Playing an archeologist in D&D?

In the Tomb of Annihilation adventure you have to find an ancient ruined city somewhere in the middle of the jungle, enter its dungeon, destroy an evil artifact and defeat the evil lich. All very principled. And you can play as an archeologist (or an anthopologist).

Kind of.

You’re still gonna play a fighter, a wizard, a bard or whatnot, but you can choose the aforementionned disciplines as “backgrounds”.

Apart from the fluff, an archeologist has the following ability:

Historical Knowledge

When you enter a ruin or dungeon, you can correctly ascertain its original purpose and determine its builders, whether those were dwarves, elves, humans, yuan-ti, or some other known race. In addition, you can determine the monetary value of art objects more than a century old.

That’s nice, I guess.

But… It’s a bit weird really. Well, first, obviously there’s a major difference with using archeology knowledge for a dungeon master to help with verisimilitude and a player who plays an archeologist…

If there is an archeologist character, it implies the discipline of archeology in-world. Tomb-robbing is often a central thing in D&D (as it is in my campaign), but that’s pretty much the antithesis of archeology, which can be described, I think, as a systematic method centered around a scientific basis for the purpose of finding and studying ancient artefacts.

Sooo…

It is true that the players can be somewhat methodic – in killing and looting everything!

It’s the scientific part that’s a hard pill to swallow for me. You see, archeology did not exist before the 18th century. Indeed, to see the emergence of archeology first you had to have a couple of things in place: scientific theory, a surging interest for things of the past of course, and, let’s not forget, an era of colonialism

Of course, you can do what you want with your elfgame, but for an obsessive-compulsive like me, who wants things to make some kind of sense (as much as a silly game as D&D allows), something that is so steeped in a very modern background that implies modern knowledge and modern infrastructure (universities and museums and so on) is off-putting.

With all of that in mind you could have an archeologist character, but I think you would need either just simply disregard all of the above (the de facto solution) or you could craft a campaign that fits this kind of premise and in that case, it would be very far from the usual vanilla fantasy… But maybe not uninteresting.

Archeologist Treasure Hunter

Or you could just dump the whole thing (with its anachronism and ethical problems) and just refluff the archeologist background as a Treasure Hunter… I mean, it’s a fantasy trope for a reason.

Choose a Sponsor for your Dungeon Delve

A neat idea from the gamebook Battlepits of Krarth (Dave Morris, Oliver Johnson) is to make you start the adventure while choosing a sponsor as the first obligatory step before entering said battlepits. In pure gamebook fashion you can choose blindly and then of course you risk getting a bad one (one sponsor is actually a vampire who, guess what, is more interested in getting your blood than having champions to compete), or, you know, you could try to get some information first and make a better choice…

Those are “Sponsors” too but they’re a bit, huh, different?

Of course, a Choose Your Own Adventure has a limited scope and so there’s only three sponsors to choose from (others are mentionned but aren’t availaible). One good, one bad and one really bad (the aforementionned vampire). An interesting twist is that the good one, Magus Balthazar, is harder to get, he’s actually picky as to whom he chooses. It’s not like he wants the first boneheads to cross his door to represent him in this prestigious, yearly competion. No, no, no. You will be tested, and if your intelligence is found lacking, well… You’ll have to find another sponsor.

This asshole doesn’t care one bit if you die horribly…

With a Tabletop RPG, of course, you could have a lot more options to choose from, leading to interesting roleplaying opportunities.

But what’s the point of having a sponsor? Well, suppose you get one that’s interested in your prolonged well-being, a sponsor could ensure that your chances of success are a bit better, providing you with starting funds, equipment, henchmen and so on… And, depending on the style of play, maybe a kind of insurance against setbacks (healing services, or even resurrection).

In any case, there would have to be something to gain for the sponsor too. A share of the profits, first bid on precious stuff, etc. In a TTRPG, a sponsor wouldn’t be a simple employer, there’s a long-term relationship (or debt serving) to consider.

If I ever do something like a megadungeon campaign, you can be sure there’ll be sponsors around!

Undermountain: Lonely Vampyre

With my previous post you could think I don’t like The Ruins of Undermountain but that’s not the case, there’s a lot of clever stuff in its pages.

One location/encounter in particular reminded me how much I like unlikely allies as a DM. I’m not talking about factions (which are nice too) but monsters or seemingly evil characters that, under certain circumstances, can bond with the PCs. I like it but I also know from experience that Players are absolutely thrilled by it!

But here’s the one I’m talking about here (1991’s spoiler I guess):

This vampyre was once a female human merchant of Waterdeep, Spadreera Omarkhont. She now appears as a slim, svelte, beautiful (but dirty) creature clad only in ash-covered tatters, her eyes glittering with red fire and much of her hair all burnt away.

Yeah, she’s a fire vampire.

Spadreera is lonely, more than anything else. She’d like to chat and gossip about Waterdeep regularly, with someone she could regard as a friend and will try to befriend any beings who survive her initial attack, and cease hostilities when she offers to. PCs who befriend Spadreera never need fear attack from her again. She will not accompany PCs out of the dungeon, and is reluctant even to leave her lair but she will meet PCs at agreed-upon places elsewhere on this level, and even aid them against encountered monsters. She does not appreciate being used, however PCs would be wise not to try to dupe her into fighting every other monster on this level. Spadreera will plead to any befriended creatures for visits as often as possible! In return, she can guard treasure for PCs, give them all the (sadly outdated) information she knows about the intrigues and secrets of Waterdeep, and give them advice on trade (she was a very shrewd merchant). Her lair can become a hideout and safe house for PCs, if they conduct themselves in the right manner.

She’s still a monster in some way but:

Spadreera’s alignment and tendencies are overruled by her loneliness; she will look for prey and opportunities to unleash her cruelty elsewhere, among the monsters that roam this level, and never harm PC friends. She will even nurse injured PCs faithfully back to health without attacking them!

What an interesting NPC!

Do you know of any other cool unlikely ally?

Undermountain: The Wizard inside a Stuffed Beholder

I was skimming through AD&D Ruins of Undermountain, just to see how it compares with 5E Dungeon of the Mad Mage, and I stumbled upon this:

Old Xoblob’s shop

The shop is named for the stuffed, eyeless beholder that hangs from the ceiling inside. Aside from being a curiosity in itself, the beholder conceals a hired wizard who can fire a wand of paralysis out of the dust-covered eye tyrant’s mouth.

I chuckled to myself when I read this. Just picture the poor guy, hidden in a stuffed beholder, twiddling his thumbs ALL DAY LONG!

Adventurers won’t steal from Xoblob’s shop so easily.

Dandalus will trade with whoever comes through the gate. He makes no enemies, he merely charges more for services to those attackers or doublecrossers. Dandalus always takes the following precautions: he wears a ring of spell turning, a ring of free action, and a greenstone amulet; he always carries two potions of extra-healing, an elixir of health, two iron bands of Bilarro spheres, and six beads of force in his pockets.

The shopkeeper will charge more for services to attackers…

A magic shop, a wizard bored out of his mind and a shopkeeper that EXPECTS to be assaulted by his usual clients…

Hilarious nonsense.

Of Stickers and Unlocking (for D&D)

 

My ongoing D&D campaign is set in the jungles of Chult. I have the Tomb of Annihilation adventure book and while I don’t use its main plot *shudders*, I love the setting. I mean, I could very well have done the same thing with the old Isle of Dread module, but I didn’t know of its existence when I bought ToA. Anyway, I feel like ToA grafted a sandbox to something that wasn’t exactly meant for it. The PCs must find a specific location (the tomb duh) and have no real incentives to explore the fantastic locations on their way (not that there’s much of it tbh). More so, the players have this bigass map with the blanks… well unless you have a really dedicated cartographer player, it doesn’t see much use in my experience. Which is a shame.

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In retrospect, what I would have liked is stickers. I’ve discovered the fun of it in my recent experience with legacy-type boardgames (gloomhaven, betrayal legacy).

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From Cephalofair’s Gloomhaven

You’ve found/unlocked a location! Put a sticker!

Nah, really, it’s a thing. I like it.

A note on Myconids

27. sovereign basidia (2015) - out of the abyss

I don’t think I’ve ever used myconids, but that’s something I want to remediate soon enough. However, if I were to stick to D&D canon lore (which I won’t), myconids are supposed to be found exclusively in the underdark, the subterranean world home to the iconic drow. This was set in stone, so to speak, by Gary Gigax’s D1-2 Descent into the Depths of the Earth (1e), which of course, borrowed heavily on established hollow earth fiction (Jules Verne’s Voyage au centre de la Terre). More to the point, Gigax also borrowed the myconids, which were created in the earlier module  A4 In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords, which was an subteranean adventure (mostly) but in no way deep in the bowels of the earth-subteranean.

shrooms

They belong on the surface!

Leaving the myconids out of most of the more typical (surface) encounters is both sad and needless, in my opinion. Put in any setting, the potential is just mind-blowing…

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Deathbloom Thallid (MtG), perfect for a Chult campaign conversion

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Listing a Tyrant’s life

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

W.H Auden, Epitath on a Tyrant

When I first started thinking about S&T, I knew I wanted it to be political. I rapidly felt the need to have a kind of pendulum effect between two eras in the setting’s fake history: a strict authoritarian rule which would naturally be followed by a period of lawlessness and civil disarray. This leads me to some more (vague) thoughts:

  • some people are genuinely nostalgic about the period when there was stricter control and they forget or just don’t want to remember how it was so terribly oppressive
  • tyranny really is just around the corner, a few unfortunate events and a well-placed charismatic figure is all it takes
  • It’s all about scale,  local leadership is far more accountable
  • The absence of local leadership, be it forcefully removed or just lacking, is awfully detrimental to the people

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The authoritarian rule I mentioned is in fact divided between three tyrants, one after another. I don’t yet feel the need (or I’m too lazy maybe) to be very precise about these characters as the actual play will be at a point further in time, but I have to create some modicum of lore about them. Could come in handy.

So here’s a list of quirks I can use to flesh out these tyrants. I’ll keep the fantasy stuff for another time.  I didn’t invent anything new really, just stole eccentricities from a bunch of dead dudes (thank you Muammar Gaddafi, you’re malignant life helped my purpose).

The Tyrant has:

  1. burned down part of the city to make some space for a project of his.
  2. a harem with dozens of multiracial concubines.
  3. the habit of staging fake combat/sport/art performances where he can demonstrate his rather mediocre skills.
  4. female bodyguards in very alluring attires.
  5. written a treatise on proper behavior that is now set in stone everywhere.
  6. orchestrated a massacre of a minority group.
  7. the deep conviction that his people loves him, even with a rebellion raging all around.
  8. taken all of his armies in one big convoy to show off at a neighboring power’s frontier before going back.
  9. built a 50′ statue of himself.
  10. built a 50′ statue of his favorite pet animal.
  11. been pleased that the people chant whenever they see him.
  12. claimed that he received mandate from the gods.
  13. demanded that be erased all things concerning a famous hero.
  14. claimed to be the rightful successor of a famous hero.
  15. the habit of keeping exotic/dangerous pet animals.
  16. one or more secret prisons, nobody knows what happens inside.
  17. a few delusional pet theories that he likes to share in long-winded public speeches.
  18. the habit of receiving young virgins at least once a week.
  19. banned a long list of goods that he personally dislikes.
  20. a favorite sport team that doesn’t seem to be able to lose no matter how bad they play.
  21. a crush on a well-known beauty. She fled in exile.
  22. large portrays of him on the buildings of the city. Its a capital offense to put graffitis on them.
  23. the monopoly on a luxury good. It used to be available, now it’s his.
  24. once ordered a man to be executed. He didn’t chant with the crowd.
  25. once ordered a man to be executed, he wore a hat that was more ornate than his.
  26.  once ordered a man to be executed. He coveted the man’s wife. She killed herself.
  27.  once ordered a man to be executed, he was way too ugly.
  28. once ordered a man to be executed, he remembered him of someone.
  29. once ordered a man to be executed, he was his best friend.
  30. once ordered a man to be executed but then felt generous. He commuted the sentence to prison for life. The man was never seen again.
  31. built an extensive tomb to be buried with riches and his entire staff of (killed) servants.
  32. a bath made of gold.
  33. an artificial lake excavated in order to please his favorite concubine.
  34. often said that he doesn’t hold any power. The people have power. He’s merely the Guide.
  35. spies everywhere. Watch your words.
  36. no trust for spies. Not one bit.
  37. secretly helped the rebels organize so that he could better crushed them.
  38. named his half-wit older brother to the office of Minister of Public Health.
  39. banished his youngest son after a failed attempt on his life. He loves him very much.
  40. always consulted oracles before taking his most important decisions.

 

 

 

 

 

If I had Infinite Time: Cargo Cult Adventures setting

Cargo Cult Adventures

Here’s how it goes.

First, Cargo Cults is something from real life: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_cult, and not so surprisingly, it’s weirder than most fantasy stuff we can find.

So Cargo Cults, in short, turns around a myth device invented by insular and low-tech societies that believe that foreign goods (strange and magical as thay appear to be) really should be theirs to own and, in fact, would be theirs if only they’d demonstrate the proper behavior to earn it. That means adopting the same “rituals” that seem to work so well for the foreigners,  which includes building planes, airport strips,  having military parades and such, but, huh, using wood and hay instead of anything else.

cargo-cult-airplane

So based on that weird premise, how about adventures? What if the cargo cults weren’t that delusional? What if planes are indeed sent purposefully by the gods every now and then to bring otherwise unavailable goods to the faithful? The gods are generous indeed, but you know, maybe a little bit fickle? So inconveniently the gifts from the sky are bound to land miles away in the dangerous jungle…

It starts with a myth-dream

Of course it does.

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The nutjob- I mean-  the Seer of your small jungle village had another vision:   “Behold,  a holy gift from the sky from the Great Douglas C47A! I’ve seen it falling slowly, like a feather, and landing somewhere err, near a high cascade! and… I’ve seen a cave too, dark and deep, and… ugh! scaly, fierce monsters… But don’t you worry, the ancestors will help you on this quest. You youngsters, must find the shipment! Go! And don’t you dare come back empty-handed…”

cargo-cult-1

There you go for the MacGuffin. Explore, fight some nasties and find the treasures. Should work well on a hexcrawl too, methink.

Also, rival tribes compete to find the precious shipments and violence isn’t out of the equation.

Strange shipment

Could be anything, from the seemingly useless, to powerful high-tech/magical stuff. But even the prior would bring prestige to a tribe that manage to bring it home.