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Cursed Monastery of the Crocodile-Behemoth (Part 1)

March 7, 2020

I had a great time with turning some random table results into the Walled Mound of the Hive Caller, so I thought it'd be fun to try going through the process again.  So, breaking out the Tome of Adventure Design and rolling up 4d200 on the first couple of tables gave me:

(31,177,23,107): Cursed Monastery of the Crocodile-Behemoth

Wonderful!  I'd been hoping for something that suggested more intelligent occupants, and this definitely fits the bill.  Right away, I'm imagining a remote temple complex inhabited by an order of monks dedicated to reanimating the skeletal remains of some crocodilian god-beast, maybe something like an exaggeration of Sarcosuchus or a more reptilian version of Resident Evil 4's
Del Lago.

Now, the Tome advises using either Tables 1-1A/1-1B to generate a location description or Table 1-2 to generate a location purpose, not to combine both, but out of curiosity, I decided to see what the results on 1-2 would've been:

(31, 77): Eye Ship
(23, 07): Dissection Cairn

Well, now, those sound like a great couple of key locations within the monastery.  Maybe the god-beast's skeleton is actually built into the foundation of the monastery (something which can be indicated by the map, perhaps, thus justifying the players' effort in drawing an actual map instead of a room connection flowchart).  The "eye ship" is the skull room, which can transport its occupants, either by actually breaking away to sail on some underground sea or via some arcane teleportation.  The "dissection cairn" is a secret room where the god-beast's preserved organs are stored in reliquaries, hidden away from any but the most devout members of the order.  Since the "eye ship" is taking up the head space, it feels fitting for the "dissection cairn" to then be where the god-beast's heart would've been.

I'd glossed over this in the previous series (because "giant termite mound with a side of body/sexual horror" sells itself, in my mind), but when it comes to adventure design, I like to think about the who/what/when/where/why of it, as mentioned in the incomplete Appendix K of
my 2E AD&D retroclone.  Let me be more explicitly rigorous in that regard, giving my preliminary thoughts on those points and identifying possible questions for future elaboration.

Who (...is at the site?  ...created the site?): The monk order built the monastery (long ago or recent?).  They were founded by the person who discovered the god-beast's remains (archeologist? former adventurer? coincidence? still alive, undead, transcended life and death, or just dead?).  Only part of the order knows their true purpose (criteria for induction? known secret or hidden split?).  May also have another NPC faction working against the order (internal schism, active opposition, or just investigative?).


What (...is happening at the site?  ...obstacles bar the PCs?): The monks are working to reanimate the god-beast (what does this entail?  step function or gradual process?).  They resist intrusion (how violently?), the eye ship requires complex activation (how?), and the dissection cairn is hidden (means of access? traps?).


When (...does the situation change on its own?  ...do the NPCs react to PC action?): The monks are stymied by lacking some key thing for their rituals (maybe related to the curse on the monastery?); if acquired, they can reanimate the god-beast in a short time frame (can they get what they need independent of PC actions?).  They react as normal people to PC intrusions (planned responses? are the leaders good at strategic/tactical action?) and will attempt retributive action if the PCs retreat (legal actions? ambushes? hired thugs/assassins?).


Where (...does the adventure happen?  ...are key locations?): The adventure's focus is the monastery (is it remote, near a settlement/city, or in a settlement/city?).  The eye ship and dissection cairn are both in areas blocked from easy access (hidden? locked? guarded? mundane or magical protections?).


Why (...do the PCs get involved?): The order's activities have unsavory consequences (direct acts of the order? side effects of their rituals? nuisances or severe?).  The eye ship can be used to reach new locations (reasonable for others to know? maybe the order uses it to acquire unique commodities?).  The order's goal is an affront to natural or progressive themes (how can the PCs learn about this?).

I could throw out answers for some of those future elaborations now, but I'd rather let it sit in my subconscious for a bit instead of committing to anything just yet.

On the plus side, I have a pretty good idea of most of the opposition already.  Whether they end up being humans or some reptile-themed humanoids will depend on how integrated the order is into mundane civilization.  There's a long-standing tradition of human orders who become morphed into something less human further up their ranks (e.g. the Esoteric Order of Dagon in
Lovecraft's "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", the yuan-ti in I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City, the Salientian Knot in DCC's The Croaking Fane), but I'm not sure if that fits here.  Those are all cases of orders who want to transcend their human limitations by becoming more like their deities/patrons, whereas my monk order's purpose is to reanimate its deity, more akin to a stereotypical demonic cult than a transhuman movement.  That's not to say that I can't have any transmutative body horror (always an appealing punishment for a cult's captives, heretics, and/or apostates), but I'm thinking I'll err on the minimalist side of it.  The bulk of the monks will either be human or be a specific humanoid, and any flesh-warped monstrosity will be something unique.

That have been decided, I don't see a significant need to roll up some inspiration for the antagonists here, though I probably will make some use of the Tome's monster design book and/or the
RECG to help in coming up with the details of both the flesh-warped monstrosity and the god-beast itself, should the order succeed in reanimating it.  For the monstrosity, I think it should fulfill a purpose similar to the mythic golem, being a brutish thing bound to the service of the order's leader(s); perhaps part of the order's response to PC retreat can include adding more bodies to the golem to make it more powerful, at the risk of making it more likely to lose control?

 

In the interest of stimulating further thought to flesh things out, let me roll up a few more rooms on the Tome's Table 1-2:

(46, 24): Illusion Disk

(53, 87): Materialization Throne

(54, 16): Meat Cocoons
 

Well, there's certainly an anatomy-theme going on here.  Maybe the "materialization throne" is the place where raw materials are prepared for ritual use (analogous to the stomach), and the "meat cocoons" is the place where initiates ascend to full induction in the order via some sort of ritualistic rebirth (analogous to the reproductive organs).  "Illusion disk" breaks the trend (unless perhaps taken to represent figurative crocodile tears?), but I'm thinking that's some record hidden by illusion magic which gives information about what's actually going on.

 

In fact, looking over what I've got so far, I wonder if I might not be better off discarding the idea of doing this as a dungeon crawl and breaking it up into a mystery adventure instead?  The PCs could start off at the illusion disk, where they'll find clues pointing to both the materialization throne and the meat cocoons, each of which can have further clues to the other three locations.  It'd be similar to Justin Alexander's basic funnel nodal structure, except with two nodes in the second layer and two nodes in the third layer.  Thus:

 

A: Illusion Disk (starting point): clues to B and C

B: Materialization throne: clues to C, D, E

C: Meat Cocoons: clues to B, D, E

D: Eye Ship: clues to B, C, E

E: Dissection Carin: clues to B, C, D

 

Stopping the order entirely would require dealing with both node D and node E.  Node A is a little light on clues, so it'd be a good idea to include at least two pointing to each of nodes B and C from there.  Since I'd said I wanted to go light on the transmutative side of things, my first thought for what's happening at node C is a surgical implanting on a fossilized crocodile tooth; an explicit body mod that's less replicable than a tattoo, brand, or simple scarification sounds like a nice way to separate the initiates from the order's inner circle.  Rolling with that and setting up the node/clue map:

 

A (Illusion Disk): Includes a record disguised by an illusion. Theme: crocodile tears

  • B1->

  • B2->

  • C1-> Fossilized tooth embedded beneath skin of a monk.

  • C2->

B (Materialization Throne): Where raw materials are treated to prepare them for ritual use. Theme: stomach

  • C->

  • D->

  • E->

C (Meat Cocoons): Where initiates can ascend to full induction via "rebirth" ritual ceremony (including surgical implant of fossilized tooth). Theme: reproduction

  • B->

  • D->

  • E->

D (Eye Ship): Fossilized skull that can transport people to another place. Theme: skull

  • B->

  • C->

  • E->

E (Dissection Cairn): Reliquary of preserved organs. Theme: heart

  • B->

  • C->

  • D->

 

There's still a lot to be done from there, clearly, but I like what's there to start with.  Then again, a dungeon crawl inside the bones of a god-beast sounds pretty cool, too.  I'll set it aside from now and think on which way to proceed for next time.

 

Part 2

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