I’ve been going through my games shelf (honestly, I’m not playing most of what’s on there). and I found a few oracles I haven’t really looked at before. One is Rory’s Story Cubes, which are dice with symbols on them that are freely available in toy stores. I also found these Intuiti Cards, which are like abstract shape tarot without suits?
And then Hy Libre posted some Magic: The Gathering combo’s she liked and I realised MTG cards are honestly great fantasy oracles if you don’t know anything about Magic: The Gathering. Later it was drawn to my attention that Nick LS Whalen does this exact thing to create adventures, although he reports Magic cards lean violent so often he uses it less than he used to. I’ll wait on the Magic cards approach until I can innovate on that approach.
What’s fun about these is they all oracle completely different things. Story cubes are a set of 54 common concepts. Intuiti has a major and minor arcana that are numbered, and then abstract shapes. Magic cards have a very specific image, a very specific title, often have a quote, and then a bunch of other information like symbol and colour and whatever that subtitle is.
Now, I’m not going anywhere concrete with this, but the other day I coined the term room set because Frank Mentzer implied dungeons are just groups of rooms with themes. I made a d20 spark table with themes, so I could randomly populate room sets with cool ideas. I didn’t like using the spark table really, but it did the job. The main problem I had with my method was that it didn’t address the issue of layout, which Mentzer was using to drive play.
And then Warren D reminded me this morning about punnett squares, and treasure is basically the same as a dungeon Ty, right? I started thinking about using punnett squares to combine the spark tables and some type of dungeon layout table. Problem is, I don’t have a d20 list of dungeon layouts. I just use other peoples maps! I hit a barrier with what that table would look like.
But Intuiti cards are literally a few hundred abstract designs. So what if my punnett square was literally laid on something like this? And rows were people and columns were themes?
Inhabitants: 1. Gobliny; 2. Ogrish; 3. Elemental; 4. Corpsy; 5. Demonic; 6. Arcane; 7. Divine; 8. Draconic; 9. Fairy; 10. Beastly; 11. Treeish; 12. Stone; 13. Spectral; 14. Oozing; 15. Shapeshifting; 16. Flesh-eating; 17. Trollish; 18. Simulacra; 19. Dark Mirror; 20. Clockwork.
Themes: 1. Trapped; 2. Homely; 3. Worshipful; 4. Buried; 5. Drowning; 6. Haunted; 7. Angry; 8. Studious; 9. Searing; 10. Imprisoned; 11. Castoff; 12. Armoured; 13. Painful; 14. Joyful; 15. Homely; 16. Playful; 17. Prepared; 18. Hidden; 19. Seeking; 20. Free.
So, after rolling elemental, divine and simulacra inhabitants, and haunted, armoured and seeking themes, I end up with a prompt that would look like this for each room:
- Winding, interlinking haunted labyrinth inhabited by elementals
- A heavily reinforced vault guarded by elementals
- Four square rooms in which an elemental search party sets up base
- A brightly lit broad meeting hall in which a cultists temple takes place
- A secret room from which the thing guarded in the vault can burst forth, with cultists trying to unlock it
- Massive plants reach into the darkness in a huge cavern, where the delving cultists do their darker rituals
- A complex full of crystal cylinders, cloning whoever sleeps within – currently all the same elfin person
- The highest point of the complex, heavily barred door, built to broadcast whatever is found in the vault, but now living area of the simulacra
- A deep shaft where all the complex meets; guarded by simulacra, but seeking tentacles grasp whoever enters the shaft.
This is cooler than a table, and I could literally sketch a dungeon map based on these ideas, but it wouldn’t be quick. I’ll have to think further on story cubes and magic cards, but honestly I haven’t looked at Intuiti cards in years, so this is a boon for me.
I’d love other ideas for improvising dungeon ups!
3rd July 2022