Tag Archives: Fantasy

RPGBA Carnival – Unusual Dungeons – Wrap-Up

May comes to an end, and so does the Unusual Dungeons RPG Blog Carnival.

After a somewhat slow start, we’ve had a number of submissions:

James Introcaso was the most prolific contributor this month, supplying us with a series about a prison for dragons:

And from myself:

Phil, from Tales of a GM, is taking over for June – with the appropriate subject “Summerland” (Summer in RPGs). Take it away, Phil!

(And of course, if you’d like to read up on past carnivals or check on future subjects, head on over to the RPGBA Carnival archive page.)

Unusual Dungeon #3: One Huge Tree

Samuel_Palmer_-_Old_Cedar_Tree_in_Botanic_Garden,_Chelsea_-_Google_Art_ProjectHuge trees occur throughout mythology. There’s the tree of life, and Yggdrasil, for example. There’s also the beanstalk that brought Jack into the land of the giant. In more recent history, Kaena and Ryzom come to mind. Any tree that’s big enough makes for a wonderful dungeon.

I first came across the concept in the old Das Schwarze Auge (The Dark Eye) adventure module Durch Das Tor der Welten – Through The Gateway of the Worlds –  where (Spoiler alert!) the players are forced through the eponymous gate and end up on top of a huge tree. Their task is to get down safely.

In some ways, this sort of setting is a variation of the treetop village and, if your tree is large enough and/or features intelligent inhabitants, it might include a treetop village.

Due to the three dimensional nature of a huge tree, your dungeon map will be very different from a normal dungeon. Instead of having a floor plan, or try to map every little twig, a flow-chart like affair seems like the best approach. For each location, note what connections exist to other places. Make sure, in your description, to include what players see above and below them. How much is foliage blocking your protagonists’ sight?

Objective: The obvious goal of a giant tree is to climb to the top, or to get back to the ground. The Dark Eye adventure mentioned above used the later, but I personally feel that getting to the top is more intuitive. Obviously, you’ll need to make sure there are reasons for your heroes not to have access to flying machines, magic, or beasts. The reward at the top could be anything: A flying ship that got caught in the branches, or perhaps the tree pokes – much like Jack’s beanstalk – through a cloud and leads them to Serranian.

Climbing down would be more of a survival/escape story. Your characters start with limited resources and have to make do with what they can obtain during their descent. What brought them up in the first place depends very much on your setting. Perhaps they were jumping an air ship, or an annoyed dragon dumped them there instead of eating them.

Enemies: Anything you can imagine living in a tree. In the case of the singular huge tree, though, opponents could be a bit more faery-tale like. Flying beasts might perch on the branches. And if you are with Jack, a cloud giant could live above.

Special treasure: A seed from the tree may be very valuable to mages, alchemists, or as a curio.


E2015: The Moons of Enderra

Back when I first designed Enderra, I decided that it had three moons and a (thin) ring system. I did this mostly for the imagery, not really thinking about the consequences much. Multiple large moons can have severe effects on the planetary environment. Universe Today has a summary of some of the effects of adding a second, Moon-sized, moon to Earth.

White Moon, Meet Red Moon

The scenario they describe is extreme, and I am not quite sure where they get some of their numbers (tides “thousands of feet” in height seem off) but I am sure they know more about this stuff than I do. Anyway, even with lessened effects, I have come to think of three moons as excessive.

At the same time, I do like the “exotic” visuals. Let’s ditch one moon and the ring system.

Enderran Moons . Size Comparison
Enderran Moons . Size Comparison

I’ve done some math to make sure the moons don’t cause huge problems. I mostly used GURPS Space for this, since I couldn’t find formulas easily, and ran the numbers for the Moon (of Earth) through the same process – for verification. Even when the two moons align, their effect on tides should be at most twice that of Earth’s Moon. The actual tidal levels, though, depend a lot on geography and local conditions. Yes, we will have some tides that are more extreme than on Earth, but it won’t mess with the fundamental state of affairs. Nights will be a bit brighter, and there will be a little bit more volcanism on Enderra than on Earth.

Both moons are tidally locked to Enderra – that is, they always show the same face to Enderra. The White Moon’s synodic month is 30.33 days, the Red Moon’s is 43.22.

What’s in a Name?

The two moons are simply named “the Red Moon” and “the White Moon”, similar to how Earth’s moon is just called “the Moon”. I might give them name later (the three original moons had names) but I think I like the simplicity of “Red Moon” and “White Moon”.

E2015: Revisiting Enderra

Planet drawn with Inkscape
Planet drawn with Inkscape

Oh, Enderra. You were my first fantasy world. I named this site after you. And yet, I have neglected you for a decade. I am sorry.

I’ve recently been in the mood to do some fantasy world-building again. Part of it is that I’d really like to get back into gaming; part of it is a desire to get rid of all those post-Enderran attempts at fantasy worlds that are cluttering my Worldbuilding folder. And part of it is that I’ve been doing too much Science Fiction in the past few years.

And there’s another reason. My nephew is going to be old enough to start gaming in a few years. I should prepare for that.

Enderra is now over twenty years old. It was created, more or less ad-hoc, for a GURPS Fantasy campaign, but it’s been used with my own D&D clone rules, Tunnels and Trolls, AD&D 2nd, D&D 3rd, and even TORG. We played campaigns of our own invention and “official” modules. The Temple of Elemental Evil, to me, is not in Greyhawk – it’s in Eastern Enderra.

Enderra already went through one major revision, in circa 1999 when we started our D&D campaign. I had not been happy with some of the decisions I had originally made, so I advanced the timeline and changed a lot of stuff around.

So – what are my goals for Enderra 2015?

Since Enderra is not actively used by anybody, and I have published very little of my material, I feel like I can afford to reshape the setting from the ground up – apply everything I have learned about world-building in the past twenty years. One of the lessons I learned is that it really helps to have design goals and guidelines:

  1. Enderra Is Real: Well, it’s of course not really real; but the approach should always be that “this is not a game” – Enderra is a parallel earth, and can easily be found in a universe one phase shift away from our own, if you just know how. I believe that treating it as “real” will help make the right design decisions.
  2. Enderra must be internally consistent: This is really my number one golden rule for worldbuilding. Everything must make sense inside the setting. If there’s a Raise Dead spell, then why isn’t the world ruled by immortal kings? Or is it? Hmmm!
  3. Enderra shall not be a kitchen sink. Do you remember Eberron? “If it exists in D&D, it exists in Eberron”. Or consider RIFTS. Kitchen sink settings rarely work out well.
  4. Enderra is not a hexcrawl: Hexcrawls might be compelling, but a world consists of more than random hexes filled with combat encounters. Enderra is a place, its inhabitants lead lives, plot against each other, wage wars… I’ll use the story-based approach described by Paul in the Shakespeare & Dragons Podcast.
  5. There are no holy cows: I’ve got a lot of material and notes about Enderra. I have even more in my head. I will re-use material where I can, but if there’s a better way to do something then I will change it.
  6. Enderra shall be a fantasy setting that works with D&D and its clones.  This doesn’t mean that much, considering how archetypical D&D really is. It does imply certain assumptions, for example how magic works, and will guide certain thematic or stylistic choices.
  7. Enderra must be compatible with Contact Light: Enderra is the “lost homeworld” of the Contact Light setting. This places some minor restrictions on my design – for example, I can’t turn Enderra into a Ringworld.
  8. Produce a publishable World Book: By publishable I don’t mean “for sale”, but my end product should be a campaign guide that other people can use. This places some limitations on the scope of the work, and above all, provides me with a measurable goal.

Let’s get cracking.


Unusual Dungeon #2: Treetop Village

Treehouse_at_Milne_Bay_-_Papua_New_Guinea_-_1884-1885This is another, actually relatively common, dungeon type that still makes for a great change of pace: A treetop village. Probably the most famous example would be the Ewok village from Return of the Jedi, but they’re really all over the place, especially since many authors like to use them for Elves. The Channelwood Age from Myst is also an example of this.

But Nils, you might say, a village isn’t a dungeon! And you’d be right, for any normal village. A treetop village features the same limited movement than an underground dungeon does (provided your party can’t fly). Sure, characters could try to jump across chasms or improvise rope bridges, but that’s the sort of drama and problem solving that makes an adventure fun.

 Why go there?

I think an “intact”, that is inhabited, treetop village doesn’t work well – the inhabitants will be able to communicate easily and mount an effective defense; our intrepid adventurers would fight wave after wave of defenders. Fun, but not your usual dungeon crawl. It also means any sort of hostage rescue is out of the question – the occupants could just kill the captives at the first sign of trouble.

A better approach is probably to use an abandoned treetop village. Maybe oversized spiders or some other wildlife inhabits it now. Maybe a villain on the run is hiding in it. And maybe the locals simply left something of value behind. Druidic artifacts or some other form of nature magic probably works best, but just because these guys lived in trees does not mean they did not like gold.

Who’re we fighting?

Any sort of animal or monster capable of flying or climbing. Giant spiders, semi-sentient vampire bats, twig monsters. If it has a place in a forest and can make it up, it can be a possible monster in a treetop village dungeon.


Unusual Dungeon #1: Hedge Maze

Labyrinth_Versailles_colourOne type of unusual dungeon that actually gets used sometimes is the Hedge Maze. Hedge mazes are familiar to anybody – labyrinths grown from, well, hedges. They evolved from know gardens, a type of garden that features a very strict, symmetric, and usually square layout. A hedge maze could even have grown from such a knot garden, after generous application of black magic by an evil faery queen.

The usability as a dungeon is really well illustrated by the picture on the right, a map of a hedge maze that used to exist in the gardens of Versailles.

Due to the amount of work required, they are almost always part of a palace or so, but in a fantasy setting some madman could just set up a hedge maze for the sole purpose of confusing, capturing, or distracting his enemies. Usually, the game will be less about the maze itself, but more about something to be found at the center, or at the other end: The villain’s castle, shreds of a treasure map, statues that are hints to the location of a cache of art looted in the war.

How not to run a hedge maze dungeon

To make a hedge maze useful, you’d have to provide some sort of mechanism to prevent the characters from simply cutting through the hedges. If the maze is used to toy with the characters, this could be a mere threat (“Don’t even think about cheating, or the Mad Jester will kill the mayor’s daughter!”). The maze itself may be a monster; the hedges have sharp thorns and lash out at any attacker. If the hedge is magical, perhaps cutting a hole into one just leads to the point of origin. In a space opera context, the plants are of a strange, alien variety that draw metals from the ground and cannot be cut by the characters’ knives.

Thematically, the obstacles and opponents found in the maze should be plant-related, or park-related. If the antagonist is a faery or evil jester, add fey and joker-related creatures and traps to the list. Clues should be guarded by puzzles, traps should hinder progress – and these tropes work so much better in a hedge maze because they are set up deliberately as puzzles.

Black Mold

 We realized quickly enough that something was wrong with the dream house we had just purchased. At first it was just floors that were wet without cause, and we thought there was an insulation problem, or a leaky roof. The mildewy smell that set in after a week didn’t help. We had no clue how terrible the truth was!

One night my wife woke me up with her screams. Seems she had wanted to go to the bathroom, only to step on a thick carpet of black mold. I swear by all that is holy that the mold writhed and shifted in the dim shine of the nightlight. It retreated under the bed, then appeared on the other side. It looked more like a colony of tiny creatures, mobile as an ant colony, but it was a layer of thick, black rot.

We made a run for it, got in the car and drove off to stay at our neighbors. We avoided thee specifics when we called for help the next day. The cleaner found our home empty but with that distinct mildewy smell. He said it might be covered by wallpapers, and that it might be quite a project to check and clean the building. Still scared, we agreed. I think none of us will ever forgeet what happened next. He never had a chance, and my wife and I barely escaped with our lives. The authorities took over, and I saw CDC vans and several men in dark suits at our house. We aren’t allowed back. Nor would we want to. My wife’s developed severe rashes on her feet and I am having a hard time breathing. We should have moved to California, after all.

Black mold infests houses in humid, warmer areas; usually after a flood brought moisture into the house. The mold is of a dark, blue-black color but otherwise looks like regular mold.

Once the infestation begins, it rapidly spreads, hiding behind wall panels and wallpaper, or under the floor. The mold doesn’t require any light, merely some heat, and any human house has plenty of that for the mold. The spread of the mold can be detected by some slight discolorations in places, especially when only a wallpaper covers the mold, but someone who does not know the tell-tale signs will assume it is merely a normal water discoloration.

After some time, however, the black mold will break out in the open; it will eat through the wooden panels of the wall, the floor, and the wallpaper. It can also be exposed by accident, for example when the house owners open up the wall or floor.

The mold has a rudimentary intelligence that grows as the colony increases in size. At first the mold may only be smart enough to avoid growing in places that would make detection obvious; later it may try to actively infect humans, for example by growing in places where it is likely to be exposed to people, or even by trying to over-grow a person in its sleep.

The mold is corrosive and highly poisonous. Touching the mold will lead to rashes. If the mold enters a person’s bloodstream, the person will suffer severe poisoning and will likely die.

Breathing in the mold’s spores is even more dangerous, as the lungs are a warm, wet place of the mold’s liking and it will infest the lungs of a human and grow there. If this happens, the mold will be able to spread all through the host’s body. When it reaches the brain, the host will go insane from intense headaches. Once the mold has thoroughly infested the host’s brain, it will be able to control the mad host on a rudimentary level. The host will not be smarted than the colony of the mold controlling it; but it will attempt to expose nearby humans to the mold culture. It may also attempt to kill those who threaten the mold. Eventually, the host is killed as the black mold slowly eats up its host from the inside.

The mold is resistant against most commonly used fungicides and because of its throughout spread in the smallest corners it is basically impossible to remove it from a house once infected. Burning the house could release spores, which are then carried to neighboring houses. The safest way to get rid of a black mold colony is to tear down the house, making sure the workers wear protective suits, and then burn the parts in sealed high temperature ovens. Black mold will also wither and die if its environment becomes too dry.


Strength: N/A
Agility: N/A
Endurance: N/A
Intelligence: Varies (Low – Medium)
Weapons: Poison (death), lesser mind control
Armor: Immune to physical damage; vulnerable to fire

Some assorted links:


The Icy Embrace of Winter: Borell

February’s Blog Carnival is about the Icy Embrace of Winter, and I will be posting on an assortment of winter-related topics. To start my contributions off, I decided to post something I almost never do. Information about Enderra – the titular world of this blog. Enderra is host to a large pantheon; the Enderran god of Winter is Borell:

snow-flake-8God of winter, ice and snow, coldness
Personality: Grim, emotionless, stubborn
Appearance: An old man, bearded and grim and clothed in furs.
Symbol: Snowflake
Alignment: Neutral (evil tendencies)
D&D 3rd Ed. Domains: Water, Air, Winter
Preferred Weapon: Long bow

Borell is the grim lord of winter. If the world was built according to his will, then everything were to freeze over, and snow would blanket the world. Borell is constantly locked in conflict with Helion, the solar deity, and neither of the two gods can ever gain an upper hand in their struggle. The seasons are the direct result of this conflict. This means that Borell is one of the most powerful gods, as he is able to stand up to the sun god himself.

Borell is usually depicted as a grim man wearing furs of arctic animals. He wears a long bow on his back. He has gray eyes and white hair, as well as a white, thick but short beard. He is grim and bad tempered, and doesn’t acknowledge his worshipers much – although his clerics are granted spells as normal.

As a consequence, Borell doesn’t have many temples or an organized cult. Instead he is usually worshiped by hunters, savages who live in the subarctic and arctic areas, and by rural folk during the winter months. His holiday is Snowfall, which is celebrated when the first snow falls (and thus never falls on the same day). On this day, people pray to Borell and ask for a merciful – short and mild – winter.


More odds and ends:

Game Design:

  • The League of Legends lead designer talked a bit about player needs vs wants, a worth-while read. This is not exactly news to anybody who has even dabbled in the field, but he expresses it well – and many players do not realize these principles.
  • Geeks On had an episode on RPG design.

Tools of the Trade

Question for you guys: Should I keep posting these here, or just on Facebook – or both?