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Godsbarrow Old school Tabletop RPGs

The Black Furnace level 1-A

Today I finished the draft of the first area in my #dungeon23 project, the Black Furnace.

The Black Furnace’s servants’ quarters

Level 1-A is the servants’ quarters, home to the cult of Hürak Mol. It’s accessible from one of the Black Furnace’s five entrances, and connects to level 2 and level 1-B.

I can’t remember the last time I drew a proper dungeon map, and I don’t think I’ve ever written up a dungeon this size before. I’m enjoying sitting down each day with no clear idea of what’s next, and just having fun with it.

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
Categories
Godsbarrow Old school Tabletop RPGs

#dungeon23: off to the races!

I’m not sure all my notes (many rolled in Tome of Adventure Design [affiliate link]) will survive the next steps, but I’m off to the races with #dungeon23. Weep at my terrible handwriting!

Sketching out the surface level of the Black Furnace: five entrances, with notes

I like megadungeons with multiple entrances and verticality, so the Black Furnace has a main entrance, two chimneys (which can be used as dangerous entrances), an observatory side entrance, and a collapsed garden/cave that also allows ingress.

Today’s room was S1, the main entrance: a huge black kiln with three ways down to level 1 (one of which also leads to level 2).

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
Categories
Godsbarrow Old school Tabletop RPGs

#dungeon23: ground work

I’ve juggled things around a bit since my initial #dungeon23 post. With less than 24 hours to go until my first room, it’s time to lay the last bits of ground work for the Black Furnace.

Dungeon23 logo created by Lone Archivist and released under a CC BY 4.0 license

The thing I’ve changed up is mapping: I bought a graph paper notebook (4 squares/inch) and a Jujutsu Kaisen pencil mat, and I’m going to do some — or maybe all — of the mapping myself.

My #dungeon23 mapping notebook all stickered up and ready to go

I still might use some of Dyson Logos’ gorgeous maps later on, but for the entrances I need to blaze my own trail. I have an idea of what the dungeon looks like on the surface, and how many entrances it has, and I want a significant vertical element available early on; all of that points to mapping out the first level myself.

Origins of the Black Furnace

When I open the book for a published dungeon, there are few things I like to see less than pages and pages of backstory. That’s usually enough for me to put it down and/or never run it.

But ya gotta have some backstory, or at least I do, to hang your hat on. I don’t need a meticulous ecology that makes logical sense, but I want to know why the dungeon exists, or why the first bit of it was created, if that’s more applicable; and I want to know its themes and key ingredients.

Here’s what I already know about the Black Furnace, which appears as an adventure site in The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link]:

  • Rises from the earth during times of great strife
  • Sprawling subterranean maze
  • Realm of a long-forgotten god
  • Maw which releases ancient monstrosities into the world
  • Reappearance bodes ill for Brundir

That’s the grist for my mill, and those are my touchstones to keep me reasonably focused. But I need to flesh that list out a bit before I write my first dungeon room/location or I’m going to wind up rambling in eight directions, none of them productive.

The larch

All it took to get my creative juices flowing was a few rolls on the Religions table in one of my favorite random-creation tools, the Tome of Adventure Design [affiliate link]. I rolled the name Her + ak + Mol and instantly knew I had the heart of the Black Furnace: the god who created it.

I put a bit of English on that name, started writing…and the rest of it flowed out of my half-formed notions, the notes I’ve taken over the past month, and the raw creative flow born from knowing this god’s name.

Why does it exist?

In Godsbarrow’s earliest days, the gods warred openly against one another. Their need for new and ever more powerful weapons was insatiable, so the deity Hürak Mol (they/them, pronounced “HOO-rak mawl”) built a great kiln, and a furnace beneath it, and began forging, shaping, and birthing artifacts, monsters, and engines of war. This fell place was known as the Black Furnace.

With every creation, Hürak Mol gained power through the other gods’ reliance on them. Where most gods grew strong because of the number of their mortal worshipers, Hürak Mol thrived on the needs of Dormiir’s many gods.

Which meant that as the world stabilized, and the gods withdrew from the mortal realm, preferring to bask in their power or fight each other through proxies, Hürak Mol was no longer needed.

Their power diminished until Hürak Mol became little more than a small god, half-remembered and largely ignored by the other gods. Before they could fade away entirely, Hürak Mol infused the Black Furnace with their deific power and caused their great kiln and subterranean complex of forges, fires, and chimneys, as well as their servitors, raw materials, and small cult of devout worshipers, to sink beneath the earth.

The Black Furnace was not seen in Godsbarrow for many centuries. Hürak Mol was entirely forgotten by the people of Dormiir.

Where has it been?

The Cult of Mol the Timeless has survived within the tunnels of the Black Furnace for untold centuries. Generation upon generation of worshipers have tended the Black Furnace, banked its fires, and — most importantly — remained fervent in their devotion to Hürak Mol, ensuring that they do not fade away entirely.

Hürak Mol, for their part, slumbers in god-sleep in the depths of the Black Furnace, their ancient, war-filled dreams forming part of the Wraithsea.

The Black Furnace is a god-realm, not subject to the laws of physics nor entirely bound by notions of time or reality. It somehow sustains the life within it, and time passes much more slowly inside its tunnels — until it returns to Dormiir. Infused with Hürak Mol’s power, the dungeon itself can sense when there might be enough strife in the world to return Hürak Mol to their former glory.

When this happens, the cult seeks to wake up Hürak Mol. Cultists work the forges and kilns, birthing monstrosities into the world and forging dark artifacts. They attempt to recruit new members. They spread a gospel of war and chaos — the fertile ground Hürak Mol needs to awaken from torpor.

It has appeared in different places throughout Godsbarrow’s history, and done so often enough to become the subject of legends throughout the world. Thus far, the Black Furnace has always remained in Godsbarrow for a time and then, responding to the ancient dictates of its creation, sunk back beneath the earth to await the next moment when Hürak Mol’s return might be realized.

Fuck yeah

That’s what I needed to feel confident heading into day one of #dungeon23!

I’ve got some evocative, partially-formed notions of what the Black Furnace looks like (or parts of it, at least). I’ve got reasons for just about anything to be part of it, as it has been accessible to the denizens of Dormiir many times over many centuries. Hell, there’s room for gonzo science-fantasy stuff, too.

I have at least one faction in mind, the cult, and it’s likely to be a fractious one. (Who could possibly agree on how to stay devoted to a sleeping god for untold centuries without becoming divided over the specifics?) It’s accessible via the Wraithsea, which is a whole other avenue of ingress and egress (sort of). That means the Arkestran Dominion likely has a presence here, or has at some point.

It also has agency, because the second it appears — which it already has — the weirdoes who live there starting making fucked-up monsters and shit, fanning out across the countryside, and spreading the gospel of Hürak Mol. Hell, they want people to find the dungeon; they’ll tempt anyone they think could be useful with promises of unimaginable power (and be telling the truth about it, although the trade-off isn’t going to appeal to everyone).

The dungeon and its core inhabitants have a direct connection to the PCs’ actions, too: Wiping out the cult would kill Hürak Mol. Aiding the cult would wake up Hürak Mol. If they survive long enough to reach the lowest levels, the PCs will encounter a god. The longer the dungeon stays in Godsbarrow, the more messed-up shit is going to leak into Brundir.

I love it when a dungeon has potentially world-shaking implications, yet can be accessible to 1st level D&D characters. That’s what I wanted out of the Black Furnace when I came up with it, and having jotted all this stuff down I like how it’s coming together.

I’m stoked to explore the Black Furnace this year and see what comes of it!

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
Categories
Godsbarrow Old school Old School Essentials Tabletop RPGs

#dungeon23: The Black Furnace

Sean McCoy‘s #dungeon23 challenge has been making the rounds on Mastodon: Every day in 2023, write one room of an old-school fantasy megadungeon (or whatever similar project tickles your fancy). I’ve been intrigued, but felt like I didn’t really need another project next year — until this morning, when the puzzle pieces fell into place.

Dungeon23 logo created by Lone Archivist and released under a CC BY 4.0 license

These days I do best with long-term projects that I can 1) work on every single day, no exceptions, and 2) just “check the box” if I don’t have the energy today. That means projects with lots of variety in their components, and which can survive banking the fires — basically only working on them in the most technical sense, like a dab of paint or writing a single name — while I recharge my creative juices or deal with life’s curveballs.

This is how Godsbarrow got created, and how I’ve worked on it daily since March 2021. It’s how I wrote and published The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link]. It’s how I work on my 40k miniatures. It prioritizes continuation, completion, and realistic expectations — and it’s baked right into #dungeon23. There’s tons of variety (365 rooms!), and writing “Empty room” is a 100% valid and necessary component of any megadungeon.

Sean’s longer write-up makes that explicit, and it’s what really sealed the deal for me. After many past false starts, I’m going to take a run at creating my first megadungeon: the Black Furnace, my favorite dungeon that I’ve mentioned in my Godsbarrow material.

My WIP simple spreadsheet, as of December 10, 2022

My approach

I get the appeal of working on #dungeon23 in a physical notebook with hand-drawn maps; that will produce a lovely artifact at the end of the year, and it hearkens back to the origins of the hobby. But my handwriting is terrible, I won’t always have that notebook handy, I know drawing dungeon maps is a roadblock for me (I always get too deep in the weeds and then abandon the project), and ultimately whatever I produce is likely to be something I want to publish — so why make more work for myself by doing it by hand?

Once I knew that, the rest of my path became pretty clear. Here it is in rough form, as it stands now:

  • Google Sheets: I’ll be creating my megadungeon in Google Sheets. Easily updateable and editable, always available, and already digital.
  • Dyson Logos’ maps: I’m going to use some of the wonderful maps created by Dyson Logos — specifically, the ones Dyson has generously released with a royalty-free commercial license. If I finish my dungeon and like it enough to publish it, this makes that possible.
  • OSE: Old School Essentials is my old-school system of choice, and the game I’d most likely use to run a megadungeon, so that’s sorted. And OSE has a third-party license for published products that looks entirely reasonable, so I’m covered there as well.
  • Dungeon stocking: That also means I can use the OSE rules for random dungeon stocking, which I quite like. That breaks down to 1/3 empty rooms, 1/3 monster, 1/6 special, and 1/6 trap.
    • I might also use the method from AD&D 1e, which comes up in Courtney’s PDF (the next bullet).
  • Random generators: I love random generators, and with 365 rooms to write (even if 122 of them are empty!) I’m going to need plenty of inspiration. There are a billion tools for this, but I’ll start with two.
  • A snazzy logo: Lone Archivist created a free #dungeon23 logo pack (as well as one for sci-fi projects) with a CC BY 4.0 license.

That’s the how, but what about the what?

The Black Furnace

I created the Black Furnace when I was designing the Unlucky Isles, and I like how it turned out. Even though it’s only a region-level sketch, that’s plenty to get me rolling on room-by-room creation (which is one of the things I love about region-level sketches!):

This black stone kiln the size of a large house, its soot-covered iron door always warm to the touch, rises from the earth during times of great strife. It was thought to have receded from the world centuries ago, but in recent days trappers and woodcutters who work the Hulawe Hills claim to have seen this fell edifice, and those who have gone to look for it have not returned. Folk tales say that it’s the entrance to a sprawling subterranean maze, or to the realm of a long-forgotten god, or a maw which releases ancient monstrosities into the world. In truth, the Black Furnace is all three of those things, and its reappearance bodes ill for Brundir.

From The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link]

That’s got all the bones I need for #dungeon23: A sprawling subterranean maze: check. The realm of a long-forgotten god, which hearkens back to one of my favorite modules, Tomb of the Iron God [affiliate link]: check. A maw that spews monsters, which is already giving me all sorts of ideas: check. And potential region-level, world-shaking implications, which I love in a dungeon: check.

In the spirit of drawing from my first Godsbarrow and proto-Godsbarrow ideas for worldbuilding, I’m going to reuse, remix, and draw from the megadungeon I started designing back in 2016, Marrowdark. (I’ll likely use that name for something else in Godsbarrow — maybe even a dungeon; it’s the ideas I’m after here.) Some of the rough clay in those notes has already made its way into wider Godsbarrow, notably the null slimes of Middenglum, and I want to explore more of its themes.

Many thanks to Sean McCoy for kicking this off, and for posting about it well in advance of the start date! I needed that time to get my ducks in a row and think things over, and now I’m excited to get rolling in January.

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.