Bathtub Review: What We Give To Alien Gods

Bathtub Reviews are an excuse for me to read modules a little more closely, but I’m doing this as a critique from the perspective of me, playing, and designing modules myself. They’re stream of consciousness and unedited harsh critiques on usually excellent modules. I’m writing them on my phone in the bath.

I have backed a lot of Mothership modules on Kickstarter. The system is neat, easy to learn and to play, and attracts a lot of talent. I wish I played more Mothership, and I’m excited to see a lot of the various expansions to it into campaign play. Lone Archivist wrote What We Give To Alien Gods, a 72 page module, with additional art by Chris Cold and Vil, which I have to say I was attracted to by it’s strong cosmic horror vibes, something somewhat unique among takes on Mothership horror.

Cover art for What We Give For Alien Gods

Main negative out of the way out the gate: the information design leaves a lot to be desired. It doesn’t open with a summary or where to start, but rather opens with a safety, loot, special rules and xenolinguistics, a lot of which might be best in an appendix. On the first page of the adventure itself, it centres a derelict ship, which is plot-central but whose story is located in an appendix. I found it hard to intuit what would be where, I found myself expending energy on unimportant information before important information, and in a 72 page document this all could have been a lot more usable and digestible for me.

The “How to use this module” section is, I think, a bit excessive, but the safety section is fantastic, as is the section entitled lore as loot. Then we have another section on rules regarding relating to gods and xenolinguistics, which provides two frameworks for interesting, unique puzzles. For me, I prefer modules having a bit more of a kick off the bat, and I don’t love spending fifteen pages before it’s clear what the module is about. The “At A Glance” section should have been up front for me.

Act 1 is an unnecessary and incomplete two page hex crawl; this references the derelict ship that is featured throughout the module, but has no page reference and whose information is all the way on page 52 (there’s a page reference in Act 2 though).

Act 2 through 4 are the temple itself, an encounter with a trapped god, and the escape from the aftermath. Major character Dr Grahm is introduced through a random location generator with no page reference. The keyed locations are unmapped. The doors are mainly teleportation portals, but the lack of maps becomes a usability problem for me when hallways appear between rooms, or they start floating in relation to each other but it isn’t marked out in the text. The use of codes for me is a solution to a usability problem that isn’t there: I’d forget them during play and I wouldn’t were it spelled out. The entries are quite long, consistently longer than I’d prefer – two thirds of an A5 page for the most part. I can’t say having an extra sentence or two would effect the amount of text on the page by much. The final twenty or so pages of the module are what I’ll call appendixes – major NPCs, items, randomisers and some lore handouts.

Most of the content here though, is eerie, weird, puzzling and eventually very unsettling or outright horrifying, as you progress through the four “levels” available (sequence breaking is possible, particularly if the players solve the linguistics puzzles quickly). The linguistic puzzles and the gradual and directed exposition makes for a very slow and deliberate kind of play which is very unique. Good horror content here, and successful at a kind of cosmic horror that Mothership doesn’t usually excel at. Really, really good stuff, and I’d love to run this adventure.

Ok, there was a lot of criticism there, and I need to be up front, What We Give To Alien Gods is in an unenviable position: It’s much better designed than a lot of published modules, especially much better than most anything by the bigger publishers. But it’s also a Mothership module, and Mothership and it’s core modules have set very high standards for information design and usability. Some lessons here on information design could have been learnt from some of the better Mothership modules, in my opinion, but the content is exceptional if you’re looking for what’s on the box: Cosmic horror.

My main design takeaways from all the criticism is that a module needs to display information in the order it is read and used at the table, excepting only when it’s clearly referenced. You need to leverage your random tables so that they do double or triple duty of reducing the size of your keys. And most importantly here, the inclusion of a lot of very interesting puzzle content served to stodge the text up. Perhaps the puzzles could have been relegated to an appendix altogether, making them more optional (they’re a huge part of this adventure if you’re not good at or interested in linguistics) and also pulling them out of the main text.

An excellent, unique adventure, marred by poor information design and excessive keying. If you’re happy to put a bit of work into preparing it, I’d recommend it if you want slow-paced cosmic horror in your Mothership game.

29th March, 2023

Idle Cartulary


Bathtub Review: The Thawing Kingdom

Bathtub Reviews are an excuse for me to read modules a little more closely, but I’m doing this as a critique from the perspective of me, playing, and designing modules myself. They’re stream of consciousness and unedited harsh critiques on usually excellent modules. I’m writing them on my phone in the bath.

The Thawing Kingdom is a setting zine by Rowan Algoet (aka Bottomless Sarcophagus) I think I backed it for a zinequest one year? I have quite specific desires in something that calls itself a setting: It needs enough dynamite that if I drop PCs into it, things will start happening immediately. I’m not really someone who cares to read a lot of lore or background history unless it impacts the actions of the PCs and the world in the here-and-now.

The first page of this, the introduction, is a short story. It’s good, I just really don’t think stories have a place in settings. I think the important parts of this story could have been encapsulated in a sentence or three, or perhaps even in description elsewhere. I can see some very cool stuff here, if they were to appear as entries in tables later: A maze made of the bodies of frozen queens; A shrivelled heart that traps a monster from outside of time.

The next section covers folk who live here. There’s a good table of 20 backgrounds, and a lot of interesting world building buried in prose. After that, a section on the nature of the ice that is thawing and beasts and places associated with it; again, excellent world-building buried in prose. Another section on the very cool, god-slaying tech-bro kingdom to the south (more on this place than on the titular kingdom, actually). This whole section – the first 16 pages of the zine.

Then it gets good, dense with ideas: Lists. The major locations really deserves to be detailed further; the minor locations all have probabilities associated with them and I wish these had been substantiated a bit. Mysterious treasures couldn’t be more perfect.

I have very mixed feelings on Thawing Kingdoms, because it is very idea-dense, but half of it is presented in a way that makes it very challenging for me to use without a lot of work converting half of it to something more practicable. There are three main things I’m taking away from it: Firstly, the history and world-building is best buried in tables and lists. Putting it in prose encourages wordiness, but most of this cool stuff could be reduced to a d10 list and that could be distributed throughout the setting so that things could be gradually learnt through play. Secondly, it’s pretty important for me to have some more detailed locations, because while the paragraph-long locations are excellent, I’d prefer those, and a few page-long ones, instead of those, plus sentence-long ones. Finally, I can’t process longer prose well in the context of role-playing games. Shorter prose, broken up, works well. Page-long isn’t processable – I’d have to write a lot of notes, or more likely, I’d have to rewrite the first half of this to make it work for me, and that would be better some by the author and worked into the rest of the book.

The concept here: Of a kingdom recovering from a cursed sleep, full of the evil and dangerous remnants of that curse, is so incredibly good, and the content here is so incredibly good, but for me it’s marred by format, and diluted by the very cool adjacent kingdom, which detracted from the focus on the primary subject (although it deserves its own zine, in my opinion).

Anyway, this setting zine is full of amazing ideas and you could do far worse than using the content in your campaign. The formatting doesn’t work for me, but I couldn’t rate the content highly enough.

27th March, 2023

Idle Cartulary

The Tension Jar

I don’t remember where I got this idea from, but when I ran dungeons, before the overloaded encounter die, I used the tension jar. This overloaded overloaded encounter die made me think of this.

The original version of the tension die was this: When the company did something loud, risky or stupid I’d add a d6 to a jar. Every real time or game time ten minutes I’d roll all the dice and on a six there was an encounter.

I think it’d be fun to run this, but with a hazard dice:

Every the company did something loud, risky or stupid add a d6 to a jar. Every real time or game time ten minutes roll all the dice and look at the highest result.

  1. Nothing
  2. Omen
  3. Rest or exhaustion
  4. Deplete Resource
  5. Environmental effect
  6. Encounter

The chance of an encounter starts at 17% D increases by about 10% each additional dice in the jar. It doesn’t approach 100% for a long time, (~20 dice) however I suspect cumulative probabilities would make that moot.

The reason I like this is that it is theatre, more than that this is any better probabilistically. It’s not. It’s a little meaner. But hearing them jump when you signal the end of a turn with a shaking jar, or wince when they shove open a jar or begin to discuss their plans too loudly. That’s juicy, and dungeons are supposed to be never-wracking danger puzzles.

17th February, 2023

Idle Cartulary

Internal conflicts in OSR play

A few years ago I ran the AD&D DL series of modules, the Dragonlance Chronicles. They are a perfect example of the worst inclinations of the Weiss-Hickman plot-driven rail-roading modules that began with Ravenloft and continue to this day. I decided to pick it apart and place it into a sandbox. It worked.

DL1: Dragons of Despair

However, I think the design I did wasn’t successful because of the methods I used to sandboxify a linear, plot-driven series of modules. I think that the success of the campaign was largely due to a minor introduction I made in order to simply communicate what the important aspects of the characterisations from the novel were: I gave each character a one-line internal conflict. This was both challenging and potentially dramatically dangerous, because it pitted a lot of PCS against each other, but also set up fruitful relationships with NPCS, again in ways that seeded drama into moments later in the campaign.

There was no relationship mechanic here, and no procedure for generating them. For this campaign, I went bespoke. But I think that these could be semi-randomly generated, and that’s what this post is about.

Why internal conflict and not external conflict?

The primary goal of the internal conflict is to complicate decision-making, not to provide opportunities for drama. The big dramatic moments will come when the internal conflict is resolved; in my experience, this occurred organically, and created interesting play opportunities when it did. An example of this is that a slow-burning pair of PCs with a troublesome marriage resulted in one of the pair turning coat on the heroes, which turned the tide in a major battle.

Creating an internal conflict

So here’s my basic working definition: An internal conflict refers to a struggle between two opposing values. Our list of values (this isn’t the right word, quite, but I’m not sure exactly what the right one is):

  • Desire, such as your desire for power over others through magic.
  • Need, such as the need to keep your vampirism secret or face doom.
  • Duty, such as your duty to protect your sworn lady irregardless fo risk to yourself.
  • Fear, such as your fear that your brother will not thrive without your protection.
  • Obligation, such as your obligation to obey your Lord Father in his commands.

We need to take these values and combine them to create our conflict:

  • I desire to be a powerful wizard more than anything, but to do so I would have to abandon my brother.
  • I desire the love of my fiancé, but my duty to my Goddess will always come first.
  • I will be executed if I return home, but I fear being captured by the villains that pursue me.

So, let’s randomise this process. You’ll need to repeat this process twice, once for each value. Roll 1d10 for your value. On 1-2. Desire; 3-4. Need; 5-6. Duty; 7-8. Fear and 9-10. Obligation. Roll 1d10 for what in the world the value relates to: 1. Home; 2. God; 3. Family; 4. Friend 5. Enemy faction; 6. Friendly faction; 7. Sibling; 8. Magic 9. Riches; 10. Body. Roll 1d10 if you need assistance in determining the relationship between the value and the world is 1. Devoted; 2. Antagonistic; 3. Dependent; 4; Unaware; 5. Treacherous; 6. Protective; 7. Authoritative; 8. Dedicated; 9. Coercive; 10. Aggressive.

If your table is using world anchors (you may have noticed that the third of those lists is adapted from world anchors), it might be beneficial to tie one or more of your values to your world anchors.

Finally, be sure that there is some intrinsic tension between your two values if necessary, by adding an extra clause to your sentence:

  • I desire to be a powerful wizard by studying with the great wizard Grabimoru (Desire/Magic/Dependent), but to do so I would have to abandon my brother who lives to protect me (Obligation/Family/Protective).
  • I desire the love of my fiancé who wishes only to keep me safe (Desire/Family/Protective), but my duty to my Goddess will always come first, and she wishes me to bring her healing back to the world (Duty/Goddess/Dedicated).
  • I will be executed for treason if I return home (Need/Home/Antagonistic), but I have a duty to keep the tumpkins safe from the murderous grolgs (Duty/Friendly faction/Aggressive).

Linking internal to external conflicts

A secondary goal of the internal conflict is to provide the GM with opportunities for temptation. Cursed magic items, grey-aligned gods and wizards, bribery and corruption: Internal conflicts provide chances for PCs to lean into these things without simply being characters who make poor choices (most players don’t like to make suboptimal decisions). This is where the GM has the opportunity to create external conflicts from the seeds these internal conflicts grow.

Resolving internal conflicts

You can definitely do this by discussing it with a player; they can say “No, I think it’s time that my character makes the decision to no longer put his brothers needs before his.” It may involve discussion with more than one player if necessary. It’s up to the player whether or not the resolution of the conflict is the end of the story for the character, or whether they develop a new conflict for them.

Well, I was hoping I could have a simpler list, roll d66 for an internal conflict, and maybe that’s possible too. I suspect if I spent enough time analysing literature I’d find that there is a limited number of internal conflicts that we could compress to a table, but I don’t have energy or time to do that analysis. I’d love to see someone who did!

There are a number of ways we can use this! Firstly, we can get players to generate them for their characters, discuss them with each other, and decide whether any of the people involved are PCs. But perhaps a better solution would be for the GM to use the spark tables to generate a d10 or d66 table of campaign-specific internal conflicts, that each character can be randomly assigned. If I were to do this, I’d ask that the relationships be evenly split between PCs and NPCs if possible. I feel like a list of internal conflicts would be a more fruitful approach than the typical d10 hooks that we get more often in campaigns and modules.

10th February 2023,

Idle Cartulary

Not ancestries, factions with food preferences

I started writing this at one time, and then realised it dovetailed with a conversation that Sandro and I were having on discord about food. So I mushed them together.

Ancestries are boring. Don’t use them. Instead, develop factions with each other, because they come with built-in red barrels. To do so, pull from the work of Chaos Grenade and Dungeonfruit.

These don’t have to be major, and they can be ancient, but community-based biases and contradicting community goals have a deep place in fantasy literature and it appears to be overlooked in most modern fantasy D&D-likes. We recall Legolas and Gimli’s animosity, but also recall the animosity between the elves of Mirkwood and those of Rivendell, between Rangers and Bree-folk, or between Tooks and Bagginses. Most of these are petty and unfounded and based in distant history. I am reading City of Brass, and in it, there is a conflict map between Shafit, Deva, Nahid and Qahtani based on religious beliefs, current superstitions and wars that happened one thousand years ago, and all of these are simply different families of djinn.

Let’s start with a few basic building blocks: elves, dwarves, and orcs. There are never just one type of a group, so let’s say we have elves of Kalladros, elves of Ellumel, dwarves of Kalladros, dwarves of Xermahk, and orcs of Gheribour. Let’s use a 5 point conflict map to sketch this out. And don’t be afraid to be distant, superstitious, and petty.

I’ve literally drawn on the diagram from the blog linked to earlier on Chaos Grenade.

I’ll pick one, because I don’t need to write a bunch of communities to make an example. This map poses me questions. But, first, I have a few questions drawn from the Dungeonfruit article as well, and I’ll put them first

  • What is their aesthetic?
  • What is their hierarchy?
  • What is their (strange, proactive, selfish) goal?
  • What do the dwarves of Kalladros need from the elves of Kalladros and how are they exploited?
  • What do they have that Gheribour needs, and how do they exploit the orcs?
  • What inspired the rivalry between them and Xermahk?

The Dwarves of Kalladros

  • Slim, diminutive, elegantly bearded, intricate knotwork, graceful curves, stone and metal that appears to be woood.
  • A council and many committees that lie below it, open to all in theory, but not in practice.
  • Freedom from the tyranny of the elves of Kalladros.
  • The Dark Trees of Kalladros will drain the life-waters of the Earth-goddess. In their kindness, the elves brought their magic to restrain the Dark Trees. However, they strain their goodwill by requiring such great taxes on our stone and metalwork.
  • Gheribour need the waters of life, for their swamplands have been polluted in their war with the elves. In exchange, we smuggle them weaponry to weaken the elves of Kalladros
  • Xermahk abandoned the great city of Alladroshahk when the waters first began to dry, one thousand years ago. They are spineless and weak and do not deserve shelter or hospitality.

The important thing is that it’s not necessarily true that the Dark Trees will drain the waters, that Gheribour need them, or that Xermahk have become inferior in their absence, in fact this is all more interesting if the waters are not magical at all, and neither are the trees.

But I’m not finished, because now we have inter-community politics and we have needless discrimination, but we don’t really have a sense of what the community of the Dwarves of Kalladros are. Enter food.

So, ask yourself some questions about food or drink and it’s place in your factions community. Pick one or two of these!

  • What are one or two meals your community eat most days?
  • What food does your community replace “chicken” with in the phrase “tastes like chicken”?
  • What is a major event in your communities calendar, and what food do you eat only at this time?
  • What food do you always have in a pocket or hidden away?
  • What condiment do you always have and that you add to everything?
  • What is a small ritual your perform before or after every meal?
  • What food or drink can you only have after you’ve come of age?
  • When you eat as a community, where do you eat and what is it like?

Now, it doesn’t matter too much how much detail you go on here, it’s about bringing a sense of home to the community you’re a part of. So, maybe you eat steak and eggs for breakfast and steak and three veg for dinner and that says a lot about your community and its structure and even it’s climate; same if you’re having vegetarian madras or if you’re having barbacoa. This is about bringing flavour as well as explosiveness to your community. For the dwarves of Kalladros:

  • We have huge community feast-halls with roaring fires where the entire district brings food to cook on the communal fire or in pots to keep warm over it. This happens regularly, whenever a significant puck-ball or axeball match happens.
  • We always have spiced dried or friend fungus chips in a pocket or hidden away to snack on.

And our impression is suddenly not just of beautiful artisans, but of a sport-loving tailgating culture that love fried snacks.

And they’re just mountain dwarves, aren’t they?

4th February 2023,

Idle Cartulary

Minimalist Lore

I can’t speak for the Dark Souls games, but in Sekiro, which I’m told is similar, story is told obliquely, through torn off pages, off hand mentions, and item descriptions.

Robert’s Firecrackers from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

We were talking about this on a discord this morning, and I was thinking about how it worked, so I’ll use an example from the game.

Item description for firecrackers:

Firecrackers from across southern seas. Can be fitted to the Shinobi Prosthetic to become a Prosthetic Tool. Makes a deafening sound, frightening to animals. Sold by little Robert and his father to raise funds for their travels. Their voyage brought them to Japan, where they would seek the “Undying” in an attempt to extend Robert’s life.

Incidental speech from a boss:

“For the sake of my son…Put down your sword.”


In catacombs behind a monastery:

The mummified corpses of many children who were killed in experimental procedures by the monks to create the Divine Child of Rejuvenation, who cannot die. None survived.

There are many other stories, some linked to locations (the undying gorilla boss at directly below where the waters of rejuvenation flow from a later level), some to items and characters like this one. But, I think they have two or three of these in common, and always the first point:

  1. Only tangentially related to any main plot
  2. Mentioned in item lore, item name or by an NPC
  3. Implied through description of a location
  4. Implied by special ability

I can give myself a procedure then: When I describe a location, grant an NPC a special ability, name an item or give an item a history, I must add at least one of the other two to my list of “future lore to be incorporated”. I strongly doubt the writers of Sekiro wrote the story of Little Robert and then chose to incorporate firecrackers into the gameplay. It was the other way around. The thing is there, and then I decide who brought it into the dungeon, why they did, and what clues are left after they’re gone.

A kobold wears a helm the shape of a charging boar. One of the six Beast-Knights once ventured into the forest, seeking the Crown of the Forest Wild, which was stolen from Her Verdant Majesty. His word his bond, his corpse is upon the Bridge of Duels, affront the bones of many enemies. The Rod has the images of six beasts upon them; one is a charging boar.

By doing this, I can begin to give my world or dungeon the kind of lived-in depth that I saw in Sekiro and that people talk about in Dark Souls and Elden Ring.

11th January 2023

Idle Cartulary

Treasure smithing by Magic

Continuing to muse about oracles and campaign building. Nick started these thoughts, and I’ve done dungeon rooms, hexes and NPCs. What about treasure?

I think the best take on creating interesting treasure recently was Ty’s Treasure Squares. I’m going to iterate on that here. I want to see if I can get that system to rely on me less.

I’m going to be explaining with an example. Any card can be drawn reversed, so take the main theme and do the opposite. I’m using the MTG Randomiser, though, so no reversals for me.

I just looked the card description terminology up on the Magic website, so those are the terms I’m using.

Draw three cards, to find your origin, theme and twist.

Origin: Devilish. Theme: Protection. Twist: Duplication.

Draw two cards to find your binaries.

Columns: Body/Aura. Rows: Travel/Home.

Now draw four cards to find the appearance or type of the items.

Construct, Obelisk, Eye, Tool.

This gives us a square for four treasures (honestly, I can’t figure out tables in wordpress, so I’m not drawing the square) Let’s smith them!

Devilish duplicating protection

Kizgul’s Wings (construct, body, travel): At rest, a cage of interlocking silver webs and blades, that one must manoeuvre through to reach the glowing red gem at its heart. Whe the gem is bonded with, the web unravels, turning into six-winged gossamer armour with a slithering voice.

Kazgul’s Tomb (obelisk, body, home): A massive, dimly red obelisk, breathing imperceptibly. Thought to hold Kizgul’s soul, rather when bonded with, it holds a clone of the bonded within its walls, released on their death, or perhaps when needed to do Kizgul’s convoluted bidding.

Kizgul’s Spyglass (eye, aura, travel): A foot-long, ornate, extendable spyglass, with two red gems inset. When the first is pressed, the focus of the spyglass is lit with a demonic aura. When the second is pressed, everything in the aura is instantly teleported to the location of the operator.

Kizgul’s Pavillion (tool, aura, home): A lace umbrella of red and black thread. When spread, it forms into a large impenetrable tent with no entryway, and no ability to perceive in or out of the tent.

This is fun! Honestly, this might give me too many ideas, and make it more difficult. I’m not sure off the top of my head how many other areas would benefit from an approach like this. Any ideas?

Idle Cartulary

17th July 2022

Character sketching by Magic

Continuing to muse about oracles and campaign building. Nick did work on adventures, I’ve done dungeon rooms and hexes. What about NPCs?

I think of NPCs progressively detailed sketches. Begin with name, description, and catchphrase. Then asset, trait, need or agenda. Then approach, false visage, obsession and weakness. Things at the end are only important if they become major NPCs, but every NPC should have the first few.

Draw one card for each feature, as you develop the character further. Let’s try it! I’m going to be explaining with an example. Any card can be drawn reversed, so take the main theme and do the opposite. I’m using the MTG Randomiser, though, so no reversals for me.

I just looked the card description terminology up on the Magic website, so those are the terms I’m using.

We start with name, description and catchphrase:

Espen is young, sprung tight like an attacking scorpion. When they doesn’t know what else to say, they says “We gonna keep hiding, or get it over with?”

Then we add an asset, trait, need and agenda as they become a more regular member of the cast:

They have a pair of scissors that can remove an elf’s soul. They constantly play with matches, lighting little fires, and burning little slips of paper. They are seeking a gate to the faerie realm to rescue their sister.

Now if they become major drivers of the story, give them an approach, false visage, obsession and weakness:

They prefers to earn trust through kindness, but their kindness is false. They are obsessed with the faerie they fear, and rats petrify them, leaving them acting unthinkingly. The fae took guise of rats when they took their sister.

Anyway, this I think is great for the kind of iteratively built characterisation that I like to use. I couldn’t have come up with this myself. I wonder if I could do this for treasure creation as well?

Idle Cartulary

7th July 2022

Making hexes with Magic

I’ve even pondering my and Nick LS Whelan’s thoughts on using Magic the Gathering as an oracle. Nick was saying on twitter that he doesn’t use it anymore because MTG cards skew towards violence. m I’m thinking: What if we didn’t use it to generate adventures, but rather locations.

I considered generating a county, but honestly, it ended up being too complex for what I’m trying to do here. So, I’m going to test generating a hex. To make a hex, I need to know these things:

  • Terrain
  • Landmarks
  • Random encounters
  • Rumours

This will work like a tarot draw, and I’m going to be explaining with an example. I just looked the card description terminology up on the Magic website, so those are the terms I’m using. Remember that any card can be drawn reversed, so take the main theme and do the opposite.

The first card we draw will tell us the terrain and how many landmarks are in it. Land indicates the terrain type (if there are more than one, combine the terrains), and the cost next to it indicates how many landmarks we’ll create. We also want a theme for the hex: Look at art, name, type or flavour.

Lake or river hex. 3 landmarks. Theme: A bird that sees the future.

Draw two cards, placed one on the other, for each landmark. Consider both cards for each landmark. There are five types of land that, so let’s assign them a landmark type: White: Mystery or Magic; Blue: Town or Keep; Red: Site of Industry or Camp; Black: Dungeon or Lair; Green: Terrain Feature. Then look at art, name, type or flavour to figure out specifics about the landmark. While we’re here, we’ll use cost of the two cards to tell us how many random encounters and rumours are related to this landmark.

Elephant women carved from the trunks of living trees create a living cathedral. False prophet Serra, regarded as a demigod by
soldiers fleeing the front. Random Encounters: 2. Rumours: 2.

For each of our generated random encounters, we’ll pull draw cards one on the other, one for the type of encounter and one for the twist on the encounter. Use strength for number of people involved in the encounter (if there’s a lower number, that’s the number of them with a special ability derived from the ability text).

2 waterdwelling elephant cultists both with grenades or wands of fireballs.
2 elephant zombies, always rise again to tell Serra of their hunts.

For each of our rumours, we’ll draw one card. We know what the rumour is about, so we’ll look at reversal to indicate truth or misinformation, and then the card itself tells us the nature of the rumour.

Serra’s informants are everywhere, looking for people to recruit, and for people to disappear.
Many locals send their children to Serra, to be cultivated, for she is a font of wisdom and generosity.

In the final version, I’d have two more landmarks, and around 10 rumours and random encounters. Once they’re created as well, I’m going to pull it all together as a revision, because remember the bird who tells the future is our overall theme for the hex. Consider how all three landmarks relate to the future-seeing bird. Is the bird the villain for the hex? Is it a the quest goal, being sought by all the NPCs? Or could we draw out our whole spread for three landmarks, with our theme in the middle, and interpret everything in light of the theme of the first draw?

Anyway, this I think is great for the kind of modular, iteratively built hexcrawl that I want to be running in Advanced Fantasy Dungeons. It gets me out of my comfort zone. It’s hook galore. I think I could do more with magic cards, to be honest, for NPC characterisation, for treasure creation, I’m kind of excited about this as a very nerdy oracle.

I just wish I had a deck of MTG cards to do it with instead of the MTG Randomiser.

Idle Cartulary

5th July 2022

Wierd oracles and punnett rooms

Rory’s Story Cubes

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?

Magic: The Gathering Cards

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?

Intuiti Cards

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!

Idle Cartulary,

3rd July 2022