Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Dungeon Crawl Practice 3 - Scope and Regional Map


Several days South East of Aurum Ferro, at a confused delta of the sluggish Green Flow, a serpentine twin of the Black Flow, Turpid Wake, and innumerable other streams draining into the Umber Havens from the snowy peaks of the Maiden Tombs to the West. Land and Water meet messily here: fresh, brackish and salt mingling in uneasy union spread over miles of marsh, mangrove, mudflat and cane forest.



The Pyre Coast - A desolate and rocky hinterland notable mainly for its internecine range warfare, deplorable poverty and lack of decent anchorages. Goats, heather and dry grass interrupted by the occasional ruin or scenic cliff.

The Pyre Sea - Once the Inner or World Sea, the conflagration of the Old Empire gave the Pyre Sea its new name. Patrolled by Maritime Provence naval pirates, the Aurum Ferro privateer squadron and sea wyrms its islands and trade lanes are the scene of both robust trade and countless naval battles.

Green Hive - Breadbasket of the Successor Empire, and neighboring province of the Umber Havens. Neither the constant people stealing crusades from the Solar Papacy or the mismanagement of Syndicators: tax farming, debt peonage, land speculation, and proxy wars can drive enough refugees from the vineyards, fields and apiaries to reduce the Hives fecundity - though its greatest crop is now human misery.

Aurum Ferro - The Successor Empire’s great port on the Pyre Sea, an ancient metropolis of drowned towers, jaded, worldly and decadent even by the standards of a sybaritic nation. Home to the Imperial Naval Arsenal and a bustling focal point of international trade where exotic frivolities are traded for the Empire’s eons of stored wealth. It’s merchant magnets, privateer admirals and anesthetized nobility whine, demand and pay lavishly to have their whims catered to.

Crouch Villages - A race of arcane sports, spontaneously evolved in the magical sinks of the Umber Havens, the crouch are reviled for their waist high cockroach forms, acrid odor, chittering speech and diet of decaying matter. Mistreated in towns like Aurum Ferro, many Crouch live contentedly enough in the swamps and marsh. Oddly the Crouch welcome strangers into their mud and reed stilt villages, and many human outcast finds a new life of relative contentment among them - fishing, gathering and hunting.

The Maw of Snails - A magical sink and ancient mining catacomb know for the bright shelled snails that erupt from its shafts nightly, only to die in the sunlight leaving fields of slowly bleaching shell.

Drowned Mansions - In the high ancient days the marsh of the Umber Havens was reclaimed with levee and canal, a rich cropland home to elaborate manor houses, agricultural factors, and summer retreats for nobility and trade magnets. Neglect, saltwater intrusion, collapsed dams and magical corruption have left only decaying shells, looted parlous, and flooded cellars.

Angel Reef - The Southern twin of Aurum Ferro, a drowned Imperial metropolis -- levees and dams smashed by war. Inundated, and sunk beneath the hot doldrums of the Pyre Sea, home to sea wyrm kin of the dragon Zubrab the
Insatiable Wind and haunted by the dead.  Angel Reefl is a magnet to salvors and treasure hunters with an even grimmer reputation then the Plague Fleet.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Dungeon Crawl Practice 2 - Rumor Tables


Two sets of rumor table for characters who express an interest in discovering more about the Plague Fleet. Simply offer a rumor for ever 5GP the party is willing to spend asking about for information, or just provide a few rumors attached to a general description of the location.

Rumors available in the dives and salons of the grad, decaying port city nearest to the Green Flow Morass.

A tall tale … and its Teller.

  1. Wrecks? That’s underwater work usually - to breath you’ll want value stopped air bladders for that work. ... Longshoreman and regatta man of the Blue and Gold’s Demes. Leathers decorated with patches, badges and sailing medals.
  2. Imperial military ruins are rarely worth it for amateurs - the valuables are trapped ... Travelling Tomb Robber, uncommonly talkative, stone skull mask hanging loose.
  3. She is come again, she is waiting to be freed from the Morass, our Red Queen ... Naked drunk, prophetic on narcotic honey mead and shouting between seizures.
  4. At the delta of the Green Flow the seas are unwholesome, a shipkiller, haunted ... Leviathan Harpooner with hypnotic tattoos spending a year’s pay on an epic spree.
  5. To bring peace to ghosts they must be buried and shriven, at least the skulls ... The Tout’s ingratiating false smile suggests his goods will not live up to his promises.
  6. The worst arcane corruption is invisible and odorless - it leaves only death ...Wyrm Hunter from the Desolation of Zubrab - violent and mad eyed with arbalest primed.
  7. This? A green vampire monkey pelt from the Morass. There are apes also ... Perfumed, bedecked in lace and bodyguards, a Fop brags loudly to any willing to listen.
  8. The haints and raw bones of the Plague Fleet are still Imperial soldiers, a geas of command binds them to obey rank and insignia ... Grave meined Footman in the livery of a minor house, his quiet cultured speech mesmerizes a crowd of fellow servants and layabouts.

The rumors below are available only to characters with unsavory reputations and underworld connections.

The whispered admonitions … of cautious Whisperers

  1. The “Lost Lambs”, roughest lot mob in the marshes aid travelers ... A group of three Crouch hunters, wild on snake squeezins’ and eager to please.
  2. The corals of the Green Flow Morass hunt for flesh and take ships ... Smuggler, scarred upper face wrapped in sigil painted rags, unerring with her knife tricks.
  3. The machines of ancient wrecks hide gems and gold inside the works ... Crouch mudlarks bubbling excitedly in sing-song chorus.
  4. No sleeping in the Morass, everything there drinks blood - it'll eat you at night ... Crouch river pirate of the notorious Hook Gang, chitin lacquered with clotted blood.
  5. Beware old naval ordinance, it leaks magic esters, and worse explodes ... Legless wrecker living on charity, the bitter & haunted survivor of a dead expedition.
  6. Morass Plague kills fast - buboes and delirium - cured with salt water and rest ... Exiled gaucho from the Pyre Coast, weary enough of endless war to rot in the swamps.
  7. A malign intelligence that controls all things in the Morass - but it sleeps ... Snake eating cultist, hair bound with shed skins and hissing with a split tongue.
  8. The Fleet's dead are peaceable, until you loot the wrecks, then you join them ... Sweating Hellsman, still reeking of pine sap and snow, wanted for heretical singing.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Dungeon Crawl Practice 1 - Plague Ships Intro and Hooks

Below is the first of a series of  shorter posts discussing my personal design process and rationales for design decisions through the example of keying a location - the wrecks of high fantasy arcane warships in a post-apocalyptic fantasy setting.  I intend to key it for both the 1981 Moldvay Basic edition and 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons, but that may prove to be impossible.  A lot of decisions and elements of the project may prove to be impossible ... but even in the likely event of failure, I hope readers will find some ideas to discuss and mull over about the nature of classic adventure.

These posts will be structured to include elements of the project - "Plague Ships" and a notes on one or more design element of the content.


Polyandrium of Imperial ambition, Green Flow Morass stinks in the hot Southern sun. Bluish mud flats teem with giant blue shrimp below a shallow green tide. Grey mangroves garlanded in moss echo with the screech of sickle-fanged monkeys and the constant drumming drip as the fecund growth sweats in the humid heat. Above it tower the imperishable remains of the Grande Fleet of the Successor Empire, immured in an inconclusive settlement to an inconclusive war and scuttled to prevent the ancient stone war vessels from being parcelled out by the squabbling victors... the Plague Fleet.

The unwholesome airs of the Morass, untrustworthy currents and offshore reefs of wandering predatory coral have limited recovery and salvage to the schemes of crackpots, dreamers, confidence men. That the wrecks are haunted, trapped, and cursed makes them too dangerous for all but the most desperate and foolish freebooters.

The Morass is at the delta of the Green Flow, one of the many rivers that wind through the swamps of the Umber Havens. While both Morass and Flow are landmarks, they have grim reputation as plagued and dangerous even in a land of endemic mosquito and waterborne illness. The general location is all that’s necessary to find the wrecks, but in lotus dens, pleasure arks and gaming pits along the Alien’s Wharf of old Auram Ferro there are stories of the Morass to chill the soul. Likewise, in the swamp villages of crouch and human outcasts the cockroach people bubble and hiss strange tales of the wrecked Fleet.

If hints of wealth and strange adventure or desperate circumstances fail to intrigue your players the following opportunities may draw them to the Plague Fleet.

d6  The Largesse of Aurum Ferro’s Golden Thrones Smile on the Brave.

  1. The spring ball season has found its fad - the calculating spheres from the bombardment ordinators of stone ships worn on the corsage or as a wig borne fascinator.
  2. A dispute among gentlefolk will end in a duel, and civil unrest if proof of the battle honors and identity of 1st Officer of the quadrireme Risen Empire aren’t recovered soon.
  3. The popular Rag Priest of the 19th “Indigent” Emperor, Maximo the Obliging disappeared months ago, a holy vision demanded he succor the the Plague Fleet’s dead.
  4. The Arsenal will pay handsomely for ancient weaponry, or even parts - the fleet needs lightning casters, falconets, sakers and the sights and motive chambers of basilisks.
  5. The decrepit, wealthy Margrave is fixated on Imperial pride. He’s offering commissions to mount an expedition scourging Crouch and foreigners from the war graves of the Fleet.
  6. The Hemolina Cruelty was a storied raider, and her concealed strongroom hides the mummy of a Maratime Heresiarch Emperor/Admirals - returning it would bring trade.

Old Games

Let’s talk about old tabletop roleplaying games - specifically the kind of games played in the 1980’s and recently depicted in the nostalgia...