After 24 sessions, the adventurers of the Wall campaign reached the bottom of the dungeon and, through a series of unfortunate choices spanning most of the campaign, opened the gate to Hell. It was a dramatic moment, and I wanted to use it to bookend what I considered the first act of the campaign.
I already had plans for the start of act two—the exploration of the fringes of Hell and the consequences of opening the gate—but I wanted something else in place in case the players went off in a different direction. Could I make a whole new dungeon in addition to all the planning I was doing for their time in Hell?
That’s when it hit me:
Get the Players to Stock a Dungeon
I told the players that we’d have a session unrelated to our normal campaign. It was going to be a bit of a “breather” between acts, a light story game combining elements of Bully Pulpit Games’s Fiasco and Flatland Games’s Beyond the Wall.
I framed it as a chance for the players to all be Dungeon Masters for a session: they would make characters based on classic villain archetypes and tell the story of their quest for villainous power.
I presented them with a drawing of a ship, telling them that it was a hulking vessel floating in an infinite sky. (I’d been hearing a lot about Fitzcarraldo and Burden of Dreams from a friend, and Gus L’s HMS Apollyon setting is always in the back of my mind.) The system I threw together gave us factions, locations, and treasure hoards, all in service to the fantastic apocalypse that Fiasco is so good at structuring.
It worked exactly as I planned. After the game, I was left with a mysterious ship filled with alchemical smokestacks, a poisoned swamp, a porcelain Frankenstein, and killers made of lead. I fast-forwarded things about a hundred years so that the players would still have a few surprises when their Wall characters ended up there, and boom, a waiting dungeon with the players as my abettors.
Ahead of time, draw the outlines of your future dungeon on a piece of paper. No fine details are necessary—just some borders and an explanation of what it is (caves, a castle, inside the shell of a giant turtle, etc).
When the session begins, there is no DM. Each player gets a character sheet, either randomly or by choice. No repeats are allowed. See below for the full class list, but here’s an example:
All who wander the earth face barriers, and even the most blessed and the most protected are harmed by cruel fate. You seek to emulate this process. Everyone has a weakness, and you seek to know them all so that you can stymie, capture, or kill them. All the while, you wait for the inevitable trap that the world has set for you.
1d6 Why does weakness disgust you? The player to your right… 1 Your parents were cowards. …was allied with the affected person or organization. 2 You were betrayed by a partner. 3 A mechanical accident killed a companion. 4 You were the victim of an uncaring government. 5 Medicine couldn’t save your sibling. 6 Your enemy escaped justice.
1d6 What kind of tools do you favor? Add 1 Spikes and spinning blades. A trap-filled hallway to your workshop. 2 Automatons of all shapes and sizes. 3 Spring-loaded flingers. 4 Mazes and mirrors. 5 Restraining chains and glue. 6 Fire.
1d6 Who is your greatest prisoner? Add 1 The one who rejected your love. A prison further beyond your workshop. 2 Your doppelganger. 3 An angel. 4 The greatest hero of your people. 5 A giant monster. 6 A monarch.
Each player rolls for the first section and works out the details of their connection with the player to their right. Then everyone rolls for the second section and gets to add something to the dungeon map. The same goes for the third section.
Each player can have one mulligan, choosing a result from a single section instead of obeying the die roll.
After characters are created, an index card is placed in between every player. This index card is populated with objects, locations, or needs as per normal Fiasco rules, and the rest of the game is played out as a typical Fiasco session. Use your favorite tilt table.
Sexing the Illusionist
Our session included a face-changing illusionist, an alchemist with an army of lead people, a master of fish, a fine china golem, and a warlord named Pussywillow. Because this is Fiasco, everything ended in an explosive cinnamon apocalypse (a mishearing of “imminent apocalypse” that was too strange to let go). The fish-master’s swamp was poisoned and irradiated with magic. I couldn’t ask for a better dungeon.
(The session featured the campaign’s only sexual encounter, which was deemed mediocre by all involved.)
|The void ship after our first session.|
Handling the Transition
When the characters arrived on the ship, the effects were exactly what I wanted: a little bit of amazement, a little bit of fear, and some excitement regarding checking in with the players’ evil characters. It was the best kind of metagaming: the players knew the gist of the dangers inside the ship, but I gave them clear signals that some time had passed, so their knowledge wouldn’t keep them safe from surprises.