Sunday, September 4, 2011

Excavating An Underworld

I plan on the Pits of Foreign Daring to be a central location of my campaign – at least for the first three levels of my players' careers, after which they'll be able to explore Jakalla and the Imperium without having to worry about accidentally offending some High Clan noble and be made to take the High Ride. Whether the Pits actually do become central to the early stages of the game – a 'tent pole', to use OSR parlance – is up to the players and their actions. It is possible they'll prefer to engage in money fights in the Hirilakte Arena or take on commissions from Tsoylani looking for foreign mercenary scum to do some dirty work than risk the dangers of the tsuru'um. That will be fine with me – I want to give the players as many options as possible, and the Pits are just one such. Their whole purpose is to give characters a place to explore and win gold and glory at their own pace. I have no plans to have NPCs send them into the Pits for any reason – they can dare them as little or as often as they wish.

This is not to say that there are no plot hooks in the Pits, lying in wait for the players to stumble across and maybe chase after. There are at least three or four interesting things going on on the first level, with the most obvious being the fact that the cult of Wuru have made it into something of a stronghold. There's a good possibility that the players could earn the enmity of the servants of the Many Legged Serpent of Gloom, depending on their actions.

My current plan is to map out and stock the first level before moving on to other facets of the campaign. At my current pace, the first level of the Pits will have around one hundred keyed encounter areas, not counting the two sub-levels that adventuring parties could possibly stumble upon. I'm populating the dungeon using the system found in the Moldvay Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, which I've found to be of great use over the past two years. At the very least it keeps me from stuffing too many monsters into a dungeon. If a monster encounter is called for, I roll on the wandering monster table in the EotPT rule book and decide whether the creature that comes up is appropriate – for example, Hlutrgu struck me as inappropriate – for some reason I can't see them wandering as far away from their enclaves as Ssu, Hluss or Shunned Ones would. Also, do they even have access to the Underworld in their swamps? Another time a roll called for a Nshe, which I rejected outright, thinking it being far too overwhelming for a first level band to deal with. For the most part, Mrur, Shedra, Kurgha and evil men are the primary inhabitants of the first level of the Pits. There are at least two more challenging encounters – a 'stunted' Sro (5 hit dice, but only about 8 feet long) is lairing in one chamber, while a Tsu'uru lurks in another. That encounter promises to be interesting, having many possible ways to cause complications for my players to overcome.

While the main levels of the Pits will be rather varied in their nature due to this random method, the sub-levels in between them will be more tightly focused. Initially I had no plans on using such environments, but the effort of trying to come up for a reason behind why a particular room was trapped inspired me. Who built this trap? There's no treasure here, so why did someone bother? Eventually I decided the Ssu constructed it, so to discourage people away from the hidden entrance to their spy outpost. The other sub-level adjacent to the first level is inhabited by the spider-like progeny of a demon – Lukdrinnektu, He Who Vomits Darkness. Upon finding the secret ways to this area, the party will notice their light sources dimming in a rather alarming matter.

Clues indicating the existence of the sub-levels will be scattered around the first level – a cowering slave who watched Ssu kill most of his masters and carry off two which they had hypnotized; a mural depicting a neophyte sorcerer cringing in horror as Lukdrinnektu stalks toward him. Hopefully things like that will excite my players' curiosity and make them want to find out just what is going on within the depths of the Pits of Foreign Daring.

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