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


Dungeon23: Day 14 reflection and pivot

Previous posts on Dungeon23 here and here.

I’m two weeks in, and I don’t like my lovingly prepared dungeon. However, I’m really enjoying the day to day drawing and keying of the dungeon. I just got bored with this level after a week, so week two isn’t as much fun. I’m not surprised by this: My prep often needs to be modified as I see what the day to day involves. I want to do Dungeon23 though, so I’m going to pivot, aiming to make it easier to increase the amount of dopamine hits the creative process gives me in a given week or day.

I’m going to start using a different weekly and monthly schedule, aiming to make a sub-level each week and then arrange them onto larger 24-28 room levels at the end of each month.


  • Tuesday: Take the next layout from Marcia’s Bite-Sized Dungeons for this weeks’ sub-level. Generate a theme and faction for the sublevel using oracles. Detail the local faction and its punnet. Based on these, sketch the sub-level’s map.
  • Monday to Sunday: Draw and key a room. Detail any monsters, traps, treasure or NPCs in the room using oracles.
  • Every fourth Monday: Arrange four sub-levels in a way that makes sense. Make a wandering monster list with one to four entries per sub-level based on these four levels. Populate the universal encounter table or recurring characters table as appropriate. Revise factions with relationships with other factions that make sense.
Marcia’s Bite-Sized Dungeon layouts, largely because then I don’t have to google it every Monday.

I didn’t start on Sunday because weekends are probably when I’ll have the least time to myself to do extra work; Monday and Tuesdays I have the night and sometimes the day to fit things in.

Sketch Procedure

  1. Roll 1d12 for nature of exits: 1-2. Blocked or stuck door; 3-4. Locked door; 5-7. Unlocked door; 8-11. 40’ foot corridor; 12. 40’ corridor containing a one turn obstacle.
  2. Roll 1d12 for nature of room: 1. Natural Hazard; 2. Trap; 3-4. Guarded; 5-6. Occupied; 7. Weird or magical feature; 8. Trick, puzzle or riddle; 9-10. Sign or spoor, warning, clue or password revealing wandering or nearby encounters. 11-12. A mosaic, fresco, basrelief, inert feature or mundane items revealing history or current use.
  3. Roll 1d12 for the nature of treasure. 1. McGuffin or unique magical treasure; 2-4. 1d6 gold bags or equivalent (~1000gp each); 5-6. Incidental silver treasure (~100gp or a bag of silver); 7-8. Incidental copper treasure (~20gp or a bag of copper). 9–10. Valueless keepsake or trinket; 11-12. No treasure.

Inspiration here from Warren and Emmy, as well as Marcia with thanks. I differentiated types of blocked doors; eliminated long corridors and transferred the time sink into an obstacle. I used Marcia’s economy for ease of treasure, and increased the incidence of minor treasures.

After this step, it looks like this.

Oracles and details

I’ve found I’m enjoying drawing additional information onto the map, even though my skills are still developing. This is also why I’m putting passage omens on the map. I’ll lean into it:

  1. Add oracles to sketch
  2. Write room description , aiming for Wolves upon the Coast or Through Ultans Door rather than OSE.
  3. Assign all nouns I can to be drawn onto the map in a separate sentence.
  4. For each exit to a known room, add passage omens to the map (sight, sound, scent and taste or touch).

Simple three cards oracles for each element I’ve pre-assigned based on the two simplest tarot draws.

After adding the oracles to the sketch, it looks like this.
  • NPC (or monster): Personality, Body, Hopes/Fears. Don’t stat. Use hit, strong hit and crit as attack detail, and heavy, light and no armour.
  • Location (room or levels): Aesthetic, History, Current Use.
  • Faction: Foundation/Aesthetic, Proactive/Selfish Agenda, Method. Remember that power and wealth are not agendas.
  • Traps: Theme, Goal, Functional? (Y/N)
  • Hostile Factions: In addition, use Monster Punnets using Melee/Ranged and Damage/Special axes.
  • Treasures: Origin, Theme, Twist. Treasure Punnets using Magical/Non-magical and Functional/Decorative axes. Add spare treasures to the incorporation list.

Using these, I detail and key one room and it’s treasure per day, Tuesday being optional. Passage omens are a little Diogo and a little Anne. On good days I don’t write more, because I’ve found I draw more. I’ll leave my hard day rule in place and if I come up with a story I will work them into empty rooms.

And after detail, looks like this.

Wandering monsters and other encounters

Wandering monster tables are a difficulty, because there are going to be 50 or so sub-levels. I’m going to write one rolling table, with d4 entries per level. I want easy inspiration for interesting encounters, though, so I’ll draw from Keystone Encounters and Structuring Encounter Tables, and try to remember the maxim “Make an undesirable demand on the players attention”:

  • Roll 1d6 for nature of encounter: 1. Indefinite threat omen; 2. Indefinite threat; 3. Definite threat omen; 4. Definite threat; 5. Threat aware of an unknowing second threat; 6. Two threats interacting.
  • Roll 1d12 for indefinite threats, that are only threats if interfered with: 1. Lost; 2. Hurt; 3. Trapped; 4. Sleeping; 5. Sick or starving; 6. Eating or cooking; 7. Excreting or bathing; 8. Weeping; 9. Socializing; 10. Building or demolishing; 11. Artistic pursuits; 12. Doing drugs or drinking.
  • Roll 1d12 for definite threats that are likely hostile: 1. Tracking Prey; 2, Lying in Ambush; 3. Fleeing; 4. Committing a crime; 5. Searching; 6. Holding Captives; 7. Spying; 8. Scavenging; 9. Religious ritual; 10. Gloating; 11. Plotting; 12. Returning home

Rolling on this giant encounter table, I’m not entirely sure about. I suspect it will be something like 2d6 + Dungeon Level, with 1 always being “Roll again on the universal encounter table” and 12 always being “Roll again on the recurring characters table”. The universal table’s goal is to tell the story of and something of the history of the dungeon, and the recurring characters table I can populate as I go with the most enjoyable NPCs. This means I’ll need a few running lists to fill out gradually:

  • Incorporation
  • Recurring characters
  • Wandering monsters
  • World anchors
  • Universal encounters

That’s my revised process. The first test sub-level I made was a crumbling dinosaur-worshippers temple filled with ancient matter warping technology occupied by marooned space pirates. The second was a tower filled with reliquaries that a sect of monks dedicated to forgotten gods seek to use to beam the ghosts of their past worshippers to evangelise them back into existence. Both of these stayed exciting for all six to seven rooms, with the primary barrier being how I string them together and develop them a story. But at least this is more fun.

What are your reflections at week 2?

Idle Cartulary

13th January 2023

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