Saturday, March 3, 2018

Harvest of Doom! Part 1

The tower, the tunnels, the area, the robots


The PC's investigate a ruined farm in the heart of a famine-plagued land. This adventure location is presented in multiple installments.

Key mechanics

The Effort mechanic from the Index Card Role Playing Game makes the PC’s actions more meaningful and time-bound. The Effort required to do a deed equals its hearts; each heart is worth ten hit points. So, a one-heart lock requires ten hit points of lock-picking Effort before the lock pops open.
Effort is divided into basic, weapon, magic and ultimate, each aligned to a die type.   Basic effort, done through your hands and wits, uses a d4.  On a critical success,  you roll Ultimate Effort, adding an additional d12 to your effort total.  With this simple mechanic, opening, deciphering, climbing and so on are no longer binary tasks. Effort adds tension, timeliness and the dice-rolling fun of combat to everything the PC’s do. 


This stagnant bog was once verdant farmland.  Five living towers, surrounded by rice paddies, supplied the surrounding communities with fresh fish and produce.  During the Scream, the farm’s crop-enhancing nanites turned on the living things of the valley.  The facility’s few technicians and supervisors were instantly consumed by cancer; they became the living tumors that now haunt the ruin.  Most of the valley’s plant life burst into full flower and then collapsed under the weight of malignant growth.  All but one of the five living towers were destroyed; the remaining tower teeters on the edge of collapse.  Inside, the robots that tend the precious crops labor on, oblivious to the horrors that surround them.


  • An agency or enclave asks the PC’s to investigate rumors of a cache' of pre-tech seeds.
  • The PC’s discover a receiving depot. A tunnel leads from the depot, under the valley, to the farm’s underground shipping hub.
  • A contact has a pre-Scream holo-map of the valley which shows a rich, productive farm.  The map has zoom-in capability but cannot show what is inside the buildings or beneath the valley’s surface.
  • Famine necessitates exploration of places best avoided.

Surrounding Area

Target: 10

Bugs whir about, disturbing the air.  They bump and bite.  The rice paddies are in shambles: dry and cracking in some places, stagnant and scummy in others. An easy check (Scouting, Notice, Know: Nature) reveals a few leggy wild-growing rice plants. A success yields 1d4 rations worth of rice; a critical success yields 3d4. This rice is edible and remarkably hardy, but there is not enough to create a sizeable crop. It is worthy loot, but not the true treasure.

Tumorous trunks and stems jut from the muck.  Spur-ridden and misshapen bones lie ominously exposed, untouched by scavengers.  The terrain is difficult and tiring.  Malformed catfish lurk in the paddies, their furtive movements betrayed by quiet splashing.

In the center of the valley, the single remaining tower defies destruction.  Its visible framework resembles a giant tree made of impossibly thick, loosely-woven bamboo. Healthy looking plants sprout from its every surface. The ground floor has been ripped open by some long-gone fury, leaving a dangerous gap in the structure. Approaching the tower reveals more detail.  (If you can mash the two images below in your imagination and then put them in a ruined rice paddy, you've got it.)

Singapore's Super Trees

tower inspiration

  • At dawn and dusk, birds fly into and out of the tower. Some nest there; others are hunting.
  • Giant bees visit the tower as well.  Kite-sized butterflies flit about the upper reaches.
  • Spidery dog-sized robots crawl around the outside of the tower, spraying and pruning.
  • Did you hear that? It sounded like a goat.
  • Through the rip in the exterior, the PC's can see that the lower level of the tower is stacked high with crates.  Something bulbous and wrong is moving in the shadows.

Exterior encounters

Roll a d8 for each hour the PC’s spend searching the rice paddies.  After each encounter, cross it off the list . Encounters 2 and 8 are exceptions; these can be repeated or substituted for the unique encounters. Allow a check each hour to find more rice if the players ask for it, with the same target and results as above. All links below go to the 5e SRD.

  1. A ruined tracked farm vehicle is sunk into the mud.  In the cab is a nearly-unrecognizable tumorous skeleton.  Getting in the cab takes an easy strength roll and one heart's effort.  The skeleton has an ID badge.
  2.  A group of 1d4 stirges attacks.
  3. A shiny object flashes in the shallow water.  It is a data pad, with a farm inventory manifest and a map of the local farm-to-table vectors. The map can be used to navigate the supply tunnels and to find other ruins. This item accesses the farm’s systems and equipment with an Int roll. The farm data pad does magic effort when attempting to interface with the facility's resources. The pad is guarded by a swarm of quippers. A PC can snatch the data pad out quickly with a hard Dex roll. Failure means the swarm attacks for 1d10 damage.  Crit failure means the pad is lost in the attack.
  4. The tumorous skeleton of a bovine creature.
  5. A security drone.  It asks for ID; An ID card or the home screen of the data pad will satisfy it.  If no ID is forthcoming, the drone flies to tailing distance and calls out warnings while sending data to the tower.  This is loud and carries far; as long as the drone continues to admonish the party, Stealth checks are hard.
  6. A crashed ground car, sunk in a rice paddy.  Inside is a malformed skeleton with an ID card and a revolver with five bullets.  In the shallow water, a predatory mutant catfish (as a small reef shark, damage 5 (1d6+2)) attacks anyone who disturbs the car.  All attacks on the fish are hard.
  7. An otyugh has made a wallow in a rice paddy. Its sensory organ lays on the water's surface like a large rotting leaf, while the rest of the creature huddles under the surface.  The monster lures prey with images of fresh fish and clean water. Attacks on the otuygh are hard if it is in a paddy or its wallow.
  8. A technician, transformed into a living tumor, stalks the party.  It looks like a barely- recognizable, grossly obese naked humanoid whose face is covered by a ragged hazmat hood.  In a plastic pocket on the hood is an ID card. Treat the technician as a Black Pudding, including the split ability.  This creature is no longer human; it is a blasphemous ooze.  If playing Pugmire, any character who realizes this creature was once a human has disadvantage for the rest of the encounter.

That’s all for this week!  Tune in next week for the next installment of

Harvest of doom!

Design notes:

I rolled up this ruin using the table in The Sandbox #1.  Get it free at DTRPG!
Several of the group of ruins I rolled up gave "famine" as the cause of their ruination. When I rolled up a farm, and I had to ask why these places were in a famine when a farm was nearby.  I decided the infrastructure had somehow broken down, and that the people responsible for it had died.  In addition, the outlying areas are spooky, hard to traverse and stalked by monsters.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Cannibal Cave of the Suicide Cult!

Cannibal Cave of the Suicide Cult!
            This ruin is a short but potentially deadly dungeon crawl.  It is full of traps, secrets, cannibal dogs and fungus.  What a lovely day!
                I generated the basic idea using the ruin generator in Other Dust.  The Other Dust ruin generator has fewer variables than the generator in Sandbox #1 (example here), but it uses Kevin Crawford’s signature tag system to create depth and possibility.  It’s more geared to the Stars Without Number setting where Other Dust takes place, but it’s easy enough to reskin for other settings, including Pugmire.
                The results for the rolls were: Location: sinister caverns; Cause for ruination: madness; Current occupants: cannibals; Tags: Secret Base, Abandoned Traps.  The tags are quick notations that include short lists of possible Enemies, Friends, Things, Complications and Places.  For example, the Abandoned Traps Enemies entry includes Mad trapsmith survivalist, Creatures that float or fly above the snares, and Dormant security bots.  These lists can be used to inspire, or you can select items and plug them into adventure seeds included in Other Dust.  Adventure seeds look like this: A Friend has left a Thing in a Place.  An Enemy is trying to claim it for her own.  You can plug the tags into the seeds for various locations and get a huge variety of adventure hooks that tie directly into locations.  It’s a handy system for creating a rich, living sandbox.  Most of the mechanical ideas presented here are from the Index Card Role Playing game, which I cannot recommend enough.  It’s a fast, simple system for building compelling action stories that leaves plenty of room left over for heroism, drama or whatever kind of role playing your group prefers.
The original Cult
A Nordic supremacy fire cult tried to initiate Ragnarok through ritual self-immolation. The walls of the cavern are inscribed with runes and other cult symbols. In their meeting hall is a small library of books and journals about the Norse occult and other Nordic supremacy concerns.  The cult kept supplies both ritual and material in these caverns and guarded their secrets with traps.
The Current Occupants
                A strange fungus has overtaken the ruin.  It covers the walls, obscuring the runes and symbols and making the rocky floors treacherous and slippery. (If you’re feeling really nasty, any attempt to climb, run or otherwise move using the slippery surfaces of the ruin for traction is at disadvantage.) A musty smell hangs in the air.  The fungus uses sentient creatures as agents to fetch nutrition; these are the zombie cannibals that inhabit the ruin.  They raid the surrounding area periodically to abduct travelers, loners, and derelicts to feed the fungus.  The victims serve as agents until they are totally consumed by the fungus.
                The fungus can change how the characters are able to rest.  If the players take a short rest in the ruin, they must make Con saves.  If they fail, they are infected with the fungus.  Magical healing, a successful Heal or Medicine check, or fire kills the infection immediately, but the characters are always susceptible to the fungus.  Anyone who takes a long rest in the ruin is automatically infected.  Anyone who is infected has 1d4 days before they are completely zombified by the fungus.  Tell the players when you use this timer what will happen; it’s terrible but fair, and it will create an urgent problem for them to solve. The fungus isn’t hard to cure, but it’s quick and the effects are irreversible.  It will eat up resources quickly.
                This would also be a great location for a yellow musk creeper, if the fungus thing doesn’t float your boat.

Map and Key
All checks, saves and other rolls are dC 15. Hard rolls are dc 18 and easy rolls are dc 12, per ICRPG (check it out.  Srsly.)

  1.   Entrance:  This is a metal door set into a rock face.  It was better concealed at one time; now it’s rusting and barely hanging on its hinges. Make a Dex check when opening; failure means it falls and clangs.  Crit failure alerts the zombies in area 4 so they cannot be surprised.
  2. Bunker:  Bunker is barely visible, requiring a Notice roll to find.  Crit failure means zombies are alerted and present in Workshop.  The door to the bunker is an easy lock. Crit failure breaks the lock; crit success earns the picker advantage on their next lock pick attempt because they learned something. Inside is the intake for a broken air filtration system.  The fungus is growing around the intake ports. On the floor inside is a trap door, opening onto a metal spiral stair.  The stair is electrified, doing 1d10 damage to anyone who touches it.  Dex save for half damage, but climbing the down stairs assures two shocks. The stairs can be shorted; doing so ruins the power cells in the workshop.
  3. Tunnel: The long, dark, winding tunnel eats up light and time.  1 in six chance of being surprised by a zombie
  4.  False Supply room:  This room opens into a sizeable chamber, with supply crates and barrels scattered about the perimeter.  These are rusted, covered in fungus, and trapped.  If the PC’s check them for traps, they find 1d4 concussion grenades.  If they are not successful in making the checks or don’t bother, they set off the grenades which do 1d10 damage (Dex save for half) and push them ten feet towards the pit in the middle of the room, into the pit. There are two zombies hiding in the natural alcove in the south end of the chamber who will rush the PC’s and attempt to shove them into the pit as well.  Ten feet down in the pit, near the water line, is a field emitter which creates a plane of energy parallel to the water.  This is a portal to the cage in the spring cave, which contains the sister emitter.  (Together these portal emitters comprise a relic.) Anything that falls into the pit disappears and reappears in the cage.  If the PC’s manage to detect and disable the emitter before they fall into the pit, they find that the walls of the pit are Hard to climb, being covered in slippery fungus. Along the side of the pit near the water line is a cave tunnel that leads to the spring room.On the opposite side from the zombie alcove is a carved alcove (easy to spot; DC 12) which contains four black robes with a white rune embroidered on the left breast.  Wearing these robes allows wearers to bypass the traps in the ruin, including the portal in the pit.  One the robes has a prosthetic link hanging with it. (This basically works like a Google glass, but the augmented reality it accessed is mostly disrupted or destroyed.  It can be used as a two-way radio with another link holder, and it can be a great device for giving extra information on critical successes.)  On the floor is a dusty hygiene kit.
  5. Escape cache: In the tunnel between the workshop and the store room one of the cultists hid a rotting bugout bag containing one Type A power cell, two Old Terran rations, a TL 4 bedroll, and a Navcomp. Use the ruin target (15) to spot.
  6. Supply room: This room can be approached two ways.  The way from the main tunnel is protected with a force field emitter; it can be bypassed by characters wearing the runic robes, by interacting with its interface with a prosthetic link or by making a successful Hard Know Arcana and Steal checks.  The same character does not have to make both checks. The other entrance to the store room is through the tunnel from the workshop. Anyone who comes through either way is targeted by a small laser turret located on the top tier of natural dais (+3, d10 damage).  Once activated the turret continues to attack once per round until it is destroyed or the room is empty of living creatures.  The turret will target zombies in this are as well as PC’s. If the turret is destroyed on a critical, 1d2 TL 3 spare parts can be retrieved in its wreckage.On the dais tier just below the turret is a locker containing 11 Old Terran rations and a smaller box containing 1 unit of TL 3 spare parts and three Type A power cells.
  7. Meeting hall: This room is located behind a secret door concealed by a small shrine to Odin (a rotting flag hung above a candle-flanked silver bowl containing two crow feathers).  The characters can discern the concealed door with a Notice or Stealing check, or by examining the inexpertly installed ductwork and power cables.The cult used the plasma chisel to shape the hall into an elongated octagon.  Solid benches and an altar on a dais have been carved into the living stone.  Moldy, flickering holo-tapestries and ragged flags hang from the walls.  Plasma-carved into the wall is a book shelf.  On the shelf are several books about Nordic occult concerns, political ideology, and a journal full of screed and venom.  These are not in a language that the PC’s know, but they could provide advantage on Know: History rolls or attempts to decode the runes. Any critical success on these rolls proves distressing to dogs; they discover some truth about the fallibility and pettiness of Man.  Dogs exposed to this knowledge must make a Cha save or be at a disadvantage for all Charisma and Wisdom based saves and checks until they take a long rest.  However, dogs who use this knowledge in any way to connect to their community, engage with others constructively or grow personally will gain a permanent +1 increase to Charisma or Wisdom.The runes and diagrams are all dedicated to Nordic ideals, mythology and magic.  They have little relevance to the world outside the ruin, unless the GM decides otherwise.  (In fact, the nature of the cult is up to the GM as well.  There’s nothing about the location that makes a cultural supremacy cult necessary.)
  8. Sinkhole: This slippery-sided sinkhole drops into the spring chamber.  Climbing down is a hard check.  The fall does 1d6 damage.
  9. Spring: The water in this chamber is calf-deep and very cold.  It feeds the pools below the false store room and the sinkhole and the stream that cuts through the immolation chamber.  In the one end of the chamber sits a large cage, big enough to hold the PC’s.  A field emitter sits on top of the cage, completing the portal in the false store room. Anyone who falls into the pit there is dumped into the cage, taking 1d10 from the fall and the portal itself, which is not meant to transport living things without regular, meticulous calibration.  The cage is rusty and corroded, especially at the water line.When the PC’s appear in the cage, the cave contains as many zombies as there are PC’s plus one. Roll a d4. The PC’s have that many rounds to prepare, escape, or make ranged attacks before the zombies break through the bars and attack them. (It is also the number of round it takes the PC’s to break out of the cage, should they choose to do so.  Let them figure that out.) Each round that the fight continues, roll a d4; that many zombies appear.  Once a turn ends with no zombies standing, the fight is over and no more random zombies appear in the room.
  10. Immolation chamber.  This high-ceilinged natural cave can be accessed either through the tunnel that opens onto the sloping path leading down to the floor or through the tunnel that leads from the spring room to rock face below the path.  A stream flows from the spring through center of the room via the tunnel opening.  Several large stalagmites jut from the floor and stalactites cover the ceiling.  The walls are carved heavily with cult symbols: Runes, black suns, and runic wheels.  At the far end of the chamber is a stone altar, blackened and partially melted by some horrible conflagration.  Evidence of fiery destruction radiates some three meters around the altar, and strange shadows seem burnt into the cavern walls. Characters who search find burnt a few small blackened bone fragments teeth; these are relics of the Old Ones. At the base of the natural ramps that surround the rock face, two empty robes are lying on the ground: two black and one a shimmering white.  The black robes are identical to the robes in the false supply room.  The white robe belonged to the cult leader; it reveals the skeleton of the wearer, yellowed with age. The negative space surrounding the skeleton is filled with dark soil, with worms and beetles burrowing about.  The robe contains a highly sophisticated medical diagnosis algorithm that has been modified to match the cult’s aesthetic.  The diagnosis routines can be accessed via a prosthetic link.  This robe counts as a Relic.
A cannibal demon (CR 5) is living in this area. If you need to lower the challenge, the demon has been infected by the fungus which has weakened it (lower hit points, lower AC from fugal damage to hide, etc.)  If you decide the demon knows about the cult’s origins and activities, you can use that knowledge to torment the dogs.  The demon can harangue the dogs as an attack.  This acts just like the Confusion spell, in addition to having the same short- and long-term effects as reading the books in the meeting hall.  A harangue also attracts 1d4 zombies to the immolation room.  The cannibal demon is carrying a plastic figurine.

The PC’s have several reasons to investigate this ruin.

  1.           It’s a ruin.  Everybody loves a good ruin.
  2.          There are rumors of an artifact in the ruin.  It is a matter transporter which the cult used as trap component.  The GM can mete out as much information about the transporter as will entice the players.
  3.          There is a cannibal infestation that needs to be cleared out. This can include a rescue.

Thought: Only pre-tech items (TL 5) are considered “relics”.  All other salvage is common enough to be of no real status value in Pugmire.