Thursday, August 24, 2017

Megadungeon MacGuffins

I suppose it's a commentary on my work ethic, but I'm finally working in earnest on the megadungeon that I threatened back in this post.  The overall setting of the campaign was described (at my usual pace) here.  Because I suck at making pretty maps, I'm just using Warhammer's campaign setting as a map.  Middenheim is the city that the dungeon is beneath.

Part of the creation of the megadungeon will be MacGuffins, and that's the focus of this post.  MacGuffins drive dungeon exploration, but a megadungeon should have many to keep driving exploration.  You can find one, but there will always be more.  Also, like any MacGuffin, they'll drive intrigue in and out of the dungeon as well.  The stereotypical MacGuffin doesn't have much use on its own.  Player characters can trade any of these MacGuffins for gold (and I'm using gold for EXP) but some of these MacGuffins will have tempting uses on their own.  Whenever I need a new hook for the megadungeon, I just need a hook for another MacGuffin.  They'll also show up on my random dungeon stocking tables and on my city rumor tables.

Besides the usual 'specials',factions and individual NPCs within the megadungeon, this megadungeon will have the following MacGuffins: Heresies, Dwarven Treasure Vault Keys, and Raven Cloak Feathers.


Scattered through the dungeon are recordings of scripture and the testimony of prophets.  Some of these are desired by creatures within the dungeon for their own sake, others are recorded on pretty plates of precious metal, and others are incidental trash left alone.  Regardless, various factions within and without the Church desire these bits of knowledge, collectively called ‘Heresies’ and will pay handsomely for them.

Player characters can sell them, either to their faction contacts or through the heresy black market (called the ‘copper market’ on account of many of them being written on copper plates) run by the Thieves Guild.  PCs can also use them to play faction politics, as different heresies will support or counter the beliefs of the factions.  If they’re into it, we could even play a long run version of the game Credo.

The How of the Heresies
The dungeon is beneath the city of Middenheim, the seat of the Empire and at one point the seat of the patriarch of the Church of the Sun.  The CotS is a stand-in for institution of the Roman Catholic Church for my version of the medieval-not-medieval world I’m running.  In the Egestion of the Cathedra, the Trickster left through the back door of the Church’s Temple, breaking wards and opening doors, allowing the chaos underneath into the Church’s archives.  There may yet be some intact sections of the Holy Archives, but many of the documents are scattered into the unnumbered halls.

Questions of dogma and belief have created factions within the Church.  Other factions have their own beefs against the Church, their own beliefs or they are aligned with a faction in the Church.  Notoriously, Communing with the God to answer questions of dogma is unreliable as you only get the answers you want to hear.  So the Church is dependent upon the “verified” words of Prophets as authorities to handle those questions. 

Some of the current, long standing heresies include:  whether the Charioteer that drives the Sun was once a man that became a god (aka the Arian heresy), whether only the clerics that cast spells are true priests of the God (aka the Donatist heresy), whether the God is a divine charioteer that pulls the sun like Apollo, or whether the Sun God itself is a ball of fire (the Eastern church believes in the Solar heresy, the Western church is the Apollonarian), but there are others.  Most heresy finds within the dungeon will support or contradict at least one of the established heresies.

Dwarven Treasure Vault Keys

These use a physical minigame,On the Dot, in which 16 different transparent tiles are fit to match the pattern of 64 different puzzle tiles.  There were 16 Dwarven clans represented in Middenheim, corresponding to the 16 transparent tiles.  Many dwarves had their clan keys, which fit into the locks of 64 Dwarven treasure vaults (plus some single clan only minor vaults).  Scattered through the dungeon, and occasionally in the Dwarven Diaspora are multiple copies of the 16 transparent tiles.   

When the PCs acquire one, they can see it and I will record which one they have.  When they find the Dwarven Vaults (some of which are together on a single level, others are hidden on other Dwarven levels), I’ll give them the tiles that they have. There will be lore hints (reading Dwarvish will help), and on the lower levels the vault locks will disallow transparent tiles that aren’t part of the solution.  Each placement or rearranging of a transparent tile to match the solution will trigger a possible Dwarven theft counter measure or be noisy enough to trigger a wandering monster check.  Getting the puzzle right the first time will save them trouble.

The vaults are rumored to contain fantastic wealth.  Due to the Hysteria Regia and the circumstances of the Dwarven Disapora, Dwarves themselves are divided as to the correct providence of the treasures.  Some feel that the treasures are their birthright to return to claim.  Others maintain that the vaults contain the stolen treasure of traitors.  Dwarves have fought over the ownership of the keys, but like the Heresies, there is a market in buying and selling them that the PCs will be able to participate in. 

Feathers of the Raven Cloak

Before She entered the mundane world in what would become known as the Egestion of the Cathedra, Lady Dischordia tricked the Raven Queen into giving up her Cloak of Raven Feathers.  As She ran from the wrath of both Gods, feathers from the Cloak littered her path.  Subsequently they’ve been scattered throughout the dungeon.

Each feather has some power of the Raven Queen, which grows as more are accumulated.  However, they are also cherished by the followers of the Raven Queen, and are famously the only means to gain the favor of a Raise Dead spell from the Raven Queen’s High Priestess.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Old Schooling 5th Edition's Identify Spell

Identifying magical items is one of the areas of play where the game does not meet the fiction.  In part, this is due to magical items becoming frequent commodities and tools and not the singular plot points of fiction.  Yet some of us do have stories of the first time we found a wand, pressing the button, or quizzing the Dungeon Master on the properties of the newly found sword we were swinging about.

A spell that gratuitously reveals all the mystery removes those moments from play.  On the other hand, spending 30 minutes of play deciphering that +1 dagger isn't fun for anyone else at the table, least of all the sole player and DM at that moment.  In 1st edition, the Identify spell was nearly unplayable by the book.  It needed to be cast within a certain time frame of acquiring the item so that the debilitating effects could be dangerous, and the 100gp cost was also meant to be significant, at least to the 1st level caster that had access to it.

The 1st Edition Identify is a wall of text that today makes me squint and day dream, but here were the highlights:
  1. The item must be examined within 1 hour per level of the caster.
  2. The caster only has a 15+5/level % chance of discovering at most the caster level number of properties.
  3. The caster temporarily loses 8 points of constitution, which are regained at 1 per hour of rest.

That's a far cry from the ease with which one discerns the properties of magical items in today's editions.

Erol Otus, making your games cool since 197someone will tell me

5th edition conveniently categories items according to tiers of rarity - from Common to Legendary.  This may be a means of preserving the mystery of discovering a magical item when the item is meaningful to the character.  So try on my 5E Identify spell to "see if it fits":

The 1e Identify was also QUITE clear that the magic-user would have to wear the item, and be the target of any ill effects...


1st-level divination (ritual)
Casting Time:  1 minute
Range: Touch
Components: V, S, M (a pearl worth at least 100gp and an owl feather)
Duration: Instantaneous

Very Rare

You choose one object that you must touch throughout the casting of the spell.
If it is a magic item or some other magic-imbued object and your caster level is less than required for its rarity tier, you must make a saving throw with your spell casting attribute of DC 15 plus the difference in caster level required.  If you fail the saving throw you learn no properties of the item and you gain the difference in rarity tiers in exhaustion levels.

If you succeed on the saving throw or have a caster level equal to or greater than the rarity tier of the item, you may learn its properties.  Each property requires an arcana skill check with your spell casting attribute of DC 10 plus the difference in caster level required to identify the property.  A failure still informs you something of the property according to the whim of the Dungeon Master.  This may be the command word, the school of the spell that produces the property, an image or a riddle.

If you instead touch a creature throughout the casting, you learn what spells, if any, are currently affecting it.

Casting Identify upon an item consumes the pearl.

From the 1st Edition DMG - this is by Tom Wham, correct?