Factory-Hall of the Iron Shaman (Part 1)
I want to shake things up a bit for myself, so how about diving into some more random adventure generation? Although I enjoyed my jaunt into the way Silent Legions handles that for the Brass Fraternity series, that’s been two straight nodal investigation adventures. I think it’d be good to back to a dungeon adventure, so let me roll up 4d200 on Tome of Adventure Design’s Tables 1-1A/1-1B and see what I get:
(132, 53, 56, 175): Factory-Hall of the Iron Shaman of the Orcs
Trim off that last bit, and “Factory-Hall of the Iron Shaman” sounds good. Is it a literal factory? Is it a dormant and sealed factory? Is it more like a Necron tomb? Rather than deciding those details against a blank canvas, let me also roll on Tables 1-3 through 1-7 to get an idea for a mission to describe what is happening at the site:
(5, 44, 56, 658): Extort from Peasant (wealthy)
The Iron Shaman is a wealthy peasant? That’s not what I was expecting, but it brings to mind J.F. Sebastian from Blade Runner. Extortion is about what that character dealt with, too, so bonus points for that.
On the other hand, maybe a wealthy peasant is extorting the Iron Shaman? Maybe the peasant has enough sway over the local community to threaten mob action against the Iron Shaman? This makes me think of an adventure like the Karlstadt portion of Better Than Any Man, except with an enslaved Iron Shaman in place of the Insect God.
Trying to figure out what is going on with the Iron Shaman might shed some more clarity. I could roll on Table 1-11 and its follow-ups to get a plan for the antagonist, but I like to mix up random generation resources, so let me swap to a one-roll NPC from Stars Without Number:
Age: Unusually young or old for their role
Background: Minority or foreigners; reroll on 1d4 (4: The elite of this society)
Role: Menial, cleaner, retail worker, servant
Problem: A loved one is in trouble; reroll for it (9: They’re pursuing a disastrous purpose)
Desire: They want an entirely different job
Most Obvious Character Trait: Love of a person
There’s a very soap opera plot brewing here. An older servant in a hacienda falls in love with the owner’s progeny. The owner finds out and sends the servant to do some grueling labor (of the sort that usually leads to short lifespans) as punishment. The servant bonds with the other laborers, recognizes their physical skills, and organizes them to overthrow the owner. They succeed, but the love-interest is swept away by an otherworldly entity (compelled by some pact with the owner). The servant yearns to see their love returned safely, but they have to keep up appearances of normalcy at the hacienda, lest any authorities find out what happened and decide to mete out their own justice.
Frankly, most of that backstory is irrelevant, anyway. The important part is that an otherworldly entity kidnapped someone and absconded to the adventure site. Are the PCs bad enough dudes to rescue the victim from the Factory-Hall of the Iron Shaman?
If the Iron Shaman is the otherworldly entity, that brings to mind the five elements/phases (earth, fire, metal, water, wood) of Wuxing. Metal is generated by earth and overcomes wood, so an underground stronghold (formed within the earth and displacing any plants in the area) fits the theme. Metal generates water and is overcome by fire, so perhaps the Iron Shaman needs the tears of the victim’s terror to extinguish the fires holding back their domain’s expansion? That one is a stretch. Perhaps the Iron Shaman uses the victim’s urine to quench weapons capable of slaying its opponents? Better, but a little gross. I wouldn’t be opposed to saving that for a group who’d be on board with content like that, but it’s not something I’d want to open with for anyone.
Maybe a roll on Table 1-11 of Tome of Adventure Design wouldn’t be a terrible idea. Given its involvement in the backstory, I wouldn’t use all of the options from that table, but rolling until I get one that fits yields:
(47): Evoke Catastrophic Event – the villain is trying to set off a natural, magical, psychic, or political disaster.
Ah, this brings some more of the backstory into focus. The Iron Shaman probably made a monkey’s paw-style pact with the hacienda’s owner, granting temporary success in return for harvesting something from their offspring and thus bringing ruin on the household.
Why is the entity known as the Iron Shaman? Is it made of iron? Does it have power over iron? Does it draw its power from iron? Does it exert its power with iron? Maybe a random page/table in The Monster Alphabet can help me here:
“A is also for Armor”: A mass of sharp quills or spines covers the creature, granting it both protection against physical attacks and threatening enemies that engage it in close combat. Any attacker making a melee attack, whether successful or not, against the monster must make an immediate saving throw to avoid taking damage from the vicious spikes. Some creatures can throw these quills to attack opponents at a distance, but at the cost of reducing its armor protection.
Perhaps the Iron Shaman manifests as a suit on top of the kidnapping victim. Instead of dealing retaliatory damage against melee attacks with a saving throw to avoid it (too finicky for my tastes), I’d rather make it so that damage dealt to the creature is split between the Iron Shaman and the victim. Fighting it directly while it’s “wearing” the victim will kill the victim long before the Iron Shaman, so the players will need to come up with creative solutions (whether through game mechanics or lore) to separate the two if they want to save the victim.
Ah, then that explains the name! If a person dies while the Iron Shaman is “wearing” them, they become a sort of iron golem compelled to serve the Iron Shaman. Several of these past victims can be spread through the stronghold, along with hints to the truth. The “Factory-Hall” part of the name is a bit of black comedy about how often attempts to save the Iron Shaman’s victims end up creating more golems.
For the sake of planting the seeds of ideas to flesh out the iron golems, I can do a few rolls from Book Two of Tome of Adventure Design:
(Table 2-12: Construct’s Loss of Control; 94): Cumulative increasing chance during combat
(Table 2-20: Method of Binding the Elemental Creature; 52): Riddle answer; elemental poses a riddle of some kind
(Table 2-24: Magical Abilities of Fey Creature; 93): Vanishing/teleporting when not physically touched or held
(Table 2-38: Thematic Ideas for Mastermind Humanoid Races; 61): Rituals, memory, ancestors, forgetting, formalism, ceremony, cycles, seasons, absolutism
(Table 2-40: Profile of a Mist Creature; 51, 57): Sucks away Joy; Can be damaged only with a particular item linked to the creature
(Table 2-42: Ooze Immunities and Special Attacks; 60, 56, 99): Half damage from blunt weapons; Ooze hurls globules of itself as missile weapons
(Table 2-45: Ideas for Macro-Biotes; 83): Tendrils are plant-equivalent of tentacles
(Table 2-47: Demonic Hints for Dark Angels; 53, 85): Radiates slight heat; Spit (line) special attack
(Table 2-53: Problems With Summoned Creatures; 11): Bad casting leaves an open gate (possibly allowing intrusion of non-planar conditions such as disease, temperature, poison gas, etc.)
(Table 2-54: Physical Form of Planar Traveler; 38): Very attractive appearance if it has a humanoid form. Otherwise, it speaks by using a mechanism or arcane apparatus.
(Table 2-79: Special Attack Type; 53): Fire (special). In this case, the fire involved in the special attack isn’t normal fire – it’s more of a special effect for something else. Magical fires can do all sorts of things rather than just burn, so this is a very broad category. Possible effects include: lowering an ability score, acting randomly, suffering combat penalties, following enemy orders, floating up into the air, losing the ability to act, losing the ability to cast spells, functioning as a lower-level character, running away, suffering saving throw penalties, suffering hallucinations, and suffering from a heightened emotion such as rage or sorrow. The fire doesn’t have to be magical – it could just be that this particular monster’s fire-breath causes people to flee, for instance. On the other hand, the whole “fire” thing might be little more than a special effect for an attack that’s really all about floating the opponent helplessly into the air.
There are some duds in there, but the results from 2-20, 2-40, 2-42, and 2-47 can start giving some shape to the Iron Shaman. While I’m at it, let me also make some rolls for Distinctive Features and Special Abilities on the relevant tables from the Random Esoteric Creature Generator:
Eye Stalks: The creature’s eyes are outside of its head, allowing for a greater field of vision. The creature has 1 less chance in 6 to be surprised.
Multiple Features: Shell (The creature has a turtle- or crab-like or similar shell, giving it a +1d4+2 bonus to its AC.) and Multiple Arms (The creature has double the number of arms or one set of arms if the body type usually has none. Add one bashing attack or double the usual number of attacks delivered by limbs as appropriate.)
Contagious: Infectious: A character damaged by this creature has a chance (the number of points of damage inflicted by the creature expressed as a percentage of the victim’s total Hit Points) to become infected and will slowly transform into another creature within 2d20 days unless the cursed is removed.
Spell Use: Wizard Spells: The creature can cast spells as a wizard. The creature has an effective Level of (2d4-1) to determine how many spells it can cast per day, but uses its own HD to determine actual spell effects. If the game includes wizard sub-classes, there is a 25% chance the creature will cast spells as the sub-class.
I wasn’t sure about the eye stalks at first, but the shelled extra arms explain that; the Iron Shaman usually looks like something conforming to its host’s body but can extrude elements of itself when needed. Putting these rolls together with my favorite results from before, the Iron Shaman probably tries to open combats with spells (if appropriate) and slinging shrapnel before closing to melee with its Glabrezu-style extra arms, which can inflict a curse along the lines of lycanthropy or vampirism.
That sounds like a fairly nasty opponent, especially since I was imaging this being a low-level adventure, but I think it’s a good kind of nasty. The players can be rewarded with a much easier fight if they figure out how to separate the Iron Shaman from its host, and the curse would make an immediate hook for another adventure, should one or more of the PCs be afflicted. Additionally, populating the site with past victims of the curse (alongside the golems of its former hosts) should serve to both add enough diversity to the inhabitants for interesting variety and keep enough thematic consistency not feel like they’re just random choices thrown together.
I’ve got a few new ideas that I want to try out for generating the site’s geography, but that can wait for the next post.