Category Archives: Dungeon Moon

Flux Space in Dungeons

Nonspecific Dungeon SpaceBefore there was On a Red World Alone, there was Dungeon Moon. I spent hundreds of hours working on on that game, and to this day I love it as much as anything I’ve ever done. For years, friends have been gently pestering me to get it written up and published, which I would like to do someday. The only problem is that Dungeon Moon was an unplayable mess.

My whole approach was based around striving towards this false ideal of a fully realized megadungeon. Even the least important bits of space beneath the flagstone surface of the moon had multi-paragraphs long descriptions. “It’s a kitchen” was never good enough for me. I had to figure out if there was something special about the pots and pans, or if maybe there was a secret passage that led to a trapped treasure vault.

Likewise, the map was as much a labyrinth for the referee as it was for the players. I spread it across a stack of graph paper a quarter in thick, with alphanumeric codes written on the corner of each page to identify which “column” and “level” it depicted. More than once, a single room had to be spread across two pages just to maintain the geometry of the thing.

All for what? Despite my extensive prep work, a group of adventurers could walk off the edge of the map within an hour if they made the right choices. And as bad as that sounds, it would probably make the game better. If the players are off the map, the referee would have to improvise, and whatever they come up with in the moment has gotta be better than pausing for 5 minutes at every door to cross-reference maps and read room descriptions.

I certainly seem to have made it work back in the day. (People don’t show up every week to play in a game that they hate). But it could have been better, and if nothing else, the excessive notes killed my own enjoyment. It was murder, trying to keep up with the pace I had set for myself. If I’m ever going to run it again, Dungeon Moon needs to go easier on the referee.

Dungeon Moon Mk1 MapIt’s not just a matter of drawing simpler maps and writing shorter room descriptions, though. The problem of scale is inherent to the setting: its a dungeon which literally fills the entire internal structure of a moon. Constantly branching pathways and infinite expandability are built into the premise. A more manageable size would ruin the setting just as surely as my bad notes did.

Yes, dungeon moon needs shorter, table-ready notes, and a map that doesn’t have to be laid out across the kitchen floor to be viewed properly. But it also needs to feel huge and interconnected.

Recently, I was puzzling over this problem, and recalled a conversation from years ago. I must have been complaining about the issue, because  Gus L. told me I should try running Dungeon Moon as a point crawl. At the time, I kinda blew the idea off, because I didn’t want to waste all the work I’d already done on my maps, but with a few years of distance, the idea is way more appealing. Sorry for blowing you off, Gus. You were right.

In a point crawl, the referee maps a wilderness environment as a series of locations, and paths between them. The players don’t just wander straight towards their objectives, instead following roads, or deer paths, or whatever else they can find. At intersections, (the titular “points,”) they come upon something interesting. They can choose to engage with what they found, or continue on past it to the next path.

Flux Space is a way of doing the same thing for dungeons. Megadungeon feel without megadungeon effort. The big difference, though, is that the paths aren’t just direct connections between points. They’re a series of corridors and rooms just like everywhere else, but they’ve been abstracted to keep the game moving and to make the referee’s job easier.

Like a point crawl, there are two basic building blocks here: Locations, and Flux Space. The locations work the same as any dungeon: there’s a map, and there are notes which describe the map’s locations.

To keep things manageable, a single location should be able to fit on a single sheet of graph paper. Locations also should not directly connect to other locations. Some exceptions can be made for areas that play with vertical space, or for secret shortcuts to other locations. But, for the most part, players should need to go through some Flux to reach a new location.

So what is Flux Space? It’s an abstracted section of the dungeon that exists to connect locations together. It’s mostly hallways and empty rooms, without any specific layout. Each section of Flux has three elements: a description, a size, and an encounter table.

The description is a vague idea of appearance, which remains consistent throughout. Something like “Worked stone,” “Oozing walls,” or “filled with garbage.” This gives each section of Flux a distinct personality, which the referee can use anytime they need to improvise some specifics for it.

The size of a section of Flux Space is just a number. In order to pass through to the next location, players will need to roll that number of encounter checks. Once they have, the referee randomly determines which of the connected locations the players emerge out into. Usually, there shouldn’t be any chance for players to wind up back at the location they started from. Optionally, though, that could happen if the players roll a “lost” result on their encounter die.

The encounter table for a Flux is like any encounter table. It has some locations on it, some wandering monsters, and probably some creatures from its connected locations. (If the Hall of the Gnomes is connected to a Flux, that flux will have some gnomes wandering around in it).

Once a group has encountered everything on the encounter table, that space is considered “mapped.” Players can move through mapped fluxes with only a single encounter roll, and may choose which of the attached locations they emerge into.

The overall dungeon is depicted as a sort of spiderwebbing flowchart, showing how all the locations and fluxes connect with each other. Hopefully you can do a better job of coming up with reference codes than I did in the example above.

As a final note, I want to make clear that when I say Flux Space is ‘mostly empty,’ I do not mean that literally. What I mean is that it’s mostly devoid of tricks, traps, monsters, or treasure. There may be bedrooms, or gymnasiums, or warehouses, but none of it is valuable, or interesting, or trying to kill the players. (Unless it’s on the encounter table, of course).

So if your players ask about where they are and what they see, don’t tell them it’s empty. It’s not empty. It’s just boring compared to moving on to other locations.

The Depths of the Dungeon Moon: 20+ Questions

Halfling in a Hallway

THIS DOCUMENT IS OUT OF DATE. PLEASE CONSULT DUNGEON MOON Q & A INSTEAD.

Jeff’s 20 questions are an exercise to help a GM add functional details to their campaign world. The type of details which will actually come up in play, and which the players will probably be curious about anyway. Since I will (eventually, hopefully) be running open sessions of The Depths of the Dungeon Moon, this may be of interest. (I’ve taken the liberty of adding a few questions I thought were relevant. I may add more over time as people ask me questions which seem to deserve answers).

Does the Dungeon Moon have weather?

Yes, and this is one of the few aspects of the sphere which has remained functioning relatively as it was intended to. Clouds, rain, and wind are common. Rain is the primary source of water for most villages. The natural sun provides the sphere with light and warmth, though due to the artificial atmosphere, the sky is always black.

It should be noted that the Dungeon Moon has no seasons.

What races & classes are available to play?

While many intelligent races inhabit the sphere, the only race available to play at present is humans. However, if you wish to play an elf, dwarf, or halfling, you may play those races as though they are a class. If you wish to play an elf, then your character will be a human with a “Spellsword,” or “Warlock” class. Racial options can be expanded beyond humans if the party is able to make alliances with other races.

Currently, classes are restricted to those present in the Lamentations of the Flame Princess core book. Though if you have a different class you’d wish to play, I would be willing to consider it.

Does this campaign include firearms?

Yes, as presented in the firearms section of the LotFP Rules & Magic hardcover. However, they must be purchased at 3x rural prices.

What is the deal with my cleric’s religion?

The gods of the sphere are not far-off, ephemeral deities. Any such god off is too far away to help you. The only gods of the sphere are the gods which live on or in the sphere. Typically these are normal creatures, such as humans, oozes, or even pigs, which have merged with an indistinct divine energy. The process by which this occurs is not entirely clear, but that does not make these gods any less divine. Notably, gods are as vulnerable to attack as any other monster. But they’re not a force to be attacked lightly.

Becoming a cleric involves finding a god, and making an offering to it which pleases it. The god then blesses the cleric, and the cleric may call upon the god’s divine energy to cast spells. This is one of the few non-insane reasons to leave the safety of the towns.

How did my Magic User learn his craft?

The Sphere is a citadel built by the greatest magic user of all time, and inhabited by a society of magic users for hundreds of years. And while those most gifted in the magical arts abandoned the sphere about 40 years ago, there are no shortage of less skilled practitioners willing to trade their paltry knowledge to an apprentice. It makes them feel important, plus apprentices are very useful for trying new spells on. Not to mention the mountains of magical scrolls and spells and devices which are commonly discovered in the depths.

Where can we go to buy standard equipment?

Standard equipment can be purchased during character creation at city prices. After that, standard equipment can be purchased in the town of Stockton at rural prices.

Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?

No non-human creatures can enter the towns due to the warding enchantments placed upon them. There are blacksmiths in Stockton with the skills to perform the task, but asking them to step outside the town’s protective runes will require a lot of persuasion, and a lot of silver.

Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?

The Motherless Warlock who created the Sphere was mightier than any wizard who came before him, or any wizard who has been here since.

At present, a relatively harmless Necromancer named Laif Arkturus is probably the mightiest wizard known to exist. He’s primarily an academic, but does not hesitate to prove his power and skill when it is necessary.

Who is the greatest warrior in the land?
In a land with few warriors, the greatest warrior is whomever braves the depths and survives to tell the tale–and does so more than any of the other warriors in the room.
Who is the richest person in the land?
The town of Stockton has heard rumors that there is a woman in a far off town called Noshenburg. Her name is Lia Hune. She found an immense treasure in the caverns, and now lives like a queen.
Where can we go to get some magical healing?
Aside from any magical healing provided by player characters, or by items they find, there is no magical healing available in Stockton, nor any nearby location. However, each session of play will begin with full hit points.
Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?
Poison and disease can be dealt with by the Old Herbert the Herbalist. His methods are odd, and he’s never managed to teach them to anyone else, but he can get you fixed up in Stockton for a moderate fee. Where he gets his materials is a mystery, since no plants grow within or even within sight of Stockton. But no one ever sees him leave, and he refuses to tell anyone his secrets. Anything else on that list, and I’m afraid you’re on your own.
Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?
Magic users are free agents. Any “guilds” which may exist are, at best, loose confederations whose existence is not widely publicized.
Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?
None of these services are readily available in Stockton at present.
Where can I hire mercenaries?
The members of the party are not the only foolhardy young folk, eager to leave town. Stockton is full of whippersnappers eager to “Step over the line.” Unfortunately, they are universally untrained.
Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?
Showing weapons within towns is generally considered impolite, but most people are understanding when they know that a person frequently leaves the safety of the town’s protective charms. People’s opinions on Magic Users tend to go either way: either they’re “the ones who got us all stuck on this rock heap,” or they’re “the ones who might figure out how to get us off this rock heap.”
Most towns are very small communities, and don’t have much in the way of formalized laws.

Which way to the nearest tavern?

Stockton has no booze. This sad fact has led people to develop some very strange hobbies.

What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?

There is a herd of Acidhoof Antelope outside of Stockton. Ending that threat would mean that the few trade caravans which exist would make their way into Stockton more often.

Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?

No. Most people are afraid to leave their own towns, so war is out of the question.

How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?

The town closest to Stockton, Aberton, has such a place. Recall that these places have no booze, and thus people tend to develop rather odd hobbies. Fortunately, this barbarism has been banned in STockton.

Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?

Plenty. But they are secret.

What is there to eat around here?

Flavorless, disgusting gruel. And water. The gruel congeals from the air each day in a giant dish at the center of every town. It’s probably all you’ve ever eaten. If you were lucky, your parents were able to give you a loaf of bread for your birthday one year, and it was the greatest birthday gift you ever received.

On the Sphere, actual food is one of the greatest treasures you can uncover.

Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?

It is said that somewhere on the sphere–everybody has a different idea of where–is a lush valley of vegetation. To find this, and to be able to distribute its bounty across the sphere, would make a person wealthy indeed.

Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?

It’s nothing more than a rumor, but when Ulfric of the Blasphemous Dead left the sphere, it is said he left his gold and many of his magical devices behind. It is also said that he left four undead hekatonkheires to guard his citadel in case he ever chose to return for his things.

A campaign setting which is most certainly NOT called “Dungeon World.”

red-stone-planet-wallpaperI mean, that’s what I wanted to call it, but somebody else got to that name first.

When I returned from hiatus, I made a big show of abandoning Pathfinder, and moving on to Lamentations of the Flame Princess as my game of choice. And for the last few weeks, on and off, I’ve been working on the setting where my first LotFP game will take place: “Not Dungeon World.” (It will have a better name soon). As you might infer from the lack of proper name, the world is far from complete. At present it’s mostly a series of amorphous chunks of content which connect together in some way with which I am not yet acquainted. But I’ve agreed to run the first group of people through the world next week, so I thought I’d start talking about it here.

I have two major goals with this world. The first is to create a setting which I can use for numerous groups of people. I like the idea of running a bunch of different one-off games in this world once its more polished, as a way to get to know more of the tabletop community. Second, I want to make a world which is is weird. I like high fantasy, and I like low fantasy, but now I want to try something which no one has ever done before. And if someone else has done it, please don’t tell me, because I’m enjoying being a special snowflake about this.

Some large-ish quantity of time ago (400-150 years), a great magician known as “The Motherless Warlock” decided to build himself a sanctum. But no mere tower would suffice for the warlock born of man, so he crafted instead a sphere of stone and mortar. He set it adrift in the heavens with the sun and the moons. He took with him his servants and his followers, and reigned unchallenged on the magic-made-world, above the world of mere men below.

A generation ago, The Motherless Warlock left, and did not return. Why he did this or where he went is uncertain. Some speculate that he died, but this seems unlikely as he never appeared to age a day after 30. Others speculate that he ascended to an even higher level of power, beyond the need for his kingdom. Most, however, do not care where he went. They just want to find a way off of this accursed rock he left them stranded upon.

The players were born to this world. Their parents remember living on the green and blue sphere which rises in the sky each day. They tell stories of plentiful food, bustling cities, green grass, and blue sky. The players have known none of these things, but they want to. Everyone wants to! It’s terrible here. The only thing to eat is flavorless grey slop which appears three times a day in the village square–and there’s never enough of it. Supposedly, when the Warlock was here, magical feasts would appear each day. But most of these magical apparatus are broke, and no one knows how to fix them. A few towns have found patches of dirt and tried farming, or tried to domesticate some of the more edible creatures, but these attempts are fraught with danger. The magical runes carved around each town prevent non-human creatures from entering, but that protection does not extend to farms or herds. Most of these are mercilessly destroyed by some magical monstrosity or other.

The only hope for the future, most agree, is to find a portal to the world below. One must be hidden in the labyrinthine depths which fill the innards of the sphere. But who is foolhardy enough to venture down there?

(See why “Dungeon World” would have been a perfect name? Damn).

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