Walled Mounds of the Hive Caller (Part 1)
About a year and a half ago, Paul made a series of posts on his blog going through his process of designing a dungeon inspired by random rolls (which would end up being the basis for R.A. Salvatore Presents: The Vile Crypt of the Reawakened Sisterhood). On a whim, I thought it'd be fun to try going through a similar process for myself. Unfortunately, I couldn't get Paul's geomorph painter to work for me, so I'll have to come up with an alternate method for generating a map.
Fortunately, I did have access to Matt Finch's adventure design tables (via the Tome of Adventure Design), so I could at least start with taking inspiration from there to come up with the concept. I rolled on Table 1-1A and Table 1-2A combined via d200 and got: Silent Cathedral of the Elephant Frog.
...what is it with batrachian worship showing up so much in OSR products? I understand Temple of the Frog (from Supplement II: Blackmoor) was basically the first published D&D adventure, and frog imagery comes up in some pulp weird fantasy (primarily C.A. Smith's work, as far as I know), and it's purely a coincidence that I purchased DCC #77: The Croaking Fane recently, but enough is enough.
Another set of d200 rolls provided: Walled Mounds of the Hive Caller.
Alright, I'm liking this a lot more. It's giving me an immediate mental image of something like a termite mound or wasp nest, with more purposeful fortifications, possibly installed after a hostile take-over by whoever has control of it now. The table entry is plural by default, but I'm leaning in favor of a multi-level map, probably with a relatively expansive "ground" floor that has multiple entrances, then a couple of smaller levels both above and below it. In fact, maybe it's actually being fought over now, with the original occupants holding the upper levels and a hostile invader coming in from below.
Well, let me not get too far ahead of myself. I can let those ideas tumble in the back of my mind while I find out what's actually in this place. Flipping ahead to Table 2-1 to pick a monster category gave: Plant.
Not what I was expecting, but D&D does tend to be light on plant monsters aside from fungi and molds, so it could be a chance to see something unexpected. I happen to be a fan of the Horde of Alien Locusts trope, at least when it comes to examples like Tyranids and Zerg where there are masses of minions controlled by an intelligent hive mind, so trying to flip that around to work with plants instead of insectoids could be interesting. Rolling on Tables 2-59 through 2-62 gave the basic form of hanging moss that moves by levitation, enfolds victims to incorporate them into its own body, and reproduces by injecting seeds into small animals. Very creepy, and the last two details not only go together well (maybe it has large pores in its digestive structure that allow small vermin and birds to brush against seed clusters as they slip free while larger victims are trapped and digested) but also feed into the image of the plants taking over ambulatory bodies (such as whoever built the mound) for more complex physical tasks.
For the sake of some more variety in my randomness, though, I decided to also take a dive into the Random Esoteric Creature Generator (RECG). Running through those tables gave me a large quadruped sundew with transparent oozing sores and boiling/steaming wings (yes, I got "combine two distinctive features" twice). I'm imagining "quadruped" can refer to it having a shallow sprawling root structure as opposed to actual legs, the transparent ooze is the mucus/resin/sap on its tentacles to trap prey, and the wings can refer to the main body of its leaves being capable of riding on air currents (perhaps the roots disengage when they sense they've depleted the nutrients in an area of soil), with its internal digestive processes generating heat in its ooze to make it especially dangerous. A quick roll on the 2d100 special abilities table gave "The creature can create light, as per the spell", which is just perfect for a plant that requires high levels of sunlight in the real world now surviving in a walled mound; instead of needing light for photosynthesis, it generates light to draw in prey with the nutrients it needs.
I've got two very interesting ideas for plant monsters now, and going back to what I said a moment ago about the mound being fought over, maybe the two are clashing for control of the mound. The moss took over the original inhabitants by spreading from deeper within the earth, and the sundew flew in from above. At first, the moss seems like a simple trap monster (along the lines of green slime), but giving it levitation and the ability to take over large bodies makes it a dynamic threat in tactical combat. The sundew is rather stationary, though (I don't imagine its flight being very fast or controlled), so I can play into actual sundew luring in insects via attractive scents by having its "steam" actually be a sort of pheromone cloud, charming prey to approach and entangle itself with the sticky tentacles.
I also rolled twice on the RECG's tactics table for the sundew, and got "targets the closest available foe" both times, which is just perfect for it. It's always lovely when random generation seems fated.
There's a problem, though. The moss can be interacted with via speaking to its possessed bodies (maybe they're all linked by a psychic hive mind to the progenitor moss), but unless the PCs can speak with plants, the sundew is just a trap. I thought to give it a humanoid tender, but flipping through the pages of the Tome of Adventure Design en route to that section landed me on the page for fey creatures, and that sounded even more fitting. Rolls on Tables 2-22 through 2-23 gave a biped with horns and animal legs that can be bound by a specific spell and has magical control of a specific type/species of animals. Just change "specific type/species of animals" to "sundew", and its a fine leader for their faction. For an extra lark, I rolled on Paul's magic items table instead of Table 2-26 and got "stone of protection". Rather than having that be something in the faerie's possession, it could be something in the heart of the moss's domain that the faerie wants, and just like that, there's a story to their conflict.
I'll end this part in a moment since the dungeon map generation will take a little setting up, but first, I've got The Dungeon Alphabet and The Monster Alphabet, so why not do a quick roll on each to see if they provide any more fodder. A roll on the former landed me on "O is for Oozes", yielding a trapped room with arcing lightning that causes the oozes to split; a nice idea, but not something that sounds fitting for this dungeon. A roll on the latter landed me on "H is for Hoard", yielding gloves/gauntlets of inner/self transformation. That could be something, but I'll park it for now and let my subconscious tinker away.
One more thing: the faerie needs details for its horns and legs, and since The Monster Alphabet has a handy page of forms, it might as well take control here. I got narwhal horns and scorpion legs. The former is certainly something of use for magical purposes, and the latter is fitting for something invading a former insect lair. Wonderful.
So, all told, I've got a site (though I have to figure out what "the hive caller" means), a couple factions of sinister plants fighting over it, and a couple ideas for magic items therein. Not being able to use geomorphs might make the mapping take longer than it did for Paul, but I'm thinking this should be a very organic site, so using a truly random and shapeless method might be more appropriate, anyway. GIMP's solid noise generator has served me well for that in the past, but I'll get into that next time.