DUNGEON OF SIGNS ARCHIVE
This is an attempt to create an archive of my older ADVENTURE PDFs, formerly available for download ON Dungeon of Signs.
|The Header for Dungeon of Signs, Depicting ASE's Denethix|
However, people keep emailing me for these things, and the request are clogging up my inbox. So here - have some free stuff.
Since you came here for free things though, you have to endure my actual feelings and personality. I'm like your high school drug dealer - If you want to sit on my couch and sample my product you get to hear my opinions.
"Crypto is bad, there's no privacy on the internet -- online harassment will only get worse as industry and state actors get better at using it, American conservatives are fascists (even Ronald Reagan and my dear dead grandpa), and paraphrasing what Crass said in 1978 about punk, "THE OSR IS DEAD".
If any of this stuff bothers you - leave. Tell your shitty friends I'm an asshole.
If not, enjoy.
Like my drunken opinions, the work here isn't edited, it's not slick, and it was largely produced before layout programs were easily available or easy to use. What it is, is a selection of amateur hobby work made to share as part of a vibrant online community that played old RPGs together from roughly 2011 - 2020 (not saying it didn't have issues... or welcomed everyone). I think of this archive as sort of an chronicle of my involvement with the OSR, back before it collapsed under the combined pressures: of branding, commercialization, narcissism, and middle-aged nerds turning to reactionary politics. In this it also represents my learning and evolutionary process about game (mostly adventure) design.
The adventures here, starting with Red Demon of the Vile Fens and ending with the most recent version of Prison of the Hated Pretender (On Drivethru and linked here), as well as my actual edited works for sale here are my personal evolution as a dungeon designer. I don't know that they mirror the process of OSR design, but where they succeed I hope they offer some things you can borrow for your own work, and where they fail clearly there are strong lessons. Don't be like 2014 Gus, don't use matrices at the start of every key.
These days the OSR has shattered into a mess of lugubrious competing scenes all buzzing like flies around the corpse to nip at and lay maggots in its choice bits. I'm being polemical - there's still good stuff being made, and I am impressed with it each time I manage to find it. Still, a lot of knowledge has been forgotten, people have drifted away from the scene(s), and ideas are constantly being reinvented, or rediscovered ... and sold (with only rare credit to the folks who thought them up and gave them away for free ten years ago). There's packs of the broken toys who complain that giving away free adventures starves their children, and the wretched hatemongering filth of 4Chan -- both are picking the bones of the OSR for their own advantage.
I am annoyed that I feel compelled to make this archive, and I hope some day to take the better works here and edit them for usability and grammar, add more art, and improve presentation for release as Pay What You Want Works on DriveThruRPG ... if only because I suspect commerce will create a more lasting archive then the rotten, unsupported architecture of blogger. They will always be free, but until that impossible dream is complete, here's some adventures.
With all my malice and disdain,
Enjoy your games,
-- Gus L.
Anomalous Subsurface Environment:
These adventures are set in the world of Patrick Wetmore's Anomalous Subsurface Environment, the "Land of a Thousand Towers". The setting is a gonzo science fantasy post-apoco0lypse and I still believe that the Anomalous Subsurface Environment represents the best of OSR design, especially in the transition phase between the forum based "Old School Revival" and Google+ based "Old School Renaissance". I have long enjoyed writing in this setting, and with it's cheerful anarchy and absurdity had become the default OSR tone rather then grim darkness. Someday I hope Patrick finishes his dungeon or I work up the courage to buy the notes and maps off of him and spend three years doing so myself (this is very unlikely).
Fallen Empire/Crystal Frontier
My own "Off-Vanilla" fantasy setting, a sort of high magic apocalypse where the remnants of the Successor Empire are plundered by the rising "primitive" feudal powers of the Resurgent Kingdoms. Crystal Frontier is the Western edge of that empire, but these adventures are set in various other regions.
Things written outside of any of these settings. Those frankly a lot aren't much outside of them.
➽ Red Demon of the Vile Fens - 8/2012
A lair adventure for levels 1 -5, using the ruined war machine motif. I still think there's good ideas in here, but it's very much a Patrick Wetmore influenced work. The design and writing are rather raw, as I'd barely started talking to other creators. It's more typical of the "off-vanilla" design popular in the early Old School Renaissance where the basic elements of D&D's implied setting are used to create a different sort of setting. For example, one of the dangerous special munitions one can recover is described as powdered mummy dust that inflicts AD&D's mummy rot -- rather then being the Martian biological agent it was in own fiction.
➽ Prison of the Hated Pretender - 8/2012 An introductory lair adventure focused on monster encounters and a day and night activity cycle puzzle that allows movement through the otherwise very dangerous haunted location. The original uses the same sort of design as Red Demon, but the 2020 version linked here is much improved both in that it includes notes on how to run the adventure as a teaching dungeon, more art and better keying. It also includes a 5E conversion and some notes on the playstyle differences (though Prison is one of the rare OSR adventures I think can work in 5E as it's focused on encounters focused not exploration). I'm proud that it is frequently described as one of the three top OSR teaching dungeons, but it's still free. The tips go into my fund for buying other people's adventures mostly, and some tiny pittance goes to Hydra Co-op and offsets cost there.
➽ OBELISK OF FORGOTTEN MEMORIES - 9/2012 A level 1-3 adventure located on the ASE Denethix regional map proper (lower left corner), and the largest adventure I've written for ASE. A graveyard with a few mini-dungeons and faction intrigue with the representatives of three petulant orbital deities. At the time multiple tables and table nesting were very popular in OSR circles, and this
➽ Hel Crow's Final Rest - 9/2012 A Viking adventure. Low level, short, originally for a contest and I think a functional faction intrigue set up. Originally two pages. New version here is edited, and slightly longer due to layout considerations.
➽ Tempus Gelidum - 12/2012 A level 3-5 (more like 2-4) adventure on the Certopisan plains. Also a lair, an ancient clocktower home to a mechanical Gorgon. The treasure hoard is notable as is the experiment with description capsules covering room conditions.
➽ BritTLESTONE PARAPET -4/2013 My first entry I ever into the One Page Dungeon Contest and a winner (That year everyone won... it was a more egalitarian time) -- low level or something. I think it started my obsession with owlbears and the idea that they eat magic. Also includes crystals, magical pollution and cannibal bandits. A microcosm of every adventure I've ever designed. I'm not sure how playable it is, but think it works for a OPD.
➽ Adrift on The Sea Of Love - 9/2013 A level 1-3 pirate adventure. Generic enough, but I enjoy it. The dungeon in it is very much a set of traps, but I think they work, as does the island. Some of the ideas (such as the search for a boat) are borrowed from "N1-Treasure Hunt, a later TSR adventure I enjoyed in the 90's. It's nothing special design-wise, very standard B/X, but the keys are startign to get long and disorganized -- showing more "trad" influence then I'd like, though frankly this may be an issue for sea voyage based adventures. This was written quickly for Erick Jensen to use at a con I think so I suspect that I started regressing to the design style of all the early 90's dungeon magazines I read back in the day -- like a feral parrot sipping too much dark rum.
➽ Wreck of the ANubis - 2/2014 Level 2-3 and Written for an ASE Campaign, I don't know how successful it is largely because the key lengths are quite long, and it includes a matrix style intro key for each area that is far more elaborate then it should be. Otherwise it's a ASE wizard tower in another wrecked vessel with a swamp theme.
➽ Thunderhead Manse - 4/2014 Another one page dungeon and I think a finalist in the 2014 contest. I floating castle missing its wizard and now ruled by an increasingly slovenly band of flying monkey guards. Not explicitly and ASE adventure, but very much one in spirit and execution.
➽ Stone ShipS - 4/2014 A two page adventure that is my only experiment with procedural generation. Build an entire fleet of half sunken arcane warships. I like the idea, but this is too little space to do it justice. A failed design experiment that I should finish revisiting. There's no shortcut to a well designed dungeon adventure.
➽ KUGELBERG FLOOD - 5/2014 Another small adventure, that like Stone Ships started as a one page dungeon attempt and wouldn't fit. A sunken location suddenly revealed by a once a decade flood, with a time limit imposed by the returning waters. It could be a Fallen Empire location, and it's rather complex for an 11 key location, a dense and fairly terse four pages that manages to still have sufficient flavor. The text is lengthened by the same matrix style room description as a lot of my design from this time period, but it's more useful here then in some other examples.
➽ Along the road of Tombs - 7/2014 A larger sandbox and faction intrigue dungeon for 3rd - 5th level characters (I think - it has some nasty cultists in it) but designed rather organically without any attention to level balance -- meaning that it is rather dogmatic about mid-OSR design conventions. It's also a mess. One of my favorite messes, and something I mean to revise and republish without the constraints of the contest it was written for and which never finished (Road of Tombs was one of four finalists). It could be improved with editing, a less restrictive map, some new illustrations and a selection of smaller tombs (See The Grieving Road as an example of the style I think would work). With this I think it would make a very interesting sandbox with strong faction conflict firmly set in the Fallen Empire. I have thought of relocating it to the Crystal Frontier, but I think it's best if it remains within a few days walk (or more likely within the walls) of the Successor Empire's Capital. It's also an interesting adventure in the evolution of my design process - the keys are too long and disordered, it needs an edit, and again this is partially a process of quick writing, but it also drops the matrix design in favor of a bolded keys and stat blocks. This would evolve into my current style of bolding and sub paragraphs and to me represents an efficient and accessible way to write keys for complex and non-standard locations.
➽ Lone Colossi of The Akolouthos Sink 9/2014 Similar in design to Along the Road of Tombs (3rd level? There's a 10HD monster in there) a smaller dungeon in one of my favorite locations -- a wrecked war machine. I like some of it, but think the giant arcane "mecha" of the Successor Empire deserve something bigger. Also returns to the matrix keys of Kugelberg Flood, and less successfully as the longer description means each key is broken into two unconnected parts spread over almost a whole page. Usability isn't high here.
➽ Pretender's Dread Machine - 10/2014 I think this is a good 3rd-6th level adventure. A multi-session expedition featuring a region to explore, and containing two dungeons. Like Prison of the Hated Pretender it involves the legacy of a rather nasty despot and one of his magi-tech creations. In this case a building size machine (the primary dungeon) that can resurrect the dead. As a piece of adventure design, I rather enjoy the ideas in it, but think both the experiment with isometric mapping in its first dungeon fails, long keys and the matrix also make another unwelcome appearance. It deserves a editing pass, redesign and rerelease I think. I'd also like to add the 5th - 8th level third part of the Pretender sage "The Divine Wight" which I started but never finished because I couldn't figure out how to write a certain puzzle. Perhaps one day there will be an omnibus.
➽ FALLEN THRONE - 4/2015 I dislike this adventure. Mid-level maybe, a one page dungeon contest entry that I wrote in about 3 hours. It's basic idea, a throne of heaven (sort of a divine marble space station) falls into a city and begins to destroy it with angelic cruelty. The issue is that that's a big idea, as in it needs a big dungeon. One page can't offer a big dungeon so instead it's the sketch of an idea and terse compromises with a region based map. Honestly it reminds me of many of the small Post-OSR adventures that I don't have much time for, big ideas done too fast, too sloppy and without the space, design knowledge, or diligence to complete them. It is also my only OPD contest entry so far that hasn't placed. Read it only as a lesson in how not to design adventures (or OPDs).
➽ Comes the Mountain - 5/2015 A short (failed OPD) adventure for higher levels based solely on the drawing/map included. I think it's got a good idea, but the scope is too big for four pages. Again a sandbox about climbing up a walking volcano to turn it away from it's destructive path could be a very good high level adventure, but running this would require a lot of work. ➽ HMS APOLLYON PLAYER'S GUIDE - 8/2016 Not a dungeon. Perhaps the most time consuming piece here. The most detailed set of my house rules (an old version) for a setting based variety of LBB/OD&D. Contains such nonsense as steam powered mech suits and a lot of mid-OSR mechanics borrowed, stolen, modified and tested over several years of online play. It has some good rules, I still use many, but it's not streamlined in ways I'd like it to be and doesn't include various modifications that I think make this sort of ruleset better and have been using since.
➽ GRAVESAND BEACH - 4/2017 A one page dungeon that I submitted, but there was a typo in the license so it wasn't included in the contest I think. I enjoy the washed up sea elf pirate/giant turtle wreck, but am not sure where the seagull things came from. Fun ideas, but once again badly constrained by the OPD format.
➽ Maw of snails - 8/2020 Another One Page Dungeon, 2nd place I think in the 2020 OPD contest. It works, but it's fairly sparse. I've written a whole post on its design here so I don't think I will go into detail. I like it, but it's a One Page Dungeon which means a design test at best and usually a stunt.
➽ THE GRIEVING ROAD - 6/2022 2022 One Page Dungeon entry -- as a OPD it's a stunt, but a fun way to test out side-view maps and a 90's style jewel tone palette (faded for proper 2020's retro vibes). I think it would make a decent set of companion tombs for Along the Road of Tombs, or a small Crystal Frontier location set along the descent from the Maiden Tombs.