Five Torches Deep, Underground Heritages

I wrote a blog post about underground cities and decided to make Five Torches Deep ancestries, inspired by their Origins supplement. I’ll paste the cities below if you don’t want to click the link.

Life in the Underdeeps is complicated. Inter-marriage, adoption and all manner of family and clan relationships lead to people being raised in a culture that one might not expect by looking at them. Talk about it with the table and go for it.

These cities are listed from the closest to the surface to the deepest beneath the earth.

Cities 1-3 are in the Overdark, a cold and dank area where the surface dwellers often feel the most comfortable.

Cities 4-8 are in the Underdark Proper, with tunnel highways that are home to bison-sized mushroom-beasts and heated by lava.

City 9 is in a hollow earth jungle, heated by an Illithid-made sun.

City 10 is in the Underdeep, said to be so far underground that planar travel occurs when going that deep and underworlds are easier to contact.

1

Culicid: a castle town ruled by a vampire, a veteran of the war and self-styled duchess. She takes blood from thralls taken from the surface, as Culicid is a major stopping point for the Drow’s thrall-trade. Culicid has the largest population of free humans beneath the surface, policed by the duchess’ immortal children.

Exports: bio-luminescent mushrooms, messenger bats, goats


2

Xenosh T’allotha: In Drow this means, All-Mother’s First Rest, as it is the first place the Drow stopped to rest during the exodus from the skylands.  It is a small town, really a village built around a series of wells and underground waterfalls that has grown out into the tunnels that lead to it.

Exports: Religious artifacts, Riding spiders, Monk bodyguards


3

Anvil: The decrepit holdfast that houses the dwarves who sided with the underground armies. It is ruled by a council of petty dwarven princes who have been trying to elect a High King since the war ended. Some whisper that outside political pressure has thwarted this process.

Exports: Mead, dwarf-made weapons and armor, dwarf-cut gems


4

Titan: The Githyanki fortress city built from the buried fossil of a forgotten lizard demi-god is watched closely by the Drow matriarchs. The Githyanki were allowed to keep control of this city after their attempted coup under the watchful eye of a powerful Drow priestess, along with sending hostages to Endë-Osto and their sleeping red dragons were hidden from them.

Exports: Dream-walkers, Swords-for-hire, Warlocks-for-hire, Domesticated Umber Hulks


5

Quaggothan: More of a meeting place or a camp site than a proper city, this is the ancient site where the Quaggoth elders live out the last days of their life when they can no longer follow the mushroom herds. It is ruled by a Drow-appointed governor who oversees the trading and make sure the Quaggoth feuding never gets out of hand. Merchant caravans always stop here to trade their foods and it has become a hub of trade and news.

Exports: Mushroom bison meat, odd artifacts the Quaggoth unearth in their travels


6

Kitji-Naal: Two cities divided by an underground river and ruled by twin matriarchs who rarely meet, but communicate via magical mirrors. The city is the largest and most populated city in the underdark; its politics are a convoluted mess of ancient feuds, assassin’s knives and inter-House warfare.

Exports: Poisons, Assassins-for-hire, spider-silk, books


7

Sclera: A dank, and dangerous city ruled by feuding gangs of Beholders – each with its own Eye-cult. This is the city with the highest human population in this layer of the underdark. It also boasts the underdark’s only public temple to Asmodeus, the Devil-God.

Exports: Scrying, mirrors, spies, indentured-devils


8

Eämbar: A newly founded city that is a port, connected to the ocean by a series of complicated crystal locks that link Eämbar to the ocean’s crushing depths. All manner of undersea sentient can been seen on the city streets, sometimes in specially made tanks of water pushed by servants.

The matriarch is the youngest to ever hold the title and the most renowned swords-Drow in the underdark.

Exports: Fish, undersea crafts, spider-silk crystal


9

Endë-Osto: The deepest city of the Drow and the Drow capital, is ruled by the eldest matriarch whose throne is said to float weightless in the center of the earth. Her queensguard is made of the most cunning of the drow sword-maidens, who ride dinosaur steeds bred for battle. The city is in a hollow-earth with a bruise-purple sun, said to have been created at the height of the Illithid Empire.

Exports: vegetables, dinosaur steeds and ranger-guides


10

Svinifrilijihirim: Despite Endë-Osto being at the center of the world, this Gnomish city is still somehow deeper, due to a trick of planar geometry. The city, often called Deeptown for short, is home to a powerful ward, created to keep a Pit Fiend in the uninhabited darkest depths. The Pit Fiendwas unleashed by the skylanders into the underdark during the War, has destroyed a Drow city single-handedly.

Deeptown is home to a powerful council of wizards and it is a great city for finding tutoring or for apprenticing one’s self to any of the Schools of Magic. It does boast the underdark’s only Bard College that is home to one of the finest libraries in the underdark, rivaled only by Kitji-Naal and Endë-Osto.

Exports: Wizards-for-hire, Bards-for-hire, magic items, alien gems, gates to other worlds, spell components


And once you’re done and you want to make the place a political mess – A Web of Cities.

If you liked the writing above you might like one of my pdf’s with more than a dozen pages of inspirational tables…

https://www.dmsguild.com/browse.php?author=Judd%20Karlman

So, you’ve hit 0 Hit Points with special Guest-Star, Asmodeus

Noticed the max HP on the Stonetop character sheets is 16 hit points, found that amusing and it started a conversation with a friend about death mechanics in RPG’s. He shared a few of his favorites along with his thoughts and then I had a template so I decided to stat up an arch-fiend.

What is keeping this character alive? Raw will? Love of comrades? Something more fell and dark? If you can’t think of anything that would keep them going, then they are dead. We will toast their bravery later.
 Tell your friends at the table what is keeping this character going and check off one skull below. Each skull can be checked once in the existence of a character.
 A greater power has sent you back for a purpose.

 You have been dealt a grevous wound and will perish without a healer’s touch in 1d6 days. Make a Con check every time you try to do anything.

 Death is coming for you. Roll a 1d6 at the start and end of every session. Rolling a 1 means an avatar of Death comes seeking your soul. +1d6 if you did any of the following this session: 
 + Entered the Temple of a Death Deity
 + Gained a Level
 + Killed (don’t count the kills)

 This is your last stand. When this battle ends, so does your life. The Referee will roll 1d20 for every hit die your character possesses; that is how many rounds you have left. The roll can be secret or out in the open; your choice. 
 While you yet live, you can either take Advantage for a roll that round or inspire another to take Advantage that around.









Shit, now I need to stat out a Death Avatar, don’t I?

And then I got on a roll, so I decided to stat up Asmoedeus for 5 Torches Deep and then I needed to stat up Pit Fiends…so…

I like the process of statting up monsters for 5 Torches Deep; it is about cutting out the things that aren’t key to the concept.

These designs and more in the Tabletop Role-Playing Games collection…

https://shopofjudd.threadless.com/collections/tabletop-role-playing-games

Feuding Gods in the Portal City of Xaos

I grabbed my tables and rolled some dice.

Water

Huh, Limbo.

Feuding Gods…now we’re talking.

I wrote down Water, Chaos of Limbo, Feuding Deities. I wrote down Lake Monastery and crossed it out. Then I thought about it a while and got excited about Xaos, the Portal City between the Outlands and Limbo. In the process of thinking about that, I forgot about the water aspect of this roll, which is just fine.

In the end, the players had to head to Xaos, a Portal City on the edge of the Outlands to end a God-Feud that was ripping the town apart.

  • Feuding Gods
  • Elemental Chaos
  • Githzerai Monks
  • Chaos Worshippers on Pilgrimage to look upon Limbo

Alright, let’s put these pieces together.

Taking a cue from Trophy Gold Incursions I’m going to break the Portal Town into sets. This is helpful to me because structure is helpful, especially with an idea as big as Gods Feuding in a Portal Town between the Outlands and the Elemental Plane of Chaos.

Front Gate, Portal Platform, Bell-Tower, Shrine-Town

Front Gate is built under a cyclopean statue of the ancient hero-saint Gith, cross-legged, meditating upon a sword, a broken chain and the elements.

  • Crow’s Cages
  • Githzerai Guards

Portal Platform has Githzerai with long polearms to keep out any chaos monsters that might spill forth from the gate. They are milling about but always with one eye on the portal, ready to spring into action.

  • Chaos Pilgrims
  • Githzerai Monks

The Bell-Tower is where the Abbot of the monastery lives and studies. The bell is only rung when something comes through the gate.

  • The Abbot’s Library – lots of planar theory about law and chaos, meditations on hierarchy, why the fist is more potent to the sword, martial arts manuals
  • The Bell of Chains – yes, it is made of melted chains from their days as Illithid Thralls.

Shrine-town is a ramshackle town where the chaos pilgrims stay.

  • The Eight-Pointed Star is the lone inn with shrines to Arioch and other Chaos Saints.
  • Squats – none really own land here, folks stay in the shacks here for as long as they need to and move on when they are ready.

One of my favorite parts of Trophy Gold adventure’s format is moments. Little things for the players to see, little things for the GM to say when there is a lull.

Front Gate Moments

Crow caged prisoner asks for water (Githyanki, Illithid and one other. to be determined at the moment or randomly..)

Monk meditates on four elements rotating around his head, changing the nature of each; she will talk about nature of the planes if folks want to chat about philosophy

Portal Platform Moments

Guards tell anyone coming too close to be careful but don’t hold anyone back CHAOS REIGNS

Chaos Pilgrims look upon the Chaos of Limbo, weeping on their knees

Fallen Paladin looking upon chaos; he came here to throw his broken sword into Limbo itself

The Bell-Tower Moments

The Abbot meditating upon the nature of lava.

The room, silent and inviting, only a sleeping crystal bat and Limbo’s portal lighting your way.

Shrine-town Moments

Chaos pilgrims debating hierarchies and their place in Law and Chaos…

But what do they DO?

They track down gods.

During the first session I had 3 player characters, so I based the gods roughly and loosely on them.

The Bandit God, The Hanged Man, the Road Agent

  • Escape, Ambush, Criminal Recruitment

The Sorcerer God, the Wizard-Toad, The Blesser of Towers

  • Spells, Lore, Towers

The Elder Ring, Dryad Crone, The Holy Willow

  • Roots, Seeds, Secrets

The first game was travel and getting used to the area. The second game I started with a bang. The Bandit God mugged one of the players at knifepoint while the kids of the town were watching a puppet show about Gith liberating her people from the cruel Illithid.

I decided the gods were weak and had trouble healing. They’d have 4d10 hit points and powers that went with their spheres of influences.

The Toad-Wizard-God tossed an acidic mist spell into the plaza, trying to kill the Bandit God and a brutal battle followed. I liked it. I haven’t run a good D&D combat in a long while and this one was fun.

At the end of the game, the players were gathered around Trundle as he tried to destroy the stone that had done the first murder in the gods’ dead world. It was a brutal death artifact. The Elder Ring approached. I rolled an encounter table and rolled a 10 – considers offers/leaves. She was not willing to jump them; they were right in front of the portal to Limbo. She asked them to give the stone to her. They refused.

She nodded and walked away.

On the Bingo XP table, I covered, Players make an enemy and told them I did so. There’s an angry tree goddess from a dead world pissed at them.

Cool.

Next game the players are heading to a party in Faery. Dark Powers are afoot. I won’t tell you what I rolled but I’ll post the notes just like this once I’m done.

Should be fun.

If you liked the blog post above you might like the pdf linked below with inspirational tables to support a DM running a Githyanki Invasion.

Not Random but Inspirational

The players are an Outland Exhibition Team (O.E.T.) operating out of Sigil. O.E.T.’s are city-funded adventuring parties that head out into the Outlands and restore balance to situations that arise there. When they return they sit down with the community where they live and discuss the philosophical and moral implications of their choices.

“I just want to point out that outsiders entering a community to restore some idea of balance is colonial nonsense that is harmful to the world.”

“Do you attend every O.E.T. community discussion to say this?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Fair enough. So noted…”

I rolled up the adventure and mapped out an outline using the Trophy Gold incursion structure (more on that in a future blog post). The players were heading to Xaos, Portal City between the Outlands and the Ever-changing Chaos of Limbo to stop a god-feud happening there. Gods from a dead Prime Material World were feuding and causing problems.

I decided that there was a rival group of assassins known as the God-killers on their way to Xaos to kill the feuding gods. I wasn’t sure of much else about them. Would they get there first or show up later to heighten the tension? Not sure.

I rolled on the Encounter Table for their first day of travel.

Lost Souls…Dead Adventurers. I think my encounter just told me that the God-killers are dead.

INTERESTING. I did not see that coming.

The gods heard about them and panicked. They set aside their differences for a bit, made sure they were killed and then went back to their in-fighting. If the players find out that they set aside their differences once, they can figure out how to get them to do it again.

It also was a nice way of giving an info dump because assassins who call themselves the God-killers definitely did their homework.

One of the God-killers was a Tiefling and asked Kuru the Halfling Thief to burn some incense at the shrine to Asmodeus back in Sigil. Love it.

For the next day, I rolled a 12.

DRAGON. Whoa.

On the third d6 I got a 6. The dragon is taking treasure. Cool. But from who? I rolled again. I could’ve chosen but I was curious to see what the table would say.

Merchants. Makes sense. More simple than a dragon mugging an angel but sometimes simple is good.

I described the players arriving to a one-inn town with a merchant caravan leaving as a thunderstorm began. The players noticed right away and asked the inn-keeper why they were leaving into a storm. She told them that the caravan had a delivery that was time sensitive (what was that about? I’m still not sure and I’m not sure I ever will be) and so they left despite her warnings. She said that the storm wasn’t natural and they were leaving into doomful circumstances.

The next morning as the players were leaving, lightning-scorched survivors from the caravan were in the common room, talking about how they survived a dragon attack the night before. The blue dragon had attacked the caravan and pillaged its treasures before flying away.

I decided the rest of the journey went by without a hitch. I roll every day or two of travel.

Why did I roll these encounters? There weren’t any fights.

That is okay. Friendly and neutral encounters are fine. We’re into our third session. It fleshes out the world. I get to learn about what the characters are like.

The players could’ve gone after the caravan and talked them into staying. They could’ve decided to hunt the blue dragon. For now it is just color.

Sometimes I roll. Sometimes I choose. Sometimes they players sprint headlong into a brewing situation that has nothing to do with the oncoming adventure. Sometimes they hang back and smoke a pipe in the rain, under the eaves of the inn. Sometimes the players’ actions make something on (or off) the table obvious, so the encounter for that day is taken care of. Sometimes they get the jump on the encounter and other times they encounter will get the jump on them. It all depends on the circumstances and what the fiction demands.

I’m not calling them random encounter tables anymore. They’re Inspirational Encounter Tables.

I wrote up 2 pdf’s with Inspirational Tables in them. Please check out Silver Swords of the Lich Queen or Raven Queen vs. the Ghoul King to see more.

https://www.dmsguild.com/browse.php?author=Judd%20Karlman

Back in Sigil

What is happening?

After 4 hours of play we’ve got one level. They decided to give it to Bugwump, the frog-kin wizard, whose spell slinging was key to the group’s success in their first job in Keymont.

On their way back to Sigil, I rolled Godless Pilgrims. I decided they were refugees from a dead world, killed by warring gods. They had hired holy knights from the Outlands to guard them on the last leg of their journey. I rolled Ioun, so they were arcane knights. When the thief, looking for an opportunity for another score, asked how they had paid for these leal bodyguards I said that they had done so by giving books from their world, the last of their kind.

The corpseflea is a neat option from the Five Torches Deep Origins supplement. It is a death cleric and is helping the pilgrims to say last rites over their world, first talking to them about their world. “How do you say last rites over a world?” is one of the coolest things I’ve gotten to say while gaming in a long time.

The group met when they were all sentenced to the Labyrinth. Now they are an Outlands Expedition Team, officially sanctioned by the Lady of Pain, heading out to deal with imbalances that crop up around the Outlands. We’ve been using some flashbacks to strange things that happened while in the Labyrinth.

“I remember when we got attacked by that Bear back in the Labyrinth and Trundle talked the beast down. Trundle should talk to the town.”

How is the Bingo XP Variant?

I like it. It is a little slow so far but I think it’ll speed up with a few levels all in a jump. When bingo is called, I’m keeping any chips that are in another line that is in motion already.

I like it and like coming up with new ideas for bingo squares with the group. I wonder if the XP will speed up as we get better at coming up with them.

Having the jamboard where I keep the bingo card also be where we keep character art and NPC names might help us all interact with it more.

Planescape

It is coming together as we make it our own. Next game will be our first full session in Sigil. We’ll carouse for three days and then have a community discussion about the expedition to the Outlands. I want that philosophical vibe that the original Planescape boxed set promised. Essentially, that’ll happen by the community that hosts the O.E.T. (Outlands Expedition Team) gathering to discuss the morality of their decisions in an open forum. Discussion

And then we’ll pick the next expedition.

Mechanics

Five Torches Deep is a fun and fast D&D variant. If I had to run D&D, it is what I’d use, without a doubt.

I’m using Moldvay reaction table with Charisma adding to the roll when it makes sense to do so. I’d imagine the way I’m using the proficiency checks is very Apocalypse World-y. When the halfling wanted to know more about the knights guarding the pilgrim, I asked the player to roll a Charisma check to see what they noticed. When they rolled successfully, I told them to ask questions about what they wanted to notice during the interactions and I’d answer them.

Need to be careful about that, don’t want those cool questions to get in the way of players questions should be asking all of the time.

I realize now I’m using stats as different types of perception, rather than just using Wisdom. Charisma as a kind of social perception? I dunno. Hm, we’ll have to discuss that and make some decisions together.

Who?

I’ll go over the characters in the next post-game AP post. It is an odd group but I don’t have trouble finding the humanity in them and I dig that.


https://shopofjudd.threadless.com/collections/tabletop-role-playing-games

This design and more in the

TTRPG Collection.

0 Hit Point Options

After a year of playing Trophy Gold and loving it I’m now playing Five Torches Deep so I can tinker with some houserules. This is all making me look at old notes for a D&D hack that I began in my daily notebook on subway train commutes into the Bronx. Old Google Docs are being opened with cryptic nicknames. Odd ideas are percolating in my brain as I fiddle with random encounter tables and Bingo XP Variants.

This all has me thinking, what happens when you hit 0 Hit Points?

To me, Hit Points are not a health meter. Let’s think of them more as your thread in the tapestry of fate. What happens when you thread is cut?

Ghost

Maybe you don’t want to roll up a new character just yet and don’t want to play as a hireling. Cool. Taking a cue from Circle of Hands, you are a ghost. You get a d6 per level+1 that you can hand to you characters to add to their rolls or maybe a d6 per level of Wisdom Bonus. You get to be a helpful spectre for a while. When you run out of d6’s, your time in this mortal world is done and you say your good-bye as you fade into the Quietlands.

Deaths Incarnate

Death is administrated by sapient beings. The Incarnation of Death you bring to the table is determined by how powerful you were.

What rules does Death go by in your world? Driven away by silver? Daggers made of those pennies people put on corpse’s eyes to pay the ferryman? Fire?

Not sure what death looks like? Ask the player what death looks like in their character’s home culture. Last time I did that I got a regal Game of Thrones-style ice zombie riding a polar bear.

If your comrades drive off death, you reroll your physical stats and your hit points to see how undeath is treating you. You are a monster now.

Your Jenga Tower Has Fallen

Taking inspiration from Dread, when you hit 0 hit points, at some point you are going to die. The player decides but every time you roll the dice you ask the table, “Have I pushed it too far? Do I die right now as I attempt to complete this task?”

If anyone says that your character perishes – they perish. Their thread is cut, one cannot rewrite time’s tapestry. It is too late.

What else?

What other options do you have when a character falls? What do you do in that time between the Death and the Wake?


Skull header from the British Library’s flickr page.

Check out this design and more in the Tabletop Role-Playing Game collection…

https://shopofjudd.threadless.com/collections/tabletop-role-playing-games

D and D-ish

I’ve got this Bingo XP variant that I’d like to test and thinking about how I’d like to interact with D&D. Homebrew? Hack? House-rule? Hack always sound harsh.

How about…

D&D-ish in metallic letters over a breastplate.

I’m taking Five Torches Deep and their Origins supplement, tossing them in a cauldron, fire stoked to high temperature. I’m dusting off that old Planescape idea. I’m not interested in grabbing old Planescape pdf’s. Nah, it’ll be what I remember and what we make up together as we go. We’ll add Planescape to taste.

I’m keeping that old Outlands map, though. That thing is cool.

Map of the Outlands by Todd Gamble, I think.

If you walk far enough in one direction, you can reach heaven or hell. If we need inspiration for a plane we’ll look at those strange 3 sentence poem descriptions in the 3rd Edition Manual of the Planes.

The Astral Plane – It is the space between everything. It is the road that goes everywhere. It is where you are when you aren’t anywhere else.

Manual of the Planes by Jeff Grubb, Bruce R. Cordell and David Noonan

The Outlands is where I’d like the adventures to happen but I do love Sigil, the city at the center of all things, a philosophical, godless place ruled by the mysterious and powerful Lady of Pain. Sigil is where downtime happens. There’s no gold to be earned there. In the city, onle adventurers and wanderers have wealth. Everyone else gets by on barter and penny-keys for trading. No central government, lots of little city councils with Byzantine relationships.


Speaking of Manual of the Planes, Jason Cordoba said the AD&D Manual of the Planes is one of his favorite books. I should peek at that for inspiration. And speaking of Jason, what from my past year of playing Trophy Gold is going to make it into this stew?

A silly thing I made to play with Affinity. The real cover to Trophy Gold will be WAY prettier than this.

I’ll probably bring the incursion format with me. As a librarian the bestiary brings me joy, a tome full of important information that outlives all of the treasure-hunters, binds them together across time.

Devil’s Bargains? I’m imagining someone casting a spell like, I dunno, Dragon’s Breath and needing more damage – offering them another d6 of damage for every 5 hit points they are willing to sacrifice but they will take another point of damage for every 1 they roll.

Bring it all to a boil at the table, see how it tastes.


Thinking about when and how to bring in notes for spell books from an old D&D hack’s notes.

  • Hidden Cache of Scrolls from the Mage Wars
  • Gifts from the Fae Queen
  • Wizard’s Guild Journeyman Archives
  • Olde Queen’s Druidaria
  • Fiendlands Relics
  • Black Market Imperial Cantrips
  • Lake Country Family Illusions
  • Elemental Artifacts
  • Copies of the Arch-Mage’s Great Works

Vague notes about becoming a deity and using levels for something other than your character, using them to build something concrete in the world, a nod to Crew XP from Forged in the Dark.

I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, let’s gather a few strange city-folk leaving Sigil, heading into the Outlands to deal with an imbalance, hoping to earn their fortunes and balance the scales of the universe, like trying to change the course of an ocean by throwing a stone in a pond.


Art

The Ampersand was grabbed from the British Library flickr page.

Lovely armor is a picture by Nick Shuliahin

Outlands map is by Todd Gamble