Thursday, April 23, 2015

City Squares IV: The Sixth Rule of Dungeoncraft

HavenGrid.JPGToday I’m gonna go through making a lead and how I use it to provide my players with clues pointing towards a secret. These are going into my game. Feel free to use them for yours or as examples for making your own. We’ll connect the leads and determine which of those treasure-boxes-disguised-as-NPCs-filled-with-info (which is the treasure) is the most interesting. After finding the best ones that simply scream, “Investigate me!” we’ll drop the Sixth Rule of Dungeoncraft on it to make the lead not only a PC magnet but something that will immediately propel the players to adventure.





A while ago I filled in the area around Haven, which was everything in the blue borders. At the time I filled the map squares with content and found ways to tie them in to the city squares. This time it will be the other way around for comparison. First I'll fill Kalocly, then end up filling in everything to the east of column 7. Though in the space of this post I’ll probably only have enough space for one lead, but it’ll be one hell of a lead!

I’d like to point out since this post is all about the City Square, there is going to be a lot of info attached to it. We need to keep it organized. Whenever I detail a city, I create a new document in google drive. The city’s name serves as the title, then a blurb on some recent and ancient history, followed by relevant secrets, city layers, and finished off with bullet points sorting all of my leads like this:


Area 1
  1. Locations
    1. Contact
      1. Information
        1. Leads to…

The first entry is the name of the “Area” and the boxed text I read to the players when they enter it for the first time. The “Location” entry is just that, any place I designate to have content whether it’s a tavern, a stronghold, or a cemetery. With it goes a boxed-text description of the location. Then I list the “Contact”, which is the name of the NPC, his description, attitude and personality. Whatever I put under Information is usually in the form of a quote I write in the character’s voice and will drop when the players meet him. Finally, the “Leads to…” is a simple reminder of the location the PCs will wind up if they follow the lead’s info. It’s what makes sense to me, and doesn’t have to make sense for anyone else since I’m the only one looking at it. I strongly suggest you use whatever system works for you.

With this in mind it’s time to roll our sleeves up. What is Kalocly like? I picture a primitive tribal society full of superstitions with a little bit of aztec style sacrifice atop some step pyramids (fyi the aztec were anything but primitive, but we're talking about the feel not historicity - call me an ethnocentrist if you like). Why would the players end up here? The first reason is because one of the PCs was born here. The second, to follow the leads found in Leucetios’ Tower aka Falamar’s Locker. But let’s not put the cart before the horse. We’re starting from the city first so whatever those leads turn out to be, they’ll be designed last. It’s just good to know where the finish line is.

In creating this Lizardman city I want to reconsider my criteria for content. 1) Does the content provide an interesting choice giving the players agency? Yes, the players have to choose to go there in the first place. 2) Am I following the rules of dungeoncraft? Check. Here are the secrets set aside for this area:


  • The lizardmen were one of the many products of these mages’ experimentation. Leucetios was unhappy with the lizardmen, finding them to be inferior specimens rather than the superhuman warrior race he originally intended. After further refinement of the lizardmen stock, the ancient mages succeeded. The dragonborn were created, superior specimens bred for battle, embodying some of the best traits of the gods’ war machines.
  • However, there was one flaw the archmages could not purge. Dragonborn were not true breeding. Not a one could reproduce, significantly reducing the size of the army these archmages sought to build for the inevitable Wars of Secession. Eventually the project was abandoned, and every few generations a dragonborn is spawned.


3) Does the content show the uniqueness of the campaign world? The descendants of the monstrous creations of an archmage from an earlier age is definitely unique and classic trope of FfH.

So on to our first lead. I’m thinking about a couple of leads that have to do with the PC born in Kalocly. I want to set up a rival for him, but not necessarily an evil one. This lead will be a reflection of what the hero could have been - had he not been recruited as a child and raised by a religious order. To convey this the rival needs to be a dragonborn, like the PC. The rival will also have risen to a position of leadership, chieftain of the tribe, to show what could have been and reinforcing the superiority of the rare dragonborn breed over the common lizardmen.

Referring to this lead as “the rival” is getting a bit clunky. When I name a character I like to represent one of its innate qualities in some way. Draco comes to mind, but it’s too on the nose. I can dip into my old Latin or Ancient Greek textbooks, or go to wiktionary.org. Instead of dragons, I’d like this character to be tied in some way to the Leviathan. This way I can tie this lead to a different PC’s trinket, which I’ve neglected of late. In this setting the Leviathan was the god of water’s pet and a protector of his chosen people, the Aifons. Essentially, they’re mermen for D&D purposes with an Atlantean flavor. When the Aifons disappeared, Danalin (god of water) fell into a great slumber from which he has never awoke, and the Leviathan went violently insane.

On the way back from that tangent, and playing around with a few different root words resulted in “colossus” catching my eye. In greek it’s read as kolossos (κολοσσός). Let’s mangle it for a little uniqueness *chop* and we got Kolos. Sounds a little primitive, and kind of out there. To make him deserving of his name he needs to hit the upper reaches of a dragonborn’s height. High strength and constitution go without saying, and the barbarian class in case I need to stat him out. Let’s put one more twist on the barbarian king trope and make Kolos a barbarian queen! Maybe it’s my classics background speaking but I feel like Kalas is more fitting for a female. Other features? She’s a blue dragonborn - blue ties her to the god of water in FfH, and in D&D gives her the same breath weapon and resistance as my player’s hero (a bronze dragonborn by the name of Quimby), but also his opposite (in D&D blue and copper dragons are opposed).

When I turned my attention to what info Kalas’ possesses, a new secret occurred to me. What if the Lizardmen have to conduct a ritual sacrifice every 20 years to keep the Leviathan at bay? It’s almost time for another sacrifice, and Kalas has to select someone to offer up to the Leviathan. She has also been unsuccessful in bearing children, since dragonborn are sterile as per the secret above. An interesting scenario comes to mind where Kalas tries to seduce Quimby, and if rejected or failing to get pregnant she’ll offer Quimby up for sacrifice.

We have the general idea of what the clues are. Let’s flesh them out. In the Area description I’ll add a description of the city decorated and preparing for an upcoming festival. Further NPC entries we’ll make mention of Leustus’ Festival. When the heroes meet Kalas she’ll be in the middle of some important prep ceremony for the sacrifice, maybe getting baptized in a pool of blood. The priests can mutter some prayers invoking the gods to grant fertility, and spare them of the coming doom.

So remembering that the info we’ll assign to Kalas is treasure, it should provide two things: a clue to a secret and making them aware of a previously unknown encounter. We’ve already got the info part done. Kalas is unable to bear children, and needs to conduct a ritual sacrifice or doom will befall her people. Her location will be in her chief’s hut, much larger than any of the others, and it’s all going to lead to the Jungle altar in square B10. One lead done!

There are a bunch of ideas to choose from when fleshing out the next lead. We could go with dragon cult priests, lizardmen hunters, members of Quimby’s family, or converts to the Undertow. It may seem like a bit of work, but it’s worth it. You’re likely to get a few quests’ worth of mileage out of each lead. Until next time!

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