Bring Me the Heart of Finbar Forkbeard is a 30-minute Dungeon Challenge, as set out by Tristan Tanner in his Bogeyman Blog. It's a break from the list I set myself last year, because Valentine's Day approaches and, over on the DMS & GMS Facebook Page, Liu Lance asked for ideas for a Valentines-themed scenario. So... challenge accepted.
I used Tristan's optional tables to create an extra discipline for this 10-room dungeon: empty rooms that point to a combat, reveal history and offer something useful to PCs; the special room provides a boon for a sacrifice; the NPC is a rival; the combat encounters are a horde of weaklings, a pair of toughs and a tough boss; the traps are inconveniencing and incapacitating.
The course of true love never did run smooth. Brigid Rosenbrow is a wealthy unmarried Dwarvish lady who owns an extensive mine in the Mountains of Broddick. She has conceived a powerful romantic interest in a younger Dwarvish adventurer, Finbar Forkbeard. Finbar, however, thinks only of dungeons (and, indeed, dragons) and has no interest in marriage and even less in Brigid. Brigid has decided she will go adventuring with Finbar and win his love by demonstrating her courage. To this end, she has reopened an old ‘training dungeon’ in her mine, where the Rosenbrows used to practise martial skills. She has spread a rumour that a fabled heirloom, the Ring of Broddick, rests in this dungeon.
When Finbar arrives, anxious to retrieve the Ring, Brigid offers to join him. She recruits a group of adventurers (PCs) to play the role of goblin ‘monsters’ in the dungeon.
There are two complications for Brigid. One is Hildy Heffenhammer, a female Dwarf adventurer and rival for Finbar’s affections, who will be joining her party. The other is Olaf the Black, a Dwarf renegade with his band of Svarts: Olaf has picked up on the rumour too and is a bitter enemy of Finbar. He and his monsters have penetrated the dungeon by digging down from the mines, discovered the fake Ring and now lie in wait for Finbar.
The Player Characters ae assumed to be 1st level beginners and about 6 in number. For each PC fewer than 6 in the party, promote one of them to 2nd level (Forge: level 2 in Melee or Magic), so if there are 3 PCs they are all 2nd level.
You have been hired by Brigid Rosenbrow to play the role of ‘goblins’ in her training dungeon. She offers a fabulous fee for a day’s work and all the weapons will be ‘bated’ so no one should get hurt. Brigid will be accompanying a Dwarvish adventurer named Finbar through the training dungeon. Your job is to fight mock battles against Brigid and Finbar and never to ‘break role’ as goblins.
Show the players the Player Map of the dungeon and point out the service tunnels.
Brigid takes the PCs into her confidence (see Appendix 1, the Chemical Equation). Brigid shows them how to open the secret doors and warns them about the Dungeon Cleanup Crew (see room 2):
Brigid issues the PCs with their weapons and arrows which are bated or blunted (D&D: they inflict minimal damage; Forge: they inflict half damage, none of it actual). She reassures them that her and Finbar’s weapons will be similarly safe and says that there are healing potions, nets, smoke bombs and stuff for controlling the monsters “somewhere in the maintenance room” (see room 2)
The players will be given their Goblin Disguises (see Appendix 2) and, once they are in costume, must meet Brigid in the Dungeon Entrance (1). They have enough time to familiarise themselves with the Maintenance Room (2) and Service Shafts (3) but see no sign of Carrie or Gerald at this point.
1. Entrance Hall
The broad corridor is 12’ high. Brigid waits here, in mail armour, holding a lantern. She checks the PCs’ Goblin Disguises and briefs them on their tasks:
2. Maintenance Room
This dirty room is lit by a lamp on the central table. The walls are stacked with barrels and crates. Each time they are in this room, the PCs might notice something useful (1 in 6 or a Search test for Forge):
3. Service Tunnels
These 5’ wide tunnels are 6’ high; larger-than-man-sized characters will be cramped here (-2 to attacks and saves, +2 to AC; in Forge: always use DV2). The secret doors have spy-holes and the acoustics allow PCs in the shaft to hear perfectly what is going on in the room or corridor beyond. The doors can be locked from inside the shaft to prevent pursuit.
The ‘Wandering Monsters’ in the shafts are Gerald and Carrie. Roll 1d12 every time the PCs pass through the shafts after the start of the adventure.
1-3 Gerald the Gelatinous Cube (HP 10)
4-6 Carrie the Carrion Crawler (HP 8)
7-12 Nothing but the distant sound of Gerald’s wheezing
Gerald is very decrepit. He’s not very transparent any more, makes a wheezing sound when he moves (at half speed) and is accompanied by the smell of curdled milk. He only surprises on a 1-2 and his paralysing secretions are weak: +2 on Saving Throw, paralysis for 2d4 rounds only, only 1d4 damage. He will retreat away from the Rattle (see room 2) and can be shepherded towards an ambush point quite easily. He has the personality of a old, blind, smelly dog that moves towards noise but is easily startled.
Gelatinous Cube: (D&D) HD 4, HP 10, AC 8, smother for 1d4 + paralysation for 2d4 round; (Forge) HP 20, AR 1, AV 4, smother for 1d4 + paralysation for 2d4 rounds, ST 14+, SPD 1
Carrie only has 3 tentacles which likewise are weakened (+2 on Saving Throw, paralysis only lasts 1d4 rounds). She has the personality of a playful puppy with limited attention span. She will bound towards PCs, caressing them with her tentacles, then wander off. She will chase after her food pellets. If fed more than 3, she will curl up in a corridor (blocking it) and go to sleep for 10-60 minutes: nothing can wake her.
Carrion Crawler: (D&D) HD 3+1, HP 8, AC 7, 3 tentacles, no damage, paralysation for 2d4 rounds; (Forge) HP 16, AR 2, AV 3, 3 tentacles, no damage, paralysation for 2d4 rounds, ST 14+, SPD 4
Getting either monster to Brigid’s ambush point is quite easy. Neither of them is aggressive and they will both try to run away if injured. Brigid would like the PCs to intervene to stop any harm coming to them (they have to spend a round being attacked and can then retreat through the secret door).
4. Skirmish Room
Vents in the floor squirt rolling smoke into this room, to ankle-height. This is the scene for the first battle between the PCs (as ‘Goblins’) and Brigid, Finbar and Hildy. The PCs will learn that Hildy’s weapons are NOT bated: she inflicts normal damage with her enthusiastic whacks.
Brigid: (D&D) 1st level Dwarf Fighter, DEX 9, HP 5, AC chain mail & shield, spear for 1d6 bated; (Forge) HP 15, DV1 5, DV2 4, chain mail 50AP, shield 5SP, AR 1, spear for 2d4 bated, ST 13+, SPD 3, Read/Write, History, Binding
Finbar: (D&D) 3rd level Dwarf Fighter, DEX 14, HP 16, AC chain mail & shield, sword for 1d6 bated, +1 bonus from Strength, Dexterity and Charisma; (Forge) HP 17, DV1 6, DV2 4, chain mail 50AP, shield 10SP, AR 4, broad sword for 1d8+1 bated, light crossbow for 1d4 bated, ST 12+, SPD 3, Missile Evasion 40%, Tactics 50%, Binding, +1 bonus from STR and AWR.
Finbar enjoys the fight, bellowing: "These Goblins are a sorry lot. I barely feel their pitiful blows!" Hildy calls back: "In truth, dear one, they are daunted by your battle prowess - see how this one quails as I smite him!"
Hildy: (D&D) 2nd level Dwarf Fighter, DEX 12, HP 10, AC plate mail, war hammer for 1d8, +1 bonus from Charisma; (Forge) HP 16, DV 7, DV2 7, plate mail 70AP, AR 2, war hammer for 1d8, light crossbow for 1d4, ST 13+, SPD 3, Charisma Benefit, Weapon Stop 33%
After 1d4+1 rounds, there’s a hissing sound and the smoke in the room rises by 0-3 (1d4-1) feet at the end of each round. Once the smoke is 5’ high the Dwarves are blinded and the PCs can retreat freely.
In the smoke, Finbar blunders back out of the room but Brigid and Hildy quarrel (see Appendix 1, A Sexy Complication). If the PCs get lost in the smoke, there's a great opportunity for comedy, with characters blundering around, mistaking each other: let Hildy or Brigid (or both) throw herself at a PC, believing them to be Finbar.
While Hildy goes looking for Finbar, Brigid uses the secret door to find the PCs and suggest a new plan (see Appendix 1, the Hook).
If her team gets dangerously low on Hit Points (ie herself on 2HP, Finbar on single figures, Hildy on less than 5), Brigid will make an excuse to slip away to the Maintenance Room (2) and collect a Healing Potion (Forge: Healing Root or Binding Kit) to restore them.
5. The Bridge of Doom
This high chamber (30' vaulted) has a chasm dividing it in two, bridged by a 3' wide plank. This is the second combat encounter (unless the PCs staged an ambush involving Gerald or Carrie in the corridor outside). Finbar, Hildy and Brigid emerge on one side of the chasm, the PC ‘Goblins’ on the other. Finbar and Hildy will open fire with crossbows (Hildy’s quarrels are NOT blunted) and the PCs can return fire while Brigid heads to the Bridge for a mock fight with one of the PCs.
After 1d4 rounds of this, Hildy pulls out her Rod of Fire Smiting and uses it to bathe the ledge where the PCs are standing in flames. At least the fire and smoke will cover their retreat!
The Rod sends out a funnel of fire, setting fire to everything in front of it in an area 30’ deep and 30’ wide at the end. Creatures in the target zone must Save vs Wands (Forge: vs Magic) or catch fire. Characters on fire take 1HP damage every round until they can leave the scorched zone and roll on the floor for a round, beating at the flames. The Rod has 5 charges left.
After the fight, Finbar is intrigued by this item and inspects it closely (to Hildy’s great pleasure) before muttering that “Elves make such cunning toys” and dismissing it with a sniff (to Brigid’s delight).
6. Abduction Point
This is the location where Brigid wants the PCs to abduct Finbar so that she can rescue him. The secret door is silent, allowing for total surprise. A smoke bomb, net or the paralysing powers of Carrie or Gerald could bring this about. If the players come up with a good plan, it will automatically succeed: don't let it fail just for a bad roll.
After the events of the Appendix 1, the Hook, Brigid instructs the PCs to abduct Hildy instead (and after the Bridge of Doom incident they will probably be only too glad to).
If the PCs succeed in this, they will overhear Finbar confess his feelings for Brigid (see Appendix 1, the Swivel).
7. The Trophy Room
This big chamber has a 20’ high ceiling and the far end of it is dominated by a raised platform (6’ high) on which the trophies of the Rosenbrow dungeon cadets are displayed – along with the fake Ring of Broddick. A ladder allows people to climb to the platform.
The PCs are supposed to bring the captured Finbar (or Hildy) here and put up a mock fight so that Brigid can play the rescuer. However, it is likely that Brigid and Finbar will get here before the PCs can make it round the service shafts to the secret door. The PCs will probably arrive to find Brigid and Finbar battling and witness Finbar being captured in a Svart net and pulled up onto the balcony by Olaf, who kicks away the ladder.
The svarts are equal in number to the PCs, plus three.
Svarts: (D&D) HD 1-1, HP 2 each, AC as leather, pick for 1d6; (Forge) HP 8, AR 2 (7 AP), AV 1 (2 if they outnumber), pick for 1d6 (+1 if outnumber), ST 13+, SPD 2
8. Display Platform
The (fake) Ring of Broddick rests on a wooden pedestal, covered with a half-globe of glass.
At some point in the scenario, the back wall collapses and Back Olaf enters with his Svarts. He seizes the Ring and his Svarts descend to the room below (7) to explore.
With Finbar in his power, Olaf exults over his captive:
“I have you now, Forkbeard. You remember me? I see by the fear in your eyes you have not forgotten Black Olaf! I possess the Ring of Broddick and tortures vile await you. Say farewell to your loved one! And your life!!!!”
Olaf bundles Finbar into the tunnel (9).
When Olaf escapes the Svarts will wail and rush to the platform, scrabbling (and failing) to climb up after him; they will ignore the PCs for 1d3 rounds. Hildy’s Rod of Fire Smiting might be useful again.
9. The Dark Tunnel
This tunnel was an old mining seam, widened by Black Olaf’s pick-wielding Svarts. When the PCs get here, Olaf has fled ahead into the darkness.
If Hildy is present, the PCs will need to explain themselves (their Goblin Disguises won’t bear close scrutiny). Hildy could react in different ways:
The final confrontation is down to Brigid and the PCs, with their bated weapons. However, they might think to retrieve military picks from the Svarts. See Appendix 2, The Dark Moment.
10. Showdown on the Staircase
Olaf drags the struggling Finbar to the staircase that connects with the mines. He starts dragging Finbar up the steps but the PCs arrive at this point.
Black Olaf: (D&D) 4th level Dwarf Fighter, HP 25, AC plate mail and shield, axe for 1d6 damage, +1 Strength bonus; (Forge) HP 21, DV1 7, DV2 5, chain mail 50AP, shield 10SP, AV 4, battle axe for 1d8, ST 10+ (14+ vs Magic), SPD 4, Tactics 45%, Weapon Stomp 33%, Missile Evasion 33%, +1 STR bonus.
Olaf is a tough opponent. From his position on the steps, two PCs can engage him in melee combat and others can fire missiles up at him.
After first taking damage, Olaf wastes a round pointing the Ring at his enemies and shrieking “By the power of Broddick, die, peasants!” Of course nothing happens.
After dropping to single-figure HP, Olaf seizes Finbar and threatens to slit his throat with a knife.
Brigid downs her weapons and offers herself instead: “I am a lady of note in these halls, a wealthy inheritance rests upon me: much will my kinfolk pay for my ransom. Take me instead.”
Seeing Finbar’s furious resistance to this idea, Olaf throws the bound dwarf down the steps and seizes Brigid. Brigid grapples with him and he stabs her. The PCs can take advantage of the confusion to attack Olaf at +2 (Forge: use DV2).
If Olaf survives this, he will break free and rush up the steps into the mines. PCs can pursue or let him go; he's not important any more. Brigid needs treatment – the Healing Potion (Forge: Jilda Weed) in the Maintenance Room (2) will revive her. The PCs will witness a tender scene between Finbar and Brigid (see Appendix 1, Joyful Defeat).
Appendix 1: When Finbar met Brigid
Billy Mernit (2001) offers 7 ‘beats’ for classic romantic comedy. Here are some scenes to insert constructed around Mernit’s template:
Beat 1: The Chemical Equation
Brigid Rosenbrow takes the PCs into her confidence:
"Do you know of a dwarf named Finbar Forkbeard? But of course you do; he's famous, isn't he? He slew the wyrmling of Bodach Fen, stole the Necklace of the Grebbings, hunted the Wolf of Glenfarg, so many adventures. And of course, that beard..."
Brigid Rosenbrow's cheeks have become very rosy indeed, but she recovers herself.
"I am a woman of means, an heiress, and I intend to take a husband, but why would a hero like Finbar Forkbeard look with affection upon such as me? No, his warrior soul can only love a warrior-maid. And thus shall I prove myself to him. Help me," she pleads, eyes glistening, "in a noble deception, a pantomime of love, if you please. I have circulated a rumour of a treasure, the Ring of Broddick, and Finbar and I shall quest for it together. My family's training dungeon shall pass for the Ring's hiding place and you, my friends, shall disguise yourselves as goblin-folk. There can be no danger, for all our weapons shall be blunted, but Finbar will be deceived by our mock battles only to be undeceived when he looks upon me and sees that I have a warrior's heart. Then, I hope, I pray, he will love me. Will you do this for me, for the love I bear for Finbar Forkbeard - or if not for love, then for a princely reward, for my coffers are rich and my gratitude is boundless?"
Beat 2: The Meet-Cute
Brigid Rosenbrow and Finbar Forkbeard meet and Hildy Heffenhammer arrives:
"Quickly," Brigid Rosenbrow whispers, "lie down and pretend to be dead and that I slew you."
You lie yourselves across the floor and Brigid stands in your midst, holding her lantern and spear. Finbar Forkbeard descends the steps.
"Ho there," his voice booms, "what is this? A battle? Goblins, by my father's beard! And a warrior maid standing proud amongst the fallen. Name yourself, bold lady, for I am Finbar called Forkbeard."
"I have been expecting you," Brigid replies, "for I am Brigid Rosenbrow and, while I waited for you here, these wandering monsters chanced upon me. More the worse for them, for my spear thirsted and they have slaked its thirst with their blood."
"Not that much blood," Finbar mutters and nudges one of you with his boot. "This one doesn't look quite dead yet. I shall chop off its head."
"No need, no need," says Brigid quickly, "better to let the nasty creature die a slow death, don't you think?"
"By all that glitters," exclaims Finbar in admiration, "but you have a sharp blade for a soul."
"She certainly does," cries a new voice, a woman's voice, "and we shall be shield-maidens together in this day's great deeds."
"This," says Finbar, introducing the newcomer, "is Hildy Heffenhammer, an adventuring lady, my companion in valour."
"Charmed I'm sure," says Brigid, in a voice like frozen milk. "What a pleasant surprise to have another woman join our party."
"I am sure we shall be best of friends," replies Hildy, with no more warmth. "You have certainly made a fine start at depopulating this dungeon. Although this one isn't quite dead yet..."
"Never mind that," says Brigid, drawing the other two Dwarves away down the corridor, "we must press on. I'm sure there are plenty more enemies to face up ahead."
Once the Dwarves turn the corner, their voices fade and you can all sit up and breathe deeply.
Beat 3: A Sexy Complication
While Finbar explores, Brigid and Hildy quarrel:
The two Dwarf ladies call out to each other through the shifting smoke cloud.
"He's a fine warrior, don't you think?" says Hildy Heffenhammer. "So vigorous, such clean sword-strokes...!"
"That beard!" sighs Brigid.
"What's that?" cries Hildy, from further off.
"Nothing. A cough! This smoke!"
"Yes, curse this smoke! What do you think of his beard?"
"His beard?" says Brigid. "I hadn't noticed it."
"We are well-suited, he and I, don't you think?"
Brigid doesn't reply.
"You will have noticed," continues Hildy, "that there is an understanding between us, he and I."
"An understanding?" says Brigid, her voice faint.
"Yes. An unspoken promise, you could say. You will have seen the way he looks at me. The proposal cannot be far off now. You will attend the wedding, will you not? For I feel we are sisters-in-battle, dear Brigid, and that will make you his sister-in-law? Is that not a merry jest? Why do you not answer, dear Brigid? And what is that horrid sobbing sound?"
"The smoke," Brigid replies at last, "is getting in my eyes."
Beat 4: The Hook
Brigid turns to the PCs with a new plan:
You hear Brigid Rosenbrow calling for you in the service tunnels and meet her in the maintenance room.
"There's a new plan," she says grimly. "The Heffenhammer woman has to go."
You are inclined to agree, but wonder what she intends.
"You remember how I intended for you to ambush Finbar and take him to the Trophy Room, for me to rescue him? I want you to abduct Hildy instead."
That doesn't sound easy, since Hildy's weapons are very real.
"There is a net in here somewhere -- over there, in the crates. Smoke and flash bombs too. Have you found them yet? After the Bridge of Doom, there's a silent secret door. Jump out, flash-bang, in the net with her and drag her away. Maybe get Carrie to keep her quiet."
That sounds better, but what will Brigid do?
"I just need some time alone with Finbar, to find out if he really is promised to her. Then we can rescue Hildy in the Trophy Room - or just find her abandoned there, if you have bruises enough for this day's work. Do this for me, my friends. A Dwarf's love is like a river of lava: slow but inexorable and consuming every obstacle!"
Beat 5: Swivel
Finbar admits feelings for Brigid:
"Be not dismayed, Finbar Forkbeard," says Brigid, "we shall rescue your fair companion!"
"By my father's beard," exclaims Finbar, "you are as resolute as iron"
"I know how much she means to you."
"Resolute, aye," says Finbar in a softer tone, "and as true as silver. Can a maiden as brave and noble as you lack for a host of suitors?"
Brigid replies in a breathless voice, "Not all men see me as you do, sir."
"Then I am the prospector who has found the seam of gold, which the other miners overlooked."
There is a long pause.
"Have you not promised yourself to Mistress Heffenhammer?"
"Nay, lady. A bachelor adventurer I have been and so thought to remain, until I met with you. Hildy is..."
"Just a friend?"
"Aye. And no more than that."
Brigid laughs with delight. "Then I know where your friend may be found and unharmed too, I shall warrant. Let us go together and rescue her. The Ring of Broddick means nothing to me now."
"Nor to me, brave lady," Finbar answers, "though I shall have gentle use of a ring for you, if you are minded to accept it."
Brigid is too overcome to reply.
Beat 6: The Dark Moment
Finbar has been captured and Brigid prepares to go after him.
"Friends," she says, "you have done all and more that I have asked and been well paid in bruises and indignities. I cannot ask more of you. Peril and death await up yonder passage, for Olaf the Black is a mighty opponent and vigorous in his hate. Yet I must go after my love, a true warrior at last, if only to die under Olaf's axe. Must a maiden go into such dark places alone?"
In this monent, lamp in one hand and spear in the other, Brigid looks every inch the warrior-lady she has only play-acted so far.
"Let us go together then," she says. "A Dwarf's love is like the trembling mountain, that spends itself in fire and ash, then falls cold and silent for ever after."
Beat 7: Joyful Defeat
Finbar and Brigid are united at last:
Finbar bends over Brigid, whose rosy face is now as pale as milk. He gently takes away her helm and her unbound hair falls across her cheeks. His tears fall upon her closed eyes.
"Never was a maiden braver, nor a heart more true. Live, sweet warrior, live and be only mine and let Death remain a bachelor in my place."
Brigid's eyes flutter open.
"If you command me, then live I shall. It is the first of many duties I shall discharge for you, my loving friend."
"Say not friend, but husband, servant, life-long companion, slave and fool."
"Husband," Brigid replies and smiles, "is a very fine name indeed."
Finbar kisses the tresses of her hair and she the braids of his beard and you onlookers, at last, retreat, that the couple might enjoy the first of many private felicities in the long life of the Dwarves.
In terms of the Freytag model of dramatic structure, beats 1-2 make up Act I (Rising), beats 3-5 form Act II (Climax), and beats 5-7 create Act III (Sinking or Return).
Appendix 2: How I Met Your Nemesis
Force everyone to wear cardboard goblin ears while their characters are “in disguise”. They will thank you afterwards and this kiddy craft website shows you how.
For added chuckles, make an extra set and singe the edges. The players can wear these after Hildy uses the Rod of Fiery Smiting on them (5).
As usual, the basic map and key took half an hour but adding in the dramatic beats, dialogue and plotting took much longer, so it's not really a 'thirty minute' dungeon at all.
It's a linear dungeon, of course. The players are on rails and move from one set-piece scene to another. The benefit of this is that a strong narrative emerges. The disadvantage is the lack of player freedom and autonomy.
There are some choices for the players to make in the middle act, especially with rounding up Gerald or Cassie to stage the 'wandering monster attack'. They might also use these monsters to help abduct Hildy or even to pursue Black Olaf. Don't discourage this sort of creativity - there's little enough opportunity for it in a scenario like this - but remember that speed is important in pursuing Olaf. If someone heads back into the service tunnels to find one of the monsters or bombs from the Maintenance Room, the rest must pursue Olaf and the absent PC (and the monster) can rejoin the showdown after sme time has passed (say, 1d6+4 rounds).
Assume that Brigid has many opportunities to sneak away from her party and interact with the players, if only by whispering through the spyholes in the secret doors. As a GM, roleplaying her emotional rollercoaster is part of the fun of the story.
The PCs might capture Hildy at an earlier stage of the story. In this case, allow her to break free of her net or recover from paralysis to rejoin Finbar and Brigid at an opportune moment (e.g. on the Bridge, wielding her Rod of Fiery Smiting). Beat #5 (Swivel) can be inserted at a different moment if need be.
If the PCs are very weakened, Hildy doesn't have to depart at the end and could join them for the showdown. It's important that she demonstrates the hardness of her character and shallowness of her affections, perhaps by sneering at Finbar for getting captured and making it clear she is only pursuing Olaf for her own glorious reputation.
Gerald and Carrie are comedy interludes and a possible resource in the showdown. Don't employ them as 'wandering monsters' and force the players to fight them. A nice idea if for Gerald to grow if he gets to feed on a proper meal (e.g. the dead Svarts), swelling up to full size and regaining his normal damage (2d4) and fully effective paralysation. He then becomes a weapon the players can direct at Olaf. Don't let the monsters steal the show. If the PCs direct Gerald or Carrie at Olaf, he will use Finbar as a shield against the monster or hold a knife to the Dwarf as a bargaining chip, prompting Brigid to offer herself in exchange.
To all roleplayers hoping to adventure alongside their sweetheart - and to anyone else who enjoys some romantic comedy in their RPG session - a happy Valentine's Day.
I'm working through the rulebook for the late-'90s fantasy heartbreaker Forge Out of Chaos because it speaks to something in my OSR soul. I've covered the magic system in blogs that looked at simple but restrictive Divine Magic and the more potent but unreliable Attack Magic. A third type remains.
Enchantment is a type of Pagan Magic. In Forge, this means it's a sorcerous ability that was once granted (illicitly) to mortals by the gods - in this case by Dembria, goddess of Enchantment - but since the gods went into Exile, mortals have figured out how to do it by themselves. They don't do it accurately or consistently and they have to power it themselves, but it works and you don't need to go kowtowing to Grom or Berethenu to make it happen. Enchantment differs from Attack Magic in that it is permanent, or potentially so. Yes, we're in the business of creating indefinite magical effects: changing form, granting powers, boosting stats, making armour and weapons more potent, reshaping the world around you.
In other words, the cool stuff.
How it works (or doesn't)
As with other sorts of Pagan Magic, you start with a number of spell slots equal to your Intellect and you can choose spells of your current level or (with penalty) the level above, so 1st level casters have access to 1st or 2nd level spells. You have a pool of Spell Points (SPTS) to use, on average around 20, and with a base cost of 6 SPTS for 1st level spells, Enchantment is pretty cheap. When you go up a level in Magic, you usually get another half dozen spell slots and a dozen more SPTS.
The big choice is whether to add more spells to your repertoire or improve the ones you've already got. Yes, you can use up a spell slot to re-roll on those Schematics Tables, hoping to improve your spell's area of effect, saving throw modifier and of course the HSE (Hidden Side Effects). Only with these spells you have something else to worry about: Maintenance Points.
Enchantment spells don't have 'Duration' - they last for as long as you keep paying the Maintenance Cost out of your SPTS. These SPTS that have to be spent on Maintaining spells are Maintenance Points (MPTS).
MPTS are determined by those 'schematics' tables too. A 1st level spell could take 6 MPTS to maintain every day; that's a very poor roll and it means the spell costs as much to maintain as it did to cast it in the first place. It could cost as little as 1 MPT per day; that's an amazing roll that you will probably only get if you invested more than the minimum 10 Skill Slots into Magic or if you are re-rolling the 1st level spell when you've reached a higher level.
The maintenance costs increase predictably: 2nd level spells cost as much as 7 MPTS and as little as 2; 3rd level costs as much as 8 and as little as 3, and so on. You'll notice though that the maintenance isn't keeping pace with the casting cost. It will cost 18 SPTS to cast a 3rd level spell but, at the very worst, only 8 MPTS to maintain it.
The schematics for MPTS and Area of Effect for 1st level spells. Rather than learning an extra spell, you could re-roll an existing one. If you invested 12 Skill Slots in Magic you get +2 on one table. Which table would you apply the bonus to?
Schematics for level 4 spells. Even on a good roll, they probably cost as much or more to maintain as a 1st level spell that rolled badly. Instead of learning an extra spell, would it be better to re-roll one of these or try and make that 1st level spell even cheaper to maintain, now that, being 3 levels higher, you get a +6 bonus to split between the tables for 1st level spells?
Enchanters, therefore, get powerful fast, since they only need to cast a spell once (usually during downtime) and the measure of their power is how many spells they can maintain. Re-rolling your spells to push down the maintenance cost is therefore a better strategy than going for a wide range of spells that cost a lot to maintain.
Problems with Maintenance
The rules state that Mages recuperate 5 SPTS for every 2 hours of sleep, up to a maximum of 20 SPTS a day. In other words, sleeping more than 8 hours offers no further benefit. This makes 20 MPTS the sustainable maximum for your spell-load. If they add up to more than 20 MPTS, then you're running down your reserves and eventually you won't be able to cast any new spells or meet the cost of maintaining current ones: you have to let a spell dissipate.
The flat limit of 20 SPTS a day seems rather blunt. It's exactly the sort of limit that ought to vary from character to character. The Benefits & Detriments rules (pp17-18) could be extended to cover traits like Heavy Sleeper (+2, regain 6 SPTS per 2 hours) and Light Sleeper (-2, regain 4 SPTS per 2 hours) which could be chosen by Mages at character creation. A Percentage Skill like Meditation (INS x 2) could be used to regain 2 SPTS above and beyond the sleep-limit after an hour of successful meditation. A creatures of Dembria, surely the Dunnar should regain 1 SPT every hour that they spend away from sunlight?
It's not clear when exactly the MPT levy has to be paid. As soon as you wake up, whenever that is? But what if you stayed up all night? At dawn or midnight, irregardless? That seems a bit arbitrary. At the hour of the spell's first casting? Too much book-keeping there!
It's best to make each Enchanter choose their 'payment occasion' which is the point at which they pay maintenance on their spells. Characters could choose a fixed time (midnight, noon) or a relative time (dawn, the setting of the moon) so long as it's an unavoidable daily occurrence. It makes sense to choose a time that comes immediately after the +20 SPTS you earned from a good sleep but before anything can occur in the day to force you to spend or lose more SPTS: 8am or 9am are sensible choices.
Other forms of Pagan Magic need spell components and it's a big restriction on starting Mages that they cannot afford the components for all the spells they would like to cast. But at least those components are permanent once you own them and they only risk exploding if you "pump" a spell and it backfires on you. Enchantment also requires spell components. The good news is they tend to be a bit cheaper than the ones for Attack Magic; the bad news is they are entirely used up when you cast the spell.
This extract gives you a flavour of the spell components on p117. Some you could harvest yourself (although good luck getting Dungwala ashes the hard way). Emeralds are pricey!
The lower level (1st-4th level) spells tend to involve the cheaper ingredients of course. Casting Literacy to grant yourself or someone else some languages involves 2oz of gold dust (20gp) and a glass lens (5gp), which is not 'nothing' but a starting Mage could stretch to that. The 2nd level spell Friendship is a sort of 'Charm Person' spell, but with components including 4oz of gem dust (100gp), you're not going to be throwing it around. That emerald is one of the components for the 8th level spell Ego Meld, that lets you steal someone else's body. Considering the benefits (effectively, immortality), it's good value for money.
Of course, you might only ever cast a spell once, so the components are a one-time investment. But when five members of your party want Night Vision, this 1st level spell requires 2oz of gem dust per casting, so that will set you back 260gp. Hopefully your friends will contribute to the costs...
Casting time & hanging spells
Enchantment magic is time-consuming: 5 minutes per level of the spell. Given Forge's maddening 1 minute melee rounds, this means you could perhaps fire off a 1st and maybe even a 2nd level spell if you hung back from combat if no one bothered you (that's a big 'if') but, practically speaking, you won't be casting these spells down the dungeon or on the road. Casting enchantments is a downtime activity.
This creates a problem with experience checks that the rules don't address. Normally, Mages check their Magic Skill every time they cast a spell in a crisis situation (i.e. during an adventure), but Enchanters usually cast their spells during sedate downtime. Even if we grant them a check for this, Enchanters just don't cast spells often. In fact, once a spell is cast, they might never cast it again. Enchanters will advance in Magic painfully slowly, if at all.
One solution is to grant Enchanters a check to Magic for every spell that is active when they complete the adventure and every spell they pay MPTS for during the adventure. This isn't entirely satisfactory. If the PCs go on a 3-day wilderness quest, an Enchanter with 5 spells active will get 15 checks to Magic (5 on completing and 10 for the spells maintained during the adventure). Another Mage might well not cast 15 spells in that time. On the other hand, multi-day adventures aren't the norm in dungeon-crawler games like Forge and perhaps Enchanters need a slight edge over those Elementalists and Necromancers.
Something else missing from the rules is any consideration of 'hanging' a spell that you cast and paid for earlier. Some Enchantment spells do have tactical potential: you might want to cast Friendship on a monster you meet during an adventure - indeed, it's difficult to imagine a situation where anyone will sit obediently for 10 minutes and wait for you to cast a spell like that on them. Curse is another 2nd level spell that only seems to have tactical potential: it imposes a stiff penalty to someone's Attack Value, which is great in combat, except that it takes 10 minutes to perform, by which point a lot of fights are winding down. Who are you going to cast this on during downtime, with its range of 'Touch'?
A simple House Rule is to allow Enchanters to cast a spell earlier and leave it 'hanging' until it's needed, whereupon it can be cast like any Attack Magic spell. You use up the ingredients, spend the SPTS and you have to maintain the hanging spell like any other, but you don't get any Skill Check for it until it actually gets triggered. This creates an incentive to cast Curse at home (12 SPTS, 4 oz of gem dust and a crushed lodestone so that's 110gp) and maintain it as a hanging spell, so that when you meet that Ogre you can zap him with the Curse you prepared earlier, claim your Skill Check and probably stop paying maintenance for it (since the point is to make the creature easier to kill, right?).
The spells themselves
D&D mixes together its permanent effect spells (Continual Light, Magic Mouth, etc) with the wham-bam tactical stuff. By hiving off the permanent magics, Forge creates an interesting option for Mages.
Defensive enchantments are more appealing. Mystic Robes grants you (and only you) an Armour Rating which could go as high as 6 (that's like Plate Mail and for 11gp worth of components, it's a bargain). Protection from Magic offers you a Save Modifier (potentially up to +6 and for only 10gp in silver dust) against Magic. I prefer the Robes, especially since Enchanters can't wear armour.
Then there are the 'utilities', like Light (familiar from D&D but at 51gp you might think twice), Magic Lock (what it says, but it can be picked although at a penalty), Night Vision (granted to anyone) and Strengthen Weapon (granting a weapon a chance of not being 'notched' which warriors will clamour for but since it involves 50gp in gem dust they had better pay).
The smart thing is probably to pick just a few of these (Robes, obviously; Strengthen Weapon to please your friends; Light, I think; Night Vision too) and use your extra slots to re-roll them to push the MPTS down.
If you try to learn 2nd level spells while your Magic level is only 1, you get a -2 penalty on all the schematics. Nonetheless, Curse and Friendship, described earlier, make the Enchanter a dangerous opponent, especially if we use the House Rules to 'hang' spells.
Runes improves on Strengthen Weapon by making a weapon count as magical for purposes of hitting mystical creatures. Enchanted Vestment improves on Mystic Robes by granting you 10-30 Armour Points - now that's real protection and cheap for 24gp in components!
These spells have much more potential in campaign play and out-of-dungeon adventures than the other spell lists. High level enchantments allow for all sorts of magical traps and banes to put on weapons, tougher defensive spells, more dramatic utilities, telepathy, invisibility, golem-building, magic item crafting and, at 7th level, Solidify Magic lets you sacrifice dozens of permanent SPTS so that you no longer have to pay MPTS to maintain your crafted magic items: they are independent of you now.
The implications of Enchantment: show me the money
Enchantment is definitely where the long-term fun is in a Forge campaign. It provides a more logical power progression than D&D spells (Invisibility is hard to pull off), rationalises the creation of magical items and offers a log term goal in Ego Meld (stop ageing, just steal younger bodies). It gives a sense of the texture of a fantasy world where these magical effects are, if not commonplace, at least known about. What's lacking is some sort of payment chart to help you calculate how much NPC Enchanters will charge you to cast these spells.
If you don't like Capitalism, stop reading now.
Obviously, you have to pay the cost of the components. Friendly Mages (Reaction 76+) might let you provide them yourself, but most will insist on sourcing their own "to ensure quality" and charge you double for their trouble.
Then there's the daily fee to the Mage for providing the Maintenance Points to keep the spell going.
Back in the '80s, Paul Vernon wrote an excellent series of articles for White Dwarf called Designing a Quasi-Medieval Society for D&D. Vernon constructs D&D economies around the 'Ale Standard' and proposes that a minimum wage labourer ought to be able to slake his thirst at the end of the day for a tenth of his income. Since a pint of ale on the Forge pricelist is 10sp, this means you're paying pack-bearers and torch-holders 1gp a day. On a previous blog, I calculate this to be the equivalent of £50 in modern money. If we assume that a Mage-for-hire considers each of his Spell Points to be worth a day's work for a peasant, we can start calculating.
If we assume a Mage-for-hire has the worst maintenance costs based on the schematics, so a 1st level spell requires 6 MPTS/Day, therefore 6gp per day. Yes, the Mage might have rolled better than that and actually only spends 5 or 4 or even 1 MPT/Day, but he won't tell you that. We must also assume the other schematics are at rock-bottom, so hiring Strengthen Weapon gives you a sword that is 50% likely to notch. Let's say you can increase the effect by one bracket by paying the base cost all over again, so 12gp/day gives a result of 45%, 18gp produces 40% and if you want a sword that only has a 25% chance of notching, you had better pay 36gp/day.
Then there are the HSE (Hidden Side Effects) and the Mage doesn't want to bear them on your behalf, so that schematic has to be increased by three brackets as standard, just to improve the spell to a safe level: a 1st level spell begins at a minimum 24gp/day and goes up from there in 6gp intervals if you want to improve its effects.
Applying this logic, 2nd level spells begin at 28gp/day and go up in 7gp intervals; 32gp/day plus 8gp intervals for 3rd level spells; 36gp/day plus 9gp for 4th level spells; a big hike to 50gp/day plus 10gp for 5th levels spells and 66gp/day plus 11gp for 6th level spells.
Let's try a worked example. You visit Melzon the Enchanter because you want Night Vision for a forthcoming quest. The components cost him 52gp so he charges you 104gp. He contracts to provide you with Night Vision for a week. Rolling 1d20, we find that Melzon's Night Vision schematic has a range of 70ft (two brackets past basic) so Melzon charges 36gp/day or 252gp for the week: after components, that's 356gp, thank you very much, payment up front, to see at night like a cat, for a week. If a Forge gold piece is worth £50, then you're paying nearly £18K for this enhancement.
Imagine Melzon has a neighbour and rival, Lozeb the Lonely, who has Magic to 2nd level. Lozeb can put Runes on your sword for the week, charging you 200gp for the gem dust needed and 196gp for the week's duration: a Rune-buffed sword for 396gp. Watch out: your sword dissolves when the spell ends. I bet Lozeb insists on providing the sword himself "to ensure quality" and charges double for that, so add in 50gp for the broad sword for 446gp total cost (over £22K).
Why not get Lozeb to provide the Night Vision too? Lozeb will charge 2nd level rates for it, even though it's a 1st level spell. After all, why should he rent out his SPTS for anything less than their full value? So his Night Vision will cost you 42gp/day or 398gp (after components) for the week.
It pays to shop around, but I bet the Mages don't like that. Lozeb will be cross if he finds you've been sneaking off to that upstart Melzon for a cheaper deal on Night Vision. His contract probably stipulates that you don't engage other Mages while he's working for you and if he finds out that you've done that (and he will find out) then he stops paying the maintenance cost for the spells at once and good luck claiming your money back!
This all assumes Lozeb has access to all the spells, which he won't. But let's assume Enchanters-for-hire combine to form business associations so they can cover as many spells as possible and they all charge the rates of the highest-level Mage in the partnership. So if you go to the fancy offices of Gro Finbar Associates (headed up by a 4th level Magic user) you can get all your spell-needs met if you pay as if a 4th level Mage was providing them (even if, actually, it's a 1st level junior partner doing the work). Or go back to Melzon for that Night Vision: he's a sole trader, charging 1st level rates, but he's probably only got 3 or 4 spells to offer.
Enchanters-for-hire don't like short contracts. They make their money providing the Baron with Light in his study all the year round, or granting Herbology to a gardener for the whole summer. A bottom-feeder like Melzon might offer Night Vision for a single evening, but I bet Lozeb charges for a week, minimum, and Gro Finbar Associates charge you for a month, even if you only need the spell for a week. A 6th level Mage won't bother enchanting anything for less than a year. This means, if you think your butler has been stealing the silverware and want to put a Truth spell on him, you might only want the spell to be in effect for an hour or two, but Lozeb the Lonely will bill you for a week: that's 378gp, including components, to make the butler confess. It might be cheaper to let him keep stealing...
Nonetheless, some spells are very useful. The 3rd level spell Tongues grants you any language. A 3rd level Mage probably insists on charging you for a fortnight, but 618gp is a fair price if you really need to know Ghantu for an upcoming mission (for the record, Gro Finbar Associates charge 1178gp because they bill you for a month minimum).
Whew. OK. I enjoyed that. These costs seem right for player characters: cheap enough that spells could be purchased by successful adventurers for particular quests, expensive enough to put magic out of the reach of starting characters. A bit pricey for ordinary people, perhaps?
Of course, magic isn't for ordinary people, but these are definitely "adventurers' rates". Remember that, for established businesses like Gro Finbar Associates, adventurers are terrible customers. Yes, they pay cash up front, but that's the only good thing about them. They are erratic customers and they often acquire spell-casting allies or henchmen of their own who service them for free. They purchase a service then disappear off for weeks. Often they don't come back at all. They rarely have good reputations.
No, Enchanters-for-hire want a respectable clientele who need spells maintaining either perpetually or regularly. The Baron wants his favourite boar spear to have Strengthen Weapon on it all year round; the chief constable of the watch wants Night Vision available to him right up until he retires; the merchant prince wants Tongues for the duration of each yearly trade envoy and Magic Lock on his coffers the year round. These people are returning customers and they get much better rates: less than half what player characters pay or even bigger discounts for perpetual enchantments that have been in place for years. And it's worth bearing in mind what enchantments will be enjoyed by well-heeled NPCs, especially if the PCs intend to do something silly, like rob them...
I was reflecting the other day about what a valuable resource 'dungeons' are and how odd it is that, in most campaigns, they don't seem to be owned by anybody.
Which is peculiar, really, because dungeons are a powerful economic resource. Not only are they full of treasure, but magic items too. The skin and fur of magical beasts make great adornments for the upper classes and are usually ingredients sought after by mages. Even the arms and armour of humanoid denizens, the vellum and lore of lost grimoires and the access to seams of rare metals have financial value. Why would a local lord allow a dungeon on or near his estate to lie ignored until a bunch of no-account yeoman adventurers finally loot it?
Because dungeons are dangerous, is one answer. You can order your knights and serfs to go to war because most combatants in a medieval war don't expect to die in it: the knights can expect to be ransomed and, assuming that disease and arrow-fire doesn't claim them, the peasant levy can hope to leave the battlefield with only bruises and scars. There are fatalities in war, of course, but the majority of combatants survive even on the losing side. Dungeons, on the other hand, are properly dangerous: orcs don't take prisoners, you can be eaten by ghouls, you can be killed by traps, you can be turned to stone!
But that doesn't make dungeons valueless. If suicidally brave adventurers are going to descend into a dungeon, the local ruler will want them to be his adventurers, paying him a fee, taking a cut from their loot and certainly first choice of the best magic items, plus samples of rare commodities (lycanthrope fur, demon feathers, powdered gargoyle horn).
What is a Dungeon: ruins, wizard sanctums or lairs?
Dungeons are an odd concept. The idea that the fantasy landscape is strewn with these large multi-leveled subterranean labyrinths requires some explanation. Many RPG campaigns have abandoned the concept altogether in favour of more naturalistic assaults on fortresses, temples, woodland hideouts and caverns. But the dungeon exerts a grip on my OSR imagination and seems pretty central to the type of adventuring proposed in Forge Out of Chaos, so I'm going to think deeper about what dungeons are supposed to be.
In Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the landscape of Cydoril is littered with Ayleid Ruins, easily distinguished by their bright marble surface works and full of slap-footed undead zombies and treasures such as the valuable welkynd stones. Weirdly, the PC adventurer seems to be the only person in Cydoril who realises you can get rich from plundering these places.
Original D&D spawned this conceit, perhaps inspired by the Moria scenes in The Lord of the Rings; it's hard to trace antecedents in fantastic fiction for adventures happening in these dynamic labyrinths: elements of Lovecraft, Howard and Lieber? Ursula Leguin's The Tombs of Atuan (1972)? The Zenopus Dungeon, the ur-dungeon created by Eric Holmes for the 1977 'Blue Book' Basic D&D set, is located "on the ruins of a much older city of doubtful history and Zenopus was said to excavate in his cellars in search of ancient treasures."
The idea of dungeons as the residue of a more advanced parent or pre-human civilisation has some resonance in history. In the Dark Ages, Anglo-Saxon tribes invaded Britain and discovered the cities of the Romans with their puzzling arches, heated bathhouses and vast plazas. Archaeology shows us that the Anglo-Saxons didn't inhabit these ruins but set up their villages alongside them, doubtless plundering them for stone and treasures while telling stories of the mysterious builders whom they believes to be 'ettins' or giants.
One anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet describes such a city like this:
Another rationale for dungeons is that they are the architectural side-effect of stuff powerful wizards get up to. Wizards seem to need to delve underground: perhaps their magics only work at full effect far away from the sky, the sun and stars, from common people - or perhaps they like to be closer to rare minerals in the deeps of the earth or the resting places or summoning portals for eldritch beings. Again, Eric Holmes got here first, with Zenopus the Magician making "extensive cellars and tunnels underneath the tower" which is the proximate cause of the Zenopus Dungeon in Holmes' Basic Rules.
The Zenopus Dungeon has been updated and expanded for 5e D&D
Gary Gygax took the conception of dungeons in a different direction. For Gygax, dungeons were just lairs, either cave complexes monsters had moved into like squatters (such as the Caves of Chaos in Module B1: The Keep on the Borderlands) or else fortifications built by the monsters themselves to be their home and evil playground (such as the Against the Giants series).
Modules B1 (Keep on the Borderland) and G1 (Steading of the Hill Giant Chief) both illustrate the Gygaxian approach to dungeon politics: the player characters are agents of the state and venture beyond its borders to impose sanctions on monsters in their lairs. It could be called a Rumsfeldian model...
In Holmes' world, the authorities of Portdown "had a catapult rolled through the streets of the town and the tower was battered to rubble" after which the local dungeon was shunned out of superstitious dread. This fits with Holmes' psychoanalytic interest, with the dungeon representing the repressed id and the adventurers engaged in an exploration of the realm of the imagination that ordinary folks deny - a fine metaphor for roleplaying in general. Gygax's conception is more prosaic, but more alert to the political implications of dungeons. In his scenarios, the authorities send the players into the dungeons, with promises of reward or threats of what accompanies failure: the PCs are agents of the state, bringing law to the strongholds of chaos.
As Ron Edwards gleefully points out: "In Forge: Out of Chaos, the very notion of doing anything that isn't treasure-seeking in a dungeon is completely foreign." Yet at least Forge has a clear rationale for dungeons to exist: they are from the God-War or the time before it: the shrines, prisons, mansions or workshops of the gods themselves or their semi-divine servitors. Places like that littering the landscape definitely have to factor in local politics.
Are Dungeons like Royal Forests?
In the Middle Ages, a 'Forest' meant an area of wilderness set aside for the king or regional lord; originally for hunting but later the emphasis shifted to timber for shipbuilding and war. 'Forests' were usually wooded, but the territory often included marshland, upland heaths, rocky massifs, it was all 'the Forest'.
Forests and Dungeons have much in common. Forests are home to dangerous creatures (boar, bears, wolves but also outlaws) and other prestige animals (deer) that count as treasure. There are resources to be harvested: timber of course, but also coal and charcoal and related glassworks, salt mining, honey pasturage, fishing and herbs.
But unlike typical dungeons, medieval rulers didn't allow just anybody to wander into a Forest and take advantage of the opportunities there. In 1100, Henry I created the Forest Laws of England, forbidding common people from entering Forests with weapons, cutting down trees, hunting or pasturing animals. Each Forest was overseen by a Keeper, appointed by the King and sometimes (as in Sherwood Forest) the Keeper-ship was hereditary. The Keeper would then hire Foresters (known as Verderers) to police the Forest and arrest trespassers or lawbreakers.
These laws and the Foresters who enforced them weren't popular. Lots of rural communities depended on the surrounding woods and heaths for their food and raw materials, but were now forbidden from entering or making use of them. Laws were broken and Courts-of-the-Forest (Swainmoots or Woodmoots) set up to hand out punishments.
Courts of Inquisition would be convened if a serious infraction was discovered - such as the carcass of a deer killed by poachers - and as often as not strangers in the community would be singled out for blame. Blinding and castration were the 12th century punishments for poaching the Forest deer. Peasants would have to be pretty hungry to risk this. As time went on, the Forests became a greater source of income for the Crown, so fines replaced mutilations (6 pennies for felling a green oak) and more licences were issued.
Keepers, Companies and Dungeon Charters
In a quasi-feudal setting envisaged in 'classic' D&D campaigns and in Forge, dungeons form part of the 'Forest' claimed by kings or powerful nobles. A court official (let's call him, without irony, the Master of Dungeons) would appoint Dungeon Keepers to manage the known sites. The Keeper would be a wealthy local landowner: a Squire or Baron, perhaps. The Keeper would in turn appoint serjeants-donjons, dungeon-constables or (my favourite) dinglemen to police the sites. More about them shortly.
Of course, the Keeper doesn't want to go dungeon-delving himself: he has a big and profitable estate to run. And yet, the dungeon must turn a profit somehow... Enter companies of adventurers. The Keeper appoints a Company to represent him, granting them his livery and their own heraldic badge. The Chartered Company delves into the dungeon and, on returning, presents the Keeper (and his feudal overlord) with a choice cut of the treasures, including the best magic items.
Sharp-witted GMs will realise that this is a very effective way of preventing the creep of wealth and magic items in a campaign. Players get to rake in the money for purposes of XP and use potent magic items while down in the dungeon itself, but on emerging they have to surrender half the cash and the best artifacts to their boss.
Unchartered adventurers are poachers. If they evade the dinglemen and get in and out of the dungeon, they had better not convene in the Green Dragon Inn to split their loot, because word will surely get out. The Keeper, whose estate they have trespassed on, will confiscate ALL the loot and add a week in the stocks or a judicious flogging to send out the right message: robbing the dungeon is robbing its lord. The Chartered Adventuring Company will be strongly motivated to assist in the pursuit and add summary justice of their own: they didn't go to the trouble of acquiring their Charter and surrender their most exciting magic items to have a bunch of black market tyros poach from the dungeon right under their noses and run away with the best treasure.
In a quasi-feudal setting, the Keeper grants his Charter to an Adventuring Company who reputation redounds to his glory, although valuable gifts would be offered by way of introduction to attract the Keeper's consideration. Eventually, successful Adventuring Companies go national in scale, holding Charters with lots of different Keepers and subcontracting the dungeon-delving out to less experienced groups who have to pay a fee to go adventuring under their badge and livery (and still offering most of the treasure up to the local Keeper). In other words, an Adventurers Guild comes about.
Feudal lords delight in their Chartered Companies and their exploits. They expect them to do more than raid dungeons. They have to recount their exploits at banquets, demonstrate their weapon skills at tournaments, accompany their lord on hunts. It's not unlike winning a beauty pageant or a reality TV show: you're in demand. It's tiring being a court favourite and finding the time to get back down the dungeom again can be hard.
In an imperial setting, relationships are a bit less personal. A regional governor will assess dungeon sites in his jurisdiction and sell permits to delve into them; the Empire will claim a percentage of the haul and first choice on the magic items. The appointment of a new Governor means the reassigning of permits and some intense negotiations between existing Adventuring Companies .
Chartered Companions for and against Player Characters
A simple way to start a campaign is for the PCs to be members of a Chartered Company in service to a lord or in receipt of a permit from a regional governor. Perhaps one of them has well-connected family or is related to a celebrated adventurer and can trade on the family name; perhaps someone inherited a fortune and sunk it into getting the Charter.
This positions PCs for a dual life, where dungeon-delving sessions are balanced with intrigue storylines at court, where they must re-tell their tales, show off their skills, curry favour with superiors and lovers, make enemies and get sent on all sorts of non-dungeoneering enterprise by their lord or his courtiers: anything from hunting down lost livestock to escorting young maidens around the countryside.
In this sort of campaign, rival unchartered adventurers are a scourge and the NPCs that dungeon encounter tables identify as 'Bandits' are probably these people. Enjoy seethng with resentment when your hempen homespun rivals clean out lucrative dungeon levels while you're kissing babies at the village fete; watch them level up faster than you and accrue more powerful magical treasures; delight in revenging yourself when the opportunity presents itself.
Alternatively, the PCs are the unchartered adveturers: you are sneaking into the dungeon under cover of darkness, evading the dingleman and his henchmen, meeting at a secret trysting place to divide the loot, coming up with far-fetched tales to explain your wounds and scorched clothing. Most of all, you are running scared of the Chartered Company: those smug, lazy playboy-adventurers who get all the glory and who dog your footsteps, trying to expose you at any turn. The stocks or the scaffold await you if you're caught - unless of course you get wealthy enough to earn your own Charter.
Meet the Dingleman
The Dungeon Keeper doesn't want riff-raff poking around in his dungeons. Peasants in search of shelter or loot will probably get themselves killed or else provoke the subterranean monsters (pretty much the plot of Beowulf, where an escaped slave steals from a dragon's hoard and the indignant reptile visits destruction upon the tribe of the Geats).
But it's not just that. It's even worse if those enterprising peasants succeed, and emerge from the dungeon as hardened veterans, with magical equipment, spell books and a heightened sense of themselves. Such 'heroes' aren't going to be content back behind the plough. More likely, they're the ringleaders of the next Peasant's Revolt.
Even if they don't revolt, peasant-adventurers promote something just as bad: social mobility. The ruling classes in a hereditary aristocracy don't want to be mixing with ploughboys and dairymaids who made their fortune plundering dungeons.
This means dungeons must be policed and the dingleman or Dungeon Constable is the policeman. Probably, this person is the landowner nearest to the dungeon entrance, drawing an extra stipend from his lord for these duties. It might be a hereditary position or it might be offered to a retired war hero or adventurer, complete with a gift of land and a nearby cottage or tower from which to keep an eye on things.
Obviously, the dingleman chases trespassers away from the dungeon entrance - or, in the case of large armed companies, takes a careful note of their identities. He's probably a capable warrior or magician and has some henchmen (perhaps his sons) and some big dogs to back him up.
More than this, the dingleman's patrol probably includes the upper dungeon level too, or at least the corridors and rooms around the entrance. The dingleman knows about the traps and some of the monsters and might have some tricks (high pitched whistles, unpleasant-smelling incense) to chase away wandering monsters like slimes, rats, gelatinous cubes and mindless undead.
If the post is hereditary, some of these monsters knew the dingleman's grandfather and their working relationship can be quite sophisticated. Perhaps the Goblins tip off the dingleman when they're planning to raid the surface, so he can warn nearby farmers to lock their doors or spend a few nights safe in the town inn while their barn is being ransacked. Perhaps the dingleman tips off the monsters when the Chartered Adventurers hove into view: they can retreat to a lower level or hide away their children and womenfolk. That's what makes dungeon poachers so destructive: by descending unannounced on a dungeon and, by slaughtering the unsuspecting monsters, they damage the delicate trust-networks that have grown up around the site.
I like to imagine Dungeon Hunts are popular with the more eccentric nobility: some young lordling and his entourage descend into the dungeon, clatter around harmessly for a few hours and do battle with something they can manage and emerge as monster-killers. The dingleman curates this experience, much like foresters set up a hunt by locating a likely quarry. The local monsters have to be forewarned and clear out ("You don't want to go messing with the young prince, he's well connected!") and in return point out to the dingleman the location of a suitable quarry ("Human, on the third level is predatory wyrm that devours our scouts: it would make a fine trophy for your prince!").
Of course, sometimes the dingleman really is working for the monsters, especially if there's a mesmerising Harpy on the second level that's turned his mind. What ought to be a safely-curated day of underground hunting can go badly wrong. This is the sort of occasion that sends in the player characters (even if they're unchartered) on a rescue mission.
Dinglemen for and against Player Characters
A friendly dingleman is the best source of likely-to-be-true rumours that a Chartered Company of Adventurers can have. He might be on hand to help with hauling large treasures out of the dungeon and willing to escort the party to a jumping-off point within the complex and offer directions from there ("These steps go to the third level; there's a room of glowing pillars, they say, and beyond that a witch's lair: she turns folks to stone!").
Naturally, in return the dingleman expects a share in the party treasure and perhaps the choice of a magic item. This, and also respect and fair language. If the party behave high-handedly, well, the dingleman can be much less helpful: rumours will be of the less accurate sort, directions vague, assistance grudging. If relations really break down, monsters will have uncanny foreknowledge of the party's approach.
Unchartered adventurers usually avoid the dingleman at all costs. In a feudal system, the dingleman's loyalty to his lord (and fear of the punishments for dereliction of duty) makes it hard to bribe him or talk him round. He might show up to rescue PCs from a tight spot, only to escort them to a gaol.
In other settings, the dingleman might be more of a jobsworth, amenable to a bribe or even taking a liking to young adventurers. Any assistance he offers will have to be secret though: remember the Chartered Adventurers and their sense of grievance? Best to turn a blind eye and leave it at that.
I'm charmed by the idea of dinglemen: I'll make a point of incorporating on into my next dungeon. Here are some final thoughts about how a dingleman might function in a well-known dungeon: the Zenopus Dungeon by Eric Holmes.
The Zenopus Dingleman
You can read the original Zenopus Dungeon here, or look at my version for Forge Out Of Chaos or buy Zach Howard's 5th Edition adaptation for $1.99. I analyse the dungeon in an earlier blog.
Brubo patrols the area around the dungeon entrance to chase away trespassers but won't offer violence. He's too honourable to bribe. He will direct Chartered Adventurers to the stairwell and cackle about the endless corridors, the perilous graveyard, the sunken city of pre-human origin: he's great for setting the tone and functions as a Threshold Guardian (in Joseph Campbell's neo-Jungian terminology).
Inside the dungeon, Brubo can be encountered as a Wandering Monster. He can help the party out against undead and carries a string of sausages to distract Giant Rats: in terms of Campbell's monomyth, he's a Helper and Mentor. Of course, he has been charmed by the Magician in Room F: he will direct or chase adventurers away from that area and fight to protect his master. On the other hand, he's a keen enemy of the Pirates in Room M and will assist even trespassing unchartered adventurers against them.
If Brubo apprehends trespassers, they face a night in the stocks and confiscation of all treasure. If they keep returning to the dungeon, they will earn Brubo's grudging respect and he will increasingly turn a blind eye to their movements, especially if they deal with the Pirates.
Post Script: I've added Brubo to my adaptation of the Zenopus Dungeon for Forge over on the Scenarios page.
The Inn of the Cold Companion is a 30-minute Dungeon Challenge, as set out by Tristan Tanner in his Bogeyman Blog. I hope it will inspire other people to create some of their own and send them to me - so I can hand out free copies of Forge Out Of Chaos as prizes in the January 2020 competition
I used Tristan's optional tables to create an extra discipline for this 10-room dungeon: empty rooms that point to a combat, reveal history and offer something useful to PCs; the special room provides a boon for a sacrifice; the NPC is a rival; the combat encounters are a horde of weaklings, a pair of toughs and a tough boss; the traps are inconveniencing and incapacitating.
Background (Referee only)
The Inn is a place in the realm of death where the souls of the dead gather on their way to the Netherworld. It was once a real Inn that entered the realm of death when the Innkeeper Rosenkrantz, deranged by grief after the death of his wife Ophelia, burned it down around him.
Dead souls will not rest here long, before the Cold Companion (an avatar of Death) comes to collect them. Dead souls do not realise they are dead: they believe they are resting on a long journey but have only hazy ideas about their destination. They also do not know their names and the only treasure they carry are two silver obols each (the coins to pay for their passage). In this scenario, the players are members of a party of adventurers who have died in a disastrous dungeon encounter, but in the living world their cleric-cum-medic is struggling to revive them.
You are bone-weary from travelling and there are still leagues ahead of you, but the last light of a wintry day shows a roadside inn ahead, with a lantern glowing faintly above the door. The creaking sign bears the name ‘The Cold Companion’ and the image of a feral child with sparkling eyes. Your rations are spent and your waterskins empty, but there are coins jangling in your purses. You enter, look for rest and perhaps fellowship from other travellers on this dismal highway.
In this scenario, characters do not know their Names (q.v.) when asked and cannot remember each other’s names or even think of any names at all. Players can describe their appearance and origin (but no names, of countries or towns) and know each other’s achievements (famous deeds, reputation, shared exploits, but no names of places or enemies) and may refer to each other by this (‘Dwarf’ or ‘Goblin-killer’ or ‘Elf-lover’). The only exception is priests who will remember the name of their god.
The players have no rations (all spoilt), water or wine (spilt or sour). Forge characters have no armour repair kits, binding kits or healing roots. If players bought these accessories, they are mysteriously rotted or simply vanished.
Regardless of initial moneys or treasure from previous adventures, each character has just 2 silver pieces (obols) on their person.
Fire cannot be lit in the Inn, except for Rosenkrantz’s candle. Spells which create magical fire will not cause other objects to burn (exception: room 6). The rooms are lit by an eerie radiance from the windows; shuttered rooms are pitch black until the shutters are opened. The Cellar (8 and 9) is pitch black unless Rosenkrantz is there with his candle or magical illumination is used. The candle in 7 will help the PCs a lot.
Allow players to discover these absences and mysteries through play (i.e, when asked their name or when they try to pay for something).
1. The Common Room
This is the public bar with three long trestle tables and benches set around a big stone Fireplace (10) which is piled with kindling but unlit and cold. There is a bar, with shelves behind holding tankards and bottles, and big tuns at either side with spigots for dispensing beer or cider - but everything is utterly tasteless. The room is high-ceilinged (20’) and overlooked by a minstrel’s gallery (3).
The windows to either side of the fireplace present a Spectral Vista as will the door if PCs try to leave.
If the PCs make noise or call for service, Rosenkrantz will appear, pretending to be the innkeeper. If the players spend too long here or return to this room, the Undead Patrons will arrive.
2. Corridor of Windows
This dark corridor is lit by the windows, which present the same Spectral Vista. When the PCs cross the corridor, skeletal hands break through the windows and attack. Each PC is grabbed by 1d4 hands, which attack as 1HD monsters (Forge: as AV 2) and deal 1 damage. PCs who are grabbed may be pulled through the window on the following turn; they must Save vs Death (D&D, at +4), with a -2 penalty for each hands holding them. An ally may try to save a character being pulled through the window: this allows a second Saving Throw with an additional +2. The arms may be turned as Skeletons or attacked (treat armour as leather and a single hit destroys one).
If the PCs returns to this corridor or pass through in the company of Rosenkrantz (when he shows them to their rooms), the windows will be once again intact but the arms will not appear. There are three staircases: up to the upper floor (4), up to the Minstrels’ Gallery (3) and down to the Cellar (8).
3. The Minstrels' Gallery
This balcony commands a view of the Common Room (1) 10' below. While PCs are up here, the Undead Patrons will arrive. There are musical instruments here (harp, lute, citern, recorder, violin) and any PC will find themselves able to play mournful tunes on them. A character who can play or sing will find themselves able to recall a sad ballad of the death of a beautiful woman named OPHELIA; the singer can bestow the name on one character (including him or herself).
4. Shadowy Hallway
The only light in this corridor comes from the window at the far end, which presents a Spectral Vista. A dark shadow lies across the floor. Anyone stepping on it must Save vs Death (Forge: at -2) or fall into it, disappearing. Anyone putting their hand into it feels numbing cold and cannot use their arm for 1d12 minutes. Objects placed in the shadow are withdrawn covered in frost. Any PC falling into the shadow arrives at the front door of the Inn all over again, in the company of anyone dragged through the windows (2), with no recall of being here previously and any Names (q.v.) that have been learned are forgotten.
The shadowy hole temporarily disappears in light: from a candle (in 7 or carried by Rosenkrantz) or magical illumination) but reappears in darkness. Players might use this to their advantage against the Cold Companion.
5. The Guest Room
This room is unlocked but, if Rosenkrantz shows the PCs to a room, he will bring them here and lock them inside. There are six bunk beds and a chest for goods and several weatherstained cloaks on hooks. Scratched on the inside of the door is a message: THE COLD COMPANION IS COMING. Under one of the beds is an old pair of boots with a name written inside: YORICK; anyone putting on the boots acquires the name. Characters who sleep in this room dream of dying in battle against monsters in an underground dungeon; one character hears their name being called over and over from the Well (9) downstairs.
The window is shuttered but, if opened, reveals a Spectral Vista.
6. The Innkeeper's Room
This room is locked and piled with junk: the possessions of former travellers can be determined on a random item table. The room smells of soot and ash. The Innkeeper’s Ledger is kept here and bears the Innkeeper’s name ROSENKRANTZ on the inside cover.
Under the bed is a sack containing thousands of silver pieces: the payments of countless previous guests. This is the only room in the Inn where fire can be started and objects can burn: if a fire is started here, creatures inside take 1d6 damage on the first round, then 2d6, then 3d6 and so on.
If the PCs do not summon him to the Common Room (1) or discover him in the Cellar (8), Rosenkrantz can be found here, counting his coins.
7. The Master Bedroom
The door is locked and Rosenkrantz does not have a key to it; listening at the door, PCs will hear a man sobbing but if they enter there is no one within. If someone bearing the name of 'Ophelia' is present, the door will open for them.
This grandly appointed room has shuttered windows that display a Spectral Vista if opened. The bed is laid for a funeral, with vases of flowers: rosemary, pansies, daisies, violets and rue. An ever-burning candle (similar to Rosenkrantz's) is set beside the bed and can be taken by the PCs; it sheds light in a 10' radius.
Paintings on the wall show the Inn in a busy city street; a portrait of the Innkeeper and his beautiful wife; a deathbed, clearly in this very room, with the Innkeeper grieving; a terrible fire burns the inn down, the Innkeeper clutching a ledger can be seen in the window of the Innkeeper’s Room (6). The final picture shows a creature advancing through the doorway to the Inn: a pale child with sharp teeth and shining eyes. The Innkeeper in the paintings is not the one the players might know as Rosenkrantz.
If the PCs did not summon him to the Common Room (1) or find him in the Bedroom (6), Rosenkrantz is down here, endlessly dragging heavy barrels around while he repeats his name over and over to himself. He will offer to show PCs to the Common Room (1) then bring the Innkeeper's Ledger and then escort them to the Guest Room (5). He will go to great lengths to stop them discovering the Well (9).
9. The Well of Souls
The well is a deep shaft in the floor, near;y 10' across. A voice calls out of it, calling to one of the characters by name (determine which player randomly: that PC now knows their name). Any character trying to descend into the well falls into darkness and experiences the Medical Intervention. This character then wakes up in the Master Bedroom (7).
10. The Cold Fireplace
After the Medical Intervention or the final Spectral Vista occurs or when Rosenkrantz lights it, the fireplace erupts with blue flames that give off no heat. After 1d6 rounds, the Cold Companion enters the Inn, seeking out any characters without names. If the PCs defeat the Cold Companion, they awaken in the living world.
This is another dead soul, a thief, who has been at the Inn for untold ages. When he arrived here, he stole the Innkeeper’s name (Rosenkrantz) so that the Cold Companion took the old Innkeeper instead of him. Rosenkrantz plays the role of an oily and obsequious Innkeeper, but delights in the players’ confusion and enjoys taunting them by asking them for their names on any possible occasion and teasing them with the imminent arrival of the Cold Companion. He carries a smelly tallow candle at all times that never goes out; he will not share it with guests or let anyone else use it to light the Fireplace. He also carries keys to lock rooms 5 and 6.
He has the following rumours to impart:
Rosenkrantz cannot be killed except by the Cold Companion or by a fire in room 6. However, if the players acquire the Ledger and steal his name, the former-Rosenkrantz will use his candle to light the Fireplace (10) and summon the Cold Companion, hoping to trick the players into giving him back his name in return for protection (a lie: he has none to offer).
If the PCs summon Rosenkrantz to the Common Room (1) or meet him in the Cellar (8), Rosenkrantz will offer to provide them with a room at a cost of 2 silver pennies. He will ask them to sign the Ledger (and might have to head off to room 6 to fetch it if encountered in the Cellar). The ledger is full of pages where previous guests signed in (as the nameless players must do) with X. The inside cover has an inscription: ROSENKRANTZ, HIS BOOK, AND HIS LOVELY WIFE. Any character holding the book and reading this aloud acquires the name of Rosenkrantz and the previous Rosenkrantz becomes nameless.
The Undead Patrons
Two leather-armoured warriors arrive at the Inn, demanding service. If the PCs do not interact with them, Rosenkrantz will appear with his Ledger and book them in: they too have a pair of silver obols each. The nameless men are cheerful and keen to talk and play dice with other guests. They will explain how they were exterminating the undead in a haunted cemetery just last night; their companion was killed by an undead creature and they buried him; they had been concerned that he might rise as an undead monster himself and come after them, but clearly that has not happened, which is why they are celebrating.
During the interaction, the Patrons start to change, because of course they were killed in the night by their former-friend and are now turning into undead themselves.
The player in the Well (9) experiences waking up in a dungeon corridor, surrounded by corpses. A female cleric (Forge: Berethenu Knight) is trying to staunch their wounds and pleading with them to ‘stay with me’. The player can utter three words before the vision ends and they return to the Inn. This scene is really happening in the living world. The corpses are the other PCs, killed in an attack by wandering monsters. The cleric is GERTRUDE and if asked she can offer her own name, the name of the dying PC and any other names that a three word question could elicit.
After the Intervention, the fire lights in the Chimney (10) and the Cold Companion will soon appear. The PC awakes in the Master Bedroom (7).
It is vital the players acquire names. They might steal ROSENKRANTZ’s name from the Ledger, acquire OPHELIA from performing music (3) or learn their own names or that of GERTRUDE from the Medical Intervention; YORICK can be discovered in the Guest Room (5). Clerics (Forge: Grom Warriors/Berethenu Knights) will know the name of their god and can take this name upon themselves, once only for 1d6 rounds.
Looking out of the Inn (from rooms 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7) reveals a supernatural landscape. Roll 1d6 for each different occasion, adding +1 for each previous Vista that has been viewed.
The Cold Companion
This avatar of Death appears as a pale and feral-looking child, with razor sharp teeth, glittering eyes and sharp, filthy nails. It moves to attack nameless characters and ignores those with Names. Characters killed by the Cold Companion turn into balls of floating blue fire, which the Cold Companion gobbles up: this also takes 1 round, buying respite for other PCs. If a named character deals damage to the Cold Companion, it will be able to attack once in retaliation.
The Cold Companion appears when a now-nameless ‘Rosenkrantz’ summons it, in which case it eats him first (despite a scene where he pleads or promises: Death is not to be cheated by thieves), giving the PCs a melee round of respite. It also appears after the Medical Intervention or the final Spectral Vista.
In D&D, treat the Cold Companion as a Wight but ignore it’s immunity to normal weapons. Level-1 PCs struck by the Cold Companion are instantly killed by the level drain unless they have a name, in which case they forget their name instead.
In Forge, the Cold Companion is a Death Hag and named characters who fail to Save vs Death will forget their name rather than be destroyed.
If the Cold Companion falls into the shadow pit (4) or the Well (9), it is defeated. If it can be lured to the Innkeeper’s Room (6), it can be trapped in a fire which will then spread and destroy the entire Inn. When the Cold Companion is destroyed, any remaining characters leave the Underworld and recover in the dungeon, at the site of the Medical Intervention: they have returned from the dead.
"And they were really dead the whole time!" It's a cliche of TV and film, but it's still a fresh conceit in a roleplaying game. This scenario assumes the players have experienced a TPK (Total Party Kill). If the players create new characters, then the TPK is an aspect of their backstory that they have forgotten. Have fun dropping this scenario in if the players really do experience a TPK!
This was my attempt to create a Twilight Zone style 30 minute dungeon. The dungeon itself took 30 minutes, but writing up the rules for Rosenkrantz, the Undead Patrons, the Spectral Vistas, etc., took longer.
The scenario assumes half a dozen PCs, who could all be 1st level. If the number of PCs is half that, they should be 2nd level and the Referee should remove Yorick's Boots from room 5 and trigger the arrival of the Cold Companion as soon as there is only one un-named PC left.
I hope there's some pleasure for the PCs in figuring out the Inn's mysteries: even if they quickly realise they are dead, there's still the puzzle of Rosenkrantz and the history of how they original Innkeeper destroyed himself and the Inn.
The players might decide to leave the Inn. The Spectral Vistas are designed to discourage that but if the PCs insist, introduce horrid Sandworms (as in Beetlejuice) to gobble them up, with PCs awakening back at the Inn (in their Guest Room, probably) and with names forgotten, to teach them a lesson.
Rosenkrantz is intended to be a nuanced NPC. I think he's been at the Inn for centuries and is quite mad. He's a mixture of humble-grovelling towards guests and smug-sarcasm, delighting in being mysterious and showing that he knows more about what's going on than he will reveal. If the players want to attack him, allow him to run into a shadow, like the one in 4 but instead of being ejected from the Inn he escapes to the Innkeeper's Room (6). This is a unique power he has learned from spending so long at the Inn.
The Cold Companion is meant to be an eerie, fey sort of psychopomp. I imagine it to be Ophelia's unborn child, grown into a sharp-toothed demon-thing. It giggles in a high-pitched voice, skitters about the place on slap-slap-slap bare feet and scratches at doors with its horrid nails. It cannot be reasoned with, though it might back off (briefly) from fire or the flowers from the Master Bedroom (7). Have fun with it.
If you want a less-violent, more spiritual sort of climax, think about how the players could relate to the Cold Companion. If the Companion truly is Ophelia's unborn child who died with her mother and then was incinerated in the fire, it might be possible to reach out to her, especially if a PC has taken on the name of OPHELIA or ROSENKRANTZ and recognises the child as their own. The Companion's grieving reaction to the flowers in 7 and pained response to Ophelia's theme played on the instruments in 3 might provide clues.
Alternatively, players might improvise names for themselves based on their behaviour within the Inn: 'Shadow-tripper' or 'Well-diver' are riddle-names of the sort Bilbo offered to Smaug in The Hobbit and Referees should reward this sort of creativity.
It's possible that all the remaining PCs end up with names, especially if someone used their three-word question in the Medical Intervention wisely. In this case, they are immune to attacks from the Companion and Referees should not force a battle. Players might overcome the Companion by showing it kindness or simply a lack of fear. Again, Referees should reward thematic roleplaying. Conquering death doesn't have to involve killing something, after all.
Bury My Tusks at Broken Jaw is a 30-minute Dungeon Challenge, as set out by Tristan Tanner in his Bogeyman Blog. I hope it will inspire other people to create some of their own and send them to me - so I can hand out free copies of Forge Out Of Chaos as prizes in the January 2020 competition
I used Tristan's optional tables to create an extra discipline for this 10-room dungeon: empty rooms that point to a combat, reveal history and offer something useful to PCs; the special room provides a boon for a sacrifice; the NPC is a rival; the combat encounters are a horde of weaklings, a pair of toughs and a tough boss; the traps are inconveniencing and incapacitating.
In this scenario, players can use Ryan Marsh's goblin PC class (and allied Hobgoblins and Bugbears).
The goblin kingdom was overthrown by the invading Elves of the Pale Empire (‘Foam’, as the goblins call them, for their pale skin). After the death of the last Goblin rajjor (king) San Rankill, Goblins were sent to live in Munaan (reservations). One such as Broken Jaw, deep in the swampy Watching Glades. Now the Elves have arrived to evict the goblin chief (Keth) and his sworn companions, herding the tribe into a stockade where they will be deported to the slave markets.
The Elves came in the night on their silent ship to Broken Jaw. Your cousin Botang brought you warning and you escaped the Munan (reservation) on canoes while he sacrificed himself fighting off the Bleach (Elves) and their Mudskin (Human) henchmen. Many of your companions died in the Swamp of Ghosts but dawn finds you camped in the Old Boneyard, warming yourself round a feeble fire, while you plot your revenge.
One of the PCs is the Keth (chieftain) of the goblin reservation of Broken Jaw. The scenario involves his or her attempt to recapture the island home and expel the imperial Elves and their Human mercenaries.
Create characters for D&D based on the Goblin class by Ryan Marsh. Optionally, allow one PC to be a grizzled Hobgoblin sergeant who trained the young Keth in arms. Another PC could be a Bugbear, an old family retainer. If there are 6 PCs, they can all be 1st level; for each PC fewer than 6, promote one character to 2nd level, starting with the Hobgoblin sergeant, then the Keth, then the Bugbear for a group of three 2nd level characters.
In Forge, the Keth and his or her comrades should be Higmoni, the sergeant a Berserker and the retainer a Ghantu. If there are fewer than 6, consider promoting their level of Melee or Magic skill as above.
1. A Cold Night in the Old Boneyard
The PCs start here, at sunrise. They are equipped with only leather armour and their krist daggers (damage 1d4+1). The swamps below are covered in mists. Each PC rolls 1d6 for rumours about their surroundings (add +1 if Wisdom 13+ or if History skill is used):
If the PCs search the boneyard, they will find caches of ancient weapons; roll 1d6 for each PC (add +1 if Intelligence 13+ or if Search roll successful)
2. Bomoch's Hut
Bomoch the Greenseer lives in a squalid hut of leather tents and woven reeds. All around the hut dead weasels hang from lines and Bomoch keeps many weasels in cages (to keep away Cockatrices, of course). He is a wild-eyed, cackling maniac but he has been expecting the PCs.
Bomoch greets the Keth as a great lord and volunteers a safe route following an ancient causeway north through the Swamp of Ghosts. He warns PCs not to stray from the causeway into the mists: Penanggouls will imitate the voices of loved ones and Cockatrices turn you to salt with their bite.
Bomoch tells the Keth that the Jade Queen is waiting for him or her inside the Emerald Labyrinth. He will offer no more clues except to direct the PCs to 3 and instruct them to eat the fungus growing on the trees near the old totem pole.
Bomoch offers other advice to the other PCs, roll 1d6 for each (+1 if Charisma 13+ or possess the Charisma trait)
3. Into the Emerald Labyrinth
The PCs will be sent here by Bomoch (2). The trail ends with a sinister klireng totem pole before the wall of dense forest. If the PCs consume the fungus growing on the trunks of nearby trees, they will experience a vision in which a trail opens up into the forest. Following it takes them to the Bower (4) along a path that is almost lightless because of the canopy of branches overhead.
The Referee should add haunting and scary details to the journey or roll/choose for each character:
Any deaths or Hit Points lost during the vision are recovered at the end and the PCs awake outside the forest, with the sun now in late afternoon and the day nearly over.
4. In the Bower of the Jade Queen
The vision quest concludes in a clearing in the heart of the forest, watched over by a final brooding klireng pole.
5. The Causeway through the Swamp of Ghosts
If the PCs took Bomoch’s advice, they can follow the causeway. Along the route are salt pillars (petrified victims of the Cockatrices). The Referee should alarm the players with the reptilian slithers of Cockatrices in the mist. If the PCs visited the Emerald Labyrinth it will be dusk and they may sight Penanggouls, floating heads that call to them with the voices of loved ones.
Half way through the swamp, there is a high mound marked by a totem pole. A scouting party of 10 Humans are camped here; they are servants of the Elves.
Human Scouts: (D&D) HD 1, HP 3, AC leather & shield, spear for 1d6 or javelin for 1d6; (Forge) HP 15, DV1 3, DV2 2, 15AP, 5SP, AV 1, spear for 2d4 or javelin for 1d6, ST 12+, SPD 3
If the PCs eavesdrop on the Humans they might learn things (roll 1d6 for each):
If the PCs did not visit Bomoch, they will not find the causeway. They will wander for hours in the swamp and find themselves stalked by Cockatrices. Bomoch will arrive to save them, carrying a weasel in a cage to frighten the Cockatrices away. He will guide them to the causeway and accompany them to the Slave Stockade (6). In this case, Bomoch will offer his puzzling omens but will not tell PCs about the Jade Queen.
6. Attacking the Stockade
The Goblins used this area as a timber yard for valuable hardwoods felled in the Watching Glades. Now the Elves have imprisoned the Goblin tribe here and set their Human soldiers to watch over them. There are 20 Humans: 4 guarding the bridge and 4 in the watchtower and another 12 standing guard over the prisoners. See 5 for their characteristics. The Goblin prisoners are all tied up.
The players need a plan to pick off the guards quickly, under cover of night or fog, perhaps freeing the prisoners to aid them. Once this is done, they can free their loved ones. Each PC has a significant NPC to free:
However, many prisoners are missing including at least one of the special NPCs. They were taken last night by a creature of darkness and dragged away into the Watching Glades (7).
The stockade contains a supply of limes (to feed the prisoners). For D&D, there will be a Potion of Healing. For Forge, there are leather and shield repair kits and tools as well as 2d4 Binding Kits.
7. Through the Watching Glades
If the PCs choose to go in pursuit of the kidnapped prisoners, Bomoch will not accompany them (if he has come this far). It will be night time and the jungle trail is treacherous. At the other side of the jungle, stepping stones cross the river and the ruins of the old kings are visible in the moonlight.
Roll 1d6 for each PC to find out what happens on the journey (for irony, don’t roll and choose an event that matches the vision encounters described at 3):
8. To the Ruins of the Old Kings
The statuary and wall carvings here surprise the PCs: the old kings, the Rajjors, who ruled here were not Elves, but Goblins. PCs with Intelligence 13+ (Forge: History skill) will conclude this was the palace of San Rankill, the last Rajjor. A statue depicts him riding a water dragon (Naga).
The throne room is now the lair of a Jembalang. This scaly, bat-winged demon has been awoken by the arrival of the Elves and sends out its ghost-body to capture victims to eat.
Jembalang: (D&D) HD 6, HP 30, AC as leather & shield, 2 claws for 1d4 each and bite for 1d6, flies, hypnotic song; (Forge) HP 45, AR 3, AV 5, 2 claws for 1d4 and bite for 1d6, ST 11+, SPD 4/8 flying
The Jembalang uses its projection to swoop down for a surprise attack but this will flee as soon as it is injured and can be tracked back to the throne room, where its entranced victims are kept. The true Jembalang (which takes any damage its projection took) will use its hypnotic song: all PCs must Save vs Magic (Forge: vs Mind) or slip into a trance. Entranced PCs can be shaken awake by others (they get extra saving throws for each round of this and save at +4 if they taste or smell limes) but once it has sung its song the Jembalang will attack.
When the Jembalang dies, entranced victims wake up. A mighty roar from the south (9) indicates something else has woken up.
9. The Old Stones at Kuala
These old stones are the ruins of a wharf and jetty. The Goblins just know them as ‘old stones’ but respect them because many have Naga-symbols on them. Once the Jembalang (8) dies, the entranced Lake Dragon wakes and comes to the surface here.
This is Radiant Pang, a giant, intelligent crocodile that faithfully served San Rankill and will serve the new Keth too. PCs can ride on Pang’s back across the lake and Pang will attack and sink the Elven ship, forcing the Elves to swim for the dubious safety of the Swamp of Ghosts.
10. Showdown on Broken Jaw Island
The PCs might arrive here at dusk (if they came directly to the Stockade and ignored the mystery of the kidnapped prisoners), in which case the freed Goblins will assault the Elven ship while the PCs come ashore. If they fought the Jembalang, the PCs will arrive at midnight on the back of the Lake Dragon. If they went to the Emerald Labyrinth first, they will arrive at midnight (if they ignore the Jembalang) or before dawn (if the destroyed it).
To recapture their home, they need to confront the Elven Captain Zeng and his ally, the traitor Botang. Creeping through the deserted village, the Goblin PCs overhear the two villains argue in the Keth's Hut:
Botang: You make me Keth and leave me to rule over an empty rock?
Zeng: Perhaps not even that...
Botang: You betrayed me!
Zeng: [Angry] You talk of betrayal? To me? Watch what your crooked lips say, Ular (= snake or goblin)
Botang: [Pleading] They are my people!
Zeng: No, Ular, they are the Pale Emperor's slaves.
Botang invited the Elves to install him as the new Keth in return for the valuable hardwoods the village harvests, but the Elves have left him as chieftain of an empty island when they took his tribe away to be slaves. Nevertheless, when the PCs arrive, Botang will fight beside his new masters unless the PCs can appeal to his shame.
Zeng, Elven Captain: (D&D) 3rd level, HP 16, AC chain and shield, broad sword for 1d8, Magic Missile, Ventriloquism, Mirror Image; (Forge, Elf) HP 16, DV1 5, DV2 4, AP 40 SP 10, AV 3, broad sword for 1d8+1, ST 9+, SPD 4
Botang, would-be Keth: (D&D) 3rd level, HP 14, AC leather and shield, krist for 1d4+2, javelins for 1d6; (Forge, Higmoni) HP 15, DV1 3, DV2 2, AP 20 SP 5, AV 3, krist for 1d4+2, javelins for 1d6, ST 8+, SPD 3, 2nd level Beast Mage (Jump, Spike, Fangs, Rending, Sonic Wail)
If the PCs overcome Zeng, the ship will be captured (by the freed Goblins) or destroyed (by Pang the Naga). If the kidnap victims have not been rescued, the PCs could use the ship to visit the ruins at 8.
At the conclusion, Bomoch will arrive to announce that the Keth of Broken Jaw is Keth no longer, but the new Rajjor of the Goblins, for whom a battle of liberation awaits.
Appendix: The Jade Queen's Trials
If the PCs undergo the Jade Queen’s trials (4), the Referee can arrange for them to predict future fates.
Did I do this in 30 minutes? No. A sketch map and keying the locations took 30 minutes but then I went back and created all those tables for the rumours, omens, incidents, etc. So as far as '30 Minute Dungeon Challenge' goes it's a bit of a cheat.
Never mind. If you're going to do a linear story like this, it stands or falls on the details that makes it feel compelling rather than limiting. Hopefully, this tale of down-trodden goblins learning their royal birthright and rising up against their colonial masters has some resonance. There's some nice mysticism in the forest and I tried to get across a sense of omens being fulfilled.
The whole idea of native 'heroic' goblins and evil 'imperialist' elves turned up in a mini-campaign I ran last year, but there it was a romantic orc confederation being conquered by elves, with their vaguely Aztec human servitors. The routed orcs had to retreat into their swampy heartland and discovered truths about their origins and foundational myths along the way.
I wanted to avoid clumsy Native American comparisons (despite the name alluding to Wounded Knee) and give the goblins a sense of cultural texture, so I located this in a South East Asian (specifically, Malaysian) setting. If you want to give the goblins some linguistically appropriate names, here's a quick table:
I didn't provide any stats for the hideous Cockatrices (they turn you to salt! they're frightened of weasels!) and the floating-head-undead Penanggouls. These horrors are just there for texture and chills.
If you really want the PCs to fight them (why would you want that? why?) then Cockatrices (minus the weasel stuff) are in the D&D Expert rules/Monster Manual or Basic (Holmes) p23 and Penanggalans are in the AD&D Fiend Folio (or else treat them as Wights). In Forge, use Basilisks as Cockatrices and the characteristics of Nagdu for Penanggouls.
One of the distinctions that divides fans of different editions of D&D is the question, 'How long is a melee round?'
Some lexical detective work is needed to figure out what D&D originally intended. Back in 1974, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson explain (in the Underworld & Wilderness Adventures expansion) that a 'turn' is ten minutes and there are 10 1-minute melee rounds in a turn.
Gygax retained the 1-minute melee round for 1st and 2nd edition AD&D, justifying it like this:
The 1 minute melee round assumes much activity – rushes, retreats, feints, parries, checks, and so on. Once during this period each combatant has the opportunity to get a real blow in (1st ed. AD&D Players Hand Book, p39)
The 1-minute round seems to have its roots in the wargaming superstructure that D&D emerged from. One minute allows a squad or battalion to move, line up, fire, generally 'take their turn'. Combat in wargaming is typically all-or-nothing, so in that 1-minute of action you might completely eliminate your opponent.
Adapting this to tabletop RPGs produces a high level of abstraction. You're free to imagine a lot of cinematic business going on surrounding your solitary 'to hit' roll or spell. But it leads to absurdities. An armoured warrior can only manage short bursts of energetic combat, but combat in D&D can easily last 10+ melee rounds, especially in a 'cleric fight' (a fight between well-armoured characters with low damage output). That's 10+ minutes of huffing and puffing in quilted doublets, thick leather jerkins, mail hauberks... Impossible.
While Gygax was working in minutes, Eric Holmes was tasked with presenting Basic D&D (1977) and unilaterally decided that the time frame for combat should be in seconds rather than minutes:
Each turn is ten minutes except during combat where there are ten melee rounds per turn, each round lasting ten seconds (Basic D&D Blue Book, p9)
Now that ten round fight lasts just under two minutes: much more realistic.
Subsequent editions of Basic D&D - the 1981 beautiful edition by Tom Moldvay and the 1983 ugly edition by Frank Mentzer - retain this 10-second melee round.
Moreover, Basic D&D charted the path that other RPGs followed. For example, Runequest defines fantasy roleplaying for non-D&D folk and hit upon a 12-second melee round.
The melee round is 12 seconds long. One complete round of attacks, parries, spells, and movement happens during ascenario. (Runequest 2nd ed, p14)
12 seconds is long enough for it to eat your shield
Then, in the 21st century, 3rd edition D&D switches to the 6-second melee round, which has been the standard ever since. Take that, Gygax. Holmes is vindicated!
A round represents about 6 seconds in the game world. During a round, each participant takes a turn (5th ed. D&D Players Hand Book, p189)
There are arguments to make both for the combat round as minute or handful of seconds. The 1-minute-round moves combat towards 'theatre of the mind' with a lot of improvised 'business' going on around the decisive blows. Tasks like picking up weapons, unsheathing swords, notching arrows, drinking potions and finding spell components are easy to fit into this stream of activity and don't penalise the character.
But if you find such protracted combat unlikely, the 6/10-second-round offers a more moment-by-moment approach that suits tactical combat better, where facing and flanking matters; where you forfeit your action if you're caught unawares, if you have to ready your weapon; where it matters where you are standing and who you can see and whether you can reach somebody in time to hit them.
But is it really likely that an armoured warrior can hit someone 6-10 times in a minute - or even twice that if they are high-level? Can archers really fire 12-20 arrows a minute, minute after minute? Can you really cast 6-10 spells in a minute, with combat going on all around you? The fast melee round seems to credit PCs with incredible vigour.
Real Life Comparisons
A medieval longbowman at the Battle of Crecy (1346) was expected to fire 12 shots a minute. That involves drawing and firing a longbow, which most people would find pretty punishing to do just the once. On the other hand, it didn't involve much aiming: longbows work because they drop a swarm of yard-long steel skewers onto the enemy, willy-nilly. And of course, this could not be sustained for more than a few minutes.
A shortbow might be fired 20-30 times a minute, but, again, no one could sustain this.
All of which favours the 10-second melee round more than the 6-second one, which allows a bow to be fired up to a dozen times.
Moreover, how many arrows actually get fired in a 1-minute round? If the round assumes lots of 'shots' which only pin the opponent down or harry them, but include a couple of 'true' or 'effective' shots that have "the opportunity to get a real blow in", it's reasonable to assume an archer fires at least half a dozen arrows per minute, probably twice that. An archer with a quiver of 20 arrows will have fired all of the after a couple of 1-minute melee rounds.
Jogging speeds in minutes and seconds
Usain Bolt's world record is to run 100m in 9.58 seconds. That's about 200ft in 6 seconds or 330ft in 10 seconds. The average jogger covers 70ft in 6 seconds or 120ft in 10 seconds or a whopping 730ft in a minute.
Now if we halve that 'jogging speed' for someone running in heavy clothing, carrying adventuring gear, in a darkly lit tunnel, over uneven and slippery floor, you probably get 35ft in a 6-second melee round or 60ft in a 10-second round and let's say 360ft in a minute. But it's even worse in heavy armour, carrying a sword, trying not to get killed. Even if we assume adventurers are trained to run around in armour, 35/60/360ft per round has to be the maximum and a more likely distance is 20ft in 6 seconds or 30ft in 10 seconds and 180ft in a minute, which is walking speed.
1st Edition AD&D (PHB p102) allows unarmoured characters to travel 120ft in a 1-minute round, which suggests a very cautious sort of walk. Halve that for characters in metal armour, which is a weary shuffle.
D&D 5th edition has an unencumbered human traveling 60ft in a 6-second round, which is rather speedy, more like an actual jog along a smooth pavement. Basic D&D (Molvay or Mentzer) has unencumbered characters jogging 40ft in a 10-second round and lumbering 20ft in metal armour, which is comparable to AD&D speeds. Holmes Basic D&D allows 20ft movement in a melee round, 10ft if armoured, which is almost immobile by comparison.
One of the less-remarked aspects of the development of D&D through the editions is how much faster everyone is now.
A combat minute in Forge Out Of Chaos
Indie RPG Forge confesses its derivation from D&D (especially 1st edition AD&D) in myriad ways, but its adoption of the 1-minute melee round is one of the clearest. After all, who would come up with such a profoundly un-intuitive gaming convention on their own?
But Forge imports some ideas from other RPGs that sit uneasily with the abstract 'melee minute'.
For example: armour. D&D treats armour as an impediment to hitting which works fine in a melee minute, where it's assumed your opponent takes lots of swipes against you and armour merely shifts the odds of being hurt in your favour. In 1978, Runequest took another direction, with armour deducting from dealt damage, which works well with its more simulationist 12-second round, in which combatants deal each other single bone-crunching blows.
Forge tries to have it both ways. Armour makes you harder to hit (in an abstract, when-you-average-it-all-up sort of way) but also absorbs the damage dealt (in a specific that-blow-didn't-get-through sort of way).
However, Forge usually inhabits the theatre-of-the-mind world of AD&D combat, where miniatures and battle maps are optional because positioning and facing barely matter. In Forge, you're either attacking an enemy's DV1 (including shield and Awareness bonus) or DV2 (no shield, no Awareness bonus) and there's nothing more specific than that. At least AD&D perversely factored in whether you were making a flank attack on someones shield-side or not (forgetting, temporarily, the rushes, retreats, feints, parries, checks, and so on of a melee-minute).
But then Forge also forgets its melee-minute time frame when it obsesses about the range of magic spells and invites you to 'pump' spells to increase the range. Who cares what the range is when the spell is being cast in a busy minute in which you can dash over 100ft to get close to someone? Back in Holmes Basic, when a Magic-User might jog 20ft and an armoured Elf lumber 10ft, spell range mattered.
Forge bases movement on the Speed (SPD) characteristic, determined for PCs using 1d4+1 (2-5).
'Yards' is an oddity: all the spell ranges are in feet. It's probably an unedited error and I'm always happy to enforce the convention that yards apply outside the dungeon but once you're underground, all yards count as feet.
Forge also lacks any rules for encumbrance (but I offer house rules), so we have to assume these distances apply to unarmoured, unencumbered characters. If SPD 3 is the human norm, then adventurers are moving around much faster than in AD&D. If we apply AD&D logic, then characters in non-metal armour lurch about at 3/4 this speed and metal armour in 1/2 this speed. Nonetheless, if you've got SPD 5 then, even in plate mail, you will cover an impressive 170ft in a melee minute, much faster than AD&D.
(I'm not even going to get into the whole conceptual muddle about whether SPD is supposed to represent reflexes or brute strength, the latter of which matters more for hauling yourself across a combat zone in armour.)
If you can cover this sort of distance in a melee-minute, you don't worry too much about the range requirements of bows (which Forge also dispenses with) or spells. You just jog until you're close enough to your opponent and ZAP!
Does anybody use melee-minutes any more?
Gary Gygax ported the concept of the melee-minute into AD&D and Forge cloned it in an unreflective moment, but neither game really gets to grips with the implications.
Gygax links his melee-minutes to another of D&D's defining concepts: Hit Points. What does it mean for a high level character to amass Hit Points sufficient to endure any number of sword blows? They haven't increased in literal physical toughness, but rather
such areas as skill in combat and similar life-or-death situations, the "sixth sense" which warns the individual of some otherwise unforeseen events, sheer luck and the fantastic provisions of magical protections and/or divine protection (Dungeon Master's Guide, p82)
In other words, some 'hits' in combat aren't even 'hits' at all. They're like the lost lives of a cat. The axe whistles through the space where your head was a moment ago, but some instinct made you duck. You lose Hit Points, representing pushing your luck, but you're physically unharmed.
Yet, in another mood, Gygax is devoting pages in the Dungeon Master's Guide (e.g. pp52-3, 64, 69) to tactical movement, as if he were offering rules to a skirmish game with the action paced out in heartbeats, forgetting that all this is redundant in a rules set where, each minute, characters move great distances ("rushes, retreats") and the 'to hit' roll represents shaving away your opponent's luck rather than actually stabbing them.
You can see why later editions of D&D followed Holmes down the heartbeat route of melee-moments rather than melee-minutes. Yet it leaves D&D with the preposterous institution of Hit Points, now bereft of its only justification, that a damaging 'hit' in combat doesn't necessarily involve any physical contact.
If D&D can't square the circle of melee-time, then I can't 'fix' Forge's hybrid concoction either.
In Forge, Hit Points are calculated from Stamina and don't balloon as you gain experience: a 'hit' in Forge is clearly something that leaves cuts and bruises. You use binding kits to regain your Hit Points, which you wouldn't do if all you'd lost was some good luck. In Forge, armour absorbs damage: if the armour deteriorates, then surely the axe did hit you! The long melee-minute loses its rationale.
If I convert to the 'melee moment' approach - and I like the feel of Holmes' 10-second melee round - then all of Forge's spells last way too long and there's no point in 'pumping' them for extra duration (although extra range might become relevant again since unarmoured SPD 3 characters would only move 60ft per round or 30ft in plate mail).
We can at least be consistent about the melee-minute approach.
There doesn't seem to be anything to be done about the weirdness of two-handed swords which get swung once every two minutes. The convention comes from Holmes, with his snapshot 10-second rounds. Gygax did away with it in a moment of lucidity, but Forge ports it straight back in because it's really hard to make yourself remember that your melee rounds last an entire minute!
Keeping track of arrows fired during a melee-minute seems irrational. In that space of time, an archer will fire almost all her arrows, then gather up the fallen ones to fire again. To represent depletion, just house rule that the archer's quiver goes down by 1d6 arrows every round, representing shafts that cannot be easily recovered. Then, at the end of the battle, the archer gathers them all back, minus a few lost or broken ones (perhaps, reducing the total stock by 1d6).
In this sort of time frame, combatants can reach just about any area of the battlefield that their (rather large) movement allowance permits. Forge is onto something by treating tactical positioning as a simple DV1 (they saw you coming) vs DV2 (they didn't, or they're engaged in combat with somebody else). Place your miniature wherever you want to be on the battle map at the start of each melee minute. Or dispense with miniatures altogether!
OSR dungeoncrawling without miniatures? I think I'd better think it out again...
In Forge Out Of Chaos, Divine Magic (as previously examined) is straightforward: 10 skill sots and zap: you're imbued. Pagan Magic is different. Once upon a time the gods bestowed it on mortals, but no longer (what with them all being dead or banished). Instead, mortals have figured out how to make magic work without the assistance of divine patrons. It includes quick'n'dirty 'Attack Magic': Beast Magic (animal powers), Elementalism (everything from fireballs and flying to water breathing) and Necromancy (creating and controlling undead and, naturally, curses).
This makes Pagan Magic a bit like fantasy world technology. It's the manipulation of impersonal (super)natural forces through intelligence, applied technique and special tools. It's much more bespoke than Divine Magic and you can bend it till it breaks. It's also less reliable and can backfire.
Return of the schematics
'Schematics' are tables that introduce variable elements for every spell: is the duration as low as 2 minutes or over 10? does the enemy get a Saving Throw at +2 or at -2? Divine Magic enables you to use of spare spell slots re-rolling already-acquired spells in the hope of improving their variables.
Pagan Magic adds a few twists to this. First of all, Mages can choose to sink more than the basic 10 skill slots into their Magic skill. Each extra slot adds +1 to a die roll on the schematics for each spell. So if you invest 13 skill slots into Magic, you get a +3 bonus to spread among the schematics for each of your spells.
You will need it, for several reasons. Unlike Divine Magic, Pagan Magic lets you acquire spells that are a level higher than your skill. This means, with 1st level Magic you can learn 2nd level Attack Spells. However, you get a -2 penalty on every roll on the schematics for a spell that's higher than your current level. The extra investment offsets this.
(Of course there are other reasons to be cautious about learning higher-level spells. They cost a lot of Spell Points to cast. A typical Mage has 20-25 SPTS and a 1st level Elementalist spell costs 9 SPTS to cast; a 2nd level spell costs 18 SPTS, which will just about clean you out.)
These spells come with Harmful Side Effects (HSE) and every spell forces you to roll on the HSE schematic to see what happens when you cast it. You probably get 'nothing' but HSEs can include taking damage every time you cast that spell, spending extra SPTS just to cast that spell or finding yourself unable to perform magic for a period after using the spell. Higher level spells are much more unnerving.
The rules fail to clarify a couple of points. Presumably the mystical, un-healable Damage is 'actual' damage (it comes off Hit Points directly, ignoring armour). How long does the Mental Exhaustion last? Minutes, hours or days? That's harder to call, but most of the durations used in Forge's magic system are in minutes, so let's assume that's what is meant.
If you're going to use that extra-investment bonus on any schematic, I think HSE will probably be the one.
The other thing Pagan Magic can do is crank up the intensity. 'Pumping' a spell means spending extra SPTS to get a better-than-normal result. The exact result depends on the type of Magic you specialise in.
As you can see, you get a big boost to range or damage when 'pumping' Elemental spells, whereas Beast spells get a better boost to duration and chance of success. Necromancy's in the middle.
The precise cost of 'pumping' a particular spell is determined by another schematic. This schematic is a tempting candidate for that extra-investment bonus, since the cost typically varies from as low as half-as-much-again to outright doubling the base cost of a 1st level spell in SPTS. However, the costs of 'pumping' a spell don't go up with levels: 'pumping' a 4th level spell cost the same as 'pumping' a 1st level spell, so you might be happier bearing the cost with high level spells (you'll have tons of SPTS by then anyway).
Before you get carried away and run around 'pumping' every spell for extra damage or tougher saving throws, a warning: there's a chance any 'pumped' spell blows up in your face. The chance of this is a whopping 25%, plus 5% for each extra 'pump' you risk and plus/minus 5% for each difference in level between your skill and the spell itself. So if you've got 2nd level Magic and you pump a 1st level spell 3 times, you've got a 30% chance of it going BOOM (25% + 10% for the 2 extra pumps - 5% for the difference in your favour).
Remember how you could invest extra skill slots in Pagan Magic? Well, they reduce your vulnerability to backfiring spells:
So if you invested 3 extra skill slots in your Magic skill, you not only get a +3 bonus on the schematics, but you deduct 10% from the chance of spells backfiring when you 'pump' them. Sweet.
If the spell backfires, it doesn't just fizzle out. You take damage based on the spell level and the number of 'pumps' you put into it, times two. If that 1st level spell backfires after being pumped 3 times, you will take 8 damage - 8 'actual' damage, which could quite possibly kill you.
If that wasn't bad enough, your spell component disintegrates too.
The only thing required for Divine Magic is a prayer, but because Pagan Magic is 'tech' you need special equipment for it: spell components. No components, no spell.
That's the component list for Beast Magic spells - the 'minor' ones (levels 1-4). 'Major' spells (levels 5-8) need even fancier gizmos. Since a Player Character starts with 30-180gp (good ol' 3d6 times ten), and you probably want a weapon and some basic armour, most Mages will start out their adventuring career with just a single spell component (i.e. that Manticore Spike for damage spells). They might 'know' other spells, but they're not able to cast them until they can afford the kit.
This gives starting Mages a very strong reason to go dungeoncrawling and provides the Referee with 'treasures' that players will appreciate: finding an Ash Wand, already "soaked in a mixture of blood from various animals," will be worth more to some players than a magic sword.
(Of course, maybe the campaign setting has Mage Guilds that kit out starting PCs with all the Ash Wands and Manticore Spikes they need, then extract the costs back from them with massive interest rates...)
Since components have a nasty habit of going BOOM when you 'pump' spells, wealthy adventurers will invest in spares! That's another reason why Forge really needs an Encumbrance system.
Forge's magic system was widely praised - indeed, it was its only saving grace, for many critics. It certainly offers players a lot to think about during character creation:
Once your character is up-and-running, you have to 'curate' your spell collection:
Curating your spell collection like this is very satisfying. It means that even if another player has a Mage with the same type of Magic, its unlikely they have the same spells as you and, even if they do, it's unlikely their spells have quite the same variables as yours. Your spell collection is your achievement and you can feel rightly proud of it.
The only problem with all this is for the Referee: throwing together a NPC Mage is not a trivial chore.
I'm a bit doubtful about 'pumping' spells to boost Duration or Range. Most spells last 10-20 minutes anyway and it's hard to think of situations where that's not enough but adding 5 or 10 minutes would make all the difference. Perhaps with Beast Magic, where pumping could add 10 or 20 minutes, you might enable a helpful shapechange spell to last a couple of encounters.
Boosting Range sounds like a useful thing, but in fact not so much. With it's weird 1-minute melee rounds (more about that nonsense in another blog), Forge characters can cover hundreds of yards in a couple of rounds, so there are easier ways of bringing a target into range than 'pumping' a spell. The range-boosts just aren't big enough to make it tempting in the absence of crunchy tactical movement in the combat system.
Types of Attack Magic: Beast, Elemental, Necromancy
Pagan Magic also includes Enchantment, which follows all the rules above but adds some tricks of its own. I'll cover that another time. Just now, I want to finish off with a comparison of the three schools of Attack Magic.
Beast Magic is certainly the easiest, costing just 7 SPTS per spell level; Necromancy costs 8 and Elementalism 9. This makes Beast Magic favourite if you rolled low in Power (hence, low in SPTS).
Each school offers similar offensive spells. There's a ranged spell that deals automatic damage, no roll 'to hit': Beast Magic's 'Spike' deals 1d6 damage, Necromancy's 'Skeletal Bolt' deals 1d8 and Elementalism's 'Ice Bolt' deals 1d10. You see the progression? There's a 2nd level version that deals twice as much damage and so on. Very balanced.
There's also a close combat spell that requires a successful roll 'to hit' (using your Magic skill against DV2 instead of Melee Weapons) but deals 'actual' damage, bypassing armour: Beast Magic 'Wounding' deals 1d6, Necromantic 'Pain' deals 1d8 and Elemental 'Fiery Touch' deals 1d10. The 2nd level iterations double this damage too.
This makes it tempting for Elementalists in particular to 'pump' their damage spell twice for +6 damage; 1d10+6 damage (Ice Bolt or especially Fiery Touch) has a decent chance of killing a humanoid character outright. 2d10+6 damage (2nd level Ice Burst or Searing Touch) will kill tougher things. Shame about the 30% chance of backfiring (35% for the 2nd level version) but if you invested extra skill slots in Magic, you could risk it. Let's face it, you will risk it.
Beyond this, the schools vary in content. There are defensive spells of different types and a whole bunch of utility stuff. Beast Mages can influence and talk with animals and acquire animal abilities (climbing like spiders, hiding like chameleons) and shape-changing powers; Elementalists can create fire and wind, walk on water or levitate; Necromancers can turn or create undead or imitate their powers and immunities.
Since you get a check to your Magic skill every time you cast a spell in a crisis situation (i.e. adventuring) and you're limited to casting spells until your SPTS run out (so perhaps 3 or 4 times in an adventure for starting characters), you're going to advance slowly in Magic at first. Higher-level casters can speed advancement by heavily using low level spells. Maybe consider buying some Vigoshian Root? A boost of 10-60 SPTS for an hour lets you go nuts with those Ice Bolts. Yes, it costs 30gp and yes, there's a 50% chance you will lose 0.1d3 Insight. But magic is all about trade-offs, right?
Necromancy introduces an interesting mechanic. Each time the Necromancer animates a new Skeleton (1st level) or Zombie (2nd level), they lose 0.1 Stamina permanently. As Stamina drops, so do Hit Points. Raising the undead is not to be done casually. The 7th level spell 'Life Drain' lets you reverse this, permanently stealing decimal points of Stamina from victims to replenish your own (which should be pretty far depleted by then). But remember 7th level spells require 13+ Insight and you will need 26%+ on your base Magic skill if you're ever going to advance that far.
If manufacturing undead is your thing, the 4th level spell 'Bestow Intellect' drains 0.1 Intellect from the Necromancer to grant created undead some dog-like autonomy. After that, you can teach them your skills, project your voice through them, deputise them to command your other mindless undead, generally have fun curating your collection of skellies and zoms.
Beast Magic has a less-thrilling variation, involving dominating animals to be your companions and bodyguards. The 2nd level spell 'Animal Domination' permanently drains 2 SPTS for each animal under your control; the 6th level 'Bestial Domination' works on giant animals but drains 5 SPTS each time. Unlike Necromancy, Beast Magic doesn't offer a way of regaining those Spell Points (except by going up levels in Magic skill, of course).
With the exceptions noted above, Attack Magic spells are all short-term, usually lasting 10-20 minutes. If you want permanent magical effects, you need to try Enchantment, which I'll look at another time.
There's certainly a good selection of desirable magical tricks here. Although cloned from D&D, the spell lists show clear attempts to introduce balance and allow rational progression. There's a heavy focus on combat and solutions to the sort of problems you face in dungeons. There's a lack of big area effect spells but that's an aesthetic choice: Attack Magic is low-key, personal, one-on-one. Elementalism is far and away the most potent, both as a combat option (so many damage spells, such big bonuses from 'pumping') and as utility magic (flying, talking to earth, scrying) and Beast Magic is very much the poor cousin (personal transformations, befriending beasts) but many players will be drawn to the interesting trade-offs involved in Necromancy.
There are things missing: no illusions, no plant-based magic, a dearth of information-gathering spells. Nonetheless, it's a spell list that compares very favourably with Basic D&D/1st edition AD&D. However, when Forge came out in 1998, 2nd edition AD&D had already expanded the roles of clerics and magic-users and the innovations to 3rd and 4th edition in the 2000s would bring choice, balance and rational progression to D&D spell-casters. As usual with Forge, you feel that, had it come out 10 years earlier, it would have been hailed as a valuable contribution to the evolution of Fantasy RPGs. A lot happens in a decade.
The Vampyr's Wedding is a 30-minute Dungeon Challenge, as set out by Tristan Tanner in his Bogeyman Blog. I hope it will inspire other people to create some of their own and send them to me - so I can hand out free copies of Forge Out Of Chaos as prizes in the January 2020 competition
I used Tristan's optional tables to create an extra discipline for this 10-room dungeon: empty rooms that point to a combat, reveal history and offer something useful to PCs; the special room provides a boon for a sacrifice; the NPC is a rival; the combat encounters are a horde of weaklings, a pair of toughs and a tough boss; the traps are inconveniencing and incapacitating.
The Margrave of Strigovia, a renowned necromancer, has sought the hand of Dajmira the Duchess of Marusz. Furious at being rejected, he has become a vampyr and vowed she will join him as his undead bridge.
The vampyr Margrave of Strigovia has kidnapped the Duchess from her carriage along with her ladies in waiting, slaughtering her royal escort. He holds the Duchess at his tower and at sunset will consummate their wedding by making her a vampyr too. Only you can prevent this blasphemous union by storming Karnstein Castle, his fortress guarded by his loyal Stygani retainers. It is noon and time is running out.
1. Gates to Castle Karnstein
Breaking the gates down is successful rolling 1 on a d6; two characters can attempt this per round and Strength bonuses apply (Forge: locked, 12 structural points). A crossbowman from 3 will fire at characters through the arrow slits. The corridor beyond has similar gates at the far end (Forge, 10 structural points) and more arrow slits, allowing both crossbowmen to fire.
2. Guard Room
Tables and chairs are set about for a group of Stygani tribesmen who serve the Margrave with fanatical loyalty. There are a number equal to the number of PCs (plus their henchmen) added to 1d6.
They are unarmed and relaxing, but will arm themselves when the PCs start to break down the doors from 1:
Two Stygani guards, Fennix and Leshi, watch from the turret in the corner. Armed with crossbows, they will fire on intruders. Even if the PCs surprise the guards in 2, these crossbowmen with emerge from here to fire on the PCs. Otherwise they will listen to the battle and only join in after 6 rounds if the guards have killed a PC. Otherwise, they will hide here and surrender to the PCs. They are too frightened of the Margrave to venture further into the castle.
Ilsa Gellhorn, the Duchess’ lady-in-waiting, is tied to a chair and gagged, but conscious and clearly terrified. She bears a vampyr’s bite and has been told that she will become undead once the sun sets. She will join the PCs because she is desperate to prevent this.
She has no combat skills but is brave and resourceful. Ilsa will conceive a romantic attraction to one PC (roll randomly or choose highest Charisma or one who speaks kindly to her) and demonstrate this by staying close, trying to hold their hand, asking if they are married and showing excessive concern they are not harmed. Her vampyric infection makes her immune to poison (e.g. the toadstools in 5).
5. Courtyard of Decay
The courtyard is open to the noonday sky and provides a view of the Margrave’s Tower to the south. It is madly overgrown with weeds and many lurid red toadstools. There are also unburied bodies: the Duchess’ guards and other doomed adventurers. Searching the corpses will find these useful treasures (roll 1d6, rolling a duplicate means finding nothing):
6. Pit of the Vampyrs
PCs who succumb to the toadstools in 5 or the trap in 7 wake up here hours later (see 9). The pit is surrounded by a walkway, 10’ overhead, and a staircase rises from the walkway and through the ceiling.
The PCs have stripped of weapons and drained to 1HP by hungry but decayed vampyrs in the pit: withered men and women, some only children, all mindless with hunger and only able to nibble a small amount of blood at a time. They can be shaken off and kept at bay with weapons for 2d6 minutes (or 1d6+6 using torches), but when they attack it will be in overwhelming numbers.
There are four ways for PCs to escape:
At least one of the PCs is now infected with vampyrism. Ask the PCs to volunteer themselves by writing infected or non-infected on a slip of paper and revealing simultaneously; if no one writes infected then all the PCs have been infected.
Vampyr PCs can bite in combat for 1d3 damage (or +2 damage if they already have bite attacks) and regain 1HP for each successful bite attack; they can regain 1d4 HP by feeding from characters that die in combat. They cannot benefit from healing magic or be affected by poison.
7. Gates to Karnstein Tower
These doors are stiff and rusty but not locked. Above the inner door is the Margrave’s family crest (a book and a chalice on either side of a two-headed eagle) and the family motto: ‘Learning the Arts of Darkness / To Defeat the Servants of Darkness.’
A pit trap in on the floor opens, dropping everyone in the corridor down a chute and into the Pit of Vampyrs (6), inflicting 1d6 falling damage (cushioned by landing on bones and corpses).
8. Tower - Ground Floor
A stairwell descends to the Pit (6) and a staircase rises to the balcony (9). Paintings on the wall depict the Margrave’s ancestors, including his great-great-grandfather Vaclav the Great who slew the Spectre of Strigovia. Historians will know that the Margraves originally took up necromancy to defeat the undead, not join them.
There are Stygani guards here in the same state of unreadiness as 2: they are equal in number to the PCs (plus henchmen like Ilsa, Fennix or Leshi).
9. Tower - Balcony
Locked windows give views of the evening sky. In the west the sun is setting with 10-15 minutes until dusk. The Margrave’s two lieutenants guard the staircase that rises to the top of the tower. They are tough undead upyrs (intelligent ghouls who can move around in the sunlight) named Radu and Mircea. Radu fights with his ghoul claws and bite but Mircea wields a two-handed war scythe.
10. Tower - Upper Floor
This room has a staircase that descends to the balcony (9). There are windows in the north, east and south walls that are open to the evening sky. The west windows are closed and covered by a heavy drape.
Beside the west window, the Margrave is marrying the Duchess, who is enchanted and not resisting. The minister is a robed demonic figure conjured from the Netherworld that will not intervene in any battle.
The Margrave will attack anyone who interrupts his wedding. He summons a swarm of bats to buffet and paralyse anyone trying to open the drapes. After 6 rounds of combat, the sun sets: the Margrave breaks from combat, leaps over to the Duchess and takes her in his arms; on the next round he drains her of blood as the curtain falls, revealing a ruddy glow of dusk on the western horizon. The Duchess becomes a vampyric upyr (same stats as Isla, below) and joins the fight after 1d4 rounds.
The PCs have several options:
If Ilsa is present, she becomes a vampyric upyr after 1d4 rounds of combat.
Ilsa the Upyr will attack the PCs unless the object of her affections either pleads for her humanity or is harmed by the Margrave, in which case she will attack the Margrave instead.
PCs who disengage from combat can appeal to the demonic minister to halt the wedding. He might do this if they offer him something more appealing (and horrible) than turning the Duchess into a vampyr. If the Referee approves, the demon agrees and the Duchess’ enchantment is broken. She pulls down the drape and leaps from a window, killing herself and transfixing the Margrave in sunlight.
I'm legitimately proud of this one since it took 30 minutes to write - of course I then went through adding in the stat blocks and conversions and created the map.
It's a two-step scenario. The first act is a fight-and-explore dungeon with some nice magic items and possible allies to discover. Then the PCs end up trapped, must escape and it becomes a race against time. If the PCs choose to become vampyrs then they can feed from the Stygani guards in 8.
The Margrave is a tough opponent and if the sun sets he will overwhelm the PCs easily. The trick is to open the drapes. Potentially, PCs could unlock the casement windows in 9, climb up the outside of the tower and tear down the drapes from the outside, giving them 6 whole rounds of sunlight to attack the helpless, burning Margrave.
That's optimal. If the PCs rush up the stairs, they have a difficult fight and anyone approaching the drapes gets driven back by bats. PC options are listed in room 10 but the players might come up with others, such as setting fire to the drapes or sacrificing themselves by leaping out of the window, taking the Margrave with them. Even once transfixed by sunlight, the Margrave doesn't automatically die and if the sun sets while he's still alive, he becomes a fully empowered vampyr with all his powers (in D&D this includes regeneration; in Forge, a selection of Necromancy spells).
The scenario is designed to offer the players ideas and allies in the first act that they can use in the second. It might be important to recruit (and not stake!) Ilsa and to realise the Margrave comes from a noble lineage of undead-hunters. Hopefully, the sunset showdown can be an occasion for dramatic roleplaying as well as dice-rolling.
Sharp-eyed followers of this blog (if any there be) will notice that the setting of this scenario is not what was originally proposed. Back when I set out my 6 30-Minute Dungeon Challenges, I named the vampire and his bride after Persian cultural forms; in this version, they're German/Slavonic. I love the idea of a Persian vampire story, but the brevity of this scenario means that the archetypal Bohemian setting makes for easier hooks. Plus, the vampyr's title is a 'Margrave' which is too good a pun to miss.
I've spent time looking at the apocalyptic mythology set out in FORGE OUT OF CHAOS, as a basis for its system of Divine Magic, an explanation for its races and clerical classes and its (rather overlooked) implications for fantasy world-building. Time now to take a deep dive and explore the mythology on its own terms. Just what are its values and themes? After all, a myth, even a careless and derivative myth, is a tightly packaged bundle of meanings - it's an answer in story form to the fundamental questions of existence. So what answers do the myths of Enigwa's creation, the war between Berethenu & Grom and the Banishment provide?
Tolkien & Kibbean Creation Myths
The Kibbe Brothers have clearly taken points from Tolkien. For example, in The Silmarillion (1977), Tolkien sets out the Ainulindalë (the Music of the Ainur) and Valaquenta (the Story of the Valar). A mysterious creator-God named Iluvatar brings the world into existence. Similarly, the Kibbes introduce Enigwa as the world-creator.
World-creation is a task that Tolkien's Iluvatar shares with his created servitors, the Ainur or Angels. He delegates creative power to them, but one of them, Melkor, the greatest of angel-kind, pursues his own vision, disrupting Iluvatar's harmony, to which Iluvatar responds by deepening and complicating his symphony with richer themes to incorporate Melkor's rebellion into a satisfying whole. The Ainur are then given the opportunity to enter their creation and live within it as the Valar (Powers), i.e. embodied angels or earthbound gods.
In the Kibbean creation-myth, Enigwa creates the world without collaboration: "he personally forged each mountain, planted each tree, chiselled each river." He then creates the gods and inserts them into his world so that they can "explore their father's creation.". Enigwa withdraws and the gods, left with autonomy, start to develop diverging agendas. "Although most were good at heart, some became chaotic, others aggressive, still others lustful and greedy." The gods fall into discord and Enigwa has to return and unite them in a shared project.
There are apparent similarities here (creator-God, lesser divine offspring, rebellious autonomy, the Creator restores harmony).
Tolkien, a devout Roman Catholic, created a myth that is purposefully analogous to the Christian one. Iluvatar is the Judeo-Christian God who creates free willed agents. He then adapts his creation to their free-willed choices, responding to their deviance with deeper and richer harmony, drawing beauty from ugliness, redemption from rebellion, holiness from hardship. Melkor of course is Lucifer, the errant angel. Tolkien's creation myth demonstrates why the creation of free-will necessitates the creation of a world, and a world which contains difficult features, but a world in which transcendent goodness is possible.
The Kibbean myth is not Judeo-Christian but Darwinian. The Creator-God brings into existence, not free-willed minds, but a material world. Free-will emerges from Enigwa's absence, as rational beings explore the world through trial-and-error. It's a Behaviourist myth of learning through experience, of positive and negative reinforcement, with the gods developing in different directions, like B.F. Skinner's rats in a gigantic cage. There's no suggestion that Enigwa intends his divine children to evolve into these diverse personalities or even that he foresaw it. Although the text describes Enigwa as a "kindly father" he functions rather more like a dispassionate scientist: God-as-detached-observer.
Unlike Iluvatar, he doesn't incorporate free-will and rebellion into his overall creative vision, he merely suppresses it when present and allows it to flourish when he is absent. Noxious characteristics in the world (deserts, miasmic swamps, volcanic rifts, predatory animals, parasitic wasps, diseases) are part of Iluvatar's compromise with free-will, but are outright distoetions of Enigwa's purposes, put there by his errant children. Free-willed agents don't seem to be part of Enigwa's plan so much as a surprising side-effect of it. Evil emerges from the absence of God or the failure of his foresight.
In Tolkien, God's foresight is absolute and even Melkor's rebellion becomes the means by which a deeper, nobler and more surprising moral order emerges: "And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined."
This distinction, between Tolkien's divinely ordered but morally complicated creation and the Kibbes' disordered and lawless creation, leads to a different conception of Humanity.
What a piece of work is man
In Tolkien's myth, the created world awaits the birth of Iluvatar's physical creatures, the Elves. Most of the history of Middle-Earth is the history of the Elves: their journeyings, songs, romances and craftsmanship and - later - their noble but doomed war against Melkor/Morgoth.
In Tolkien's Christian imagination, the Elves represent an Unfallen Humanity, Adam and Eve's children without original sin: immortal, virtuous, the peers of angels, the icons of God. Crucially, they're not boring. Immortality and goodness are compatible with having adventures, taking risks, experiencing peril, making mistakes. The Oath of Fëanor drives some Elves to to dreadful things, but apparently without malice.
Humans appear later, a sort of divine afterthought. They are mortal, frail, unlovely and lack innate wisdom. They have one thing that Elves lack: the Gift of Death. An odd sort of gift, but one that relates them more fully to the Mystery of God than the Elves and even the Valar (who are bound to the world even if their bodies are slain). Humans are a paradox: the furthest from the divine in terms of innate power, the closest in ultimate destiny. And of course, mortality makes their brief lives into possible vehicles for self-transcendence. The courage and hope and faith of Humanity exceeds anything Elves can experience.
This places Humanity in a clear Christian framework: humans are simultaneously central and peripheral, exalted and lowly, the highest and the lowest of creatures. It's an insight Shakespeare puts into the mouth of Hamlet:
In Christian thought, humanity has no innate value; humans are central to the drama of creation only insofar as they are loved by God, and loved insofar as they are sinners and suffer.
In the Kibbean myth, Humanity is created by the gods as a shared project and entrusted to them by a departing Enigwa: "Help them learn of the world and its wonders. Instruct them as teachers and watch over them as shepherds."
There seems to be folksy wisdom in what Enigwa does. To unite the querulous gods, he gives them a joint project and duty of care. One is put in mind of a parent giving squabbling children pet guinea pigs or hamsters and saying, 'You'll have to take turns feeding and cleaning them!'
Regardless, Enigwa does not seem to know his children well. Once he departs, they fall to fighting again and this time their human pets are repurposed as warriors. Others gods come to Humanity's aid, but since they too employ humans as soldiers and raw materials for their ventures into species-creation, their advocacy is equivocal at best.
Moreover, Enigwa leaves the gods with a parting instruction: a prohibition on teaching Magic to humans, "for Magic is the power of the divine alone and not meant for the ungodly." Of course, the gods violate this ban pretty quickly, promoting their human lieutenants to necromancers, elementalists and beast mages.
This stands Tolkien's conception on its head. Humanity is now a central project on Juravia: the ur-species from which all other fantasy races are derived. However, there's nothing of the divine about them and no transcendent mystery to their destiny. They are a biological instrument, intended to unite the gods but retooled as weaponry. Humanity finds itself at the tail-end of a long story, present in the world to serve purposes not of its own choosing and shaped by contingencies set in motions aeons earlier. This is a truly Darwinian perspective.
Insofar as there is a Fallen race in Kibbean mythology, it's the gods themselves, who renege on their duty of care and violate the prohibition on teaching Magic. Tolkien's rather nuanced Christian sensibilities appear here in a very debased form. There are people (not usually Christians themselves) who imagine the Genesis myth to be the story of an irresponsible Creator placing his human wards in an experimental environment with only cryptic guidance and allowing them to corrupt themselves through poor choices, then punishing them for disappointing him. This is certainly a good description of how Enigwa treats his children, the gods.
In the last blog, I suggested the Kibbes had created a great myth for the Enlightenment: a myth for secular humanism. The gods experience temptation, fall, wreck the planet and meet with divine judgement. There's no repentance, only Hell or Banishment. Then they're gone. Humanity and its sister-species are left in possession of a ruined world, like tenants-turned-homeowners after the bank forecloses on their landlords.
Tolkien conceives humans as bound to God through the inscrutable intimacy of Death and uses his Elves to explore ideas about what an Unfallen Humanity would be capable of (and therefore what fallen humans should aspire to). The Kibbes conceive humans as the product of an unguided evolutionary process, perhaps set in motion by God, but not controlled or monitored by him. In the Kibbean mythology, Death is simply the end and the worst thing there is. The shortcomings of the gods expose the destructiveness of religious ideologies: Berethenu, Grom and Marda are not viable role models. Religion was perhaps meant to instruct and shepherd humanity, but it failed in that and actively abused people until finally losing its grip with the advent of a godless world.
The mythological is political
Of course a good myth doesn't have just one single interpretation (that would make it a mere allegory). There's a historico-political strand to Tolkien's mythopeia and a surprising (and creepy) political subtext to the Kibbes' mythopoesis too.
Tolkien's Middle-Earth is meant to be our Earth viewed through a mythic lens. The parent civilisations of Classical Antiquity (Numinor) and Biblical Israel (the Elves) are represented as devolving into the murky Dark Ages of lost Arnor and waning Gondor. Gondor is Byzantium, the successor state to Greco-Roman civilisation and Biblical Israel. The Dunedain Rangers and their wards, the Hobbits of the Shire, represent the barbarian peoples of Northern Europe. They haven't inherited the physical accoutrements of the golden age cultures, but they are the custodians of its true values (liberty and Christian conscience). That's why "all that is gold does not glitter" in Bilbo's poem.
Tolkien's understanding of Christian civilisation is pretty chauvinistic. Modern historians will point out that Islamic civilisation (very much 'the bad guys' in Tolkien) is just as much the custodian and conduit of Classical and Biblical culture as the Normans, the English and the Franks.
The Kibbean myth can be interpreted historically too. Do the gods represent the imperial and theocratic powers of the Old World? Is the Banishment the First and Second World Wars, which toppled their empires and brought about the emergence of republican America, with its separation of Church and State? Berethenu is the British Empire, Crom is Soviet Communism and Necros is Fascism. Humanity, in this reading, means Americans.
I feel pretty sure the Kibbes intended no such thing, but their myth does have an unpleasant aspect to it. I mentioned before that, for the Kibbes, Humanity is the ur-species; the Elves and Dwarves, the Ghantus and Merikii, all the lizard-folk and weasel-folk, they are all mutated Humans. In a sense, they are to Humanity what Tolkien's Orcs are to Elves: blasphemous remodelings of the original.
Nothing could be further from Tolkien's thought, where the Elves are the Firstborn of Iluvatar and the other rational species (hnau as C.S. Lewis calls them) such as Dwarves and Ents are the independent creations of the Valar. Each has its own integrity and destiny. Not so in Juravia, where Humans are the true form and the other races are simply knock-off copies. Gary Gygax referred to the PC races in D&D as "demi-humans" but in Forge they really are demi-humans.
Then you look at the illustration on p12 and - oh dear! - it seems that "the image of Enigwa" isn't just Human, but white people. Then you wonder, what about the lesser, corrupted races, the intellectually challenged Ghantus and the lizard folk and the ghost-faced Dunnar: who are they representing?
Of course, the Kibbes didn't mean to stumble into the back parlour of scientific racism, with its categorisations of 'lesser races' set against a White European norm. They were just weaving an entertaining tale, a "fun imaginative-background rather than as a personal fantasy opus" as Ron Edwards says.
But it does go to show how loaded myths are, and how perilous it is to go tinkering with them.
Easy to resolve. I like to imagine that the Kibbean myth in the Forge rulebook is just told from a human-centric perspective and that the Elves claim that they were the original species and the Dunnar claim no, they came first, while the Jher-em think everyone is descended from them. The true appearance of that original species, created by Enigwa and his divine children in a rare moment of harmony, will never be known.
Previous posts discussed Forge Out Of Chaos' rules for Divine Magic and analysed its apocalyptic mythology, in which the gods are all banished or consigned to Mulkra (Hell). This mythology, which gets pride of place at the very start of the book, was subjected to Ron Edwards' withering critique about fantasy heartbreaker RPGs indulging in "dumb names" and "un-fun strictures" for clerical characters.
Edwards also complains that, despite their enthusiasm for myth-making, these games don't develop fantasy religion any further than a "direct correspondence with player-character options (as opposed to societies or organizations)." In other words, the myth-making just offers an explanation for fantasy races and clerical spells, but gets forgotten about as soon as this is over and done. Let's take a look at that.
Life after the Apocalypse
The Kibbe Brothers make a substantial and rather imaginative effort to sketch out a fantasy mythology for Juravia, involving a benevolent but absentee Creator and a family of flawed and compromised divinities, culminating in an apocalypse where the deities are judged, found wanting and banished.
The implications of this are huge. Most fantasy mythologies - and many real world ones - propose an apocalypse at some future point. The Norse anticipated Ragnarok when the gods will fight the giants and lose. The Aztecs feared something similar and made blood sacrifices on an industrial scale to delay it. The word 'apocalypse' means 'revelation' and is the original name for the Book of Revelation in the Bible, an obscure rant in uncouth Greek where a prophet named John describes (with great relish) the ghastly things that will accompany Christ's Second Coming in a series of mind-bending dreams involving giant angels, many-headed monsters and environmental catastrophes.
The implications of this are huge and not just for who clerics get their spells from.
Consider the explanatory power of religion. In ancient cultures, disease and adverse weather, crop failures and pestilence, these were explained by the activities of the gods, either through their negligence in making the world secure against chaos or their active malevolence. That's why you prayed and sacrificed: to get the divine 'on side'.
This affected social structures. Society was set up to mirror a divine order, with a monarch supported by a priestly class, receiving authority from the gods to rule and resist chaos as their semi-divine representative or partner. Defying the ruler was defying the gods and siding with the powers of chaos, disorder and death.
This focus on divine order doesn't just lead to rituals of kingship, titles and authority; it imbues the calendar with mean, allocating feasts and fasts to different seasons and drawing communities together to reenact the great myths in worship and art. Social order emerges from this and also social distinction: tribes that honour strange gods and indulge in senseless rituals are the 'Other' and conflict between tribes becomes part of the divine order too: warfare becomes a religious duty and death in battle a religious sacrifice.
Now let's look at Juravia. What authority can kings and princes cite when some enterprising peasant asks (Monty Python style), "Well how come YOU get to be king then?"
What institutions exist to prop up their rule with a claim to possess, not just might, but right?
How should the inhabitants start to regard each other, now that it is known as an objective fact that their differences of culture and race (bird people, reptile people, giant one-eyed apes) are the result of self-interested power-grabs by a clan of squabbling super-beings who were all equally criminal in their actions.
If praying doesn't solve anything, but the world still contains danger, bad luck, unfairness and outright wickedness, what are thoughtful people supposed to do about it?
Actually, it's not hard to answer that. You only have to look at our world for answers. We too experienced a widespread cultural collapse in confidence in religion to provide the rationale for politics, social order and morality. It was called the Enlightenment.
Life after the Enlightenment
The Enlightenment roughly corresponds to the 18th century in European history and involved the light of reason and science driving out the darkness of tradition and superstition. There were lots of causes. The Protestant Reformation had helped make religion a private rather than a public matter and the bloodcurdling Wars of Religion shaped a view that God had no place in politics and perhaps no place in ethics either. Science arose to claim an alternative explanatory power to religion and leaps in technology seemed to validate scientific claims to understand the true nature of the universe.
Forge's legendarium has similar forces at work. The God-Wars serve to discredit the gods and their worship, revealing that the gods were neither wise nor good and that they are no longer able to answer prayers. After the Banishment, mortals work out the principles of magic and learn to cast spells without divine assistance: a close analogue to the rise of science. Magic seems to be a natural (and morally neutral) force in the universe which can be manipulated by those with the intelligence, willpower and the right tools. The gods were just better at it than anybody else.
The thinkers of the Enlightenment and subsequent centuries were faced with the problem of living in an imperfect and unjust world, without the assurance that God ordained it to be this way or would intervene to improve it. This is similar to the inhabitants of Juravia, left with a world with all the normal dissatisfactions (poverty, disease, inequality) plus marauding monsters.
Fantasy Democracies and other solutions
The most influential solution proposed by Enlightenment thinkers was human rights and democracy. In the absence of God, we have to be gods to one another and treat each other as gods. Every individual is accorded a transcendent worth and their consent (in some form) is the only ethical justification for the exercise of power and the continuance of unequal social arrangements.
You would expect a world like Juravia to start throwing up democratic republics, where having the status of a rational agent (regardless of your appearance: bird-person or one-eyed gorilla) entitles you to vote. These republics wouldn't necessarily be very stable or even peaceful places. Democracies can be fissiparous and inclined to go to war, especially against non-democracies. You would expect slavery to be a raging controversy and some races might be unfairly deemed 'irrational' and unworthy of the franchise (I'm talking about those dimwit Ghantus).
But democracy isn't the only Enlightenment solution. The fact that democratic republics can coexist so easily with the unjust social arrangements that preceded them explains why some people find them no solution at all. Communism offers another way, especially since the Banishment has created a Year Zero and an opportunity to cast down and re-make all social institutions. Agrarian fantasy societies might find Communism much more amenable than democracy, especially if they have to knit together different (and formerly inimical) races. It's easier to get the orcish Higmoni and the avian Merikii to coexist if you take all their possessions off them and redistribute everything. I imagine the frail but empathic Jher-em weaselfolk would excel as Communist commissars. The daylight-hating, magic-detecting Dunnar would rise through the ranks as well, leaving Elves and Dwarves to toil in the mines and collectivised farms.
Then there's ethno-nationalism; let's just call it Fascism. Even if the gods are losers and now ineffective, having a specific creator binds fantasy races into a shared narrative, having a place where they belong and a way of life that is ordained for them: they are not just a species but a Nation. "We are Merikii, the People of Marda, and we were granted this land." Nations need borders and a strong sense of who is in (your compatriots) and out (foreigners). At its best, this produces communities with a powerful sense of identity and distinctive culture that is not subject to any sort of rational critique. At it's worst, there's institutionalised racism, enslavement of lesser species and genocide.
Finally, there's the true flipside to the Enlightenment: religious fundamentalism. Not everyone accepts the gods are gone, no matter the evidence. Fundamentalism thrives on conspiracies and messiahs: either the gods are hiding themselves (as a test of faith, no doubt) or are shortly to return (to reward those who stayed loyal). Fundamentalists hate the democratic republicans, Communists and Fascists equally: they've all replaced religious worship with a false idol (the will of the people, the common good, the nation). In Juravia, where specific gods created specific races, Fundamentalism might coexist with some forms of Fascism. Maybe the Sprites await the return of Omara to rule over the pastures where she established her little people.
In return, the Enlightenment political institutions distrust Fundamentalism. Democracies try to lock religion out of politics (either with a strict separation of church and state or by neutering religion as an established church that serves the state); Communism tries to expose it as a sham; Fascism might patronise some local cults while persecuting other foreign ones.
Outright Atheism emerges from this debate. After all, why suppose the old stories of the gods are even true? Maybe Necros was just a way-powerful Necromancer and Dembria an Enchanter. They bamboozled people into thinking they were divine then got their comeuppance. "I'm sure there's a magical explanation for all this, Mulder."
Dembria (Enchantment), Kitharu (Nature) and Marda (Beasts)
Where does that leave the 'churches' of Berethenu and Grom? After all, these cults have some evidence (in the form of clerical spells) that their gods are still real even if they don't intervene. As sketched out above, some states will try to privatise these cults (whatever you do in your own time...) and others will assimilate them (this document makes you a state-licensed activist of Grom) or repress them (was that an act of ideologically-unsound magic, Friend Citizen?) and in some ethno-nationalist enclaves the cult IS the state (the Dwarvish See of Berethenu welcomes careful waggoners). Atheists will regard 'divine magic' as a hoax: ordinary Pagan Magic with delusions of grandeur.
Of course, for ordinary people, there's ordinary superstition. It never hurts to offer a prayer to Kitharu before a sea-journey: if the god still has the power to make it tempest-free, so much the better; if not, what did it cost you? But I can't help feeling that a world like Juravia would be intolerant of such things. Once you reject religion, you don't tend to retain an affection for it, even in its quaintest forms. Since Kitharu infested the deeps with sea monsters and then cleared off, leaving the mess behind, I doubt sailors or the rulers of maritime empires would be sentimental about him. If you want a safe voyage, hire an atheist Elementalist; if you want to tell yourself comforting lies about Kitharu, stay on land.
The culture of moderation and litigation
The Kibbes' mythology seems to teach other lessons its writers don't appreciate. It condemns any form of extremism. Left to their own devices by Enigwa, the gods pursue their own agendas, becoming more and more extreme until, unable to compromise, they go to war. Obviously, Grom and Necros are the villains, but the tale of Berethenu is poignant. The god of Justice, Berethenu breaks all the laws he was trusted to uphold. He goes to war on the Triumvirate, he shapes humans into his Dwarvish servitor race, he teaches magic to mortals. Of course, he does so for high-minded reasons, but so what? When Enigwa pronounces judgment, Berethenu's own inflexible scruples make it impossible for him to repent: he condemns himself to eternity in Mulkra. The moral: there's no ethical difference between a monster like Grom and a paladin like Berethenu; both end up in the same place.
One imagines that, even centuries later, the citizens of Juravia feel discomfort around a Berethenu Knight. Sure, it's nice that they give to charity. But the defining myths of this world condemn what they stand for.
The myths also condemn laissez-faire individualism. Enigwa is culpably irresponsible for leaving humanity at the mercy of the squabbling gods. If the gods themselves cannot be trusted to run the world without the firm hand of higher authority guiding them, what chance do ordinary people have for making the right decisions unassisted?
One suspects Juravia is a world of authoritarian regimes where people look to strong leaders and distrust liberalism. Even democratic republics can be authoritarian, especially if they are intensely legalistic. The law makes a great surrogate for religion in secular societies because it tries to do the same thing as religion: establish order and the limits of what is acceptable, create the illusion of control over the vicissitudes of life, pronounce judgment by rewarding the virtuous and punishing the wicked, connect people to the past through precedents and each other through contracts.
I wouldn't be surprised if Juravian adventurers need to be legally recognised professionals, rather Elizabethan players, subject to the bureaucratic whims of a Master of Dungeons who hands out and revokes the licenses to plunder any particular tomb, cavern or mine,
Or just ignore it
Ron Edwards notices that Forge Out Of Chaos ignores all of these considerations. He actually takes it as a point in the game's favour that "this material was taken the least seriously and written for fun imaginative-background rather than as a personal fantasy opus."
The Kibbe Brothers seem to bear this out. No sooner have they described the Banishment than they are alluding to the persistence of entirely conventional religion in Juravia. Apparently "sailors and coastal provinces hold festivals in [Kitharu's] honour" (nothing strikes me as less likely) and "the Festival of the Eclipse is still held in [Dembria's] honour" (weird, since Dembria's blotting out the moon is what unleashed the undead upon the world) while "holidays and ceremonies are held in [Omara's] honour" (fair enough, farmers need holidays, but why would they honour a goddess who cannot guarantee anyone a good harvest?).
The World of Juravia Sourcebook (2000) makes it clear that conventional polytheistic piety holds sway in Juravia. It's like the Apocalypse never happened.
But I like the Kibbes' apocalyptic myth - or bits of it anyway (I'll discuss the unfortunate bits in the third and final blog in this series). It seems to me that there ought to be a fantasy setting properly based on it.
Maybe I'll end up designing it myself...
30 Minute Dungeons
Essays on Forge
I'm a teacher and a writer and I love board games and RPGs. I got into D&D back in the '70s with Eric Holmes' 'Blue Book' set and I've adopted Forge Out of Chaos to pursue my nostalgia for old school RPGs.
The shoddy PDF rulebook available at drivethrurpg is missing pp 66-67, 82-83, 86-87, 126-127, 140-141 and 162-5. You can read or download these below: