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. 

Pillars

  • 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.

Delta

  • 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.

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