Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Beneath the Sea of Krhuün

 I played another game of How To Host A Dungeon in bits and pieces of free time this past week. As is the intent behind How To Host A Dungeon, the game creates enough backstory and complexity to a map that you could base an entire RPG campaign around it. This map has a single entrance to the underdark, with a pretty nasty gatekeeper. Once you get past it, you’re entering one of those Gygaxian murder complexes full of evil cults, horrible undead, and befuddling traps.

Here’s the final post-game map (click on it for a larger version), followed by some explanation of everything that happened on it:

The speckled dark brown in the background is dirt and rock (that much is probably obvious), and the squiggly paths of lighter brown and pale tan are rough tunnels through the earth. For most of the map, the lightest tunnels are the most traveled routes, and the darker tunnels are ancient paths now choked with debris. If you were using this map for an RPG, those darker tunnels would be slower-going, but less likely to be patrolled. Most of those old tunnels were hewn by a great demonic worm in a long-forgotten age, so they may have interesting physical features, such as tooth marks on rocks, or fossilized demon-spoor.

The one area where the meaning of the tunnel coloration doesn’t hold true is the great labyrinth of Vrenokrygia. This particularly long-lived Minotaur has dug multiple mazes on top of one another, and the photoshop transparency layers may have camouflaged that a little.

The more colorful (and generally more straight-edged and linear) portions of the map are constructions, with the color being coded to whichever civilization built them.

The history and regions of the map will be explained below, with a few snapshots of the map in its earlier sketcher stages during the game.

At the dawn of time, this part of the world was inhabited by a handful of races. Their civilizations all collapsed, but there may be remnants and descendants in the darker corners of the map.
Most numerous were the murderous demons and their barely-controlled tunnel-worm pet, but they wiped themselves out with bitter infighting.
From the dawn of time there slumbered here a dragon named Archovoraxis, who died repeatedly and was reborn many times over the millenia.
Lost also to the mists of time were three tribes of sneaky humanoid mongrels that would eventually evolve into hobgoblins.  

Long ago, this surface was populated by a loose coalition of humanoids known as The Red Hand. One of their old port fortresses remains, having been adopted as a landmark and variously maintained and explored by the current human government.

The surface is now dominated by The Golden Ward, a wealthy and benevolent human nation with a long tradition and great reach. Back when the world was a wilder place, they built a Great Wall to keep the barbarians at bay. Since then, they have expanded across the sea. The capital of the Golden Ward is far to the West, behind the Great Wall. They have extensive trade routes across the Sea of Kruün, and have built stilt-villages over the murky shallows along the coast.

Beneath the stockade was a winding tunnel to the ur-Hobgoblins with which The Red Hand intermingled. The first time The Golden Ward sent an excursion into this tunnel, it was ambushed by these primitive Monolith-worshipping Hobgoblins. The sunken fleet of The Red Hand lies beneath the bay near the fort, amidst the stilts of a Golden Ward coastal village.

To the East lies the tower of a greedy and powerful Geomancer. While a law-abiding member of the Golden Ward, he keeps secret to himself the knowledge that much of the Eastern colony lies upon an untapped Mithril deposit. Untold riches and opportunities are kept from his countrymen by his insistence on secrecy.

(As you can see in this map from much later in the game,) Mineral wealth abounds in this region. There’s another Mithril deposit further down, and known only to the Deep Dwarves. A huge coal vein runs through the middle of the map, with parts of it having been mined by Dark Elves, Deep Dwarves, and far more unusual things, such as the Fungaliths and the Infernal Automatons.

The Fungaliths were a race of silicon-based people who reproduced by spores. Combining the strength of rock, fecundity of mushrooms, and the intelligence of man, they had great potential. However, they were slow to grow, and slower still to adapt to new circumstances. Eventually they were defeated by their more violent neighbors, but their spores linger on in the cracks and recesses, and may one day flourish anew.

The Demons of the ancient world were brutal and domineering, but also cunning and inventive. They slew the dragon Archovoraxis and made a monument of his bones, a trophy of his hide. They mined coal to power great Infernal Engines, into which they bound their brothers. These sentient Demon-Machines had millenia to grind and burn until their spite was as hard as a diamond. Then, in the throes of bitter rage, the Diamond Spite broke free, forming a new body from its’ own embodied anger and the gears of the Engines. Thus was born the first of the Infernal Automatons, demon-possessed mechanical constructs.

The Dark Elves arrived in the region via a tunnel from the deepest levels of the underdark, fleeing a war with a powerful race of Sphinxes. They stumbled upon the great Demon Pits from the olden days, and though the plague it housed nearly killed them off, the treasures and knowledge of the Demons made the Dark Elves stronger. Those who survived became carriers of the plague, and they built a huge Death Palace, with a sacrificial pit to the depths of a great chasm. (I’m picturing something along the lines of the “Moon Door” in the Game of Thrones TV series.)

Though the Dark Elves were themselves refugees, they had no sympathy for those who came after them fleeing the same foe. A race of goodly Gnomes arrived on the tunnel, begging the Elves for refuge and assistance against their common enemy. The Elves showed them no mercy, slaughtering and enslaving and infecting until all that remained of the Gnomes was their magical Steamquartz, a powerful scrying stone which the Elves forced the last of the Gnomes to install in a high Observatory overlooking the Death Palace and the Demon Plague Pits.

The old foe did twice track the Elves down, in two different generations. Huge Sphinxes with great magic pushed their way past the Elven defenses, and slew dozens before being driven off into the Plague Pits. There they became sick and died. Eventually their corpses were looted by Elves who were immune to the disease. From the first Sphinx’s body, they brought back The Morbid Scroll, a wizardly tract on the power of life and death. Years later a second sphinx came from the same tunnel, attacked and was driven off to die of the plague. They found it’s body next to that of its predecessor, and clutched in it’s giant paw was The Crook of Revelations. It had used the Crook to etch three powerfully damning curses into the walls of the room.

That is to say, in two non-consecutive turns of the game, I rolled the arrival of the exact same monster type, at the exact same starting location, and both times it failed to defeat the Elves and “bounced” in the exact same direction to die of plague in the exact same room. That was some heavy deja vu. In fact, that starting location roll ended up happening again and again in the early turns of the Age of Monsters. In the first 5 turns of that era, Dark Elves, Gnomes and two Sphinxes all spawned in the same room, and each time the Dark Elves either won or tied the resulting conflict rolls.

The Dark Elves became increasingly obsessed with death and fate. They ruminated on these topics and dissected The Morbid Scroll. Their forges ran round the clock producing armaments and armors for prophecied wars. At times hermits or entire cults would wander off into the demon-carved tunnels of the world to seek the hidden truths. Most were never seen again, but the child of hermit returned to them one day.

Meanwhile, a powerful Minotaur had made it’s lair in the upper reaches of the tunnel system. Vrenokrygia, or Murderhoof as she is more commonly known on the surface, is powerful, industrious, and clever. She’s built many interweaving mazes as a base of operations. She frequently raids the Dark Elves, the Hobgoblins, and even the villages of The Golden Ward. Anyone seeking to enter or leave the Underdark must pass through her labyrinth. Though she cannot feast upon the Infernal Automatons, she enjoys taking them apart and using their scraps to decorate her mazes.

Pinched between the Dark Elves and Murderhoof, the Infernal Automatons turned to their mechanical insights for survival. They built a series of traps, including high-pressure flames, chutes and pits, and a diabolical Gemstone Trap in the image of their firstborn, The Diamond Spite. That portion of the underdark became a living death trap, with fragmented demons bound into ever gear and stone. They even made a giant mouth, through whose bellows the Engines could speak.

About this time, a child visited the Automatons. It was half-Elven, half-Demon, and very persuasive. It spoke of a great Temple to the Ancient Evil, which had been built by it’s parents deep in the dark bowels of the earth. It led The Diamond Spite to the temple, and convinced him to spread this new worship throughout his mechanical people. They were, after all, both the spawn of a Demon and something else. Flesh or metal, the Demon-half was what they had in common. The Diamond Spite ordered a Shrine of the new faith be built by his machines.

Not all of the Automatons accepted the new master. A small group split off and relocated to the Charnel Shrine built by their Demonic forbears. These fundamentalists felt the only good organic was a dead one. They drafted a plan to sneak up on the new Temple from an ancient disused tunnel, to slaughter the half-demon in his stupid organic sleep.

The child prophet did not rest, however. He went to his other people, the Dark Elves, and showed them the power that could be theirs if they just sold their souls a little. It was an easy victory, there was little distance left for the Dark Elves to fall. They adopted the new religion overnight, and built a Shrine that could only be accessed by crossing through the old Demon Pits. (The walkway also has a lovely view as the “moon-door” executions plummet by.)

However, the Dark Elves weren’t much for this “united in demonhood” nonsense. They were still petty, greedy, and violent. They marched on the Demon Engines, ripped The Diamond Spite apart, and stole the soulstone from which he drew his name. A war had begun.

Much as the coming of the Temple had splintered the Automatons, it now caused a schism in the Dark Elves. There were many schools of thought - the new Demon Shrine, the intellectual society organized around study of the Morbid Scroll, a different group of visionaries who focused on the Steamquartz, and the party of militants who ran the forges. Their political situation grew unstable, despite the economic prosperity.

Hetar Bacris, an Elven nobleman and scholar, led a portion of his people (and much of their treasure) on a pilgrimage deep into the ancient tunnels. He invested the wealth in a laboratory and a menagerie, and a magnificent tomb he said would survive the end of the world. There he murdered his own people with foul magic. Before their bodies grew cold, he committed suicide himself, and arose as a powerful Liche. Those who had followed him were animated as Undead Legions, for Hetar Bacris sought nothing less than absolute rule of all the world. He turned his attention away from his fleshy concerns, and let the menagerie become overgrown with pestilent Green Slime.

About that time, a small mining colony of Deep Dwarves arrived in the area, having been attracted by the sensation of activated Mithril (you can thank that Geomancer up on the surface). They would eventually mine out much of the Eastern edge of the map, but at this point they were barely noteworthy.

By this point, the Infernal Automatons had been destroyed. A few machines had mothballed themselves in dark corners, or hiddeen under a layer of Green Slime in the caves beneath the menagerie, but their society was shattered. Betrayed by the very Child that had converted them, they were slaughtered by an army of Dark Elves led by the Priest of the Temple. Only the great many traps they had littered their caves with kept the Demon Engines intact and unlooted.

Despite no longer having a (beating) heart, Hetar Bacris proved a powerful diplomat and politician. He pledged himself to the Temple of Evil, and won the support of both the Elves of his birth and the Temple’s demon-mixed hierarchy. His Legions grew, and undead slaves built great works of architecture with tools made from Automaton scrap. Everything was going perfectly according to plan. Even the dwarves seemed willing to be peaceful neighbors behind strong walls.

Unfortunately, there was a wildcard far above them. Vrenokrygia had developed a taste for man-flesh, and her increasingly-brazen raids wiped out two entire villages. The Golden Ward sent a battalion into her maze, and she slaughtered them single-handedly. This sort of danger could only be answered by Adventurers!

You might just stop there (at the map labeled Age of Villainy, Turn 3, Pre-Adventuring). If it’s a game-able map you’re looking for, to use with your favorite RPG, you can assume the PCs are the Adventurers who answer that call. They’ll start with a minotaur, and level-up into facing the complex confluence of several evil civilizations living in and below a demon-haunted death-trap.

Here’s an index of the named treasures that appear on some of the maps (along with their origins as sometimes that's not obvious).
T1 = Egg of Oblivion (Archovoraxis)
T2 = Mithril-flecked Dragonhide (Archovoraxis)
T3 = The Diamond Spite (Demon Engine)
T4 = Soul Oil (Demon Engine)
T5 = Steamquartz (Gnomish Lens) 
T6 = The Morbid Scroll (Sphinx Book of the Dead)
T7 = Spear of Doom (Adventuring Party)
T8 = Crook of Revelations (Sphinx Cursed Item)
T9 = Ioun Stone (Adventuring Party)
T10 = Flute of Domination (Adventuring Party)
T11 = Mask of the Glowing Wind (Adventuring Party)
T12 = Bill-Guisarme of Grace (Adventuring Party)
T13 = Staff of Adroitness (Adventuring Party)

For the majority of you who are _not_ going to run this as an RPG, here’s a few more paragraphs on how my game of How To Host A Dungeon came to its satisfying end:

Over the next few years, increasingly larger Adventuring Parties braved Murderhoof’s lair,  and the tunnels below it. Not a single one returned alive. They say someone killed the Minotaur, and the Adventurer’s would press below her maze. Many fell victim to the Infernal traps, but a few pushed onward to deal debilitating blows to the Dark Elves and the Temple Clergy.

In the end, the Adventurers would always die on the spears of the Undead Legions. These invasions of do-gooders happened with the changing of the seasons for 6 straight years.

Hetar Bacris was inundated with treasures and dismembered bodies, but his mortal supporters were gone.  The Temple had fallen before it’s missionaries could completely corrupt the Dwarves. They’d grown fractuous and chaotic, but were not yet fully controlled. Greedy and self-centered, and now distrustful of strangers. The Liche-King could not twist them to his will.

Too many corpses, not enough time or energy to animate them all. When the next wave of Adventurers came through in the 4th year, they slaughtered Hetar Bacris and his armies.

The Adventurers gathered up all of the treasure, their bags overflowing with the best plunder of four civilizations. They were tired and ragged when they met the Dwarves in their halls. Good ol’ trust-worthy dwarves. It seemed like as good a place as any to resupply, spend a little ill-gained coinage, and rest for the night. The Adventurers were never heard from again.

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