Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Into the Megadungeon

Just a quickie to let you know that if you're not following Ben Laurence's new podcast Into the Megadungeon, you are doing yourself a serious disservice. I'm sure his blog Mazirian's Garden has a wider reach than mine, but goodness gracious this is good stuff. So far, he's interviewed James Maliszewski, Nick Kuntz, and Gus L, and I've thoroughly enjoyed each. Don't sleep on it.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Brechewold Forest Design Notes (and Available Now!)

The Yellow Book of Brechewold is now available in print and PDF on Lamentations of the Flame Princess's EU online store (which ships worldwide), or just PDF on DriveThruRPG. If you're in the US and want to save on shipping, it should eventually be available from LotFP's US online store. If you pick it up, and especially if you use it, let me know what you think.

Besides writing a big ol' dungeon, another of my design goals for Brechewold was to “cook with all the flavors of vanilla.” There’s weird shit in there (or at least I hope so, or it doesn’t belong on a “weird fantasy” publishing label), but the weird shit serves to complement and enhance the classic shit rather than completely subvert it. 

And by classic, I mean largely pre-Tolkien/Moorcock/etc - things that would be classified as “medieval romance” rather than fantasy. I’m talking Arthurian legend, Robin Hood, Shakespeare, and the meanest fairies you ever met. And for the most part, I’ve tried to separate the classic elements into the forest and the more esoteric stuff into the school dungeon. There's a difference in tone, too - where the dungeon is creepy, the forest is often farcical. I think of the forest as a "medieval British Disneyland." There's exceptions to this - I think the fairy knights in the forest encounters are the creepiest thing in the book - but they're there to stand out rather than set the tone.

So, hopefully the feeling Brechewold evokes is a real artisanal, hand-churned vanilla sundae with a few sardines and habaneros mixed in that the ice cream shop didn't mention - but they're truly excellent sardines and habaneros. Contrasts in tone are a powerful tool for highlighting the really strange or dramatic parts of a setting. If everything is one note, there's no melody.

Some features of the forest:

  • Generators for the aforementioned fairy knights, plus original recipe knights.
  • Solitary giants and trolls in a variety of flavors. I decided that each troll has a season in which its power is at its height, and is less dangerous the rest of the year.
  • Speaking of which, there are encounter tables for each season. There are mainstays that appear throughout, but I wanted to create a rhythm to the year with the differences. I've never seen this done before, but I'm sure you'll correct me in the comments. Nevertheless, this was an idea I had all by my lonesome that I like a lot.
  • A coven of witches headed by Arthur's half-sister Morgause.
  • A band of outlaws that rob from the rich and give to the poor in service of their militant anarcho-syndicalism.
  • Shrines to misfit saints, like St. Demelza the Hard-to-Read and St. Cadwaladr Who Did Not Die Very Easily. They grant various boons.
  • A relic from the Last Supper (not that one).
  • Various native plants and other resources that have uses elsewhere in the setting or can be baked into a magic pie.

I'll write one more design post on the faculty and the engine that supports player choice - the course catalogue.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Design Notes for Brechewold's Big (Not Mega) Dungeon

At its heart, Brechewold is a failed megadungeon. Actually, it began life as this post, a way to quickly generate wings of a magic school. However, I’ve come to see random generators as best for smaller dungeons, where the results can be made coherent more easily. In a larger environment, especially where the generator must be repeated, things tend to take on a bland sameness, no matter the creativity of the random tables.

I set out to turn the original post into a completely keyed megadungeon. In my naïveté, I thought this might end up being a short pamphlet that I could put up on DriveThruRPG. Well, I got to 101 rooms, got tired, liked the symbolism of the number, and stopped. That’s big, but to me “mega” should evoke feelings of endlessness and incomprehensibility. We can argue over how many rooms it takes to create that feeling (300?), but I don’t think I hit it.

Still, I do think the dungeon is big enough for my purpose. It supports many delves and is dense enough to require several trips to the same location to explore it fully.

So, the center of a Brechewold campaign is the big ol’ dungeon below the castle in which the school resides, representing older, abandoned parts of the school and previous inhabitants of the site. It has seven levels. Do I need to say that if you read on you could spoil something for yourself?

I. Cellars - This is the most conventional dungeon, with a few booby traps, some neat tricks and boons, and an avoidable boss monster ghost. It’s training wheels for Brechewold and aimed especially at people who are new to old school play (most of my players).

II. Aviary - An experiment in building a concentric dungeon - in this case, concentric bird cages. There are helpful birds, dangerous birds, and birds in between. Most importantly, there’s a game of snakes and ladders - as in, you’re actually supposed to play the board game. There’s also a disgraced professor in hiding who could function something like a merchant, but the real secret on this level is the hidden armory of crazy staves, inspired by the scene in if…. when they find all the military-grade weapons and turn them on the teachers.

III. Orrery - This has the first of four secret sub-levels, a castle on Mars reachable by a magic carpet. It also contains a big anti-gravity orrery that clever players could use as an ambush, and two secret rooms: one that holds an item that makes the “end” of the dungeon considerably easier, and another where the eponymous Yellow Book resides.

IV. Antiquities and Alchemy - I’m pretty proud of the Dream Vault sublevel here, where some characters need to act in the real world while others act in a parallel dreamland to unlock a magic item. It’s the most Zelda part of the book. The alchemist’s laboratory is full of my favorite kind of dungeon shit: stuff the players know their characters shouldn’t mess with, but they can’t help themselves.

V. Archive and Ruins - This is where the school starts to give way to older inhabitants of the site, like a dwarf fortress and the tomb of a Celtic chieftain. There’s a dwarven gate to other dimensions operated by binary, which to me feels very logical for dwarves to do. Not sure how easy that will be to figure out. There are also some goblins running a diploma mill, of course.

VI. Demonium - I’m also very proud of the way to get into this level: you have to let your character be killed by an evil doppelgänger, which is some Metal Gear Solid type shit. This is where the dungeon really starts to take on a metaphysical Mythic Underworld character. There’s a gate to Hell, natch.

VII. Crystal Cave - This is where Nimue is guarding Merlyn trapped in crystal. You didn’t think he was really gone, did you?

Interconnectivity: One of the most important ways to make a dungeon really sing (and feel disorienting) is to provide lots of connections between levels. On the first level alone, there are less-than-obvious ways to get to every other level. In fact, there is an extremely easy way to get to the very end of the dungeon - It just requires a (literal) leap of faith and will hopefully feel obvious in hindsight.

I’ll be back next week with more about the book’s other components. On sale now at Gen Con, booth 2930.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

The Yellow Lamentations of the Brechewold Princess

Jesus, it's been too long. Has time truly progressed to this late date?

Here are my excuses:

1. Had a baby.

2. Any surplus energy has gone into Brechewold. Happy to report it is now done.

The Yellow Book of Brechewold will be published imminently by Lamentations of the Flame Princess. How imminently? If you’re going to Gen Con, James will sell you a book tomorrow. Sadly I will not be in attendance (see: baby). For the rest of us, it will be available on the web store August 11.

So what is it?

First of all, I think it may be the tamest and most trad-D&D book in the Lamentations catalogue. There are elves in it, for Christ’s sake. This makes me feel a bit inadequate, while at the same time filling me with a perverse sense of satisfaction.

Nevertheless, I think it was this description that sold James on the project: it is what would have happened if Jack Vance had written Harry Potter as a sequel to T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. There is a magic school founded by long-gone (?) Merlyn full of amoral scheming wizards and deep dungeons beneath. I think of the surrounding enchanted forest as a sort of medieval British Disneyland, with knights in shining armor, merry men, and the like. Hopefully Monty Python references are still cool in 2023.

I’ll be back with more Brechewold coverage later in the week. For now, check out the table of contents: