Chained World: Mapmaking & Character Creation

Like I detailed in my background post, I wanted to loot the best bits of Beyond the Wall’s character creation for my new 5E campaign. With two character creation sessions done, I think it was a success. Here’s the map we made—ink basis by me, pencil additions by two groups of five players each:

(“Carrowmere,” as a name, stolen from Patrick Stuart’s Deep Carbon Observatory.)

I originally intended on turning the classes document into a post, but I deleted my original documents, and converting a PDF into a blog post is horrible so instead, here are the PDFs to download:

(And as noted, I accidentally deleted my original files, so please excuse any typos.)

Each document has charts that link starting stats and proficiencies to map locations, trinkets, or NPCs that the players get to create. In my opinion, it really increases how invested they are in the setting. As an example, here’s the Sorcerer class:

Sorcerer

1d6
What is the origin of the magical blood in your veins?
Gain
1
A reptilian god blessed your ancestors at the beginning of time.
+2 Cha, +1 Con, Draconic Bloodline
2
You have an internal organ that acts as a hole into an unknown universe.
+2 Con, +1 Wis, Wild Magic
3
You are the spawn of a dragon and a mortal.
+2 Str, +1 Cha, Draconic Bloodline
4
A fae princeling cursed you with uncontrollable power.
+2 Int, +1 Con, Wild Magic
5
You were something greater until forced into a lesser form.
+2 Str, +1 Dex, Draconic Bloodline
6
You are wild magic disguised in a fleshy body, but you’ve forgotten how to change back.
+2 Dex, +1 Cha, Wild Magic


1d6
How did your magic first manifest?
Gain
1
It drove out from inside you, coating you in scales.
+2 Con, Skill: Athletics
2
You woke up in the night to find yourself floating 20 feet in the air.
+2 Dex, Skill: Acrobatics
3
Your tongue grew and forked for a day, and you spoke in an unknown language.
+2 Int Skill: Arcana
4
Cats and crows called you names in the streets.
+2 Wis, Skill: Animal Handling
5
For a single drunken night, people did anything you asked.
+2 Cha, Skill: Performance
6
You were lost in the wilderness for weeks, but you never got thirsty.
+2 Con, Skill: Survival

 

1d6
Once you understood your magic, how did you use it to get by? The player to your right helped.
Gain
1
You reinforce your body so that you can work harder for others. Your friend was relieved by your work and gains +1 Con.
+2 Con
2
You amaze and astound with public performances. Your friend has helped you collect money from the audience and gains +1 Cha.
+2 Cha
3
You are a font of endless energy that was harvested for a strange device. Your friend helped connect you to the device and gains +1 Int.
+2 Int
4
You distract marks for a thieves’ guild. Your friend was a fence or contact for the guild and gains +1 Dex.
+2 Dex
5

You were a living, glowing standard for the army or

guards to rally to. Your friend was in the same battalion and gains +1 Cha.
+2 Cha
6
You snuck into a wizard conference to steal their secrets. Your friend helped you disseminate the forbidden knowledge and gains +1 Int.
+2 Int

 

1d6
Magic speaks to the world, and the world speaks back. How has it spoken to you?
Gain
1
Coins rained and thundered from a small cloud above your bed while you dreamed of wealth.
+2 Wis, 6d6 gold
2
A dragon came to you in the guise of a human and gifted you one of their scales.
+2 Cha,
a dragon scale token
3
A seed you planted grew into a staff topped by a crystal roiling with a tiny storm.
+2 Wis,
a crazy staff
4
Your stomach is a colony of tiny fungi that whisper to you and keep you healthy.
+2 Con,
a belly full of secrets
5
A mugger stopped you, but their weapon was made edible and you chewed it to pieces.
+2 Str,
an edible knife hilt
6
You have one item of clothing that changes fashion and color each morning.
+2 Cha,
said clothing item

Proficiencies (+2 to rolls involving these)

  • Choose one from Arcana and Religion
  • Daggers, darts, slings, quarterstaffs, light crossbows
  • Constitution & Charisma saves

Chained Worlds: Beyond the Backgrounds

I’m starting a new campaign in May. It’s an intimidating thing: two groups on alternating works operating in the same universe. For all I know, they’ll never interact, but I still want to build that into my possibilities.

I also wanted to do some heavier house-ruling this time around. Our last campaign was almost pure 5E, and it went great, but it wasn’t a perfect fit with my brain.

One thing I want to address is background. I’m a big proponent of minimal backstory; I want players to look forward to what they can make together instead of what they’ve done alone in the past.

But I don’t want to throw backgrounds out the window. I decided to import some tables and mechanics from Beyond the Wall in order to add a bit of detail to characters’ histories (and eventually link them together, but that’s saved for the Classes section, coming soon).

I’m also thinking about removing Persuasion, Deception, Intimidation, Insight, and maybe Perception from the game. I’d instead rely on roleplaying, players’ stated intention, and so on.

So here we go:

Backgrounds
Choose a background. Each one grants starting attributes. For the tables that follow, roll on two of them and choose from one of them. These will grant you additional attributes along with details from your youth.

Alternately, you can choose from two of them and roll on one. However, this will incur a curse. Your character is aware that the fates are against him (as are seers, witches, and similar), but the details are initially unknown to all but the DM.

After getting the results from the first table, add a related location to the map of the town. After getting results from the third table, add a related NPC to the map of the town

Acolyte
Something miraculous happened when you came of age. After a dramatic event, you felt the call of the gods and now worship them as your ancestors did. One of these ancient deities shows you particular favor, and you now do its work amongst your people.

You are wise beyond your years. Your Wisdom begins at 12, and all of your other ability scores begin at 8.

1d6 What were your parents known for? What did you learn? Gain
1 You are an orphan. Things were hard for you. +2 Wis, +2 Con, +1 Int
2 Your lone parent was an outcast, rightfully or not. +2 Int, +2 Wis, +1 Con
3 Your parents were fishermen and you grew up by the river. +2 Dex, +2 Str, +1 Wis
4 You led the sheep out onto the mountain like your father before you. +2 Con, +1 Dex,

+1 Wis, +1 Str

5 You worked the loom, cutting and twisting as the Fates. +2 Dex, +2 Int, +1 Cha
6 A parent kept the old stories. Your head is filled with them. +2 Int, +2 Cha, +1 Wis
1d4 How did you distinguish yourself as a child? Gain
1 Your empathy made you a sought after confidant. +2 Wis, +1 Con
2 You never met someone who didn’t like you. +2 Cha, +1 Str
3 You solved everyone else’s problems, and never mentioned your own. +1 Str, +1 Con,

+1 Cha

4 Everyone has something to teach, and you learned a little from them all. +1 Dex, +1 Int, +1 Wis
1d4 Who befriended you? Gain
1 You would sneak out at night and wander the woods with a peasant child. +2 Con, +1 Int
2 The village elders taught you the ancient game of chess. +2 Int, +1 Dex
3 You had a tryst with someone outside the chapel. +2 Cha, +1 Con
4 An old widow needed help around the house. +1 Str, +1 Int, +1 Cha

 

Skill Proficiencies: Religion, History

Languages: Two of your choice

Equipment: A holy symbol (a gift to you when you entered the priesthood), a prayer book or prayer wheel, 5 sticks o f incense, vestments, a set of common clothes, and a belt pouch containing 15 gp

Charlatan

You’re not the eldest in your family. You’re not the greatest warrior or a diligent student. Rather, you have a broad range of abilities, a sharp mind, and a winning smile. You’ve also dabbled in some things you probably shouldn’t have. You know a bit of everything, and what you don’t know, you can convince people that you do.

You are intelligent and charming. Your Intelligence and Charisma begin at 10, and all of your other ability scores begin at 8.

1d6 What were your parents known for? What did you learn? Gain
1 Your father was an outcast, rightfully or not. +2 Int, +2 Wis, +1 Con
2 Your parents ran the local inn. You grew up meeting many travellers and hearing their tales. +2 Cha, +1 Int, +1 Dex, +1 Wis
3 Your father was a local merchant. You learned to name your price and charm your customers. +2 Cha, +2 Int, +1 Dex
4 Base betrayal. Your family is respected but not trusted. +2 Wis, +2 Int, 1 Cha
5 Knowledge. Your family deals in secrets and lore. +2 Int, +1 Con, +1 Wis, +1 Cha
6 Beauty. Your ladies are the fairest and your lords the most handsome. +2 Cha, +1 Dex, +1 Con, +1 Str
1d4 How did you distinguish yourself as a child? Gain
1 Children often fight, but you never lost. +2 Str, +1 Wis
2 There wasn’t a game you couldn’t win. +2 Dex, +1 Int
3 No secret escaped you. +2 Int, +1 Dex
4 You solved everyone else’s problems, and never mentioned your own. +1 Str, +1 Con, +1 Cha
1d4 Who befriended you? Gain
1 The fishermen took a liking to you and you swapped stories with them. +2 Dex, +1 Wis.
2 You were arranged to marry into the Miller’s family. +2 Wis, +1 Str
3 You broke someone’s heart, or maybe they broke yours. +2 Cha, +1 Con
4 The grizzled mercenary who settled in town taught you a thing or two. +1 Dex, +1 Con, +1 Wis

Skill Proficiencies: Sleight of Hand, Medicine

Tool Proficiencies: Disguise kit, forgery kit

Equipment: A set of fine clothes, a disguise kit, tools of the con of your choice (ten stoppered bottles filled with colored liquid, a set of weighted dice, a deck of marked cards, or a signet ring of an imaginary duke), and a belt pouch containing 15 gp


Criminal

The world is full of things to see and enjoy, and your fingers are more than quick enough to let you have what you like.

You are deft and quick. Your Dexterity begins at 12, and all of your other ability scores begin at 8.

1d6 What were your parents known for? What did you learn? Gain
1 You are an orphan. Things were hard for you. +2 Wis, +2 Con, +1 Int
2 Your father was a watchman, stern but fair with child and stranger alike. +2 Str, +2 Cha, +1 Con
3 Your father was a local merchant. You learned to name your price and charm your customers. +2 Cha, +2 Int, +1 Dex
4 Base betrayal. Your family is respected but not trusted. +2 Wis, +2 Int, 1 Cha
5 Wealth. Your family’s coffers are the fullest in all the land. +2 Int, +1 Con, +1 Cha, +1 Wis
6 Having one of the oldest names in the land and staying out of affairs that don’t concern them. +1 Str, +1 Dex, +1 Int, +1 Wis, +1 Cha
1d4 How did you distinguish yourself as a child? Gain
1 Children often fight, but you never lost. +2 Str, +1 Wis
2 There wasn’t a game you couldn’t win. +2 Dex, +1 Int
3 You were the toughest kid around. +2 Con, +1 Cha
4 No secret escaped you. +2 Int, +1 Dex
1d4 Who befriended you? Gain
1 The fishermen took a liking to you and you swapped stories with them. +2 Dex, +1 Wis.
2 Your family’s seneschal taught you games of strategy and skill. +2 Int, +1 Dex
3 You broke someone’s heart, or maybe they broke yours.

You had a tryst with someone beneath your station.

+2 Cha, +1 Con
4 The grizzled captain of the guard took a liking to you. +1 Dex, +1 Con,

+1 Wis

Skill Proficiencies: Stealth, Athletics

Tool Proficiencies: One type of gaming set, thieves’ tools

Equipment: A crowbar, a set of dark common clothes including a hood, and a belt pouch containing 15 gp

 

Entertainer

You grew up obsessed with ancient stories and songs, the oral history of your people. The stories told around the hearth and by traveling minstrels seemed more real to you than your own daily struggles. Now that you’ve come of age, you keep the stories.

You have great presence and charm. Your Charisma begins at 12, and all of your other ability scores begin at 8.

1d6 What were your parents known for? What did you learn? Gain
1 Your parents ran the local inn. You grew up meeting many travellers and hearing their tales. +2 Cha, +1 Int, +1 Dex, +1 Wis
2 You worked the loom, cutting and twisting as the Fates. +2 Dex, +2 Int, +1 Cha
3 Your father or mother kept the old stories. Your head is filled with them. +2 Int, +2 Cha, +1 Wis
4 Your father was a local merchant. You learned to name your price and charm your customers. +2 Cha, +2 Int, +1 Dex
5 Knowledge. Your family deals in secrets and lore. +2 Int, +1 Con, +1 Wis, +1 Cha
6 Beauty. Your ladies are the fairest and your lords the most handsome. +2 Cha, +1 Dex, +1 Con, +1 Str
1d4 How did you distinguish yourself as a child? Gain
1 There wasn’t a game you couldn’t win. +2 Dex, +1 Int
2 No secret escaped you. +2 Int, +1 Dex
3 You never met someone who didn’t like you. +2 Cha, +1 Str
4 Everyone has something to teach, and you learned a little from them all. +1 Dex, +1 Int, +1 Wis
1d4 Who befriended you? Gain
1 Laboring with the blacksmith took your mind off your troubles. +2 Str, +1 Cha
2 The fishermen took a liking to you and you swapped stories with them. +2 Dex, +1 Wis.
3 You broke someone’s heart, or maybe they broke yours. +2 Cha, +1 Con
4 The old widow needed help around the house. +1 Str, +1 Int, +1 Cha

Skill Proficiencies: Acrobatics, Performance

Tool Proficiencies: Disguise kit, one type of musical instrument

Equipment: A musical instrument (one of your choice), the favor of an admirer (love letter, lock of hair, or trinket), a costume, and a belt pouch containing 15 gp


Folk Hero

While you are still young, you have made quite the name for yourself in the village. The common folk look to you to solve their problems and protect them from dangers.

You are sturdy and well-built. Your Strength and Constitution begin at 10, and all of your other ability scores begin at 8.

1d6 What were your parents known for? What did you learn? Gain
1 Your parents were fishermen and you grew up by the river. +2 Dex, +2 Str, +1 Wis
2 Your family worked a small farm outside the village. +2 Con, +2 Wis, +1 Cha
3 Your father was the local smith and taught you both hammer and bellows. +2 Str, +2 Dex, +1 Cha
4 You led the sheep out onto the mountain like your father before you. +2 Con, +1 Dex, +1 Wis, +1 Str
5 Your parents ran the local inn. You grew up meeting many travellers and hearing their tales. +2 Cha, +1 Int, +1 Dex, +1 Wis
6 Your father or mother kept the old stories. Your head is filled with them. +2 Int, +2 Cha, +1 Wis
1d4 How did you distinguish yourself as a child? Gain
1 Children often fight, but you never lost. +2 Str, +1 Wis
2 You were the toughest kid around. +2 Con, +1 Cha
3 You never met someone who didn’t like you. +2 Cha, +1 Str
4 You solved everyone else’s problems, and never mentioned your own. +1 Str, +1 Con, +1 Cha
1d4 Who befriended you? Gain
1 Laboring with the blacksmith took your mind off your troubles. +2 Str, +1 Cha
2 The fishermen took a liking to you and you swapped stories with them. +2 Dex, +1 Wis.
3 You went camping with the hunters. +2 Con, +1 Int
4 Despite being of noble blood, you actually did chores with the servants. +1 Str, +1 Int, +1 Cha

Skill Proficiencies: Animal Handling, Survival

Tool Proficiencies: One type of artisan’s tools, vehicles (land)

Equipment: A set of artisan’s tools (one of your choice), a shovel, an iron pot, a set of common clothes, and a belt pouch containing 10 gp


Guild Artisan

At a young age, you were apprenticed to a craftsperson at a guild. You worked hard, and it was often thankless, but you learned how to build, buy, and sell. Your apprenticeship guaranteed you a place in life, and it gave you a taste of what life could be.

You have a knack with animals. Your Intelligence and Charisma begin at 10, and all of your other ability scores begin at 8.

1d6 What were your parents known for? What did you learn? Gain
1 You are an orphan. Things were hard for you. +2 Wis, +2 Con, +1 Int
2 Your family worked a small farm outside the village. +2 Con, +2 Wis, +1 Cha
3 Your father was the local smith and taught you both hammer and bellows. +2 Str, +2 Dex, +1 Cha
4 You led the sheep out onto the mountain like your father before you. +2 Con, +1 Dex, +1 Wis, +1 Str
5 You worked the loom, cutting and twisting as the Fates. +2 Dex, +2 Int, +1 Cha
6 Your father was a watchman, stern but fair with child and stranger alike. +2 Str, +2 Cha, +1 Con
1d4 How did you distinguish yourself as a child? Gain
1 There wasn’t a game you couldn’t win. +2 Dex, +1 Int
2 You never met someone who didn’t like you. +2 Cha, +1 Str
3 You solved everyone else’s problems, and never mentioned your own. +1 Str, +1 Con, +1 Cha
4 Everyone has something to teach, and you learned a little from them all. +1 Dex, +1 Int, +1 Wis
1d4 Who befriended you? Gain
1 Laboring with the blacksmith took your mind off your troubles. +2 Str, +1 Cha
2 You are about to marry into the Miller’s family. +2 Wis, +1 Str
3 The old widow needed help around the house. +1 Str, +1 Int, +1 Cha
4 The grizzled captain of the guard took a liking to you. +1 Dex, +1 Con, +1 Wis

Tool Proficiencies: Two types of artisan’s tools

Languages: Two of your choice

Equipment: A set of artisan’s tools (your choice), a letter of introduction from your guild, a set of traveler’s clothes, and a belt pouch containing 15 gp


Hermit

The old witch in the village took a liking to you when you were still young, and people didn’t like that. You dreamt of a more exciting life, and you pursued that away from the prying eyes of the town.

You have a knack with animals. Your Constitution and Wisdom begin at 10, and all of your other ability scores begin at 8.

1d6 What were your parents known for? What did you learn? Gain
1 Your father was an outcast, rightfully or not. +2 Int, +2 Wis, +1 Con
2 Your parents were fishermen and you grew up by the river. +2 Dex, +2 Str, +1 Wis
3 You led the sheep out onto the mountain like your father before you. +2 Con, +1 Dex, +1 Wis, +1 Str
4 You went on journeys into the woods to gather herbs and berries. +2 Wis, +2 Con, +1 Dex
5 Wealth. Your family’s coffers are the fullest in all the land. +2 Int, +1 Con, +1 Cha, +1 Wis
6 Standing against a wicked would-be usurper. +2 Con, +1 Str, +1 Int, +1 Wis
1d4 How did you distinguish yourself as a child? Gain
1 Children often fight, but you never lost. +2 Str, +1 Wis
2 There wasn’t a game you couldn’t win. +2 Dex, +1 Int
3 You were the toughest kid around. +2 Con, +1 Cha
4 No secret escaped you. +2 Int, +1 Dex
1d4 Who befriended you? Gain
1 The fishermen took a liking to you and you swapped stories with them. +2 Dex, +1 Wis.
2 Chafing under your family’s rules, you would sneak out at night and wander the woods. +2 Con, +1 Int
3 You had a tryst with someone beneath your station. +2 Cha, +1 Con
4 The grizzled mercenary who settled in town taught you a thing or two. +1 Dex, +1 Con, +1 Wis

Skill Proficiencies: Medicine, Religion

Tool Proficiencies: Herbalism kit

Languages: One of your choice

Equipment: A scroll case stuffed full of notes from your studies or prayers, a winter blanket, a set of common clothes, an herbalism kit, and 5 gp

Noble

You’ve inherited many things: wealth, pedigree, and a formal way of acting. For whatever reason, you’ve taken those things out to the world at large. It’s your responsibility to bring even more fame to your name.

You are healthy and adventurous. Your Strength and Charisma begin at 10, and all of your other ability scores begin at 8.

1d6 What were your parents known for? What did you learn? Gain
1 Base betrayal. Your family is respected but not trusted. +2 Wis, +2 Int, 1 Cha
2 Strength of arms. No standard flies victoriously over more battlefields than yours. +2 Str, +2 Dex, +1 Wis
3 Wealth. Your family’s coffers are the fullest in all the land. +2 Int, +1 Con, +1 Cha, +1 Wis
4 Beauty. Your ladies are the fairest and your lords the most handsome. +2 Cha, +1 Dex, +1 Con, +1 Str
5 Honor and duty. All trust your family’s name. +2 Wis, +1 Con, +1 Str, +1 Cha
6 Producing the finest knights. +2 Dex, +1 Str, +2 Cha
1d4 How did you distinguish yourself as a child? Gain
1 Children often fight, but you never lost. +2 Str, +1 Wis
2 There wasn’t a game you couldn’t win. +2 Dex, +1 Int
3 You never met someone who didn’t like you. +2 Cha, +1 Str
4 Everyone has something to teach, and you learned a little from them all. +1 Dex, +1 Int, +1 Wis
1d4 Who befriended you? Gain
1 Chafing under your family’s rules, you would sneak out at night and wander the woods with a peasant child. +2 Con, +1 Int
2 Your family’s seneschal taught you games of strategy and skill. +2 Int, +1 Dex
3 You learned the ways of the castle at the side of the cook. +2 Wis, +1 Str
4 You had a tryst with someone beneath your station. +2 Cha, +1 Con

Skill Proficiencies: History, Performance

Tool Proficiencies: One type of gaming set

Languages: One of your choice

Equipment: A set of fine clothes, a signet ring, a scroll of pedigree, and a purse containing 25 gp

Outlander

Hunter, gatherer, or guardian, it takes a brave soul to wander the woods. You go where few would dare, and you feel at home in those places. For good or for ill, you left your original home behind in order to find a new one.

You are agile and insightful. Your Dexterity and Wisdom begin at 10, and all of your other ability scores begin at 8.

1d6 What were your parents known for? What did you learn? Gain
1 You are an orphan. Things were hard for you. +2 Wis, +2 Con, +1 Int
2 Your lone parent was an outcast, rightfully or not. +2 Int, +2 Wis, +1 Con
3 You led the sheep out onto the mountain like your father before you. +2 Con, +1 Dex, +1 Wis, +1 Str
4 Your parents ran the local inn. You grew up meeting many travellers and hearing their tales. +2 Cha, +1 Int, +1 Dex, +1 Wis
5 You went on journeys into the woods to gather herbs and berries. +2 Wis, +2 Con, +1 Dex
6 Base betrayal. Your family is respected but not trusted. +2 Wis, +2 Int, 1 Cha
1d4 How did you distinguish yourself as a child? Gain
1 Children often fight, but you never lost. +2 Str, +1 Wis
2 You were the toughest kid around. +2 Con, +1 Cha
3 No secret escaped you. +2 Int, +1 Dex
4 You solved everyone else’s problems, and never mentioned your own. +1 Str, +1 Con, +1 Cha
1d4 Who befriended you? Gain
1 The fishermen took a liking to you and you swapped stories with them. +2 Dex, +1 Wis.
2 You went camping with the hunters. +2 Con, +1 Int
3 You broke someone’s heart, or maybe they broke yours. +2 Cha, +1 Con
4 The old widow needed help around the house. +1 Str, +1 Int, +1 Cha

Skill Proficiencies: Athletics, Survival

Tool Proficiencies: One type of musical instrument

Languages: One of your choice

Equipment: A staff, a hunting trap, a trophy from an animal you killed, a set of traveler’s clothes, and a belt pouch containing 10 gp


Sage

Your desire was not to learn the ways of war or rulership as other children did, but instead to study the cerebral arts. You took to the difficult studies well, and now you will decide what to do with them.

You are very smart and quick-witted. Your Intelligence begins at 12, and all of your other ability scores begin at 8.

1d6 What were your parents known for? What did you learn? Gain
1 You led the sheep out onto the mountain like your father before you. +2 Con, +1 Dex, +1 Wis, +1 Str
2 Your parents ran the local inn. You grew up meeting many travellers and hearing their tales. +2 Cha, +1 Int, +1 Dex, +1 Wis
3 Your father or mother kept the old stories. Your head is filled with them. +2 Int, +2 Cha, +1 Wis
4 You went on journeys into the woods to gather herbs and berries. +2 Wis, +2 Con, +1 Dex
5 Knowledge. Your family deals in secrets and lore. +2 Int, +1 Con, +1 Wis, +1 Cha
6 Tending the finest gardens and brewing the most helpful concoctions. +2 Int, +2 Wis, +1 Con
1d4 How did you distinguish yourself as a child? Gain
1 There wasn’t a game you couldn’t win. +2 Dex, +1 Int
2 No secret escaped you. +2 Int, +1 Dex
3 You solved everyone else’s problems, and never mentioned your own. +1 Str, +1 Con, +1 Cha
4 Everyone has something to teach, and you learned a little from them all. +1 Dex, +1 Int, +1 Wis
1d4 Who befriended you? Gain
1 The fishermen took a liking to you and you swapped stories with them. +2 Dex, +1 Wis.
2 Chafing under your family’s rules, you would sneak to the library at night and sleep among the books. +2 Int, +1 Wis
3 The village elders taught you the ancient game of chess. +2 Int, +1 Dex
4 You learned the ways of the castle at the side of the cook. +2 Wis, +1 Str

Skill Proficiencies: Arcana, History

Languages: Two of your choice

Equipment: A bottle of black ink, a quill, a small knife, a letter from a dead colleague posing a question you have not yet been able to answer, a set of common

clothes, and a belt pouch containing 10 gp

Sailor

You grew up sitting wide-eyed on the shore, listening to stories of pirates and captains who slew sea beasts and discovered new lands. The other children liked those stories as well, but you lived for them.

You are strong and brave. Your Strength begins at 12, and all of your other ability scores begin at 8.

1d6 What were your parents known for? What did you learn? Gain
1 You are an orphan. Things were hard for you. +2 Wis, +2 Con, +1 Int
2 Your parents were fishermen and you grew up by the river. +2 Dex, +2 Str, +1 Wis
3 Your father was the local smith and taught you both hammer and bellows. +2 Str, +2 Dex, +1 Cha
4 Your parents ran the local inn. You grew up meeting many travellers and hearing their tales. +2 Cha, +1 Int, +1 Dex, +1 Wis
5 Wealth. Your family’s coffers are the fullest in all the land. +2 Int, +1 Con, +1 Cha, +1 Wis
6 Defending the land from invaders. +2 Str, +2 Con, +1 Wis
1d4 How did you distinguish yourself as a child? Gain
1 Children often fight, but you never lost. +2 Str, +1 Wis
2 There wasn’t a game you couldn’t win. +2 Dex, +1 Int
3 You were the toughest kid around. +2 Con, +1 Cha
4 You solved everyone else’s problems, and never mentioned your own. +1 Str, +1 Con, +1 Cha
1d4 Who befriended you? Gain
1 Laboring with the blacksmith took your mind off your troubles. +2 Str, +1 Cha
2 The fishermen took a liking to you and you swapped stories with them. +2 Dex, +1 Wis.
3 You are about to marry into the Miller’s family. +2 Wis, +1 Str
4 You had a tryst with someone you were forbidden to marry. +2 Cha, +1 Con

Skill Proficiencies: Athletics

Languages: One of your choice

Tool Proficiencies: Navigator’s tools, vehicles (water)

Equipment: A belaying pin (club), 50 feet o f silk rope, a lucky charm such as a rabbit foot or a small stone with a hole in the center, a set of common clothes, and a belt pouch containing 10 gp

Soldier

For whatever reason, it has fallen to you to fight and to lead men in battle, and to inspire your people. While you have only been tested once, you proved yourself well, and are now ready to earn the fame in battle.

You are strong and commanding. Your Strength and Charisma begin at 10, and all of your other ability scores begin at 8.

1d6 What were your parents known for? What did you learn? Gain
1 You are an orphan. Things were hard for you. +2 Wis, +2 Con, +1 Int
2 Your father was the local smith and taught you both hammer and bellows. +2 Str, +2 Dex, +1 Cha
3 Your father was a watchman, stern but fair with child and stranger alike. +2 Str, +2 Cha, +1 Con
4 Strength of arms. No standard flies victoriously over more battlefields than yours. +2 Str, +2 Dex, +1 Wis
5 Honor and duty. All trust your family’s name. +2 Wis, +1 Con, +1 Str, +1 Cha
6 Producing the finest knights. +2 Dex, +1 Str, +2 Cha
1d4 How did you distinguish yourself as a child? Gain
1 Children often fight, but you never lost. +2 Str, +1 Wis
2 You were the toughest kid around. +2 Con, +1 Cha
3 You solved everyone else’s problems, and never mentioned your own. +1 Str, +1 Con, +1 Cha
4 Everyone has something to teach, and you learned a little from them all. +1 Dex, +1 Int, +1 Wis
1d4 Who befriended you? Gain
1 Laboring with the blacksmith took your mind off your troubles. +2 Str, +1 Cha
2 You went camping with the hunters. +2 Con, +1 Int
3 You are about to marry into the Miller’s family. +2 Wis, +1 Str
4 The grizzled mercenary who settled in town taught you a thing or two. +1 Dex, +1 Con, +1 Wis

Skill Proficiencies: Athletics

Languages: One of your choice

Tool Proficiencies: One type of gaming set, vehicles (land)

Equipment: An insignia o f rank, a trophy taken from a fallen enemy (a dagger, broken blade, or piece of a banner), a set of bone dice or deck of cards, a set of common clothes, and a belt pouch containing 10 gp

Urchin

Whether by choice or by fate, you grew up on the street. Better yet, you made a way to survive there.

Your Dexterity and Charisma begin at 10, and all of your other ability scores begin at 8.

1d6 What were your parents known for? What did you learn? Gain
1 You are an orphan. Things were hard for you. +2 Wis, +2 Con, +1 Int
2 Your lone parent was an outcast, rightfully or not. +2 Int, +2 Wis, +1 Con
3 You led the sheep out onto the mountain. +2 Con, +1 Dex, +1 Wis, +1 Str
4 You worked the loom, cutting and twisting as the Fates. +2 Dex, +2 Int, +1 Cha
5 You went on journeys into the woods to gather herbs and berries. +2 Wis, +2 Con, +1 Dex
6 Base betrayal. Your family is respected but not trusted. +2 Wis, +2 Int, 1 Cha
1d4 How did you distinguish yourself as a child? Gain
1 Children often fight, but you never lost. +2 Str, +1 Wis
2 There wasn’t a game you couldn’t win. +2 Dex, +1 Int
3 You were the toughest kid around. +2 Con, +1 Cha
4 No secret escaped you. +2 Int, +1 Dex
1d4 Who befriended you? Gain
1 Laboring with the blacksmith took your mind off your troubles. +2 Str, +1 Cha
2 The fishermen took a liking to you and you swapped stories with them. +2 Dex, +1 Wis.
3 The old widow needed help around the house. +1 Str, +1 Int, +1 Cha
4 The grizzled captain of the guard took a liking to you. +1 Dex, +1 Con, +1 Wis

Skill Proficiencies: Sleight of Hand, Stealth

Tool Proficiencies: Disguise kit, thieves’ tools

Equipment: A small knife, a map of the city you grew up in, a pet mouse, a token to remember your parents by, a set of common clothes, and a belt pouch containing 10 gp

The 5 Sinful Books of the Covert Library

The library at the bottom of the city with no name has quartz walls. There are great stone tablets documenting the secret passages of the city, ancient vellum spell scrolls written in iron-rich blood, and foot-thick books with detailed records of open accounts going back centuries.

And in a small room at the back, there are the five books of sin.

(The dwarves have five big sins:

  • sloth
  • gluttony
  • meekness
  • deceit
  • jealousy)

The Books

The Unfolded Axe by Friedrich Folium

Friedrich was a dwarven paper-maker whose brother went to war and won glory for the family. No one cared about Friedrich’s paper-making, so he created a book that could be folded into any kind of axe. When folded, it becomes a magical +1 weapon, +3 against dwarves (1d8 or 1d6 damage). It is a book of JEALOUSY. The book is large but thin and made of cardstock and pulp paper.

An Autumn of Razors by St Vincenza de la Capitanio

Vincenza was a saint of the god of wrath. When she wasn’t allowed to rise to the top of the church’s hierarchy, she composed An Autumn of Razors as her suicide letter and threw herself from the top of the church into the courtyard. The high priest of the church read the book and was consumed by the swarm of leaves that burst forth. Vincenza was granted sainthood. The book hungers for more flesh, so it’s sin is GLUTTONY. (Dex save 13 or 1d8 slicing + 1d6 poison damage.) The book is chained down and is bound in wood and metal.

Silent Grammar by Duan Su Qi

The famous demon hunter Duan Su Qi captured Zagam, the demon of DECEIT, between two covers woven from the wool of the sheep of the southern realm’s God of Justice. After capturing Zagam, Duan Su Qi retired and lived a long and happy life. When the book’s covers are open, the pages turn into Zagam, who is now free. Zagam can turn water to beer and is very friendly, waiting for the moment to turn on someone. The book is very thick and behind glass.

Elfin Truisms by Misozwerg the Scholar

Misozwerg was born crippled and often mocked by young dwarves. He grew to hate dwarven culture, and Elvin Truisms is one of his many attempts to undermine his race. It is written in the most beautiful poetry, and it tells of the joys of relaxation, individualism, and useless ornamentation. The book hums sweet songs (4d8 HP of sleep, and those affected can only be awoken by being dealt damage) and can slowly extinguish torches and small fires. It is a book of SLOTH. The book is small, thin, and green, and it’s wrapped in cotton.

The Door Into Somewhere, author unknown

The origin of this book is unknown. It is a book that is also a door. Its table of contents lists a number of locations it can take you to: a small tropical island, a silent deciduous forest, a cave overlooking a sparkling waterfall, or a rocky desert filled with chromatic sands. Those who use the portal find that there’s no way back. It is a book of MEEKNESS. It speaks in a high, nervous voice, and it demeans itself and its powers. The book is huge and has a blue cover and smooth, cream-colored pages.

From P. Gasparis Schotti’s Physica curiosa (1662)

The Test

Young library assistants are put in the room of the five sinful books and told to guard them overnight. They’re locked in the room, told not to let anyone in, and warned not to touch the books. The door (which is also The Door Into Somewhere) is shut and locked from the other side.

They’re provided with the following equipment:
dry cakes
honey
coffee
water
cards
dice
paper armor (14 AC+Dex, wearable by all)
sloth-fur caps
three each of swords, shields, warhammers

Throughout the night, five demons knock on the door.

Sloth: a cute, sleepy sloth looking for a place to rest; a PC who lets it in can roll an extra Hit Die during a short rest

Jealousy: comes in the shape of a man-sized rat who wants to read the books and elevate itself to manhood; the demon will hide the books away and teach the characters proficiency in Sleight of Hand

Meekness: asks for entrance in the voice of a child, a helpless bystander with no grand plans or designs; it will teach characters to be proficient in Stealth

Gluttony: comes in the shape of a pig-centaur who wants the characters’ food; a character who dines with the demon heals 6 HP

Art by Cathy Hannah

Deceit: comes in the shape of the head librarian to tell them the long night is over; it will let the characters out into the greater library

Characters who pass the test are made full librarians. Characters who fail are killed.

Wall: Why D&D?

This is probably as close as I’ll ever get to a hot take, so here we go: D&D versus story games.

Origin Story

I didn’t play any sort of extended campaign until my mid-20s, and that first long experience was a two-year love story with D&D 4E and with my DM, who taught me everything I know about awful moral quandaries as framing devices and character motivators.

Alas, over 7 years later, my DM has moved on to story games. I can play Fiasco with him, and even Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, but he’ll never Master my Dungeon again. Still, I like to run ideas by him every now and then; his responses are gracious and helpful, but they often include something along the lines of, “You know, you could run this with [insert story game system.” And it’s true—I often could. So why don’t I?

Story games are beautiful little machines designed to create a certain type of story. Fiasco almost flawlessly creates a Coen-Brothers-style emotional noir. Apocalypse World creates tense moments of emotion in the face of oncoming adversity. Polaris carves out a chilling tale of aristocratic doom. Why not use these systems?

And let me say that I do play these games. I have tons of respect for them on a design level, on a play level—I’m so glad they exist, and I want more of them! Their powerful designs guarantee the sort of story they intend to make…

…and therein lies my problem with playing them a lot.

D&D A Picaresque Bildungsromantic Postmodern Neo-Cubist Fantasy Morality Play

When I say that most story games are made to create a certain kind of story, I mean that the rules in the game create strictures on a story level. Fiasco always has a certain number of acts. Apocalypse World has an intense and brilliant questioning structure that creates interdependence. And so on.

If players are unsure how to structure those acts and story beats—or even if they’re good and practiced at it but just don’t want to think about it—story games are the way to go.

But what if you don’t want a structure imposed from the outside? D&D and its imitators are, as far as I can tell, devoid of large-scale narrative rules. They have rules directed toward individual, small-scale beats—inspiration in 5E, daily powers in 4E, and so on—but that’s about as large as they go. What does this mean?

(Small interjection: I bet there’s a neat argument to be made that spells like geas and other curses could be used to drive large-scale stories in a mechanical fashion, but I’ve never actually seen a DM use stuff like that, so I can’t speak to it.)

Because of the lack of narrative rules, D&D can easily slip in and out of genres or eschew them entirely. And I’m speaking here of structural genres: picaresque romps like Don Quixote, postmodern ramblings like Ulysses, bloated serials like Lost, and more. Because of this lack of narrative impositions, D&D can feel much more like real life than a story game might; it can meander, it can quietly focus on relationships or internal striving, jump into intense action and leave back out, and meditate on unexpected change or death.

Which isn’t to say that a story game can’t do these things. In my experience, though, they haven’t really done all of them.

A procedurally generated image by John Pound, which is also somehow a metaphor for the discussion at hand.

Choice Paralysis on the Plains of Hell

It’s not that a lack of rules is always a good thing. I had planned for act two of my Wall campaign to see an increase in PC agency. They would no longer be newcomers, so they could enter the “domain” level of of D&D: making political alliances, choosing where to go, investing in a community, and so on.

And they hated it. It was the one time that they got together outside of the game to talk about the direction of the game. They made a clear and impassioned plea: we’re not sure what to do, and it makes the game feel like a difficult slog sometimes.

So I changed things around. I was happy to.

But maybe things would have been different if D&D had a special set of Act Two rules that helped players through the process. Or maybe I should have invented them. I bet I could adapt 5E’s carousing table so that every session started with a “what happened abroad” sort of thing.

The Purpose of Rules

I am in no way saying that any system or game is better than another. I always want more games—they all teach me to be a better gamer and help me create my own best game.

I do think it’s interesting, though, that I’ve never played a game of Fiasco without explicitly using the rules—handing out dice, passing the turn, rolling on the Tilt table—whereas I’ve seen a number of games of D&D where a rule is never considered—where people just talk and consider, even moving outside of the “rule” that players only play their characters.

So I wanted to say that the argument of “D&D only has rules for combat so it pushes people toward combat” is totally bogus.  D&D 4E let me internalize a few combat rules so that I could forget about  combat and instead focus on the best way to embody my paladin of the goddess of lies.

And the Arbiter of Rules

Of course, the DM has the power to act as a filter of how many rules get utilized in D&D, and typing that out, I fear I’m leaning toward a “benevolent dictator” theory of gaming. Story games naturally have to develop rules for narrative direction once they start decentralizing the power of narrative determination.

The Campaign podcast has players stepping in as one-off characters that often become recurring, and lately (as of episode 56 or so), has the player/GM dichotomy breaking down entirely, with a split party GMed by two people, each of which is a character in the other half of the party.

Blurring those distinctions is something I’d like to see more of.

Beyond the Fiasco

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 twothe 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.

The Rules

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:

Trapster
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.

Here’s a printer-friendly document with all the classes along with object, location, and needs tables. 

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

A month and a half passed in real life between the dungeon-making session and the arrival of the adventurers from Wall. A century had passed on the ship, though:

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.

How to Live Like a Dwarf, or, Dwarven Hold ‘Em

I’ve long been enamored with Patrick Stuart’s “a city without a name.” A few sessions into the Wall campaign, I realized that there were no dwarven PCs or NPCs in Wall, and I knew it was my chance to mix Stuart’s heavy metal, constantly fighting dwarf city into my own campaign.

It ended up being part that, part 30 Days of Night, with the dwarves building a circle of fortresses on the melting edges of the world’s Antarctic continent. During the 28-day darkness, sloth demons rise from the snow and ice, and only the dwarves keep them from corrupting the rest of the world.

As is maybe appropriate, the background stuff I developed for the dwarves resembled an iceberg: the players only discovered the tiniest bit, seeming generally uninterested in the snow and ice. I blame the Minnesota weather.

So I repurposed everything into a standalone story game, How to Live Like a Dwarf, or, Dwarven Hold ‘Em. It’s a game about keeping and discovering secrets while keeping demons at bay.

Here are the rules:

Dwarves live in a city in a mountain at the bottom of the world. This city is never named because no one is allowed to find it. Every day, they celebrate their skills and seek to discover the gifts the gods left them. These secret gifts give them great joy, so they like to keep and reveal their own secrets as well. Every night, they keep the demons of hell from escaping their prison at the center of the world.

A single game of The Secrets of Dwarves reflects one day-and-night cycle in their nameless city at the bottom of the world.

Goal: To end the game alive, with at least one of your secrets revealed and at least one secret still secret.

Art by Kevin Budnik.

Character Creation

Dwarves have built their society around seven Virtues:

GROOMING (beardcraft, accessorizing, bespoke, make-up, tattoos)
DRINKING (ale-guzzling, shots, keg stands, drinking games, leading rounds)
CRAFTING (stonecraft, jewelry, wood carving, sculpting)
STRENGTH (lifting, throwing, pulling, pushing, wrestling)
POETRY (family sagas, slam poetry, doggerel, song)
DIVINING (finding ore, finding water, casting runes, telling fortunes)
ROMANCE (mostly indescribable)


Assign your Virtues a number, 0-6. Each number can only be used once. A higher number indicates greater accomplishment and more likelihood of success.

The values assigned to Grooming, Drinking, and Crafting are public. The others can be hidden.

Create two secrets. One is potentially revealed by winning a contest related to a Virtue of your choosing. One is potentially revealed by losing a contest related to a Virtue of your choosing.

Lastly, choose a gender for your dwarf. This is kept secret; it is your most delightful secret and will be revealed only to the dwarves you marry. Possible genders are nearly limitless, but here are some options: agender, androgyne, bigender, boy, demiboy, demigirl, female, gem, genderfluid, gendersmash, girl, intergender, man, male, metal, nonbinary, pangender, polygender, woman, rock

Round One

Characters are celebrating the night’s victories and the day’s marriages. In round one, each player must challenge one other to a contest in a Virtue of their choice. The oldest player goes first. Play continues to their left.

Both players roll a die and add their skill number to the roll. The higher result wins. The characters receive appropriate tick marks in the “wins” and “losses” columns of their sheets. Any applicable secrets are revealed.

Example: Hrothgar High-Rock has the secret, “Pinkie finger of left hand is an immaculately constructed prosthetic,” and that secret is only revealed on a loss of a Crafting contest. Jillian the Hammer-Headed has the secret “Can sculpt lead like water” that is only revealed on a win in a Crafting contest.

Jillian challenges Hrothgar to a Crafting contest. They plan to make busts of each other. Jillian rolls a 5 and adds their 3 Crafting for a total of 8. Hrothgar rolls a 4 and adds their Crafting of 1 for a total of 5. Hrothgar loses, and both dwarves reveal a secret.

Round Two

Night falls. The demons are here. Each player, in turn, adopts the identity of one of the manifold beasts of hell, starting with the player who went last in round one. Demons need a realm of origin, terrifying features, and at least one name.

Each demon chooses one dwarf to challenge. The demon chooses which Virtue will decide the challenge, and it has a 6 in that Virtue. The dwarf may recite the tales of as many of their wins as they’d like, regaling the demon with how they were achieved. This wins are “bid” on the battle.
On a win, the dwarf gains a number of wins equal to the number they recited plus one as their listed deeds are amplified by besting a demon. Also, secrets may be revealed depending on their conditions.
If the dwarf loses, there are a number of potential consequences:

  • The wins they recited are converted to losses. They gain an additional loss as well.
  • If the dwarf has any unrevealed secrets, the demon may demand it reveal one if it so desires.
  • If the dwarf recited wins and they’ve already revealed both of their secrets, that dwarf is killed. However, it destroys the demon as well, overcoming it with the power of their deeds.
  • If the dwarf did not recite any wins and has already revealed both secrets, the dwarf is killed, and their body is tainted by their cowardice and inhabited by the demon. It will rise in 24 hours as an unholy thing.
  • A secret may be revealed if it matches the condition of the loss. This happens after the fight is concluded but before the dwarf dies, if applicable.

After all demon challenges are completed, the night is over.

Round Three

Living dwarves return home. They must bring any corrupted and possessed compatriots with. These dwarves are ritualistically slain, and the player of the slain dwarf must distribute their losses to the other dwarves, using each loss to cancel out one win.

Once this grisly duty is completed, dwarves with wins may propose marriage to any other dwarf. The two must discuss the terms of their contract, including property ownership, sexual allowances, and so on. If they come an agreement, they are bound forever. They reveal their genders to each other, each gaining an unrevealed secret (their spouse’s gender).

Once the marriages are finalized, the players may drink. Those characters with at least one of their secrets revealed and unrevealed are seen as successful within dwarven society.

Wall: Pepper’s Sword, Pepper’s Baby

This is a very long post about motivating players, interparty arguments, and faked pregnancies.

First of All, Pepper the Elf

Pepper was a wood elf ranger played by someone who’d never done a tabletop game before. His main touchpoint for gaming came from rogue-likes such as Pixel Dungeon. (If you’ve read past posts, Pepper is the one who killed the singing, peace-loving bear in the Church of St James.)

In an effort to engage Pepper’s player and to expand the world beyond Wall’s…walls, I gave Pepper a quest: get some ancient artifacts and return them to the elflands. In return, he’d be welcomed back (he was an Outlander, and his player decided it was because Pepper was a boozer) and even given a small grant of land.

Pepper engaged with the hook, and he assured the other PCs that they’d be rewarded, so they were happy to help. It looked like everyone was working together, so I was happy too.

Indentured Gnomitude & Feathered Elves

On the way to the site, a random encounter came up “gnomes.” They wanted to know why the characters were on their land, and in traditional Pepper style, the encounter escalated to combat, with one gnome captured. The new prisoner was “encouraged” to lead them to the ruins they were seeking.

The ruins were found, and the secret door to the underground area was discovered.

Bas reliefs cover the walls. Viewed from entrance to throne, they show elves arriving in a thick woodland with strange creatures wrapped in the roots of the trees. The elves raise the creatures up from the roots and put their arms in chains. The creatures mine stones and build towers for the elves to sit in. Then the elves and the creatures wrap each other in their arms—are they fighting? mating? merging in some other way? The last carving shows a crowned figure combining the features of the elves and the creatures, looking out over the woods. Also, lots of big birds are killed and eaten throughout.

Crown of Morgoth: The crown on the mummy (the same as the one on the final figure in the reliefs) is an electrum circlet set with a single large opal surrounded by a fan of feathers. The opal is the home of Morgoth, an ancient demon of the earth who was bound into the crown. It’s not sure it can be released from its prison, but it still seeks freedom from the tomb. It’ll happily ride an adventurer into the outside world and freely use its minor powers for their benefit, telling them that he’s the spirit of an ancient elf king, imprisoned after trying to rebel against a conservative and fascistic government. If it learns of the gate to Hell at the bottom of the dungeon in Wall, it would like to go there and see if those demons are in any way its kin.

Minor powers: Once a day, the crown can reveal nearby treasure or people. The wearer can set parameters—magical items, coinage worth over 500 gold, gems, any elf, Governor Blanchett, etc.—and Morgoth will give the direction and distance to the closest corresponding person or thing. Depending on the wearer’s relation to Morgoth, he may reveal other relevant information (traps, hidden doors). If relations are sour, he might obfuscate key facts. His “vision” extends up to one mile away.

The crown can also project a minor illusion similar to disguise self at any time. However, it only perfects the wearer’s extant face: blemishes, scars, and wrinkles are hidden, and perfect symmetry is arranged. The wearer is in no way disguised. Reaction rolls gain advantage if they’re being made purely on appearance, but Charisma is not affected. (This glamour is in place on the mummy when he is discovered.)

Major powers: Morgoth can cast spells as a mid-level wizard. Favorites include hold person (which manifests as an ethereal, electric claw), chain lightning, cloudkill, animate objects, and entangle each once a day. Morgoth saves these spells for when it believes the crown is in danger of being taken by someone Morgoth would not want to be in the possession of.

[“feathered elves,” as a term, stolen from the Elder Scrolls series]

Despite much discouragement, Pepper took the crown from the dead elf king’s head, but the elf-mummy was killed. Pepper almost died too, saved only by his compatriots’ healing potions. The crown revealed a personality as Pepper donned it, directing him to a stash of gold and a magic sword hidden beneath the throne.

This led to the first learning moment of the saga: when Pepper’s player said the other PCs would be rewarded, he meant that they would probably have their own personalized side quests, and they’d get to keep the rewards from their quests. After some mediated argument, Pepper agreed to let the rest of the party split the gold, but Pepper was keeping the crown and the sword. He wouldn’t be sending them back to the elflands.

All That’s Grubby is Not Greed

The sword wasn’t especially magic, and I treated the crown as an NPC that only helped Pepper when it wanted to, so Pepper’s insistence on keeping them around wasn’t about the mechanical benefits. It was definitely a status thing, and it became a very fun thing for me push at. I didn’t want to screw him over—I just wanted to know how deep his attachment went.

For instance, Pepper was leading a group of new players on a tour of the dungeon when a heinous random encounter came up: a mole avatar of the gnomish god of greed. The mole demanded a toll to pass through “his” tunnels, and the players were hesitant to pay, and a gnomish paladin attacked the mole, believing it was his holy duty. It wasn’t until a couple of the new characters went down that Pepper gave up his sword, which the greed god seemingly ate.

But the sword would return.

One of the many forms of Urdlen, gnomish god of greed. Image by Kevin Budnik.

Nunchuck the Pregnant

One day, upon returning to the surface after a long day of adventuring, Pepper has a note: an elf is waiting for him in Wall’s boarding house. Curious, Pepper walks over, and amidst the crowd of widows and spinsters, he spies a pregnant elf woman. Pepper walks out without saying a thing, which leads to all future acts of refusal and retreat being called “pulling a Pepper” or “Pepper nopes out.”

Eventually, the elf woman introduces herself to Pepper and the other adventurers. Her name is Nenya, and she claims to be carrying Pepper’s child, conceived on his last night in the elflands, and she asks him to return with her, hand over the dangerous crown, and help raise his child. Pepper asks for time to think about it, and his fellow adventurers try to sway him one way or another. From the adventure log: “[Pepper’s] fellow adventurers wonder whether Nenya is telling the truth or not. Pepper admits that his memory on the matter is hazy, so they convince him to get drunk, assuming that ‘drunk Pepper’ will remember what ‘drunk Pepper’ has done in the past. Pepper complies, drinking the last of his moonshine.” What follows is a drunken escapade wherein ghosts are freed from purgatory, a fancy saddle is stolen from a wandering horse, and the crew smokes pipes on the beach while the sun rises.

No decision is reached in the matter of Nenya, though, except that Pepper begins calling her Nunchuck.

The Crown Reveals its Power

Another excerpt from an adventure log: “The entire guild is awakened by the screaming Nenya. She’s caught in a magical claw emanating from Pepper’s circlet. Pepper hears the voice of the crown, accusing Nenya of trying to sneak in and take it, saying that it (the voice) is a banished elven king who was deposed for trying to lead elven society toward a less conservative way of life.

“Klef and Sylvester free Nenya from the claw, and Sylvester, in an amazing combination of skill and luck, manages to kick the crown from Pepper’s head. They ask Nenya why she was sneaking in so late, and she claims that it was because she’d been rebuffed at all other times. She needs to talk to Pepper about the baby. Pepper agrees to talk later. He places the crown under his pillow and plans to take it to Marta during the day.”

Eventually, the crown is moved to Sunniva (one of the other PC)’s house in order to keep it safe. It happens to be the same house that Nenya is staying in, but it’s also permanently staffed by a live-in servant/friend, so everything is seemingly safe. As a DM, though, I am constantly looking for a way to move these pieces around.

The Romance is Gone

The moment arose in a beautiful player-driven moment that I couldn’t have planned. Adventuring in the woods west of Wall, the group came upon a group of nature worshipers having a bit of a love-in. As they approached, I asked the players if they recognized any of their acquaintances in the group. Without a moment’s hesitation, Sunniva’s player said that her servant, Mallory, was there.

We all recognized the implication at the same time: Nenya was alone in Sunniva’s house with the crown.

So when they got back home, of course Nenya was gone, and the crown was nowhere to be found. She left a note explaining that she was working for the rulers of the elflands, tasked with finding and returning the crown. She apologized to everyone but Pepper, thanking them for their hospitality. Also left behind was a belly-shaped waterskin and the clothing necessary for making the filled waterskin look like a pregnant stomach.

Wrap-Up

The sword eventually returned, wielded by a gnomish terrorist empowered by Urdlen. Pepper’s quest to recover it drove many adventures and interactions, including a sting with Pepper disguised as Salty Cayenne, the Shitty Wizard. It was also part of the biggest inter-party argument in the entire campaign, the one that led to a player quitting, which demands to be the subject of a future post. Here’s one of that player’s final requests, sent to Stickly Figgins, fellow adventurer and portrait magnate:

“I would like to commission a portrait of Pepper holding his sword for when he has to give it up. Maybe he will enjoy the portrait as much as his sword.”

Stickly was kind enough to make the portrait himself:

“What kind of hair does Pepper have?”
“Sort of a Dracula’s widow’s peak.”

The gnomes became an active faction in the world, establishing an independent hold, and it all stemmed from the random encounter rolled when the PCs first went in search of the elf artifacts.

Nenya also returned after the gate to Hell at the bottom of the dungeon was opened, becoming an ally to all the adventurers except for Pepper. I constantly pushed for a Leia/Han style romance between them, but it never came about. In Pepper’s words, “Rangers gotta range.”

Wall: The Bone People

They fought for you in the Demon Wars. They died for you. The thanks they get is an eternity in demon-corrupted caves. They live on, of course, in a cursed way. Colonel Martin Severus, bone king, has taken charge of them. He was always something of an evangelical in life, and he’s convinced the restless dead that they are striving through a limbo between heaven and hell. The fact that they’ve been granted a physical body makes them blessed. The bodiless undead are the true failures, and their weak souls are to be harnessed and used. In this philosophy, he with the most bones wins; you’ll never get to heaven with just the skeleton you have, so the bone people are always adding on, trading and fighting for more bones. Imagine a skeletal behemoth who’s been adding to himself for 60 years of ritual combat.

Without a tongue, the bone people can’t speak, so they keep copious records of bones bought and sold and battles won and lost. Discarded notes abound in their territory. Blank paper is a rare and costly thing, and it’s to be used until there is absolutely no room left.

Travelers may be challenged for their bones, or they might be offered contracts with immediate payment for receipt of their bones upon death. Anyone dressing in extra bones may be given extra respect.

art by Kevin Budnik

 

Bone Peasants

Skulls skittering on hands or wheeling about on a circle of four legs. Human-like skeletons missing a leg or rows of ribs. They trade or fight amongst themselves for their favorite kinds of bones. They silently wave their banners that signal their intentions to buy bones, giving out large electrum coins that originated in a northeastern duchy 60 years ago.

Use stats for skeletons, crawling claws, and various animals. All are resistant to slashing and piercing damage. At any time, there are between 10 and 40 bone people in the main thoroughfare that is the entrance to their lands. They range from small and weak (minion or ½ HD) to monolithic giants made of numerous bodies’ worth of bones (8 HD or more). Through careful construction, they can replicate almost any physical attacks that other creatures possess.

 

Colonel Martin Severus

Through the years, the reigning skeleton king has become something of a bony serpent or centipede. He’s almost 20 feet long, all ribs and hands and feet along his “stomach.” His head is a hodgepodge of skulls and hip bones in the shape of a crocodile skull. Two long claws rise up from just behind his head, swinging the misty axe he’s made with the spirit of Jillian the Unfleshed (see below). Use stats for a giant alligator or small dinosaur.

Selling Your Bones

Most skeletons have pouches of large silver-looking coins that they use to barter for bones. Once adventurers begin trafficking the tunnels, the skeletons draw up contracts for them—if the living will their bones to the skeletons, collectible immediately on death, the skeletons will give them 50 to 150 silver coins (depending on perceived bone quality) with another 50 going to a beneficiary upon the signatory’s death.

What the bones don’t say is that they’ll also mold and shape the signatory’s spirit into a weapon, which is a very painful process for the newly minted ghost. Additionally, if the bone people find out their agreement wasn’t honored (perhaps circumvented by a raise deadspell), they’ll set out to get what is rightfully theirs.

Alternately, the bone creatures may be challenged in one-on-one combat, winner take all (of the loser’s bones). Most of the creatures are very weary about accepting, since a loss reduces them to a bodiless spirit that will undoubtedly be turned into a weapon.

No idea where I got this from or who drew it.

 

The Spirit Underground

Those who oppose the bones can find allies in the Spirit Underground that seeks to free their spectral kind from enslavement as weapons. These weapons are normal hilts, but the blades are like indigo fog, shaped by runes discovered by Colonel Severus. When they taste flesh, they scream in sympathy.

When a bone creatures is killed, the ghosts enslaved in their weapons might escape. The ghosts search out the best hiding spot they can find: the bottom of the ocean off the coast of Wall. At night, they rise to the surface to bemoan their fates to the heavens, and they dance. Naturally, this might spook some ship captains. Sailors might refuse to leave or enter port, which screws up just about everything.

The ghosts are more than happy to move elsewhere, but only if all their number are freed from the skeletons. If freed, they offer a final boon: using a method similar to how the skeletons enslaved them, the ghosts can imbue a weapon with a bit of ectoplasm, effectively turning them into magic weapons +1 that also have the ability to hit intangible creatures (even if a more powerful weapon is normally required). Each ghost can only do this once.

In a combat situation with the ghosts, use stats for ghosts. Duh. Only they’re sort of purple.

Jillian the Unfleshed

The leader of the Spirit Underground has been enslaved in Colonel Severus’s axe. She’s an ex-priestess of the sun, burned at the stake for a supposed heresy. If the weapon she’s bound to hits a PC, they’ll receive vague clues to the true state of the ghosts along with calls for help.

Invasive Species

The day may come when the bones of a giant or a dragon or something weirder get introduced into the skeletal ecosystem. Like a savage predator introduced onto an island of quiescent herbivores, whichever skeleton creature buys these huge and dangerous bones becomes an unstoppable beast who defeats all challengers.

An example: over ten feet tall, its shins and forearms reinforced by a wrapping of smaller bones, its joints protected by pelvises, it is hung with ragged scraps of paper. Its rib cage is full of fingers, toes, and oversized silver coins that thunk lightly together like a macabre windchime. Atop its shoulders, around a great, sloping skull, sits a conical mound of smaller skulls facing all directions, the eyes glowing purple-gray.

In addition to swinging its two ghostly swords, the giant skeleton has a number of special attacks:

animate minions: it throws one of its many skulls at nearby pile of bones to animate 2 skull-less wheeling things with 1 hp, +5 to attack, and 2d4 damage

ribs uncaged: at half health, it shoves a skull up its rib cage, causing finger and toe bones to explode 20 feet outward like bony buckshot, dealing 3d6 damage (½ damage on successful Dexterity save)

grasping hands: once per encounter, skeletal hands form and hold the players immobile until the end of their next turn; other skeletal hands claw and grope at them for minimal damage)

 

Mine: Weird Fantasy at the Edge of the Empire v0.1

I’m a huge fan of the Campaign podcast, and it’s turned me on to Fantasy Flight Games’s Star Wars rules. I thought it would be fun to try to reskin/hack it into a weird fantasy game along the lines of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth. Here’s the document as it stands at the moment.

The whole thing is an exercise in rules-as-worldbuilding. I didn’t want to write any extended exposition; I wanted the rules to indicate the world, and I wanted the prose of the rules to hint at tone. Here’s the introduction, which is the only bit of extended fluff in the book:

4000 years ago, the Eld covered the red moon like ants on a nest. They watched as the planet they orbited suddenly burst with mountains and became swamped with sickly mist. They had thought it was a dead world.

3000 years ago, the Eld houses saw the first omens that presaged the dissolution of their moon. They dropped magically engineered vassals down to the misty planet below, directing them to scour the world for resources to reinforce their frail moon. They called the planet Mine.

2000 years ago, half of the Eld moon crumbled and trailed off across the sky. Tides spasmodically drenched the planet. Many of the Elds’ servants became masterless, their taskmasters flung dead into space. Others rebelled. The Eld fought violently against the revolts and redoubled the mining efforts.

1000 years ago, the last of the Eld descended onto Mine, calling their faithful servants into Three Cities that they built. The moon burst open, dropping steaming chunks of lunar flesh onto the land below.

Today, the world is as dangerous as ever. Inside the Three Cities, Eld interbreed and dream of their lost kingdoms. In the wilderness that covers the rest of the world, poisonous mist blows in migratory storms, mutated beasts stalk petrified forests, and bands of bloodthirsty rebels stalk the timid roads.

[Moon Eld as genetic engineers swiped from Hill Cantons.]

Here’s an excerpt from the races.

CORPSE
Physiology: Your body has no rhythm of blood or breath. Your veins are filled with sludge. You are paler than you should be. You probably smell bad.
Society: Some corpses strive to resemble life. Others take pride in their deathiness.
Home: The dark places are kind. Cemeteries remind you that things could be worse. But all corpses need something from the living—blood, brains, warmth, air—so they can’t stray too far.
Language: In addition to the language you spoke in life, all corpses speak the groaning, cold tongue of the dead.
Adventuring: Maybe you want to be restored to life. Or maybe you want to preserve your rot with blessed bandages, cursed phylacteries, or womb-coffins. Or perhaps you desire to sup essence only from the cruelest of the living.

DETRITAN
Physiology: You are leftover rubbish, goop, and alchemical mistakes. Your oozing body digests the garbage it encounters, rendering it into the monochromatic slime your body is made up of.
Society: Originally engineered as cleaning devices by the Eld, Detritans rarely create societies of their own. Instead, you are a cleaner or sin-eater in the cities of others.
Home: Garbage cans, refuse heaps, and the gutters where slop buckets get dumped.
Language: You speak the language of the city you work in. Additionally, Detritan body language is unnatural and learned. They are limited to 8 facial expressions and 8 postures.
Adventuring: The garbage is always goopier on the other side of the wall. Also, there are places in the wilds where scavenging is natural and valued. Maybe you can find a place in a nicer ecosystem.

MANDRAKE
Physiology: You are descended from a race of chthonic root people engineered by the Eld to find treasures in the earth. You’re short, probably not over 5 feet, but you’re quick. Your arms hang down to the ground, and you smell of spices.
Society: Mandrakes respect their elders. Young mandrakes fulfill the wishes of the old, running errands for the geriatric roots who are swollen huge and grown into the dirt.
Home: Dank tunnels run throughout the world. These are the homes of the mandrakes. Some tunnels are closer to the surface, and the mandrakes that live there sprout green in the spring. Other tunnels are deep and wet, and the root people there are closed-eyed and white.
Language: You speak a thickly accented Eldish.
Adventuring: Elder mandrakes may send you on a great quest to the other side of the world. Or perhaps you are tired of regimented life underground and seek to escape the hegemony of the great roots.

ELD
Physiology: You are pale and weak. Your species lacks genetic diversity, and you are sustained by eldritch mixtures.
Society: Once, your kind ruled the world from their immaculate moon. Now you are down amidst the rejected life forms. They hate you, and so you must fight to survive. Power is all that matters.
Home: If you can find a secure place, do so. Make it safe. Keep out the mutants.
Language: You speak flawless Eld.
Adventuring: Perhaps your family was stained by imperfection and you were driven to leave. Or maybe you can find a way to the hidden moon.

HUMAN
Physiology: Originally blank templates created by the Eld to be modified for a variety of purposes, humans come in a range of colors and body shapes. You may choose.
Society: Perhaps you escaped from an alchemical vat, were released by a fleeing Eld, or were lost in transit. You travel the world seeking a purpose.
Home: Wherever you lay your head.
Language: You slowly learn the language of your creators, the Eld.
Adventuring: Who are you? Why are you here? What is the point of life?

MISFIT TOY
Physiology: You are an unliving being created by another and magically animated. They come in an infinite range, but there are some common blueprints.
Clockwork: Made of metal, driven by coiled springs and burning steam. They may be guards or entertainment.
Scarecrow: Wood and cloth and a terrifying visage. Keeping the crops safe may involve standing watch, helping with the planting, and occasional combat.
Golem: Stone soldiers of truth created in times of distress.

Society: Are you in proud service to your master? Or are you on the run? Can Toys make a place of their own?
Language: Whatever they were taught by their masters.
Adventuring: You may be working for a master or running away from one. Beware, though, of hunters who seek to claim independent Toys.

OGRE
Physiology: You’re big in all dimensions. Tall, thick, exaggerated. The skin of ogres comes in all the colors of the swamp: bone white, bark brown, muck black, leaf green. You have a symbiotic relationship with an algae that lives on your skin. You only eat meat. Your nostrils are between your eyes.
Society: Ogres live in small covens. They claim to be native to the world, but the Eld dispute this claim, saying that ogres are an early attempt at the process that eventually resulted in Detritans.
Home: Your people live in swamps, resting up to 80% of the day with only their eyes and nostrils above the water. Some build longhouses out of sod and petrified wood.
Language: You know the Ogre language, and you probably speak Eld.
Adventuring: You might be on your walkabout that Ogres go on every ten years. Perhaps your swamp is endangered—drying up—and you’re looking for the reason why.

REPTILIAN
Physiology: You’re covered in scales. You might have legs—or a tail instead. Or you might have both. You’re cold-blooded since your people were engineered for warm climates.
Society: Reptilians usually live alone, meeting only to mate.
Home: You have a territory that is yours. Other Reptilians are threats to that territory unless they introduce themselves to you and swear not to challenge your authority.
Language: You speak the Eld tongue, but the language area of your brain is underdeveloped, so you speak slowly.
Adventuring: You may be seeking a mate. You might be trying to expand your territory or establish new territory.

SPIRIT
Physiology: You are only partly corporeal. When you manifest, materials are drawn around, forming a shell that allows you to interact with the physical world.
Society: Spirits come from many backgrounds: ghosts of the deceased, nature spirits from trees or rivers, or essences of good or evil. Some spirits recognize others and form hierarchies. Others are loners.
Home: Some spirits are bound to certain objects or places and always return there. Others live in imitation of corporeal beings.
Language: Spirits know the tongue of the Eld from long discourse with them. They also speak languages that only their kin know.
Adventuring: Some spirits are summoned and sent on tasks. Others work to further the philosophy of their kind. Some seek to run from those philosophies. Some are merely lustful for bodily experiences.

Wall: St James of the Mold and His Singing Animals

St James of the Mold is a familiar presence in the caves under Wall. There are animals that sing his praises in the Harmony House, the under-church of the dungeon. He has a lab nearby guarded by vegepygmies. He stalks the deeper levels, checking on the fungus people and the vegetable deity who guards the gate to Hell.

James is a thin man of average height who looks like he’s been living in a series of tunnels for 60 years. His left half sprouts fungi of every color and shape. His right side remains human and looks younger than it should.

 WALLillo_02
St James of the Mold by Kevin Budnik

Originally, St James of the Mold was known as Spry James. He was a member of the King’s Men, the group of adventurers that sealed the gate to Hell. He was an apprentice to Lady Hawthorne, the elvish wizard who served as liaison of the elflands in the Demon Wars.

James was thought killed by raging myconids, but his body was never found. In truth, he managed to use his magic to keep the creeping fungus from taking over his body. By the time he was able to move again, the war was over, and the caves were sealed. All James had was his familiar, an albino rat named August.

The Church of St James

While exploring the dungeon, James often used the awaken spell to turn the natural animals of the caves into a spy network. Educated by August, the animals began to meet to discuss James’s plans and their future. They used colored stones, mats of moss, and colored stones to turn the floor of the Harmony House into a mosaic of James and August. They sing his praises, thanking him for their enlightenment, or they sing of his journeys, such as in “St James’s Delight”:
When I can walk in shadow and not look upon the skies,
I’ll bid farewell to demons’ war and clear my moldy eyes.

CHORUS: I feel like, I feel like I’m in my kindly cave.
I feel like, I feel like I’m in my kindly cave.

Should devils seek my fungus soul and fiery darts be hurled,
Then I can smile at Geryon’s rage and face th’ underground world.

CHORUS

Let moldy spores like cave-ins come, let rocks of sorrow fall,
So I can safely reach my home, My lab, my cave, my all.

CHORUS

There I shall bathe my weary soul in sightless rivulets,
And not a wave of trouble roll across my mushroomed breast.

CHORUS[DMs, sing this as though it’s a Sacred Harp song; let it echo through the cave.]

[Edit: one of my players actually got his singing group to record this! It made my day, so please check it out.]

James’s Lab

 img166.jpg
Click to enlarge.

 

The Books of St James

James has recorded his studies into a series of five large, hardcover books. These are usually kept in his lab, although they may be spread throughout the dungeon. These books are lushly illustrated and masterfully bound, and they could be worth up to 75 gold each to a wizard, naturalist, scholar, or collector (or to someone who seeks to control the myconids and molds). Reading these books can give characters a number of advantages.

First of all, James learned to treat mold as people. One of the books counts as a spellbook that includes the spells charm person, hold person, and speak with plants. A wizard who reads this book is able to affect mold and fungi (including myconids and vegepygmies) with these spells (as opposed to having to wait for the charm monster/hold monster variations).

Secondly, these books contain treatises on the helpful qualities of cave mold. On discovering this knowledge, wizards can use this cave mold in lieu any material components that cost 10 gold or less. This mold is easily gathered throughout the dungeon and elsewhere.

Third, James discovered the secrets to delaying mold and fungal infections. After reading the book, a character with knowledge of medicine, nature, or survival can create tinctures that double the amount of time before any mold or fungus spores take effect, and if the infected person gets a saving throw to resist the effects, that saving throw has advantage. It takes about an hour to find and refine the materials required into this tincture.

Lastly, if one reads between the lines of the books (perhaps requiring an Intelligence check), a smart character can discovery how James learned many of these secrets: via the alien mold god at the bottom of the dungeon.

The God of Mold

As the Demon Wars raged, things looked bleak. The forces of Hell had convinced a small god, a culture of holy mold spores from the infinite plane of decay, to take their side. It created an army of myconids and sent itself creeping forward.

The reasons for the mold gold’s betrayal of the demons are undocumented, but its defection turned the tide of the war. After the King’s Men sealed the gates, the mold god settled into a sedentary mass, a pond of spores, in front of the gate, waiting for any who might try to open it.

Be the Mold

With all these spores around, a character is bound to encounter them, and it’s possible that they’ll be turned into a vegepygmy. Most versions of D&D dictate that characters turned into moldmen would pass to DM control. However, between James, his books, and the mold god, there are forces beneath Wall that would allow such a character to continue working with their party. To do so, though, one must go through a number of changes.

First, if the character’s Intelligence is 6 or higher, it’s reduced to 5. They lose all racial abilities (although racial ability adjustments remain) and gain an advantage on resisting poison and spores.

Moldmen can only be fighters, rogues, or multiclass fighter/rogues. Characters of those classes who become moldmen retain their levels. Characters of other classes may choose either fighter or rogue and have levels in that class equal to one less than their level in the class they pursued in meat-life. No vegepygmy can choose a class path, prestige class, or kit that grants them the ability to use magic. Moldman rogues can’t pick locks or disarm traps (though they can still detect them). Moldman fighters can’t use the warlord-style maneuvers in 5th Edition, and they don’t attract followers.

They can’t speak, although they have a 50% chance of retaining the ability to write. However, a speak with plants spell allows a caster to communicate with a moldman. Moldmen can speak with others of their kind, along with molds and fungi, via spores. Spores are speech, but they’re also chemicals. Thus, the way moldmen talk is affected by how they feel, what they eat, how they move, and everything else that changes a body’s make-up.

As moldmen level up, they gain spore powers in the order they’re listed below. They are gained in lieu of martial/roguish archetypes.

 moldman
art by Tony DiTerlizzi from AD&D’s Monstrous Manual

In 5th Edition, the saving throw to resist spores is Constitution with a DC equal to 8 + proficiency modifier + Constitution modifer. Each spore power can be activated as an action, and the character must take a short rest before using it again. On activation, the spores explode in a 5′ radius around the character, affecting all creatures who breathe.

just choking or blinding: Characters who fail their saves have disadvantage on their attack and ability rolls for the next 1d6 rounds. Can be circumvented by holding breath and covering eyes.

open-minded love: Those who fail their saves are considered charmed by everyone they can see. Lasts 1d10 minutes or until they are attacked.

savage berserking: For 1d10 turns, an affected character moves toward the nearest character and, if possible, attacks them with a melee weapon (or, lacking one, with their fists). If there are multiple equidistant characters, decide randomly which will be attacked.

hallucination: On a failed save, all Dexterity, Wisdom, and Intelligence are at a disadvantage for 1d4 hours as the character suffers hallucinations from the table below. Roll 1d6 to get the sense affected by the hallucinations and 1d8 for the “flavor.”

Sense Flavor
1 sounds 1 dead or dying
2 hands and feet 2 delight
3 smells 3 enlargment
4 sight 4 shrinking
5 premonition 5 childhood
6 roll twice, ignoring further 6s 6 holy
7 demonic/terrifying
8 roll twice, ignoring further 8s

slow death: On failing a save, the character loses 1d4 Constitution points and has a disadvantage on all Constitution-related rolls. The character continues to lose 1d4 Constitution daily as mushrooms sprout from their skin. This effect can be cured by a cure disease or restoration spell or by a concoction made from the ground-up horns of a hoofed fae beast (such as a satyr, minotaur, etc.). Alternately, they can use horns from a hoofed demon. This will cure the spores, but instead of the mushrooms wilting and falling, they burst into flames, causing 2d8 points of damage and forever marking the person as the killer of that demon. On reaching 0 Constitution from the spores, the character dies, leading to…

zombies: Characters killed by spores come back as mindless vegepygmies. These spores can also be used on the recently dead (less than 12 hours) to animate them. Any creatures reanimated by a PC’s spores remain under their control.