Thursday, March 4, 2021

An Attempted Framework Conversion for: The Hole in the Oak set in Dolmenwood

The Hole in the Oak is a low level adventure about venturing into the Mythic Underworld for Old-School Essentials, and though it features some tonal items which make it easy to set in the Dolmenwood setting with some tailoring; it does require that tailoring be done. This is an attempt to reflavor the module to better fit into that specific magical monster-haunted forest; bringing up a few aspects of the wider setting mentioned in the Wormskin zines and connecting some factions and monsters to potential broader intrigue one could play with.

If you’re running The Hole in the Oak, you will need that module and you may wish to look this over and make note of changes rather than looking between blogpost and document during game time proper. I would set this on any hex on the map near the River Hameth and near enough to Castle Brackenwold, such as Hex 1212, Hex 1311, Hex 1309, or somewhere like that.


On the border of the Tithelands and the Wood proper sits a grand and ancient gnarled oak atop a hill. Dew clings to the leaves and the rays of the sun beam down upon it, almost hungrily. In times of inclement weather, thunderbolts have scarred the boughs and icicles have made some break cruelly under the weight. Among the roots sits a hole in the oak. The realms beneath the oak were held throughout history by:

  • The Corpses of Conquest: It is unclear if the dungeon was built by ancient conquerors, the ancient kerns to use as a hideout during an attempted conquest, or if it had existed by way of faeries and was simply taken during some ancient war. The corpses of man, goat, elf and fouler things were interred within the hill; and some were certainly devoured or enslaved by...

  • The Merrowmucks (the Reptile Cult): A breed of cruel wild fey, disdained by all proper Elfland courts. Amphibious faeries of mud and filth, newt-like and endlessly hungry. An altar to their gluttony was once part of a much larger complex. All manner of half-drowned gully faeries, horrid muck-born beasts, and mortal chattel once frequented this place. Until they were deposed by…

  • Fiabogdh the Hart (Bozurah the Imperishable): The last champion of the Deorlings, though mannish history holds him a human hunter and the Watchers claim him one of their hooded vanguard. He delved the Hole with the aid of a mortal mendicant sister; and remnants of their adventuring against the Merrowmucks still lingers. But things are seldom kind, as they sought aid in their purges and were inevitably betrayed by…

  • The Order of the Stone Dove (the White League): A defunct order of hunters and rangers, historic enemies of the Merrowmucks and all that is pagan and fey. Their presence is noted by signs of ancient conflict and the defacement of Merrowmuck artifice. A small chapelhouse in Castle Brackenwold houses some minor relics of their order, but the truth of their obsolescence is not known. Their insignia is that of a dove in flight.

Beyond this cruel chain of history, several intelligent beings and factions currently occupy the dungeon. They are:

  • The Devil Cloots (Heretic Gnomes, Area 51-60): A small collective of heinous faeries that resemble poppets with raggedy heads and cloven hooves. Tricksters, they were sent to establish a Goblin Market in the dungeon but were quickly seduced by darker powers. They are hateful and fearful of all but the Balefire Club, who they trade with for low grade hooch.

  • The Flagellant Beast (Mutagenic Ogre, Area 25): A hideous creature, ostensibly a Wild Goatman by anyone’s reckoning. In truth the punished child of Fiabogdh and the mendicant who abandoned her vows for him. A hulking brute, riddled with all manner of disease; keeps a flock of those cursed in his presence. He hates everyone else in the dungeon, they are impious and unrighteous; though if made cursed he will accept them into his parish---or eat them. It does not know how long it has been down here, nor how long since its parentage was destroyed.

  • The Balefire Club (Sheep-headed Fauns, Area 5-9): Debauched goatmen from across the High Wold who think themselves better than their lords. They meet here to drink, smoke expensive leaf, and plot sedition. They are quaint, but just as cannibalistic and hateful as those they seek to overthrow. Led by a Goatman who claims himself “the Proper Ramius, no relation to the scoundrel Ramius.” They know about the Beast and the Mewling Worms; they don’t care for either and try to avoid them. They want to enslave the Devil Cloots to gain power and influence with the Elflands (which they assume can be done.) They know nothing of the Shades.

  • The Mewling Worms (Troglodytes, Areas 16-17): The only surviving members of the Merrowmucks, as they hadn’t hatched and risen from the cold stream muck during the previous purges. They are crazed, eternally hungry, and reek of rotten earth. They do not know anything about their legacy, and seek only to glut themselves. They avoid everyone they can, none are worth the trouble.

  • The Revenant Shades (River Ghouls, Areas 18-19): Revenant corpses left behind in truly ancient days, a mixture of Wolderfolk corpses interred within the hill that the Merrowmucks would take as their lair before all events came to pass. They wish to be left in peace, and they hunger for souls. They hate all interlopers within the dungeon and do not react kindly to intrusion.

The Flagellant Beast

Potential Answers to Unanswered Mysteries
Not everything needs to be explained, but here are some things that could be cool to do if you wanted to tie it all to broader setting things.

  • Chess pieces: The Fomorian (Hex 0602) once engaged in a play-by-scry chess game with the now long dead leader of the Merrowmucks. The Fomorian becomes easier to parlay with if informed that he was winning or that the Merrowmucks were cheating. The Fomorian would only bring any of this up if the party mentioned the Hole in the Oak to him.

  • Mysterious Jars: The strange jars were put here by the Order of the Stone Dove, with a few of the choicest poultices being labelled in blackletter with the name “Maldwort” which over the years looks like “Moldwurt” due to dust and decay. The great-grandfather of Sydewich Maldwort (of the Man of Gold Apothecary, Hex 0710) served in the order. He might pay well for anything recovered, or demand it freely as being his inheritance.

  • Nolly: Carved into the roots at the entrance by Fiabodgh’s hand, the only recorded name of his love Sister Nollaigh; now left in obscurity. Her name is noted as this in the chapelhouse records in Castle Brackenwold, if one so desired to puzzle this out.

  • Black Skeletons: Potentially the guardians put in place to soothe the Revenant Shades into eternal slumber, but ill-preserved they rotted down to bones and now the Shades roam the dungeon. Animating them could see these peace brokers calm the dead. Perhaps, more sinister; they are guardian wards placed by the Watchers who spy through their empty eyes.

  • Lost gloves and boots: Very fancy, they were made at Brandybiles (Hex 1106) on commission to Lord Malbleat’s newest wife (Hex 0709) who has been plotting with the Balefire Club to murder the goatlord. She doesn’t recall how she lost them, will be unpleasant if someone implies she is associated with the Balefire Club; and she will slander any who pester her with accusations of perversion if they bother her too much.

To better suit placing this in Dolmenwood, a new listing of 10 rumours which are of a type.

  1. (P) The hole is a haunted place, filled with all manner of goblins seeking to make dark deals!

  2. (F) The Watchers send all those who cross them beneath the oak. If you’re looking for someone they absconded; they’ll be there.

  3. (T) Ancient fae from darker days before even Winter sought to take the Wold, dwell upon the muddy banks of the deep waters down there. They reek of ancient death.

  4. (P) A chalice of beatific mien is buried within, clutched at by pagan devilry beneath the mound.

  5. (T) A ranger of a once proud questing order was buried beneath the Oak, as per their wishes.

  6. (F) Sculptures manifest the mortal sin of greed, turning those with avaricious hearts into withered husks.

  7. (F) The dread sibling of Chaosbrithe the wyrm is claimed to dwell within the ruddy niches of the underworld beneath the Oak.

  8. (P) A terror from a hellish union is said to dwell in a hidden catacomb, scourging those who it deems more unholy than itself.

  9. (T) Mud and muck, animated by unclean spirits, seek to keep long-lost treasures in their filthy clutches.

  10. (T) Aubergines of midnight pitch grow sweetly in this hidden place.

General Conversions

All entities are still functionally and mechanically equivalent to the original entities in question, with any changes being matters of flavor. 

Troglodytes are Merrowmucks, and lizards are instead weird mud monsters; blobs of muck and other such filth which takes vague form to attack. 

Ghouls are Revenants, and the Demi-Ghoul is a cursed treasure hunter who was killed by the Revenants. 

The Mutagenic Ogre is the Flagellant Beast, and the Caged Mutants are all manner of goat-folk, Brackenwolder, or lesser faerie who have been tormented and broken. They scream in fear and worship, for this prevents the Flagellant Beast from torturing them further. 

The Shadow Gardener is a fae creature from another realm, it is here to garden. It doesn’t have opinions on the dungeon, and is bothered by those who steal from its garden. It will talk politics with any Elfland representative, though it is concerned only with the price of its night-tomatoes in the current economic climate. 

The Subterranean Jungle is not a Jungle, so much as it is a small enclave of the Otherwold. Fey and Demi-Fey might be able to recognize where they are in relation to strange spatial realities while within it. The Giant Bronze Statue may be the statue of a Saint who allegedly converted some faeries to the One True God; or it might be a “Saint” who was actually quite greedy and was easily turned into a fat statue as a cosmic joke. 

The Evil Tree Babies might be a sort of organic, home-grown changeling maker. They are still horrible. 

Jorg the Defiler is Galvinsmythe the Purifier, and his tomb is inscribed: “GALVINSMYTHE THE PURIFIER, IN LIFE THE HAND OF THE HOLY. HIS SERVICE IS ETERNAL.” He does not wield an Azure Serpent Blade, but rather a Blade of Morning Dew, which is unnaturally pale blue, slender, and engraved with embellishments of birds in flight across the blade. It otherwise functions as equivalent, and was forged to scorn the Merrowmucks and all fey things.

Figments are of Merrowmucks and Order Pilgrims. If the Merrowmuck figment is killed, the pilgrim will say: “Where is the blade? Our salvation? Galvinsmythe… across the river.”

Giant Tuatara Lizards are instead skittering malformed Merrowmucks made of sludge and gunk, rotting fish and river stones. 

Monday, March 1, 2021

UVG Catalysts: The Plague of Perception

Over February of 2021, I was able to indulge deeply into weird psychedelic/Moebius inspired post-apocalyptic/future type settings; namely Vaults of Vaarn, Acid Death Fantasy, Necronautilus, and Ultraviolet Grasslands. I have positive thoughts on all of them with regards to the creation of an interesting world; but I hold in reservation a specific judgment towards UVG; which is something unique in its issue. 

Really though, I'm digging the broader vibes of the genre.

The Ultraviolet Grasslands don’t feel like a world of adventure. They feel like the backdrop of a road trip. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a specific vibe that makes it feel hard to adventure through. Perfectly fine for some Planes, Trains, and Automobiles shenanigans; perfect for getting followed by a post-human vome serial killer hitchhiker, perfect for getting lost and ending up in a shootout at a wedding---but not exactly the sort of place where you go wandering, slaying strangers, and looting crypts for ancient goods. Not exactly a place where you can’t reason or discuss with the enemy why things don’t need to come to violence.

This is both a good and bad thing; it is a good thing in that it feels incredibly real and human and relatable. Most people want to go off and do their own things, the world has its dangers but they are overwhelmed by its many wonders---and most dangers aren’t necessarily going down the highway like the rival truck in Duel. 

Which is what leans into the bad; namely, for as much as I love UVG I also realize how much is put on the players to make the trip, the game, the world; their own. An abundance of agency without a catalyst beyond the points provided in the start of the UVG Player’s Guide---which lean, ultimately, into it being about the journey or destination in equal shares in our modern context of enjoying life whilst we sojourn. 

So, for sake of making something of utility I came up with a few potential backdrop catalysts which might add a greater sense of actions in the world beyond your characters. Things which might be a reason to adventure throughout the regions, from the Black City and back towards home. In addition to the catalyst pitches are notes on escalation, things that should show up every few sessions; like the Fire Nation in pursuit of the Avatar, or other travel-specific media threats.

The first of such is something I'm calling: The Plague of Perception

The Plague of Perception

Pitch: In the high spires of the Violet City, it was hailed first as an oracular blessing. It did not harm the Cat Lords, not directly; though it gave their servants wisdom and foresight beyond them---and this was cause for concern. When those afflicted with the Perception began to develop metallurgic lithoderms and argent-bleeding tumors it was already too late.

The Plague had spread, and few among the Cat Lord’s thralls were spared. Those afflicted see the realm not in colors but in the raw mathematics of existence; driving most to madness as their mortal minds cannot comprehend the infinite array of numbers. The whispered rumors are that this is a work of ancient vome nanosorcery; somehow brought to the surface and weaponized to sink the city into disarray.

It is spreading out into the lands beyond the Violet City, and the road has become unsafe. Caravans are all that will keep the Violet City from collapse; but other settlements fear the spread of Perception and arm themselves against former friends in mercantilism. Rainbowlanders, any true Human, are at risk of Perception. None are sure exactly how it is spread, contact, saliva, coitus, or through the air. Consumption of Black Lotus can allow one to trace its spread through strange inky veins of starlight in the back of one's mind; but this is hardly useful. Fear takes over quickly of course. As does the worst nature of mankind in its capitalistic pursuits.

Twist 1: The Caravan encounters a Porcelain Prince studying dead Perceivers in a plague ditch on the side of the road. The Prince claims the corpses still speak the tragedy of their being in the silent whisper of a coded language, and by the looks of it will sing the whole of what they are until the end of time. Perhaps the Perception is a plague of immortality that Humanity cannot reconcile without losing themselves?

Twist 2: Steppelanders are bowing to a new warlord who they call Silverhand; one of their own who has been afflicted by the Perception and found a means to use the plague to track down Violent Mechanisms and assimilate their beings into their person. Silverhand can turn their arms into liquid metal and must consume the flesh of the infected daily to keep the power. They are infected travelers and other, less loyal, Steppelanders. Some seek to usurp Silverhand, but they know this cannot be done easily. They fear being eaten. It is clear now that the Plague can mutate and do strange things to the body.

Twist 3: A pair of psions from the Spectrum Satraps are experimenting with a blessed herb that has begun developing silicon floral buds which can carry the Perception on the winds; allowing a tripper to imbibe and Perceive without being fully consumed by the plague. One is fascinated by the mutation upon plants, the other believes that weaponizing this will see them made emperors over the weakening Rainbowlanders.

Twist 4: A Rainbowlander afflicted with the Perception has claimed to be one of the mysterious, missing folk known as the Lings. They are offering up fortune tellings and oracular blessings in exchange for cold hard cash. They don’t care that they’re spreading the infection; they seem in control of their mind and body. “People are easier to read when they’re all just numbers.”

Twist 5: A cult in the depths of the wilderness know what it is going on, though only through esoteric pseudo-religious iconography. One of the Ultras is locked in an eternal struggle against the projected artifice animus of a Vome mechanism. The Ultra has spread the plague in the hopes of being perceived and assisted in putting the Vome to death for all eternity.

Finale: The party gets high on blessed herb or become infected Perceivers, approach the sacred site of the cult, wherein the Ultra is waging the war in an endless stasis. The party transcends into a realm beyond mortal perception and does battle to snuff out the Vome mechanism; but only by silencing or blinding the Ultra will the Plague of Perceptions end. No good deed goes unpunished, and no After-Human wishes to be snuffed from existence after an eternity of conflict. A bit traditional skewing in terms of development, but as a backdrop of conflict while on the road; something to keep people travelling on and wary of what new developments might mean.

An Attempted Framework Conversion for: The Hole in the Oak set in Dolmenwood

The Hole in the Oak is a low level adventure about venturing into the Mythic Underworld for Old-School Essentials , and though it features s...