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.

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