Monday, 13 February 2012

[ACKS] Reagents and Dungeon Farming

[note: I'm not saying the Autarchs are "doing it wrang!" in their clever little book, I'm just offering a couple of unoriginal ideas to expand on their mechanics.]

Questing for Reagents/Special Components
Suggestion: Instead of cutting out hellhound hearts to the value of so many XP the PC gets the value as quest treasure for achieving something unique and campaign-specific during an actual adventure in search of reagents.
Benefit to the GM: creating a magic item costs not only time and gold, but actual player attention too.

For example, instead of trawling the Caverns of Howling Flame waiting for the WM check to come up hellhound for the dozenth time the would-be item crafter might instead learn through research (ACKS, p117) that he can gain a similar effect by plunging his half-forged pet project into the Flame Everburning at the heart of the Pyrovaults. Oh, and the Pyrovaults haven’t been looted for a century or more, so it looks like the expedition will pay for itself too.

"Igor! Send word to my companions and round up the henchies. We’re going on a spree!"

This gets Crafty McWizardington out of the tower and off on an adventure; no Final Fantasy-style hellhound whack-a-mole required.

When he finally reaches the Flame Everburning his item-to-be benefits from an XP-value equivalent to that earned in the adventure it took to get there.  You might want to think of this mana (*wince* I know, I know) in terms of 4E's residuum, except not sucky, or in terms of the Tome Series high-value, high-magic planar currencies, but not so fungible. The player gets item creation value directly tied to his character’s in-game exploits.

  1. You cannot buy this kind of mojo on the open market (it doesn't travel well).
  2. *This* particular thing is usable only to create *that* type of effect. Primal Shadow is only good for stealthy items; the heart of a star is good for illumination, prophecy or navigation magic; the fires of Orodruin are only good for invisibility and/or mind control effects, etc.
  3. You have to batter your way through substantial opposition (i.e. have an adventure!) to gain any value from it.

[I’m sure Alex and the lads already have something like this in mind for their magic sourcebook. But this will do me until they drop paper on the subject.]

Creating Magic Architecture
I was reading an old thread on The Gaming Den (caveat lector) the other day about instituting themed Dungeon Heart-style power fonts as features of a fantasy campaign. These sounded pretty cool; basically monster-and-arcane-weirdness generators that popped up in the most dangerous, inhospitable places that could be tapped for power by someone who met the correct criteria. What are the correct criteria? Consult your GM for details. For example, the Master of Snake Mountain gets a bunch of lizardmen minions, can add snaky powers to his tamed monsters, and might have unique magic or lore at his command, but he has to meet some odd fairy tale requirement - like having a serpent's heart - in order to do so.

Although it doesn’t look like the mechanics side of this ever got off the ground it might have potential as source material for old school games that uses the ACKS dungeon harvesting idea (ACKS, pp141-142), maybe tied in with the modified reagent gathering idea suggested above.

For example, Crafty McWizardington wants to set up a regular supply of (for example) necromantic item-creation mojo, rather than exploiting an existing one-off circumstance.  Fine. He just needs to make sure he matches the pre-requisites for mastery of the Well of Forlorn Souls, then make his way there, knock over any existing occupants, and set himself up as the new landlord.

If you want to extend this arcane warlording mini-game further you could even have wizards create their own power fonts. The easiest(!) way to do this would be to delve a dungeon and fit it out to meet certain criteria:
  • Arcane Resonance: First find your site of infamous death and horror. You can’t built a necromancy-enhancing necropolis in the Heart of Sunny Pixie Valley or on the flank of the Volcano of Eternal Burnination: it just doesn’t work that way. The local ambiance has to be specifically aspected to the type of magic you want to exploit.
  • Traditional Design: You have to build it to certain - less than optimally efficient - designs. These might form gigantic arcane runes, generate/run along/block necromantic ley lines, draw and channel the innate qualities of the Void Between, or whatever. Plot out your dungeon to be as awesome-looking as possible, ok it with the GM, then get them peons a-digging! ("The contractor want five silver per cubic foot?! My counter-offer is ‘I’m a goddamn wizard who can kill his entire family with my mind and then reanimate their corpses to work for free.’ How does that affect the quoted cost for the work?")
  • Decorate Appropriately: Sure, the traditional dressed masonry is a classic look, but it doesn’t conduct death magic especially well. You’ll probably have to plate the walls with expensive obsidian and onyx, and trick the place out with baroque skull carvings, bone sculptures and fountains of blood. Oh, and ramming the point home by recruiting some undead for local colour won’t hurt either.
  • Blasphemous Rites: This is why you keep those scheming snot-nosed apprentices around. It is also a chance to break out the Ritual Magic research rules and send the wizard off on more reagent quests.
  • Campaign-specific Criteria: This last should be something unique and memorable: mythic/fairy-tale stuff, like keeping a lovelorn noble scion* trapped there in a nightmare dream-state between the boundaries between life and death. (Maleficent: dungeon-builder)

* Princesses are traditional here, although I'm sure a suitably winsome prince would also be acceptable in these enlightened modern times.

Meet all required criteria to the GM’s satisfaction and Crafty McWizardington reaps the benefits:
  • so much item and/or undead creation mana per month,
  • the chance that random monsters turn up in his trendy new dungeon,
  • he gets to call himself Magus of the Nightmare Labyrinth (or something equally grandiose).
Of course, your own dungeon may - and likely should - provide additional advantages to the player character who owns it. Building your own arcane conduit dungeon from scratch should be a bigger, more impressive achievement than simply wandering over to someone else's patch, kicking them in the teeth and proclaiming "Right! I'm the daddy now." Reward player investment. Maybe building your own thaumo-generator is a requirement for lichdom (or godhood, or whatever) in a way that simple control of one isn't.

Now this ‘item XP for free’ mechanic might look like it contradicts my earlier assertion that such things should only be available as a pay-off of actual adventuring. Of course, nothing in life is free. (No keister-sitting rent-seeking on my watch, thankee very much!)

Your surreal reign as Psychopomp of the Oneiric NetherManse or Arch-Arsonist of the Pyrovaults is all gravy until word gets around and adventurers turn up to trash the place, greyhawk the fixtures, and leech your mana for their own purposes (see Reagents, above). To my mind 1,000XP-equivalent of creation mana a month implies that roughly 12,000XP-worth of adventure-worthy complications (hostile WMs, adventurers, etc.) turn up at your doorstep over the course of a game year. Whether you want to use the standard Wandering Monster tables, or something like Charlatan's (thanks to Blizack for the catch ) Dungeon Notoriety interloper generator, or GM fiat is up to you, but sitting on a power source should attract scavengers.

And that's why you stock your dungeon with fearsome monsters and killer traps keyed to your particular decorative theme: when you set up a dungeon adventure comes looking for you. It’s practically a law of nature.

(Not at all a) Spoiler:
this is totally what the Vaults of Nagoh were set up to do. A bunch of mad wizard kings pooled their resources to harvest vast amounts of magic in various flavours. Of course, wizards being wizards, this master plan underwent phase change from ‘visionary’ to “We meddled too far! AGH!!!” quickly and messily. Cue Strangelovian explosions.

So, reagents and harvesting. You can either repeat some of the most facile, grindy fetch quest elements of WOW; or you can do something flavourful and specific to your game that also answers the old vexed question of 'Dungeons: WHY?!'


  1. I like this idea a lot. Nice work.

    I should mention that the Dungeon Notoriety table was actually done by Charlatan, not Tavis.

  2. Beautiful: I was starting to think something along these lines but this is so much better. It also implies that dungeons act something like gravity wells for supernatural stuff.

    Plus, reading your sections on decoration right after watching Tim Gunn's Guide To Style was a surreal experience.

    Plus plus you've totally explained the specific case of the funhouse dungeon. So you have to attract multiple kinds of mana and there's no logical schema linking them together except your particular set of magic research bugaboos - so you make a little subterranean Disneyland. Also it's more fun for when you go harvesting the corridors yourself.

  3. Great stuff, Chris. I plan to use this.

  4. Kudos. I like "gigantic arcane sigils" as a dungeon building motivator quite a lot. :)

  5. @blizack: Ta for the catch.

    @richard: Like I said, none of this is original, but it ties together a lot of my favourite D&D perspectives (Philotomy, Frank+K, etc.)

    SuperNecro: Good to hear it mate. Feedback appreciated.

    @demoss: It was a straight steal from the M25 motorway as infernal sigil idea in Pratchett+Gaiman's "Good Omens" (and similar in Robert Rankin's Brentwood books).


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