Friday, September 21, 2018

some vignettes from carceral place and a very rough table

some here are more isolated than others, their cells a good distance from the forums.

there is a banished scholar kept in an alcove inside a large domed chamber, the ground an alternating board of dark and light diamonds. the dome is large, and in the very center of it is a small dark circle. the scholar is found under this circle, looking up into it. 

very rarely this tiny circle, they say, shows pin pricks of light against the dark. they have looked at this for what must be years now. they have reasoned that this hole is an opening to the night sky, and the spots of brightness that fill it are celestial bodies.

they say the brightest one is the old world, the world all here have been taken from.

there is labor duty as well as watch duty. labor will involve dismantling bridges, sealing off passages, affixing blades and spikes to otherwise safe areas, arming booby-traps and preparing other hazards. If you are clever you will know of potential dangers, and might be able to sabotage them in advance. 

it is almost never quiet in this place, there are ceaseless echoes from hundreds of feet away in every direction. unexpected whispering galleries occur, faraway clangs of chain turn into bell tones, distant shouts become wordless tones.

the world around is built chaos too, an endless tangle of structure is dizzying. you have to learn to narrow their focus to avoid confusion.

imagine standing on a balcony that overlooks a series of arched bridges crossing at right angles, between that are narrow decorative archways, between them are also columns of various widths and heights. There are arcades you can see deep into, some duplicated with dead ends. There are blind arcades carefully carved to appear to have depth, and ledges carefully sloped to be useless and deadly.

This tangle continues both and and upward as far as your can eyes can peer in the dim light. Some areas are filled with large structures too, ziggurats and mausoleums, alcoves, basilica. Some immense columns are in fact structures, hidden stairwells and chimneys.

Chains and ladders hang just slightly out of reach, or reach just shy of where you would go. Things just far enough apart, or far enough away, to make drops and leaps into suicides without careful examination.

you may never be unwatched, as up and down in all directions there are ledges and hideaways where someone may be watching. This could be a benign fellow prisoner, or a scold noting your infractions.

those who refuse the food are changed. They become monsters worse than the pests, armored and many-limbed things that stalk the halls and wreak havoc.

This is the incentive to do as one is ordered while on watch or labor duty. The armors worn leave you unable to eat, which puts you at risk of having your humanity confiscated if you refuse to do your duty. Poor performance can lead to longer shifts, increasing this danger.

while wearing the armors of watch or labor you have no voice for other prisoners, but all the voices of those doing watch with you can be heard echoing inside the helmets, and you can be heard by them.

Very Rough Table

the basic premise of this place is that there's a potential way to go to almost every direction, but you'll need to "read" the structure to do it safely. You'll be doing everything in "dungeon turns" because of this, and can sort of map it as you go.

So, you are standing on an archway, and you want to go up. You spend one turn looking around to roll an Architecture check. If you succeed you roll on some tables. 

e.g. The Way Up
1. 1d4 x 5' away, across a chasm
2. on a column
3. down one level
4. 1d4 x 30' further down this way.
5. across a plaza
6. past a barred tunnel
1. a low chain to climb
2. a spiral stairwell
3. a wall with grippable stonework
4. a staircase
5.  a ladder
6. a cage on a pulley

1. to a ledge
2. to an alcove
3. to an arch
4. to a tunnel
5. to a plaza
6. to a column

So, there's a way up: a low chain to climb hanging only 5' away, it leads up to an alcove. You take turns jumping onto it and pulling yourselves up

Or there's a spiral stairwell on a column, it goes up to a plaza.

Or down one level is a staircase that goes up to another arch.

There will be difficulties too.

1. 1d6 x 2 Watch are there.
2. The stonework is crumbling
3. It is very dark.
4. There is a pest there.
5. It is tiny, with only room for one at the top.
6. It is a long distance.

So, you might see a wall with grippable stonework 120' down this archway, and it leads to a ledge. but, it's so tiny at that ledge that only one person can stand there at once.

Obviously you'll have several Prisoners checking at once, so you may end up with various routes. Choosing which route is best is what'll be interesting.

So, climbing up to that ledge will seems better than crossing that 10' chasm to reach a plaza with 6 Watch in it, even if that tunnel seems promising.

Some results lead to other tables (eg "how do we get across that chasm? how do we get down to that staircase?"). Not every result will be tenable either, but that won't be a journey-ending problem. You'll just have to keep moving, or go back a bit and try again.

You'll want to keep notes too, "go archways to the tunnel, climb down then follow the ledge. Past the fountain go into the alcove across the plaza. climb down to the courtyard full of moss and take the ladder up...". You'll need to repeat your journeys if you want to ever find a way out.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

the watch in the carceral place

the carceral place wears down the spirit of the imprisoned with its unending cycles

the watch are one such consistent thing, while it is unpredictable where they'll be seen (and for how long) it is known that they always will be seen somewhere. it could be anywhere.

the silent watchmen are as permanent as the stones, just in a less fixed position.

a pair appeared on the other end of a drawbridge, one that gave you only a precious minute or so to gather up some flavorful red growths on that column it led to (otherwise, it was a dead end. a 10 diameter thing with a mere few-foot wide ledge for a walkway, with the bridge up you would be trapped, hopeless)

the growths on that column were a necessary toll for passage, the only way you would be permitted through that plaza, the one with the chain that hung just low enough for you to climb up to the archway leading away to a potentially useful stairwell.

or at least you thought as much.

it could not be said if these watchmen were placed there because it is true that the red growths you would use to cross the plaza to reach the archway were needed to reach a stairwell that would certainly lead to a way out from this place (at least eventually), as all prior sets of watchmen had impeded you reaching dead ends.

they may have simply appeared because you had been seen repeating this infraction too many times*, of leaving the plaza, crossing the drawbridge. gathering up red growths. it is all infractions, and their presence could be a mere punishment.

*it is known that you are not always watched in the carceral place, just that you always might be.

the watch are distinctive, unmistakable. their heads and faces are shielded, covered by grotesque helmets attached to shoulder and chest armors. this region of the carceral place presents its watch as mask-faces with crude, ugly expressions: these two smiled. they turned their chests and heads to face you. they are without speech.

watch are not often fast or agile (unlike the pests), as they are weighed down by the bulkier armor they can't remove, and often (as was the case with these) heavy armored robes.

Robe, Velvet, metal wrapped thread; embroidered

They carried simple weapons, staves with fat weighted heads, their purpose clear: they would clobber you, smash your skull and ribcage, toss you into the dark tangled abyss of structure below.

you reasoned that if you were able to push one off the edge with a good bash of some kind, and then not get tripped up by the other right after, it would then just be a matter of scraping off a bit of red growth as you moved around the column.

if you were able to get around and then back to the bridge without running into that second watch as  you did that, you would then easily outrun them.

this is what you would do then.

they readied their staves as the bridge lowered, and you pulled loose a cracked piece of stone ornamentation you had seen previously.

you heave the weathered knob into the solar plexus of the leftmost watch, and then you charge as they begin to tumble off the narrow column ledge from the blow. their bare arms and legs splay wildly as they appear to float off the edge of the architecture, their staff balancing for but a moment before joining them in the abyss as their robes ripple like sails.

they make no sound, but the second watch clangs their staff against the column, just above your head.

you rip out one handful of red growth, then two. you cannot see the watchman. you cannot hear them.

you wonder: would they have followed you around, or would they have turned face to charge you in a new direction?

you are certain they would not turn, and so you continue round the column.

and you see them, they are on the bridge. they did not follow you at all, and you are a fool, and the impact into your solar plexus is sudden and awful as the staff smashes you into the column before you crumple and fall into the dark as well. you barely take in breath before it is over.

and when you awake your breathing is far too loud.

your arms reach up and feel cold metal, and fumble over the integral locks that hold the grimacing helmet on your head when you find them. you arms are slowed too by armored robes, gaudy and worn down by time and many wearers. they smell like old sweat, the helmet like rust.

at first it was awful to take watch, excruciating. you would have wept, begged forgiveness if your voice could be heard. it is not like that anymore.

none ever speak of taking watch, since there is nothing to say. all here commit infractions, and so all at some time have taken watch. and shall again.

all here have thrown each other into the darkness, have cracked each others ribs and skulls. all here have been the cruel gargoyles watching over each others passage.

you understand that if you let them use your body for now and do as they will say they will at least not change it, or this will at least delay them changing it. at least this is understood, and so it is easy.

you will be able to eat and drink too, when the helmet is removed.

your infractions were not great today, and so you hope you will not be asked to do too much in penance.

though none will know that it was you, but it could of course be any one of you, and so it is always you.

and if you do this thing they ask of you they will let you return to your cell as you had died normally, without infractions. awaking as usual, barely clothed but without cruel assignments.

you listen for the creaking sounds of the many limbs of a warden as you rise up, testing the weight of the staff in one hand, and feeling a dent in the sternum of your armor with the other.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

cells in the carceral place

You entered this carceral place alone, by waking in the cell. The cluttering sound of stone onto stone is what woke you, a wall (or part of one) dissolving, to reveal how you were cloistered away. You rise off your low bench, your eyes adjusting to the dim. There is some low light coming in from somewhere, trickling from an architectural folly nearby.

There is a drip or trickle somewhere of fresh water, and it falls into an urn or bowl or basin (you soon will see this in all of them, all the other cells you find).

There is always growth, a fungus, lichen, or mold. It tastes like sour yeast, or cold boiled bird-meat, or the pungent tang of indigo-veined cheeses. It grows on some conspicuous place, it is deliberate. It is what you will eat in here. (and you'll see there is, thank the gods, frequent exchange between cells).

This place is your place because no one else can enter it. You have tried, everyone has, and the door always closes. You will always be alone inside here. You are safe in here.

There is food, there is water, and time passes. It is cool, not cold. Dry but not dusty.

The cell is square for some, others are arched, some have high ceilings, others are round chambers. Yours is clearly yours, but is still similar to others. Especially those close to it. All of them are like this.

You are not without entertainment, sometimes there is a stub of chalk or charcoal (though all marks that are left vanish when you sleep). Elaborate line-work and patterns are common, despite being so temporary. Some days a lump of clay, a shining ball, a few resonant rods of hollow metal. These stay and go sometimes, or they are traded, or borrowed. Games form in common areas. There is camaraderie, there is enmity, sometimes there is violence. Societies form and crumble around activity in these common areas.

You are free to walk the hallways here, cross the plazas, go between the vast columns. You may go under archways and up the stairs, or down them, and sometimes you find only walls, or places in ruin and about to crumble. Other times though, there are things worth finding.

You have seen whole chambers of moss and great troughs of vegetation tended to by others who live here. There were lightless tunnels, and even (oh wonder of wonders!) a window open to perhaps endless black sky, a hint of distant light (a moon? a fire?) reflecting on still water, a salt and murk in the air? It was too small to fit more than a hand through, but it was a precious place.

Many regions are broken and breaking, while others are stoic and pristine. Tile, stone, cold metal, iron and stone sculpture. Intricate stone carving and brickwork. Raw stone and cold water. Smoke and ashes and old fire. Smoke, mist, echoes. A language formed out of thousands of disparate tongues placed close together, close to what Christians would call the tongue of Babel.

The arches and stairs and flues and chains and walkways and catwalks here go up higher than a cathedral, all walled in with stone and lit with intermittent torches and candles. Great brassy bowls are like pitiful dwarf suns in the better sections, others are cold and dim with only tiny spots of light like cats eyes in certain corners. You've seen lamplighters in long robes, and have never spoken to them (a superstition you don't want to test).

It is said that if you go up you will find the most wondrous of beings in elaborate and inescapable terraria, and that if you go down there are the embarrassments and shames of the gods in black oubliettes. It is idiocy and glory to seek either of both. It is also possible to free them, goes the reasoning, since are clearly locked away.

You've seen forbidden things: parts of the "wardens" and "watchers" and other "guards" among the broken structures (or broken apart by some unknown cause).

You've touched these things, torn between the feeling of safety a weapon gives while being made uneasy knowing you might be seen with them. To hold contraband is a constant battle, you have heard. You've seen others speak of dedicated armies.

You have also seen the evidence and effluvia of the many uglier things that also wander here, the wretched things that keep most inside their cell, yourself included. 

Prisoners on a Projecting Platform, from Carceri d'invenzione (Imaginary Prisons), Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, Mogliano Veneto 1720–1778 Rome), Etching, engraving, sulphur tint or open bite, burnishing; first state of four (Robison)

Something once sat at the edge of your own dwelling for what could have been days. It had crawled and crept through the plaza on its limbs to your threshold, a wide mouth hanging open just so, eyes impassive but with a posture indicating menace. Larger than any man it moved like insects do, as you remember "insects" (there are none here). It sat there and was watching you, and you tried to not look at it too often. It never moved, though you knew it could. You awoke one day and it was gone. You were not sure if it had followed you here, or was only wandering through. None knew where it had gone. There are stairways everywhere, archways, tunnels, catwalks.

Some time later you gathered in the plaza again, and then some days after that you wandered the halls again, as almost all eventually do. Many things wander.

You are not certain if you have died here, though you've been told it is the same as sleeping. As with sleeping, when you die you awake inside your cell (no matter how far you have gone). Though unlike with sleeping, it is said that you can only die so many times (some say 12, or 14, or 37) before "you" are really gone, or at least sent somewhere deeper. Some are certain dying changes you also, but there are so many strange kinds here you cannot say who might have changed. Cells sometimes wall over when none are watching.

It is said that if one is daring enough there is the day-long path: a way out. If every correct step is taken one could be out of here, far enough away to sleep without worry, and awake somewhere new. This is why some wander, and learn the secrets of the structure. Perhaps there is a thing that can carry you away: a moth like a ship or a thousand angelic little birds (you still remember birds). Others use reason and mathematics to demonstrate why this is foolish, and will drive you to despair. This place goes on not forever, but far enough. Simply count your steps.

Still, those who are clever and wise and talented can guide you, they find ledges and gaps and loose stones. They find fast passage over vast areas, these architects and climbers. You seek them eagerly, even if some think this place may change when no ones looking.

The Round Tower, from 'Carceri d'invenzione' (Imaginary Prisons), Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, Mogliano Veneto 1720–1778 Rome), Etching, engraving, sulphur tint or open bite, burnishing; first state of four (Robison)

You once saw a broken drawbridge over a vast darkness. You threw stones into and heard no sound. You though of jumping in, eager to know what was there. You stopped when you realized you could not say for certain that you had never died. What if you had been killed when you were sleeping oh so many times, kept in place by being watched? Some things here wait for easy prey. How long has it been?

Time here is loose and memories are uncertain. The dreams you can remember never go past these walls, and some of those visions were the memories of an insomniacs wandering strolls. You've found places from these dreams down ways you've gone on impulse, or guided by various kinds of deja vu. You've found horrors too, halls of punishment that kept you waking for many hours, you've fled things that you can't describe.

It is said there are places here with secrets thought too noxious to even be kept in the world, so they were put into this one. Like you, and all the others here. You offended the sensibilities of power, enough to be thrown so far away you can't even be seen by your own god.

Others say different. This is the only world, and anything else you remember has been a dream. All sun, all rain, all fields and flowers are things that never were.

You were born when you woke here, and this is all there ever was. You have always been inside here. And any crime you recall, any furious king, any conspiracy, any theft? All false things. 

There was no magic, no spell, no imprisoning flowers. No tryst, no transgression, no defeat in the unjust war. There was no banishment to this place, no accident of travel. You never did anything wrong, and so there could be no such thing as a way out.

Others, naturally, disagree.

You are one of them.

You shall leave.
The Gothic Arch, from Carceri d'invenzione (Imaginary Prisons), Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, Mogliano Veneto 1720–1778 Rome), Etching, engraving, sulphur tint or open bite, burnishing; first state of six Robison)

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Free Cock

I have an extra copy of Eldritch Cock and you, if you want it, can make it yours.

How? We are having a poetry raffle. To enter it all you have to do is write a poem. If you want to flatter me share my blog somewhere too or something, but a poem is all I ask of you.

Submissions are open for two weeks: write a poem about Eldritch Cock, leave it in the comments below, and after that a winner will be chosen at random. The winner gets Eldritch Cock in the mail.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Path Cartograms

A Path Cartogram is a map for when the Adventurers must find a way through a vast place, searching for something hidden in the geography. It's for terrain that's untamed because it's not tamable. Places wisely left alone, even if they're found near friendlier terrain.

An ancient forest where the sun is dimmed by the trees, a grassland crammed with unascended hills, a stretch of barren wasteland filled with rolling dust and tremendous rocks.

A range of tooth-looking mountains with deep hidden valleys, an oppressively humid swamp that no one ever crosses.

Adventures have a reason to go in, they might seek a hidden treasure. The old stone dolmen where you can meet the Mother of the Woods. A burial mound, where you can find the weapons of the sacred dead. The "nostril of God", a vast cavern leading to the world's hollow core.

The journey itself might be the goal. There is no other way to reach the plateau of azure grass. The fungus that raises the dead sprouts somewhere deep in that place, nowhere else. This is the only place no one has searched for the lost scholars.

A Path Cartogram is for depicting an exploration over a long time, an expedition. It's a way to make preparing that kind of Adventure easier, and without you needing to become an expert cartographer. Once it's been explored you're left with a kind of mapped outdoor dungeon.

The game doesn't need an accurately mapped out world to be played, since the Adventurers aren't going to be surveyors. It just needs one that's ready to be discovered.

A Path Cartogram lays out some probabilities in a spatial sense, tells you what the Adventurers find as they explore an area, and creates a diagram that makes the place "real" once they're done.

It reveals a dungeon-like environment from the natural world as its used.

It's also Referee's tool, like a dungeon map. You don't show it to the players.

As Referee you'll describe the place before them in some general sweeping terms, and then they'll tell you which direction they go in. You roll some dice, tell them what they see, what they find, and what happens. Time passes, things are encountered. Places are discovered. You all see how it all unfolds.

A Cartogram represents a difficult example of a specific kind of environmental "place". The best term for this is an ecoregion. Ecoregions are places that share a large amount species, ecological dynamics, and conditions over a large area. There are more than 800 of them in our world, here's a good list. Although it's not exactly the right word, I'm going to use the word biome instead of "ecozone" going forward.

Remember, a Cartogram is for the especially difficult part of the rain forest, even if the whole region of your campaign is in and around the rain forest. The Cartogram is the part without roads, the part no one visits. You don't need to use one for every instance of this biome in your world.

Here's what a very simple Cartogram looks like before anything happens on it.

You can see that this looks a bit like a hex-crawl or the usual graph paper map, but it's not.

I use graph paper instead of hexes because no one has hex paper handy and squares are easier to draw. This also isn't a scaled map of a territory like a hex map or grid is.

Everything that's been outlined is the zone this Cartogram is about.

The base unit of the Cartogram is the blank square. Marking a square makes it into something else, so a blank square doesn't represent anything besides a potential something on the Cartogram.

You can't know anything about what's in a square without going through it. You can't "see" into it, like with a hex crawl. You'll have an idea of things (like mountains far away), and that it's part of this general ecoregion, but that's it.

Each of those groups of squares outlined in black is a region. All the regions together is the zone the Adventurers are going to explore.

The lines marking a region don't represent a barrier, or prevent movement. Regions are all still all the same biome, but there might be variations among them. Some areas could be more steep or flatter or a bit denser or sparser or whatever, but it's all still distinctly one particular kind of "place".  

Let's say our Cartogram is an old-growth forest. All regions would be filled with big trees, some still growing, some dead and standing. There are layers of tree canopy above, and a mess of wooden debris on the forest floor. There are smaller, newer trees growing up between the old ones, old stumps covered in fungus, pits and mounds formed when great trees fell. The rich soil is covered in mosses and ferns. It's temperate with regular rain, there will be streams, waterfalls, lakes. There are probably owls.

Outside of the regions the environment is different somehow. In narrative terms it could be a different biome (what you'd call an ecotone), or a milder version of the same biome as the zone.

In game terms this just means you'll handle things differently outside of the Cartogram if and when the Adventurers leave it. To put it another way a Cartogram is a dungeon: all the monsters and treasure are inside it, outside it's safe and boring with roads and towns.

For the old-growth forest this could be a gradual change into grassland caused by inferior soil, or a treeline caused by going higher up into the atmosphere where less can grow.

The thick grey line along the outside edge of some regions is where there is a barrier.

A barrier stops movement, it means you have to change directions.

The foot of a mountain no human could climb, the edge of some unbelievable canyon, an actual fucking river of boiling magma. You can't cross a barrier without extraordinary means, like flight. If Adventurers move into a barrier square they change direction.

Remember, Adventurers don’t "see" across the map enough to know what’s coming. Information is only gathered through travel.

In our old growth forest let's say the barrier is an impossibly steep mountain range. You would be aware of those mountains existing while you traveled, and of getting closer to them if you went in their direction, but you won't know when those mountains become a problem until you got to that exact square marked as a barrier on the Cartogram. 

Edges without a barrier are a just a porous border, beyond them is that transition into just regular wasteland, or whatever. If you cross the border onto the outside you can change directions, or you have the option to "step outside".

The red circle is a trailhead. This is the place where the journey begins, a last sunny meadow before the woods become cursed, or the tiny canyon leading into the rocky valley of tremendous arachnids.

The final cabin before the cliffs of green stone, that village of idiots at the edge of civilization, or some kind of other landmark like a miraculous oasis before the desert of the centipedes. It can also be a place where the journey ends, a stopping place of note, if it's discovered.

Our trailhead is a a campsite just a few dozen yards from the first indisputably massive ancient tree, at the edge of a sparser, less mystical woodland.

That red letter A is the locus. A locus is a goal, or endpoint. This is a very special place. It's important and distinct, and if it's the only one on the map it's probably the only reason you came here, it's the thing you're looking for. Finding a locus is just a matter of traveling to the square that designates it.

In our old growth forest we're trying to find the largest of all the ancient trees. It's been dead for centuries, and in it's hollow lives an immense white owl that is either a dreadful predator of women and men or an embodiment of nature with which we shall commune. Perhaps both.

Every Cartogram has an 8 point compass on it. Movement in all cardinal directions is possible, and must be recorded by the Referee. You'll want to draw a copy for the players (since they should be drawing a map for themselves), since North is typically pointing in an odd direction.

Here's a Cartogram after some movement has happened.

At a trailhead you can see what directions across adjacent squares lead into the zone, but nothing else.

So from this trailhead you can see that going W, NW, or N will take you into the zone. 

Adventurers make their first move by saying what direction they go in. The Referee then rolls a movement die, and draws a line leading from the trailhead to the center of the square that far away. (e.g., if a 1 was rolled they'd mark the center of an adjacent square, if a 2 "adjacent and a half", etc.).

The line is a trail, and a trail is formed whenever the Adventurers move. Trails are generally in one cardinal direction, but there are exceptions.

A dot is marked in the center of that square, and then numbered.

All dots are a landmark. A landmark is a spot that's distinct enough from the general environment to function as a sort of marker, but it's not special enough to be a locus.

Landmarks are numbered because they're assigned from a big table or list as they're discovered. In our ancient wood the landmarks so far are:
  • An immense stump 9 feet in diameter, covered in tiny scarlet mushrooms that dimly glow in the night. 
  • A tree taller than a church steeple, many quiet black birds are nesting in it communally. 
  • A placid pond with contemplative frogs that gaze at us lazily. 
  • A fallen tree at least two meters thick and 40 yards long, it had fallen across a small ravine so we walked beneath it. 
A landmark is found at the end of every trail. A trailhead is a landmark. Any locus, once found, is also a landmark.

After finding a landmark, movement continues in any valid direction, unless the passage of time dictates otherwise.

Trails between landmarks form a path that can be traveled again and again, in each direction.

Starting at the trailhead, this path was formed by going NW, NE, and then NW three more times.

The length of each trail is determined by the Referee with a die roll.

This Cartogram uses a d4. Starting at the trailhead this path was formed by rolling 3, 4, 2, 2, 3.

The length of a trail represents the same approximate amount of time, regardless of length. One day, half a day, a quarter of a day, etc.

We mentioned the passage of time a moment ago, this is where that comes in. On this Cartogram each trail is half a day, so after two trails are made it's time to set up camp and start a fire. In total it took 2 and a half days to reach the locus.

The number rolled for Movement indicates the qualities of the terrain, and from that an (unmeasured) distance can be conveyed.

On a d4: 1 is difficult, while 4 is pleasant. 2 and 3 is "fine", perhaps with some mild inconveniences. It could indicate that the path found was meandering and arduous, or miraculously straight and simple.

So, if you roll a 1 it means that the Adventurers went through some really awful, shitty terrain. In our forest that might be a steep hike, or areas cluttered with woody debris.

They plowed through this until when they finally find a resting place next to a large boulder precariously balanced on the edge of a small cliff.

If you rolled a 4 it meant they just had to high step over some ferns, maybe even with wildflowers and singing birds, until they came to a great tree that was blackened in a lightning strike.

That 2 was when they had to cross that stream with the slippery rocks before they found a fallen tree filled with millions of ants, it looked oily in the dappled sunlight.

A locus is reached when a path touches its square, ending movement immediately.

Play would “zoom in” at this point. You’d describe the wondrous thing they've found, and then use a dungeon map or combat rules or whatever to moderate things, and go back to the Cartogram once everyone leaves.

Here is where the Adventurers found the great owl tree, and possibly became owl pellets or maybe druids. There’s a path leading back if they want to use it, and all the other directions to go in if they want to keep exploring, or to try and see if there's a better way home. If they kept track of the ways they went in terms of the compass they know what directions should work to get them back, too.
If a trail touches a square with an existing landmark it connects to it, and ends movement.

If the Adventurers tried going South they'd discover a pleasant hike between the giant growths (4) towards (a new landmark) this rocky outcropping that resembled a clenched first covered in thick moss, and continued to the Southeast on another nice haunt (another 4), that luckily took them back to that stump with the luminous red fungus in just one day (ending movement). The next morning they'd be able to exit the forest by midday, following that old trail.

Multiple paths in the same direction from a landmark are possible.

If the Adventurers wanted to try a second path east they would have to move away from their first trail. They could make their second by going slightly south or east first (their choice), and then continuing. That would be drawn this way by the referee, if they had rolled a 4 and gone south first.
Additional trails in the same direction incur a penalty, since you must go further and further out to find a fresh way to go.

Even though they rolled a 4, the Adventurers only got that far out because they lose 1 square to moving SW and S, to establish the new trail.

When paths cross each other a real crossroad is formed, and the Adventurers may change direction at no penalty. The distance between two landmarks is always the same.

If you were at landmark 2 you could move to landmark 1, 8, 7, or 3 within a day.

Encountering a barriers or crossing borders subtracts 1 from any remaining movement, and is followed by a change in direction if any movement remains. Mark known barriers and borders with a small notch.

Remember that information is directional on a Cartogram. When you discover a barrier to the Northwest you don't know that it extends to the North and West, or further out on the other squares.

In this universe they went Southwest (rolling a 3) instead, and then found a pair of trees that had fallen into each other, forming a skewed triangle (landmark 5). After this they went Northwest (rolling a 3 again), but then (running into the barrier) discovered the ground became too steep for them to continue in that direction. That night they set up camp at a pond with a lone log bobbing gently inside it. (landmark 6, found there since they lost 1 from their remaining movement by discovering the barrier to the Northwest).

Think of discovering a barrier as going this way. The trail isn't drawn like this because the wasted movement isn't repeated if the path is followed again in the future, but this is why movement is lost that first time.

If they had rolled a 4 they could have continued on in any new direction other than Northwest, like South.

Crossing the outside border of a region works in a similar way, but there's the option of leaving as well as changing directions.

Adventurers might want to occasionally step out of the area to gather supplies or rest: maybe there's no water in the zone, or easier hunting on the outside.

Movement across a border always ends on the first square outside it.

They found a way out to the West (rolling a 1), and decided to use it to step away for a bit. This created a landmark, but it's just their campsite in a clearing of lesser trees (that's why it's not numbered, you don't need these to be that special). In a rare instance of being able to "see", the Adventurers will know there's a possible entrance to the North, Northeast, Southeast, and to the South. They'll find a barrier if they go North, mind you.

Movement ends immediately because the environment outside the zone doesn't need to use these Cartogram mechanics, you might be able to just "go" somewhere once you're outside and all that. If Adventurers want to try and go all around the perimeter of a zone that might be impossible and is at least always mostly fruitless: the whole reason it's a zone is because it's a difficult place you can't learn anything about without going inside.

They could learn that there's a bunch of crags or whatever along the Northeast edge from the outside, sure, but they still won't know when and where that'll matter once they're inside.


Think of a biome of your zone, the various general features of it. Have a locus and a trailhead, and a big list of possible landmarks. Think of the area outside of the zone too. Remember that landmarks can be dirt simple, if you're desperate just make a list of objects and every landmark can be a boulder or two shaped like one of those things. Every Cartogram is an environmental dungeon, so you should have a table of random encounters, even if they're few and far between, as well. Get some graph paper, a few different colors of pencils and pens, and some dice or a random number generator.

The next few choices you make will all bounce off of each other in interesting ways.

number of regions
size of regions
trail time
movement range
rate of encounters

First, how many regions will you have? About twice as many as there would be trails for an ideal journey to the locus seems to work alright, but a lot of the interesting things about a Cartogram happen more frequently on a larger map too. Our example map had 8

Next, how big is each region? Each region is made of a variable number of squares. A minimum of 9 with some dice on top of it works best, with the idea being that whole regions shouldn’t be easy to “skip” due to being tiny. The example had regions that were 9+3d6.

Now, how long is each trail? Combined with the previous two decisions you’ll now get a sense of scale. You can use one day per segment if you want a minor Lewis & Clark expedition to happen, Use half days or quarter days if you want something less grueling. Whatever you choose, remember it’s fixed.

The standard die for determining how many squares get covered per segment is 1d4. This seems right for a simulation of hiking through a dense forest or rocky badlands with mostly stable elevation. If the terrain was really unpredictable, going from near cliffs to plateaus and back again or something, you could use 1d6. If the map was like that and absolutely massive maybe you’d want to use 1d8.

For your random encounters use the trails like you would turns in a standard dungeon. The standard dungeon rate of a 1 in 3 chance of an encounter every 3 turns would be a little sparse. A 1 in 6 chance, or even a 1 in 3, as the Adventurers move along every trail might be better. If there’s going to be frequent camping you might want to have a different encounter roll for during the night, along with different encounters too.

With all that settled, now you can roll dice.

Roll your formula for regions as many times as you need, and then draw them.

You want to draw regions quickly and without thinking too much. The trick with these is that you're creating something using a process, instead of having to design something and be consciously clever. Draw the first one. Draw the next one touching the first one. The ones after that should usually touch at least two other regions.

Follow some rules of thumb: regions are meant to define a big, abstracted space, so they shouldn’t vary too wildly in width or thickness from row to row (adding weird little details will be an option later). They’re also supposed to emulate a naturally formed area, so avoid having perfect squares or rectangles.

You can do the next few things by chance or by design, and in any order you want.

Create a compass. Using 1d8 you can assume 1 is pointing to the top of your graph paper and 5 is pointing to the bottom, and so on. The number you roll is "North". Draw a compass for yourself, and one for the players.
Select a region, then a border square, and place the trailhead just outside it.
select a region and place the locus on a square inside it.
Place barriers around the zone.

There are a lot of ways to randomize barriers, here are a few ideas.

  • draw a barrier clockwise filling a random number of squares after the trailhead, followed by a random number of blank squares, until the trailhead is reached again
  • draw a barrier covering a random number of regions starting with the first region after the trailhead, going clockwise
  • draw a barrier around every region except for a randomly determined number of randomly chosen regions

Don't draw a barrier over a trailhead, or place a trailhead inside a barrier.

Some more ideas to explore:

A very obvious one: there can be more than one trailhead and more than one locus.

You can just mark squares that will be a locus, and use a non-repeating table to find out what they are when they get discovered.

locus list

1. cursed well
2. abandoned cabin
3. yawning cave
4. lucky geyser

If you want a locus or landmark to be easier to discover make it larger on the map.

If you touch any part of that larger locus area you've found it. The circle inside indicates which square all movement into or out is actually based on (movement across the others is free, just curve the trail into the locus). You can also do the same for a trailhead, like if there's some lost city instead of just another great place to build a cabin.

You can make the interior of the zone more restrictive.

Select a region or regions, then draw a barrier over an interior edge of a region, chosen at random.

You can have certain areas designated to have different features (like special encounter tables and whatnot) by coloring them in after selection. Orange has a chance of bears, purple is filled with snakes.

And there you go. There's a lot more than that in terms of options, but I'm testing some things out a bit. I'm using this in my games right now, and I'm very happy with how it's working.

An Adventure built around all this is forthcoming to show you how it all looks together, but this post has gone on long enough.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Mycology: Yellowed Elkhorn

Image result for Clavaria argillacea

Found in temperate open grassy areas, beyond the forests, in warmer weather. A distinct cluster of smooth pale to golden yellow clubs growing up and outward, said to resemble the growth of antlers on elk after injury, and so one of its' names is Yellowed Elkhorn. It is for some a symbol of the lost quarry on has forgotten.

A worthy specimen will stand up almost one foot tall. It grows solitary. If plucked and stored in a glass vial it emits a white dust as it withers. (a use for these dusts is detailed elsewhere).

For some the Elkhorn is edible, while others suffer varying levels of distress in the bowels after eating it. It is usually lighly boiled until softer, or simply sliced up and chewed raw.

Yellowed Elkhorn is found growing at a place where a valued thing was first truly thought to be forever lost or now at least unreachable but was truly not, and this sentimental sting of yearning is believed to have then buried itself in the ground after being expelled in sleep, and has now grown nourished from the friction of the truth.

The once-desiring person traveled on, and their yearning now emerges as the Yellowed Elkhorn some time later (days, years or even decades). Some say it only shows for those who ought to be the home for this yearning that's grown out from the dirt like a pearl.

This is why Yellowed Elkhorn is always found at a suitable place for encampment, someone has slept in this place before.

According to lore, legend, and hearsay if you consume the Yellowed Elkhorn you will be shown the way to some treasure so glorious a piece of a human soul got chipped away at the thought of its loss.

Roll when eaten
1. An odor of spices, and bitter, piquant, and metallic taste.
2. Edible but tasteless, tough, and elastic.
3. An acidulous flavor, 1 in 6 will suffer a mild laxative effect. You unable to nourish yourself for one day.
4. The flesh is sweetish, but all who eat it suffer a drastic laxative effect. You are starving and dehydrated the next day.

After someone has eaten the Yellowed Elkhorn they have dreams of themselves: they are lying in their bed and sleeping while elongated yellow clubs grow out from their hearts and heads and eyeballs, all out their whole body until there's nothin else except the yearning, pleading need for the lost object. The yellow clubs gently bend, curve, and sway as they grow longer, ever longer.

They are pointing towards the treasure, they are leading you. The dreamer cannot move in this dream but they see themselves lying there as the clubs grow longer, like long thin staffs now, perhaps so long they indicate a road to follow by lying on it as a tapestry. They flow out the windows, they indicate the horizon to cross.

The clubs are a compass that grows more precise as an instrument as you get closer to the precious thing. At first they show only a broad idea of direction, but can point to individual landmarks and structures once one is near enough. If you slept next to container with the treasure inside the dream is of all the clubs wrapping themselves around the treasure-vessel like adoring limbs and vines. If a person is what has the treasure you may dream of them being slowly wrapped in  the clubs, like deliberate snakes and worms coiling round them until the both of you are wrapped up and then both gone.

The dreams only end once you look upon the precious thing lost. If you get too much further from the treasure the clubs become brighter, and the sensations of growth and emergence more distinct. Eventually sleep is impossible, beyond a fevered nap where a thousand tubes of neon yellow sprout from you and point the other way.

The sources of treasure leading to the creation of Yellowed Elkhorn can range from the archetypal homeless grave robber giving up on the rings on the fingers of the corpses in a given tomb because they couldn't pick the lock to an actual Angels Trumpet at the bottom of a dank dungeon that some Adventurer long ago gave up on finding and deemed impossible to find.

Unless the Referee has an immediate use for Yellowed Elkhorn, they should roll when it is eaten to determine what sort of treasure it leads to, so they can make some preparations. They should not share this information with the Adventurers, ever.

3-5: something of only sentimental value: a letter in a dropped satchel (now unreadable), a lost toy beloved by a child, etc.
6-8: a fine but impressive thing, something worth less than 100SP such as a nice dagger or helmet that fell off a cart and then into a deep ravine.
9-12: something not really replaceable worth at least 500SP, a precious heirloom locket, a golden signet ring of office, something like that. It could be on the body an unrightful owner, or lost in a bears den or something.
13-15: it was valuable enough to still have stories told about it in the area, and is worth at least 1000SP. This should something that was given up on because it was very deliberately hidden and is just very hard to get your hands, or was lost in such a treacherous place it's an Adventure to just go and grab it from where it fell.
16-18: Something that is very actually priceless. This isn't an Adventure Lead, it's the beginning of a new campaign. Finding this treasure should have far reaching consequences, something royalty have failed to get found before this.

The distance of this treasure from the location of the Yellowed Elkhorn is at the Referees discretion.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Open Air Dungeons

One adventure hook in A Journey To Aldercliffe has the Adventurers being asked to go to try and buy something special from some vagrants in an isolated forest.

Most of this scenario playtested very well.

To give a broad summary: the Adventurers decided early on that they would keep the money that was given to them to purchase the special object with, so they buried it beneath a tree. 

Then they did some espionage on the vagrants, determined they weren't worth talking to, and then stole the special something right out from under them. They also slightly vandalized the thing, neutralizing a potential curse they weren't aware of. There was a perilous cave that I had mapped out that they could have explored too, but they decided not to go inside it (this was the smarter thing to do, but still: darn).

They killed the leader of the vagrants (by accident), then killed two dozen of them with a carefully timed combination of spells (Wall of Force combined with Reverse Gravity is hideously effective if a lot of people are angry at you, and running).

A tagalong hireling of theirs was also traumatized with hallucinogens early on, and someone else was mauled by a delirious stag. The apocalypse was simulated with skinned bodies (this was the players idea, not mine).

To cap it off, once they got back to Aldercliffe they sent some mercenaries they had recently met out into those same woods under false pretenses in the hope of causing a massacre to clear the place out.

I loved how it all turned out. The players interacted with all the moving parts in this situation in ways I never would have predicted, and it produced a very memorable outcome for everyone. Why are you here? What more do you want from this hobby?

What didn't work for me was the whole "exploring a forest" bit. It just felt like a big room with some distractions on the way, like opening the door to a mansion and immediately seeing the high backed chair before the fireplace, with the weird lord seated within. You trip on an umbrella walking over. That's it though, you go and meet him. Ho-hum, too quick too easy.

The woods were far too small, too close to civilization, and too simple to get through. The Adventurers couldn't help but run into a situation and take it from there, and they basically got back in time for dinner too. It was fun to play through, but that part wasn't really special.

I'm revising it to make the forest much farther so it's more of a journey. The forest is larger too, large enough that there's a chance the Adventurers might think "fuck it, there's nobody here" after a couple days of wandering.

I'd like it so there's the chance they might get mauled by a badger and call it all off on day three, or maybe they might find a half-trapped fox and think they should keep looking. They might see smoke from a bonfire, another long day away. Maybe they'll run into someone in the woods that makes them want to reconsider everything just as they get near the edge of discovery. There's also a non-zero chance they'll just find the treasure on accident. How did it get there? They can keep looking for an answer for that if they want to know.
That's way better than a day trip to the stupid woods, right? Watching people actually stock up and plan for a camping excursion in-game, with rations and water and mules and carts and tents and all is actually kind of fun too. "oh no we didn't buy tents" and all that.

So yes, version 2: if they decide to go there's a longish journey, maybe there's an encounter on the road. It's distant and lonely though, isolated no matter what. They reach the woods, and they go inside them. And they look. They find some things, maybe the thing, maybe others. Maybe nothing at all. 

The old version was basically just two encounter tables. This version of things needs more of a map, I think. I've been hammering out a couple ways to make maps that are mostly easy and quick to make, but still create interesting results, and should be fun to use at the table. I thought of name for this method first, so here that is.

Open Air Dungeons

A dungeon is a closed environment with an entrance, a place with rooms followed by other rooms with hallways connecting all of them. Your options for movement and destination are finite and limited.

Much of the uninhabited and untamed world is like this. There are only a few ways you can actually "go" in a lot of natural environments.

Ground that's too steep to go up without climbing gear (and hours of labor) is functionally the same as a stone wall. Trees too dense to walk through and narrow paths on mountainsides are the same. There is natural light, sure, and maybe a source of food, but it's not too different than being trapped. Missing people die in the woods all the time. Even being able to bypass these kinds of obstacles with flight is only marginally easier than being able to escape a place with teleportation, after all.

The idea of an open-air dungeon is that it should be about as hard to not use the defined paths it provides as it would be to tunnel out of the more usual stone dungeon with mining tools. Not technically impossible, but a real piece of shit to actually do.

In nature, the pathway is the "hall" that lead to the "room". The "room" is an event or landmark. A mountainside path leading to a wider plateau, a rocky band of cliffside coast leading to a larger cove, a narrow canyon eventually widening to a proper valley, a hike in dense woodlands to a roaring waterfall. These are all Open Air Dungeons.

Wandering encounters make as much sense as those in a dungeon, think of hikers getting mauled by a bear. There are traps too, a landslide is natures spike-filled pit trap.

The natural world is a dungeon whenever you can't go in any direction you want.

Making an Open Air Dungeon

You'll need an environment, some random encounters for that environment, and a bunch of things you want to be discoverable in that environment. Tables of content.

Give your environment a name. It's not just "a canyon by a beach", it's "The Throat of the Ocean". Make it special.

There should be some plain old random encounters on a table, things there that will be run into by accident on the way from one room to another, or even in a room if one hangs out too long. In the Black Heart of the Southern Wood: there are Elk that went carnivorous, paralytic slugs the size of baseball bats, and hopelessly lost mushroom-pickers who will be very grateful that you found them.

And there are things there besides the pathways and random encounters, the special parts. Imagine a vast tidepool canyon, walkable in the low tides. If you go that way there's a stinging anemone the size of a house. It has the face of a maiden and will teach you enchantment. If you go the other way you'll find an immense band of gold in the walls of the rocks. Beyond that, they say there's the wreckage of a ship sent by the church, filled with relics now lost to the saltwater. If you go too far there's a bunch of sharp rocks though, watch your knees. This will be a table as well.
Once you have all those things you get a sheet of paper and a marker or something. 
  • Draw a square near and edge of the page (I prefer using corners, but do whatever feels right).

    This is a landmark, a signpost, the signal that there's something to explore. It's like the bit of  a lost monolith you see distant in the jungle.
  • Draw a line out from the square, and add a triangle.

    This is the door to the dungeon. All movement beyond this is constrained. Imagine a tiny opening between two big mountains.
  • Beyond the triangle draw at least as many circles throughout the rest of the page as you want there to be "rooms" in the open air dungeon, extra ones will be "intersections" that act as empty rooms. These shouldn't touch, or be evenly spaced.
The circles will be connected by paths. Paths are just a way you can choose to go without a tremendous amount of extra work, like taking the 6 flights of stairs to the rooftop instead of free-climbing the facade.

You'll have to decide how spacious a path actually is, but the aesthetic of your Open Air Dungeon will help with this. If the OAD is a mountain the paths can all be narrow with dense pines on either side, maybe just a a few meters at most. If it's an arid canyon it could be an ancient riverbed spanning more than 30 meters in either direction with nearly vertical walls on both sides. You get the idea.

Paths are drawn quickly using arbitrary rules, with as little thinking as possible beyond obeying the rules. You want to create something using a process instead of trying to design something conciously.

The basic rules are:

    • the number of paths drawn at each step is randomly chosen. (e.g 1d4, 1d8 where 1=1, 2-3=2, 3-5= 3, 7-8=1, whatever)
    • there is a limit on how many paths any circle or triangle may have to it.
    • paths do not cross, but do not have to be straight, and can be any length.
    • Path drawing is finished once all the circles are connected to at least one other circle, and are reachable from the entrance, but adding some extra paths beyond this is recommended.
You can use small numbers and still get interesting results. Besides that most dungeon rooms aren't 4 door situations anyway.
The last step is to create a grid by folding the paper you've been drawing on. In "game time" the time it takes to travel across one square, from one line to the next, is enough for one encounter roll. It can be a half hour across one square if you want, or a whole day. 

Some lines will be a weird length, but the idea here is just to use a quick (but fair) estimation with the grid. Don't get out a flexible ruler or anything. If a path is really short just treat the "rooms" as connected.

Here's two examples. The formula was 10 circles, rolling 1d6 to vary the paths. 1-4 was 1 path, and 5-6 was 2 paths. Each circle could only have 3 paths at most. After everything was connected there was one additional roll. 

So there you go, this gives you a map with some various paths leading to various places where things will be. Once you decide the scale of the grid and travel time and decide how you'll fill the squares it's basically ready for play.
When it comes to stocking the locations you can key the whole map in advance, just use randomness to stock it. Roll dice, throw darts, whatever.

You can set it up so you can roll to reveal things as the map is explored during play, which is way more fun.

You can just roll off your table of content from earlier at each location. If there are some things that have to be present you can just make a "loaded" table to use during play. That means a few of the entries get written in, but the rest are "roll on this other table"

So, if this was The Forest of the Bitter Fruits and you definitely have to have the Red Tree of Bitter Fruits be there no matter what, you can make a table like this (for a map with 12 circles):

1. The Red Tree of Bitter Fruit
2-12. (roll on that d30 table of other things, don't repeat any of them)

and so on. If you added intersections to your map just choose them at random before play, of it all fits on a die load them into the table too. You can just fill in those circles on the map instead of numbering them.

You can make a whole Adventure around a map like this by thematically unifying your tables of content and giving them a way to play off each other and create a narrative. As Referee you'll have a notion of what might happen and you'll know a few concrete things, but you won't know how it'll all fits together until you explore it with the players. 

So here's an example of that, some tables of content and two example maps at the end to show you how it go.

Malculmus Forest & The Witchery Stone

Related imagePREMISE
The Adventurers have heard about a gang of thieves planning to retrieve a cache of peppercorns and other exotic spices worth 2500SP buried deep in Malculmus Forest. They're trying to get it instead.

Malculmus is a wild tangle of dense woody valleys between a series of steep hillsides. It is rumored to be home to faeries and other malicious woodland spirits. Folktales even mention a great "fae rock" in these woods, and that it should be avoided. Most who live near here do.
The only entrance and exit that doesn't require climbing over a treacherous hill is found in a small gorge a good ways off a poorly maintained backroad.

Inside the entrance is a clearing at the base of a few hills, where the valley paths lead deeper inwards. One notices right away that there are no sounds of life in this forest, none whatsoever. Convey this before the first random encounter is rolled, so there's a chance for minds to be changed.

The paths here are woodlands between very steep hills, a couple hundred feet wide. 

While the Foliated Men exist nature is not giving, the woodland has become a kind of predatory, digestive place. Bushcraft rolls to find food do not receive the usual +2 here.

The two essential places in Malculmus are the Ruined Encampment and Witchery Stone.

The Witchery Stone

A large boulder in the off-center of this clearing. It stands out from the rest of the landscape, almost like it was spotlit without being any brighter. There's an irritating humming feeling in the air.

It seems to be covered with very faint carvings. This is noticeable from a good distance away, but these can only be examined when very close. There are 3 small sinkholes near the front as well, each like the opening for a gutter. You have to stand very near the sinkholes to look at the carvings, leaning over them. The sinkholes, if probed, go very deep. They seem too narrow to fit through.

Anyone who looks at the carvings must Save vs. Magic.

If this Save is successful they can see that they're a surrealistic blend of men and weaponry and skulls entangled by foliage. They feel like they'll develop a migraine if they continue looking (and this is true).

If this Save is failed the person examining them becomes Entangled, and is then attacked by one of the Foliated Men (also explained below). The Foliated Men will try to tackle or shove them down into a sinkhole, which widens just enough to fit them. If an Adventurer goes down a sinkhole they are consumed by the Forest, and soon appear as an additional Foliated Man.

A successful Language roll by a Magic-User reveals ideas of enchantment, protection, and sacrifice from the carvings.
A Search roll reveals an area of recently dug earth underneath a round river stone a few yards away. 3 feet underground is a hefty vessel (Oversized) filled with valuable peppercorns and spices worth 2500SP

Ruined Encampment
Perhaps 9 people or so were encamped in this clearing, but now it's ruined and completely empty. It's a mess, and blood was spilled. There was chaos, a battle, and panic. Some rudimentary camping supplies can be found here if one wants to dig around, and maybe a tent and a few bedrolls are salvageable too. There is a backpack with some correspondence in it. A letter that says that the "items" are buried near the "Witchery Stone" under a "round river rock". It adds as a post-script "and don't go looking at the stone, it surely won't do you good".

Twenty Locations & Events

1. Island

A lake with an island in the center, the island 50 feet or so across, about 100 feet from shore. A figure can be seen on the island, watching the Adventurers. It looks almost like a Foliated Man, but it carries no weapon. It will cross it’s arms at long distance communication, and beckon them over instead. They'll have to swim.

This is the last druid of Malculmus, and they have come here to die. There are other bones on the island, Druids leave no other traces. They have not spoken to another person in dozens of years, so their speech abilities are minimal, but they are approachable if you are not violent towards them.

They cough and wheeze, and are visibly unwell. They refuse all medicine, all aid. They have lived an unfortunately long time and are thankful that they are about to end. It shall be a day or two.

They have sense like an animal, and can tell if you are lying to them 4 times out of 6. If you lie to them they’ll become silent, and turn away from you. They will not fight back if attacked, and will never speak to you again.

“Why here?” they ask you. “Touched stone?” they’ll ask too, laughing at the answer. “All will die”. They imitate gnawing.

They know that those who carry no arms will not be harmed by the Foliated Men.

If you promise to "protect this home" they will tell you how to "not be eaten". They swear you will die if you break your oath, but that's not true at all. The magic of the druids has been long forgotten. (perhaps you could close off the entrance with a landslide or something.)

The druids of Malculmus created the "Witchery Stone" centuries ago as a means for defending against invaders, and attempts to clear or otherwise exploit the forest. A druid or two would sacrifice themselves to the stone, while the rest would wait out the carnage unarmed and isolated.

2. Witness
Randomly choose which Adventurers hear the sound of a snapping twig. The other Adventurers are Surprised.

A figure can be barely seen in the brush, along with the glint of metal. Roll for initiative.
On the figures turn they’ll stammer out “wait!”

This is Burtold (Level 1 Fighter, 8 HP, Dirk 1d6, Armor 13, Morale 7).  He is armed with a sword (1d8).

He was with Nirnus, Golfawn, and Rodolf when they examined the Witchery Stone, and he saw them vanish into the sinkholes. He hasn't seen the Foliated Men yet, but he's seen what happened to the camp. He's trying to find the others. He has digging equipment too.

3. Fingers
Two bodies lying in a clearing, surrounded by thick brush.
One body is missing fingers that have been enthusiastically hatcheted off, in addition to its other wounds.

The body near it is nude and face down and almost covered in twigs and vines, they're even entwined in its hair (it is an instance of Golfawn). It has the missing fingers in its mouth, all chewed up. It’s been chopped across the spine with a few sword blows.

One non-Entangled Adventurer who examines this body will see the same face peering out at them from the distant brush when they look up, and then must Save vs. Magic or become Entangled. If successful they only see leaves rustling, just as if something were there, but nothing can be found.

4. Larder
A gorge with dozens of very old skeletons in it, all have been gnawed clean by human teeth. There is a tree growing through them. There are very old and rusted weapons near them too. Two bodies are fresh, one a wet skeleton with ragged bits left on it, the other still flesh but clearly chewed on.

If any bodies were seen and not destroyed in some other way in other locations they will now be here, atop the pile, also gnawed almost clean (but with enough left so they're recognizable).

The Foliated Men return here to feed periodically, but this will never be seen by the Adventurers, just the after-effects.
If they are encountered they might be seen standing before a body transported with them.

5. Cavern
A hole in a cliff face leads to a habitable cavern, the size of a small cabin. As the odd rules of enchantment dictate: this place is not part of the forest, it is in the realm of the underground. It acts like a safe pocket from the mayhem outside, and the Foliated Men cannot enter it. It contains no food or water, but may lead deeper into the underworld.

6. Ravine
There is a large fallen tree overhead. A randomly determined Adventurer who is not Entangled sees a leaf fall in front of them, and they glance up. They must Save against Magic. If they Succeed they see movement, like figure turning away, fleeing atop the log. There sounds of footfalls, the bending of it under a weight. Nothing is up there.

If this is failed they are staring into the Face of Nirnus, a drop of blood falling from his leafy mouth onto their face. They must Save vs. Magic or become Entangled. Roll for surprise and initiative, Nirnus Charges them by dropping on top of them with a sword blow.

7. Berries
A thicket of bright green berries. They are bitter but edible. There are 1d4 rations worth to be found. They curl away from being picked, very subtly but visibly.

8. Mushrooms
A large and ancient oak tree, with a large cluster of thick-stemmed yellow mushrooms with brown caps growing beneath it between the roots.

There are 1d6+1 edible rations worth, but those who eat them have a 1 in 6 chance of being afflicted with diarrhea and ending up both starving and dehydrated afterwards, unless they make a Save.

If there is a random encounter Rodolf is up in the branches, and if he gets surprise he will drop down while swing, which counts as Charging.
9. Pond
A small pond. There are fish in it, but they all swim directly down and away from the Adventurers to the bottom, and will not take any bait if fished for. It will take an extremely long time to catch any.

10. Hollow
A randomly determined Adventurer looks towards a grove of trees and sees a tall hollow stump.

They must Save vs. Magic.
If Failed they see a leaf covered figure crawl out from inside the stump and begin bounding towards them, only to vanish between two trees. Roll for suprise. If failed they are attacked from behind. If successful they hear this instance of Rodolf just a few yards behind before he strikes. They must Save vs. Magic or become Entangled.

If Successful they feel like the hollow of the tree is gazing at them, but there's nothing inside it.

11. Boulders
There are many very large boulders to walk between in this area. Unless someone makes the effort to climb over them to watch for an ambush one of them has Nirnus behind it, and the first Adventurer in line will be attacked with surprise 5 out of 6 times. Those who look for an ambush will see Nirnus, and if not Entangled will lock eyes with it and have to Save.

12. Duel
Seen in profile, a man staring into the brush. He is holding an axe, as if waiting for something to charge at him. Leaves are piled around and on his feet, he is Entangled. If spoken to he’ll flip around startled, and once realizing the Adventurers are human will look back at the brush. “It’s fucking gone!” he’ll shout. It was Golfawn. Roll for Surprise again.
Tymus, Level 2 Fighter. Armor 15, Axe 1d8. Morale 8.
13. Poachers
Have the Adventurers roll their Search. If successful, they notice two figures trying to hide in the brush up ahead. If none are successful they’ll hear a loud whisper from that brush as they walk by, two poachers who have heard distant screams. Birk claims to have seen a "wild nude", and is entangled. Dola has not seen any nudes at all. They will travel with the Adventurers for safety. They are level 0, carry crossbows, and have morale 6.

14. Tree
A mighty tree in the very middle of the narrow trail. If it is walked by one at a time Nirnus is behind it, with sword ready to swing. The first in line sees his sword tip just before he swings around the other direction, to strike the person behind the lead. Roll for Surprise, if the first in line acts first they are able to warn the potential victim, giving them a chance to roll initiative instead.

If two walk around each way they see the branches above sort of rustle, but there is nothing else.

15.  Snare
The sound of a trap being sprung up ahead. The first in line, if not Entangled, must Save vs. Magic as they continue onward.

If failed they see Rodolf caught in a snare and hanging upside down in the branches. He makes eye contact, they must Save or be Entangled. He can’t attack, but can sort of swing himself into the branches to Vanish.

If successful the sprung trap is swinging empty in the branches.

16. Slope
Going down a slope one is eye level with some of the tree branches.

The last in line must Save vs. Magic if they are not Entangled. If failed they are eye level with Golfawns face in a tree and must Save or become Entangled. If they pass they see bending branches, as if something heavy were just there and had sprung away.

17. Flowers
A field of wildflowers that are all directly turned away from the Adventurers whenever they are there, turning as needed.

In this wide open area the Foliated men will not be close enough to get real Surprise, so when encountered it's always a stand off.

18. Birds
All the birds of the forest are gathered here in the branches, silent and distant. If the Foliated Men are encountered some of them begin to fly in the Adventurers face, causing a -2 to hit and making it all but impossible to watch the Foliated Men to prevent attack.

19. Insects
All the insects of the forest that can fly are in a great low cloud, buzzing and drifting. Beetles and grubs are crushed and squished underfoot while writhing in spiral flows. Passing through place conceals the Foliated Men, giving them a 5 in 6 chance of having Surprise if they are encountered.

20. Lake
A narrow path near the edge of a lake, if the Foliated Men attack they attempt to tackle an Adventurer into the water and drown them. Foliated Men won't die from drowning. ENCOUNTERS
There is a 1 in 3 chance of an encounter through every square, and every 3 turns or so while in a location. If 5 or 6 are rolled more than once use a Foliated Man instead.
1-4. One of the Foliated Men.
5. A man, named Byrll is found unconcious or appears and then passes out. He was gouged in his guts by a sword, and finding him saves his life. He lost his sword in the fracas, and he's too weak to fight now. He just wants to escape, he claims to know of "other treasures" if they get him out alive.
6. A man with a crossbow, Dalkirk, appears or is seen looking around wildly and stammering. His right arm has been badly cut by a sword blow. He has been Entangled. He has Morale 5, and will do something idiotic if he fails his roll.

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The Foliated Men
Four of the group who had intended to retrieve the spices drew the short lots, and so were sent to do the digging. The rest had agreed they would do the hauling. These were Burtold, Rodolf, Nirnus, and Golfawn. Rodolf, Nirnus, and Golfwan had heard rumors that looking closely at the “witchery stone” hidden in these woods would grant them a boon of luck, or strength, or something like that. Burtold would have none of it. Burtold witness as it claimed their bodies, and ran off in terror. The three were transformed them into anthropophagic guardians against violent invasion, part of a druidic enchantment they had activated.
They are all dead now, wholly unretrievable. These are just something that has their form, a paranormal phenomenon that looks like their skin: Foliated Men.

They are all nude now, dirty and bloodied and foliated in various ways. They appear and disappear throughout the woods, hunting down anything with a weapon. They must eat human flesh and viscera to avoid starvation, nothing else can nourish them, and they need no other nourishment. They don't sleep, get tired or thirsty, and they do not feel pain in any way that matters. They are also always silent, they never make a vocal or verbal sound. (though they seem to breathe). They sometimes  have a smirk, a grimace, or a gaping wide expression.

If they are killed they’ll appear again, identical. The body will remain, at least for some time. (their bodies are very real, but the Foliated Men cannot eat them for nourishment).
Their bodies become rotten, then vegetated skeletons, then simply plantlike silhouettes within a day. They have some blood, some gore, some guts, but are also stuffed with leaves and twigs and flowers and vines too.

The only things that exist in the forest for them are humans (or other sapient beings) that possess weapons. Their only goal is to kill and eat those beings. They appear according to unknowable and sadistic whimsy. (something perfectly simulated by die rolls).

They can vanish whenever they aren’t seen by something, and in the dense forest this is very easily done. Treat this like casting a spell: on the round a Foliated Man attempts to vanish it succeeds on its turn if nothing strikes it first.

The three of them:

covered in mud, blood and leaves, they are plastered all over it. It is unclear how it is able to see, as there’s large leaves all covering it's face. You can tell that it was Rodolf from the wide shoulders, lean frame, and big strong hands.  Some freckles are still visible through the dirt.

16 HP
3 HD
Armor 12 Morale 12
It uses a sword that does 1d8 damage.

It tends to strike once and then vanish, preferring to attack the weakest. If all run away it will chase after to try and get one strike in. It appears from logs and up in branches, from leaves and trees.

There are leaves and vines and twigs disgorging from its open mouth, as if they were stuffed in there, all bloody now from devouring. The rest of it is all dirty and mossy, with the occasional branch bent across it, sometimes a tangle of thicker fronds across an arm, or on the torso. A mop of hair hangs in its eyes still, and it has a bushy beard, and the strength of it's body is very visible though it stands shorter than most men.

20 HP
4 HD
Armor 14 Morale 12
It carries a Zweihander that does 1d10 damage
It only attacks with Defensive Fighting (+2 Armor, -4 to Hit). It prefers to attack the least damaged of those available.

It does not try to vanish unless nearly dead, but will allow everyone to run away. It appears from behind stones, and tree-trunks.

Blonde, short cropped, with a long face and full lips. There are small blossoms, buds, leaves, and tiny vines squeezing out from between its teeth, out its ears and nostrils, around its eyeballs, through its hair. When it is seen it is just a face barely concealed by the brush. When it attacks this is glimpsed before he lunges out, all tall and thick-built with a hatchet swinging and its hairy body all covered in pollen and grassy debris.

3 HD
14 HP
Armor 12 Morale 12
He carries a Hatchet that does 1d6 damage
He only attacks as a Press (+2 to Hit, -4 Armor)

It will chase anyone who tries to run away, and will only vanish after it has killed someone.

Encounters There is a 4 in 6 chance the Foliated Men will have surprise, and if so they Attack in Melee Range. If they do not have Surprise roll for Encounter Distance, and then randomly determine which Adventurer saw them.

When spotted like this they will only Attack if the one who is looking at them is Entangled and then fails a Magic Save. Other than that they stand still there, stopping dead in their tracks. Up in a tree, near a shrub, standing on a boulder, and so on. If an unwavering unentangled eye is kept on them they will not move closer on their own. They stare back. If gotten close to, or shot with an arrow or whatever, they will try to Vanish.

If the Adventurers watch a Foliated Man while moving away there is a 1 in 3 chance another one of them is encountered, possibly all 3 could be seen at once. If all are watched carefully the Adventurers can leave the area without any chance of attack. The Foliated Men then vanish once out of view, until called forth by randomness again.

If killed they are simply dead, their weapon can even be taken. If rolled as an encounter again they appear as if nothing had ever happened.

During Overnight Watch roll to see if there is an encounter once during each watch shift. If watched unwavering and unmoving for a longish time (say an hour or so), a Foliated Man will suddenly try to Vanish. Sleep deprivation is one of their intuitive tactics. If no one takes watch one Adventurer (or Hireling) will be killed in their sleep if there is a random encounter.

Anyone who is Entangled cannot leave the forest. If you try to walk out of it you'll simply not ever reach the edge. If someone tries to drag you out their hands will always slip, and you’ll get something caught, and you’ll never make it out. Something will get in your eyes, you’ll stumble, and then there you are a dozen yards back into it.
While you are entangled leaves seem to catch you on you more easily, mosses stick to you, twigs get caught on your jacket, and you become muddy and covered in thistles with ease. If you stand very still any little soft branches or vines will very delicately start to wrap around you very slowly. If you manage to sleep you’ll awake with plants all over you, holding onto you.

Any Adventurer attacked and injured by a Foliated Man must save against Magic, if this is failed they are Entangled. Any Adventurer that gazes on a Foliated Man, and has their gaze returned, must also save or become Entangled after they have stopped gazing on them Foliated Man.

You cannot directly kill the foliated men, but there are ways to escape. If you are not Entangled you can simply leave Malculmus, they cannot follow you. If everyone leaves at once have all three Foliated Men watch them go.

If the Foliated Men run out of bodies to eat they will starve. They each need one full body per day, or they lose half of their maximum HP. They vanish forever after the last one is lost. Since there are a finite number of bodies in the woods a war of attrition is possible.

Those who carry no weapons are invisible to them. If one abandons all their weapons (as in: discards them with no intention of getting them back, actually loses them, or willfully ruins or destroys them), they cease to exist to the Foliated Men, and are no longer Entangled if they were before.

(Note this is a matter of true intention, not pedantry. If someone discards their weaponry and has someone else pick it up for them they haven't actually abandoned their arms.)

Acquiring weaponry when one had none before, or re-acquiring weaponry after abandoning it, causes one to become visible to them again.

Any implement used to harm others is a “weapon” forever, but a tool is not a “weapon” until used as one. (if you ever hit someone with the shovel it’s a war shovel now) Things intended to be a weapon always already are one (no calling a new sword a letter opener, as it were).

If someone is really insistent on beating up the Foliated Men with their bare hands they will be visible to that Foliated Man after attacking them, until that Foliated Man is killed.
If the Witchery Rock was completely defaced or destroyed the Foliated Men would vanish, but this would require hours and hours of chiseling or a large cannon.

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And here are two maps, premade using the content from above. 10 Locations, 4 Intersections, and two extra rolls for paths. Rolls were 1d6, 1-4 for one path and 5-6 for two. The intersections were chosen at random, those are the black dots. Each room could have four connecting paths at most.

The table had the Witchery Stone as 1 and the Ruined Encampment as 10. Each square is a half-day of hiking. 

1. Encampment
2. Cavern (5)
3. Hollow Tree (10)
4. Slope (16)
5. Ravine (6)
6. Stingy Pond (9)
7. Mushrooms (8)
8. Berries (7)
9. Island (1)
10. Witchery Stone

This one has the mercy of the Cavern and the Island, and a good amount of free food instead of brutal ambushes.

1. Encampment

2. Cavern
3. Tree (14)
4. Lakeside (5)
5. Berries (7)
6. Flowers (17)
7. Pond (9)
8. Birds (18)
9. Insects (19)
10. Witchery Stone

This one showcases more of the hostile fauna, of which the other map had none, but it still includes the Cavern. There's no Druid to give them a hint, either.

This method and these maps aren't playtests, at least yet, but let me know if you think it's neat or just use it and have fun.

I'll post the other method once I have a name for it.