Dungeons of the Dominions

I’d like to have the option of dungeon crawls in my fantasy game, but I don’t especially want to create a new setting when there is such a vibrant and detailed one as the Dread Sea Dominions already in play and familiar to my players.

So, where are the dungeons in Beasts & Barbarians? There are little ones all over the place, for example in The Carnival at Nal Sagath or The Sword of Izim, but what about megadungeons? Let’s see… In order of publication…

The Fallen Realm of Keron (Beasts & Barbarians Golden Edition). The vanished Keronian Empire must surely have left behind a number of cities, fortresses, wizard’s towers and so forth, and one could easily create a megadungeon somewhere within striking distance of one of the Independent Cities, perhaps a former surface city now buried.

The Cursed City of Collana (B&B GE, Shadows Over Ekul). This is more a ruined city in the style of RuneQuest’s Big Rubble, but it’ll do. It’s a former trade hub, so it’s full of treasure. Since that unpleasant affair with the Valk demon-summoning, it’s infested with monsters, who just won’t stay put. Apart from straight-up tomb-robbing – er, sorry, I mean "salvage" – there are always those surviving descendants of noble families who simply must have their grandparents’ regalia, and are looking for rough fellows to recover it for them. There is however a near-certainty of a Total Party Kill.

The Sewers of Jalizar (Jalizar, City of Thieves). The City of Thieves has a number of underground "levels", but as the Sewers are intended to be used as a mapless dungeon these are regions with shared architectural features rather than levels in the usual sense. This is much like the underworlds in Empire of the Petal Throne, and is the most obvious choice, as it is intended to be used this way.

The Iskondor (The Queen of the Lost Valley). This is an immense tunnel passing under the northern range of the Iron Mountains; it exploited and expanded old mine tunnels to provide a trade route between Felantium and northern Zandor, but during the Valk invasions it was sealed by a Tricarnian sorceror to prevent the Valk swarming through it into Faberterra. It is rumoured to be cursed and full of Things Man Was Not Meant To Know. Can you say "Moria"? I knew you could. The players can easily be commissioned to reopen the trade route, giving them a reason to explore and a clear destination. I rather like this one.

Tricarnia (Tricarnia, Land of Demons and Princes). There are many candidates here for megadungeons, including the ruins of Tel Askora, former citadel of a powerful warlock; the notorious Breeding Pits of Nal Nomantor; and of course the original underground city which gave birth to the nation as a whole, Val Hordakor. For inspiration, I would use D&D drow, Warhammer dark elves, and Michael Moorcock’s Dark Empire of Granbretan in the Runestaff novels.

Whichever you pick, one thing that must be taken into consideration is the different monster palette; Beasts & Barbarians is based on the Conanesque side of the hobby’s source material, not the Middle-Earth side; orcs and goblinoids, for example, can be used, but they and the reason they are not stampeding across the Dominions need to be explained – their ecological niche in the Dominions is filled by the nandals, the Caleds and especially the Valk. (According to his letters, Tolkien partly patterned orcs on historical steppe nomads.)

However, more importantly, Beasts & Barbarians isn’t intended to be used with detailed maps, but with advancement tokens, preset encounters, and card draws; download the free adventure The Carnival at Nal Sagath to see how that works. The GM need not draw maps or stock their rooms, but still needs to prepare a group of significant encounters.

This is another example of the Savage Worlds approach to adventures; all killer, no filler.

B&B Adventures as at February 2015

“In the lands of the North, where the black rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long, the men of the Northlands sit by the great log fires, and they tell a tale…” – The Saga of Noggin the Nog

Long ago, I took a map of the Dread Sea Dominions and marked upon it all the Beasts & Barbarians adventures, and I promised that I would update it periodically. Alas, that is no longer practical, because the adventures in the Borderlands, Faberterra, Kyros and Zandor – the most popular locations – are clustered too close together now. But I can give you a list! You know where your party is, so check that area and see what’s around them…

ADVENTURES

GE = Beasts & Barbarians Golden Edition; BOD = Beasts of the Dominions.

The Borderlands: The Amulet of Dogskull (first part); The Betrayers of Rhybard (BOD); The Carnival of Nal Sagath; Moonless Night Over Grimdell; Wolves in the Borderlands (this is the one that persuaded me to buy B&B).

The Cairnlands: The Cliff Queen’s Court; The Price of Peace (BOD).

Caldeia: Death’s Cargo (BOD – second part).

Ekul: Shadows Over Ekul.

Faberterra: The Dread Shard; Green World; Main Attraction (BOD).

The Dread Sea: Eyes of the Night (BOD).

The Independent Cities: Death’s Cargo (BOD – first part).

The Iron Mountains: The Queen of the Lost Valley.

The Ivory Savannah: Hunter’s Moon (BOD)

Jalizar, City of Thieves: Grains of Death.

Kyros: A Matter of Love (BOD); Citadel of the Winged Gods; Thieves in the Night (Savage Insider #3).

Northeim: The Amulet of Dogskull (second part).

The Red Desert: Death of a Tyrant (this is the one the Shadows of Keron group enjoyed the most, I think).

Syranthia: The Skinner of Syranthia; The Whispered (BOD).

Tricarnia: Hosts (BOD).

Zandor: Vengeance of the Branded Devils (GE); Windborn (BOD). Jalizar is part of Zandor, so adventures there are technically in Zandor too.

PLACES WITH NO ADVENTURES YET

Ascaia, the Amazons’ Island; Caledland; the Cannibal Islands; the Fallen Realm of Keron; the Finger Islands; Gis, City of the Alchemists; the Islands of the Maimed Ones; the Land of the Idols; Lhoban; the Lush Jungle; the Troll Mountains; Valkheim; the Valk Steppe; the Verdant Belt.

Beasts & Barbarians Adventures at February 2013

By request, here is a higher-resolution version of the map showing adventures in the Dread Sea Dominions. I had planned to tidy it up a bit, change the token colours and so on, but haven’t had time this week – I tell you what though, I’ll update it periodically as new stuff comes out.

There’s a key below the picture.

20130221DSD

KEY

Pale blue is my party, red tokens are official B&B adventures we have already played, green and purple ones we haven’t played yet – green are B&B adventures, and purple are from other product lines.

  • BDxx: Beast of the Dominions, where xx is the page number for an adventure in this location. Most of them can be easily relocated.
  • CNS: The Carnival at Nal Sagath (official location, we moved it to the Independent Cities).
  • CQC: The Cliff Queen’s Court.
  • CWG: City of the Winged Gods.
  • DoaT: Death of a Tyrant.
  • GE189: Vengeance of the Branded Devils, the adventure in B&B Golden Edition.
  • GW: Green World.
  • MNOG: Moonless Night Over Grimsdell.
  • SOE: Shadows Over Ekul.
  • SoS: The Skinner of Syranthia.
  • TitT: Thieves in the Night (in Savage Worlds Insider #3). And I just noticed I abbreviated that incorrectly on the map. Oh well, next time…
  • WHM: The White Haired Man Kith’takharos adventures, of which there are at least 10, all set within a few miles of a swamp village. Not strictly speaking Beasts & Barbarians, but they would fit in nicely. (The 10th one is in Savage Worlds Insider #4, if memory serves.)
  • WitB: Wolves in the Borderlands.

In my version of the Dominions, a hex is 125 miles; your hex size may vary.

Hex Map Pro and the Dread Sea Dominions

One of the first apps I bought for the iPad was Hex Map Pro, which turns it into a game board (£2.99 from the App Store). You can use the built-in facilities to create a board, which are limited to colouring in squares or hexes; or you can import a picture, rescale it, and overlay a grid on it. Then, the app lets you create and label counters to move around the map. There are no built-in rules, so it isn’t tied to a particular game; and no automation, so it’s easy to work out.

I intended to use it for playing THW games without having to haul out terrain or minis, and you’ll see some examples of that in due course. It took me a while to realise how useful it would be for other things, though; here’s an example screenshot.

DSD_Hex

I loaded up Beasts & Barbarians Golden Edition on the iPad, and took a screenshot of the map, which I saved as a photograph. I cropped off the margins using a free picture editor map, then imported it into Hex Map Pro. I then resized the picture so that it was about 30 hexes tall, which in my version of the Dominions makes one hex about 125 miles (that makes it easy to zoom in to 25 and then 5 mile hexes if I ever want to do that). Finally, I saved it as a new gameboard in HMP, and created one token (the green one labelled “Party”) to show the group’s current location.

One screenshot later, you get the picture above. I like it.

(I remember doing the same thing in the late 1970s with a map, a photocopier and a plastic sheet that had hexagons printed on it. This is a LOT faster and easier.)

Weighed Down by Treasure

As some of the Shadows of Keron players have large amounts of cash, I wanted some idea how much it weighs, so that I know how much trouble it is to cart around. A bit of Google-fu revealed the following…

Silver Moons: The Dread Sea Dominions is vaguely Graeco-Roman in feel for the most part, and the standard ancient Greek silver coin seems to have weighed about 6 grammes, while a more modern silver US dollar is a bit over 8 grammes. I’ll round that off to allow for the weight of coin pouches, boxes etc. and say a pound of silver is worth about $50, just to make the math easier.

Gold: Only people with the Noble or Rich edges are likely to deal in gold. Gold is worth roughly 10-20 times as much as silver, so I’ll say a pound of gold is about $1,000.

Gems: Gems are trickier. A pound is around 2,270 carats (again, I’ll round down to 2,000 carats to allow for packaging and keep the math easy), and gems range from $1 per carat to over $10,000 per carat, depending on a variety of factors. So, a pound of gems could range from $2,000 to over $10 million in value. Some gemstones – mostly the cheap, common ones – have a roughly linear relationship between weight and value, and others – the rare, expensive ones – have a value that increases geometrically with weight, or better. Arbitrarily taking averages of US prices in 2008, some of the more interesting ones are:

  • Amethyst: $16 per carat, call it $30,000 per pound.
  • Blue sapphire: $1,200 per carat, rounded down to $2 million per pound (you’ll want a very secure box for that many sapphires).
  • Blue topaz: $7 per carat, $10,000 per pound.
  • Emerald: $3,200 per carat, rounded down to $6 million per pound.
  • Tourmaline: $80 per carat, say $150,000 per pound.
  • Garnet: $30 per carat, $60,000 per pound.
  • Ruby: $2,000 per carat, $4 million per pound.

Diamonds were too complicated to work out, so I gave up. Basically a well-cut diamond can be worth as much as you want, so I’ll go with $4,000 per carat as I want diamonds to be the top of the range; that’s $8 million per pound.

Jewellery: Like gems, only more so. Fine workmanship and a good setting can multiply the value of a gemstone enormously.

-o0o-

The upshot of all this is that any significant amount of money the PCs lay their hands on is really heavy in silver, heavy in gold, and of negligible weight in gems or jewellery.

Copper pieces, you say? Faugh, heroes have no truck with such piffling trifles.

The Price of the Lotus

Lotus concoctions are going to be a staple consumable for the party in Shadows of Keron, especially Healing potions. Cracking open Beasts & Barbarians, I see that with a Streetwise-2 roll one can find a potion, which costs $200 per rank. Lotusmasters only recover power points when the potion is drunk, and I assume they are wealthy enough to live well – this is because they must initially have had the status and time available to study, and now require expensive components.

How often the potions are drunk – i.e., how quickly the Lotusmaster gets his power points back – is a stronger constraint on manufacture than how long it takes to make a potion (a few hours).

Let’s say he needs to make $1,000 per month ($780 personal living expenses, based on the top end costs for food and lodgings in the Fantasy Gear Toolkit, plus whatever they need for savings/hobbies/family). That’s five Novice rank potions, which at an average of 2-3 power points per potion is about as many as a Novice (Lotusapprentice?) can make without recovering power points. Therefore, he must assume potions will be drunk within a month of sale; I can see fine print on the potion bottle saying "Best Before Month End".

Things follow from these assumptions.

  • Since the Lotusmaster’s income is driven by his power points, non-adventuring ones take the Power Points Edge as often as they can, starting with 15 points and gaining 5 more per rank.
  • Income is badly hurt by keeping back potions for personal use such as home defence. Lotusmasters need powerful friends, and/or bodyguards, and probably band together for mutual support. Outside of Gis, where presumably being in charge gives some protection, they are likely to hide, which explains why you need a Streetwise roll to find one.
  • Likewise, potions are mostly made to order, as having a concoction lying around in case someone buys it risks a 20% loss of revenue for the month.
  • Some sort of guild structure is likely. The Lotusapprentice lives in relative poverty and churns out Healing potions to fund his master’s more grandiose projects, but knows once he learns better powers he can command high wages.
  • Lotusmasters will try to sell potions that give them the most income (highest rank) for the least power point expenditure. These are Confusion or Succor for Novice rank powers, or Slow for Seasoned powers, so those are likely to be the most common concoctions.
  • The least common potions are likely to be high-powered versions of Blast or Blind at Novice, and Invisibility at Seasoned, because they have the worst income to power point ratios.
  • Most potions will be the minimum power point versions of a power (I can get $1,200 for three two-point Blast potions, or $400 for one six-point Blast potion).
  • The only Veteran powers a Lotusmaster has access to are Puppet and Zombie. It’s hard to think of a legal use for those. Puppet for keeping those uppity Lotusapprentices in line, perhaps.

An alternative pricing system would be $100/power point rather than $200/rank. That would keep prices roughly the same for most powers.

This makes me realise that using the No Power Points option for NPC Lotusmasters as well as PCs would remove the major constraint on how many potions there are in the campaign, and how powerful they are. I should think carefully about that before allowing it, but it would address the players’ concern about running out of healing potions.

Beasts & Barbarians Indiegogo

For the past couple of days I’ve been thinking, what I need is more One-Sheets or Savage Tales suitable for use in the Dread Sea Dominions – short adventures which would occupy a session each. There are a lot of One-Sheet adventures around, but most of them are for Deadlands, and I’ve found converting them harder than I expected. Ideally, I’d have enough that I could pick a suitable one from the pile for whatever group turns up on Saturday.

And lo, no sooner is the wish made than I see GRAmel has set up an Indiegogo campaign to fund Beasts of the Dominions, ten new monsters each with a Savage Tale attached.

I’ve pushed a few bucks their way, and if you’re minded to do the same, click on the link above sometime before June 12th.

The normal schedule will be resumed tomorrow.