Monday, September 3, 2018

A Useful Cipher

Years ago, when I was still in the Army and working at NSA, I came across an article with obvious use in game (at least if you're the type of DM who likes to make maps with cryptic notations or other similar props).  Luckily, it was not only unclassified, but also available on their external website. 

I don't know what made me think of it today, but here it is.  Enjoy.

https://www.nsa.gov/news-features/declassified-documents/cryptologic-spectrum/assets/files/unsolved_puzzle.pdf

Friday, August 31, 2018

Life Expectancy in Pre-Industrial Times


Again and again, we see advice on making our game worlds come alive by focusing on interesting and believable NPCs.  The players connect with the world through their interactions, connections, affections, rivalries, and enmities.  Today I'm suggesting that another thing that makes the world come alive is when those NPCs drop dead.

If the characters have a home base, but spend a long period of time away from it sailing to dinosaur infested islands and such, the time spent can be emphasized by having NPCs grow older, children get married, babies grow into children and young adults, and especially passing away.  Does the fact that Sister Alice could have used her magic to save little Temma when she got the grippe last winter affect future adventure plans?  How about that goblin raid in the fall that killed Bobert and Cally...Mighty Kemro's presence would have helped a lot.

Even if the players aren't too far away, a sudden death can change the world in drastic ways.  When Good King Ranald passes suddenly and his throne goes to the ne'er-do-well Prince Hingle, it's going to affect the day-to-day business in the kingdom, especially those PCs involved in politics in some fashion. Even losing their regular quest-giver should affect the characters, at least somewhat.



And while a DM might use a death to advance some pre-scripted story, randomly generated deaths can also give ideas for how the world develops, and like other random story elements can provide interesting twists to the one guy who knows nearly everything happening in the world already.

So, how to go about doing this in the game?  Since most fantasy games are set in a pre-industrial world, it makes sense to look at pre-industrial real-world demographics.  Of course, a fantasy setting can have magic that improves life expectancies in myriad ways, but while magic often affects important characters, it doesn't seem to affect the world very much as a whole in most cases.  And even in a fantasy setting, a fast-moving plague can spread faster than clerics of high enough level can cure it.

Here's a life table, breaking the population of Imperial Rome down into age groups and showing the annual chance of death for an individual in that group.  The percentage of the population at each age is also pretty useful for world-building purposes.

https://www.richardcarrier.info/lifetbl.html

Age
Projected
Life Expectancy
Approximate
Percent of Population
in Age Group
Rough Chance
of Being Dead
by the End
of the Year
0
21
4%
36%
1
33
10%
24%
5
42
11%
6%
10
44
11%
5%
15
46
10%
7%
20
48
9%
8%
25
51
8%
9%
30
53
8%
11%
35
56
7%
12%
40
58
6%
14%
45
61
5%
17%
50
63
4%
21%
55
66
3%
25%
60
69
2%
33%
65
72
1%
41%
70
76
0.8%
53%
75
80
0.3%
68%
80
84
1 in 1000
> 99%

This should be an annual "world upkeep" task, done at about the same time and in the same way as major events (Rules Compendium or AD&D Oriental Adventures, for example) are done.  Check each major NPC to see if they die in the upcoming game year, and then use a d12 and d30 (or other suitable random method, depending on the calendar) to pick the month and day that the death occurs.

Also keep in mind the many ways people died back in the day.  There was a lot of disease and warfare, but there were also a lot of accidents.  People got kicked by horses and mules, without strict building codes buildings would collapse, fire-fighting infrastructure was generally inadequate compared to the risk of wooden buildings and thatched roofs going up in flames, and even small wounds could get infected and threaten one's life.

And if an NPC's number comes up on the dice, but a PC (or even another NPC) with sufficient magic is able to come to their aid, maybe they don't HAVE to die just yet, and resurrection is always a possibility anyway.  But nobody lives forever, even in a fantasy world.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Mushroom Tower (Part 3) Attack on the Celestial Sword

So the PCs are ready to ride a fire arrow to the Celestial Sword. Or maybe they've been tricked or otherwise coerced -- Varrtir is playing for high stakes here and doesn't pull any punches. If you're feeling generous, you can equip the party with some Barrier Peaks style equipment. Otherwise just give them some spacesuits and some appropriate space rations, and don't forget to describe them in Anglish.

The trip to the comet doesn't have a whole lot of player interaction. You can describe it in general terms -- high-G liftoff, weightlessness, the gold-colored core of the Celestial Sword looming ever closer, and the crashing impact penetrating into the comet's interior. PCs can now leave the capsule and enter the comet itself.

The outside of the comet is covered in a yellowish dust, blown out into a tail by the "sun-wind."  Inside, where the party now finds itself, the structure consists of a red-gray material that has characteristics of both rock and flesh.  Gravity is relative to the surface, ie if you try to climb the wall, you will succeed because that wall will become the floor from your perspective. Simply walking up the wall will work as will walking across the ceiling, although none of this is immediately obvious.



Tunnels and rooms within the comet grow open or closed in an organic, peristaltic manner as needed by the hive that lives there, although from a human perspective it might as well be random. This usually takes some time to accomplish; the last few rooms and hallways explored will generally remain for several turns, but if characters backtrack very far, they may see a room pinching shut or a new one slowly yawning open. Otherwise, use your favorite random dungeon generator to determine layout.

The interior is structured in several layers, each of which can consist of several "dungeon levels."  The surface layer is where the party will begin, where their rocket has pierced the exterior.  The surface layer consists mostly of greenhouse rooms with skylights and strange plant like things.  These greenhouses are used to produce oxygen, food, and fuel.  Small ventilation tunnels run into and out of the greenhouses, lined with cilia which keep the air moving.  Rooms situated just under/inside the greenhouses are storage rooms where bladder caste sky-fiends (see below) wait for the technician caste to lead them to the greenhouses to water plants, collect food, or process plant waste into fuel.  Other rooms on the surface include landing pod bays; the landing pods are kept unfueled until needed.  Bladders wait in fuel bays nearby.

The interior layer consists of hive-like barracks rooms where the technicians and soldiers rest, as well as hatcheries and nurseries where eggs and young are cared for until they are large enough to assume the duties of their caste.  Some barracks in the lowest levels of the interior have cryogenic stasis pods for keeping enough technicians alive through the long, cold period of the comet's orbit so that they can get the colony moving again once the comet begins to warm.

The deepest layer is the core.  Here can be found the nuclear reactor that keeps the stasis pods running and the core areas warm enough to survive during the long winter, the queen's nest, the royal nursery (where eggs and young destined to replace the current queen are nurtured), and various stores of food and water for keeping the queen and a small retinue alive through the cold years.

The obvious hazards here are the sky fiends themselves.  They look something like a cross between a flea and a hermit crab, generally ranging from the size of a dog to that of a horse.  There are four main castes: bladders, technicians, soldiers, and the queen.

The bladders are the smallest and least intelligent caste, and totally harmless.  They can be easily herded around, and will stop and wait where they are left unless another creature starts herding them elsewhere.  They can absorb water, liquid food, or fuel and store it in their abdomens, swelling like a tick until they reach their capacity of 10 gallons.  Killing a swollen bladder will cause its contents to spill all over the surrounding area; a technician can cause it to release its contents without killing it.

DCC stats: Init +0; Atk 0 (0); AC 10; HD 1d4; MV 30'; Act 1d20; SV Fort +0, Ref +0, Will +0; AL N

RC stats: AC 9; HD 1/2; MV 30'; #AT 0; D 0; Save NM; ML 7; AL N

Technicians are man-sized creatures.  In some ways they are quite intelligent, but in other ways seem almost mindless.  In those things they are good at (herding bladders, repairing structural damage to the comet or the landing pods, tending to the greenhouses, nurturing eggs or young) they act skillfully and decisively to overcome obstacles.  In other tasks (communicating with other species, combat, disposing of non-biodegradable debris like metal weapons or armor), they kind of panic, sometimes hesitantly beginning a task, then pausing, then beginning again, and at other times ignoring the situation in favor of a task they are familiar with.  A technician will prefer to leave a combat situation in order to summon soldiers, but if cornered will defend itself (albeit in a relatively ineffective panic).

DCC stats: Init +0; Atk +0 punch/slap (1d3); AC 12; HD 1d8; MV 30'; Act 1d20; SV Fort +1, Ref +1, Will +0; AL N

RC stats: AC 7; HD 1; MV 30'; #AT 1; D 1-3; Save F1; ML 7; AL N

A technician

Soldiers are the real danger to adventurers.  Ranging from pony-sized up to the size of a large warhorse, where technicians have manipulative "arms" soldiers have sharp, stabbing limbs that deploy with blinding speed.  They are not subtle fighters, rushing into melee as quickly as possible, although they will use cover and concealment to approach if they are taking casualties in the charge.

DCC stats: Init +2; Atk 2 stabs (1d8); AC 16; HD 2d8; MV 40'; Act 2d20; SV Fort +1, Ref +2, Will +0; AL N

RC stats: AC 3; HD 2; MV 40'; #AT 2; D 1-8; Save F2; ML 10; AL N

The queen of the colony is humongous, with a main body of about horse-size, but an abdomen devoted to egg-laying which is the size of a barn.  She isn't particularly intelligent or physically capable; in a fight, she relies on her soldiers to defend her.  If the queen is killed, technicians will immediately begin nurturing one of the royal young into a new queen, taking 1d4 weeks to complete the task.

DCC stats: Init +0; Atk 1 punch/slap (1d4); AC 12; HD 7d8; MV 10'; Act 1d20; SV Fort +4, Ref +3, Will +2; AL N

RC stats: AC 7; HD 7; MV 10'; #AT 1; D 1-4; Save F7; ML 9; AL N

The sky fiends are not the only hazards found on the Celestial Sword.  Varrtir has been launching other adventuring parties up there to try to end this conflict, and they are not all doing very well.  The alien environment and constant fighting have taken their toll, and many have gone around the bend.  Some will wildly attack anything they see, others might seem normal but go berserk in combat attacking friend and foe alike.  Still others might just seem friendly until they are able to steal from the PC party (with or without slaying them first), due to the last major hazard:

Malnutrition.  The sky fiends as well as the food they subsist on taste horrible, but can be choked down by hungry earthlings.  Even so, there is something missing from the alien biological cycle, and humans and demi-humans will slowly waste away from the deficiency. It will take several days of subsisting on food scavenged from the comet before symptoms arise.  Humans can live for about three weeks with no food, so this malnutrition should take at least twice that to kill someone, although die roll penalties after a week or so aren't out of line.  Particularly morbid DMs may have some of the earthlings (PC or NPC) realize that cannibalism would provide the complete nutrition that the comet's ecosystem cannot.

In order to complete the mission here, the characters must do enough damage to the sky fiends' ability to wage war that they can't invade the planet and swarm the Mushroom Tower from the ground.  Random bands of adventurers could force their way into the Tower, so a good-sized horde of soldier castes could do it much more easily.  A partial victory here will prevent the invasion from occurring on this orbit, kicking the can down the road for another 500 years.  A complete victory will deal a final blow to the colony.

I'll leave details of just how much destruction constitutes a victory to the individual DM; here are some ideas to riff off of.

   Killing sky fiends: obviously killing off the aliens themselves will do the job, but since they have the numbers for an invasion force, it's not likely the PCs will have the ability to finish them off in this way.

   Destroying eggs: a lot easier than killing adults, but the queen is able to lay so many eggs, it won't matter much. Soldiers will still be able to land on Earth to attack the Tower.  The best the characters can hope for here is a partial victory, with the colony using the next 500 years to rebuild their numbers to try again.

   Destroying fuel: landing pods turn into suicide pods when they don't have fuel for landing.  As a bonus, leading fuel-laden bladders around to different areas within the Celestial Sword allows you to kill two birds with one stone: burn the fuel and some other infrastructure at the same time.  Simply destroying the fuel supply is only a partial victory.

   Destroying food: whether destroying the greenhouses where the food supply grows or destroying the bladders storing the liquid food for later, reducing the food supply will affect the ability of the colony to survive the cold portion of their cometary orbit.  If every bit of food is destroyed, the survivors will have to resort to cannibalism to make it through the winter, and it may be 1000 years before they pose a real invasion threat again; this is still just a partial victory.

   Destroying water: killing all the water bladders will pose an annoying problem, and may be the fastest way to kill large numbers of sky fiends, but the colony has ways to recycle water used for farming or excreted as waste already, so it will eventually be recovered and stored in newly hatched bladders.  Permanently destroying it (using Disintegration or other magic, or just loading bladders into landing pods and shooting them off into the void) will result in the death of the hive.

   Queen: killing the queen certainly puts a damper on the sky fiends' ability to replace casualties.  By itself, however, it is only a partial victory.  Another queen can be nurtured from an existing egg or larva (whether this is due to some type of royal jelly or radiations from the core of the comet is left to the individual DM).  Destroying the queen and the eggs is a better victory, although it doesn't necessarily prevent a suicidal vengeance invasion by the survivors.  It will limit the damage of such an invasion though.

   Landing pods: shooting the landing pods off into space effectively prevents the invasion this time around, making it a partial victory.  These pods can be replaced by the time the comet orbits around the sun again.  Also, unless the players retain one for their own use, they will have a hard time getting home.

   Core heater: destroying the core heater will ensure the death of the colony.  The cryogenic stasis pods are not automatic, so there must be attendants active outside the pods to awaken those in stasis.  Without the core heater, the queen and her attendants will all freeze during the cold part of the orbit.  If the core heater is destroyed early enough in the adventure, the sky fiends will attempt to send landing pods out with technicians, eggs, and enough bladders to get new nests started.  This would normally be a suicide mission, but with nothing left to lose, it's worth trying.  If the players have already destroyed the landers, technicians, eggs, or bladders, this whole plan falls apart, earning the party a full victory.

Once the party has dealt a fatal blow to the hive, inflicted all the damage they think they can do and still make it back home, or simply get beaten so badly they have to retreat or die, it's time to consider how to get them back to the campaign world (or move them on to another alien planet if that's how you roll).  From the time the Celestial Sword is first sighted in the sky to the time it is no longer feasible to get back should be a total of about 18 months, so it is possible to fit in a long journey to the Mushroom Tower and a lengthy guerrilla war on the Sword itself.

Some possible means to return to the home planet include repairing the rocket the party came in on (or one that brought an NPC party), hijacking a sky fiend landing pod, or calling for help from the Mushroom Tower.  Failing all of these, the party can attempt to use cryosleep pods to wait out the long winter, returning in 500 years to a radically altered campaign world.

Repairing a rocket from the Tower will not be easy, given the unfamiliarity the typical sword-and-sorcery character has with space age technology.  However, given time and enough wrecked rockets to pick over, as well as a generous DM, an intelligent character may be able to cobble together a working vehicle.  They will definitely need to steal some fuel from the sky fiends; hope they didn't kill all the fuel bladders already.

Stealing a landing pod is a little quicker and easier, but humans or demi-humans have no hope of controlling it without help. Besides fueling it, they will also need to snatch up a technician and get its knowledge somehow. A charmed or otherwise mind-controlled technician will cooperate, and an ESP spell can allow a wizard to glean the necessary information to control the machine without the technician's cooperation.

Calling for help won't be easy.  Most magic spells don't carry to interplanetary distances. Perhaps a character can figure out how to repair and use the communications gear from a rocket wreck. If a character messed around with a psychic radio in the Mushroom Tower, maybe there is a lingering connection that allows them to contact Varrtir.  He won't send a rescue team just to evacuate a party that's in over its head, though.  If they haven't ended the threat of the sky fiends once and for all, they'd better get cracking.

At any rate, comms will help with any extraction technique the party chooses to pursue. They can get a walkthrough repairing a rocket, Varrtir can send a rescue rocket to pull them out (this one won't have to crash into the comet if the sky fiends aren't manning defenses), or at the very least Varrtir won't use point defense weaponry against a landing pod if he knows it's not an invader.

I suppose many parties won't be satisfied with saving the world.  For those mercenary sorts, they can earn some material gain by bringing back pieces of sky fiends and/or samples of their plants from the greenhouses.  Earthly wizards and alchemists would be interested in buying these for research.  The connection with the sky in general and a comet in particular may make them useful for flight, weather, or divination related spells or magic items.  If that's not quite good enough, the DM can sprinkle some gems around the comet, possibly embedded in the walls or used as part of the technology in the landing pods, greenhouses, or core heater.

Campaign Continuity Bonus:  If the sky fiends were able to launch landing pods with either soldiers or the basis of new nests, the sky fiends may return in some capacity in later adventures.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Review: Fate's Fell Hand

For the last several years, Daniel Bishop, aka Ravencrowking, has offered a mathom on his birthday (sort of a reverse birthday present, in the tradition of Tolkien's hobbits) for anyone who would write a review of a Dungeon Crawl Classics product and publish it on a blog or message board. I've been aware of this for at least a couple of years, but didn't participate for reasons which can probably be best summed up as "I'm not worthy."

However, overall participation has been down enough to make him question whether it's worth his time, as few people seemed interested. Well now, I'm always interested in good game material, and rather than being misconstrued as apathetic I am reviewing one of my favorite DCC adventures in honor of Ravencrowking's birthday. Happy birthday, Mr Bishop.

I'll try not to drop any major spoilers, but there may be a few of them ahead. Be forewarned.

Fate's Fell Hand is an adventure for 4-8 2nd level characters (there are options to adjust the difficulty for characters of levels 1-4), and tells the story of a three-way war between rival wizards in the Valley of the Magi, a pocket dimension. Three adventure hooks are given, geared toward different classes, and representing the efforts of the wizards to break the stalemate by bringing in allies.


The magical forces involved in reaching out to the PCs and bringing them into the pocket dimension destabilizes it, so now, not only does the party need to decide who (if anyone) to support, they need to resolve the situation before the whole place is dissolved into primal chaos.

Each day, the three wizards are assigned minions, whose free will is largely overridden by the commands of the wizards. Any minions who die are raised again the next day, often just to die once more. Player characters who aren't careful can be drawn fully into the conflict as minions, although they can twist the intents of their temporary masters to their own ends; daily resurrection also applies to PCs who become full minions.

The adventure details a major house in the center of the pocket dimension where most of the interaction with NPCs takes place (including some pretty unsavory nocturnal entertainments) as well as the lairs of the three wizards. These areas are generally pretty small. The main focus of the adventure is character interaction and figuring out how to escape the pocket dimension rather than kicking down doors and looting rooms (although there will probably be some of that too).

There are several ways to win the scenario, and all are challenging enough that the players can feel a sense of accomplishment at getting out of the Valley of the Magi, but not so difficult that a TPK is likely. There is a lot of gaming potential packed into this short book (20 pages plus maps, props, and handouts), and this adventure could easily span several game sessions, with the imminent collapse of the demi-plane building tension as you go. I highly recommend this adventure.

Bonus observations:
  1) The DCC rules describe devils and demons as creatures of Chaos, implying an alignment system similar to that in Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions, with Law being very much the good guys and Chaos being the baddies. Fate's Fell Hand, however, has two Lawful devils (well, a devil and a devil-kin), implying a more Moorcock-esque alignment system, where Law and Chaos contain both good and evil, and good and evil are beside the point when it comes to cosmic conflict.

  2) A major feature of this scenario is a partial Deck of Fates, a tarot-like magical artifact used to assign and control the minions of the warring wizards. The adventure has several pages of cards that can be copied for use as props, and there are also professionally printed cards available (in Spanish) for this purpose. But these are only partial decks; how badass would it be to have a full deck of DCC tarot cards (and some adventure generation procedures) like the tarokka deck published for use with Ravenloft?

 


Thursday, June 7, 2018

Some Notes on River Placement

https://io9.gizmodo.com/a-map-of-all-the-rivers-in-the-united-states-and-nothi-513353739

Follow the link.  Rivers go literally everywhere except the very deepest, driest deserts.

As a side note, most of the waterways shown on this map would not generally show up in a campaign map.  It's important to keep in mind, though, as you drill down into smaller area maps, that there should be more rivers, streams, etc added to feed into the larger ones already on the map.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Mushroom Tower (part 2)

Locations:
Okay, the party is in Highfield, the nearest village to the Mushroom Tower. They may have heard about more specific locations for the Tower, and can continue to seek out rumors if they need to.  There are some mushroom shaped rocks outside the village, and there are plenty of hills that could be fairy related (Is this one greener than the others?  Do the trees on this one grow taller?  Are the flowers here brighter?).  There is nothing resembling an enchanted lake anywhere near here (see below for details on the lake).



Rivals:
Everyone can see the comet in the sky, and the story of the Mushroom Tower is widespread, so there are a pile of adventurers in town.  The inn is full to overflowing, and every spare room and hayloft in the village is occupied.  Some more ambitious adventurers have set up camp in likely spots for the Tower to appear, and quite a few of them defend their turf against trespassers.  In general, higher level parties are more aggressive in their defense, while lower level parties are more willing to join forces to rout out whatever foul beasts happen to control the Tower.  If the PCs have had rivals or recurring enemies in past adventures, they are probably here now; if not, some of the groups here now will be jerks enough to become rivals soon enough.

General Layout:
The Tower rises from underground, telescoping into a sort of circular ziggurat shape.  It is piled high with earth accumulated over the centuries, shedding it from one level to the next slowly when it rains or quickly when a roof hatch levers open.  (When the Tower returns to its underground configuration, it will take time for this earth to refill the hole; in the mean time, it fills with stagnant rainwater.  There's your enchanted lake.)  The lubrication leaking from between the rings of the Tower's structure fertilizes some pretty strange mushrooms, forming concentric fairy rings; funny how none of the tales mention this.  Talking with some of the local oldsters might turn up this clue, or happening across the mushroom rings might be enough for a knowledgeable character.



Each ring of the Tower has a mission focus.  The outer ring (Ring V) contains mainly machine shops and bays for parking, maintaining and repairing ground vehicles (in re: the rumor table, tracked vehicles leave tracks that look like many small feet, hence the large roaring beasts with centipede legs; these robotic ground vehicles are used to gather raw materials from the surrounding area when the Tower is active).  The most likely entry for the PCs is one of these bays, either one that has opened to allow a ground vehicle to leave or a bay that has been damaged enough that characters can squeeze or force their way in through a fissure or warped bay door.  The next ring (Ring IV) has bays for ornithopter drones (resembling dragonflies, sadly none are operational).  The bays have hatches in the roof that open outward, causing any accumulated dirt to spill onto the Ring V.  Ring III contains missile silos (resembling arrows of fire when launched, most are empty now).  Every now and then during the early stages of the exploration of the Tower, a missile will launch skyward.  Ring II has barracks, mess halls, medical facilities, and cryosleep pods (if any of these are still operational, they wouldn't be good for PCs to experiment with).  Some of these are modified to support robots (servants of steel and bone).  The center circle (Ring I) is the command station, with rotating radar dish on top (remembered metaphorically as an all seeing eye).

Because all the rings form a disc when the Tower is contracted underground and a ziggurat when extended, every room that has a connection with an interior ring will have two doors, one at floor level and another about 30' higher.  At one point there was a stairway and/or catwalk that allowed access to the higher doors, but much of that has been salvaged and repurposed to keep the Tower running over the millenia.  The lower doors should be locked when the Tower is extended, but some have malfunctioned; if a PC opens an unlocked lower ring door or forces open a locked one, it opens into a black, yawning abyss (about 40' between Rings V and IV, adding 30 more feet for each ring inward).  Exploring down there will reveal the massive machinery used to raise and lower the Tower, as well as the reactor that powers the whole thing.  None of it will be of particular interest, but might prove dangerous for those who don't know what they're doing.



Threats:
Wandering around the interior of the Mushroom Tower is not very safe.  At one point, it was a very well-equipped installation of a space-faring age, but it's been fighting a war for thousands of years without outside help.  To the characters, it is a place of wondrous magic/science, but to modern eyes, it would look like it's held together by spit and string; the chewing gum and duct tape have already been salvaged for more pressing needs.  Malfunctioning equipment lies around every corner, spitting sparks, leaking reagents, or teetering at the edge of collapse.  Even the working machinery has had much of the safety barriers removed to be used elsewhere.  "We need to repair this catwalk if we're going to access the coolant recycler, and no one's going to walk into this ventilation fan anyway, right?  Take the gridding down."

Some likely threats:
- Zombots: Originally the facility was supported by legions of technicians.  Cryosleep kept them alive far longer than their original culture and technological base, but eventually attrition forced them to build mechanical servitors.  Over time, the technicians all succumbed to the inevitable, and now even these servitors are a pale shadow of what they once were.  What were once constructed of plastic and metal are now cobbled together out of whatever materials are available: recovered plastics and metals, but also wood, leather, and bone are used structurally to shield and protect the vital and nearly irreplaceable circuitry and motors inside.  Zombots look horrifying, but are generally only concerned with maintaining the Tower and slowing the inevitable slide into oblivion.  They only attack characters if they are vandalizing the machinery or structure of the Tower.  Treat as zombies or skeletons, except they are unturnable (even the ones made mostly of bones).

- Vacuum tubes: They look like incandescent light bulbs.  They are very hot, and may shatter if touched.  1d4 burn damage/1d6 glass shrapnel damage.  A cascade of these exploding will ruin your day.

- Cables: These snake everywhere, along walls and across ceilings.  A loose one may emit showers of sparks at intervals, and will probably have a zombot on the way to repair it. They deal 1-6 d6 of shock if yanked loose or cut into.

- Massive gears: Used to open bay doors, raise or lower the Tower rings, or move heavy machinery inside the Tower.  If the gears start turning, characters touching them could be pulled in and crushed (save or die situation; a magnanimous DM could allow a character to get away with merely having a limb mangled beyond the abilities of medieval medicine to repair).

- Ventilation fans: Given the current state of the Tower, the ventilation ducts might be the best way into or out of a given area.  The fans might be spinning, or might be stopped, but activate at any time. Either way, coming into contact with them will do at least 3d6 damage.

- Leaky pipes: As ubiquitous as the cables, pipes run everywhere.  Many of them leak whatever they're carrying, whether that's superheated steam or caustic chemicals.  Give them 1-4 d6 of damage, or choose an appropriate spell effect to apply.

- Psychic radio:  An odd machine for communications.  Someone who knows how to use it may connect with another person's mind telepathically (this may allow a spying function similar to ESP if the DM permits).  Someone who doesn't know what they're doing (most PCs, at least at first) will likely suffer some kind of mental damage (loss of intelligence, amnesia, feebleminding, etc, DM's choice).  It is up to the DM how long it takes for a PC to work out the proper use of the machine.


The Final Boss:
Varrtir, the hero of old, is indeed the Master of the Mushroom Tower. He is found seated in the Command Center (Ring I), at this point not much more than a withered corpse trailing tubes and wires.  He speaks to the PCs through speakers in the walls, and displays information on a wall mounted screen.  If the party seems like they will attack, he will attempt to subdue them by flooding the room with a paralysis gas (Save vs Poison or Fortitude depending on system; treat as Hold Person spell).  If he can't parlay, he knows he will lose (he can't physically defend himself anymore...he's over 500 years old!) and will begin an automatic playback that will describe the true nature of the Tower and his plans to end the eternal war with the Celestial Sword.  The only way to end the playback at this point is to methodically destroy the screen and all the speakers in the room.  If the party is willing to speak with him, Varrtir will reveal the following information on his own, answering the characters' questions as he goes. 

The tales about him being compelled or forced to take the position after defeating the old Master are false.  He took the position on his own, after learning the true nature of the Tower; at that point, he had already slain the old Master.  The Tower was built in times long forgotten as a defense against the Celestial Sword, which is a ship of fiends from beyond the outer dark.  Or aliens, for a more modern audience.  Through the ages the Tower and the Sword have battered each other mercilessly, with neither being able to gain a decisive advantage as attrition has worn down the capabilities of both sides.  The Tower has had a particularly hard time of it, as adventurers have raided it time and again, thinking they were doing the will of the gods. 

Varrtir has a plan to send saboteurs to the Celestial Sword to wreak havoc there.  The same adventurers that have created such chaos in the Tower can surely help to finish off the Sword.  The previous missile launches have been other groups of adventurers.  He may or may not offer the PCs the chance to defend the world; at the DM's option, he may just gas them and send them without consent.

Because the characters are dealing with science beyond their previous experience, and because the players easily understand a lot of scientific ideas and terms, it is recommended that any questions Varrtir answers be couched in strange, unfamiliar terms.  Poul Anderson's Uncleftish Beholding is a pretty good example of real science with strange terms.  This Anglish dictionary should be helpful as well.  Confuse the players the same way their characters are confused.  They should in the end be pretty sure they're taking a rocket to attack a spaceship, but not 100% sure.

If the PCs decline to help, either another party of adventurers does the deed or the aliens win, and with the Mushroom Tower effectively done for, start sending landing parties to conquer the world.

If they decide to help, a zombot will help them to board a missile for launch.

Next time: Part 3 of the Mushroom Tower adventure, Attack on the Celestial Sword.

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Roe River

Probably not the most adventure inspiring river, but interesting nonetheless.

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/roe-river

Then again, maybe it is kind of interesting.  For Giant Spring to gush forth enough water to make a river (as opposed to an intermittently wet ditch) there must be what amounts to an underground river there...