The audience can’t get enough Genghis Khan as Ken and Robin talk live from London’s Dragonmeet.
I know what you come here for. For Dracula or Cthulhu or in some cases both. So that’s why this month we’re going to give you a different kind of both. Yes, it’s time for that Moon Dust Men-School of Night crossover that you demanded! Maybe not you, specifically. Maybe just Michael Grasso. But anyhow, settle in for the amorphously-demanded thriller skeleton to Celestial Spheres, or, The Immanence of the Holy Sputnik. As an added bonus, this is what a Ken-designed scenario looks like before I run it the first time.
Part One: Moon Dust Men: Right Around Now
Hook: The Moon Dust Men get spotty telemetry on an incoming object with a spherical radar reflection, heading for the Tyrrhenian Sea near Elba. A quick stage to an American aircraft carrier in the Med, a hop to Elba, and they’re ready for recovery duty.
Wakeup: A Soviet submarine is on site, with a team competing for the object. Perhaps it’s their opposite numbers in Setka-MO!
The First Reveal: The Moon Dust Men defeat the Soviets and recover the object, which is a surprisingly intact — almost as though the object didn’t actually fall through most of the atmosphere — replica of Sputnik 1, which supposedly burned up in orbit in 1958. Weirder yet, it has a large-caliber (.60) bullet hole in its lower quadrant. (Possibly, the metal of the object doesn’t quite match the original: iridium instead of titanium, that kind of thing. Or not.)
Blowback: A KGB “Blue Star” psychic heads up a team of Directorate 13 wet-workers to ice the Moon Dust Men and take the sphere back. This is not normal procedure: the Soviets must really want this thing. Perhaps the Russians even get it back, though not without leaving some clues behind.
The Twist: Further investigation (dying words of the psychic, ticket stub found in the KGB safe house, Ufology spend, Interpersonal ability with a lovely guest-star art historian) leads the Moon Dust Men to nearby Montalcino, Italy, where they discover “The Disputation of the Eucharist,” by Ventura Salimbieni. Painted between 1595 and 1600.
Part Two: Sphaeris ex Caelis
Hook: The Night Scholars hear that the Jesuits in England have begun communicating with a “sphere from heaven” and receiving their marching orders through it. This presents a clear and present danger to the realm!
Curtain: Art History notes that the “celestial sphere” or “sphere of heaven” is a common motif in Renaissance art, indicating God’s control of, and complete knowledge of, the world. Often God (or sometimes Christ) are shown with slender scepters to control it with. No sightings of this “sphere” in England can be found.
Wakeup: The Jesuit network pushes back, sending bravos and pursuivants after the Night Scholars. They seem oddly able to predict where the Night Scholars will be.
The First Reveal: Having found the Jesuit mastermind by serially defeating his minions, the Night Scholars ransack his lodgings (either after killing him or after his amazingly lucky hairs-breadth escape) and find one of the slender scepters. It shortens in upon itself in an ingenious way that not even Thomas Hariot knows will be called “telescoping” in 200 years. This scepter provides magical connection enough to try summoning the sphere of heaven to see what blasphemy the Jesuits are dealing in.
The Twist: The summoning works, in a way — but the sphere is both more and less horrible than the Scholars imagined. It floats of its own and beetles into their minds. It seems to have an inhuman intelligence behind it, revealing uncanny future visions to them — although it addresses them in Russian! During the ceremony, it seems weirdly able to pass the magical barriers around it, vanishing only after a pistol shot wounds it.
Part Three: Epi-Logos?
The Moon Dust Men are left with an enigma. They can further investigate the possibility of the time vortex or rift that sent Sputnik back to 1595 and forward again to 1979. Is that the only Sputnik duplicate out there? Did the Soviets get time-travel telemetry in 1958 from Sputnik 1 and now need only a third data set to triangulate it and develop temporal technology themselves? Are there temporal aliens among us? (If the sphere’s metal was different, perhaps they built a duplicate Sputnik of their own and sent it back as a message.) The GM can introduce plenty of weird time-slip stuff to indicate that the sphere has opened a bit of a wound in reality by coming through — something like a bullet-hole in reality’s lower quadrant, perhaps.
The Night Scholars may never know what they’ve stopped, or they may start seeing other strange mechanical devices and lights in the sky infest their world. The artistic community discovers Salimbieni’s sketches when he makes them in 1595, and they reach the Scholars — perhaps a trip to Italy is in order? Salimbieni is closely tied to the powerful Cardinal Bevilacqua and the Knights of the Golden Spur, the pope’s mysterious Golden Militia selected from artists, courtiers, and soldiers alike — is this the opposite number to the School in the Vatican? Many threads lead off this tapestry.
It’s up to the GM whether the Sputnik time-loop is a one-off mystery or the opening gun of a new series arc for either campaign. Perhaps the links continue — did Anthony Blunt (royal art historian and KGB spy) send the Soviets the secret artistic keys to time travel or demonic prophecy or both? He’s still in Britain in the 1970s after his secret confession in 1966 — perhaps the Moon Dust Men can break him down and get him to reveal the real truth.
A Dreamlands Location
When traveling through the Dreamlands, especially when accompanied by Luis Buñuel or Salvador Dalí, one may come upon La Abadía de los Putrefactos, an imposing structure of suffocating order. It appears as a counterforce after you move the Dreamlands too quickly toward chaos and freedom. Should you attempt to move away from it, it shifts its position, placing itself always in your way. With great effort, you can sidestep it, but if you do, it will be all the harder to avoid the next time it places itself before you. The only way to dismiss it, and then only temporarily, is to enter it and interact with its mummified inhabitants. Like the dream-structures they are, their corridors defy attempts to remember where you’re going. As you wend your way through its cyclopean hallways, you hear shuffling feet but likely see no one. Then you find yourself outside an arch, from which low murmurs emanate. Inside you may find a chamber of empty chairs arranged around a dusty table, perhaps strewn with the bones of a child or minotaur.
Or you might stumble upon the putrefactos themselves. Gaunt, whispering, coughing up clouds of dust, these dried-up liches wear the uniforms of authority, dressing as businessmen, military officers, and most of all, bishops and cardinals. They direct querulous stares in your direction. A skeletal functionary, its forefinger an ink-filled pen nib, records each command they make of you, skritching down a transcript of proceedings on an infinite vellum scroll,.
The putrefactos know many esoteric secrets, and may share them with you, in exchange for your deference. Bold dreamers may succeed in intimidating them: they fear satire, sex, and fire. Should you want to tamp down the liberties of a fellow dreamer, they’ll eagerly provide the poisons and gems of control necessary for the task. Waking visitors to the Dreamlands can take these artifacts back with them to the real world. They aid you as you perform acts reinforcing what the putrefactos call the stasis quo. But beware: keep them too long and they harden the arteries, induce arthritis, and degrade your bones.
Louis Aragon says that church and state will crumble if only a surrealist dreamer can find a way to destroy the abbey once and for all. The hopping moonbeasts of Leng, it is said, despise the putrefactos, and have developed a weapon to trap their abbey for eternity in the tear of a swan. Dare you venture there, and ask them for this gift?
In the Trail of Cthulhu campaign sourcebook Dreamhounds of Paris, you play the major figures of the surrealist movement as you discover your ability to manipulate the fantastical realm of the sleeping mind. Order it today, or the bulbheads will get you!
Dreamhounds of Paris’ sandbox structure requires players to know what they want to do as their surrealists explore and alter the Dreamlands. Knowing what you want from a sandbox roleplaying environment can be harder than it sounds. Luckily, the unconscious automatism so beloved by the historical surrealists can come to your rescue.
Just scour the net for your favorite, most horrific or darkly fantastic works of surrealist art. If you’re playing an artist, you can limit your scope to your PC’s work alone. Or you can widen the field, as the setting assumes that multiple surrealists are changing the dreamscape to more closely resemble their own paintings, and vice versa. There’s no reason you, as René Magritte, can’t stumble into a Picasso vista haunted by cubist maenads.
You might want to print them out. Or you could collect them on an image curation site like Pinterest or Dropmark.
In the first case, you can shuffle them like cards, pull a random one, and show the Keeper and rest of the group: “Hey, I want to go there.”
Or you can adopt the more narratively proactive, “Hey, look where we are.”
For the virtual version, you could number the entries and then use a random number generator to pick one of them.
Not that you have to randomize; you can scan the list and pick one that strikes you as matching the themes and images of the series so far.
If you’re lucky, some enterprising Dreamhounds readers will read this and build their own repository of suitable images, grouped by painter, for everyone’s use.
So if you’re playing Salvador Dalí, you can start the session by saying:
“We’re going to go see this guy hatch out. I’m certain that it will be delightful to discourse with him, as he will have many insights to inform my paranoiac-critical method!”
At this point a cautious other player might decide that whoever comes out of that egg will be much too dangerous. If it’s Max Ernst he might instead say:
“That can’t possibly end well. I promised Leonora we would meet her in a verdant jungle. Let us avoid danger and horror for at least one night.”
You might respond in turn that the weird idol face in the corner suggests more weirdness than your man hatching from the egg.
Whatever decision you come to, the Keeper has had time to think of what might happen in both Dreamlands locations, already vividly realized in your minds.
Don’t worry too much about the period in which the painting was made. A later painting could easily be based on an experience the artist had in the Dreamlands during the period of your game.
The Dracula Dossier RPG is backed – more than backed!
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Eyes of the Stone Thief, the megadungeon campaign for 13th Age Roleplaying Game, is now available to pre-order! Order your copy here and you can download the PDF immediately.
If your ongoing 13th Age campaign doesn’t have a place for a gigantic megadungeon like the Stone Thief (listen! Can you hear its plaintive earthquake-like whimpering as it begs you to let it rampage through your game?), then the thing to do is get out your shiny +3 Axe of Book Dismemberment and chop the dungeon into its constituent parts. With a few choice hacks and a little sewing of plot threads, the Stone Thief’s thirteen interconnected levels become thirteen regular dungeons suitable for an evening’s delving.
The Maw, together with the Gizzard, are actually the two hardest levels to convert – they’re both tied to the Stone Thief’s schtick of eating bits of the surface world, which doesn’t translate neatly to a stand-alone dungeon.
For the Maw, drop the Chasm encounter entirely, so the players have to enter via the Front Door. They make their way down past the Ghouls and Spear-Fishing Bridge as normal (optionally, sub in a standard fight scene for the Goblins). Leave the Stolen Palace as a cryptic side quest, then have the Doorkeeper’s door open onto the Gates of the Stone Thief, so the PCs have to surf down a landslide of rubble (that runs under the Spear-Fishing Bridge) to get to a final encounter of your design. Maybe…
- it’s the lair of an orc shaman with elemental earth powers (explaining the churning landslide, and the orcs)
- A natural gate to the plane of elemental earth has opened, and must be sealed before it turns half the world to stone
- A swarm of monstrous subterranean beetles are digging their way to the surface, and the hive queen must be slain before they undermine the city. The orcs and ghouls are opportunistic scavengers, drawn by the anticipation of carnage.
The Gauntlet’s easy to convert. Drop the Giant’s Causeway and the Belfry encounters, and you’re left with a killer dungeon in the ruins of an ancient dwarven temple to the gods of the forge. The objective of the dungeon is to recover Grommar’s sword from the body of the fearsome minotaur who killed the dwarf master-smith. The party enter by the Falling Stairs… and well, if they survive the traps and trials of the Gauntlet, they deserve a death-slaying sword. You can reskin the Mad Butcher as Grommar’s vengeful & insane ghost if you want to make the place even more dangerous.
- Grommar’s buried library contains some fabulous treasure, or lost secret of the dwarven smiths that must be recovered
- It’s a race against another party of rival adventurers to get through the Gauntlet and recover the sword
- The Gauntlet is a prison used by the Dwarf King to punish those who have really offended him
- It’s a competitive dungeon-arena under Axis where teams of adventurers race to complete the course as swiftly as they can
The Gizzard best pulled apart for parts. You can use Jawgate and the Slaver Camp as part of some other orc-themed saga. The Halls of Ruins and the Gizzard chamber itself could be presented as a weird dungeon where a crazed wizard, the Architect, tries to build a patchwork city out of the ruins of past Ages – the Stone Thief writ small, effectively.
The Ossuary’s a self-contained crypt dungeon, and requires next to no changes. You might wish to rewrite the imprisoned Gravekeeper as another undead – maybe the Gravekeeper is an emissary of the Lich King, charged with protecting this ancient tomb complex, and the Flesh Tailor is an arrogant, upstart necromancer who’s taken over and is endangering the balance between the living and the dead.
- The Flesh Tailor can be a recurring villain in your campaign – start off with the PCs encountering his masked undead spies, then they track the necromancer down to his lair and slay him – and only then does he come back in his augmented undead form.
- Move the Ossuary to Necropolis, and you’ve got a tale of intrigue and body-snatching among the nobles of the Undying Peerage, where the Flesh Tailor stole the palace of the Gravekeeper.
Dungeon Town is best pulled out of the dungeon entirely. Reimagine it as a settlement of castaways and survivors – maybe they’re shipwrecked on a monster-haunted island, or trapped on a flying realm, or on the back of a Koru Behemoth, or stuck in some extradimensional plane. The Wild Caves become the perilous landscape just outside this little fortified community of survivors.
If you’re making Dungeon Town the centre of an adventure, then you may wish to make the Provost into more of a villain – perhaps recast him as the Jailor, who deliberately trapped the other survivors here for some mysterious purpose.
- You can drop Dungeon Town into some other dungeon of your design. Maybe the people aren’t trapped – they’re drawn to the dungeon by the promise of wealth (the dungeon’s a gold mine) or power (it’s a well-spring of magical energy, or youth, or it boosts spellcasting ability) or devotion (it’s a temple taken over by monsters, or a holy site).
- Alternatively, rework Dungeon Town as a criminal stronghold – a thieves’ city underneath Glitterhaegen, perhaps, or a pirate port out in the Spray.
Drop the “sunken” part, and you’ve got a perilous archipelago of mystery instead of a flooded cave network. Swordapus, the sahuagin and their demonic temple don’t need to be changed at all; neither does the wreck of the White Dragon. The Lonely Tower gets teleported here by accident instead of being eaten by the dungeon. The biggest change is to the Cascade – obviously, it doesn’t lead to an exit from the dungeon or to a control room, so you’ll want to put something else at the bottom of that slippery staircase. Maybe:
- It’s an arcane version of the Bermuda Triangle, and the magical relic at the bottom of the Cascade is what draws all those ships to their doom.
- It’s a magical lighthouse, built by a former Archmage, and it needs to be relit to re-establish his spells to tame the Middle Sea (or, if the PCs are allies of the High Druid or some villanous icon, it needs to be quenched to free the wild waters).
There are two obvious ways to approach this dungeon – make the Elf Tree the centre of events, or put the Breeding Ground as the core encounter. (Or make it into two separate adventures!) If you make the Elf Tree the main encounter, then clearly the High Elves tampered with Things Men (And Elves Too) Were Not Meant To Know, and the Breeding Ground is a hideous magical accident that can only be stopped by closing the magical portal in the observatory. In this set-up, move the Elf Tree so it’s in the centre of the Grove.
If you want to make the Breeding Ground central, then obviously it’s the rest of some evil druid’s machinations, or demonic perversion of natural magic, or the Crusader trying to turn druid magic against demons – whatever works for your campaign. The monsters from the Breeding Ground drove the Elves out of their tree.
When converting the Grove to a stand-alone dungeon, drop The Castle With Your Name On It encounter, and make the Herbarium less of a mysterious ruin – turn it into a ruined Elf stronghold, or a druidic temple. Hag Pheig can be left unchanged, or cast as the villain of the dungeon. Maybe she’s trying to gain control of the Druid Circle, and the horrors of the Breeding Ground are her sins made manifest.
Drop the Secret Sanctum encounter, and describe Deep Keep as a captured fortress instead of a weird patchwork castle, and you’ve got the front lines of the Orc Lord’s armies. They’ve taken an Imperial fortress and enslaved the population – now you’ve got to take out their leaders and organise an uprising against the invaders!
Take the Giant’s Causeway from the Gauntlet, and Jawgate and the Slaver’s Camp from the Gizzard, and use them as encounters on the way to the castle. Replace the Vizier with some other evil advisor – who’s the Orc Lord working with in your campaign?
- If you want to keep the deep, so to speak, then make it a subterranean dwarf fortress
- Introduce a different divide between the orc factions – maybe Grimtusk’s followers want more loot, while Greyface’s are all about honourable conflict. Alternatively, perhaps Greyface is secretly possessed by the ghost of the former lord of the castle, and that’s why he’s willing to rebel against his warlord.
In the Eyes of the Stone Thief campaign, the Maddening Stairs sets up lots of plots related to the Cult of the Devourer and the ultimate fate of the dungeon. If you’re using it as a standalone adventure, then you’ll need to give Chryaxas and Ajura the Dreamer and Maeglor the Apostate something else to pontificate about. Perhaps the Alabaster Sentinel is an Icon from a previous age, an avatar of justice that once brought unyielding, merciless law to the lands until it fell into this pit and became trapped. Maeglor seeks to restore order to the Dragon Empire by resurrecting the sentinel – Chryaxas argues the case for fruitful chaos and freedom, while Ajura might want to trick the PCs into stopping Maeglor, or perhaps she believes that the resurrected Sentinel will bring about the end of the Age when it decides that the Archmage is too unpredictable to be tolerated.
- You can also use the Maddening Stairs as a perilous journey – maybe it’s the stairs into Hell, or up to a flying realm in the Overworld
Pit of Undigested Ages
The Pit really doesn’t lend itself to conversion into a stand-alone dungeon. By its very nature, it’s an eclectic collection of weird places from across history. Don’t even try to come up with a linking story – instead, use each encounter on its own. That gives you a buried dwarven treasury, a lost temple of the serpent folk, the ruins of a magical library and a gnoll death cult. The First Master is probably too closely tied to the Cult of the Devourer to make sense on his own, so take him out and drop him into the Onyx Catacombs instead.
- The dwarven treasury fell into the Underworld during an Age-ending cataclysm. Finding it requires descending into the lightless tunnels and battling past hordes of eyeless monsters.
- The temple of the serpent folk is somewhere within the jungles of the Fangs; the Black seeks it, with the intent of stealing the primordial magic of the serpents and adding it to her own arsenal.
- Quillgate was protected by magical wards; when the quake struck, it vanished from this world. It’s out there, somewhere, in the planes of existence. Step into the Archmage’s Faultless And Unerring Dimensional Projector – it’s sure to work this time…
- And it’s well known that only the Hellpike can slay certain powerful demons. If one of those infernal lords rises to threaten the Empire, then the Hellpike must be found, and found soon
Marblehall’s best used as the result of a magical experiment gone wrong. Instead of getting embedded in the Stone Thief, it’s…
- Adrift in the skies as the newest flying realm
- Turning into a Hellhole
- Spouting elementals
- About to become a Living Dungeon in its own right
Whatever happened, the Witch and her weird experiments are too blame. Can the adventures save the Artalin family from their own wayward daughter?
If you take the cult out of the dungeon, then you should also take the dungeon out of the cult. Instead of being a bunch of dungeon-worshipping apocalyptic lunatics, make the Cult of the Devourer into a bunch of <insert-dire-noun>-worshipping apocalyptic lunatics, and redecorate their hidden city to match. Maybe they’re demon cultists, or shadow cultists, or wolf cultists, or poison cultists, or tentacled alien god cultists, or discordant-music-that-ends-the-world cultists. Turn their dungeon level into a mysterious lost temple in the depths of the jungle, or in a dimensional fold, or across the wastes of the Moonwreck, and you’re good to go.
Heart of the Stone Thief
Like the Pit, this level’s too tied to the concept of the Living Dungeon to make sense as a stand-alone adventure, so it’s best stripped for parts. I’m sure your campaign can find a loving home for a volcano, a crypt of undead adventurers, or a fabulous treasury of epic-level wonders…
13th Age answers the question, “What if Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, lead designers of the 3rd and 4th editions of the World’s Oldest RPG, had free rein to make the d20-rolling game they most wanted to play?” Create truly unique characters with rich backgrounds, prepare adventures in minutes, easily build your own custom monsters, and enjoy fast, freewheeling battles full of unexpected twists. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.
The latest edition of See Page XX is out now! Featuring a pre-order for Eyes of the Stone Thief, and PDFs of The Gaean Reach, The Gaean Reach Gazetteer and Mythos Expeditions. KWAS subscribers will get the December edition, Vendetta Run, on their order page this month, and meanwhile, non-subscribers can now buy Hideous Creatures: Byakhee as a stand-alone product in the shop. There’s also the usual round-up of articles, and more details about the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter.
In the latest episode of their ENnie-winning podcast, Ken and Robin talk Henry IV’s head, PC believability, Gerard Encausse and Andre Breton.
Double Tap introduced the concept of video-game-style Achievements into Night’s Black Agents (Will Plant’s original is here, but Double Tap‘s list is bigger, better and has more bonuses for blowing things up.) As the Dracula Dossier consumes my every waking hour, and I start to see connections to the Mas… to Dracula everywhere, here’s a list of custom achievements for the upcoming campaign. As per the rules in Double Tap, the first player to qualify for an achievement gets a 3-point General Ability refresh on the spot.
I Am Dazzle, Dazzle With So Much Light: Read the entire Unredacted Dracula and all the annotations, and pick your next avenue of investigation from it.
Blood of my Blood: Identify a Legacy.
The Fighting Hellfish: Have a shootout in a retirement home.
Right At The Top Of The Circus: Infiltrate the SIS headquarters.
Epistolary Format: Communicate with another player character by letter, email or voicemail.
Victorian Technothriller: Use a photographic-plate camera or wax-cylinder phonograph to record vital information.
Done The Reading: Force an NPC to tell them what they know by leveraging information gleaned from the annotations.
Dr. Van Helsing, I presume: Find documents left by the original hunters.
Native Soil: Locate Dracula’s castle successfully (not as easy as it sounds…)
London’s Burning: Gain 6 or more Heat in a single session in London.
The Boxmen: Destroy one of Dracula’s boxes of earth.
Those You Love Are Mine: Rescue a contact or Solace from Dracula’s evil embrace.
Unclean, Unclean: Get bitten by Dracula or one of his Brides.
Was That Your Best Shot? Survive level 6 of the Edom Vampyramid.
Consequence To Make The Brave Shudder: Survive Level 6 of Dracula’s Vampyramid
It Was Worth It For This To Die! Die fighting Dracula himself.
For The Dead Travel Fast: Complete the campaign in six sessions or less.
The Longest Night: Start playing the Dracula Dossier. Find any of the connections to the Zalozhniy Quartet, follow that connection, play through the four adventures of the Quartet, foil the conspiracy there, then finally complete the Dracula Dossier campaign.
We’ve got a few more achievements, but they’re for Directors’ eyes only. Enter these semi-spoilers freely and of your own will.
In the latest episode of their ENnie-winning podcast, Ken and Robin talk Richard Sorge, NPCs as foils, Charles Richet and surrealism 101.