got a name, and she didn’t seem to care. I thought of her as “The Rabbit Without a Name,” who wore a poncho, and assumed the setting used an Ennio Morricone soundtrack.
Each scene was clearly defined as casual or dangerous. Casual scenes had no consequences. In a dangerous scene, there were normally 3 chances for her to take an action. Actions weren’t blow-by blow things like “I stab a scorpion bandit,” but more like “I attack the bandits, trying to drive them back out of the mine shaft.” One successful action out of the three was a draw–she ended up neither better off nor worse at the end of the scene. Two successes was a win. Three was a BIG win, and she got some kind of permanent improvement.
Zero successes was a failure.
If she failed at a scene, she took a wound which meant she had to either give up one of her bonuses until she healed, or write down a new trial (which she got to pick) as a scar she kept until she succeeded at a task using that trial. I remember she choose a scar at least once, getting a cut through her left eye so she got the trial “Bad at seeing things to my left.”
She picked up a katana, with a BIG win, which she got as a bonus she could use once per combat, because I wanted to introduce the idea of equipment. She also gained a psychic mind-stare with a BIG win, which let her try to take out a foe before a scene began, with no penalty if she failed.
She crossed The Waste, and found a mine shaft, which had evil scorpion bandits in it. Driving them away, the mine shaft lead her to a valley with a ruined town which had some bunny orphans in it. She saved them from a spider sweat-shop owner (who forced the bunny orphans to weave designer webs for uptown spiders), then went to find them a safe home. That took her to an old observatory on top of a nearby mountain, where she had to convince the ancient security AI (that controlled a robotic sphinx guard) to allow the orphan bunnies to live there. She hunted down and imprisoned a skunk airship pirate who made clouds the observatory couldn’t see through, and promised shed talk the orphan bunnies into become astronomers, and the AI agreed to let them stay and protect them.
Then she took the stench-airship, and flew off. She wanted to find, and defeat, the Uptown Spiders who received the designer webs. End of campaign.
I did not realize for weeks that she never killed anyone. Drove off, defeated, jailed, convinced to change sides, yes. Never death.
She really seemed into it, and told me she would introduce that game to friends of hers. She still didn’t think she could play a “real” RPG. I tried to convince her there were lots of games, like there were lots of books and lots of movies, and all she needed was one that was a good fit for her. I was not convinced “Hares & Holocausts” could be played seriously, thought I didn’t tell her that.
I’m skipping over a lot of the weird, awkward, difficult parts of this experience. I was making it up as I went along, and it was not as polished as this short write-up makes it sound, especially for the first game or two. There were moments I was uncomfortable. There was at least one time she burst into tears. I used some Rolemaster critical hit tables for narrative inspiration once, and that was a big mistake on numerous levels. The councilors insisted all games take place in one of the public areas, and only between 7am and 6pm. No one else played with us.
At the end of my week, I gave her my contact info. She was going to be there for at least a few weeks longer. I did not ask for, and she did not offer, her contact information. I never heard from her.
I think that’s the only complete, totally original RPG I have ever designed by myself.
My father stayed sober for 90 days, because one of the councilors at rehab told him he couldn’t — that it would be impossible. Through sheer iron will, my father took not a single sip of alcohol for three months. They were a good time to know him. Then, convinced this meant he wasn’t an alcoholic, he drank himself to death over the next few years.
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