Take on the Lower Depths

A Ment-Jador clutching the skull of a helpless man.

Take on the Lower Depths Cover Page

Today I released another Dungeon World supplement Take on the Lower Depths, written by me and illustrated by Mark Daniels. What follows was a prologue that I pulled out of Take on the Lower Depths. Originally, Take on the Lower Depths was going to be a conversion of Wolfgang Baur’s “Kingdom of Ghouls” – an adventure where the “traditional evil” of the Underdark had found a greater evil. Ultimately, the conversion wasn’t working out for me, so I scuttled the majority of it.

The Prologue that Never Was

In 2008, I learned about Open Game Design during Wolfgang Baur’s “Wrath of the River-King” patronage drive in – This was Kickstarter before there was Kickstarter. I was curious about the model, and I decided to sponsor Wrath of the River King on a lark…I was going through a divorce and decided I might have some additional time on my hands to participate or at least lurk about during the design process.

What I found was an interesting adventure for a new game system (D&D 4E). I also saw an engaged group of gamers, eager and willing to contribute, blurring the lines between consumer and producer, designer and player. And they were still abuzz from Mr. Baur’s recent “Empire of Ghouls” patronage project.

I did some research, and Empire of Ghouls was a re-imagining of Mr. Baur’s Dungeon #70 adventure “Kingdom of Ghouls.” I began digging deeper, and found the adventure intriguing. It was a seed that stuck in my brain.

I was too late to the party to get “Empire of Ghouls” and use it in a 3E game, but I did manage to score a physical copy of Dungeon #70 on the cheap. I quickly read through the adventure, and the scope was impressive. In 29 pages, Mr. Baur had created a mini-campaign – A map with plenty of blanks, action offscreen, dangerous fronts, and grim portents. The simplicity of encounter setup was refreshing and rekindled old memories – especially seeing the then new direction of 2-pages per encounter.

Every so often I would reach for my copy of Dungeon #70, re-read the adventure, and let it roll around in my brain for a bit. With my 2nd Edition books scattered to the wind, I wasn’t ready or eager to convert the adventure to another system – At the time, my personal options for systems were 3E, Burning Wheel, and Diaspora.

As a tangent, I think “Kingdom of Ghouls” in a Diaspora game would be fantastic…there is a terror to having your environmental suit ripped open by a ghoul. And there would be the possibility of breaking out Diaspora’s wargame subsystem. But back to “Kingdom of Ghouls.”

With the development and arrival of Dungeon World, my gaming group and I were like a swarm of ghouls hungry to devour it. The rules had consumed me. The mechanics are simple. The focus is on the narrative. It was a breath of fresh air after choking through constrained 4E adventures that involved gruelingly long combats. And I began kicking around the idea of writing adventures.

My first thought was TSR’s U1 “The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh”, but it turned out that MJ Harnish beat me to it with his “DW-U1 The Haunting of Highcliffe”. I had even begun converting the Moathouse from TSR’s “T1-T4 The Temple of Elemental Evil.” But for some reason this never stuck.

Then I decided perhaps I should turn my attention to something else. And that is when I once again reached to my copy of Dungeon #70 and began in earnest to convert the adventure. And as I was working on it, I realized that I really didn’t like the cloakers as allies for the true ghouls. It felt so very…lame. I needed something else.

I kicked that around for a bit. I returned to plumbing the adventure for monsters that didn’t exist in Dungeon World. And I figured why not make a few more. Inspiration struck – one of the more memorable near TPKs in which I was a player was a 2E game of Bloodstone in which all but two characters (in a party of 7) were slain when they stumbled into a phase spider lair. So I figured why not began writing the blade and skulk spider. Then I stumbled upon the following passage in “Kingdom of Ghouls”:

Since ghouls feast on a bloodless corpse as readily as a blooded one, the vampires have formed an alliance with conquering undead

I wasn’t going to have vampires be the ghöls major allies, as I believe legions of vampires and ghöls would blur the nature of the ravenous ghöls. I decided to replace the cloakers with spiders. Similar types of creatures, but a lot less lame.

I looked to the D&D monster manuals of 1E and 3E as well as Burning Wheel’s “Monster Burner” for inspiration. And then it hit me…why not create an archetypical spider for each of the archetypical D&D classes – Fighter, Thief, Cleric, Wizard. And thus the curate and eldritch spider were born, followed shortly by the reverent spider – its kind of like a Bard.

The result is that now I have plenty of adversaries for more than one front each with enough space for distinct and possibly competing agendas…because lets face it what the hell is the agenda of a society of cloaks? To be dapper? To acquire monocles and top hats?

Forgotten Years – Dungeon World Campaign Session 1

Today, I wasn’t feeling like running the Church of Steve campaign. So Joe offered to run.

Clarence (Mechanic), Gary (Templar), and Ovid (Mage) woke up with no memory and a collapsing shadow tunnel – to flee to the green or white light. With a bit of floundering, and a time spell, they were able to flee the tunnels.

Clarence, Gary, and Ovid appeared in a small cavern with a young coupled going at it hot and heavy. Gary insisted that he march them to their parents and they reluctantly came along – the father chastised the girl and the boy slinked away; the PCs learned a bit more about the city and headed to the Guild district.

There we encountered another mechanic, Harold (name?), who wanted to collect on Gary’s debt but first was going to beat Gary a little. Ovid interceded, offering to cast a spell to improve Harold’s ability to work. Harold was willing to listen but demanded that Ovid promise to pay back the 200 coin in a month.

Ovid agreed, and Harold was willing to accept the casting of the spell as well. Ovid opted to cast a different spell, such that one month for Harold would in fact be 6 months. The spell failed, and Harold was frozen in place with ample attention drawn.

Gary demanded it be corrected and Ovid attempted to undo his spell via another spell…it worked, but would only last for a little bit. So Ovid, Gary, and Clarence bid a hasty farewell.

The characters made it to another shop and met Justin – a talkative mechanic – who was trying to capitalize on Clarence’s failed memory; Justin obviously wanted to get to Clarence’s shop first. Justin also made mention of a tomb that could be looted. Clarence insisted that he trapped his shop. The GM called for a roll to see if there truly was a set trap – Clarence rolled a 9. So Ovid decided to give aid by casting a spell to let past-Clarence know to set a trap.

The spell failed! And the GM pocketed that failure.

Eventually Gary convinced Justin to take them to Clarence’s shop. At the shop doors, Clarence went to open the front door and it exploded. Again Ovid cast a spell to slow the explosion down…and it work, but people were noticing. Clarence’s armor was still intact.

Now to get some help looting a tomb. A call was sent out to plunder the tomb and offering a share of the treasure, and the character’s hired Laureck and Walt, an elf guide and human warrior respectively.

And back to Justin’s for working out details of getting to the tomb. It turns out its 2 weeks away but fortunately Justin was going to front the cost of the expedition.

We cut the session short as Matt was suffering from a rather nasty sinus infection induced headache.

Player Characters

Since the characters were on laminated sheets, I’m recording them here.

Clarence (Mechanic)

Curious Eyes, Jumpsuit, Grease-stained Skin, Lanky Body; Strength 8, Dexterity 13, Constitutino 12, Intelligence 16, Wisdom 15, Charisma 9; Armor 3; Drive: Unfettered Mayhem; Specialization: Research & Development; Suit: Wallflower – Energy Cannon, Arachnoid, Jumper, Covered Cockpit; Bonds: I let Gary pilot my suit once. Never again. Gary keeps dinging up my paint job. Ovid helped me put my suit back together. Ovid is my personal assistant; Equipment: Adventuring gear, Bandages, Head of a shovel. XP: 5.

Gary (Templar)

Harsh eyes, Helmet, Worn holy symbol (a Square), Bulky body; Strength 15, Dexterity 8, Constitution 16, Intelligence 9, Wisdom 12, Charisma 13; Armor 3; Alignment: Good; Race: Dwarf; Bonds: Ovid’s misguided behavior could be a problem. I want to take Clarence under my wing. I won’t take any flak from Clarence. They need to know their place. (Needs 2 bonds). Equipment: Longsword and shield, Templar’s armor, Dungeon rations, Spare pistol, Antitoxin from mother. XP: 5

+1 Forward with Justin (a rambling mechanic)

Ovid (Mage)

Wild hair, worn robes, thin body, and impossibly old (180 or so); Strength 8, Dexterity 9, Constitution 12, Intelligence 16, Wisdom 13, Charisma 15; Alignment: Good; Race: Human;  Bonds: I have shown Clarence the power of the arcane arts. I suspect Gary fears what they do not understand. Clarence knows the secret to my powers. Spell Focus: the Clock, Aligned: Flow of time and stoping aging and movement, erode to dust; Counterspell. Equipment: leather armor, bronze torque , staff, one healing potion, large bone key. XP: 5

Dungeon World Campaign Playbook

I’ve been exploring using Scribus, a free desktop publishing alternative to Adobe’s InDesign. Previous Take On Rules PDFs have been crafted using iBooks Author, but I wanted to try something different.

So I began work on a Dungeon World Campaign Playbook – a printable, ready to saddle stitch booklet. To create your own, make sure you can do 2-sided printing. For my cover page, I grabbed some super heavy paper stock.

Dungeon World Campaign Playbook

Scribus layout of Dungeon World Campaign Playbook

 

Considerations

As I see it, there are five prime real estate pages:

  • Front Cover
  • Inner front cover and first page
  • The middle of the book, where the saddle stitching occurs
  • Inner back cover and last page
  • Back Cover

Another thing that I considered is that the inner pages of a saddle stitched book can easily be removed without adversely affecting the book. In the current iteration, I have Fronts occupying this position, but you could just as easily add blank sheets of paper in the middle.

Go ahead and download Dungeon World Campaign Playbook.

Dungeon World Playbooks

Before I go on, there are a lot of playbooks available for Dungeon World. It is such a lovely and hackable game. And while your campaign may not have room for all of these playbooks, it is always interesting to see what is out there.

They most certainly would have a place in a Dark Heart of the Dreamer campaign, a Dungeon World love letter to Planescape.

Dungeon World by Adam Koebel and Sage LaTorra

The core classes, except for the Barbarian are presently available at dungeon-world.com/character-sheets. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

  • Barbarian
  • Bard
  • Cleric
  • Druid
  • Fighter
  • Paladin
  • Ranger
  • Thief
  • Wizard

Adventures on Dungeon Planet by Johnstone Metzger

Included in this retro-sci-fi sourcebook are four playbooks. Available at RPGNow and Lulu. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

  • Earthling – an adventurer out of time and space
  • Engine of Destruction – a robotic destroyer wreaking havoc upon its enemies and tearing cities down around it.
  • Mutant – a physically unstable shapeshifter
  • Technician – influencer of both man and machine through the power of science

Lair of the Unknown by Johnstone Metzger

An adventure with the goal of helping the GM run their first Dungeon World adventure and possibly campaign. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. It includes the Dungeoneer, the “pre-eminent explorer of dangerous underground areas.”

Available at RPGNow and Lulu.

Inverse World by Jacob Randolph

Presently fully only available via the Inverse World kickstarter. Though there is a partially redacted PDF preview available.

  • Captain – a high-flying airship owner
  • Lantern – a warrior-diplomat of the sun
  • Mechanic – an inventive sort with a technological wonder; Think Tony Stark/Ironman
  • Sky Dancer – able to swim through the sky
  • Survivor – scarred from the aftermath of their cataclysm
  • Walker – a master of parkour and acrobatics
  • Golem – built for battle and made to take orders

Alternate Dungeon World Playbooks by Jacob Randolph

Available at RPGNow as a bundle of four classes. The Mage, Priest, and Templar are inspired by the Wizard, Cleric, and Paladin but remove the last vestiges of D&D magic.

  • Artificer – a tinkerer, inspired by the Eberron Artificer class.
  • Mage – power derived from spell foci
  • Priest – power from the gods; you are a leader of your flock
  • Templar – smite the heretics and drive your allies to push even harder for your cause

Individual Playbooks at RPGNow

I believe all of these playbooks are under some Creative Commons License, which means they are yours to tweak and modified and even redistribute. Though some may come with RPGNow watermarks.

You’ll also want to checkout what bundles are available.

Compiled Freely Available Playbooks by James Myers

Compiled by James Myers, these are various available playbooks. The attribution is a work in progress, and some are possibly earlier versions of those that are available at RPGNow.com.

  • Artificer
  • Assistant
  • Barbarian
  • Charlatan
  • Drider
  • Gladiator
  • Grave Knight
  • Fortune Teller
  • Leader
  • Initiate
  • Namer
  • Noble
  • Psion
  • Shaman
  • True Friend
  • True Knight

  • Warlock

And last but not least, nerdwerd’s Dungeon World resources.

Inverse World – A Dungeon World Sourcebook

For those who are looking for more Dungeon World goodness, might I suggest taking a look at the Inverse World kickstarter. If it hits $8000, I will be writing a handful of adventure locations for the game; These locations will be similar in execution as the locations in Take on Establishments, but with additional questions and rumors regarding each location.

What follows is my use of Inverse World playbooks, but does not necessarily reflect the Inverse World campaign setting.

Tonight, I ran a quick one-shot scenario for four players. And for one of the players, I believe it was their first table top RPG session.

We had:

  • Malakhai – a Survivor that had endured the wrath of an angry Sola.
  • Jordan – a Priest of Veldrun, God of luck, travel, and earth; tasked with requisitioning art (the Priest is from the Dungeon World Alternate Playbooks by Jacob Randolph).
  • Feng – a Walker, master of physical movement.
  • Tyrell – a Lantern, a now owner of a piece of Sola

As the game began, I had little clue where it was going to go. But slowly, as the sheets filled out, ideas were popping.

Feng had a drive to “drop someone from a great height” so I figured why not have this center around an airship. (In Inverse World, Drive replaces Alignment and is what you can use to mark XP at the end. It was also determined that he was a secret member of a cult of walkers.

Jordan was a priest of a religion proscribed by the monotheistic Alliance (the Alliance worshipped Sola). Jordan’s god required him to liberate art.

Malakhai and Tyrell were comrades in a failed rebellion against the Alliance (quick borrow stuff from Firefly). Malakhai had the blaster of his former mentor, whom they had learned was being held on Widdershins, an Alliance dreadnought.

Tyrell had stolen a piece of Sola, and as such could claim authority amongst the Alliance, even though he had no backing.

So it was going to turn into a caper. And sure enough, it did.

So it Began

Jordan, Malakhai, and Tyrell had secured an air skiff to fly up to the Widdershins and attempt to break out Malakhai’s mentor Burk – a high-ranking political prisoner. Jordan was primarily in it for the “liberating of fine art.” Feng was the air skiff pilot’s assistance and had gleefully volunteered for the position.

They were going to dock at the Widdershins – it had a hull inspired by the Battlestar Galactica – and attempt to blend in with the coming and goings of the various support craft that were also coming for the Gala.

What ensued was absolute chaos. It began as expected, with Tyrell escorting Malakhai as a prisoner – after all he the telltale burning eyes of someone who had committed horrific crimes and Sola had marked – and Jordan acting as the man servant.

Feng, unloading baggage from the skiff, seized the first chance to throw someone off of the makeshift peers attached to the Widdershins. And rolled snake eyes. He failed and things quickly escalated with Feng taking a few blaster shots to the shoulder, raising an alarm all the while with Tyrell, Malakhai, and Jordan bluffing and conning their way deeper into the belly of the dreadnought.

The remander of the session was split between the two groups.

While Feng was evading detection, he stumbled upon a massive set of explosives hidden on the hull of the Widdershins. He proceeded to run a line of oil along the hull and then ignite the bomb.

Meanwhile, the others had begun working their way to the brig; Always pulling rank on guards, even managing to get one of the guards to escort them to the brig. Until eventually they made it to where the brig. And KABLOOM! The Widdershins had lost one of its two cargo bays. And rolled 90 degrees.

Malakhai used this opportunity to kill their escort, and they began their attempt to take the brig. It was a messy firefight that quickly shifted to a knife fight, and we had to wrap up so one of the players could leave.

Observations

I really need to ditch the idea of having everyone take turns during a combat. There was a point where it simply made sense, after a bumrush by the player, to ask them what they were doing. I recognized this after another player had went, but momentum of the moment had been lost.

The four playbooks were an interesting combination, with the Walker being predisposed to a lone-wolf character – especially since my 15 year old son was playing it. I also liked the dichotomy of the religious undertones of the Lantern, and the very religiously focused Priest.

We are all getting more used to helping intertwine our characters, especially to figure out how the hell things are going to get started. On that note, I still haven’t started a session En Media Res; It is something that is perhaps a bit more challenging when you say “Here choose from these 26 or so playbooks.” But let me reiterate that I really like having everyone choose the playbook they want to use and meshing the tables desire into a cohesive unit.

Playbooks

Walker: If you are interested in a ninja, thief-acrobat, Spider Man, or Nightcrawler, this class is where it is at. The selected Drive – “Drop someone from a high height because you can” – defined the session. The moves are all about mobility and taking advantage of superior mobility. Look for future derivative classes.

Survivor: The name sums it up; They are a tough nut to crack and have plenty of moves to make sure you know about their suffering. If you are interested in the grizzled war veteran with a story to tell, this class would suit you well.

Lantern: I really like this class. You have control over light, and control over the masses, but not with the religious overtones. And they have quite possibly the most fictionally awesome move of any class – Twilight Reckoning

Twilight Reckoning

Requires: Twilight Blade

When you deal damage to a surprised, defenseless, or damaged enemy with your Twilight Blade, you may sever anything from the target – their life, their limb, their relationship with someone, their most prized possession, their thoughts on a topic, anything. If you do, deal no damage.

Priest: Somewhat of an alternate Cleric with the need for explicit spells and levels stripped out. You build your god’s domain by defining what it controls, represents, its worshippers, enemies, and demands. Your invocations, that you craft on the fly, can interact with those concerns. Quite clever, and extremely flavorful.