Memories of Connor's Adventures

Orlando the Adventurer pulled a Scimitar from beneath his Robes and smiled...

Friday, 18 March 2016

Dungeon mastery: in lands where chaos reigns

Many Dungeon Masters have a lot of trouble with handling the myriad components of their Campaign and this has often detracted from their quality. 

The earliest settlements emerge in the Neolithic as gatherings of families and soon grow into a Commonwealth - Large villages of families governed by family heads. They band together in common defence yet retain a propensity to family self-sufficiency. The Commonwealth Period gives way to inequality based in Specialization. Centralized Government and Religion begins its rise to the detriment of the Commonwealth. Unfortunately Specialization has its failings.

Within a community it creates a dependency amongst everyone in the community. Everyone must do their job but they require access to a common communication network to function within the community. Communities become divided with specific families devoted to certain tasks. Eventually these family divisions of labour can become geographical boundaries within the limits of the community.

As Settlements and City-States become Nations encompassing many communities, they begin to specialize in certain tasks where other settlements specialize in an adjacent task.
As a consequence a community devoted to one specialized task requires communication with others who produce what they require and require what they produce.
Settlement vulnerability stems therefore from a dependency on the continuous function of the specialized system and its structures.

Specialization of the community (as opposed to specialization of the individual of the community) creates a dependency on those dwelling beyond the walls of that single community.
There are many such functions and their presence defines where they need to be located, what they must have access to, and how they function.
• Dispersed holdings – isolated independent farms with a selection of skills necessary to support their independent nature. There is little social interaction <Farm, Plantation, Ranch, and Dairy-farm>.
• Local market – a centralized community focussed on the collection and distribution of local produce. This type of community can function in isolation while access to a communication network is vital for the export of surplus produce <Granary, Barrel maker, Marketplace, Smokehouse>.
• Industrial – a community concerned primarily with the processing of raw materials into manufactured goods. Some will specialize in a single end-product. They have access to the resources necessary to process raw materials including labour, power (water for mills). Industrial communities require a communication network to function <Mill(water/wind/slave), Charcoal Furnace, Potter’s Kiln, Glass Furnace, Smelter, Distillery>.
• Commercial – a community involved in trade and financial activities (banking and money lending). They do not require traded produce to pass through the town and may be sophisticated enough to deal in document based trade and financial transactions. A communication network is critical to the survival of this community <Guild Hall, Bank, Moneylender, Roadside Inn, and Tavern>.
• Mining – this is involved in the extraction of minerals. It will be located where the minerals are and that can be anywhere. It requires access to a communication network <Clay pit, Stone Quarry, Peat Diggings, Salt Mine, Open Cut Pit, Obsidian Scrounge, Mining tunnels>.
• Administrative – this is the seat of government, whether the capital city or a local administration. This community will sit at a centre of a provincial or national communication network <Parliament, Council Hall>.
• Culture/education – these are centred on universities and colleges. They are centres of learning and have a selection of appropriate crafts to support the development, recording, and storage of information. There is some need for access to a communication network <University, School, Bard’s College, Wizard’s Tower, Theatre, Arena>.
• Ecclesiastical – religious centres drawing pilgrimage, or housing religious associations or shrines. These require access to a communication network <Church, Temple, Shrine, Sacred Grove, Altar, Religious School, Abbey, Monastery, Synod Council, Paladin’s Training Hall, Barrow, Burial Mound, Crypt, and Graveyard>.
• Primary Residence – this is the residence of a Ruler (Whether President, Emperor, King, Duke or Baron). It is a palace or castle and requires some access to a communication network <Castle, Palace, Keep, Whitehouse>.
• Resort – baths, recreational districts, retreats. They require a favourable geographical location that provides both safety and healing. Resorts function on a communication network <Bathhouse, Boarding Houses, Bed & Breakfast, Recreational Lake District, and Public Gardens>.
• Port – located on the coast as a fishing community, a centre of sea trade and travel or located on a river for the movement of goods and people by river. A port requires communication networks that extend over water and land <Fishing Village, Ferry, Boathouse, Ocean port, River Port, Siding, harbour, Docks>.
• Residential – these are designed to provide urban peoples with housing away from polluted, corrupted, or expensive urban centres. This specialization requires a second specialized centre in close proximity <Estates, Manor Houses, Suburbs, Ghetto, and Shanty Towns>.
It is because many of these specializations require access to a communication network to remain functional that they might easily become isolated and fall. Roads might be cut by armies or other disasters causing a land-locked community to decline. Ports on the other hand have access to communication networks over water and land and loosing one is not a total disaster.

More familiar is the Specialization of groups or families within the settlement. A Large Community might be a port, a seat of a monarch, an administrative centre, a cultural centre, an industrial district, a commercial district, with ecclesiastical centres and outlying residential areas all rolled into one.

We blend the basic information available to us in the Dungeon Master’s Guide with our information to produce several different Settlements.
• The Farming District of Andemun. This “Village” consisting of some three hundred and twenty people (+20% children) where the most expensive item in the district is farmer Erasmus Shaw’s magnifying glass - which amounts to about a hundred gold pieces in value. Applying dispersed Settlement, Mining, and Port to our “Village”, we have a multifunction settlement occupying a reasonably safe region (mainly because a dispersed settlement is far more vulnerable to hostile intrusion than a centralized settlement – it is for this reason that our “Village” is not too isolated). Its level of isolation offers us a community upriver from the capital and down river from a major river port controlling a substantial farming district. There is regular traffic on the river offering regular news (perhaps a week old at most) from the capital and the port upriver. It is a settlement in its own right. Farms harvesting timber for firewood; a small granite quarry (employing five stonecutters) with a river siding where a merchant house from the Capital has arranged to buy direct from these “Farmers” straight onto its riverboats. Our “Village” also has a prospect for the future. At the current rate of forest clearing, the district will be ready for dairying in ten years. There is little happening here and when it does it is going to be pretty minimal. Perhaps the PCs might find themselves employed to run off some predators bothering the farmers to be paid in produce for their trouble.
• The Blackdog. This roadside Inn sits on a crossroads with access to a communications network (basically a regularly used corridor of information transfer). Information may come in and out from an assortment of locations on a regular basis and it sits on a trade-route where supplies can be bought from passing merchants and then sold to travellers for a marked up price. For adventurers it offers a respite before deciding which direction to go, or a bolthole where they can wait for information to fall into their laps.
• The Drift-port of Shadow has no real fixed population but numbers about five hundred on average. It drifts somewhere in the Rip (a Sea that flows north or south between the Island Kingdom of Ingoil and the Iron Kingdoms (this edge of the continent of Grun – The Rip is known to change direction)). It is a commercial centre and port involved in the trade of pirated loot and money-lending. At any time the Drift-port might consist of up to thirteen ships lashed together as the core trading port with up to thirty docked in port.
• The Temple of Dhurn, now buried under a landslide was dedicated to the forgotten God. It was a centre of Pilgrimage for its many practitioners and they brought many weapons here (which were dumped into the Peatbog) in sacrifice. In its day it had a population of six priests and thirty servants who tilled farmland in the valley of Penn to produce food, and tend the clergy’s every need. Currently it is un-active – being abandoned when the hillside washed down on it a thousand years back.
• Maidenshead is a small town of nearly two thousand citizens. The Serfs Quarter has around one thousand serfs who are crowded into many of the small, tightly packed mud-brick dwellings that dominate this large walled in part of the town – they toil in the fields, cut wood, and excavate clay from extensive diggings beside the river. Apothecary Row where several herbalists have residences/shopfronts to one side of a narrow, walled lane. The Baron’s Castle where the Baron, family, and some servants and administrative staff live and work. The Garden of Ash seems impersonal and abandoned considering it is a walled in bare gravel piece of land with ash, and charcoal marks where bodies are simply piled up with wood and burned. The Dogwall, (a walled off residential area providing a class with residential isolation from the urban centre) a walled ghetto where the Halfling populace of Maidenshead are forced to reside. Previously it was used to kennel the War-dogs of an early baron. Currently there are under a hundred Halflings crowded into the Dogwall and the gates are locked at sunset, and opened at sunrise each day. The only access to the Dogwall is direct to the Merchants Quarter. The Merchants Quarter is dominated by artisans involved in Pottery, and there are numerous Charcoal production furnaces and large scale Pottery Kilns burning (in some cases) all day. Maidenshead sits on a clay brick mound on a plain of cleared ground at the outer edge of a river bend and while it over looks the river and any traffic there, it does not have a port (although travellers by boat might pull their vessel easily onto the bank and walk to the town. Maidenshead is linked to the Capital by road only.

When settlements are abandoned, due to what ever reason, many components are left behind. These components are often the hardest to remove (they are also characteristic of the settlement purpose) and will last centuries beyond the abandonment of the settlement.
• Carved Stone Obelisk, Steele, Monument, and Statue.
• Mine, Quarry, Smelter Pottery Kiln, and Blacksmith’s Forge, Charcoal Production Furnace.
• Stone Well, Irrigation Canal, Agricultural Field, and Plantation Crop.
• Stone Docks, Bridge, Stone Paved Road, Causeway.
• Cemetery, Barrow Mound, Outdoor Altar Stone, Shrine, Buried or Concealed Temple, Druid Grove, Ancient Tree, Ring of large Stones.
• Signal Tower, Watch Tower, Lighthouse.
• Fortified Cave, Bunker, Dungeon, Torture Chamber, Underground Laboratory, City Sewer, Catacombs.
• Castle Ruin, Foundations, Fitted Stone or Re-used Rock Wall, Chimney, Fireplace, Partially-buried Brickwork.
Consider the previously mentioned settlement of Maidenshead. Five centuries after the Baron was overthrown, all that is left is the foundations of a ruined castle with buried dungeons and treasure vaults, and the village of Dau’wal which is now located by the River. The old stone walls have been stripped down to their foundations (they are now used as road-ways separating extensive clay-diggings) and the rubble used to build a substantial trade dock and village foundation. Most homes are a mix of Adobe and fired brickwork representing the descendants of the original Slave and Halfling Population.

By its nature we are as likely to find the forces of evil present within the dispersed settlements of our Civilization as loitering in the mud beyond its walls.
• The Barony of Melina is being terrorized by a “huge black wolf”. The predator is attacking lone travellers along the road that skirts the western edge of the hunting preserve of Baron Rugen along with the occasional peasant caught out on moonless nights. It makes its lair in the caves beneath Castle Witch-grave which sits atop the mountain. This hound shaped Iron Golem is bound with the soul of a werewolf, forged for Baron Rugen.
• Living on their isolated farm by the old road, the Jandemos are known to be the oldest farming family in the district and are greatly respected for it. No-one knows that the Jandemos have spent centuries abducting and eating stray travellers - their victims’ remains they dump in a deep cave on the ridge above their farm. Travellers go missing all the time in these parts but the Jandemos continue to go about their way of life without drawing much attention.

It is at this point that many Dungeon Masters find themselves in trouble. Many don’t know how to keep track of group objects nor reason group-dependant event outcomes.

We apply a mesh to our campaign map linking every point of light including the small isolated locations that may have already fallen off the map. A temple buried millennia beneath a hill of dirt and trees thanks to a landslide far in the past may not seem like a point of light but it is as much a point of light as a cave behind a water fall and a fishing village on a stretch of isolated coastline. This allows us to use a simple hexagonal grid which we can lay over the campaign world.
We can also apply this mesh to a city and place on it the diverse buildings and locations relevant to an adventure.

Just because a location is a point of light in a wilderness of chaos and darkness doesn’t mean it is any safer. So we are free to pretty much put every location that is known and leave holes where anything could be going on because even a ruined castle can be safer than the village it overlooks. For the most part those points on the mesh are stationary but not always.
• The peatbogs located at the south-east end of pen valley which conceal an entrance to the shrine currently buried beneath the hill beyond it.
• The point in muddy wood where the trail from the village of muddy meets the old road.
• The horse fair located outside the walls of Ryun (which can move to another settlement if Master Thaket decrees it).

These are the source of those events that will affect all those points of light to be found sitting across your mesh. When they are interacted with during the ongoing campaign and under what grounds they will show up.

It is best to work backwards from the big picture, so let us look at the end of the World. Our cataclysm choice for the coming millennia of the campaign setting is the death of the Moon. Now we look at the role of the moon in our campaign setting. She keeps the tides moving in and out and the Werewolves get one night a lunar month to roam the country side; but what of our Cataclysm?
Something is hurtling out of the darkness of the heavens and it will collide with the Moon and destroy it utterly. The PCs will have front row seats to the destruction of their home world.

This is the world affecting stuff that is going to happen in our campaign world as a direct consequence of the destruction of the Moon.
• Freed from the lunar cycle that has dominated their world since the beginning, Werewolves are now unleashed to transform freely every night. No longer will they be the enraged and rabid beast with little to no control over their actions.
• Every night will become a Moonless night. This will make every night a night in which the forces of chaos are able to move about freely. The imbalance that once favoured Civilization is now balanced out. Chaos once again rules the night.
• The tides cease to function as the lunar cycle ends. From this point onward, oceans begin to stagnate and corrupt. This is going to be the basis for the emergence of a dark and corrupt sea-god later in the campaign.
There are many effects due to the presence of the Moon but these three will immediately exert themselves on the campaign world so they have the most relevance to the lives of the PCs.

Now that we have our world-shattering Cataclysm, we can look at the large objects in motion about our Cataclysm. These create change on our campaign.
• The Warlord of the Shad has been troubled for several months by dreams that he is going to be attacked by Werewolves in his bedchambers. He has decided to invade the Kingdom of Isolde and (having armed his Skeleton Woodsmen with Axes of Axe-stone) log the forest of Wolves in order to exterminate the Werewolf population that is known to dwell there. Secondly, all harvested wood found there will be converted to charcoal for use in the smelting of iron ore and the manufacture of iron weapons to fight the War he knows will come from his actions.
• The worshipers of the Stranger have roamed the world in search of the ancient temples that existed when the forgotten one was known. They know that the coming of the Stranger will not go unnoticed. A number have financed bounties and others have advocated the slaughter of known Witches (they have done this through agents in assorted churches and merchant houses over the last few centuries) creating a culture of religious paranoia and fear in many towns and villages. Witch burnings have been on a slow rise and what records there are describe most as children who have gone insane – a few spoke of dreams about wolf-men on a moonless night, others screaming, driven mad by the lack of sleep, but many more were simply the victims of hysteria.

The players will notice otherwise localized events are appearing on the mesh at odd moments and locations. Small objects are orbiting a larger object and every so often the larger object changes dropping these small objects onto the mesh where they create events related to their nature.
• Thanks to the war, werewolves have been pushed across the border into this kingdom because their forest has been cleared for firewood by the raiding army. They have attacked the village of muddy and the entire village is infected. They have come through muddy wood down the old road from Kailsford (the citizens there are still being terrorized by attacks). The werewolves have cut the old road at the north end where it passes through the Muddy-wood. Isolated Kailsford sits on the old road about halfway through the Muddy-wood.
• The kobolds sniffing around the peatbogs at the far end of Penn valley are looking for ancient weapons abandoned in the bog. they are resisting the presence of the werewolves in the Muddy wood (our local area – near the old road where it cuts north into Muddy-wood. They can become part of the PC’s dynamic depending on how the initial interaction is handled. Good diplomacy may provide intelligence, trade, and even a future of relations. Violence on the other hand may provide may provide little more than a few very old bog-weapons. destroying the kobolds will remove their presence as a resistor to the activities of the werewolves in this region and will ultimately prove to be a problem at a later date when the pc’s are too overcommitted to hold back the tide of evil on multiple fronts.
• Slavers have been active in the last few months just north of the river Kail. Currently they are planning to sweep up the old road, enslave the populace, and invade our local valley. They will then pull out all the stone plundered from the castle ruins to build some of the village buildings (in our village of pigpen) and rebuild the castle. There is enough stone to build a small castle, and they will use labourers to fell pines for the construction of a wooden wall and dirt palisade. The villagers will be located to a slaver stockade at the foot of the old quarry face below the castle.
• The green smoke coming from the ruins is Sherm the gnome who is brewing green ale. He must brew the ale in the ruins for several reasons. Firstly because the village elders banned him from doing so in the village limits and secondly because of the green slime found on a dungeon wall below the surface. PCs or some militia NPC may think that Sherm was acting with the slavers to draw off the militia. At the time of the attack. Sherm claims the ale has been ordered by a wizard living in a tower somewhere in the forest because his regular supply has been disrupted.

Of course there is always a group of objects orbiting a common centre where no such larger object exists. This can be seen as unrelated events interacting with each other to make it look like there is a larger conspiracy going on yet it can be the orbital debris of a previously functional object.
• Bounty hunters looking for a single individual by the name of Kurr Arran begin raiding villages and interrogating their citizens. Someone has offered a bounty of a hundred thousand gold pieces for Kurr Arran to draw attention from the bounty on their own head.
• A farmer named Kurr Arran lives near the village of Pigpen (the name is common in these parts - one of the PCs is a cousin). He must be protected from bounty hunters who are moving through the region.
• In the village of Dogwater, a man named Kurr Arran is killed and his head taken. Adventurers might be called in to investigate the murder.

When an object changes, there are several important effects.
• That which it used to be collapses. This means it vanishes from the past, present, and the future. This can be seen as confusion in the part of soothsayers who were predicting a certain event and suddenly they no longer see that event in the future.
• It leaves behind debris which provides a connection to the moment of change. If this debris can be found in the past and future then a massive object might alter events by causing the object of the war to become a suborbital. An opportunity presents itself where a powerful individual might make the war their own and shape any changes to their own ends.
• Those left behind are effectively locked out of accessing the past before things changed and will only have access to the debris of possibility in the future. Perhaps an individual or group might sack a temple full of gold that avoided being sacked because the larger object changed direction.
• Small objects orbiting the large object might suddenly appear on the mesh as free objects or as a consequence of a direction change. Slavers might become free agents or the warlord might provide them with new resources consistent with the larger change.

With the PCs thrust into a world of change, they are presented with a few options as to their own future in this world. They must make choices as to which side they are on because that is the nature of their situation. Resist the change that is happening or be prepared to accept it. In both cases there will be consequences to their actions, and their world will never be the same again.

Resisting these minor effects will only prevent them from happening locally. While they are unique to the larger cause, these events are recurring and will continue to emerge elsewhere. Overly large and successful resistance itself will change future events in the local area. The larger object will alter minor objects and sent them against the source of resistance but it also changes direction.
• In response to victories against the slavers, a large band of raiders are sent to crush resistance in the Penn valley and claim the castle which is regionally significant to events yet to happen.
• Displaced peoples converge on this bastion of resistance seeking refuge and safety but they are not all coming for the same purpose. Some will be the worst and some the best.
• The kobolds seeing the help the characters gave them in cleansing their forest of the threat of lycanthropy may decide to become scouts for the PCs as long as they are in-charge of the region and find fair treatment and benefit from the ongoing relationship.

Of course resistance is not always the path chosen. The PCs sensing the enslavement of the village might decide not to save the day. This can have consequences later.
• The party decide to flee for the coast and make their way to Ryun. The fact is that they might in the course of their adventures discover that the region is about to become involved in a war that they want nothing to do with.
• The party might make them-selves available to the slavers becoming a sub-orbiting object.
• The party might become a roving war-band like the many bandits and war-bands now at large in the Kingdom and find themselves classed as outlaws and Bandits – even to the point of being hunted by Bounty Hunters and Killers.

So there are a number of ongoing events in the Valley of Penn when the PCs start out. For the people of the Village of Pigpen, these events are for the most part seemingly ordinary events that might appear unrelated to each other or even larger more obscure events, yet they can be the tip of larger campaign icebergs, some of which have been in motion for a long time.
• Kobolds have been seen loitering near the peatbogs. Kurtis Strang (a peat digger) returned from the bogs yesterday complaining of Kobolds. Militia will be dispatched to the peatbogs to find out what they are up to and drive them off.
• An eerie green smoke has been seen coming from the ruins of castle Penn since the morning. A few militia reserves will be sent to investigate the ruins and make sure it isn’t the Kobolds sniffing around the peatbogs.
• A child named Kaiya is turned into the wilderness as a witch by the village elders. She has been troubled by dreams that an elderly lady is murdered by a stranger in a tavern in some unknown village or town. A band of militia will be tasked with taking her by palanquin to a location beyond Muddy wood and abandon her on the old road.

As the party (and others) move through points on the mesh they exert change on objects they encounter. Object shadows sit waiting to be interacted with while other events can already be underway and exerting their influence on the surrounding areas.
• Visiting the town of Kailsford and putting a stop to the werewolf attacks can open the way for alternative events to reveal themselves. These events may well have been pushed aside or overshadowed by the presence of the werewolf. Perhaps a few of the werewolf killings were in-fact assassinations designed to take advantage of the situation.
• Overthrowing the slavers and claiming the stronghold opens the prospect for population growth as people seeking safety and refuge (they are in fact changing direction in response to the existence of your stronghold) arrive.
• Aiding the kobolds in their fight against the werewolves occupying muddy wood and the village of Muddy (or having killed the kobolds, face these dangerous opponents without this unlikely support).

Ultimately once the larger event (the war) ends, these minor events will disperse leaving some residue of their passing. Either the war is successful or it fails.
• Numerous bandits made of displaced peoples will continue to roam the region even after a few have gone off to settle in safe areas with their accumulated wealth.
• mercenaries who feel that they have better prospects by not staying with the enemies who employed them, or departing for elsewhere when the local king is done employing their services might become free-roaming war-bands or settle in the area. Either way, they are free men who band together in unity and will resist a return to serfdom.
• Lycanthropy will never be gone, even when the party thinks it has exterminated the last werewolf. The same can be held for the many plagues that will surface during the campaign.

Of course there is always a trade-off. Improving your understanding of events and how they interact as well as improving your tracking of group objects is going to require a higher level of mental discipline, organization, and pre-game preparation on the part of the DM. It will develop your storytelling skills yet force you to base your actions on a consistent rule-set.

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