Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The FRoGs (Carthago Delenda Est)

(Let's see. How to write up a module? No time for playtesting, or any visual aids whatsoever. Better do what I always do, and make vague, evocative historical and mythological reference-- make the readers imagine their own module. Throw in some topical references for flavor. If these plebs had taste they wouldn't be reading the blog anyway.) 

When the Romans defeated the Carthaginians, when they ruined their capitol enslaved the people and salted the Earth and declared that it had been destroyed utterly, this was not a full truth. While the imperial power of Carthage was destroyed and the twilit-aura of its power swept away, the city was inhabited by some scant survivors.

Until the city was re√ęstablished as a Roman colony, it was kept in ruins. I guess they just liked it that way.

Premise

Your city-state has lost its way, and become wayward. They argue among themselves and refuse to unite against real threats. They are quick to vengeance and slow to mercy. They favor the army over the navy, and eat their bread butter-side-down.

You could not convince them. Instead you entreated the gods, and have been granted a favor-- you may bring any one inhabitant of the city of Carthage back with you, and they will tell the stories that inflame the passions and conjure the character of your home.

You've just gotten off the boat. The skeletal boatman sneers down as you disembark-- he spent the whole time over here complaining about having to tip people, what a total Karen-- and waits for you to return with your one hope.

When you want to convince someone to let you Bring them Back, they might require a task of you:

1. Steal a treasure from another random citizen of Carthage.
2. Retrieve the Charging Stallion Chakram from the Mystic Hunter.
3. Get one of the Neglegentsia to send out a particular ping spell
4. Escort them to another random citizen of Carthage, to see if you have their approval.

The City of Carthage

In the south are the harbors, burned. To the west, hermits have made caves and pillars. To the north are the temples. To the east are the tombs. In the center, the shell of the senate stays. 

The whole place smells of chalk, dead fish, old oil, and the vines which choke the cyclopean stone. Doors are hewn of rough diftwood, where there are doors at all. A curse of no known origin haunts the place-- every twilight of every Sunday, a plague of frogs fills the streets, their croaking "brekekekex" deafening all.

Random Encounters

1. Swarm of Frogs, cutting off the way forward. May fill up your inventory slots until you unpack and repack everything.
2. Swarm of Frogs, keen to berate and debate and possibly attack. Really just won't shut up. One carries a bouquet of phloxes.
3. 3d4 Baboons/Monkeys/whatevers. Cargo cult. Wary and curious in equal measure. 
4. Gretchling. Piteous and wretched.
5. 2d4 Retro-Clones, travelers shipwrecked in time, named for the temporal cyclones that brought them here. If one of them is Brought Back, they will institute earnestly-admired rules that they don't actually have the context to understand.
6. Rival Adventuring Party. Seeks to Bring Back the perfect person for their slight-more-prosperous city-state. Even when hostile, will try to not kill the party.
7. Foolish godling and their more intelligent slave, 50% chance disguised as each other. If the godling is Brought Back, they will institute bacchanals, preferring wine and wit over sword and strength in all things. The slave cannot be Brought Back unless they die in battle, according to the caprice of the boatman-Karen.
8. Froghemoth, with rock-shattering strength and terrible clumsiness.

South: Harbors (weenie: leaning cranes)

Shattered stalls in wrecked-up rows, laid along the wharfs where warships once were. One metal-wrapped ship sits at the bottom of the harbor.

Off the delta, the shepherd Samuel tends his flock of squid-sheep. Will speak companionably about random encounters while trying to herd his flock around. If Brought Back, will get caught in a narrow hole under an abandoned mansion and suffocate.

Among the reeds and bracken, a kingfisher peers out at the party. He will tell them (for lo, he's a talking kingfisher) that he once was the quartermaster for the bounty hunter Zuckuss on the Mist Hunter, and in fact can grant them access to it even thought it's at the bottom of the harbor, if they pay him a shiny treasure.This secret method of access is a pipeline, hidden in the reeds, allowing someone to slide down to access the sunken ship. If the Kingfisher is Brought Back, he will revel in authority for a while before leading an expedition to recover the Mist Hunter and polish up good as new.

The Mist Hunter, a sunken metal ship, remains untouched at the bottom of the harbor. It is accessed either by the kingfisher's pipeline or swimming straight down and locating a pool entrance at the underside of the craft. Once the unassailable home of the bounty hunter Zuckuss (from Star Wars), the hold now contains only some technical junk, a deactivated murder-robot, a hostile animated sock puppet, a sack full of blue snakes, and a small fortune in royalty checks. Additionally, by the helm is the Chakram of the Appaloosa, a potent magical throwing disc with a horse carved into it. This +1 chakram reverberates with crackling energy, and grants the wielder +1 to hit when throwing it for each round spent spewing invective or aggressive debate. Along the inside of the disc is written in small script "Banish all Liars from Polite Society Forever".

West: Hermitages (weenie: cut-up hills)

Quarries quarried-out, leaving quick redoubts for quick-thinking doubters, flaunters of virtue, and finery-flouters.

In a cave, a master-singer sits, perfecting the many drafts of his saga. He is deliberately obscure, a mystick with only a small gibbon for companionship. If Brought Back, will sing a song with the "shame of shame," shocking the city-state into an intellectual revolution before he abandons the city forever.

Beneath a fruit tree, an orb-tender sits in contemplation of the tools and traumas that make great adventurers who they are. Technically worked as a plumber in the great House of Moloch, or something. values simplicity, and the orb is the mostly simple possible thing to them. If Brought Back, they will craft a cosmic, totally accurate orrery among 2d4 other wonders.

In the shadow of a great hill, a giantess slumbers. They say she will wake up a the end of days, and that she will usher in a paradise, either by revolutionizing the way we think about our place in society and not just talking about the oppressed slightly more, or else by just talking about the oppressed slightly more. A dreamer (or anyone else who can enter dreams) will find that she dreams of beautifully wrought swords, meant to be used in exhibition of mastery rather than swung in anger. If she is Brought Back, somehow awake, your city-state becomes a paradise on Earth.

There is a camp on the edge even of the hermitages, where retired adventurers and young firebrands mention that they are preparing to walk from Carthage, on a pilgrimage to find a secret haven among the vaporous vagaries of fate.

North: Temples (weenie: cupolas with sphere-topped spires)

Heaps of hollow, hallowed, houses. A brazen furnace-god busted up and half-melted. City blocks flattened to make easy rows for dragging away clerical loot.

In an ossuary with broken idols, where widows tarry to wail, the god Bael sits, crafting strange devices from the bodies of the dead. If he is Brought Back, he will abolish mortality but not the other follies of young humanity.

In the civil courtroom, the goddess of chaos Dis stays, a golden woman with a Mosin-Nagant and a collection of rat attendants. She carries a golden apple inscribed "To The Fairest." When thrown to two or more people, the most just and fair between them will inerrantly pick it up. If she is Brought Back, she will flush out those in power and show the common folk how to seize control for themselves.

In the martial courtroom stays the Demiurge, an imperfect semi-divine craftsman, working through his creative impulses by fashioning row after row of tables, attended by his varied archons. Shavings and splinters are scattered across his station. If he is Brought Back, he will create wondrous architectural structures and ignore crumbling social structures.

East: Tombs (weenie: smoke from rubbish fires)

These might have been ruined before the rest of the city? idk

Picking through piles of shattered urns in the shadow of the obelisks, the sculpture seller, a golem, sings a working song. He can heal wounds, filling them with healthy and hale clay. If he is Brought Back, his sculptures will come to life, bringing a new and dignified perspective that shakes up social malaise.

Perched over a hot drink, an old crow looks down on a trash fire. They have traveled far and wide, and tell of the many adventures of their companions over mountains and across fields of mud. If Brought Back, the crow will deduce where the item is that will restore the city-state, and lead an expedition to attain it.

Reading through the rolls of an over-filled mausoleum, a mercenary-historian rambles as they study these rare Primary Documents. If Brought Back, there's a 50% chance they'll lead a successful military campaign and a 50% chance they'll revolutionize the study of history. (Roll separately for each.)

In a dried out baptismal basin, a dog-sized spider studies the tablets of ancient mythology. He knows much of the hidden places of the city, and gives good directions if you can answer his esoteric questions like "what kinds of soul are there?" or "why does the sun go away at night?" He may also lend you his pile of caltrops, which someone apparently took the time to enchant-- they're +1 weapons, and anyone stepping on them is throw up ten feet into the air. The spider uses this to deliver his prey into a web on ceilings. If Brought Back, the spider will write a series of complicated laws which, nevertheless, function as intended, establishing an equilibrium between the agricultural, the urban, the priestly, and the nobility.

Center: Senate (weenie: wooden effigy of Gyges)

The main entrance to the senate is guarded by the Gatekeeper, a fighter 7/thief 9/bard 4. He's got a mace of disruption, a bag of holding, and a portable hole, (don't ask why). That's right, he's got infravision, and he will suffer no one to pass unless they answer his riddles!

Gatekeeper Riddles

1. What is Gygax's first name? (answer: Edward)
2. What does THACO stand for? (answer: "To Hit Armor Class Zero")
3. What hit die does a Rogue get in 1st Edition? (answer: trick question, they're called thieves, kid)

If you answer two of three, he lets you pass. If you give two wrong answers answer, he rolls his eyes and attacks. If you stump the Gatekeeper somehow, he explodes. If he is Brought Back, he will ban from public spaces anyone who uses the term "first edition D&D" without clarifying what particular product they mean.

Within the senate, polyhedronal-shaped creatures wander to and fro. These are the Neglegentsia, the city's lawyers reduced to idleness in a city without laws. Currently, they are debating among themselves as to who is the greater aesthete between two choices:

Old Kay, a biologist with a gretchling assistant, a vial of punch, and the credibility/panache of a California zip code. He is laid back, fond of mutants, and you better believe he can get it. If Brought Back, he will show up every few months with a creature or organic byproduct to revolutionize society.

Securpules, an academic with a lucky coin, a scroll of skim text, and an old ceremonial warhammer. He is an expert in feudal law. Fresh from his expeditions in the depths of the earth, he tells of strange societies among the molefolk. If Brought Back, he will write a revolutionary treatise before reading every book he can find.

The Neglegentisa specialize in three spells:

1. Freeze (immobilize [highest]-sixths of a target for [dice] minutes. )
2. Ping (send a telepathic message to all within [sum]x100 feet. Parties that don't care about the message have a [lowest]-in-six chance of becoming hostile.)
3. Argue With Birds (learn the bird languages temporarily. Take ten minutes to be corrected on [dice] confident statements about the area.)

Bringing the Game Together

Look, it's simple. If you actually want to run something like this, you roll reaction rolls for everything, you show the players everything the area and signpost the other areas (use the weenies), and you create problems-- structure it like sitcom with a short attention span and a long memory. If things start to slow down, roll a random encounter or something. If things get too serious in the first half of things, have someone pee themselves or make a modern reference.

5 comments:

  1. Hannibal's origin story--where his father takes him to the temple of Bael and holds his hand into the guts of a sacrificed cow, forcing him to swear an oath of vengeance against the Romans for the First Punic War, would be a great backstory for...ANY character.

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  2. This is brilliant. You need to get the rival adventuring party to engage with the Gatekeeper to keep them all distracted.

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  3. 10/10. I am obviously represented by the swarm of frogs, and I appreciate that.

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  4. Aristophanes called, he's mostly pleased.

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