Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Legend of Copper Isle - randomly generating a campaign

Last randomly-generated campaign worked well, so let's do another one.  This post is about the process of generating the campaign, then I'll post the writeup once it's done.

Here's a link to the writeup.  (or where it will be later)

Like last time, I have no idea what this campaign is going to look like.  I'm just rolling the dice, following the procedures, and seeing what happens.  Randomly rolled items are in bold (unless the text is very long, in which case just the first few words are in bold).

First we'd sit down with the players and talk about what kind of adventures sound like fun, but since we don't have any players, I'll just roll up some great opportunities randomly.  (If any of the ones from last time come up, I'll roll for something else because that sounds fun to me.)

Exploring Expedition

The expedition is sponsored by a learned society, like a scientific academy.  We'll roll up details for them in a minute.

The primary purpose of the expedition is to explore the full length of a river.  If possible, they should find the ruler who sends out pirates/raiders while they're at it.

The learned society will help you with another opportunity if you succeed at this one.

Beyond the usual provisions/funding, the sponsor provides a useful map with cryptic details, and a tool to help (such as a newly-invented boat) that turns out to be useless.  Actually, they're not providing all the funding; you'll have to borrow money, solicit donations, sell relics/memoirs afterward, etc.  To pick up the map and the new riverboat, you'll have to go to a second location.

Things that happen along the way:

  • You find the objective has recently changed and the old one is no longer suitable.  So either the river has changed its course and no longer flows where it once did, or the pirates aren't being sent by the person who used to be the pirate king.
  • Your guides/porters abandon you.  That's straightforward enough.  It also means there's a need for guides or porters and that there are people who can work as such.
  • The objective does not exist: there is no such route, the goal is a hoax/misunderstanding.  If it's the river, that means the upper reaches and the lower reaches aren't actually part of the same river.  If it's the pirates, that means there's no one who's actually sending them out: they're a myth, or they're not an organized effort at all so there's no one sending them.
That last point is going to really change things for this opportunity.  At the moment, I'm thinking I should roll up a map with a river first, then see how it looks.

The Sponsor

Let's see who's sponsoring this expedition.  Their field of study is archaeology, history, or anthropology.  I'm liking the idea of archaeology as their field, especially since the second opportunity is the legend of a lost place.

They're named the (City) Society of Archaeology, which means we need a city they're based in, at least to find out their name.  Rolling up an elven city name I get Tranquil Haven.  Let's go with Haven for short, so this is the Haven Society of Archaeology.

It's funded jointly by the city of Tranquil Haven and the Imperial government (or what's left of it after the apocalypse).  That means they're probably beholden to government interests, at least to some degree.

They're able to offer two benefits to their members and esteemed archaeologists: an advisory position in the government and access to their extensive library.

The Society has no concern for good finances but they're very concerned with their prestige.  So they're all about looking important but they can't manage their books.  It's no wonder they needed to go to the government for funding.

Legend of the Lost Place

We already know the Archaeological Society is willing to help you with another opportunity if you explore the entire length of the river.  I'm thinking it would cause a lot of good drama if it turns out the expedition turns out to be impossible because the river doesn't go where they think it goes.  Then the Society refuses to help you find the Lost Place, yet you know they could help, presumably with whatever their library contains.

The legend tells of a lost mine for some valuable mineral.  (Maybe the gold rush table would suggest an interesting mineral for the mine.  The first result is fruit or seeds, which isn't really mineable.  Rolling until I get something that you'd actually find in a mine: iron, flint, copper, something for toolmaking.)

Supposedly the mine was dug by a human conspiracy of witchcraft, so this mineral must be something they need for the tools of their art.  Whether the legend is correct or not is an open question.

There are two clues of the mine's existence early on: a small golden item with a face that has a strange feature (three eyes, crooked nose, etc.) and an old wooden object carved with a revealing name or sign.  I'm imagining the Society has recently unearthed the golden item at an archaeological site (maybe on the upper reaches of the river they care about) and the adventurers get to see it when they go to their headquarters.  (This could be like the scene where Donovan shows the grail tablet to Indiana Jones.)

The golden item has a characteristic facial feature, and the legend says the mine was made by humans.  Each human tribe has a distinct appearance, so let's get a random human facial appearance: intricate animal tattoos.

The second clue is the wooden object.  Let's put it somewhere the party is likely to find it.  It shows the same kind of face tattoo, but also enough to connect the dots for the party that these people were the ones connected to the legendary mine.

Rolling for the difficulty about the mine, I got the same result twice: it's buried under a present-day settlement, reachable only by a deep well or chasm.  Normally I'd consider rerolling for a second result, but double-buried deep underground sounds exciting.

According to the legend, there are three landmarks that show the location of the mine: a rock that looks like a face from one angle, an island surrounded by cliffs with only one safe landing place, and one of the natural wonders of the world.

This sounds like an awesome adventure!

Some of the natural wonder results have settlements of some kind, so we'll need to make sure it's one of those ones.  The first roll comes up with a very deep canyon, but that doesn't sound like a great fit for this island, so I'll reroll.  The wonder is an immense tree, last of an ancient forest of some giant species of redwood/fir/spruce.  Up in the tree is the temple of an ancient priesthood.

So let's assume the ancient priesthood is the same as the legendary conspiracy of witchcraft.  We'll figure out more about them later.

According to the legend, the reason they kept the mine's location secret is so their enemies couldn't destroy it.  And that turns out to be the real reason as well.  So these people need some enemies...

As you travel across the land to find the lost mine, you find local versions of the legend.  In the first version, it gets bigger.  Instead of just a mine, it's something bigger than that, maybe it's where they use the mined material as well.  In the next version, it gets older.  Between this and the ancient priesthood, I'm thinking this mine could be a relic from an ancient civilization.

When the mine is discovered, it turns out to contain something amazing: a lost technological marvel, a magic tool of folklore, or a lost treasure.  Any of those could work, but I'll hold off choosing one till we know more about the ancient civilization.

Wanderer's Tale

The third opportunity goes in a different direction.  It's about wandering entertainers, like medicine shows and traveling circuses.

These wanderers are the main source of news and outside products for a region.  They're known for divination and for doing a dramatic retelling of the apocalypse.  When they need to make extra money, they steal things.  I'm picturing thieves who steal from the city-elves, then return to the countryside to sell things and entertain people.  They're likely to bring city-elven newspapers along.  Divination is an interesting result; maybe these wanderers have some kind of religious role in their society?

They typically travel by boat along the coast or through the islands.  I like the idea of them working the rounds of a rugged coastal archipelago, bringing news, foreign goods, and future-telling to isolated towns.

And why do these wanderers not entertain people in the city?  First, they know secrets about an opportunity that lead them elsewhere.  I assume they know more about the mine; maybe they're the ones who know the truest form of the legend.

Second, the big city died off in the apocalypse.  That's an interesting result.  Is it Tranquil Haven that died or is there another city involved, maybe at the mouth of the river, the place the Archaeological Society wants to find a route to?  Picking randomly, the dead city is the one at the mouth of the river.

There's a table here for information about the next town down the road, but I'll leave that for later, if we're actually following along with these wanderers.

So the wanderers steal elven goods and sell them in small, isolated towns, and there's a dead elven city involved.  I assume they're scroungers, searching through the ruins of the city for valuable things.  Tree-goblins are good at scrounging, as they can climb and fit into small spaces, though they don't usually make large boats.  Humans and elves are the ship-builders, and giants also find work on elven ships.  Maybe the wanderers started as a motley assemblage of refugees from the apocalypse, people who have now grown up in this traveling culture.

And how are the pirates connected to all of this?  I'm not sure, so let's come back around to the pirates later.  Maybe something will suggest itself as an answer.

Ancients of the Mine

There's an ancient civilization involved in the story so far: we've got an ancient mine (for some magicky tool mineral), an ancient priesthood, an ancient tree, and some amazing thing down in the mine.  (Remember how the first roll for the stuff they're mining was fruit/seeds?  I wonder if maybe the giant tree grew from primordial seeds buried deep below the earth...)

The story of the ancient civilization: the empire of the God-King once sprawled across the continent, with an interesting question at the end: "Where is he buried?".  Is the ancient god-king buried somewhere in this adventure?  Maybe his body is enshrined at the temple in the tree, maybe he's buried deep in the mine, maybe at the archaeological site upriver.  He could even be on display at the Archaeological Society, like an Egyptian mummy.

There's a roll for the symbol of the ancient civilization, but I think we already know: it's the face with the animal tattoo.  Rolling anyhow, I get sun with a face and thirteen rays.  Not sure what to do with that yet.

The empire of the God-King fell during the apocalypse, placing it only 50 years ago.  If the mine is supposed to be old, then even older than we thought, that just doesn't work.  I'm going to reroll this one.  It actually fell a few centuries ago; early elven explorers heard stories of it; artifacts and stories are still handed down in families.  That's better.

Signs left behind by the ancient kingdom: great stone statues of people or animals, a network of roads/bridges/stairs, and hidden knowledge of ancient arts passed down in families or by a secret priesthood.  Thinking of the golden head, let's go with great stone heads (like the Olmecs).  We'll see what kind of transportation infrastructure is useful based on the terrain.  And we've already got an ancient priesthood up in the tree with some kind of witchcraft or something.

Down Roots

Speaking of the ancient tree, I know that tree-goblins believe in a mythical otherworld down in the roots of the forest.  Let's see what the goblins believe around this tree.

First roll: the root world is just as the stories say.  Looks like this adventure is getting otherworldly.

In the goblin tales, the way the protagonist gets down roots is threefold: they nearly drown heading downriver, they're devoured by a predator, and they go deep under the roots of a tree.

That's the second time we've had some animal involved in this story: there's the animal of the facial tattoos and there's an animal that devours people in the down-roots tales.  Let's say it's the same one.

When the hidden world draws near, in the stories you always see/hear a woodpecker.  Makes sense, I suppose, that a bird that drills holes into trees would be connected to the world under the trees.

Remember how the true mine is located deep underground underneath deep underground?  I'm thinking one of those steps is actually going into the underworld from the goblin stories.

Down roots, the travelers in the stories always leave an offering of the right sort of food and find secrets that fell from the world above.  Is the food for the predator that swallows you?  Is it for the woodpecker?  Is the body of the ancient god-king one of the secret things here from the world above?  So many questions...

As a general rule, when I find that there are too many questions for me to make sense of it all, I try to just keep exploring the story along paths I understand (like rolling to see what the elven city is like) rather than spending too much time trying to piece together weird, disconnected stuff (like how the ancient kingdom is connected to a predator that swallows you to the underworld).  These questions often get resolved by other results further down the line.

Open Questions

Let's take a moment to see what we have left.  There are a few regions that need details:

  • Tranquil Haven, the city where we find the Haven Society of Archaeology.  It must be a long way from the dead city by sea, or else they wouldn't care about finding a river route there.  I assume there's a peninsula or something in the way, so the sea journey is much longer than any overland one would be.
  • The river we're supposed to explore, which isn't actually all one river.  There's an archaeological site on the upper section.  The route downriver must really, really difficult, or else they would have traversed it by now.
  • The dead elven city at the mouth of the river.  There's stuff there worth scrounging for, and it can't be too far away from where the wanderers sell their wares.
  • The islands where we find the tree and the wanderers.

We also have a few groups that need details:

  • The magical priesthood of the ancient kingdom and the tree.
  • The people that the wanderers sell things to, isolated and scattered.
  • The pirates -- I keep forgetting about the pirates.  They're the secondary aim of the expedition anyhow.  Maybe I'll leave them aside until after the countries are rolled up, then if anyone in them is likely to be raiding the elves, we'll decide those are the pirates the expedition is looking for.

There's also:

  • The special thing down in the mine: a lost technological marvel, a magic tool of folklore, or a lost treasure.
  • The apocalypse itself -- we need to know how the elven city died, for one thing.


Let's figure that out right now.  (This is still an area where I need to flesh out my tables.)  For now, I know that most people died from a long winter, years of ice and starvation, leaving vast dead forests.  There are also signs of crop-devouring creatures, though that wasn't the primary cause.  (These could be the cornworms from Through the Saw-Grass.)


Time to roll up the countries where the adventure is taking place.  I'm not sure where to start, so I think I'll start rolling and see where it seems to fit.

Ogansi Country

Rolling for terrain:

  • Snow-capped volcano, likely to erupt soon, spewing ash lately that has rained down for a hundred miles.
  • High mountain range running east/west.
  • Rainy jungle of towering trees and incredibly thick undergrowth.

I think that would be a great place to start the river expedition: it's separated from the main elven area by a high mountain range and it's difficult enough to travel in that they haven't explored it yet.  The archaeological site could be just over the mountains at the edge of the jungle.

And I think this should be a temperate rainforest, in keeping with the giant redwood tree.  In order to be so rainy, there needs to be moisture blown in from the sea, so there's probably ocean either east or west of here, maybe both.  If there's a peninsula separating the two elven cities, this whole region could be a peninsula like Florida, jutting southwards from the continent (though at a more temperate latitude).

This land is inhabited by elves and humans:

  • Elves have a single trading post here.  I got a high roll, but this country has a lot of negative modifiers for elven activity: it's up north, it's inland, and there's no easy route to the sea.  This trading post is presumably where they're doing the archaeological dig.
  • Humans have a trade center and many other towns.  This rainforest is the home to a major human tribe, which means we'll need to figure out what they're trying to achieve.

Other facts about this country:

  • It's the only source for a medicinal material, which would explain why there's a trade center here.  People from many other countries probably want this stuff.
  • There's a ford or a rope bridge, a boon to travelers.  Let's go with a ford.
  • There's an obstacle on the border of the country.  Of the suggestions, I like miles of log-jam the best.  We know there's a river leading out of here (since the expedition calls for it) and that there are many dead forests from the apocalypse, so a massive log-jam fits well.
  • This country is impoverished and near starvation.  It's a dying civilization, still dealing with repercussions of the apocalypse.  The forest is recovering, but the people might never recover from the time when most of the trees died.  Maybe the forest that's here now isn't the same species of tree that was here before, replaced by one that survived the winter.

I'm thinking about the ancient civilization again.  The first roll said that it died out in the apocalypse, and here we've got a society that nearly died then as well.  Maybe the mine is many centuries old, but the empire of the god-king persisted until the Great Winter.

This country used to have many of the massive wonder-of-the-world trees, I think.  All of them died in the Winter, save one down in the islands.  These humans lived among the trees (and apparently their priesthood went up into the trees) and now they're surviving in the new forest that grew where the old trees died.

The land is named for the people who live there: this is Ogansi Country(The first name I rolled was Onawa "grass weavers" which didn't sound right, but Ogansi "log craftsmen" was nearby, so I grabbed that.)

Ogansi People

They wear cloth tunics and keep their hair shaved into a mohawk.  (I'll assume the animal face tattoos are something special for the priesthood.)  Most have fallen away from their ancestors' religion and are eager to listen to preaching, so it's the faithful few who still know the old ways.  Their boats are hide kayaks on a frame of wood/wicker/bone.

Ogansi people live by piracy and gathering berries, so I guess that answers the pirate question.  The roll says they raid along the shore, but there is no shore in their country, so either they cross the mountains to raid the city-elven coast, or they used to be pirates but are no longer.  We know that the source of the pirates turns out to be something different than expected, so let's say the Ogansi used to live along the coast and raid by sea, but those raiders have been defeated by the elves.

Their homes are tents and boats, suitable for raiders on the move.  This doesn't sound like a powerful civilization; it sounds like the surviving remnant after the old forest died.  Let's roll again to see how their grandparents lived: raiders again, from hilltop fortresses.  Since there's a mountain range separating Ogansi Country from the elven coast, I suppose that's where they once had many fortresses.

Were these people always raiders, preying on the settled people of the coast?  They need something else to get by, especially if they're being driven back by the elves.  Twice in a row, I find that they hunt frogs and have houses on stilts.  So I guess that's how they've been surviving since the apocalypse: raiding their neighbors, gathering berries, and hunting frogs.

(Note for later: this country needs to have some large animals whose hides can be used to make kayaks.)

Ogansi Ancestor diversion

Their ancestors once ruled a major empire, so they must have been able to support a large population.  I'm going to roll for their subsistence: gathering wild rice and fishing for salmon.  Going by the example of the Pacific Northwest, salmon fishing can sustain large towns.

So I guess this means the ancestors once lived down by the coast where the wanderers are today, meaning that the people there might be descendants of the same ancestral empire, or they might have arrived later.

(The trading post / archaeological site in southern Ogansi Country could be one of the grandparents' hilltop fortresses.)

back to the Ogansi

During the Long Winter they forgot how to plant/harvest an old crop.  I'm assuming it's something that once grew in the forest that died off (or nearly so) when the old forest died.

The old forest might have been much more open than the tangled rainforest of today -- it's possible that the roads of the ancient civilization are all still there, just covered by undergrowth.

Men handle dealings with outsiders, women handle matters within the tribe and folk magic.  This means adventurers in their land will probably be confronted by the men, but those who go to the temple in the great tree will probably be dealt with by the women.

Today there's a noble council of the aristocracy that makes decisions for the tribe.  Considering their gendered division of labor, I'm assuming it's a two-fold council: noble men who discuss outside relations and noble women who handle internal politics.  This also means the Ogansi have nobles and commoners, which feels unnatural to me as an American, but it's been very common historically.

The Ogansi have a reputation for being stern and cold, but very reliable.  They're said to be open to trade with outsiders, but eager for you to depart.  Captives taken in war, however, are typically killed in some painful manner.

Their main enemy is a trade company.  They used to get along but fell apart due to betrayal.  I'm guessing this company drove them back from the coastal elven settlements.

Their main ally is also a trade company that recently arrived in the area and was helped by the Ogansi.  This sets up some interesting drama between the two companies.  The trading post could have been a First company fort that sent out punitive raids against the Ogansi, then the Second company came in and tried to open trade, had some trouble and was saved by the humans.

The First company is probably angry at being usurped, out for revenge.  They could be like the Jesuits, being expelled from the empire and replaced with other orders.  (Then there's that advisory position in the government that the Archaeological Society holds.  I'll think about this more later.)

Based on their methods of subsistence, the Ogansi are likely to have baskets and practice dueling.

Their favorite food used to be potatoes fried in sunflower oil, but I think they lost their sunflowers in the long winter.  They might make something similar with a different fat today, but it isn't the same.  When they do make it, the aristocracy eats first.

Ogansi Trade Center

We know there's one major town of the Ogansi, a trading center somewhere in the rainforest.  It's in an open valley.  (Did the new forest not grow here?)  Around the town are a marshy area, boulders, and fishponds.  Let's say it's an area where some streams converge (good for trade).  The town is not fortified.

This town wants to retake leadership of the tribe, which means they used to have a larger influence on the council.  They also want to find a cure for someone who is very ill.  Maybe it's their noble member of the council who's dying, and the medicine of this land isn't working.

People here have boats or livestock acquired from neighbors, so let's go with stolen elven livestock, like cattle, grazing in this one open valley.  (Maybe it's a grassy island in a river.)  There is a ford in this country, so I suppose that is how people get to this town.

They also have rumors of a nearby country that are largely true.  I'll say it's the land downriver where their ancestors lived.  Their knowledge of the elven coast isn't based in rumor, it's much more recent.

The town is called Blind Fish and it's on the Red Dog River.

Grenadier Bay

Local terrain:

  • One great river flows down from mountains/hills towards the sea, gaining water from streams as it goes.  The river flows to the north.
  • There's a long sandy spit or grassy cape with dangerous sand/gravel bars in a few river mouths.  This country has many isles offshore.
  • Thin barrier islands enclose a marshy sound.  The sea lies to the east.

I meant to roll up the elven coastline south of Ogansi Country, but that's not what I got.  There's a great river (and we already have two of those in the story).  I don't think it's the country of the ancient tree (since that's supposed to be a rugged redwood coast).  This must be the rivermouth with the elven city that died.

The city-elves call this the Grenadier River, but the locals call it the Desolation River.  The city-elves believe it's the same as the river in the Ogansi country.

It's inhabited by humans, goblins, and elves:

  • Humans: few scattered towns, meager remnant of a once-great tribe.
  • Goblins: two dwellings compete.  That's too much like the last map I drew, so let's reroll for something different: one dwelling in a secluded region.
  • I'm not going to roll for the elves, since we already know this one: dead city with whatever outlying settlements/forts.

Other facts about this land:

  • A battle was fought here during the war.
  • Endemic disease that strikes one species.
  • Ongoing war forces you to take a side.
  • There's a well-established trail/road.

Post-apocalyptic wasteland that mostly died during the winter, where a meager remnant wages war over scraps.  Sounds lovely.  It's named for a strange local encounter.  I don't know what it is yet, but I can't imagine it's good.

(At this point I have no idea how these countries are arranged compared to each other, but we'll figure that out eventually.)

Erepacho People

The humans here grow sunflowers and beans, and they like to fry things in fish grease.  (That's just the worst refried beans right there.)  They live in longhouses, on walled-in earthen mounds.  They have facial scars and animal tattoos.  Let's change that last one, to avoid confusion with the ancient priesthood.  These people have woolen elven trade coats.  They have dugouts up to 50 feet long.

The men interpret dreams and signs and the women ward off dangerous creatures.  Their elders died in the apocalypse.

We already know this region is embroiled in war, so let's assume the various human settlements are all independent.  Each one is typically ruled by popular consensus, large gatherings for argument and decision-making.

They have a reputation for being treacherous snakes, likely to ambush and rob outsiders.  Captives are adopted to replace fallen members of the tribe.

They have always hated the elves, as far back as anyone can remember.  A giantish house was subjugated by this human tribe.  As there are no giants in this land, I'll assume they died or left after being conquered, so there's the ruin of a house here.

These humans are called the Erepacho.

Abandoned City of Liberty Isle

This was a city of gunsmithing, shipping, and cherry trees.  The docks are falling apart from disrepair and the cherry trees all died in the Winter, but the guns are still around, scattered across this entire country and sold off by the wandering traders.  (Speaking of which, the remote goblin dwelling here might be a friendly port for the wanderers who come here to get elven goods.)

The city itself is on an island just offshore, a place short on fresh drinking water.  They didn't understand the wilderness around them, full of goblins that would disguise themselves.  The city had a strange new invention.

It is surrounded by a tarred wooden palisade with a walkway up top, and wooden boxes on poles to catch ancestor spirits that get lost from the shrine.  There's an image of the lost child emperor (long may he reign) at the gates of the city, which I assume is still there today.

The city was called Liberty Isle 🎆 and their flag was a gold sextant on blue, with the motto "Our Rights Prevail" though they prevail no longer.

(Note from near-future me: Liberty Isle turns out to be flooded, as the sea level rose a bit during/after the apocalypse.  Also there is probably an isolated village of survivors from the city, maybe with a puritanical cult just for fun.)

Strange Local Encounter

So what's the strange local encounter that this country is named for?  Ideally I'd go check my random encounter table generator, but I've only really finished the one for wetlands.  Actually, let's try that one out and see if it suggests something we can use for this country.  The result: venus fly-traps.  Let's say this country has its own kind of carnivorous plant.  Those are mainly a swampland plant.

After a quick dive down the Wikipedia rabbit hole, I came across the dynamite tree, a thorny New World tree with poisonous sap and fruits that explode to disperse seeds.  That's awesome!

The elves named Grenadier Bay for the exploding fruits of a prominent local species of tree.  The name stuck, so now that's what everyone calls it.  (Realistically you'd have different names in different languages, but I try to use non-English terms sparingly, so as not to overwhelm the players.)

Serpent Coast

Let's see if we can get the thriving elven coast this time:

  • Mostly-parallel ridges running east/west and also north/south.  I'm having a hard time picturing that; need to look at some maps.
  • Deeply-indented coastline: many inlets and streams.
  • This country is an island chain.

No, it sounds like we found the land of the great tree.  The people here come up as elves once and giants twice, though I might veto elves since they're not supposed to know about this area yet.

  • Giants have two rival houses with a contested border, along with scattered trappers, fishers, etc.

If there were humans or goblins here instead of elves, what would we get?

  • Human tribe from neighboring country extends here.
  • One goblin dwelling in a secluded region.

That's not too bad, actually.  Mostly giantish activity here, but a few scattered humans and goblins.  Other facts about this country:

  • Lost place or treasure.  Well, yeah, we knew that.  Let's roll a different one on that table.
  • An expedition will come here.  Hopefully, unless the party all dies on the river.  Apparently this table was just fated to provide no news today.  Let's roll on the other tables.
  • An obstacle on the border.  This time let's go with a high waterfall where the river comes down from the upper country.
  • Beasts we ought not to have forgotten.  Nice and ominous.
  • Ford or rope bridge still maintained every year.  I like the idea of giants building and maintaining rope bridges, so let's say one of the houses is on a little island with a bridge connecting it to the mainland over a rocky, narrow channel far below.


The country is named for a strange local encounter, which I assume would be the beasts here.

Earlier we found that there's a predator in the isles that's large enough to swallow people and somehow transport them to the otherworld.  These are the isles, so let's say the predator is the namesake of the country and the animal of the priestly tattoos.  The obvious answer to me is a killer whale or something like it, between Jonah and the mythology of the Pacific Northwest.

Incidentally, this whole idea of being swallowed to get to the underworld is really weird.  One problem with using your own random tables is that there's no one else to blame when you don't know what to do with the results.

What do we know about this predator so far?

  • It's recognizable as a facial tattoo.
  • It might be the symbol of the ancient empire (or maybe just of the priesthood).
  • It devours people in the goblin tales, and they end up in the underworld.
  • This devouring has to happen in some way connected with the great tree and the place deep underground.
  • It's the strange encounter of this country by the sea.

I'm thinking it's a gigantic snake.  If you have to get up into the tree, then down into the earth, then be swallowed by it, it has to be something that can climb and burrow.  This could be the Serpent Coast.

Incidentally, while trying to come up with a better name, I ran across articles on the joint snake and the hoop snake that you might enjoy.

Flying Bar Goose

Let's roll up the first giantish house.  Their prestigious way of getting food is by driving herd animals off a cliff, like a buffalo jump.  But the animals are a strange version of something else.  We'll get to them in a minute.  Their other way of getting food is putting out snares to catch turkeys.

Based on their food, this house makes hide drums and wears animal disguises.  They also make rope, use bullroarers to call between valleys, and do woodcarving.  I could see a strange encounter where you hear the sound of a bullroarer from far off, then get surprised by giants disguised as wood buffalo or something.

They do peaceful trade over one border, the ridgeline of the mountains.  They are enemies with the people across a different ridge (the other giantish house).

Nearby is a ruin of the ancient kingdom where a battle was fought long ago.  The only large construction we know of from the ancient kingdom is their network of roads/bridges/stairs, so let's say it's the ruin of an ancient stone bridge.  The giants tell the tale of the battle, as they remember old tales well.

Another great battle was fought nearby at an ancient tree.  Let's say it's the stump of one of the ancient species of enormous tree, felled in the battle or in the great winter long afterward.

The legend says that the mine was kept secret to protect it from enemies; it looks like we've found signs of their war.  Who are the enemies?  Are they the ancestors of the giants?

The house itself is raised high up on massive wooden pillars, on a steep-sided hill with only one shallow approach.  There are hidden triplines and pit traps on the approach.  The house is decorated with embossed copper ornamentation.

They are debating whether to establish a new house as the land cannot support so many people.  (Only the first rank of giants live at any house full time, the rest wander the land in their alloted/inherited routes, trapping and fishing and such.  Each year in the spring there's a gathering, a rendezvous when all the giants of a house show up to trade, mate, gossip, and decide on plans for the year to come.)

The house is called Flying Bar Goose.  Out in the wilderness, their favorite food from home is salted clams, flavored with birchbark.

Strange Herd Animals

Let's figure out what those strange herd animals are that Flying Bar Goose drives off cliffs.  There are only so many large mammals in the Americas, so let's list a few and pick one at random as a base: 1 buffalo, 2 caribou, 3 bighorn sheep, 3 musk-ox, 4 moose, 5 deer, 6 peccary, 7 guanaco, and 8 porcupine, to change it up.  And...it's caribou.

It has two unusual physical features: a venomous stinger/claw and heat vision.  Let's say the antlers are sharp and venomous.

For its behavior: learning and charm.  So they're beautiful creatures that are good at evading giantish traps, and they can distinguish warm creatures from a cold backdrop easily.  You have to be very clever and well-coordinated to corral them to a place where you can get a stampede going.  We could call them thorn-deer for their sharp, poisonous antlers.


Their rivals are another giantish house in a different part of the Serpent Coast.  Huckleberries are their favorite food (available in late summer), but their mainstay is herding alpacas for meat, cheese, and wool.  They make baskets and do weaving.

Based on their herd animals, I'd say they probably live in a less forested part of the country, maybe a region of alpine meadows with grazing land.  They probably bring their herds down towards the coast in the winter.

On the border with their enemies there's a waterfall, rapids, or a cliff.  I'll assume it's part of their border with Flying Bar Goose.  Another border is at a low range of hills, where they have a shaky alliance against a new enemy.  Not sure who that's with yet.  (I've been thinking of adding more detail to the river between Ogansi Country and the Serpent Coast, so maybe there's an enemy there.)

Nearby there's a large cavern that's difficult to reach, said to be a place of healing.  There's also an ancient tree (let's say it's a fallen tree) where shamanist rituals are performed.

The house itself is a stone-walled structure with no gates, only ladders.  It's perched high on a pinnacle with steep steps cut into the rock.  On other peaks nearby they have sentries with signal fires.  This is a very well-defended site.  As decoration, there are faces and animals carved in the stone.

They're afraid that a war will be reignited.  Their house is called Bear-by-Hand Castle.  Herdsmen from this house enjoy a bit of mushroom tobacco when they're out in the pasture, far from home.  (It's mushrooms mixed with tobacco, dried in the sun, then ground up.  Do they smoke it?  Snort it?  Make a tea out of it?  I certainly don't want any.)

Flying Bar Goose and Bear-by-Hand are very different, culturally.  I wonder if one of them is a relative newcomer to the area, having invaded and fought for their place.  The stone decorations and the carved stone steps of Bear-by-Hand make me think it might be a site from the ancient civilization that they came to occupy.  Giants wouldn't be comfortable in human-sized houses, though (this world's giants are the size of gorillas or oxen) so maybe they built the house around existing statues.

So let's say Bear-by-Hand invaded this country in the long winter, coming down from the higher mountains where their herds were all dying.  They fought a war with the locals (Flying Bar Goose plus whoever else was dying here at the time) and have been enemies ever since.

One major region left: the coastal region south of Ogansi Country where the city-elves live.  Also, I'd like to roll up a bit more detail for the great river, since that expedition is going to be significant in the story.

Haven Colony

The terrain (rerolling a few times to get something that's coastal and not hostile to settlement):

  • Straight coast with a few harbors/inlets.  Long grassy cape.  Sea to the east.
  • Deeply-indented coastline, sea to the southeast.
  • A high mountain range runs east/west.  That's the range on the border of Ogansi Country.

The local people are elves, giants, and goblins, which fits well with humans being driven out of here.

  • We already know about the elves living here: there's Tranquil Haven, a major city, plus its outlying settlements.
  • Scattered giants: trappers, fishers, herders, traders.  Probably most of them are associated with the elven economy today, herding their cattle, logging, etc. for subsistence wages.
  • Goblins once lived here, but no more.  There are forbidden woods and tales that confuse them with ghosts.

Other facts about this country:

  • The first result is lost place or treasure.  We've already got that as a major adventure premise, so let's say this one has already been found.  I'll roll up a treasure later on, already found by the Archaeological Society, leading to their current prestige.
  • Lowlands have flooded or sunken into shallow water.  Did the sea level rise after the long winter?  I know that happened after the ice ages, but this is an entirely different scale.  Let's say it did, because that's interesting.  (That also means Liberty Isle should be flooded, making it a much more difficult ruin to explore.  I'll make a note above so I don't forget it.)
  • There's an easy-to-reach vantage point that lets you see far.  This would be a nice place to start off, maybe a small settlement, the party's home town where they're at the tavern overlooking the bay when they get word of an opportunity.

This country is named for the people who live there.  I decided to call it the Haven Colony.

Tranquil Haven

The main crops here are cherries, apples, and sheep.  There's probably a distillery and some sort of woolen industry, plus a mercantile company or two.  (We already know there are two companies involved in the tale.)

There's a tax that the viceroy has commanded on all goods transported by sea, shown with a stamp.  As a result, there's plenty of smuggling to get around the tax.

Tranquil Haven is on a long, thin islet in a river, probably with a bridge leading to it.  They fear the humans will cause the next war.  Their main ally / trade partner is another elven colony, but that's not really part of this adventure.

Since the long winter, this city has done very poorly, paying tribute to fearsome neighbors.  That changes the atmosphere a lot.  I'm thinking now that this is a cold and desperate colony.  They've recently driven back the Ogansi in a pyrrhic war and only keep them at bay with shipments of goods.  These are the farthest reaches of empire, the frontier that the viceroy cares very little for.  The treasure they discovered here has paid for much-needed imports and mercenaries to fight the humans.

I think the trading post across the mountains is mostly the place where they send "gifts" to the Ogansi, though there's some actual trade.  The previous occupants were a mercenary company hired by Tranquil Haven.

Other than smuggling, this city also suffers from swindlers and counterfeiters, so no one trusts paper money here.  They've cracked down on fences of stolen goods.  Outwardly it doesn't look like anyone's really running this place: you've got various authorities and institutions that all mainly want to avoid blame.  In fact, there's a criminal gang that's basically running things behind the scenes.

I think the reason they want to explore the river is so they can reestablish contact with Liberty Isle.  The long coastal seaway is too dangerous now, so they're looking for an overland route.  They know the city is probably abandoned, since it's been years since anyone heard from them, but there are plenty of isolated places out on the frontier.  Reestablishing contact with everyone just hasn't been a priority.  Maybe the survivors from Liberty Isle fled and live somewhere else around Grenadier Bay.

Nearby there's a fort that was loyal to the viceroy, but it was burned down by the Ogansi in the recent war.  Someone in town is the sole survivor of an encounter with the Ogansi during the war.

A few last items of local color:

They have a local food that's an egg baked inside a crispy pastry, with the ends twisted in a way that's supposed to resemble an elephant.  I imagine it's called an Elephant Egg.  You're not supposed to stay and eat it; it's something you serve guests to take with them on the road, or maybe it's a street food.  Somehow you're supposed to pick it up with two fingers, but not your thumb.  (This is actually rather reasonable for an elven delicacy.)

The city boundary is a low field-stone wall, three feet high.  They have wooden spirit-boxes with embroidered cloth covers, mounted high on poles.  When entering the city, everyone stops to wash their hands and face.

Their flag is white with a red elephant.

Imperial Military Company of Merchants

The Haven Colony hired mercenaries to fight the war with the humans, paid for by part of the treasure found in that region.  The mercenaries were the ones who built the fort over the mountains in Ogansi country.

This company has plenty of guns/powder, few trade goods.  Their problem is that they angered someone who can seize many of their assets.  I'll say they angered the imperial government, so they came to this remote colony avoiding the reach of the viceroy.

They're called the Imperial Military Company of Merchants, though they lean much more Military than Merchant these days.  IMC for short.

The IMC is still here in the colony.  They're hoping for another war with the Ogansi so they can get work again.  For now they're just doing odd jobs: hauling goods, guarding shipments.  It occurs to me that they might be the porters/guides you could hire for your expedition that end up abandoning you.


The first call to action of our three opportunities is clearly the river expedition, so the adventure needs to start in the Haven Colony.  I like the idea of starting in a small town: it can be your home, but it can also be a place you have to leave in a hurry.

It's an unorthodox religious community at a mountain pass too steep for wagons.  They do not know what happened to the first settlers here, nor do they know what stalks them in the wilderness.  Their defensive wall is broken/missing.  They're most afraid of beasts that devour travelers, which seems like a sensible thing to worry about.  The place smells like sawdust.  (I'll figure out what the beast is when I'm rolling up the random encounter table.)

This settlement is called Bountiful.  I've got some notes on unorthodox elven religious movements, but I think that's getting outside the goals of this particular campaign.

Spring seems like a good time to start the adventure.  Here in Bountiful they're shearing sheep and patching a leaky roof.

I mentioned a tavern earlier, so let's roll that up too.  It's called the Wayside Tavern.  There you find folks down on their luck, looking for work; work for someone tough, brave, and discreet; and influential people discussing a grave threat (beasts that devour travelers, I suppose).  The local kind of gambling is selling tickets for a raffle for a cow.  Coin is in short supply here; debts are settled monthly.  The tavern serves as the local courthouse and holds livestock auctions outside.

Loose Ends

We've got a few loose ends left that could use some development:

  • Who are the enemies of the mine?
  • What else is on the river (that needs a name) between Ogansi Country and the Serpent Coast?
  • What's the magical art of the ancient priesthood?
  • What's the special thing in the mine?  Is it the body of the ancient king?

Some of these are easy to roll up, so we'll start with those and see if answers to the harder ones present themselves.

Thorn Lakes

Rolling up a region on the river:

  • Network of a few large lakes and countless smaller ones, all connected by creeks.
  • Many parallel creeks merge together, flowing out of this land to the northeast.
  • Mostly flat, meandering river that flows to the southeast.

Let's have the northeast river flow down to the rugged Serpent Coast, while the southeast river flows down into Grenadier Bay.  Rolling a few times for good names, the Crow River flows to the Serpent Coast and the Desolation River flows down to Grenadier Bay.

This country is inhabited by giants: three houses, one of which has died, leaving a perilous ruin.  I'd like to focus on this being a dangerous country, to make the river expedition more adventurous, so if the rest of the rolls don't make that happen, I'd like to make these giants more hostile to outsiders.

  • Signs from a kingdom long ago.  Let's have all three of the signs we rolled up: great stone heads, road/bridge infrastructure, and knowledge/relics of their ancient priesthood.
  • Dangerous foliage in wet/low areas.  Thorns are a suggested example; I think a thorny vine that has overgrown much of this country sounds good, growing along riverbanks.
  • Nearly uninhabited since the apocalypse.  There are giants in this land, but they're the straggling remnant from after the Winter killed the old forest and the thorns covered the land.
  • Welcoming people live in the worst area to travel through: eager for trade or needing help.  The surviving house of giants has carved out a home in a particularly rough part of this lake country.

This country is named for common vegetation, so we're in the Thorn Lakes.  There should be signs of the ancient forest here as well, maybe a hollow log of one of the giant trees.

Crazy Elk

The refugee house of giants gets food from weirs to trap bass, but they also collect acorns.  They do flint-knapping and make baskets.

There's an ancient tree nearby with some forgotten treasure.  This is likely to be the first of the ancient trees the adventurers see (depending how they travel) so it needs to be presented as special.  Maybe they hear about it from the giants in a mournful tale; it's in a quiet place, alone in a clearing; owls nesting there.

There's also a ruin of the old kingdom where shamanist rituals take place.  I haven't written up any of the tables on shamanism yet, so let's use the religion of the Moonlit Play instead.  Each spring under the full moon, the people dress up in animal costumes and act out the story of the rebirth of Salmon-Who-Listens (along with other plays at other times of the year).

Springtime is also when giants have their annual gathering, so some of the giantish houses in this story might be particularly active when the party arrives.

Rolling up the house itself, I got a few results that I'd like to save for the dead house instead.  This house is on a raised earthen mound with storerooms and tunnels underneath.  There's a 5-foot high stone wall enclosing a garden of fruit trees; no actual building.  The city-elves have Old World fruits, so here they should have things from the New World -- let's go with paw-paw trees and huckleberry bushes.  The garden is decorated with embossed copper ornaments, like at Flying Bar Goose.

The name of this house is Crazy Elk.  They've heard of the city-elves, and they're especially interested in new crops, looking for something that can withstand thorns and long winter (which they fear will come again).

When they're out on the trail, giants of the Thorn Lakes like to carry a little pot of root-mash: dandelion root and garlic that have been allowed to rot a bit, then mashed up and soaked in brine.  It's a tasty seasoning for any sort of food, or so they say.

The giants of this country should probably know the way to Liberty Isle, more or less.

Diamond Wolf

This house is perched high on a pinnacle (like Bear-by-Hand) with steps cut into the rock.  I assume the steps here were also from the old kingdom, and there's a stone head on top of the pinnacle as well.  Even though this country is mostly flat, the pinnacle suggests a patch of rocky hills.  Atop the pinnacle is a stone wall with a roofed pavilion.  The supports of the pavilion are inlaid with pieces of jade.

I'm not going to roll for their main method of subsistence.  I think these used to be alpaca-herders, as this is the land Bear-by-Hand came from during the Long Winter.

There's a kigilyakh nearby (a type of naturally-occuring stone pillar).  I'm thinking the pinnacle is just the largest of many of these.  There's also a pool or sinkhole where a great battle occured, maybe it's where there are many weapons thrown in the water.

This house was once called Diamond Wolf.

The Priesthood

I think I know who the enemies of the priesthood are: the snakes that take you to the world of the roots.  They inhabit the mountains over the Serpent Coast.  They're large, clever, and predatory.

The otherworld isn't really another place, it's a way of seeing secret and hidden things in the world around us.  You don't get there by being swallowed by a snake, but from its venom.  Being bitten allows your mind to see the hidden places.

This means the snakes are probably able to see hidden things too, so they can disappear through hidden routes that others can't see.

The priesthood uses the serpent vision to go unseen.  Their magic allows them to take the form of an animal.  I think a bird would be fascinating and would work well with their treetop temple.  There's a  visible sign that they have in both human and bird form: a missing finger.

Because of their magic, there's a restriction on the food these people can eat.  I think they should eat the food of those same birds even in human form, so it should be something uncommon for people to eat.  So far we've had owls and woodpeckers in the story -- let's say they change into snowy owls as they're big enough that you might notice a missing toe.  In either form, they eat things like rabbits and field mice.

When they change forms, the actual change is only seen by the very young, the very old, or the infirm.  Anyone else perceives only a human or an owl, not the change between them.  They need an owl feather to do the change.  (I'd say anyone with serpent sight can also see the change.)

The Treasury

The mine is an ancient copper mine (the source of the ornamental copper at the giantish houses).  Deep in the mine, in a secret place only seen by serpent sight, is the hidden treasury of the priesthood.  This is where they keep something important: a technological marvel, a magic tool of folklore, or a lost treasure.

I think I'm going to go with the original idea that there's a seed in the mine, the last of the ancient trees.  With this, the old forest could be regrown and dangers defeated, though it would take centuries.  Let's go big and make it the answer to everything:

  • The ancient trees kept the serpents at bay, so the priesthood had to travel beyond the forest to collect their venom.
  • Regrowing the old forest would restore the ecosystem of Ogansi country and kill off the thorns of the lakes.
  • Somehow it should help Grenadier Bay as well, maybe curing the disease striking their...crops?

The priesthood was supposed to protect it until the time came that it was needed, but they've been protecting it for so many generations that they're not willing to let it go.

I think that's a good place to stop.  It's a lot more material than I was planning to roll up, but there we are.  Once I have the writeup done, I'll post it here on the blog.

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