Anomalous Subsurface Environment I
I’m running a game using Patrick Wetmore’s brilliantly fun megadungeon, using Fifth Edition. As requested in the module, I’ve been shooting him quick e-mails of how the game is going, but it’s starting to feel a bit parasocial so I figure I’ll just plop them here – maybe I can extract some lessons from it!
This adventure is an OSR adventure, which means high agency, high lethality, and gold-for-xp mechanics to drive players to adventure. I’ve incorporated this into the game and am enjoying the style a lot – I’m still using Fifth Edition because I honestly think it’s a pretty sweet version of D&D, and I think it gets a bad reputation for being incompatible with OSR play.
Random Tables’ OSR->5E Conversion Rules
- Use the 5e equivalent monster. A troglodyte is a troglodyte. A peryton is a peryton. Easy.
- Use a similar monster. A moktar is an orc.
- Assume HD == level in OSR. A 3 HD monster is about equal to a lvl 3 character in terms of power. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything tells us how CR relates to level.
Now find a monster with suitable CR and reskin.
- Leveling up to 20 in Labyrinth Lord takes 1,560,000 XP. Leveling up to 20 in 5E takes 355,000 XP. Therefore if a Labyrinth Lord dungeon contains 1,000 gp, it should award 250 gp in 5E.
- Check how much XP the characters need to get to the next level. Put roughly a third of that in gp in a session.
- I’m really enjoying the low-level play, so I may be giving out less treasure than I should be 🙂
I haven’t tested how these hold up past level 2 🙂
The adventure has a little prelude adventure where the party starts at a tavern, two mercenaries barge in, claim that a rich merchant they were guarding has been ambushed by moktars and are you a bad enough dude to rescue the merchant (and his $$)?
Now I don’t know if this is Patrick’s writing or just me getting lucky with a fun group of players, but the little 5-room cave that this leads to has so much going on that it made for a memorable game indeed. There is loads of room for interactivity and player shenanigans: a pit right in the middle of a moktar crossfire, rabid wolves that dive into said pit, untrustworthy ally NPCs, “sick rock” (highly radioactive material that only a character with darkvision can see), enemies with radiation exposure, a button that reverses gravity, and a giant spider ambush. In my game, the players fell for just about all of these, including making enemies-for-life out of the mercs, Terry and Phil.
If the actual dungeon is as action-packed as this cave we’re in for a grand old time! I wouldn’t know though, as we haven’t actually played any of it.
The Land of 1K Towers
In addition to the dungeon proper, Anomalous Subsurface Environment describes the Land of a Thousand Towers, with its single mega-city and surrounding towns/villages. Briefly. But with just enough flavor and random tables for me (and my players) to want to explore.
So when the players got the treasure map to the megadungeon, along with the sick rock to open the front door, they decided to rest in a nearby village first. ASE says “this village is chiefly known for the spooky mansion on its outskirts”. I felt like I needed to flesh that out a little so I dropped Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh in there. Of course the players latched on to the ghost stories and wanted to investigate. They ended up murdering a gang of smugglers and making off with 600 gp worth of whiskey.
Now, to turn this wealth into XP, it needed to be spent, so the party decided to host a feast in Tarryfield.
Enter Monsator, an insane corn-based wizard given as an example in ASE. Turns out the hooch was his. So the party got roped into his business “Breaking Bad”-style – a lieutenant telling them they owe Monsator money but they can do a job to settle the score.
Aside: I planned the job in advance in that I decided it would be another adventure I like: the Tower of the Stargazer, but I was 100% prepared to just have the players murder this lieutenant. It would’ve been tough because she had a bodyguard of cornstalk warriors that were wired with beetle-paste explosives, but an Unyielding Fist unit was present to even the odds.
So the players took Monsator up on the deal and even gave the treasure map to his lieutenant as collateral. Looks like we’re playing Stargazer at some point – or really pissing off Monsator!
Then to make matters worse, Terry and Phil, obviously aware of the high profile village fest, snuck in and stole the lead box containing the sick rock. Perception checks to spot them were failed consistently so by the time the players headed back to their obviously-broken-into room, it was empty.
So they decided to follow the mercs and I needed another adventure that isn’t the actual megadungeon. Wyrd Ways of Walstock to the rescue! This town adventure centers around a power-grab from a hospital-cult (easily reflavored to the Church of Science). The location fit like a glove as Terry and Phil were sure to catch radiation poisoning from the sick rock, and the stolen hooch had given at least two PCs methanol poisoning.
The most recent session has been centered around the PCs trying to get into the town, following the leads, murdering Phillip, and infiltrating the “hospital”.
Next week we finish that session, then we probably play the tower, and who knows what happens after! Perhaps a full-on war with Monsator? I’ll need a map for his silo/palace… maybe a giant hold from Storm King’s Thunder?
Wyrd Ways Retrospective – and some actual advice
This session worked out beautifully. I’ve taken the location and smoothed it over a little bit by reducing its many factions and locations to a half a dozen nodes, and then made sure they all had hooks towards each other. This is an example of the node-based design from The Alexandrian and really helped move the session along. Here’s the matrix I created for it:
Terry knows Phil went to Pigsty
Secret door/plans in Surgeon General’s office
Tip to find bad guys or info here?
Only infravision in town
Phil discusses their first stop
Cry for help
– Sent Terry to hospital
– Shooter Xbow ledger
Advice vs thieves
Knows Phil was staying in Pigsty
Law of the land
I won’t go into all of these in detail, this is more about the technique than the specifics. The way to read this is to take any location on the left-hand side (such as the Town Gates), and then read that row to see how it links to the other locations.
For instance, for the town gates:
- Bootleg. If the PCs are visibly ill and dying from the bad barrel of bootleg whisky, any guard or passer-by will be quick to point them to the hospital.
- Law of the land. The rules of Walstock clearly say “no large weapons” and “no elves”. This is a problem, but they also point to a special “writ” that can be obtained for exceptions. This naturally leads to the Watch headquarters to request such a writ.
- Automatic! I had an event planned where either an insane hospital patient or a Church of Science cultist tried to assassinate the party – to drop in in almost any situation if things weren’t moving along fast enough.
- Gamz. If anyone asks specifically for Terry and Phil (or two burly men carrying a massive lead box), an NPC can tell them he saw these persons and pointed them to Gamz, the dwarven blacksmith in the town.
Using a matrix like this makes sure that every location has enough leads that point to it (just check the column). In my case, it forced me to add a couple of clues that I hadn’t considered otherwise.
We ended the session having visited many of these, so I might pull in one or two more from the Walstock module to make sure I have enough content for a second one, although the easiest solution is to enhance the dungeon below the hospital (where the insane surgeon general has used the sick rock he stole from Terry to power .. some crazy-ass machine that I haven’t really thought out yet). A classic dungeon crawl might be a nice change of pace at this point.
Anyone know a good “insane scientist”-type dungeon?