Time bubbling

Timekeeping is important when you’re running multiple groups simultaneously in the same world. Doing this means you get to do half the preparation, and might get to re-use preparation on a second group. It’s pretty good GMing practice for people like me, who want to play a lot, but can’t find easy ways to play a lot. Most of the advice I’ve been given about timekeeping in D&D-likes is pretty unsustainable practice for me. It’s typically this: Write down everything your PCs do every day, so that their actions impact the world that the other groups are adventuring in. It often comes bundled with the advice between sessions, game-time progresses at the same speed as real-time, because that’s the way the Gary did it and he’d run for up to 50 players!

Marcia’s Fantasy Medieval Campaigns has the best version of this (which, to be frank, is probably the intended version, those early rules can be vague): Don’t track days, track weeks. However, it’s still more tracking than I want, so instead, for my next open table campaign, I’m going to try something new: Time bubbling. If you recall my previous post on apocalypses, it’s always more fun if you tie an apocalypse into a mechanic, so here it is:

The Apocalypse

Nobody knows what caused it, but sixty-odd years ago time broke. The dead began to rise from their graves – some still rotted corpses or skeletons held together by time itself, some strangely renewed and with cruel powers. Those that lived or walked in solitude became disconnected from time. And when time disagrees with itself, entire communities can be trapped behind impenetrable walls of time itself.

The Mechanic

Whenever an individual or small group leave a larger group (such as a town or city), they enter their own timeline – a time bubble. Everything that happens when they are travelling exists on its own timeline until they return to that same town, and which point it is placed into history at that point in time, as if it all had occurred at once. If contradictory or simultaneous events occur, there is a time paradox in that location from now on (a unique quest is required to resolve a time paradox!) And there are unpredictable impacts on the ability of items or spells to function that originated in the paradox (you both have the sword of knowledge? It only knows half of its knowledge in each timeline!).

An Example

So, in this example, the Tigers of Red Larch set off on the 1st, the Band of the Silver Bridle on the 3rd, and the Party of Five on the 10th. However, The Band arrives back first, and so their adventure becomes history on the 9th. This doesn’t impact the Tigers at all until they return on the 13th, however the Party leaves after they return, and so their adventure exists in the past for them, where the Tigers does not. The Tigers get home on the 13th, impacting the Party’s adventures only 16th, and when the Tigers and the Band resume play later in the month, all three groups adventures will impact the group.


Because I can now run things only in game time, without any real-time impact, which is something I appreciate. Real-time play doesn’t work for me and my friends, who can’t play regularly, and don’t want to wait a year for their downtime magical item to be finished. Timelines don’t interact until adventures are complete.

Tricks and tips! This can also run week-by-week if you wish. I think it’s actually messier weekly, because usually sessions happen on a weekly basis, so everyone’s timelines sync up and it results in more, rather than less paradoxes. Paradoxes don’t occur very often except in the case of specific groups competing for things, and they’re a fun consequence as well, and clever groups might come up with methods to avoid them.

6th February 2023,

Idle Cartulary


What’s your apocalypse?

I was writing a post about a timekeeping technique called Time Bubbling (coming soon!), and I realised that there was a worldbuilding technique that I think is essential to most fantasy worlds that we play treasure-hunting in: Apocalypsing. Don’t worry, this one will be a quick one.

Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts has one of my favourite apocalypses

Most D&D-likes are post-apocalyptic. When you’re world-building, the first thing you need to decide is: What was your apocalypse, and what were its consequences? Because this is a fun question to ask, and it says a lot about your world.

The size of an apocalypse

The main decision you need to make about your apocalypse is whether is was a local apocalypse or a global one. A local apocalypse might look like this:

The kingdom of Magras was once a noble kingdom well-known for its Oogrish stonework and its advances in automation. It was destroyed in a war with the Moondark Queen, and now only remnants remain in a twisted wilderness peppered with the ruins of the old kingdom and cultists of the now-dead Moondark Queen.

Whereas a global apocalypse might look like this:

One thousand years ago the God-priestess of Som Nam used her secret and blasphemous arcane research to open a hole between the mundane and the eldest divinity, allowing the divine to engulf and infect the world. The portal was wedged closed by a consortium of long-dead knights, however not before the world was shattered by the destruction caused by Darkness of Possession, the Devouring Void, and the Ecstasy of Destruction. Were these three elder gods ever truly vanquished?

Choosing which sized apocalypse you want to write about is more important than the nature of that apocalypse, because it will often dictate the nature of your campaign and how much sense treasure-hunting makes in that context.

The nature of your apocalypse

The nature of your apocalypse helps dictate what kind of hazards might be encountered, what kind of treasure there might be, and what kind of community remains.

Our two earlier apocalypses were military and divine in nature respectively, but there are many opportunities for other apocalypses such as war, famine, climate change, the summoning death-gods, causing divine wrath, creating intelligences that turn upon you, accidentally merging your dimension with another dimension, mountains falling from the sky, or an army of sorcerers suddenly trying on each ther because their access to magic was tainted.

Choosing the nature of your apocalypse is less important than the consequence that that apocalypse has on the world now. The nature of the apocalypse is just lore. Don’t put too much thought into it.

Fun apocalypse consequences and tensions

Instead focus on the consequences of the apocalypse and the tensions it causes. Let’s take our two earlier apocalypses.

In the first, the war has left only a remnant: Let’s say there are the remnants of the militant nobles, now solitary but organised and patrolling the wilderness to protect the most sacred object of Magras, the remnants of the innocent civilians, reduced to subsistence in walled villages or living in caves, and the remnants of the cultists, in the desecrated temples of the past empire. In the ruins are automated technologies that only need to be activated or repaired to be implemented. Outside of Magras, there are likely places unaffected by the war who have an interest in the technology of Magras, and who are in opposition to the Rangers and may ally with the cultists or the remaining magrasians in exchange for passage or information.

In the second, a thousand years have passed, but there are wastelands that new communities and old have had to learn to avoid and overcome. There are zombie wastelands of the Possessed, there are whirlpools and black holes rendering swathes of land uninhabitable by the Void, and roving bands of the crazed devotees to the Ecstasy of Destruction roam the lands chaotically. There is a mystery here, too: Is this all still remaining, or are the elder gods still here and biding their time?

Consequences can also be mechanical: Time is broken, and now different groups travel in different timelines. Magical artefacts are rogue, and now they must be tamed. Violence was banished, and now combat can only occur in certain arenas. The benevolent gods fled, and now the only gods hide their curses behind blessings.

Note how tensions are harder to extract from a thousand-year-old apocalypse. Easier to extract treasure, or hazards, or enemies that have been trapped or held in stasis. But having elder gods hibernating beneath the land is cool! How do we bridge the two?

Layered apocalypses

Well, we layer apocalypses. We can have our thousand-year elder god apocalypse, our recent war with the Moondark-Queen, and the kingdom that stood on the same ground that was destroyed 500 years ago by its hubris in attempting to harness the power of prism-batteries.

There is a danger in layering apocalypses, however, because the more we layer apocalypses, the more we need to explain why the previous apocalypse hasn’t been demolished and looted. This can be fruitful, though: Stone is expensive to mine, so if there is stonework it’s likely to be repurposed. What does this look like in modern or pre-modern architecture? Did they respect the ancients and preserve it? Treasure is likely to be taken unless it’s dangerous. Most communities will mark danger with signs that are meant to be universal (see physical waste markers). What are these signs? How did subsequent communities use the treasure or the technology they found that was not dangerous? Why are there no dinosaur skeletons? Why are the ruins beneath the ground? Did they live in dungeons, or did the apocalypse bury them? Ask these questions, these are the fun questions to ask, that will bring weirdness to your world.

That’s it, really. Let me know your thoughts, and tell me about your apocalypses!

Addendum: Mechanical consequences was added to the consequence section.

2nd February 2023,

Idle Cartulary

The Curse of Who Now? Part 6

I’m rewriting from memory a huge module I don’t like very much, a la the What on the Borderwhere. This is part 6. The basic principles are: Look at the next thing in the adventure for 2 or so minutes. Reproduce it from memory. Fill in the gaps in memory with imagination. Always rename the thing. Let misremembrances gain momentum.

This project is turning into as much it’s own thing as a memory dungeon as I hit barriers with regards to terrible design, so I’m slowly imagining what it will be. At the moment, I’m calling it The Vampire Countess of County Dimness. Names are changing rapidly (partially because I keep forgetting), but at least I’m renaming the Countess Carmela something; I want something like Brightsteel; her name reflects her noble warrior past; not her cruel socialite present.

One thing that didn’t make sense about the original module is how these people survived. There appeared to be no industry or agriculture apart from wine; although there are stores for adventurers. So, each town has an industry of its own. Raventholt will change it’s name to something gatey, maybe Raven’s Gate, and become a trade portal: Free folk bring goods from outside the valley there to trade. Dimness Town is adjacent to Castle Brightsteel and supplies the Countess’ parties.

There must be wine, meat and vegetables grown in the valley, so the other towns do those things (remembering it is cloaked in eternal night; maybe rat-farmers, mushrooms, chard, beets, parsnips, cabbage, brussel sprouts, carrots, horseradishes for vegetables, and grapes must be grown magically for wine.

The point here is: The Countesses lifestyle requires a thriving economy despite the curse on the valley, so we need a cruel and cutthroat but thriving economy, which gives everyone, rich or poor, agendas.

Anyway, with that in mind, we should start: Dimness Town itself! First impressions are that this could be a short module in and of itself: Two dungeons, a bunch of keyed locations, a bunch of characters. This will have to be tied together, and it’s quite disparate. I’ll be doing the two minutes per section approach, but I may write in different sections (events, characters, locations), reduce things if they’re overwrought (perhaps the dungeons) or defer to future posts (for dungeons that are still interesting, for example).

Random Events in Dimness Town

Characters in Dimness Town

  • Burgomaester Vargir. Happiness keeps the shadow at bay. Manipulative, brittle and deluded. A mysterious devil opposes his town’s happiness and brings the dark, and it is not the Countess who brings what little prosperity we have. All is well!
  • Layla, Vargir’s wife and Father Luca’s sister. Anxious, and stages sandwich parties for people picked off the street by her servants each day (who often have important work, or are starving and are simply there to eat).
  • Father Luca.
  • Mila, groundskeeper.
  • Isla, altar girl.
  • Wilhelm, whose son the shoemaker has been imprisoned by the Burgomaster.
  • Ben , the Coffinmaker. Kindly and generous. Held ransom by a vampire hoping to gain the Countess’ favour; lesser vampires are in the attic, waiting to move.
  • Martina and Danos, secretly were-ravens. Martina is driven by the Dark Shield’s cause. Martina will spy in raven form to ascertain the player character’s trustworthiness, and report back to the Dark Shields. Danos is driven to keep the Inn running. When the Rook’s Wing Winery is attacked, the Inn will run out of wine, and Danos will hire tough honest folk to investigate.
  • Rica and Bruno, their children. They’re each entranced by one player character. Rica is clever, and asks clever questions. Bruno is wants to try everything.
  • Sándor and Eugene, Wolf-Hunters. Dour and haunted. They do not seem trustworthy, but are. Eugene repeats the last word in each of Sándor’s sentences, for emphasis. Good guides.
  • Nico and Karlo Wicker. Fond of trouble and wine. Cowardly, but take risks if others bear the blame.
  • Vico, the Burgomaster’s Son. Awkward, obsessive, self-taught wizard. A tabby cat follows him everywhere. He and Pheobe loved each other and sought to teleport out of the valley, but the spell broke and she exchanged bodies with her cat (he assumes she is simply insane). Seeks the knowledge to save her and escape the realm with her.
  • Adze, the Demon Wolf. Part-demon. The Burgomaster’s thug. Crazed dreams of Remy, his sister. He saved from a demon as a child and took on an aspect of them.
  • Lady Belle Wicker. Believes Vico drove Pheobe mad; hates the Burgomaster more than anything. Devil-worshipping book club. Sleeps with dead, magically preserved husband.
  • Pheobe Wicker. Is actually Vico’s cat. Her body acts as a cat’s does, but can speak now. Nobody knows this.
  • Ernard, the Wicker spy.
  • Karol the Toymaker. A devil. When a toy is purchased, they say “For your coin, a new friend to live with you.”, and they are given a malevolent sentience.
  • Cashmir, old but youthful. His brother was once the Countess’ husband, and is now trapped dead in the dungeon. Wishes to free him; he may have a secret to the Countess’ power.
  • Vashti is Belle of the Lake’s elder brother. He is desperate to find her; the other free folk don’t believe she’s missing (she’s independent and headstrong, and will make her way back).

Secrets in Dimness Town

  1. The identity of a treasure in a crypt beneath the castle.

Events in Dimness Town

  1. The Bones of St Marko are stolen.

Locations in Dimness Town

I don’t really care much for maps of towns; I’ve never used them much. We’ll assign each location a card, and if you need a map, just start laying out tarot and write down the grid of locations.

  1. Saint Marcus’ Church. Sanctified by the holy bones interred beneath the altar.
  2. Dragon’s Folly Inn. A skewered silver serpent above the door. Warm and welcoming, popular, good music. Always Martina, Dano, and their children, choose 3-5 others from Dimness Town inhabitants on a given night (redraw if it’s nonsense). There is a loft for ravens hidden in the roof, with treasure for the Black Shield and a swarm of ravens who will defend it.
  3. Burgomaster’s Mansion. Bright and garish paint. The grounds are filled with mascots and displays in various amounts of deterioration from past festivals.
  4. Dimness Re-education Centre. For those accused of malicious spreading of gloom. Run by Adze. Ludo the Shoemaker, imprisoned.
  5. Wicker Mansion. Vegetating, groaning, hateful. Home to Lady Belle Wicker and her cat-daughter Pheobe. Book club in the parlour.
  6. Coffin Store. Ben lives here. Vampires in the attic. They may possess a box of holy bones they cannot look upon or touch.
  7. Karol’s Toys and Dolls. Unremarkable. Major arcana toys:
  8. Golden Market. Busy during the day, a large square in the middle. Walls are plastered with festival posters, for the Burgomaster’s festivals. Each day a stocks are filled with new criminals arrested for malicious unhappiness, with a mask on to conceal their faces. Fruit and eggs can be purchased to throw at them. There are suggested jeers.
  9. Free Folk Camp. Home to Cashmir and Vashti. Otherwise a welcoming and joyous affair until they move on.


So many obvious missed opportunities here. Why is the “book club” just a cult?! It should be a book club! What is more horror than the wives of Dimness all being members of a secret devil-worshipping society, and yet they perceive it as a harmless book club aimed at maintains their town’s pleasantness?

Next time: The next town, perhaps?

Idle Cartulary

11th August 2022

The Curse of Who Now? Part 5

I’m rewriting from memory a huge module I don’t like very much, a la the What on the Borderwhere. This is part 5, but this part will be reimagining part 4 rather than moving onto the next section with the memory dungeon method, because the dungeon I remembered in part 4 was impressively dull.

Our castle is a social dungeon. Each party you attend gets you deeper into the castle; guest circulate between rooms within the party, taking initiative to progress their agendas. The party areas are the inner courtyard; the countess’ court; the spires; the catacombs. They need ways in and out, guest of honour, a theme, and servants to interact with. There are other areas that are not parties, too: The locked rooms and countesses quarters, the guest rooms and the servants rooms.

Enter through the grand gates that only the Countess and her Chamberlain can open. Above them are chained dead in warriors armour or robes (the last adventuring party to enter Dimness Vale). Here there is a stable and carriage yard, a cloakroom, and a decorated outer courtyard (travelled through en route) . You always arrive here, no matter the occasion. The Chamberlain greets his guests at the Overlook.

The Inner Courtyard

The guest of honour is someone who fancies themselves a warrior or general. The theme is the skeletal battle of Castle von Straud. Exit the way you came, through the gilded doors to the Countesses Court, or through the servant doors in either courtyard.

  1. Outer walls, wine bars, seated dining, waiter (Arnault, animated armour, very insistent on your satisfaction, clumsy with fragile items).
  2. Eastern courtyard, firebreathing gargoyle performances, standing hors doerves.
  3. Western courtyard, shields and swords embedded in to the walls and floors with great force, like work of a set (it is not, was a massacre), a bar (vampire bartender Armand, sweep fringe, follows you around, just wants to be your friend).
  4. Parapets, staged battle between von Straud’s animated battle armour and skeletal guesses hordes.
  5. Hall of Heroes, statues of the Countesses ancestors, who answer questions truthfully, staged for all the guests (all guests hear all answers).

The Countesses Court

Enter through gilded doors in the inner courtyard, via an entry hall where servants hand out masques. The Consort is guest of honour. The theme is despicable art. Exit through the elevator, secret doors in the ossuary (a twisted creature stands aside if you shake its hand) and organ, and a dumb waiter in the feasting hall leading to the kitchen below.

  1. Grand Hall, organ playing, the invisible ghost that plays it (Ludvick, kind and lonely, nobody speaks to him, died of old age chained to the organ).
  2. Feasting Room, overflowing with delicacies (some live beautiful people), hell-hounds eating bones. Seats for all, appear when you’re not looking.
  3. Cobweb Room, with acrobatic spiders tossing about innocents in the magically lit rafters. A wine bar where you can bid for the next victim, hanging in bird cages next to the wines (Lamella, vampire concierge, wide grin, over-enunciates, wicked).
  4. Blessed Chapel, whoever can avoid the traps and desecrate the icon, gains von Straud’s favour. (Tarn, bound-folk devotee, narrates and conducts; slow and purple speech, in a pallid imitation of vampire garb) ,
  5. Ossuary, arranged into a perverted sculpture with a dragons skull it’s snarling opus. Skeletal servants in formalwear bring hors deovres and wine. They speak in rasps and taps.

The spires

Enter through the elevator or servants staircase, exit the same way or by gravity. The guest of honour is someone with wings. The theme is superiority.

  1. The Bat Rookery, strangely devoid of guano. They sing, a strange chorus. Silent, small creatures in white gowns and veils serve refreshments in velvet cups.
  2. The Lounge; engagements of a sexual nature are occurring here, between (draw two minor arcana for each engagement, suit indicates the nature of the engagement) 1. Guest; 2. Giant spider; 3. Vampire; 4. Von Straud (if present, if not, alone); 5. Invisible stalker; 6. Free-folk; 7. Were-wolf; 8. Twisted one; 9. Skeleton; 10. Bound-folk; 11. 2d6 creeping hands; 13. Witch; 14. A tree-creature.
  3. The Witches Den; roulette with a magically heated cauldron and magical tokens; win a brew (1. Clairvoyance; 2. Luck; 3. Strength; 4. Beauty; 5. Healing; 6. Weapon-bodied; 7. Vision; 8. Anti-gravity; 9. Love; 10. Flora-growth; 11. Death-speech; 12. Stone; 13. Quickness; 14. Knowledge. Suits are 1. Overpowered; 2. Positive; 3. Negative; 4. Opposite.), lasts for major arcana hours.
  4. The Belfry of Spiders. They serve drinks here; the bar is high above (Scrakt tries their best; but serves the wrong drinks).
  5. The Ruby Tower: A red crystal heart floats at her peak. Her stairways collapse and move; her floorboards give way; she throws bricks and rearranges windows and doors. Cocktails at the base; a race to the top to touch the ruby and gain a crimson glow for a day. She fights you, though. She takes damage when the Countess is struck; kill her first if you wish to defeat her.

The catacombs

Enter through the elevator, the servants staircase, the ninth crypt or von Straud’s secret tunnel to the observation balcony. The guest of honour is someone pure. The theme is desecration.

  1. Von Straud’s family tombs, desecrated and set up as cocktail bars. Two bartenders: Marcel is tall, brooding, and listens well. Reige asks questions, flirts, and pours a little too much out.
  2. The dungeon, featuring d14 prisoners to torture or tease. 1. Emily the werewolf; 2. Lake girl’s brother; 3. The wizards apprentice; 4. A servant of a burgomaster; 5. Clara, a vampire betrayer; 6. Geertrude, a rogue witch; 7. Camber, last remnant of two adventuring parties ago; 8. ; 9. ; 10. ; 11. ; 12. ; 13. Father Donuvo; 14. A guest.
  3. A torture chamber with an observation balcony above it. The torturer is testing a new method each time you pass; they are dressed in red habit. Draw minor and major arcana to determine what they are doing.
  4. Desecrate the crypts! Riches if you survive! Garrulous, a flamboyant vampire, presides. d14 crypts: 1. Sir Agnolo and his sentient glowing sword Lotti; 2. Saint Marcos and his divine femur; 3. Langdon the fool and his deck of illusions; 4. Petra the Healer and a clue to a magical grave; 5. Geralt the Large and his dragon-winged glider; 6. Phantom Warrior Clutz, freed from his own sword; 7. Magister Khazadurrum and his Staff of Power; 8. Von Straud’s jealous ex-wife, with a diamond ring and rage at the Consort; 9. The Chamberlain’s Sister, whom he wishes nothing more than her returned to life; 10. ; 11. ; 12. ; 13. ; 14. . d14 traps:

Locked rooms

Enter through the steel engraved doors in the Countesses Court, guarded by red-eyed mounted knights, von Straud’s secret tunnel or the secret fireplace door. Inhabitants are absent if they are currently attending a party or engaged in a duty.

  1. Vestibule, the rat king, who answers to the holder of a giant rat’s red eye.
  2. The Wedding Hall, feast perpetually rotting, ghostly guests trapped for eternity. The Ghost of Langdon the Fool awakens if their harp is played, and will tell them a secret in a riddle.
  3. Study. Painting of von Straud’s beloved. Secret fireplace door. A library of secrets.
  4. Treasury, containing a magical vault, which contains magical treasure and riches. It is dimly lit by a magical dome that appears a night sky.
  5. Von Straud’s bedchamber. The Consort might be here, or the Countess.
  6. Von Straud’s bath chamber. Filled with blood. Haunted by an ex-lover.
  7. Countesses Wardrobe. Magnificent raiment. They dress you when you enter, floating delicately.

Servants rooms

Enter through servant’s doors everywhere. Servants doors open only to those wit the mark of von Straud on their person; once it is their von Straud senses their whereabouts if she wishes. Inhabitants are absent if they are currently attending a party or engaged in a duty.

  1. Wine Cellar with rats (friendly, communicate in rhyme, love Cyril) and a black pudding hiding in a cast (with a sign).
  2. Huge. Kitchen with a pot full of zombies. Cyril will be here, fighting the zombies, or directing the kitchen for a party. His assistants are human or polished skeleton. Invisible servants automate stirring and stoking.
  3. Servants quarters, smelly, bloody, a mix of graves and cots and stands and much cleansing equipment to keep them polished for parties.
  4. Chamberlain’s office, accountings and accoutrements, and his shadows demon lover dwells here secretly, and spies
  5. Laundry, skeletons well polished scrubbing and beating and hanging. Focused on their tasks.

Guest rooms

Enter through the guest doors in the inner courtyard or the Countesses Court.

There are 22 rooms, they’re major arcana themed because the Countess isn’t subtle. Rooms are typically empty, except for wandering monsters. Rooms that belong to guests not currently at a party are empty and turned up, although events may cause them to return to their rooms; this needs to be tracked.

There is a suite for adventurers; five rooms and a parlour, it is suspiciously personalised for your specific player characters. The Countess watches through the chandelier made of glancing, light-arc projecting crystal eyes.


A major arcana of guests. A random 10-15 of them attend each party.

  1. Lady Fairfax, a witch, and her black cat familiar Bagrat
  2. Reza, the Chamberlain
  3. Clockwork Langdon the Fool
  4. Troose the Consort
  5. Hertzog the Cleric
  6. Simony the Accountant
  7. Oscar the Cast-Off Vampire
  8. Bismarck, Burgomaster of Raventholt
  9. Doruvo the Vampire. Prays still, but his beads burn his fingers. Wants Father Donuvo’s approval, hates him for his imprisonment. Loves Remy still; Bismarck dislikes him for this reason. Apprentice to chamberlain. Was an clever, queer child in a small town; as a vampire has become deceptive. Hawkish nose, looks disheveled in a suit; kind smile ruined by teeth.

Guests need to be interesting: Assets (or secrets), agendas, pre-existing relationships, common experiences with player characters, and recognisable profiles. Doruvo is an example, as I don’t know the Valley yet. I’ll need to come back to this.I am leaving it incomplete as well, because it’s best filled with guests from locations throughout the valley, who the player characters might know from other places, or may meet when the visit them. We need a partygoer generator: The castle should be packed with twisted and merry folk, even those not VIPs.

Random Party Events

Minor arcana. Suits might indicate that the event is 1. A staged distraction; 2. A staged entertainment; 3. A terrible accident; 4. A desperate ploy.

  1. A grand display of entertainment begins
  2. The guest of honour arrives
  3. A murder is discovered
  4. von Stroud joins the party
  5. A victim escapes their bonds and flees
  6. Two guests challenge each other to a duel
  7. An unusual delicacy is served
  8. A guest makes an unusual wager with a player character
  9. A guest makes an unusual announcement to the whole party
  10. A bounty is collected (or attempted) on a guest
  11. Two guests couple off and leave for one of their rooms
  12. A guest becomes unwell and returns to their room; too much drink or ill-advised indulgence
  13. A guest arrives to a flurry of attention
  14. Two guests engage in an argument; one storms off

Wandering Denizens

Minor arcana, in non-party areas. Suits might indicate they are doing something: 1. Recreational, like drinking or socialising; 2. A duty; 3. Surreptitious, like spying, stealing, or stolen love; 4. Depraved, like torture or murder.

  1. Flying brooms
  2. Unseen servants
  3. Skeletal servants
  4. Crawling hands
  5. Alga the vampire maid.
  6. Cyril the mutant servant
  7. The chamberlain
  8. A new spider cocoon
  9. Bat swarm
  10. Giant spiders
  11. A live toy
  12. Royal guard wights
  13. Flying swords
  14. Animated armour


Now I can draw a map, but honestly, I’m sick of the castle right now, I’ll do it later.

Final Thoughts

I struggled with a few things here; first was carrying party themes through with the pre-existing spaces; this will likely be easier with a few editing passes and farther distance from the text. The other was characterisation, because I don’t have a sense for the valley yet. Both await revision.

All of this makes me think that the castle should be the center of the adventure, as well as the potential climax: move it to the middle of the valley, be driven there by character hooks as well as adventure hooks, you seek information at the parties here.

There are also a number gaps left here; guests should be distributed through the valley, so I haven’t met or remembered them yet. So I’ve left some guests of honour blank and part of the guest list blank, to come back to later.


I need to write a major arcana theme table; this should be easy as they’re already themed. Having a theme table with maybe three items to each card that are awfully generic, will help with generating unique magic, treasures, rewards, and characters (or determining fates or outcomes, even).

Next time: Dimness Town.

Idle Cartulary

16th August 2022

The Curse of Who Now? Part 4

I’m rewriting from memory a huge module I don’t like very much, a la the What on the Borderwhere. This is part 4. The basic principles are: Look at the next thing in the adventure for 2 or so minutes. Reproduce it from memory. Fill in the gaps in memory with imagination. Always rename the thing. Let misremembrances gain momentum. Let’s go!

Note: I got to the end of the memory dungeon, and was deeply disappointed, so I didn’t chisel down into this in more detail like I have previously. You can skip to the end, or the next castle post, because this one is me being disappointed, and the next will be me reclaiming this awful dungeon

Random Encounters in Castle von Straud

These random encounters are boring, static and mainly limited. But, if factions emerge, and I can find three or four (the chamberlain, consort, independent people, and something else?) perhaps 14 encounters, with some varying by suit, is feasible? Here are the encounters I recall, split into ones that might vary, vs. static.

Varying Encounters: black cat, witch looking for her black cat, vampires, wights once the royal guard, zombies, live toy, spider cocoon, Alga the Vampire Maid.

Static: Flying brooms , unseen servants, flying swords, bat swarm, von straud, chamberlain, Murderous Clockwork Fool

I’ll come back to this I think after I’ve completed the Castle read through, hopefully some factions might present themselves.

Secrets in Castle von Straud

I’m putting this here in anticipation of their being some secrets. I’ll fill them as I go.

  1. The identity of a treasure in a crypt beneath the castle.

Castle von Straud

The map is beautiful, but it is also broken into nine parts of varying sizes, for a total of 88 keyed locations. There are four floors, two towers, and the outer walls.

I’m a little torn: If the castle is a megadungeon, we need factions and geography for it to be an exciting play-space even before von Stroud is particularly concerned with the player characters. But with an overarching villain, my impression of the castle on previous read-through a was as a von Stroud centric space. This would be more interesting to present as an oneiric memory palace, reflective of von Stroud herself.

I’m going to go backwards, remembering rooms and relationships and then draw the map from my key. I’m just going to skim for two minutes, and then key what I can, and continue.

The Walls

The Walls are four empty spaces. Two with stories:

  1. The front gate opens with a password, which only two people know. Von Stroud and the Chamberlain.
  2. All areas of the Castle are clearly signed from the overlook.

Main Floor

  1. Foyer with firebreathing gargoyles!
  2. Grand Hall with Chamberlain
  3. Dining Room with ghostly-played organ that is also a secret door
  4. Archer’s Turrets or something with cobwebs, foreshadowing spiders in the towers?
  5. A chapel with a magical icon, and the corpse of an evil cleric.
  6. High tower with spiders and bat living space, effectively a dangerous rookery.
  7. A living tower with a giant crystal heart in it, that uses its environment to fight back, and if not defeated, takes damage instead of von Stroud before it affects her.


  1. Audience Hall, probably for von Straud to formally meet the player characters
  2. The King’s Accountant, Liv, who is unhappy as von Stroud doesn’t trust him with all of her secrets.
  3. An elevator, which is likely a fun place for a set piece

Locked Rooms

  1. Steel engraved doors leading to the Wedding Hall, guarded by Rat Kings
  2. The Wedding Hall, feast perpetually rotting, ghostly guests trapped for eternity. The ghost of a court fool awakens if their harp is played, and will tell them a secret in a riddle.
  3. Study. Painting of von Straud’s beloved. Secret fireplace door. A library of secrets.
  4. Trapped Treasury.
  5. Giant Spider Hall, containing webs.
  6. Belfry, containing the spiders.
  7. Real Treasury, containing a magical vault, which contains magical treasure and riches. It is dimly lit by a magical dome that appears a night sky.
  8. Von Straud’s bedchamber, containing the daughter of the lady found in Raventholt. She is the Consort.
  9. Haunted bath chamber, blood red bath, an ex-lover of von Stroud
  10. Countesses Wardrobe
  11. Hall of Heroes, the Countesses ancestors, who once were asked for guidance. She hasn’t visited here in centuries, but they still have ancient knowledge. Statues.
  12. The Parapets are patrolled by von Straud’s animated battle armour


  1. Oscar, a vampire ex-lover, hiding in a lounge
  2. Cloakroom, with a single cloak that opens a secret door
  3. Witches stores
  4. Seven witches and their magic heating cauldron, and spell books


  1. An elevator trap, like a vertical crushing wall.
  2. Wine Cellar with friendly rats and a black pudding hiding in a cast (with a sign)
  3. Kitchen with a pot full of zombies. Cyril will be here.
  4. Work of art made from the bones of von Straud’s enemies
  5. Room where shields and swords are embedded in to the walls with great force
  6. Chamberlain’s office, and his shadows demon lover


  1. A hallway ankle deep in water, with trapped flagstones that teleport you to the dungeon.
  2. The dungeon, strangely full of treasure (including a sentient glowing sword) and rotting corpses holding treasure, a great ooze, and a werewolf named Emily who is eager to be freed by von Straud
  3. A torture chamber with an observation balcony above it.
  4. A brazier and a bowl full of colourful stones, with a riddle. Burning a stone teleports you somewhere in the realm. This seems either silly or like it belongs elsewhere.
  5. Catacombs, full of bat guano and teleport traps, with a ton of crypts each individually keyed. Saint Marcos has a magical femur. The fool has a deck of illusions. Petra the healer gives a clue to a magical grave somewhere.A dragon-winged glider in a crazed inventor’s crypt. A staff of power in Khazads possession. Empty for von Straud’s future wife. Von Straud’s jealous ex. The sister of an archmage, who wants her returned to life. A phantom warrior who fell on their own blade and will fight along side you for seven days if freed. Baphomet the loveliest horse ever, now a nightmare. Von Straud’s tomb, we’ll accommodated and with three vampire brides watching it. Von Straud’s parents and brother’s tombs.

There are so few characters in this castle, and so many traps. Treasure kept in places that don’t make sense if von Straud has lived here for centuries. All in all an unmemorable space, and I only remembered half the locations, when I gave myself a lot of leeway. I do not imagine von Straud a loner, but surrounded by sycophants. I’m certainly not going to try to remember that beautiful yet horrible map.

I’m going to need a part two, I need more than memory to make this space worth entering. It needs to be an (un) living castle!


  • The areas are stages for parties. Keep their contents, roughly, but this is a space for decadence and sin. Walls, spires, courtroom, graveyard, dungeon. Five themed parties.
  • Off-limits areas: von Straud’s quarters, the servant’s areas, and the untouched rooms of von Straud’s memory.
  • Quarters are occupied, unless their owner is at the party, or they are out. There are guest quarters for visitors and more permanent guests.
  • The castle should be packed with twisted and merry folk.
  • Cliques. This should be Bridgerton, where von Straud is queen, and the various families murder each other.
  • Secrets, associated with the cliques, not just with von Straud’s lore and with the location of treasure.
  • Give the characters agendas. Chamberlain, Fool, Clockwork Fool, Consort, The Cleric, The Accountant, Oscar the Vampire, Cyril the Servant, Phantom Clutz.

I think I’ll have to spend a bit of time figuring out how best to set up parties that are easy and interesting to run.

Next time: Either a better Castle, or Dimness Town.

Idle Cartulary

11th August 2022

The Curse of Who Now? Part 3

I’m rewriting from memory a huge module I don’t like very much, a la the What on the Borderwhere. This is part 3. The basic principles are: Look at the next thing in the adventure for 2 or so minutes. Reproduce it from memory. Fill in the gaps in memory with imagination. Always rename the thing. Let misremembrances gain momentum.

I took a two week break between reading this chapter and drawing the mal, and writing this post, so its more memory than usual. Let’s go!

Map of the Valley of Dimness

Valley of Dimness is better than Sumerkii.

Green dots is the Dark Forest, brown stripes is the Mountains of the Mage to the north and the Mountain Folk’s Realm to the south, blue waves is river or lake, black dashes is roads.

The original map is muddy and obscure, so I attempted to remember locations relative to each other, most of which have their own chapter. A pointcrawl or pathcrawl is better suited, I think. The ones that don’t are:

  • The Gates of Dimmness. Two looming, broken guardians. Looming, rusting iron gate. The gate is locked from within, and is challenging to scale.
  • Druish Wood. Crowded, towering trees, lost in mist. Silent as an unvoiced scream. Magic goes awry here, on a face card.
  • Lake Groaming. A monstrous mirror, still as death. Blugo, a desperate fisherman, has taken Arabella, a free folk child, hostage, to sacrifice to Groaming in hope of finding catch once more.
  • Mount Wondrous. Green and vibrant forest. Kind pixies and pleasant illusions. Merrykind, once warrior wizard, abides in his crooked tower, pleasantly confused and creating his own realm after von Straud took his mind but not his power. Responds poorly to hearing the truth of his situation.
  • The Old Mountains. Steep, craggy, grey-wooded. Painted cairns and wards. The mountain-folk live here beneath long abandoned villages. Their books have hard-sought secrets on the the dark goddess.


I’m supposed to do another map for this, but I’m not convinced Raventholt needs a map? Just an inn, a church, and a mansion. We already have a folk generator

  • Red Raven Tavern. Well-established but in gloomy and in disrepair. Erik lavishes attention. Alexia, stares into a cup of wine.
  • Saint Carolius. Screams can be heard if approached. Better-maintained a cemetery than a building. Father Donuvo prays without rest at the altar. Doruvo the Vampire screams in hunger from the basement.
  • The Bismarck Mansion. Claw-marks and bloodied hand prints, wolf-tracks, boarded-up windows, broken gates. Bismarck and his sister Irena dwell here, assailed by von Straud. Burgomaestre Bismarck, Bismarck’s father, is dead in the parlour, rended by ghoulish claws.


The characters in this chapter are husks. Let’s fix that.

  • Irena. Sought by von Stroud, the focus of her lust. The Abbey of Markos the Martyr in Dimmness Town will keep her safe. She will not go before her dead father is buried; she is brave beyond reason. She embroiders her story into her cloak.
  • Bismarck. Responsible for both his assailed sister and his ailing village. No warrior, but no coward and strong in his obligations. He never smiles and clears his throat before each sentence.
  • Father Donavo. He is weary. His son Doruvo, a vampire, is locked in the basement. He can consecrate the dead to the Lightbringer, but the Lightbringer has no power here. His voice cracks from praying over the screams.
  • Doruvo the Vampire. Emaciated and hungry, but not unhinged. Plays on his humanity and portrays his father as the aggressor. He lies.
  • Erik the Innkeep. His family (three children, one devil-touched, his wife recently deceased of wasting sickness) is starving; business is not booming. Lavishes attention on those with coin. Bismarck offers him money to send capable folk his way.
  • Alexia the Elder. Mourns all the people he has lost; his last great-grandson Gavril fled to Dimmness-Town. Not a fighter, but canny. Remembers many secrets. Would doom Raventholt to bring his long-dead wife and daughters back.
  • Blugo the Fisherman. Desperate, hungry. Believes he is cursed, and he is, for Gloaming has a cruel sentience. A live sacrifice will bring back his catch, but the Free Folk will not forgive him Arabella’s demise.
  • Arabella the Destined. Clever, demanding, organised. Unclear what she is destined for, but grasps for it nevertheless. Two brothers in the Dimness encampment who
  • Merrykind the Lost. Pleasantly confused, hums to himself a gay tune. A warrior lost his fury. Summons pleasant illusions to fill his lands, and wanders among them happily. His books of lore are hidden in his tower.


This is stuff that didn’t belong in this chapter, but was cool. I think I’ll put an extras section at the end of every post, and then I can revise the random encounter or rumours tables (or something) to include them.

  • A player character sees their own corpse hanging from a tree with a taunt or rumour displayed on a board on their body
  • A caravan of free folk. They are generous with rumours and friendship. There’s a fortune teller.
  • The party are invited to go by haunted carriage to Castle von Straud.
  • A woman who hid her daughter away, who fled rebelliously straight to von Straud. The woman is lost in grief, the daughter may be a lieutenant or consort of von Straud.
  • A parade of ghosts rises from the graveyard and walks slowly to Castle von Straud.
  • An old lady who sells pastries both sweet and savoury. They are dangerous and more-ish.

Next time: A new chapter! This one is the Castle von Straud, which is a megadungeon, and hence I expect I’ll have to split it into levels or some such. I haven’t really looked too closely at it yet.

Idle Cartulary

9th August 2022

The Curse of Who Now? Part 2

I’m rewriting from memory a huge module I don’t like very much, a la the What on the Borderwhere. This is part 2. The basic principles are:

  • Look at the next thing in the adventure for 2 or so minutes.
  • Reproduce it from memory.
  • Fill in the gaps in memory with imagination.
  • Always rename the thing.
  • Let misremembrances gain momentum.
  • At the end of each post, plan the things to do next.

Let’s go!

The Bound Folk

Functional, sturdy clothing. Simple food but good wine. Every one to their place. Not generous, but desire return business. Any heritage or gender, but are likely to hide visible signs of difference behind clothing where they can.

The bound folk are 1. Hunched; 2. Stocky; 3. Wiry; 4. Hale. They speak 1. Tersely; 2. Hushed tones; 3. Husky; 4. Quietly. They wear 1. Warm and layered; 2. Many pockets; 3. Functional; 4. A glimpse of beauty, briefly.

They might say:

  1. Nothing, to a stranger
  2. Free folk aren’t welcome here
  3. The devil herself sent you
  4. Mother Night’s mercy
  5. Leave and choke on fog
  6. A violent outburst
  7. I shall do it, for the sins of my ancestors
  8. Always keep the fountain flowing
  9. Harm a raven, catch the devil’s eye
  10. Directions to the next location, in hushed and hurried tones
  11. Morning Lords light
  12. Directions to another, distant Bound Folk, one they don’t think well of
  13. Hurry out now, it’s closing time (when it’s clearly not)
  14. Come back after closing time (if you have earned their trust)

The Free Folk

Colourful tents and wagons. Flavourful food. Itinerant workers. Never pinch a penny. Generous with their gifts. Any heritage or gender, welcoming to all.

The free folk are 1. Lithe; 2. Old but hale; 3. Sparkling eyes; 4. Rotund. They wear 1. Flowing and trailing; 2. Vibrant colours; 3. Fabulous millinery; 4. Ringing jewellery. They speak 1. Confidently; 2. Melodically; 3. As if whispering a secret; 4. With forbidding.

They might say:

  1. Thank the devil (for our liberty)
  2. Whatever it takes (to gain intelligence for von Straud)
  3. Stay on the road! There are terrors in the woods
  4. A warning for whatever the local danger is
  5. Directions to anywhere you ask, always with unasked for opinions
  6. The devil’s gaze on you! (this curse is fruitless, but they do not believe it to be)
  7. Directions to a fortune teller (charlatan, or not?)
  8. A song or poem about the history of Sumerkii
  9. An offering of a meal and a tent to sleep in (expected to be returned)
  10. An invitation to dance (and perhaps, more?)
  11. An offer to buy or sell a good or service strange or unusual (that may be true, or not)
  12. A secret, whispered, in a riddle, with a wink as they twirl away or disappear into shadow
  13. We do not go into that place, in a hushed tone with a warding sign
  14. Only we can wayfind through the fog (but avoiding to answer why)

These two sections were presented as a few pages of facts, rumours, and knowledge about the two folk or that they might possess. Too much to read in two minutes, let alone remember (or use!) so I thought squeezing what I remembered into a feels practical lists might be more useful. And again I’m leveraging the suit contents so that this can be an encounter generator. I want to add a “14 secrets a free folk might have” and same for the bound folk, but there’s nothing in the text to support it. Maybe I put it on a to do list if I end up liking the results enough.

Random Encounters in Sumerkii Vale

During the day, draw a minor arcana. At night, draw a minor and a major arcana, taking the major arcana if the value is higher than the minor. Face cards always count as lower than a major arcana. If the cards have equal value, you find sign or trail of the encounter. Suggestions for signs or trails are found in parentheses.

A. Bound folk (10-20), looking for a lost child (a large disorganised party has passed through here)

2. Mountain folk (6-8), laying in wait but unlikely to engage (bones and a well-concealed fire)

3. A grave, makeshift, or ornate, perhaps violated (for commemoration, a candle lit twinkling just out of sight, or a trail of flowers)

4. An angry mob, searching for someone who wronged them, perhaps the party, von Straud, or a local witch (a gathering of torches in the distance or tracks of a large mob)

5. A swarm of ravens flocking to scavenge something that may be valuable (skeletons of various sizes, picked clean by birds)

6. A wolf-pack (6-8), hunting for pray, always lead by a she-wolf of uncanny intelligence who always returns, changed (the howls of a wolf-pack, not far enough away; ravens burst from a nearby tree in shock)

7. Free folk guides (4-6) secretly in league with von Straud, leading their prey to their doom (a subdued free folk campfire, from which cruel laughter floats)

8. A spy for von Straud, perhaps a raven, a bat, a wondering vistani, a lone and calm wolf, watching or trying to take a personal item (a token of von Straud’s favour, perhaps a broach, a mark, or a scar)

9. A scarecrow with knives for claws hunting ravens (a trail of straw leading into the wilderness)

10. A corpse, perhaps a wolf killed by many birds, or spears, a bound folk torn apart by wolves, or a party member whose flesh flakes away if moved (a terrible stench, or circling ravens); P. A wereraven, spying and reporting to their secret society (a wereraven in human form, convinced the party are likely to help after spying on them, wanting to impart a clue)

N. Werewolves in human form (1-6), looking to deceive prospective prey (a body, torn apart by wolves)

Q. An elderly lady and an even more elderly donkey, bringing pastries to market (scattered pastries by the edge of the road, mostly eaten, and the appearance of someone dragged a short distance from the road)

K. Druids of Sumerkii (4-6), hallowing a grove in the name of von Straud, sacrificing something that wishes not to be (chanting and screaming coming from a dense grove just within earshot)

11. Werewolves (1-3), hunting or deceiving (a bundle of folded up clothes hidden in a tree hollow or such)

12. The ghost of a supplicant murdered by von Straud, perhaps murderous themselves, perhaps warning, perhaps desiring a body for vengeance or to succour von Straud again (a freshly murdered body, done delicately or in a rage, with no tracks to or from the site)

13. An unrighteousness swarm of bats obscures the moon, casting all in darkness before it disappears (a mound of guano, beneath a depleted but huge tree)

14. A skeletal rider holding a rusted lantern, searching for a way beyond the fog (a warhorses’ footprints)

15. A lone child, lost in the woods, befriended by ghosts who are protecting her (a lost toy, and a trail of child’s footprints)

16. A flickering light attempts to lure strangers into its haunted tower, perhaps to its zombie family, or it’s violated grave to be righted

17. Hateful plant-creatures, the blighted land awakened, blindly seeking release (uprooted shrubs, trees, or vines, with laboured and dragged trails into the dark)

18. The undead bodies of bound folk (4-8), their souls stripped and reincarnated, shambling in search of souls to claim

19. Wolves the size of grizzly bears (1-4), her hunting hounds on their own time, out to terrorise or feed (huge wolf footprints, always leading back to Castle von Straud)

20. Long-dead bodyguards of von Straud (1-3), animated through foul necromancy, their limbs remaining animate after they are severed, on a mission (a limb, clutching a treasure or letter, haplessly wriggling back to its owner)

21. A long-dead knight of Order of the Great Serpent, slaying von Straud’s minions, or those who thinks are aligned with her (a vampire’s thrall, half-changed werewolf or druid, slain by the sword).

Came up with a new draw here, because it felt like one table can hold all the necessary information. It’s a neat draw: 24 items, 10 that can always occur, 4 and 10 that are binary conditional. Challenges my memory a lot, though!

Mountain folk??!! There’s a third folk??!! If they aren’t detailed elsewhere in this product, it’s second thing I’ll have to add myself (those keeping count, the other was secrets for folk to hold).

Yipes, that took longer than I expected it to, so I’ll post it now and reschedule the valley map, the valley key, and the village (as yet unnamed) until the next post in the series.

Idle Cartulary

23rd July 2022

The Curse of Who Now? Part 1

Matt Sanders wrote the What on the Borderwhere, a cheeky writing exercise on re-writing dungeons from memory. It works quickly and is a fun, low-pressure solo exercise in writing, especially for classic modules like Keep on the Borderlands.

Right now, I’m recovering from COVID-19, and so my productivity has dropped from the fatigue. I wondered if playing with this might be a fun, low pressure project. But with a giant silly wizards of the coast module I intensely dislike.

The basic principles are:

  • Look at the next thing in the adventure for 2 or so minutes.
  • Reproduce it from memory.
  • Fill in the gaps in memory with imagination.
  • Always rename the thing.
  • Let misremembrances gain momentum.
  • At the end of each post, plan the things to do next.

Today, I’m going to read and remember the introduction and chapter 1, to get the ball rolling. I will in the future put these at the end of the post, but I want some actual content in this post. The first chapter and intro are these four things that I’ll need to remember: Hallmarks of Horror, Who is Count Barovia von Strahd?, The Tarot Deck and Adventure Hooks. I’ll start with the longest section, and work my way to the briefest one.

The Tarot Deck

Oh what a start I just read this huge chunk of text in two minutes and can’t remember what it’s for at all. it seems like the adventure is randomised with tarot, but I don’t remember any individual parts of that. I’ll make something up: For any given list or table, randomise using tarot instead of dice:

  • d4: Draw minor arcana, suit dictates result.
  • d14: Draw minor arcana, value dictates result, suit provides context, relationship, or conflict.
  • d22: Draw major arcana.
  • d56: Draw minor arcana.
  • d88: Draw a minor and a major arcana, suit dictates results, locate on a matrix.
  • d307: Draw a minor and a major arcana, locate on a matrix.

Suit provides context might mean:

  • Cups with love, a person keeping a joyful secret, or a friendly reaction
  • Wands with magic, a magical creature or magician, or uncertain reaction
  • Coins with business, a shopkeeper or hawker, ir a wary reaction
  • Swords with conflict, soldiers or monsters, or a hostile reaction

Addition, 22/7/22: I realised that I’ll need a convention for lists, so the cards will be minor: A, 2-10, P, N, Q, K (where N is for Knight), major: 0-21.

Literally nothing I just read was as interesting as what I just wrote. I’m not sure if this is a positive or negative sign for the future of this endeavour.

d14 Hallmarks of Horror

Draw from this table when you want to make something more horrifying. Combine with a character or suit for a vignette.

  1. Foreshadow an approaching horror
  2. Something useful breaks or sputters out
  3. Describe the decrepitude of the world
  4. Show a grim reflection of a player character
  5. Show a glimpse of beauty in the darkness
  6. The environment gently aggresses the player characters
  7. Something watches the player characters, then is gone
  8. Something disturbing happens during a mundane activity, but turns out to be a vision
  9. Personify the environment
  10. Someone sees something real that nobody else sees
  11. A non-player character is resilient against the darkness
  12. A creature comfort is burnt, destroyed, or ruined
  13. A non-player character places a penny-curse
  14. A non-player character gives a blessing

d14 truths about Countess Peruna von Straud

  1. Peruna von Straud is a great warrior who took Sumerkii by force.
  2. Before it was called Sumerkii, it was called Solechnia. Her people remember.
  3. She murdered her little brother to steal his bride, Tsarina.
  4. Tsarina killed herself before Peruna could claim her, leaping from the ramparts of Castle von Strahd.
  5. Hoping to bring her back, Peruna drank her brothers blood.
  6. Sumerkii is trapped in a magical mist through which no soul can escape.
  7. Souls in Sumerkii are reincarnated, and new souls are born only rarely.
  8. von Straud believes herself in total control of her domain, although many rebel against her.
  9. von Straud believes herself controlled and past human feelings, although she is beset by fits of rage, lust, and jealousy.
  10. von Straud is ever-present, either in person as Lord of her domain, in the form of her watchful Ravens, or in the form of her many informants.
  11. von Straud considers the reincarnating people of Sumerkii to be her playthings, and she will always choose a playful approach because of this. She is careless with her toys.
  12. She seeks to woo Tsarina in her next incarnation, although time has twisted her love into entitlement.
  13. She seeks the entertainment of a great foe to battle once more.
  14. She seeks the short-term satisfaction if a consort, or perhaps even an successor to her throne.

Adventure hooks should really be written after you write the adventure, shouldn’t they? I might come back to this and make it a bigger table at the end.

Anyway, hopefully this will be a low-energy, creative project to keep me ticking along rather than becoming stale, until I have the energy to recommence reviewing and playtesting Advanced Fantasy Dungeons, as well as the comparative D&Ds I’m keen to start when I have improved reserves.

Next time: Bound and Free folk generators, map of Sumerkii Vale, Sumerkii Vale encounters and random encounters, and a yet to be named village.

Idle Cartulary

20th July 2022

Combining fast travel and pathcrawling

Honestly, if you thought I wasn’t going to come back to Advanced Fantasy Dungeons, you were being optimistic. Marcia’s Mosaic Worlds neatly matches with AFD’s counties, and then she wrote about Fast Travel using these counties, which provided me with impetus to trial an option where the words “watch” and “hex” are excised, when they never existed in the original text. And, while I’m at it, let’s incorporate the pathcrawl rules.

Travelling typically takes place on a trail in the wilderness.

Each day you travel on a trail in the wilderness, travel one county. Each day you travel on a road or along a river in a boat, travel two counties. If you have directions through impassible or obscuring terrain, but no trail or road, travel one county every two days.

You cannot travel through impassible terrain without a trail, road, river or directions.

If you travel through obscuring terrain without a trail, road, river and directions it is both unnavigable and dangerous. When you exit the county, randomly select which county you exit into. Roll twice for each die on the wilderness grid, taking the highest each time.

Each day you travel, the GM rolls on the wilderness grid. Roll 1d8 for the type of encounter, Roll d100 for what encounter, and 1d6 for when the encounter occurs. An encounter does not necessarily prevent a day of travel from being completed.

What type of encounter: 1-4. Nothing; 5. Monster Traces; 6. Monster Tracks; 7. Monster Encountered; 8. Monster Lair.

What encounter: 1-40. Nothing; 41-53. Common; 54-65. Common; 66-74. Uncommon; 75-82. Uncommon; 83-88. Rare; 89-94. Rare; 95-97. Very Rare; 98-100. Very Rare.

When is the encounter: 1. Dawn, 2. Morning, 3. Noon, 4. Afternoon, 5. Dusk, 6. Night.

For each day of travel, each character can choose one action to take while they rest, such as heal, memorise spells, prayer, or repair armour, forage or hunt. All characters can choose to force march, forgoing their action to spend 2d6 HP and travel a second county in a single day.

Using vehicles or mounts does not allow you to travel further, but limits or facilitates your ability to travel on certain terrain and allows an expanded inventory.

If you are stranded in the wilderness at the end of a session, each PC rolls to return to the nearest settlement. Roll fortune or an appropriate proficiency, against a target equal to the number of days travel to the nearest settlement, plus the number of turns traveled to escape the dungeon. For every point you fail by, choose either to spend that amount in HP or ten times that amount in GP.

Smush! This is my combined, non-anachronistic, PC-facing wilderness travel for Advanced Fantasy Dungeons! Honestly, it doesn’t appear much more complicated than the previous rules, and it’s definitely faster and has clearer stakes (although may need supplementing with a GMs guide for path rules and generation).

Paths lead to interesting places. Don’t improvise these places!

They are sometimes off the path! If they are, there is either a branch that leads to it, or it is perceptible from the path.

Always signpost paths in some way, be they actual signposts, tourism guides, maps or rumours!

Interesting things lie along the path! To identify what is along the path, roll 1d6: 1. Ruin; 2. Lair 3. Settlement; 4.Wonder ; 5. Hazardous Landmark; 6. Fortuitous Landmark. To identify whether a path continues, roll 1d6: 1-2. Detour to another path; 3-4. Shortcut to another path; 5-6. New path and new location.

Some interesting places have no path apparent! Make finding the path for these places a reward or the goal of a quest.

Look, potentially too many exclamation points, but I really like pithy principles for GMs, I don’t know why. I mightn’t incorporate this straight into AFD 0.2, but maybe I will?

Idle Cartulary

1st July 2022

Advanced Fantasy Dungeons: Pre-alpha reflection

If you’re walking in on the end of the Advanced Fantasy Dungeons series, there’s an index here.

That’s a wrap! Kind of, anyway, we have our rules sketched out. Advanced Fantasy Dungeons is the broadest, largest game I’ve written. Next, I’ll start laying it out into an alpha document so I can start limited playtesting at home, and with that I imagine will come more posts about how things change during layout, and also during playtesting, but I thought I’d pause a moment and reflect.

I went into this with a smirk, thinking I’d find a terrible game, full of flaws and failures. A game I loved as a child, but that I recognised was full of needless complexities even then. What I found instead was a challenging text, full of inconsistencies and implications, that lead me to consider that maybe it was more than immediately apparent.

I found it fascinating subtexts in examples of play, such as the Rath the Fighter examples in the combat chapter of the DMG, which revealed a gap left between the mechanics and the intended play style, and there were new concepts like ethos, that appeared to be intended to play a significant role in replacing older mechanics such as alignment. New proficiencies interacted with downtime in ways reminiscent of modern classics like Blades in the Dark. Planescape incorporated the precursors to inspiration and folded them into ethos; Birthright structured downtime and political play. There were many other surprises and they were side-by-side with legacy features, some half-addressed, leaving it unclear whether they were unimportant to the designers intended play or whether they were assumed knowledge.

Although I’d joked that I’d make a retroclone of second edition, I realised I really wanted to play this between-the-lines edition of dungeons and dragons, one with dynamic combat, with structured downtime systems, and variegated procedures for different phases of play. I called it a paraclone; the second edition that might have existed in a parallel universe. So I embarked upon writing it.

The process of writing a game, episodically, online, is one I haven’t tried before. It’s been fascinating developing something outside of a document, because it means revising something is both a finite act and a significant act, and also that it’s clearer what the implications of new developments are on discrete sections of previously developed texts. I’d recommend it, even though there hasn’t been much interaction with the posts.

The result is a game I’m very keen to play. I’m looking forward to GMing it in alpha, and I’m looking forward to opening it up to other GMs and pre-releasing it for broader feedback and development. I love that I’ve made it compatible with both B/X and AD&D 2e out of the box, I love the preparation tools I’ve drawn out of the OSR blogosphere to give clearer GM guidance.

More interestingly, it’s not the game the OSR typically plays. Most notably, here, combat is not a fail state, although okay is not super heroic. Random encounters still exist, but secrets develop into plots and the world changes as part of the system. This is more of a super heroic story game than B/X, or AD&D, but less of one than 5e, and on a completely different path than 3 or 4e. It’s exciting!

I’m still not happy with Advanced Fantasy Dungeons as a name, largely because I don’t feel like it’s “advanced” at all; but I fear that it’ll stick because I want a dull, functional name that befits the game it paraclones and I’m having trouble finding one with a similar vibe. Fantastic Medieval Campaigns, Old School Essentials and Dungeon Crawl Classics are my touchstones, and I feel stymied. Fantasy Dungeon Roleplaying, Ruins and Riches, Fantasy Dungeon Adventures, Second Wave Fantasy Dungeons are all options I’ve considered. Any other, similar names with naming conventions I’ve missed, please help!

There are a few optional subsystems I don’t want to add until I’ve playtested but are fairly essential to the second edition as a whole: A city pillar, a psionicist, monk and barbarian classes and a psionics magic system, all as examples of how to expand the rules in various ways. And as part of the tail of the alpha, I’m going to work examples of play, and prep throughout, hewing as closely to the ones in the original as I can. I want to work on 5e compatibility as well, at least from the adventure and spell perspective, the latter might end up challenging, though. A lot of my friends have played less with me as I’ve moved away from 5e, and that’s crushing, to be honest. I’d love this to remedy it.

On a personal level, I think taking a paraclone approach, even to a game so ill-regarded as second edition, has allowed me to build a game that I’m proud of and have been excited to play, in a way unconstrained development could not. I had been toiling at Infinite Hack’s complete edition for six months and three versions when I set it aside for this project, and I think I’m more excited for this weird, wonderful thing, and to a degree one that I’ve discovered and not created. Someone has made Advanced Fantasy Dungeons before: It was just never published, and no trace of it remained until its ghost visited me.

So now, to google docs, where I’ll start the process of pulling everything together.

17th June 2022

Idle Cartulary