Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Starting the Adventure (In Pursuit of the Star)

We're about to begin the adventure In Pursuit of the Star, in which I'll be rolling dice to generate as much of the story as possible.

If you'd like to take part in the adventure, head over to the subreddit, where I'll be posting the latest as it occurs.  Anyone who would like to participate is welcome -- this is very informal, basically just a test of the random adventure-generating tables.

If you'd like to see what's going on behind the scenes from the GM's perspective, read on.

Spoilers ahead!

The story needs a hook, something to draw would-be adventurers in, and the dice already gave us one: a learned society is sponsoring an expedition into far-off parts, offering some great reward for success.  Let's find out who this society is.

The Sponsor

  • They focus on geography, cartography, or exploration of a specific region.
  • They're the New Geologick Society.  (Probably called that since the original one died out in the apocalypse.)
  • They're funded through books, lectures, and their journal, and they also receive substantial funds from one of the colonial city governments.
  • They offer medals and cash prizes to recognize accomplishments in exploration.
  • The New Geologick Society has no concern for the indigenous people where their explorers go, encouraging trespass into closed countries and the theft of local artifacts.
  • But they do care about scholarly integrity: plagiarism and false claims are not tolerated.  They expect their explorers to keep detailed and accurate journals.

Last time we found out what they're offering to whoever they send on this expedition:

  • A useful person, captured from the country where you're headed.  They can translate for you, or they know a route, or they can simply be returned to their people in exchange for help.
  • The journal of an earlier explorer who went down into this country and may have nearly achieved the objective.  This, unfortunately, turns out to be misleading or inaccurate.
  • There's a substantial reward waiting for you if you can complete the objective.  Cash is always good.

The Objective

So what's the objective?  We know that there's a river you're supposed to explore, and a poorly-understood polity you're supposed to make a treaty with.

Let's say you're supposed to go and make contact with the kingdom of the Okamani, the human nation of the jungle plateau.  Word of this kingdom made it to the colonials before the apocalypse, and now that they're reestablishing contacts and exploring again, they want to find this kingdom.

A likely cause would be trade: the Okamani could be the source of some interesting trade good that makes its way down to the coast.  Gold and gems are easy ones.  Cocoa beans or weird hallucinogens would be fun.

But what am I thinking?  There's a meteorite somewhere out in those lands, made of an amazing material.  What if the Okamani occasionally get bits of that material in trade, and one weapon they crafted from it made its way down all the way to the coast?

Early in the history of the northern colonies, someone must have sailed past this area and traded with the coastal people and brought back an amazing artifact of this star-stuff.  They heard it was from upriver, from the land of the Okamani.  I'll assume they got some rumors about who those people are.

This seems like a good time to roll up the Okamani.

The Okamani People

  • Known for their pierced ears and dyed tunics.
  • Practice a secretive religion only known to this tribe.
  • Dugout canoes up to 50 feet (15 m) long.  (Either their dugouts aren't actually that long, or there's a big lake or major river they travel on.)

I rolled up their food source and it came back as cod fishing, which just doesn't fit.  I could come up with a story of how the Okamani migrated here from the other end of the map, from some cold coastal region, or I could just reroll.  Either one could be fun, but this story's big enough as it is.

These people should be farmers to have the population needed for this story, so I'll just roll on the farming row:

  • They grow corn and peanuts.
  • Log houses, fences around their towns.
  • Axes and spears, burning enemy towns in war.
  • They probably have a chief town and powerful rulers.
  • Pottery, grindstones, copper jewelry, burning forests to clear undergrowth.

Rolling up the rest:

  • During the Starving Time their sacred items went missing.  (They could be found, someone could bring them back.  Maybe the prophet turns out to have them, bolstering their claims of importance.)
  • Men handle dealings within the tribe and do their folk magic.  Women deal with outsiders.
  • Each town is nominally independent, ruled by a hereditary chief or king.
  • They have a reputation for being courageous, good to have by your side (if you're their ally).  They do a threatening display to drive away outsiders.
  • Captives are enslaved to do menial labor.
  • Their enemies are a human tribe armed with imperial guns.  (Probably the humans of the Mosquito Coast, down below the falls.)
  • Their ally isn't really an ally at all.  They're another human tribe, defeated and subjugated by the Okamani.
That's a lot more than we need for the initial rumors, but sometimes the dice just need rolling.  We'll use it all later on anyway.

Landing Site

We need some information about the country where the artifact was acquired, the land of the dead giantish houses.

This country is supposed to have a name based on a common encounter or vegetation.  Rolling on the tropical encounter tables, it's a land of dense rainforest, mahogany and bitterwood trees, limestone caves and sinkholes.  Let's go with Bitterwood Bay.

There's plenty more we could know, but what do we need to know before starting the adventure?

  • One tattered remnant of a giantish house near the landing site, as someone the party could meet.
  • The dangerous beasts of this country, probably why it's nearly uninhabited today.
  • A bit of a map, at least of the coast.
  • An encounter table would be nice.


Let's start with the beasts.

  • Based on a water-dwelling creature.  (I'm thinking something like a caiman or an electric eel.)
  • Larger than usual.  (Long and thin?)
  • Can leap high or far.
  • They coordinate, acting as a pack, communicating.
  • They collect things, something in particular.  (Bones sound interesting.)

I'm not sure what exactly they look like yet, so I'll just pick at random:

  • Legs or no legs?  (No legs.)
  • More like an eel or like a snake?  (Snake.)
  • Do they go up in trees as well?  (Yes.  That's not good.)
  • Are they too heavy for a person to pick one up?  (Yes, they're really big.)

This creature seems like it's just a big snake in appearance; I was hoping for something more unusual looking.  Let's see if I can come up with something better randomly:

  • What's the least snake-like part of its appearance?  1: different kind of head, 2: fins or something, 3: weird tail, 4: actually does have legs  (Weird tail.)
  • What's weird about its tail?  1: thing to club prey with, 2: looks like tempting bait, 3: makes noise, 4: has spikes

Great job, self.  You just made it not-snake-like by making it a rattlesnake.  I tried searching for "makes noise with its tail" and found a good article, but apparently I should have just asked my wife.  With her suggestion I've got the answer: this snake has something like a rattle, but it whistles when you whirl it through the air quickly.

These water-dwelling snakes hunt prey in packs.  One whips its tail about to make whistling noises and look scary, driving prey towards the other snakes who are lying in wait.  That sounds like just the right amount of weird and interesting.

The goblins call it a yabakì (yah-bah-KEE).  (For those of you familiar with IPA, that's /ja.baˈkì/.)

Remnant House

The nearby giantish house is nearly abandoned.  A few high-ranking giants still live at the house, while most are out in the surrounding land, trapping and gathering food.

  • They gather conchs and limpets down at the shore (the die roll suggested clams).  They also catch river shrimp.
  • They have a long friendship with the people who live up past the waterfall.  (So there's a waterfall on the river here, and there is/was another group up that way.  They might be dead now.)
  • They pay tribute to the people beyond the swamp/marsh.  (Not sure if that's still active either.)
  • There's a ruin from an ancient kingdom nearby, where the giants go for healing.
  • There's a pillar of stone nearby, where a new religious movement gathers.  (That's the goblin prophet, then.)

Rolling for the house itself, the first result said it was an old colonial mission, but we've already established that the colonials haven't actually inhabited this area.  It would be ok, but think I'll roll again:

  • The house is a wooden structure, raised high up on massive wooden pillars.
  • It's on top of a steep-sided hill with only one shallow route to approach.
  • There's a steep-banked stream that cascades down along the hill, like a moat around part of it.
  • The house is decorated with stone carvings of faces and animals.
  • Some of the giants are afraid of war reigniting.  Others want to do a great deed to restore the prestige of this dwindling house.

The house is called Dead Spear.  (By the way, giantish house signs are like cattle brands: the name generally tells you what it looks like, and seeing it generally tells you the name.)

That's enough information about the house, but there are a few more tables in this section, so I'll keep rolling:

  • The house was part of an alliance, before the other houses died.  They were trying to clear danger from the land (which failed) and to defend the true faith of the ancestors.  They were conflicted over the rise of a new religious movement.

That actually tells me something interesting: the goblin prophet's following was a threat to the giants' religion, which means giants were probably joining the prophet movement.  Their settlement is going to have both goblins and giants at it.

  • Their favorite food is beaver meat (or maybe capybara, considering the climate) flavored with tobacco, then mashed up into a paste and left to rot.  ("What can we bring to the potluck?"  "Um...napkins, I guess?")

Prophet Town

The goblins of the prophet movement are huddling in a fortified point, trying to stay alive in this hostile country.  (As we know, they're planning to emigrate to safer lands.)

Let's pick out a fortified giantish house as the base for their town.  It used to be one of the major houses of the region, but the giants there died and the new group moved in.

  • There's some open grazing land near the house, a grassy highland region where the giants used to graze alpacas.
  • The giants used to trap peccaries in the woods.
  • There's a ruin of an ancient kingdom near here as well.
  • The house is on a raised earthen mound, probably riddled with ancient passageways.  It is a stone structure with no gates, only ladders.
  • Pieces of jade are used as decoration inside the house.
  • The house used to be called Spider by Crow.  (Would their neighbors at Dead Spear still call it that, or did the name die with the inhabitants?)

Ancient Kingdom Ruins

  • The ancient kingdom had as its symbol a sun with a face and thirteen rays.
  • The roads and causeways of this whole region were built by them.
  • They left behind golden amulets and figurines, items of power.

That's enough for now.  The site of healing near Dead Spear is an ancient bridge over a stream, or what's left where it collapsed long ago.  The site near Spider by Crow is a bridge over a ravine, still usable.

Initial Offer

The New Geologick Society has the artifact with a blade made of a stuff called "sapphire flint", maybe a gold-handled knife.  It was purchased from House Dead Spear before the apocalypse by an explorer who sailed through Bitterwood Bay.  According to his journal -- recently rediscovered -- the giants said the knife came from the Okamani Kingdom in a highland region further up the Blind River.  The explorer traveled up that way some distance, getting closer, but couldn't proceed due to a war going on.  (In fact, the Blind River doesn't come down from the Okamani Kingdom at all, this was a mistake in his understanding.)

No one in the colonies has been able to figure out why this sapphire flint blade is so sharp and can keep its edge so well after wear.  The Society would pay a great reward to whoever can explore the Blind River and find the king of the Okamani, making a trade deal with him for more of the sapphire flint.

The military is also interested in making such a deal, so they're preparing their own competing expedition.

The Society gives you a choice: leave now during the stormy season and get several months' head start, or you can wait for better weather and better equipment to be ready.

Either way, there's a colonial ship captain who's been down in that area more recently, making it all the way over to the Mosquito Coast.  She's willing to take you to Bitterwood Bay.  The Society will supply you with some provisions, a small riverboat, a copy of the explorer's journal (which turns out to be misleading or wrong), and a tree goblin that the ship captain took captive from the Mosquito Coast (who turns out to be very helpful).

That's enough to throw at the players for the start of the adventure, so I think I'll stop rolling there for now.

Next, I should probably make a map of Bitterwood Bay and write up a summary of the old explorer's journal.  I probably won't write out every last detail in it, but a brief overview of where he went and what he saw would be useful.

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