Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Setting: Gold Rush to Hell

The gold rush is a great trope for a D&D setting. An economy in upheaval, the promise of gold for foreigners invading the land, the alienation of anyone currently living there.
Ihor Tovstohan

Consider this excerpt from Robert Service, about the Klondike Rush: [bolding mine]

"Gold! We leapt from our benches. Gold! We sprang from our stools.
Gold! We wheeled in the furrow, fired with the faith of fools.
Fearless, unfound, unfitted, far from the night and the cold,
Heard we the clarion summons, followed the master-lure--Gold!

Men from the sands of the Sunland; men from the woods of the West;
Men from the farms and the cities, into the Northland we pressed.
Graybeards and striplings and women, good men and bad men and bold,
Leaving our homes and our loved ones, crying exultantly--"Gold!"

Never was seen such an army, pitiful, futile, unfit;
Never was seen such a spirit, manifold courage and grit.
Never has been such a cohort under one banner unrolled
As surged to the ragged-edged Arctic, urged by the arch-tempter--Gold.

"Farewell!" we cried to our dearests; little we cared for their tears.
"Farewell!" we cried to the humdrum and the yoke of the hireling years;
Just like a pack of school-boys, and the big crowd cheered us good-bye.
Never were hearts so uplifted, never were hopes so high.

The spectral shores flitted past us, and every whirl of the screw
Hurled us nearer to fortune, and ever we planned what we'd do--
Do with the gold when we got it--big, shiny nuggets like plums,
There in the sand of the river, gouging it out with our thumbs.

And one man wanted a castle, another a racing stud;
A third would cruise in a palace yacht like a red-necked prince of blood.
And so we dreamed and we vaunted, millionaires to a man,
Leaping to wealth in our visions long ere the trail began."
Loles Romero
This mentality, of being utterly common, replaceable, tough, and ambitious, jives with many OSR systems. But you could just as easily look at the setting from the point of view of the people on the receiving end of a gold rush, either living in the "dungeons" that this pitiful army descends upon or in the romanticized "wild" around them. In a sense, this could form an anti-campaign, with players organizing a region against the predations of explorers, booms, and hangers-on.

In any case, the roil of gold fever makes the setting dynamic and troubled. Rival adventuring parties become the "2d4 wolves" of your encounter table. There is a potential for rugged wilderness survival on the part of the prospectors and for a truly difficult outside problem for the people who live in the area.

Hymn of the Dungeoneer

There’s gold and jewel and lucre
in the vaults of ancient yore
and danger, and man-making things
and hazards in the floor.
In the vaunted, varied climates
where we fight the modern war,
it’s a war for getting rich or dead
where the difference is to use your head
and to keep a slingstone by your bed
and to mind your mammy’s lore.

For this is the law between borders, 
where the scroll-scribbed taxes dim,
where the wild’s shrine to the god of gold 
and the demons guarding him:
that laid low are all who fight to fight,
and most high those who fight to win,
and there’s hard-won scores in the cavernbed
and you’ll leave the dungeon halfway dead
but you’ll leave it with a laden tread
and you’ll sing a dungeon hymn
Roberto Akeiron
And then you transplant all of that to hell. Set the scabrous eyes of adventurers on soulstone, on obsidian, on the confiscated riches of all the rich men in Hell. As Robert Service says:

"Dogged, determined, and dauntless,
cruel and callous and cold,
Cursing, blaspheming, reviling,
and ever that battle-cry-- 'Gold!'"
Wayne Barlowe
Borrow heavily from Wayne Barlowe's Hell, and from Blake's Proverbs of Hell. Adapt the Salamandrine Men as the indigenous residents of that low place, who called it home before even the demons who construct vast dungeons for the damned. Exaggerate the cavalier despoiling of land for wealth and challenge to the invasion of Hell for fun and profit.

I'll leave you with a tune I heard plucked out at the cope of Hell, in a camp called Contrition, which sins enough to be its own circle:

The Call of the Scald

Have you gazed on black atrocities
Where none could hope for succor?
Have you been warmed by the sinner’s fireglow
As you traded down your silver
To buy drink that’d make you pucker
Had you had it ‘fore your trip was set to go?

Have you glimpsed the devil’s craters
That put paid to first rebellion
Have you shivered in the traitor-wafted snow?
There’s a world you’ll soon be seeing
Whether coward ye or hellion
Take the risk, brave the climb, go and go!

Reza Afshar