Schedim's Blog

RPG meandering and stuff

System Service Message (or something)

After a fling with OSR and fiddling with homebrew I have had a moment of Insight. I will use Pathfinder as the base system for my DungeonGod world, heavily modified yes, but still Pathfinder.

And Why?

Well, I found the tinkering factor in OSR to low, so I begun to load more and more options and stuff into it (by tinkering I mean rules to support stuff, as OSR it much dependent on DM fiat, you can tinker along without those rules, but I LIKE rules). Anyway, it turned into my own homebrew system (which had some neat stuff), but I tealised it would demad a lot of work for me to make that accessible for players (and those who eventualky find it on the net).

So when I finally studied the Nythic rules for Pathfinder, I realised that that system actually have most of the tools I need and want for Dungeon’God.

… and with Pathfinder Unchained coming up in April, I would be suprised if I couldn’t find the last tweaks I want.

A note on Ice

it should be noted that what is called Ice in Nifelhel is more like dry ice than ordinary water ice (actually it is neither, but it is the best analogue). It yields little or no water when it melts, it actually sublimes with a thin white vapor.

It covers the land like a thick glacial like shell, that cracks and reveals a badland consisting of gravel and sand. This “melting” happens mostly around, habitated places, and most importantly, around Dungeon’God intrusions (which do becomes places of habitations sooner or later).

Reconsidering the manifestations of Dungeon’God in Nifelhel

After the revelation that the concept of Plasm and Gnosm I had a inspiration flow (a bit unusual these days). In the end it come to a synthesis of a couple of parallel tracks in my Gnosm. I had instantly bought the excellent Beyond the Wall – Further Afield when it arrived at RPGnow, and been reading it avidly. I have already decided to be inspired by the Character generation of BtW; extremely simple lifepath system combined with a light nesting of characters, and this expansion adress how to apply the same methodology to campaign building.

These two tracks joined and melded with a third bubble rising from the depth, namely the beautiful simplicity and inspiring products from Sine Nomine Publications. This mix of inspiration and ideas made me realise that the way I had imagine Dungeon’Gods manifestations in Nifelhel wasn’t fully using the settings potentials.

Here is a world that is a literal map of whitespace, everything is covered in glacial ice and snow, that has through magic and effort is melted and recovered. What is the classical wilderness campaign but a extermination of the white spaces on a map. In the world of Yggdrasil it made sense with just the dungeon entrances penetrating the world as parasitic galls, with focused raids to gain energy tokens and spend conflict to Dungeon’Gods’ betterment. But here there was an even greater potential, letting Dungeon’God drag the forgotten depths of lost memories and pushing that back in the world filled with whatever twisted horrors that made much more  sense, also from the local gods perspective. The world would fill up faster with (mostly) resources and inhabitants. The latter may need a bit of working on, but sometimes you need to take the grit with the grain.

This would also make the world building a bit more inclusive and dependent on the players actions. Depending on how they interact with the different denizens they will strengthen or weaken different aspects, icons and archetypes in their world. 

As an example, if the adventurers always attack these gangs of ugly primitives and wipe them to last creature, there will perhaps be no Orcish species in Nifelhel at Dawn, but will instead strengthen a Lawful Evil aspect in some way. But is they don’t wipe the poor brutes, just drive them away and Humiliate them, the world probably would gain the stereotypical savage orc tribes, hateful and vengeance seeking.

On the other hand, if the party trades with the wretches and use them as guides and so on, perhaps they will manifest in the world as something like the Eberrons’ nature bonded primitives.

Thus the world and the future adventures of the players characters rest in the hands of their choices. Sometimes those hands will be forced (it is difficult to act peacefully when a dragon eats your friends)… But most times they have to deal with the consequences of their actions (sometimes surprising such).

There may be some level headed meta gamer out there that tries to “game the system” to create something unsuitable and/or boring, I’m pretty sure much hilarity will be created ….

Remember everything should be framed by actions and cascading reactions, in twisted and convoluted ways. That forms the world into something interesting and entertaining for all at the table.

Lastly (closing in on the TL;DR limit) the adventuring will bring more and more stuff (surprisingly(NOT!) at a increasing difficulty) , Preferably founded in the adventurers findings and what gets the players attention. Maps or hints. In books they finds, rumours that they buy or coerce from the poor dungeon denizens.

I envision a mighty glacier landscape with the gamers village at the bottom of a chasm, a strange green and colourful patch among the whites. As the adventurers are gallivanting around the local area this village will grow and push the Ice away, and out on the glacier will open cracks and chasms spewing steam from the sublimating Ice and invite to exploring and having; sites, treasures and challenges at the bottom.

Sooo what have this to do with Gnosm and Plasm, and why is it this way. Well that has to wait for another blog post.

About the astral construct called soul

What to lesser mind is known as the soul is actually a complex astral construct animating a body. By doing this (reaching out and aminating a body) it gains a impregnable astral shell. It is the content of that shell, or actually two parts of the tangled mess I want to expand upon. Namely the esoteric Plasm and the ominous Gnosm. They are related and in the same time totally different, like opposit sides of a coin. The Plasm could be said to be the source (or rather one of them) of the animated body. From the Plasm heralds the bodily and physical expressions in the physical world. You could say that Plasm is a pattern description of the body. Gnosm on the other hand is a empty bag slowly filled with experiences and knowledges gained during the existence of the astral construct. At the death of the body the astral construct fall apart, the Plasm is the sturdies part and soon are reformed into a new construct by a new creature being born, the Gnosm  together with the other detritus of the construct are soon consumed by the varous astral scavengers that roams the astral dimension.

So why is this of interest then? Well it so happens that by using certain secrets and techniques you can plunder an another creatures Plasm and gain some of their magic. There are some prerequisites for this, the Plasm must be substantially stronger than your own in order to imprint correctly, you must have a physical hand in it’s demise to create an astral link. 

Usually these changes only settle in the Gnosm of the one Stealing the power, but if done to often or with a mighty beast it will change the Plams itself. This will affect the decendants and creates a bloodline of sorcerers (in best case) or twisted freaks (more common).

The plundered plasm far a much worse destiny, in the next reincarnation it will become a human. That is the real reason the humans are so much more common these days.

The growth of dungeon nodes

As I mentioned in passing in my blog post here, i see my my dungeon built in a “node-mode”. With that I mean that each level consist of a number of distinct places, more or less independent from each other, a dungeon quanta of sorts. Suitable for a short evenings play. A handful of critters, some traps and tricks. As each node is a bit of distance from each other they won’t automatically go on alert from the sound of combat (as they usually should in many published dungeons. They become a microcosm in the dungeon macrocosm. And it is from these nodes rulers that the dungeon grows into a full fledged mega dungeon of Dungeon’God.
Each conflict (encounter) in a node empowers Dungeon’God and when enough energy has accumulated a new node buds into existence.
And how much energy is that, a tentative guess is that it should be equal to twice the level cost of five party members of that dungeon level. After each invasion of a party add the estimated encounter XP (very detailed in 3.5/pathfinder) and subtract the value of treasures the adventurers made of with, but add half of the value of any spent magical stuff as well as half of the XP lost by any killed PCs as well as half the total value of henchmen (as they aren’t resurrected)*.
As this XP energy goes down with higher level PC the Leveltenant quickly lose interest in engaging high level parties and just want to speed them on further down into the dungeon. Hopefully making some value by doing that.
The nodes grows in a patter similar to a Pascal’s triangle. With the exception of the first level lairs creating one other lair (and the starting lair that starts the dungeon creating two lairs) two Leveltenants has to cooperate to start a new node. The cost must be shared in proportion to their actual level. And will be populated by the stronger Leveltenant.
Between the Leveltenants there will be a complicated network of intrigues and deals that the PC may use or abuse if the become aware of it.
When a level is “cleared” by a party it will be repopulated from neighbours and someone will be declared Leveltenant (about d3+level HD).
Each lair has a connection to the surface world, but with the exception of the first three lairs these don’t have to be in the same neighbourhood (distance related to fibonacci series expressed as the natural logarithm in km, this will fast take you to other continent and dimensions in order to satisfy this distance, and thats actually the general idea).

* I use other indert method to gauge the XP and level increase of the players

About the dungeons of the DungeonGod

I have written several posts now about worlds “infested” by the Dungeon’God, but not much about what is beyond the gates this entity opens to the worlds in question.

As mentioned here and there the things inside these entrances are a physical manifestation of the gods actual body. The reality and natural laws that holds sway here are are a product of an utterly alien mind. With that in mind they follow their own internal consistency and logic. 

By adhere to this postulate the players can learn and actually deduce things from earlier experiences, giving the world (in all its alien and unformed glory) a meaningful way of exploration and revelation.

Secondly, by giving the inhabitants of this alien world motivations and personalities that are understandable if not reasonable or even remotely likable, there will be ways for “social” interactions. This refutes James Raggis monster philosophy as he lays down the words in the excellent Esotheric Monster Generator

Having a monster acting as the only purpose is to mindlessly tear the limbs from the PC now and then is probably good. However if that is the only thing they meet in a mega-dungeon campaign it will certainly get tendious. As they will come and go through the same area it is much more interesting with a series of diplomatic/intimidation encounters instead of a repeated slaughter. The aforementioned Esotheric Monster Generator is still extremely useful to create a interesting monster (or base to one at least).

With those thoughs I have begun to scetch a dungeon creator. As the dice drop tables are the latest black I was thinking of something like this, but with eight fields corrsponding to the types outlined in Rooms, and Basic Trap Design by the mega-profilic Courtney Campell.

The first thing I did was looking through my electronic heaps of geomorphs and find one each that fit (somewhat) the description Courtney uses for the rooms. Although I from an estetic viewpoint would like to use the Billiam Babbel set but the Dungeon in blue is easier to edit and have a much wider range of geomorphs.

 These I put in eight stacks, the thought is to use them only once to avoid a too standardised feeling, as some are a bit to big to really fit my perspective of a “room” they are easy to edit a bit and resuse another edit later. 

The numbers of the dice would be interpreted as in this table (I couldn’t get it to fit the blog format in any functional way).

I drop a “standard set” of dice, d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20 and interpret the result as following:

The d6 is the geomorph assigned as I, d8 as II etc drawn from the stack indicate by the die position.

The first two columns (d4 and d6) is about connection to other nodes in the Mega-dungeon, these will certainly be developed further when I get a clearer picture of the macro structure and the connection between nodes. The roman numeral is a just an arbitary number assigned to the relevant geomorphs. As for the result of 1 which allows for a total bypass of the level further down into the mega-dungeon it may prove a bit of a problem. A way to mediate that problem is having a magical gate demanding a McGuffin in the associated node to open/become passable.

The third column is a pointer to what kind of special treasure the main treasure of the level boss, which I call Leveltenant as a working name. This is some kind of extra-special advantage/achivement/enrichment a defeat of the Leveltenant will enrich the players with, aside from gold and such uniteresting stuff. I will speculate of what this can be in a later blogpost, but the general idea can that inspired me can be found here.

 The d10 column is about how the node is layout, in a general way in relation to the entrance, it is the nine form of the five dungeon room theory (more about that here), and a very special addition, from a marvellous erudition in this fantastic blog post at my favorite map blog, Dyson Dodecahedron (the map it self was from here).

Then we have the d12 column containing the standard Jungs archetypes, how to interpret them from a monster perspective will indeed be a interesting endeavour for a blogpost.

The last column is a bit of atmospheric inspiration for the node, this can be a help for the PC to orient by (up this stair I recognise the rotten smell from the entrance), or perhaps an indication of the local ecosystem (no firedrakes in this cold). 




Heroics of Nifelhel

So what are Heroes in Nifelhel, well, when a person that have broken free of the Ice and passed beyond the Thaw, they can keep develop in one of three (Aristocrat, Commoner or Adept) career they choose. In time the evolution and advancement will be slower and slower until they  are completely stagnant. They enter a state of not unlike the mind of a Thawed, just more elaborate rituals and instead of fading memories a calcified conservatism with hostility towards any changes at all.

The Aristocrats gathers in courts engaged in ritualistic intrigues and games, jockeying fir imagine advantages and enforcing a bureaucratic rule of paragraph on subjects. 

Adepts becomes fixated on research subjects and details ever becoming more and more detached from practical use. Unless losing interest of magic completely, their performance of it becomes sloppy or filled with erroneous details causing them to twist and mutate beyond recognition.

Commoners are perhaps those that get of most lightly, they just continue produce or perform the same Craft or service as usual, but stop learning any new or adapt to new situations. Their products becomes more and more elaborate and intricate, in the end most of them lock into produce a masterpiece, a final result grander and more perfect than anything.

The other alternative to this path into mental stasis is that if the Hero, this is a individual that becomes a integral part of actively bring back the world from the brink of death. By accept and adhere to an archetype and band together in a group, the gods of Nifelhel becomes aware of the Hero and will reward actions that brings back the strength of the old or forges a new future.

Actually the sole purpose of the Hero is to bring conflict and violence into the DungeonGods domain and in exchange get magic (in the shape of gold) and trinkets to bring back to Nifelhel. This is of course nothing that is common knowledge, not even among the Heroes. The truth is suppressed for several and complex reasons and is a source of conflict among the upper echelons of the Heroes.

The Thawning

Some musing about the start of characters and the population of Nifelhel in general from a rules system view.

When a individual is rescued from the Ice, most commonly by a celebration feast (see here for explanation) everyone starts as a Commoner of Lvl 1. This means that starting with -2 in all Characteristics (equal to 8 in OGL standard). And can increase chosen Physical Characteristics with 5 points in any suitable combination.

Also a random background is rolled with associated skill proficiency as a memory of earlier life.

Any Flaw/Merit system that the D’G wishes to use should be applied now, suggestible by choosing a flaw and roll for two random Merits. This as unwanted Flaw can be worse to play and random Merits impose a sense of appropriate Fatalism (and anti-Min/Max).

Thaws are the remnant of a soul, some never progress beyond this state doomed to be the foundative working class of the new world. In most places they are cared for and ensured a safe living with support and guidance. In a few places they are treated in a much more heavy handed and rigid way. One of the most important reasons for the continuation of this state is the weak long term memory of the Thaws, almost all new knowledge and experience they acquires fades over the duration of a couple of days and makes any progress difficult. This has the effect that they desperately clings to the only stable memories they have, those fragments from their time before the Ice.

Those that actually break out of this first difficult stage of the Thawing takes one of three shapes. The most common is that they tries to built their new life around those memory fragments they have. They develop their skills from the fragments that survived the frozen torpor of the soul. They become the backbone of the society, most often referred to as Commoners. They tries to create a normal world of work and community, forming social, economic and logistic infrastructure. [this equals to aleveling as 3.5 OGL Commoner NPC, to be developed further in later postings]

The second way to develop is those that either has no memory of a craft or trade or whose skill are utterly irrelevant and of no foreseeable use in the future. Those who still are able to break the icy curse of their soul in the face of this bleak insight becomes strong willed, nearly fanatic leaders and visionaries. Using their freedom of the past to lead and develop the new world into a desirable shape, to create and place for themselves and allowing those more fortunate to bloom. They form a group called Aristocrats and are seen as leaders and organisers of Communities, the mundane leadership of the world. [This equals to level as a Aristocrat as 3.5 OGL NPC, to be developed further in later postings]

The third and most uncommon way to develop, one of the most desirable from the view of Gods and Priests, are those who carry a shard of ancient magic in their souls. They are called Adepts and are guided to develop their magic talent to help improve and expand the world, but in doing this they are also become warped and strangers to the reality, as touching the very unformed fabric of the world is dangerous and problematic for mind, body and soul alike. [This equals to develop levels of Adept as 3.5 OGL NPC, to be developed further in later postings]

Then there is some who after achieved one of these three stages develops further and actually becomes aspirants of true ascension to help the gods themselves to form the world and create a new sun. These are the Heroes, taking Class level in a tweaked way of D&Dish style.

What IS Nifelhel

So what are my view of Nifelhel from a campaign/role-play perspective?

  • It is a Bleak world, there is no lush woods, there is no bountiful farmlands. No cute bunnies jumping around… The whole world, with precious few exceptions, consists of snowfields with crags of ice scattered all over it. Here and there the snow has melted away and expose treacherous mudflats with withered stone ruins the only thing breaking through the surface. No animals, no birds …. No natural life, never-ending twilight, biting cold.
  • It is a world of Hope, the world has literally been snatched from the jaws of Oblivion. The life is returning, there is a future and every day takes you one step further towards the rebirth of the sun. The temple-cities grows, lost crafts are rediscovered, trees are cultivated, animal raised, minds are awakening.
  • It is a world of Pioneers, the Ice has to be pushed back, the life expanded. Villages are founded and frontiers expanded. The lost has to be recovered, traces of the old followed and interpreted, clues of lost knowledges collected and collated.
  • It is a world of Creation, with so much lost and so much crucial pieces missing, there are nearly unlimited opportunities to create and direct where and how the future will be. What things should remain buried, what laws of nature should be tweaked and reshaped? And what should be created wholly new?
  • It is a world of Cooperation, everyone is working towards a bright future for the whole world. Willingly or not, every action taken by anyone pushes the ice back, only apathy and non-action are helping the return of the bad times. There is a well ingrained mentality of “We against the Darkness” among the people of Nifelhel.
  • There is Mystery, what caused the the downfall and where did the creators of the world go? Why did the Ice come, and why are the world returning, one scrap at the time.
  • And there is the Big Dark Secret, what stopped the Ice? How could the new gods, the minor servants of the old gods, suddenly succeed in pushing back the Ice after failing it for … centuries? And after holding their hand over their last few followers, staving off their deaths at all cost, living so close to them that they nearly become inseparable, suddenly are gone and not answering any questions? There are whispers about a Compact with something unmentionable, with statures and consequences so dreadful, the truth would rip the people of the world apart and allow the return of the Ice.

Time to get my act together!

Been on a stable baseline for a while so now I actually have to prove it is really an improvement.
So now I have decided upon a moratorium on game buying, I shall not buy any more game products until:

-I actually produce something own my own that I actually think are worth promoting.
-That is actually downloaded more than by a couple of persons.
-And at least someone says something nice about.

I feel I need some incitement to be productive and not just slacking and twiddling with interesting notions and ideas.
Caveat- I have Gloranthan super-goodness incoming , a lulu shipment and just bought a couple or ten on RPGnow (from this heap of stuff) so I won’t starve mentally to death anytime really soon, just need some discipline and a kick in the pants.

What this masterwork will be, I don’t haven’t decided upon, but I kick some three or four ideas about in my head…

Sooo now I’m off to stare blankly at a empty page…

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