Thursday, August 7, 2008

Nightlands: Adventuring

Adventuring in a world like the Nightlands should be suitably different from other campaigns. Notably, the party would like be seen as crazy to even think of walking out of the gates in such a small group. In normal settings, the wilderness is dangerous, sure, but common. Farmers live on the edge of civilization themselves. They aren't happy with it, but they are used to fighting wild animals and the occasional bandits. Adventurers are unusual for their desire to throw themselves into danger for the promise of some coins or for the good of their brothers, but not crazy.

The Nightlands aren't normal wilderness. They are cursed and evil. They change people over time. This is common knowledge, bloated and exaggerated through years of rumors and hearsay. Everyone has a friend's girlfriend's cousin's grandfather who once went with a military group into the Nightlands, only to come back crazy. Everyone knows that it's only safe inside the walls of Lumina. People who decide that they want to make a living by heading outside the gates to fight cursed monsters and demons are probably considered unstable by some and dangerously insane by most.

Herein actually lies a problem I've seen with this world so far. If the Nightlands are dangerous and basically impossible to penetrate for the normal person, how are any features of the Nightlands known well enough to even send the adventurers after? Typically in D&D, someone with money will ask the party to do something, with a promise of reward. It's a fairly basic quest structure, and money is commonly a decent motivator. Wouldn't it be considered an insult to even ask someone to go out there? It's akin to saying "Err, there's a quarter at the bottom of that meat grinder. I'll give you fifty bucks if you jump into it and get that quarter for me."

Then again, if the party is known as one of those crazy groups that is willing to risk all the dangers of the Nightlands for coin, it makes sense that they would get requests to explore/loot/retrieve things nearby the town. That's something to work out later.

Anyway, so adventuring in the Nightlands is different. One way I think I'll make it different from other worlds I've played in is that it's basically unexplored. It's a rare thing that concrete human knowledge lasts much more than a few hundred years. What we know about cultures more than three thousand years ago can basically be summed up in a small pamphlet. The Nightlands, according to the first post, have been this way for 'millenia'. This is effectively since time immemorial. What is known about the Nightlands is what can be observed from the town walls, combined with information from the trading caravans and military excursions done decades ago.

So the party makes their name running errands for some mooks in town, or they are well known bar brawlers, or whatever else. They are now level one, and feeling buff and brawny enough to head out into the breach. They can possibly procure a 'map' of the Nightlands, but nothing more than a few miles from Lumina would be accurate in the slightest. Sure, the landmasses might not have changed all that much, but towns that existed thousands of years ago will probably not exist anymore, except as barely recognizable ruins. Actually, even the coasts have moved and changed. Volcanoes erupt and expand the coastline here, a sea cave has collapsed and removed a few miles of coastline. Nothing produced thousands of years ago is accurate at all.

So as opposed to your normal party heading southwards towards that castle ruin on their map, the Nightlands group can head southwards and hope that something remains of the castle that they read about in the engravings in another ruin. Of course, from the walls of Lumina, one can see a few features scattered about. All that anyone in town knows for certain is what they can see from the walls, or from scaling the wizard's tower in the center of town as high as they dare.

Come to think of it, I don't believe I've placed Lumina in any particular type of terrain, other than one that can support a river and presumably has some area that can be mined through without flooding. It does have to be basically free of major natural disasters, so that it's still standing and in reasonable shape despite having no outside assistance for centuries. Ok, we'll put Lumina on a temperate plains sort of area. Mostly flat land around, with some rolling hills in the distance. Since the outside lands have been free of human(oid) deforesting for so long, it's slightly wooded now, limiting vision to major features. The river flows somewhat lazily over such terrain, but the occasional flooding can be controlled via floodgates built by the golems that protect the city. This means the dwarves likely had to dig through quite a depth of soft, spongy soil before getting to proper stone. Still, one presumes that dwarves don't mind mining a bit.

A terrain set like this gives the citizens of Lumina some tantalizing proximity to a few ancient structures. They can see them, but they know they can't explore them. Attempts to explore usually end in death for everyone involved, because it's dangerous and stupid to go outside the walls, as we've covered. So this provides a starting point for groups that announce a desire to head into the Nightlands. That ruined tower that the populace sees to the north, when the menacing dark seems to lighten a bit, is a suitable dare for this bigshots to go to. How's that for an opening tavern quest?

Instead of the dark stranger offering information, or the random noble who seems to hang out in bars hoping to find someone to get his lost family amulet, you can have the local neighborhood street toughs irritated by the party in there acting like big shots. The PCs think they are so tough? Fine, go to Northtower then. Stay there overnight, and bring something back that proves you were there, big shot. This has the effect of showing the party as capable of going into the Nightlands without dying, as well as establishing some low level jerks in town that can act as mild antagonists while the party is there.

Well I've been going on long enough here. The point is that adventuring in the Nightlands should have a feeling of going into the unknown. No one knows what dangers await out there, and they generally think you are crazy for even wondering.

More on the Nightlands later.


thanuir said...

In a Finnish rpg Praedor player characters are outlaws who break the laws every time they go to the "outside", which is inhabited by monsters and where treasure can be found. Going there is illegal, but can be profitable if one survives.

DocBadwrench said...

It's refreshing to see new takes on old adventuring hooks. Like your tavern post, we've "been there, done that" in a lot of fantasy conventions.

Another great post.

Luke Maciak said...

You mentioned that trade and military excursions are possible. There should be legends circling around about incredible wealth buried deep in ancient ruins.

Just like everyone knows a story about a guy who went outside and came back crazy, there should also be stories about people who went outside and returned rich.

Perhaps one of the notable Lumnia noble families can trace their lineage to a common soldier that lead a small expedition outside the walls, slew many monsters and returned with a treasure that allowed him to establish himself as one of Lumnia's most prominent merchants and philanthropists?

Of course all the ruins near Lumnia have been looted a long time ago. But chances are there are still hidden treasures somewhere in there.

So I wouldn't say that no one comes back from exploring that ruined tower. Perhaps only half of the expeditions there disappears. Few return scarred, crazy and empty handed. And then there are lucky few who once in a while bring home some valuable loot - perhaps some ancient coins, an antique sword or a magical item.

So when the PC's declare they want to go outside people don't thing they are crazy or unhinged. They just thing they are reckless. A typical reaction could be:

"Sigh... I remember there was a group of young people like you who decided to explore the North Tower some six years ago. Only two returned, but only two of them returned, and brought a magnificent silver sword. Then they killed each other over who gets to keep their treasure. There are treasures out there to be had, but they come at a terrible price..."

David said...

I was actually reading your blog, linked from somewhere else (Silver Key maybe?) as you were posting. That's an interesting setting you mention and might be reasonable for other Havens in this setting. Not all of them work like Lumina, I'm sure.

Thanks again. Yeah, I don't like running the same hook over and over if it isn't at least slightly changed each time. It tends to get old pretty quick.

@Luke Maciak:

You're right, I probably overplayed the reaction to people going outside. The thing is, most people aren't willing to risk death for money. Plenty of people are willing to risk money for money, or even jail, but rarely death.

Also I didn't mean to make it sound like no one has ever come back from outside. People come back, sure, but they rarely explore the ruins fully before having to run back to town. They effectively are able to make 'raids' on the dungeon. Dungeons also really aren't designed for military groups. Fighting a beholder (for instance) in a corridor would be suicide for any number of level one grunts.

Anyway, thanks for the well thought out post. You added a bit of reason to my somewhat overdone idea there, and made it a bit more interesting as well.