Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄
🎵 The song for this post is A Cold Sweat, by Danny Baranowski. 🎵
I wrote many words about a fictional world for some characters to populate for a one-shot D&D campaign I ran last weekend. I'll publish the proper adventure soon but here were some ideas that I had for it that I didn't end up going with:
Here's the whole text document. I'll go over it line-by-line with links and/or graphics for what I found inspiring about it.
look at PC backstories for ways to hook them in, but we're after tramps, scamps, Big Bads, plucky side characters. Everyone in FANTASTIC BABY by BIGBANG (your interpretation of) Kefka, FFVI style? Just evil, just because? Kerrigan (from BW, not SC2) and/or Cersei; mad politics, shrewd. Jigsaw, from the Saw movies Zote the Mighty + Dung Defender Capitano-style folk hero of the setting? a doppelganger who follows the party around a disembodied, talking head "my cabbages" guy from Avatar cast from the JRWI adventure (Dendask the Unfortunate, Sothyra the Dragonborn wizard) Zarya, or chain-chomp Bowsette (large-armed beefy woman)
Let's break this down:
Everyone in FANTASTIC BABY by BIGBANG
My 16 year-old cousin likes to remind me that my tastes in K-Pop are dated, man and she's totally right: I only fell into it for the time I was also watching a lot of live StarCraft, so 2011-2013.
But look at this music video! There are some lerks being served here. You could do well by taking any of these costumes or set pieces and building around that.
(your interpretation of) Kefka, FFVI style? Just evil, just because?
A lot of this sheet was more imaginative before certain properties had re-releases, and one of those is Joker. Boo Joker for making me seem like this guy:
But yeah, before we collectively directed our confused masculinity at the Batman clown, we had this clown, who poisoned a water supply just for the hell of it. I considered making my Big Bad some kind of sociopath like this, but I decided against it, I don't think it'd work as anything but shallow in a one-shot.
Kerrigan (from BW, not SC2) and/or Cersei; mad politics, shrewd.
The original StarCraft: Brood War had a fantastic campaign where almost everyone was cruel, blinded by ambition, and sending people to a hellish war to satisfy their own urges for power while an existential threat loomed. Kerrigan in particular, like Cersei in Game of Thrones, was exceptionally strategic, often underestimated, and eventually took all she wanted.
Again, doesn't work super well in a one-shot, and I didn't know how to actually realize this character, I was coming from "it felt cool consuming this story."
(StarCraft II, unfortunately, had an awful campaign, and neutered everything good about the character).
Jigsaw, from the Saw movies
Saw movies are dungeon crawls!
Specifically, I liked the idea of feeling targeted, trapped, in mortal danger, and thoroughly judged. In a weird way, this one made the cut.
Zote the Mighty + Dung Defender Capitano-style folk hero of the setting?
Hollow Knight has a pretty deep cast and extensive lore, but has a total cipher of a protagonist, and a lot of flowery language that alludes a ton but doesn't explain much. I often say that shows that succeed on Broadway can really only get there if they don't say anything too challenging or commit too hard, since to "succeed" you need a lot of moneyed people to think it's a good idea to spend hundreds of dollars on your show, and truly challenging messages ("how are you complicit in White Supremacy?") don't often inspire moneyed people to fork over their dollars (e.g. what does Hamilton stand for, as a piece? who does it challenge? exactly).
So Hollow Knight thematically has a similar thing going, where it's certainly beautiful but it's hard to say it really commits to anything other than its own aesthetics. That said, its side characters are fabulous. Millibelle the Banker is the best example of banking in a game, and how to "solve" it.
Zote and the Dung Defender are two lovely characters who serve as hero-figures: Zote is a stuffed shirt who mostly talks himself up, and the Dung Defender has a fantastic theme song and lovely voice acting. I considered using them as inspiration for folk heroes of this world, or NPCs.
a doppelganger who follows the party around
I always liked the idea of an NPC (or in one case, a party member) being some kind of spy instead of who they purport to be for the whole time they're known. Players would spend entire sessions with an NPC before stumbling upon that NPC's body, while they're still with the party.
a disembodied, talking head
A bit like "potato GlaDOS," I like the idea of an NPC that they have to carry, listen to, and protect.
cast from the JRWI adventure (Dendask the Unfortunate, Sothyra the Dragonborn wizard)
The game Homage is from is colloquially called Just Roll With It, and I'd written up an adventure that we will, someday, still play. It had a cast I liked.
"my cabbages" guy from Avatar
D'uh, he's amazing.
Zarya, or chain-chomp Bowsette
D'uh, muscle women are amazing.
Setting and Adventure Hooks
Here's the text file:
## World "Delaware". Or Attack The Block-style "unlikely places" for an adventure. Half-Life 2 world of a post quick + decisive invasion. District 9-style apartheid, but the prawns are in charge. The dream of a child God. Gotta wake the Wind Fish. Dungeon in High Fantasy, jump to the far future (subway, guns and shit) Reality unravel (Celeste Chapter 9, FFVIII time-compressed world) ## Dungeons Minish cap: shrink into a tiny house dungeon. Black Mesa/Aperture Science-style slow uncovering of a mundane location into something pretty ridiculous (the full map of either of those places makes it pretty clear they were, uh, different). Something like a Don Corneo's mansion quest that just unravels and unravels. Raccoon City in RE2, Love Key + The Collector in Hollow Knight, something becoming a Dwemer ruin in Skyrim. Something like Ed Harris _The Abyss_ where, to go further, you can't ever return, you go so deep. a Prison break? break into a prison to let someone out, maybe someone you don't like (JJ S3 acquitting the bad-guy style?) Eternal Darkness Roberto Bianchi tower of flesh A court with inscrutable rules ("seelie" vs "unseelie" court) Smullyan puzzles
Breaking it down!
"Delaware". Or Attack The Block-style "unlikely places" for an adventure.
"Delaware" comes from this Wayne's World skit, and Attack the Block was a cute movie where the alien invasion had to be defended by kids from communities who normally don't star in these kinds of adventures (starring young John Boyega!). I was thinking of similar settings that would be atypical places for a "worldly stakes" adventure.
Half-Life 2 world of a post quick + decisive invasion. District 9-style apartheid, but the prawns are in charge.
Half-Life games were amazing at worldbuilding by dropping you right in the action and never really containing exposition; thought it might be cool to drop PC's somewhere where the world is ordered very radically.
The dream of a child God. Gotta wake the Wind Fish.
Okay, I'm really bitter, because this was the front runner for a while, but then Link's Awakening got re-released, putting it in many people's minds, so it would have been mad derivative.
So yes, a child God who has little impulse control and too much power would allow some funny dungeon mechanics and "reality unravel," which comes up later.
Dungeon in High Fantasy, jump to the far future (subway, guns and shit)
I'd already set up the group preparing for High Fantasy, so I would have loved to have a reversal where a room is tiled, with "a small, thin glass rectangle in the center" (a cell phone). Somehow, like Homer at the end of the 3D Simpsons episode or Schala at the end of Chrono Cross, they're somewhere completely incongruous. A boss battle vs. a SWAT team or helicopters might have been interesting, especially seeing the players RP such a radical change.
Reality unravel (Celeste Chapter 9, FFVIII time-compressed world)
I love the aesthetic + worldbuilding around racing for the finish as reality itself is unraveling. Celeste Chapter 9 has some great glitching after collecting the heart, with flotsam and jetsam floating around space.
Minish cap: shrink into a tiny house dungeon.
This was a finalist, right after the Wind Fish. I never played The Minish Cap but was thinking of having a dungeon-within-a-dungeon, where a subset of PCs have to shrink to enter a cube (with a dungeon within it), and the remaining PCs carry the cube around in a macro-dungeon. So like: tiny party flips switches inside the cube to turn it blue, macro party sets it in a blue colored slot in the macro world, etc. Rotations on the cube, flooding it, etc. while the macro have to put it in places, escort it, etc.
Black Mesa/Aperture Science-style slow uncovering of a mundane location into something pretty ridiculous (the full map of either of those places makes it pretty clear they were, uh, different). Something like a Don Corneo's mansion quest that just unravels and unravels.
Black Mesa is a hell of a great setting, but I laughed when I learned how the facility is "laid out" based on the game structure:
Similarly, Aperture Science is… impractically built.
One of my favorite tropes is "obscenely elaborate underground hidden thing under a normal structure," like Martyrs, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Us, or even The Goonies, which is mad overrated. The idea would be to have a silly beginning adventure (like "extract secret from a cocktail party of socialites") that has a little hidden passage but it turns out to be a giant fucking dungeon.
Raccoon City in RE2, Love Key + The Collector in Hollow Knight, something becoming a Dwemer ruin in Skyrim.
This one kind of builds on the last, but Raccoon City and it's, uh, elaborate shit around the Police Department (statue puzzles? gemstones in key places? a sewer path to Umbrella labs?!) is fantastic adventure fodder.
Dwemer ruins in Skyrim were always interesting: cities of fallen dwarves with extremely advanced machinery.
I have no idea why I put The Collector from HK in here; I hate that guy. Maybe his laugh?
Something like Ed Harris The Abyss where, to go further, you can't ever return, you go so deep.
I like dungeons with a "point of no return." Like, you need to proceed, but you're never coming back to the world as you know it. This ties into the reality-unravel themes above.
a Prison break? break into a prison to let someone out, maybe someone you don't like (JJ S3 acquitting the bad-guy style?)
StarCraft 2 had a great Prison Break adventure. Prisons are great for this kind of thing: highly chaotic, heavily guarded, some stealth and some muscle. I especially liked the idea of blackmail or a specific circumstance meaning the PC's had to break someone they hate out of prison because they needed them for something.
Eternal Darkness Roberto Bianchi tower of flesh
Eternal Darkness was a fantastic fucking game and I'm mad so few people played it. Short version: a multi-generational story of humans facing off against colossal beings, Lovecraftian horrors.
One of the adventures (the least fun one, actually, since he was slow and had no health) had you piloting a Venetian architect named Roberto Bianchi, who was held captive and tasked with building a "pillar of flesh."
idk, seemed cool to have some kind of horrifying construction that the PCs would have to infiltrate and/or sabotage. Alternatively, something like the Battle of Endor where you break into an in-construction weapon.
A court with inscrutable rules ("seelie" vs "unseelie" court)
This one made it in, kinda. There's something funny about the ceremony and rules-ness of court and trials, while also acknowledging how arbitrary it is. I never read or saw Alice in Wonderland but I understand Alice being tried by a set of rules she doesn't understand is fun and disorienting.
I wanted our PCs to have to navigate and/or solve some kind of trial process for a society that does things strangely. This example mentions faeries, but one can imagine hobgoblins or illithids (well, unlikely to get a fair trial from illithids, but the point stands lol).
Also made it in. Riddles are great, but there's something especially maddening, playful, and delightful from Raymond Smullyan's logic puzzles. When I publish the adventure, you'll get a taste of a few. I read To Mock A Mockingbird last year, figured it had a spot.
Next up: what I actually ran!
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