Mangrove Crater: a wilderness exploration for INTO THE ODD

Half a dozen years back, a prolonged conflict between two settlements ended suddenly with an enormous soundblast that created a mile-wide caldera.  Soon afterwards, the crater was colonised by a network of mangrove trees: their bark is widely regarded as an excellent ingredient in summer broths but typically demands a high price as it is often found in shark-infested swamps.

It is also possible that whatever triggered the enormous soundblast is still within the caldera.

Rumours

If players spend effort, resources, or succeed in relevant Saves, they can learn the following things:

  • an enormous bird has sometimes been seen circling the area above the caldera (bring me some of its feathers and I shall reward you handsomely)
  • peculiar shaped stones have been collected from the edge of the crater — this one looks exactly like a lizard, will you give me a guilder for it?
  • the sloths that live there won’t attack you but they are louder than my daughter if you disturb them

Cartography

Unless the players are incredible at mapping, it will be very difficult to map the caldera.  If players choose to map the location of each tree, this becomes possible (but will take much time).

Instead, abstract the relative density of the mangroves according to the following scale.  At the caldera edge, there will be partial cover.  Unless players are looking to find denser or looser ground (and are capable of doing so), randomly determine if players advance up or down the scale — odd numbers or black cards move upwards in density, even numbers of red cards move downwards.

  • Mangroves choke the ground; here resides a roc nest, with a solitary chick tearing apart a sloth corpse and a large number of moulted feathers.
  • Almost complete canopy cover: anything larger than a bowltoad struggles to move efficiently.
  • Partial canopy cover; the mangroves are not excessively high and can be easily scaled.
  • Open ground, ringed with mangroves.
  • Particularly loose soil; buried beneath and making a high-pitched whine is Chafer’s trinket.

Encounters

Roll d10 or draw a card; if you would have a repeat entry, instead take the next available entry from the reserve list beneath.

1: Chafer, disillusioned veteran; STR14, 6hp, shears (d8); gone a bit deaf, seeking the trinket

1. Sat beside a tree, crying.  Inconsolable.

2: Bowltoad; STR6, 12hp, bite (d4); driven to surprise and eat movement

2. Wounded and retreating.

3-5: Quail-cockatrices; STR5, 5hp, petrifying breath (d4 DEX damage, ignores hp and Armour); driven to silence noise

3. Three, petrifying and eating a sloth carcass and its dung.

4. Four, fleeing something (consult the table again).

5. Five of them, one of which is an injured chick.

6-8: Lichenback sloths; DEX16, 8hp, claw (d4, Enhanced against wounded foes); driven to be kept to themselves

6. One, asleep in the mangrove branches.

7. Two, lazily feeding on mangrove leaves.

8. Six, haphazardly arranged in such a way that would make passage noisy.

9-10: Roc; STR19, DEX19, 19hp, claw (d6) & beak (d10); driven to feed its chick

9. Carrying off a screaming sloth.

10. Circling in the sky.

Reserves

  • The roc makes a surprise dive at the players
  • A well-buried bowltoad springs an ambush
  • Chafer tracks the players, certain they’ve taken her trinket
Mangrove Crater: a wilderness exploration for INTO THE ODD

What was this place, and why was it left?

Typically, most of the dungeons you’ll encounter in OSR games will no longer be being used for their original purpose.  These lists suggest what it was and why it’s no longer used for that.

What was this place?

 

  • Ace – A site of special religious importance
  • King – A site of military importance
  • Queen – A place to cultivate resources
  • Jack – A location to relax
  • Ten – A site to protect and guard value
  • Nine – An academic & research location

 

  • Eight – A space carved out from conflict
  • Seven – A tomb
  • Six – A short-cut or pass
  • Five – An animal den
  • Four – The home of some monstrous intelligence
  • Three – A natural hollow
  • Two – Draw twice & combine

 

Why was it abandoned?

 

  • Ace – Supply routes cut off
  • King – The inhabitants just left
  • Queen – They “dug too deep”
  • Jack – The original purpose was ruined
  • Ten – The original purpose was fulfilled
  • Nine – Invasion by monstrous intelligence

 

  • Eight – Superceded by nearby site
  • Seven – Inhabitants beset by plague
  • Six – Environmental encroachment
  • Five – Realisation of the location’s innate danger
  • Four – Internal disaster
  • Three – Overrun by beasts & vermin
  • Two – Draw twice & combine

 

Draw a couple of cards & see what you get.  Remember, the more often you can find contrast within the idea, the deeper you’ll be able to mine that seam of creativity.

What was this place, and why was it left?

We press on deeper…

When your players insist that they want to delve deeper than the dungeon they have reached the bottom of, there will be one or two passages they can follow.  Here’s what they find when they descend:

Draw a card.  The value represents the nature of the section.  The suit represents the threat and obstacle.

  • A – PALLID PAMPAS-GRASS CAVERNS – the head-height grass covers the floor of the cavern; it takes effort to push through and is very difficult to do at speed without passing passive STR checks
  • K – TRYPOPHOBIC SINKHOLES – the surfaces of these caverns are split with holes of various size and depth; sometimes these sinkholes lead to lower caverns, though  often there will be something aggressive hidden within
  • Q – GARGANTUAN BADGER SETT – the walls have definitely been carved out by the claws of an enormous beast; passages turn and jut at strange angles and often end abruptly
  • J – DOLERITE SPUR NETWORK – much of these caverns are open expanses, pierced with thick trunks of igneos rock; the surfaces are smooth but not slippery, however moving between spurs unaided requires passive DEX checks to avoid falling
  • 10 – FOSSILWOOD CLADDING – the surfaces here are paved and the network appears to have been constructed; the walls are clad in wood panelling that has fossilised over time; some of the surfaces depict unknowable things
  • 9 – SKELETAL CATHEDRAL – the earth is held back by the enormous ribs of an animal that has long since rotted away; some of the bones are broken and it seems that you can follow the passage afforded by their being empty of marrow
  • 8 – DEEPWEAVE FABRIC – the walls of this area appear to be a fine weave of a fabric you cannot quite identify; if the walls are cut into, the fabric continues to significant depth
  • 7 – DESSICATED LYMPH – the veins through the rock here seem to retain traces of organic matter, but the lymph has long dried away; the passages bulge and narrow at seeming random
  • 6 – KERATIN CANYON – the sheer surfaces of the canyons here thrust high with the fibrous rigidity of nail and hair; sometimes a successful passive INT check will reveal weak-points in the growth
  • 5 – FOLDS OF LEATHER – observed from a distance, the deep valleys in this section seem to take on the appearance of cracks in leather; up close, the rough surfaces of the valley walls are difficult to classify
  • 4 – STONEPULP HONEYCOMB – the haphazard construction in this section show unmistakable signs of having been chewed and spat out, like the paper of a wasps’ nest
  • 3 – SUBMERGED SPIRALS – the interlocking shells in this section split out from each other at all angles; a third of all areas are flooded with a translucent milky fluid
  • 2 – CARDED ALLOYWOOL – the surfaces in this section are covered in fibers of metal loosely twisted together, giving to pressure but impossible to part; progressing through these floors require passive CON checks to avoid becoming fatigued

The suit of the card drawn will represent the potential threat in this area:

♠️ – hostile native fauna: perhaps of animal intelligence, perhaps monstrous humanoids

♥️ – toxic environment: perhaps poisonous gas, perhaps sharding surfaces

♣️ – physical obstruction: perhaps natural cave-ins, perhaps extreme distances

♦️ – being hunted: perhaps intelligent pursuant, perhaps natural predation

Going yet further underground its been reported that some of these section appearances can become combined.

We press on deeper…

Why delve?

  • A – You don’t know another way to make friends.  When did you realise this?
  • K – You can use this as an outlet for your rage.  How do you otherwise keep on top of it?
  • Q – You lost a relative to this search.  Why can’t that happen again?
  • J – You have to be the first to find Rico.  What do you have to give her?
  • 10 – You seek a rare material.  What do you hope to turn it into?
  • 9 – You need to prove your theory.  What piece of evidence is missing?
  • 8 – You are the strongest, the most worthy.  Who is the strongest?
  • 7 – You soon will die.  What will be your legacy?
  • 6 – You want to see the subterranean sights.  What must you see before you die?
  • 5 – You have been tricked into this.  How can you make even?
  • 4 – You want to be the most famous hero.  What do you have to prove?
  • 3 – You want to prove Rico’s “findings” a hoax.  Why won’t you let this rest?
  • 2 – You are engaged to Rico.  Where did you propose?
Why delve?

Plundering the Memory Palace

I’ve been playing a fair number of rules- & preparation-light games recently — as much as I adore their flexibility and resilience, I do miss the exploration element that a lot of dungeon-delving can provide. As such, I’ve been keen to find a good middle-ground that allows for minimal preparation (efficient over lacking) and thorough exploration.

I think I’ve finally found it: The term “memory palace” flits about from time to time – most recently spread by BBC’s “Sherlock”. The general concept of a large house that you know well enough to fill with mental images dates back to ancient Greek times and is often known as the “loci” mnemonic system. At the basic level, there will be a number of places in your life (or from your past) that you have memorised perfectly.

These may be your places of work, locations you’ve lived, even a favourite pub or bar.

This is your dungeon.

The Basilisk in the Bathroom: Converting the Memory Palace

Initially, you’ll want to work out if you’re using a partial section of the location or it in its entirety.

Likewise, you’ll want to decide what the orientation and layout it — in the past I’ve essentially inverted a pub I know well so instead of going upstairs, the levels descent; otherwise the floorplan remains the same.

At this stage, you’ll want to work out some other key locations – target treasures, monster lairs, &c. You can populate the dungeon in the same way — and by clearly focusing on the desired creature in the real-life location, you’ll have a pretty sturdy memory of it. Alternatively, you can create a fairly simple random-encounter table and just run that for the rooms you come across.

As you play through the dungeon, you’ll be able to clearly imagine — and describe — the layouts of the rooms. It’s perfect in that makes your skull into the optimal GM’s screen.

Quick to establish, simple to run & immensely customisable.

Try it in your next session.

Plundering the Memory Palace