Thursday, March 11, 2010

Crafting Castle Black Star, part 1

In his article on town design in The Strategic Review #7, author Joe Fischer mentioned his home dungeon, Castle Black Star. In my ongoing mission to construct a sandbox campaign out of D&D's many disparate elements, I have decided to include a Castle Black Star of my own design, using as much material from Fischer's articles as I can to do so. So what do we know about Castle Black Star at this point?

  • The first level consists of pubs, shops and inns, as well as a shop owned by a high-level wizard with a balrog butler named Boris.
  • There are entrances to this dungeon underneath the nearby town. One is in the city guard barracks, and another is in a peasant's hovel.
  • Somewhere in the dungeon is a shattered skeleton that, when reassembled, will attack, serve the party until destroyed, lead to the nearest unguarded treasure, or lead to his master (a high-level magic-user).
  • Some of the coins in this dungeon are sentient, and will attack, or scream if taken from their resting place.
  • A dragon lives in this dungeon. His treasure hoard is actually comprised of gold pieces that are really chocolate wrapped in gold foil.
  • An area in the dungeon is guarded by a realm of chaotic dwarves.
  • Some gems in the dungeon can be commanded to transform into a random monster.
  • Some monsters in the dungeon will transform into gold pieces when killed.
  • The following destinations can be reached via portals in Castle Black Star: the Santa Maria on its way to discover America; the Normandy beaches on D-Day; the USS Nautilus (a nuclear-powered sub) on its shakedown cruise; and the Little Big Horn as blue-clad cavalry attack. Other destinations are Larry Niven's Ringworld, Tolkien's Mines of Moria, Clark Ashton Smith's Hyperborea, Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World, Fritz Leiber's Nehwon, the Starship Enterprise and the Bermuda Triangle.
  • The following special monsters may be encountered here: those found in the works of H.P. Lovecraft, the sandworms of Dune, Larry Niven's "Puppeteers", Dickson's "Dorsai", and the martians from War of the Worlds.
  • There is a 10' x 10' room that will shrink anyone crossing it so that it seems to be 200' x 200'. This serves to drive mappers crazy.
  • There is a room maze full of transporters that constantly return the party to the centre room.
  • There is a room with unguarded treasure that, when touched, activates secret doors allowing hordes of hobgoblins to attack.
  • There are underground rivers and lakes here, as well as a random chart for determining the inhabitants of islands.
  • Somewhere in the dungeon is a Pool of Endless Ogres.
  • Somewhere in the dungeon is a room full of gems. Three turns after the gems are taken from the room, half of them turn into orcs and attack.
  • Some magic items found in this dungeon: a ring that works like a Staff of Wizardry, an Unholy Sword, a dagger that works like a Wand of Fireballs, an idol that answers yes/no questions once a week, and an incense burner that works like a Crystal Ball.

Looking over that list of potential inclusions, the obvious stand-out is the number of other worlds that can be accessed from this place, and the number of monsters included here from literary sources. Since those are the most unusual elements, I'm going to make them the focus of the dungeon. It's a dimensional nexus point, where different realities converge. The shops on level one make me think of it as a sort of interdimensional marketplace. This is the place to go if you want to by a Star Trek phaser, or one of the Nine Rings of Men from Middle-Earth, that sort of thing. There is even be a menagerie for the intrepid soul who wants his own pet martian or sandworm.

I notice that there are subterranean lakes here. I also notice that there is a connection to the Lovecraft mythos. It would be remiss of me not to include some Deep Ones, would it not? I picture them as intruders in the dungeon, infesting the lakes and waterways and picking off anyone stupid enough to get near them.

There are a lot of weird phenomena going on in this dungeon, like monsters spontaneously turning into coins when killed. I chalk it up to the dimensional nexus thing. Weird stuff happens when there are too many portals around. If I actually go with the chocolate dragon hoard, I'll probably tie it into this as well.

But who is in charge of this place? Who created the various portals that lead to these worlds? As usual, I go to the stock excuse: a wizard did it. In honour of the originator of these ideas, I'm going to call him the Fisher of Worlds. I'm keeping his motivations unknown for now, even to myself, but I don't think he'll be much involved with the markets and shops. He has his own agenda in exploring these various places, and the confluence of other worlds is an unintentional side-effect.

The chaotic dwarves are a little too normal for this dungeon, but I'm picturing them as the original inhabitants of the place. The Black Star clan, since I feel the need to have a rationale for the dungeon's name. The Fisher probably enslaved them upon his arrival, and they remain as his servants, keeping the dungeons maintained and guarding his realm. Perhaps the markets were set up by enterprising dwarves, trying to make the best of their current situation and turn a profit?

The various teleport traps and tricks designed to mess with mappers will serve a double purpose. Firstly, they are there to stop intruders getting into the Fisher's quarters. They also lie between the world portals and the various shops, which is how the dwarves keep the peace. Only they know how to navigate the maze, and lead the traders back to their homeworlds. Anyone who causes trouble may never see their homes again.

That looks like a fairly solid dungeon to me. I won't be expanding it to become a megadungeon. I've already got Castles Greyhawk and Blackmoor to deal with, as well as the sizeable sample dungeon from OD&D. I'm thinking that this will be a three level dungeon. Level one will be the shops. Level two will be the menagerie, the tricks and traps, the dwarves and the Fisher of Worlds (this will probably involve some sub-levels). Level three will be where the portals are. Voila! Instant dungeon outline. Next time around I'll try to have some maps worked up, with a basic encounter key. It's cool to see this thing taking shape.

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