Thursday, December 31, 2020

Kai the Coldhearted 1 - Ironsworn Solo Play Record


I've been playing Ironsworn solo recently due to the pandemic. Like most folks, I haven't been able to play as much tabletop as I'd have liked to, even though I was able to swap most of my games over to digital tables. 

I definitely didn't expect to like playing RPGs solo as much as I have, I value the social interaction I would normally get from a group game very highly. Solo play offers me a chance to both scratch my creative writing itch as well as get some reps in with a game I haven't spent a lot of time playing. If you're interested in trying out solo play as well, you can pick up Ironsworn for free from their site here.

Follows is a rough record of my time starting a game of Ironsworn, creating a character, and my first chunk of playing. Normal text has been used for commentary, italic text conveys in-world narrative and bold has been used throughout for emphasis. 

As a brief overview, Ironsworn is a game about playing heroic adventurers in a pseudo-Viking fantasy setting. You can play in a group with a GM, co-operatively in a group without a GM, or solo without a GM. I didn't come into the game with any knowledge of mechanics and don't assume that any would-be readers have knowledge of the mechanics either, so I'll leave commentary and explain my choices as they come up.

The game doesn't claim to be OSR, but I think it has a healthy amount of room for the traditional OSR playstyle to play a big role. I'm coming into this game from an OSR mindset and set of biases and expect that to influence how I interact with the rules.



Ironsworn offers you the choice of making a world or a character first, depending on your preference. I have no initial ideas for a character currently, so I'll start by answering their prompts to create a world. I'd like to stick to a world relatively within the default parameters for this run, but I could easily see taking Ironsworn on a different track.

Ironsworn makes the following baseline assumptions about your world:

  1. "Two generations ago, your people were driven to the Ironlands from their former homes in the Old World."

  2. "The weather here is harsh. Winters are brutal. The rugged terrain makes travel and trade difficult and dangerous."

  3. "There are no thriving cities. Instead, Ironlanders live in isolated villages or steadings. Their homes are modest buildings of wood, stone, and thatch."

  4. "Many areas of the Ironlands are unexplored and uninhabited except by the firstborn—beings such as elves, giants, and the wolf-like varou."

  5. "Coins have little value here. Most commerce is made through barter and favors."

  6. "Some communities remain isolated and independent, while others trade in basic goods such as iron, grain, livestock, wood, wool, and coal."

  7. "There is a diverse mix of peoples and cultures within the Ironlands, even within a single community. You can envision your character and those you interact with however you like, unbound by considerations of geography, lineage, sexual orientation, and gender."

  8. "Communities sometimes band together under a powerful leader, but there are no kingdoms. Territorial lines are sketchily drawn, if at all."

  9. "Large-scale warfare is unheard of, but raiding parties and skirmishes between communities are a constant menace. Some communities subsist entirely on raiding."

  10. "Spear, axe, shield, and bow are the dominant weapons. Swords are rare and highly prized. Some warriors choose to wade into battle clad in iron, while others trust in their prowess or in the strength of their shields."

  11. "Magic is subtle and mysterious. Mystics seek to ward away the darkness through the practice of magic, but often succumb to it. Rituals are performed as blessings and to gain insight."

  12. "Supernatural creatures and beasts are rare, frightening, and dangerous."

 Ironsworn then asks us to comment on the following aspects of your world, my answers follow:

  1. The Old World: The Old World could not sustain us. We bled the land dry of resources, our crops withered in the field and our people starved. Our ancestors knew that they must begin again in a new land if any of us were to survive.

    I enjoy the idea that a lack of sustainable practices drove humanity from the Old World. This implies a conflict between the unsustainable ways that are tried and tested versus the sustainable practices that folks have to come up with as they go along. It also pushes a huge amount of survivor's guilt and culture of survival directly onto the society that survived the Old World.

  2. Iron: Our ancestors carried the secrets and rituals of Iron with them from the Old World. Iron is a cursed metal, made from the blood of our people. Even a small tool made from it requires the sacrifice of tens, sometimes hundreds. The survivors of the Old World turned the dead into Iron before they left, entombing their ancestors in small, rectangular ingots.

    It's metal as hell (pardon the pun) for the only iron to be that you can get from people. It makes all iron profane due to the sacrifice yet necessary due to its power. All iron objects inherit a huge amount of narrative weight, even if they're nothing but a pocket knife.

  3. Legacies: We are the first humans to walk these lands, but not the first people. 

    The Firstborn were the first people, and this culture is an explicitly colonialist one into their territory. That conflict is going to factor heavily into the character I've got in mind.

  4. Communities: We have forged the Ironlands into a home. Our villages are connected by well-defined roads. Trade and travel is common between settlements, at least in Haven. Even with all our progress, the majority of this land is still wild.

    I want lots of survivors and a culture of trade and communication. I want humanity to feel like an overwhelming tidal wave crashing onto the shores of the wild Ironlands.

  5. Leaders: Our communities are ruled by our priests. Only our holy Bloodwitches know the rituals to pull Iron from the dead and the wards to keep the Firstborn from our homes. Each community trusts their only small population of Bloodwitches to make choices for the good of all.

    If iron is both profane and necessary, surely there are a group of people in society that know how to make and work it. I figure they would be centrally placed and well respected due to their skills and position, so it's natural to make them the ruling caste.

  6. Defense: Our lands are protected by our Ironsworn wardens. Each is weighed down with a piece of Iron to remind them of their duty and protect them from the magics of the Firstborn. Most communities boast the protection of a few Ironsworn, though there are more than a few who travel the land, beholden to no place in particular. Eventually, all Ironsworn are consumed by their own Iron.

    Player Characters have to factor into this society somehow. Making them the primary wielders of Iron gives them a clear diegetic place in society as a problem solver and warrior. I think it's extremely cool for iron to consume its wielders, though I don't know exactly what that looks like yet. Possibly it drains them of blood to make more iron?

  7. Mysticism: Magic exists, one must simply reach out and grasp it. Magic, like Iron, corrupts all who use it, burning practitioners to ash as they wield more and more arcane might. The Bloodwitches practice rituals to insulate themselves from this effect. Rumors abound of other ways to protect oneself from mageburns, though nothing substantial is known.

    Magic is available, it's just a Faustian bargain! Choose wisely!

  8. Religion: Our ancestors take the place of our gods. Each family reveres powerful figures from their past and honors their deeds and sacrifice with every passing day. It is common to see shrines dedicated to particularly noteworthy ancestors, even here in the New World.

    This culture is obsessed with itself in all facets, including religion. Ancestors also feed into the iron-and-magic dynamic I'm building up here by being accessible through the iron their blood creates.

  9. Firstborn: This land was peopled when we arrived, inhabited by the fierce Firstborn. They hold power over the wild places and resist our growth, though we are many and they are few. Our Iron helps us resist their magic, which is possessed in great power by even the youngest and weakest of the Firstborn. We war constantly with them, and it’s unclear which of the two of us will ultimately survive.

    I'm making Firstborn (Elves, Fae, etc) be the mirror of humanity. I'm pushing this society towards a growing realization that their current methods of colonialization, unsustainable industrial practices, and magics cannot continue and that they'll have to change to survive. Positioning the Firstborn as the primary antagonists allows me to steal themes unrepentantly from the likes of Princess Mononoke, which I fully intend on doing.

  10. Beasts: Monstrous beasts roam the Ironlands in great numbers. Some among us blame the Firstborn for their great proclivity and voracity, but we’ve seen evidence that Firstborn settlements are attacked as well. Our stout stone walls help to keep the beasts at bay, but everyone knows they’re not enough. Travelers usually travel in groups large enough to defend themselves or small enough to hide from the beasts.

    Beasts are the primary way of the Ironlands fighting back against civilization pressing in. I want The Wild to feel like a force constantly pushing back against humanity, and making powerful creatures that live there is a part of that.

  11. Horrors: Our dead do not rest unless we burn them. The unquiet dead roam the lands, searching for the warmth of life that is now forever forsaken to them. Salt, fire and Iron keep the dead at bay, but the dead are relentless and the living must sleep eventually.

    Zombies, skeletons and other undead just heavily push the themes of survival, which I want.



Now that I've got a world to make my character against, I'm starting to get some more ideas. My character is going to be a loner, and meshing that with the survivor vibes from the world, I'm picturing a jaded warrior type. I imagine a man who's locked himself away from the world and his old relationships in a classic case of toxic masculinity overreacting. I'm looking forward to having him meet new people and slowly unfreeze his Grinch-like heart.

Following the Ironsworn default character creation, I get the following:

  1. Envision your character: A grizzled loner veteran type. Skilled at violence and selfish survival but inexperienced with social relationships and relying on others. Ultimately, the stereotypical warrior that this society would create.

  2. Choose a name: I rolled randomly on the table in the back of the book and got Kai.

  3. Set your stats: I chose 1 Edge, 1 Heart, 3 Iron, 2 Shadow, and 2 Wits. This means that Kai is good at melee combat, being strong and iron-willed, decieving his foes, and outsmarting his foes. He sucks at talking to people, being quick on his feet, and ranged combat.

  4. Set your Health, Spirit and Supply to +5: Done.

  5. Set your Momentum to +2, your Maximum Momentum to +10, and your Momentum Reset to +2: Done.

  6. Mark up to 3 Background Bonds: I know I want to have a rival that's doing everything better than me, so I roll up a person in the back of the book and get "Violent" "Stern" and "Ironsworn." That describes exactly the kind of person I'd expect to be my rival at the beginning of the game, so I mark her as a bond as "Asha Wavecrash."

    I also want Kai to have the beginnings of a positive social relationship with someone already, so I roll for someone else and get "Sick" "Connected" and "Intolerant." This is a bizarre set of qualities, but I envision a Bloodwitch I've worked with before as a likely candidate. I roll for a name and get "Cortina" and so mark her down.

    I have no ideas on a third background bond so I decide to save it for now.

  7. Pick three Assets: I picked Veteran, Blade-Bound and Sunderer. Veteran and Blade-Bound seemed like easy choices for any Ironsworn warden, especially in this setting. I picked up Sunderer as well to emphasize Kai's skill in melee combat.

    As part of choosing Blade-Bound, I need to come up with a weapon and a name. I pick war-axe because I like the Sunderer Asset best out of the weapon specializations. I give it a random name ("Icebreaker") and mark a background bond with it. I also decide at this point that it's likely that Kai's direct ancestors contributed to the axe blade, which is part of why it's special to him. It makes sense that this would be true for most Iron tools, making the position of Ironsworn largely hereditary.

  8. Make note of any important equipment or items: I'm not sure what the expectations are here, so I just envision myself with my axe, a thick cloak, a wooden round-shield, and a pack + bedroll. I'm disappointed there isn't a set of equipment tables to help fill out the setting, but I can roll with it.

  9. Set a background vow and give it a rank of Extreme or Epic. Then, envision your inciting incident.
    At this point, Kai is just human society writ small and I see no reason to stop now. I figure that he used to be a specific guardian of a community before the community was destroyed by the Firstborn, led by a specific warlord named (roll on table) "Atani." I give her the title of "Manslayer" to really push home that she's a badass.

    I write my background vow as "I will bring an end to Atani the Manslayer, fearsome Firstborn Queen of the Barrier Isles (Extreme)." The Barrier Isles are just a region defined in the book that I rolled for at random. Her proximity to the coast means this game will feature a lot of marine and coastal scenes, which I'm happy about.

    I'm picturing Kai as a sorry loser that failed to protect his village some time ago in his past. The easiest inciting incident available at this point is something that plays off that, to keep rolling with the same themes. I took a look at the World Truths I described above and see the line about the undead again. What if his dead comrades and community members are now terrorizing the countryside? That's an extremely personal problem for Kai but also poses a much larger problem for the surrounding people. It seems like a great place to start.
Wrapping up all of the above, here's Kai's "character sheet" as it stands right after character creation. My next post will start with Kai finding out about the inciting incident and picking up the call to adventure.

Kai the Coldhearted

Edge: 1 | Heart: 1 | Iron: 3 | Shadow: 2 | Wits: 2

Momentum: +2

Health: +5 | Spirit: +5 | Supply: +5


  • I will bring the end to Atani the Manslayer, fearsome Firstborn queen of the Barrier Isles (Extreme)


  • Icebreaker

  • Cortina the Bloodwitch

  • Asha Wavecrash


  • Blade-bound (Icebreaker)

  • Sunderer

  • Veteran

Notable Gear:

  • Icebreaker, an Iron waraxe

  • Wooden round-shield

  • thick wool cloak

  • pack of traveler’s gear

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Word Magic

What follows is a spell system hacked together from several others intended to replace Vancian magic in your system of choice.

Casting Spells

The basic spellcasting system is heavily derivative of GLOG spellcasting. Check out the author Arnold K. and his blog for more information.

All spellcasters get Magic Dice (MD) equal to their levels in spellcasting classes. Spellcasters allocate Magic Dice to cast spells, rolling each die allocated when they finish casting. Each die that comes up 4-6 is burned out, and cannot be used again by the spellcaster. Each die that comes up 1-3 is conserved, and can be used in further spells. Spellcasters regain all of their MD at the next dawn. In spell text, [dice] refers to the number of Magic Dice allocated and [sum] refers to the total result of the dice rolled.

When casting spells, rolling two of the same number results in a Mishap. These are temporary penalties or maluses that affect the spellcaster or their immediate surroundings. Rolling three or more of the same number results in a Doom. These are permanent marks on the spellcaster to remind them of the terrors of magic. Dooms are usually more permanent penalties, but could be removed with a quest. Classes will have their own Mishap and Doom list, though a generic one has been included with these rules as well. Mishaps are rolled for when they happen, but Dooms happen progressively: first 1, then 2, etc.

Spell effects can be made permanent by dedicating Magic Dice and maximum Hitpoints (HP) equal to [dice]. An inscription must also be made on the target of the spell, typically in blood, ink or etched gold. Destroying the inscription or killing the spellcaster destroys the spell. The dedicated MD and maximum HP are returned when the spell is destroyed, doing nothing if the spellcaster is dead.

Spellcasters can only hold a number of spells in their memory equal to their MENTAL modifier. They may cast spells from either their memory or from a grimoire or scroll, so long as they hold the object in one hand. Spells can be transferred from text to memory with 20 minutes and some peace and quiet, and the reverse can be performed with 10gp of arcane ink and 8 hours of solitude.

Generic Mishaps:
  1. The spellcaster takes [sum] damage.
  2. The spell targets the caster instead. If the spell already targeted the caster, it targets a random creature within   30'.
  3. The spell is delayed by 1d6 rounds.
  4. Another spell accessible to the spellcaster is instead cast with the same number of MD allocated and the same targets. Determine which spell randomly.
  5. The spell is removed from the spellcaster's memory after casting it. If casting from a text, ignore this entry.
  6. The spellcaster knocks themselves out for [dice] rounds. The spell casts normally.
Generic Dooms:
  1. The spellcaster forgets all the spells they have memorized and all of their MD are expended. They permanently lose one of their MD.
  2. As 1, but all of the spellcaster's possessions are destroyed instantly. They are left with only a set of common clothes.
  3. The spellcaster is struck dead.



The panoply system derived from Courtney Campbell's blog.

Spellcasters gain one additional Magic Die for each piece of Panoply they have. Each piece only counts once, but there isn't any specific level requirement for attaining any of them. Panoply pieces are as follows:
  1. Focus. This is a wand, rod, staff, holy symbol, ritual dagger, or other magical weapon that the wizard must hold in their hand. Useful as a weapon as well as a Focus. Spellcasters can channel 1 Magic Die through their Focus to deal [sum] damage. This Magic Die follows the normal rules for being expended or conserved.
  2. Familiar. A small spirit that the spellcaster has formed a bond or pact with by giving it 1 or more of their HD. The pact may be made up of more than the transfer of HD, but must include at least that. The familiar takes on the shape of a creature that the spellcaster is knowledgeable of with equal HD to the amount the spellcaster gave up. The spellcaster and the familiar share the spellcaster's actions in combat, and only get one set between the two of them. A familiar can travel between the spirit world and the material world with a few moments of effort.
  3. Raiment. This is a set of expensive clothing that signifies to all who see it the nature of the spellcaster. A spellcaster's raiment must cost at least 100gp and is impossible to be worn with armor. Any Raiment is immediately recognizable as denoting a spellcaster by all but the most ignorant. Raiment is also used socially to determine the nature of a spellcaster and the magics they wield. Spellcasters often sew permanent spells into the lining or inside of their Raiments.
  4. Lair. This is a specific place infused with the spellcaster's power. Damage or faulty maintenance of a lair harms the spellcaster, and the spellcaster always knows when and what spells are cast within it. Lairs vary wildly in price and currency needed, but usually requires at least the goodwill and explicit permission of the local government and 5,000gp. Despite the name, a Lair might just as well be a temple or shrine to a diety, a tower in a baron's castle, a grotto deep in an ancient wood, or any other suitable location.
  5. Apprentice. Taking on an apprentice to teach them magic gradually increases the power of the Mentor spellcaster. As the Mentor, the spellcaster is responsible for the physical, mental and spiritual safety of their ward, as well as teaching them to be a spellcaster in their own right. The Mentor character only gets the additional Magic Die when the Apprentice is available and nearby to assist them with casting spells (within roughly 60' and not incapacitated in combat terms). Apprentices become spellcasters of their own after a period of training equivalent to 7 years and 7 days or quicker if they have the aptitude and experience. Apprentices have a mind of their own and act as hirelings in all respects, including costs (the money is not paid to the Apprentice, but covers their room and board as well as teaching supplies).
  6. Talisman. This is a small wearable object of personal significance to the spellcaster. These objects are similar to Raiment in that they are immediately recognizable for what they denote, but differ in that Talismans signify a specific person instead of category of person. The method of creation for every Talisman differs, but they are always related to a time of emotional or spiritual significance. Any spellcaster can spend 10gp and a day ruminating and reminiscing to replace their Talisman if their old one is destroyed. Talismans allow spellcasters to perform a one-time action of using their Hit Dice instead of Magic Dice to power a spell. These dice are always expended, no matter what they roll, and the spellcaster doesn't get them back. This action also burns out the Talisman.

Ritual Casting

Spells can be ritually cast, drastically increasing the casting time but allowing for more precise control of spells. Rituals always have a base 1 MD, even if the caster has no MD of their own. Spells can be ritually cast either from a text or from the memory of the primary ritual caster. The time necessary to cast the spell is increased according to the following table:

Magic Dice Allocated        Time Necessary
    1-2                                       minutes/MD
    3-4                                       hours/MD
    5-8                                       days/MD
    9+                                        months/MD

When ritually casting, you may choose the results of the Magic Dice that you allocate to the spell. This does not make them immune to Mishaps or Dooms, but for each participating ritual caster, one MD may be excluded from counting for Mishaps and Dooms. Choose which dice are excluded after rolling.

Words and Spell Creation

Spell creation and Word Spells derived from Telecanter's blog.

Spells are created via the following procedure:
  1. The spellcaster PC describes the spell they want in a single phrase or sentence. This sentence is vetted by the GM and then both people work together to create a matching spell-text. GM should be lenient when it comes to word tenses and phrasing (eg. EXPLODE is the same as EXPLODES).
  2. The player takes each word in the description and uses it to make a crossword.
  3. For each letter of the crossword, the spellcaster PC must find a book, scroll, or research object that loosely corresponds to the word. These objects cost at least 50gp when bought or sold, though they may be found or looted in the wild. Letters at crossroads between two words must correspond to both words. These objects vary in ability to acquire, with more common words being easier to find.
  4. The spellcaster PC spends a number of days equal to (the number of words in the crossword)^2 working 12 hours a day on experimentation and spell-scribing. They spend 100gp per day spent working on materials and components. While working, the spellcaster expends all of their MD each day.
    1. If the PC is just editing an existing spell that they know instead of creating a new one, they spend (number of unique words)^2 days to a minimum of 4 days working instead of the default amount of money and gold. Example: spellcaster PC uses FIRE DART EXPLODES spell to make ICE DART EXPLODES spell; spending 4 days for the 1 unique word change (FIRE->ICE) and 400 gold.
  5.  The spellcaster PC commits the spell to memory and has successfully created a new spell.
Once a spellcaster has research materials corresponding to a Word, they may use that Word in subsequent spell creation. Each piece of research takes up one inventory slot, making the use of a library or similar storage medium necessary for the traveling spellcaster.
Spellcasters begin play knowing 3 spells created for free using Words determined by their class and specialization. These spells may be either memorized or written in text in any configuration of the PC's choosing. Unless their class or background specifies otherwise, they do not begin with any books or pieces of research.

Example Background: Pyromancer
    Starting Equipment: Blackened ash staff (Focus), fire-resistant jumpsuit, thick leather gloves, big goggles

    Starting Spell:
      Create Fire
        T: object touched    D: [sum] rounds
        Cover touched object in fire. Max size determined by MD allocated.
                    # of MD        Size of Object
                        1                    bird's nest
                        2                    wasp hive
                        3                    chest
                        4                    human skeleton
                        5+                whatever you want
        Object will only remain covered in fire for the duration of the spell, but natural fire might spread from the natural one. Creatures on fire take 1d6 fire damage at the beginning of their turn.  

    Starting Words:
    3 of [FIRE, DARTS, BLAST, BLAZE, SMOKE, SPREAD, WALL, EXPLODE] and 1 on-theme Word of your choice (GM's approval)

    Create 2 spells from the Words available to you as a Pyromancer. You know them in addition to Create Fire.

Example Background: Vivimancer
    Starting Equipment: Bone wand (Focus), personallized Vivimancer's Ring (Talisman), doctor's bag (scalpel, forceps, bandages, a large bottle of ethanol, needle & thread, spirit lamp), 2 3-liter specimen jars, a medical degree 

    Starting Spell:

      Mend Flesh
        T: Touch    D: [dice] minutes
        Heal 1 HP every round. This spell does nothing to mend broken bones or ruptured organs, though the target will stop bleeding.
    Starting Words: 3 of [DIAGNOSE, MEND, CURE, FLESH, MORPH, LIMB, POISON, TARGET] and 1 on-theme Word of your choice (GM's approval)

    Create 3 spells from the Words available to you as a Vivimancer. You know them in addition to Mend Flesh.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Berdendi Second Draft

This post is related to my megadungeon, Berdendi. See a list of related posts here and the first one here.

So after laying out a design for Berdendi as a ruined metropolis, I lost all interest in building it. I've built a lot of cities in my day, and I conflated having a Drains region with the whole thing being a city. Maybe I was leaning on my past designs, maybe I just didn't have a better idea. All this is pretty irrelevant now though, because I'm rolling with a different design now.

Berdendi Major Themes

  • long-lasting life but never forever
  • inevitable decay
  • consumption of life
  • continuous change and evolution
  • life finds a way
  • you have what you hold

Berdendi is a chaotic mess of creatures striving and conflicting for immortality. They war over a shared currency of the Water of Life using whatever means they have. Winners decay and stagnate as they exult in their winnings, losers adapt and evolve in their desperation. New competitors constantly enter the scene either from new climbers or new life evolving under the rapid changes from the Waters of Life. Any status quo doesn't remain that way for long, ensuring a constant sense of paranoia.

How Does This Affect Play?

Where the PCs come in are as just another entity in the mix. Berdendi is already full of raving packs of loosely-held together creatures fighting for dominance, the PCs won't be anything new on that front. Encounters will be patrols of creatures around temporary strongholds and centers of power, not stationary closet monsters waiting since the beginning of time to ambush the next dumbass who opens the door.

This new vibe of Berdendi means that the points in a pointcrawl should be important for one of several reasons:
  • Has a source of Waters of Life
  • Defensive or Empowering Position
  • Travel Chokepoint
Around each point is an unmapped space of territory that acts as the surrounding environs. The points exist because they're what the denizens of Berdendi fight over -- if they don't want to fight over it, its not important. It makes Berdendi some hack between a megadungeon and a Hold-the-Point gamemode from an FPS or MMO. 

It also turns the core unit of exploration, the point, into something that the PCs fundamentally want. Why do they want to go to the Face of the Father, a massive stone face in the Drains? Well, its walled off on 3 sides and has a narrow entrance, so it makes a great place to hole up and heal up. Why would they go through the Shadow Snake Acid Pits? Well, changes higher up the mountain happened and now the pits have a glowing green stream of the Waters of Life running down the central stalagmite.

If points are important, then everyone will want to change the terrain to subvert that. The Living Lizards blow up one of the walls at the Face of the Father to get at and ambush the PCs. The PCs want to capture the Acid Pits and its consequent Waters of Life, so they change the flow higher up vertically to capture it for their own. These changes prompt responses from the targets and also makes it very easy to change how points work. The Face of the Father turns from a defensive position into instead a rocky ambush position filled with half-destroyed walls overlooked by the giant stone face. The Shadow Snake Acid Pits change from a source of the Waters of Life to instead maybe just the surrounding territory to the actual new point, which is the catchbasin and surrounding machinery around the PCs' diverted Waters of Life.

Points will exist as both a mechanic exploratory unit and an in-world important place that the PCs can intrinsically determine the power of. 

The New Berdendi

So what do the regions of Berdendi look like now? I want to keep the verticality and the different regions. Regions let me separate groups of points and challenges thematically and show off these separations in-world. Players can say "Oh, this place looks like The Drains, we're probably OK to rest" when what they mean in meta-speak is "I feel confident handling the challenges down here."
Regions aren't hard barriers though, and with mobile inhabitants, no region is ever truly safe, just mostly safe.

Verticality is something I want to enforce to have the PCs thinking in 3D space. I envision a side-view map of Berdendi showing streams of Waters of Life dribbling down through points like a 3D game of Chutes and Ladders. I want lower positions to be harder to defend and higher positions to be more lucrative to hold. Being higher up should feel better until you realize you're still lower than the next highest thing.

The Drains

  • The landfill and sewers of Berdendi
  • Where the desperate and the exiled end up
  • Two screaming rats fighting for scraps of a twinkie
  • Pools of deep standing "water"
  • Rivers of swiftly-flowing deadly rapids dragging travelers deep underground
  • Glints and gleams of forgotten treasure buried in the refuse
Encounters are solo predators or swarms of scavenger-vermin types. Rooms might be sources of food or resources instead of Water of Life this far down. Weak adventurers count as scavenger-vermin types. Emphasize weird life with creatures made from corpses and trash and featuring plenty of one-of-a-kind species.

The Undermaze

  • Dark, twisting hallways
  • Gangs of the lowly vying for any scrap of power
  • constantly shifting and changing paths
  • a narrow 2x4 plank over the void as a "bridge"
  • No room for a "fair" fight, only mad scrambles to the next balcony
  • Parkour knife fights
Encounters are ambushes, against either the PCs or their prey. Lots of vertical space and mostly transitive space, any room is just a crossroads / large hallway / vertical hallway. Balconies, galleries, chasms, chutes, etc. The maze is alive and shifts itself if the denizens don't do it first. Emphasize getting lost, new angles of attack, brief victories and bitter defeats. Players should definitely have gotten their first taste of the Water of Life by now. Encourage the creation and maintenance of vaguely defined routes in the Undermaze. 


  • Fortifications and strongholds between chasms and pits to Undermaze
  • Expansive open caverns
  • Organized forces of uniformed troops skirmishing for dominance
  • Warlords and archmages team up to lock down creeks of Water of Life
  • Engineered creatures of war and forced mutation
  • troops of glowing sword-champions hurdling over the breach to flank the enemy
Scout patrols spot the PCs and flee to report back to HQ and bring back hunting squads. Structures built into the walls near the ceiling of caves to ensure no aerial outflanking. Battalions of soldiers sworn to service by carefully rationed Water of Life moving through large caverns on the prowl for any opposing incursion. The flow of the Water of Life should feel like jealously guarded trade routes, with the PCs being scrubby pirates in the beginning to naval superpowers at the end. Territories are large and well-marked, complete lack of no-man's land. Any organization only lasts long enough to see itself be the top of the pile before toppling to mutiny, opportunity, mutiny.


  • Solitary pseudo-immortals in eternal duels and skirmishes
  • Made up of the collateral damage of endless battles
  • Rivers of the Water of Life forming battle sites constantly
  • paranoia and betrayal follow every group, isolating individuals
  • demigods war over perceived slights or slightly better access
  • landscape looking like that of a bad trip
I want Delta to be crazy, bizarre and unmistakably damaged. Demigods and paragons of magical might having immense, immortal, eternal battles over a catalyst long forgotten. Paranoia and betrayal stalking quickly behind the immense wealth of the Waters of Life. Enemies and opponents that never truly die due to the ease of access. Landscapes that are reshaped to form even a modicum of cover in a running skirmish. New life, new innovations, new ideas constantly being overshadowed by the lack of death of the old. Death is always a moment away here, but never comes. That constant, edge-of-your-seat tension and mind-bending mania. Thats what Delta is.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Berdendi: Environmental Breakdown

This post is related to my megadungeon, Berdendi. See a list of related posts here and the first one here.

Berdendi is going to be a regional pointcrawl with 4 main inner regions and 2 sub outer regions. I want travel through the megadungeon to be through themed regions with individual locations placed within them, I don't want to individually map every square. Using a pointcrawl also allows me to easily expand the scope to be miles-long instead of hundreds of feet as a normal, fully-mapped megadungeon.

The inside of the mountain is loosely themed around an ancient metropolis that was encased in rock for some primal transgression. The city has had its back broken by the thousands of years since then, but I want it to be evident that Berdendi was once a thriving magical empire throughout. Forced rapid evolution by prolonged exposure to the Water of Life causing bizarre mutated creatures and a lush, plant-filled interior.

Berdendi Regions (Major Regions)

  • Ruined metropolis
  • Sentient spells and haywire magic
  • Thick plantlife, everywhere
  • Mutants, climbers and immortals living in constant conflict
  • Mutual distrust and paranoia

The Drains

  • Lowest geographic region in Berdendi
  • Collects all the drainage and seepage from the whole rest of the mountain
  • Large river winds through whole area and out to the ocean
  • Filled with scavenger creatures and scavenger crews
  • Heavy vibe of decay and growth from death
  • Drips of water everywhere, very rarely are drops of Water of Life
  • Flurried ambushes between increasingly terrifying predators

Low City

  • The gutters and lower regions of the ancient metropolis
  • Ruins of old market streets, old hideouts, seedy bars and taverns
  • Forges and factories, some old and decrepit and some still producing
  • Descendants of street gangs, ancient city constructs, exiled underworld mages
  • Overgrown gardens, hedge elementals, barely recognizable mutated pets, urban jungle
  • Cramped access tunnels and narrow streets between crumbling buildings and winding caverns
  • Vials and flasks of Water of Life peddled by hooded dealers

High Reaches

  • The wealthy regions and ruling class of the city stacked on top of the Low City
  • Ruins of wealthy manses and impressive institutions
  • Guardian spells, creatures and constructs patrolling open caverns and shattered walls
  • Immortals who never learned to give up a grudge feuding against each other
  • Roaming monstrosities from private menageries
  • Ivy-choked walkways and bridges connecting precarious towers, massive fungal growths
  • Powerful ritual sites that never went dormant
  • Jealously guarded kegs and barrels of the Water of Life

Sky Chamber

  • A colossal open chamber above even the highest mansion
  • Fountain of Youth forms a giant blistering sun-facsimile in the ceiling
  • Demigods fighting an aerial never-ending war over the Fountain
  • Buoyant plant life exuding lighter-than-air gases and bobbing slowly through the air
  • Primordial creatures with mutations that have never seen the light of day
  • Massive amounts of the Water of Life flow out of the Fountain of Youth every second

Outer Regions (Sub Regions)


  • moss and vine covered ledges
  • sharp rocks and tiny waterfalls
  • scuttling crab creatures feeding on the myriad variety of seabirds
  • shattered remains of clockwork climbing machines
  • forgotten corpses of dead climbers
  • groups of pitons leading hundreds of feet, possibly totally rusted through, who knows


  • Seabirds replaced by gargantuan Thunderbirds
  • Eternal hurricane
  • Lightning-blasted scars hundreds of feet long
  • Weather cults tucked in among caves hidden from the wind
  • Pillar of light from the Fountain shooting straight up out of the summit

Monday, February 25, 2019

Berdendi and the Basis of a Megadungeon

Berdendi (BEAR-den-DIE) is the location of the Fountain of Youth in my setting. Its a massive mountain that runs from the depths of the ocean floor to the limits of the heavens. The Waters of Life top its summit and run down through its innards to the depths below. Scavengers prowl for drops of the glowing green liquid throughout, with those who ascend higher getting a better and better chance at finding a large amount. Those who don't return either found enough or died trying, but either way they're gone now.

The mountain itself feels as wide as it is tall, which is to say that it looks like a huge vertical wall to those who don't know that it curves as you circumnavigate it. Its slopes are incredibly steep but covered in life and moisture, forming massive ivy walls, thick mossed ledges, and tiny waterfalls that drop for hundreds of feet. Hungry thunderbirds roost in the region above the cloud layer, making climbing the outside dangerous at best (this does nothing to deter climbers).

The insides of the mountain is filled with ancient horrors, their lives naturally extended by the Water of Life and their minds and bodies transmogrified to their terrible state by the thirst for the same. Generations of seekers have entered the mountain and they brought with them gear, equipment, spells, methods, ideals. Settlements have been built both inside and outside the mountain, meaning you never know what the next cave will bring. The Waters of Life warp everything inside, even the rock itself, forming living tunnels and caverns. The only thing that keeps climbers coming is that constant dream for the Fountain of Youth.

Berdendi was an attempt of mine to create a Megadungeon that was formed around a specific treasure instead of the conquering of a specific area. I've ran megadungeons in the past and always ran against a constant problem of player motivation. Why were they there? Why did they keep digging down? What were they looking for? The slaying of a god seemed meh and hopeless, the allure of gold too mundane and like the clicker games we'd all played.

The answer of course is that they were there because they wanted to keep playing tabletops and that was the game I was running at the time. They couldn't figure out reasons to keep playing or motivations for their characters to keep going. Why would you go take on Orcus as a common shmuck? The prospect of treasure only kept its allure until they'd made enough for their characters to retire, and then what? My megadungeon games have inevitably ended in burnout, with myself cancelling the game due to a perceived lack of interest.

Berdendi is instead an attempt to make a megadungeon and its reason for existence famous. Berdendi isn't an obscure dungeon tucked deep into obscurity: its Everest and immortality rolled into one. Its competitive deadly bloodsport competing for the highest prize of all: godhood. The only reason you'd be there is if you were already crazy enough to be a fanatic.

Why do you press onwards when you're bedecked in gold and jewels? Because the only treasure that matters is at the top! Why do you brave the horrific monsters and incredibly high lethality for the merest chance at the treasure? Because the treasure is worth it, man. How do you keep finding new party members insane enough to come with you on your journey to the top? Because you can guarantee that they want the treasure just as bad as you do.

Making the treasure be liquid, flowing and self-sustaining was a move I made to build the thirst for the Fountain in the players themselves. The Waters of Life are healing and motivation all in one, an accomplice to continued ascension and an incentive towards hoarding treasure that puts a target on your back. I'll make sure they find a few drops early on, and the first time they start using it they'll begin getting addicted to using it both in and out of character. I can even reward XP for how many drops they obtain, making it a reward in and of itself.

Making the default goal of a megadungeon be "attain treasure" isn't any different from a lot of other megadungeons, but having the treasure be more directly aligned with direct power increases is what sets the Water of Life apart from gold. I'm not under the impression I'm doing anything revolutionary with Berdendi, but I do think that this approach will certainly prolong burnout on both mine and my players' ends.

Thursday, February 21, 2019



The boulder adjacent to the path uncoils itself, revealing a large snake made from living rock.

An ogmodon is a large largely sedentary predator about the size of a pony found in wet forests. They are most often encountered while sleeping, where they look and feel like a large moss-covered rock. While active, an ogmodon instead looks and acts like a large constricting snake.

The skin of an ogmodon is made of a porous dark gray substance appearing very similar to wet stone and is of one large piece, unlike the scaled skin of the snakes it shares its shape with. The majority of their back is a patch of dark green lichen, the pattern of growth of which is unique to each member of the species. Its stomach is made of interlocking plates made of pale gray stone which grind together as it moves across the ground, making a sound not dissimilar to a grindstone. 

An ogmodon has depressions in their face where eyes once were and tracks other creatures mainly by their smell and vibrations they feel through the ground via their belly stones. Their mouths are toothless maws, looking more like a hole in the earth than an orifice of a living creature. Older members sometimes have gems instead of eyes, with size of the gem typically indicating age.

The lichen on their back is actually a living entity which shares a partnership with the larger snake form. The lichen provides a long lifespan and access to limited earth magic in return for the snake giving them good spreading grounds in the form of its waste. The name 'ogmodon' actually refers to the pair as a whole, who communicate at a telepathic level and generally act as a single entity anyway. Once the lichen has spread to a new host, it begins gathering rocks to form a new snake and the two lichen patches split mentally into two entities.

You can tell if an ogmodon is in the area by the long, smooth paths that it leaves, often leading straight toward its resting place. They never sleep in the same place twice but are creatures of habit, so multiple large circular areas of flattened dirt and plants are also a telltale sign. Their skin always resembles wet rock, so a wet rock in a patch of dry boulders might also tip off a passing forester.


The creature nods its head up and down in small circles, its mouth agape, looking the very picture of an old toothless man you once knew.

An ogmodon is not inherently hostile and usually doesn't mean harm to the creatures it meets, though  it will frankly notify them if its hungry and it thinks they'd understand it. They are intelligent and like bad jokes, though they only speak the languages of the old stones and trees (Druidic, Dwarven, Elven are all good contenders if your system has them, in that order). They're interested in hearing about earthquakes and natural disasters, and listen politely but disinterestedly to mortal affairs.

Ogmodons value raw meat in large quantities of any variety, though they usually feel like they don't have much to offer in return. They know the local terrain very well, especially the layout of water and rock. They can move large quantities of dirt and stone in a day, the equivalent of 4 laborers working hard. They can reach out to other ogmodons far away via the lichen on their back, though none closer than 250 miles and its likely that one doesn't know a whole lot about goings on either. They're unwilling to fight on behalf of other creatures except to defend their territory.

Ogmodons hunt and fight by crushing foes against their coils of stone. They prefer to track their prey as it moves through its territory by following their vibrations, then trapping them with earth magic when they bed down to sleep. It swallows creatures whole, not even bothering to kill if it isn't necessary. Anything that goes down an ogmodon's throat will get swiftly crushed by the creature's belly stones as it moves away to hide once again. When surprised or facing the prospect of multiple foes, it hinders as many foes as it can with its earth magic and flees. If it is pursued, it tries to isolate its pursuers and kill them one at a time.

The diet of an ogmodon consists of deer, rabbits, and other small woodland creatures. They are able to take on groups of sentient humanoids, but avoid situations where they would need to endanger themselves fighting multiple foes. Ogmodons are not adverse to scavenging, and will happily swallow a carcass, thinking themselves to be cleaning their territory. 

To kill an ogmodon, one must eradicate both the stone snake form and the lichen atop it. If only the snake form dies, the lichen will remain on the corpse until it can grow and form a new snake. If only the lichen dies, the snake will gradually go mad and lose its intelligence, eventually driving itself to insanity. Neither the snake nor the lichen possess any special defense other than the stony exterior of the snake's body.

Stats (OSR)

HD: 4 DMG: 1d6 slam, 1d4 constrict AC: As plate Abilities: Trap Feet, Constrict 

Trap Feet: As a bear trap vs creature in 30'
Constrict: Grab creature human size or smaller in coils and crush each turn, dealing automatic constrict damage. Neither ogmodon nor creature can move while Constrict in place. 

Allow saves to avoid abilities as normal for system.

Stats (5E)

Huge Monstrosity, Neutral

Armor Class 15
Hit Points 65 (10d12)
Speed 30 ft., Burrow 10 ft.

19 (+4) 13 (+1) 16 (+3) 09 (-1) 16 (+3) 05 (-3)

Skills Perception +5
Senses Tremorsense 60 ft., no sight, passive Perception 15
Languages Druidic, Dwarven, Elven
Challenge 3 (700 XP)

Keen Smell. The ogmodon has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on smell.

Spellcasting. The ogmodon is a 2nd level spellcaster. Its spellcasting ability is Wisdom (spell save 13, +5 to hit with spell attacks). The ogmodon has the following druid spells prepared:

Cantrips (at will): mold earth
1st level (3 slots): entangle, earth tremor


Slam. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 17 (3d8+4) bludgeoning damage.
Constrict. Melee Weapon Attack. +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 11 (2d6+4) bludgeoning damage and the target is grappled (escape DC 15). Until this grapple ends, the creature is restrained, and the ogmodon can't constrict another target.

Sample Encounters

D6 Reaction
1 Hostile (Hungry)
2 Neutral (Asleep, Disguised)
3 Neutral (Eating a deer)
4 Neutral (Moving to a new sleeping spot)
5 Friendly (Speaking to a local forester)
6 Friendly (Cooling itself off by rolling in the mud)

Monday, February 18, 2019

Water of Life

It glows a bright vibrant green, like that of a tiny sickly sun. It gives off a faint ringing, a ballroom of conversation down the hall and up the stairs. It smells of flowers and tastes of sweet citrus. You can rub it between your fingers like oil and it never dissolves in water, or any other liquid for that matter.

It is the Water of Life.

Drinking the Water of Life heals you, heals you of every ill known to mortals. Cuts, scrapes, and sniffles disappear with a single drop. A thimbleful replaces food and sleep for a week. Consuming a whole cup makes bones re-knit, purges tumors and purifies humors. A liter regrows limbs and staves off Father Time for a score of years. A bucket can bring back even the dead, so long as the sun has not risen on their corpse. Drinking one's weight is said to make one live forever, so long as they do not fall in battle.

With that power comes a terrible thirst. Those who've sipped from the Waters of Life crave it again, the thrills of normal life a pale comparison. They see effervescent emerald sheen in every nook and cranny, and hear that distinct whine around every corner. The drink is constantly on their mind, a factor in every decision they make. Some hunt it like bloodhounds and rip apart the bellies of their kin to have one last sip from their stomach. A few learn to fight the call, though they must swear off the stuff and never drink again, for fear of becoming that other sort.

The Water of Life can be used as fuel, whether by wizards with their spells or engineers with their engines. Plants growing nearby grow twice as fast and twice as high, animals who drink grow just as thirsty as men. It spontaneously creates life from things around; dumb twisted creatures made from sticks and bones and stone. It changes the very air it lies in, filling people with both madness and electrifying energy.

There is a story out there that says the Waters of Life are the tears of the gods, pitying the plight of mortals. Some say its leftovers, the magic substance used to spin up the world. Others say its spell residue, built up by greedy wizards and prideful sorcerers. Still more say its the souls of the dead, fleeing the terrors of life and finding no respite in heaven nor hell. None know the truth, but every con man in every inn in all the world has a story they tell for a a coin and a smile.


Amount Benefit Addiction Chance Duration
Drop Instant Night's Rest 1 in 10 1 hour
Thimbleful Instant Week's Rest 1 in 8 1 day
Cup Cure all mundane conditions, such as disease or poison 1 in 6 1 week
Liter Cure all conditions, halt aging for 20 years 1 in 4 1 month
Bucket Raise the dead 1 in 2 1 season
Your Weight Never age 1 in 1 1 year

The Water of Life is a powerful healing substance and a priceless treasure all in one. It should be commonly enough found that an adventurer addict could barely keep ahead of the thirst, but rare enough it doesn't completely devalue any healing present in your system. It functions well as a motivation for any self-serving adventurer, though the desperate might also go seeking its warmth.

Its effects should be well known by those in the know, including the addictive effects. Drinking the Waters of Life should be a conscious decision by those knowing full well what they risk. If your PCs won't use it themselves, there are plenty of others in the world who will, and they'll value it highly.

Whenever anyone drinks the Waters of Life, have them make an addiction check. If they fail, they become an Addict. Addicts must always choose the Waters when given a choice, and can sense it when its near. They retain normal facilities otherwise.

Addicts make another addiction check when their last hit's duration runs out based on the size of their last drink. If they fail, they go mad for the same duration as their last drink and make another check at the end of that. If they fail, they die. Mad characters know the location of the nearest source of the Waters of Life and must seek it, doing anything to consume it. Despite the description above, drinking the Waters of Life from within the body of another does nothing to slake their thirst.

Any character succeeding at an addiction check remains in their current state. Drinking any amount of the Waters of Life moves them up a stage (dead -> mad -> addicted -> unaffected), though only for the drink's duration, whereupon they make another addiction check and the cycle begins anew. Note that mad and addicted characters cannot choose to drink a smaller dose, they must always choose to consume whatever they have available to them.

This material provided under Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC 3.0) license.

Kai the Coldhearted 1 - Ironsworn Solo Play Record

WHAT IS THIS? I've been playing Ironsworn solo recently due to the pandemic. Like most folks, I haven't been able to play as much ta...