When an adventurous soul — or two, or eight — ready themselves to hurl headlong into a newly-found dungeon or maybe to chart unknown lands (maybe an island rose from the sea, even, or a cloud bank lowered enough to show the spires atop it), sometimes they want to hire on some extra hands before they go. Not even just to swing an extra sword, but to help with everything else that needs done on an adventure.
And then, of course, there’s the times when some hopeful helpful soul decides to offer their labours ahead of time … (now, don’t take advantage of that!)
For the times when an interesting new face is due amongst hirelings and helpers, there’s this little table.
All of these folks are, at start, Normal/0-level/however your game phrases it, and they aren’t trained for combat; with some encouragement, training, and maybe an ambush or two, though, maybe they’ll even pick up the rudiments of an adventuring lifestyle!
01. Tanare Pawsen — coil of rope, herding dog: adept at handling animals, domestic and merely tamed; claims he and they understand each other without words, and maybe they do 02. Vika Glaem — willow baskets, iron snips: seems to know every secret berry field, mushroom patch, and hidden spring within ten leagues of her hometown 03. Norwi Willoweve — pouch of flavourings, pot-in-a-poke: now here’s a rare and valued bird — they’re a virtuoso at camp cooking, making even iron rations into something actually pleasant to eat 04. Ren Dama — bark-paper scrolls, writing kit: delicate of fingers and fussy of details, recording absolutely everything with whatever means he has at hand, including attempting maps 05. Merry Duskr — hooked staff, spindle and roving: unschooled but eager to learn, and one would swear she has a sixth sense for weak structures and failing light sources 06. Bonra Curthi — shoulder yoke, leather pannier: they insist on carrying as much gear as possible, which is a lighter load for the party but perhaps just a bit of overkill — and yet, they don’t seem even winded 07. Vikren One-Eye — pouches of herbs, collection of linen squares: has a broad and prodigious knowledge of herbs, poultices and possets, and he’s happy to share them for the small comforts they are 08. Iilimani Foxfire — prayer beads, weathercloak: an acolyte at a local temple or shrine, she’s willing to vouch for any whom she works alongside and who at least listen to her words as she works 09. Acan Brighthorn — lacework iron lantern, trained corvid: actually a scion of a high family a cousin or two removed; they’re a little awkward on ‘common’ social graces at times but learning quick, and will remember those who take it all good-naturedly 10. Sefrit Duskwell — garlic drops, silvergilt pendant: can often sense the approach or presence of the unliving — or is good enough at reading signs to make it look that way — and he will not explain why that is 11. Janu Burran — pouch of whimsies, tiny whittling knife: perpetually making and then toying with little amulets, good luck charms and wardaways, hedge-lore really … but suppose she’s correct? 12. Kelvran Summer — sheaf of illuminated manuscript, hand-copied map: they fled a scholastic, monastic life and regret nothing; short on experience, long on surprisingly intriguing trivia and scraps of legendry
A simple sort of question with a sometimes simple, sometimes very complicated answer:
Why has an adventurer started adventuring in the first place?
So here are a few ideas, for those times when a quick jumpstart is appreciated:
01. Want to leave your old life behind for Reasons, and what better way than to take up a new name and wander around the world and beyond turning over rocks that shouldn’t be turned over? 02. Gained scars and accolades in equal measure defending family and friends from a monstrous incursion; now want to be proactive in rooting out dangers. 03. It’s said that Before, when the sun shone silvery, there were very different peoples and structures and magics — and you want to find proof. 04. Made the mistake of insulting an itinerant minstrel — who promptly laughingly cursed you to do deeds worthy of songs, both grand and gutless. 05. You want to meet with the last crystal dragon. Or greywalk hind. Or bone voyageur. Or bloodsphinx. Or … 06. They stripped you of everything, from family to future, belongings to blessing, and cast you out. But you’ll show them all. Oh yes, yes you will. 07. It turns out one of your ancestors — maybe a very recent one, maybe not — was very much not mortal, and you have Questions that only they can answer. Or answer for, as the case may be. 08. To fulfill a dying request from a kind stranger who gifted you all they had with their last breaths. Which may have included much of your initial kit. 09. There’s this map, you see, and it’s absolutely nonsensical, and it has overlapping parts like the cartographer thinks there’s other worlds overlapping this one, and the key says whole kingdoms swap around, and what even is this, you need to know — 10. You want to find a way to travel to the moon. Because there’s flowing rivers of shimmering silver on the moon, you know there are, and … 11. Actually you come from a long line of successful adventuring types, and you’re quite eager to take up your family’s unspoken banner and add to the homestead’s eclectic collections. 12. Because the king must die, and who knows what means you might unearth to bring that about.
In a rented room at an inn or roadhouse, ideally, many would say; or at least a spot in front of a banked hearth in a not-too-drafty tavern (or the tavern floor of a less than stellar, or an overpacked, inn). Maybe in a traveller’s croft or waystation, if those exist, or even in a lonely homestead’s hayloft. Places where one has at least a fighting chance of warming up (or cooling down) and lying flat on a mattress or at least a tick of straw or hay.
Alas, these are all but fond and wistful daydreams when you’re all six levels deep in a labyrinthine underground nightmare and desperately need to stop for some kind of rest before exhaustion makes you make a stupid, fatal mistake. Sometimes you just need to camp out in the dungeon.
(or you might actually enjoy sleeping over in dungeons. no one here is judging.)
Here’s a few ideas to add to your kit that just might make the idea of a sleepover with the dungeon beasties slightly more bearable:
– Pick the right bedroll. Sure, some fancy thing all lined with fur will, one hopes, keep you toasty even in the dampest, chilliest delve. But here’s the thing: even on the best days, fur attracts even more bugs. And dirt. And it mats. Don’t do that. Bring along a sturdy woolen bedroll — two layers, if you want the bulk, but see below — without bells and whistles. Wool keeps you warm. Get it wet and it still keeps you warm. Easy to wash. Wool is your friend.
– Don’t lace, tie, button, or anything else yourself into that bedroll. If your impromptu camp gets ambushed the last thing you want is to be trapped in your sleeper. Come on now. If you’re worried about the cold, do the two-layer thing, or
– Wrap yourself in your cloak before you crawl in. Or your mantle, or what have you. Not too tightly! You want to get loose after all. Wool’s a good choice here too, by the by; what do you need a fancy silky fur-trimmed cloak for in a dungeon? You’ll just be a target, and you’ll ruin your cloak. Put any spare tunics, bandages or other soft-and-not-ruined-by-squishing objects in your kit into the cloak’s hood and you even have a better-than-nothing built in pillow.
– For the love of gods and demons don’t wear armour to sleep. Yes, yes, ambushes. It’s still a bad idea. You won’t get rested, and you’ll pay for it, and that mail won’t save your sorry behind when you’re too groggy to not get eaten by that grue to begin with.
– Campfire bad. Bed bricks good. This one’s a tricky one, but can be worth trying. Don’t set a fire anyway, though — seriously, do not set a fire in the middle of an enclosed and probably solid stone room. You want to wake up again. What you can do, though, is stuff some embers from a lit torch or two into a stoneware or brick dog, or whatever those cute bed-warming bricks look like this year. That’ll keep you toasty til you nod off.
– Maybe try not to lie on bare dungeon floor. It might be damp, it’s sure to be dusty, it could be stained with blood (or worse), and boy oh boy the gods know what else is waiting on that floor. If you can spare the kit space, bring along some canvas or burlap or other heavier textile, treated with wax or other proofing if you’re really feeling fancy. Spread that out first, then bedroll and be-cloaked you on top of that. Keep your floor tarp in a sack of its own if you can.
There’s other advice that goes without saying, of course; spike any doors closed (make sure you can get the spikes back out if you do this!), set a rotating watch, keep waterskins close, don’t decide to turn a dungeon camp into a party, so on and so forth. Maybe you can even afford fancy magical light or wards! But this here’s a bare-bones survival guide for maybe making the actual sleep part of “sleeping in a dungeon” worth the risk.
“They” are virtually anyone. Grand holy knights and those sworn to higher powers, of course; the high hosts themselves and all their servant creatures, without a doubt; but also all those who try to reach for something better, something grander than themselves.
Sometimes, their reach exceeds their grasp, through their action or inaction or the one black moment when all one can do is lash out. Or fail to lash out. Or to act at all. Or perhaps act too much.
It doesn’t matter, really.
Sometimes they fall.
And, sometimes, they fall so fast and so deep that the act can never be truly hidden from sight.
Cast out, cast down, fallen, marked —
01. by Rage: blood-banner aura, burning eyes, mouth marred by bloodstained tusks 02. by Betrayal: crawling scars, bloody tears, crown of leaden horns piercing the scalp 03. by Oathbreaking: blackened mouth, smoke-haze aura, trailing phantasmal chains of bleeding gold 04. by Grief: corpse-pallor, black lacework scars, perpetual trails of thin black tears 05. by Temptation: cloven hooves, slit-pupiled eyes, golden nimbus shot with fissures and cracks 06. by Binding: thorn-chain brands, twisted bone-barbed limb, a collar of cold fire 07. by Corruption: ink-pool eyes, serpent’s tongue, patches of velvet scales upon the flesh 08. by Vice: whispering voice, satin skin, warm brassy antlers curving and baroque 09. by Ennui: unnatural soft flesh, burbling voice, a pale tattered trailing shadow 10. by Spite: bleeding mouth, blunt curving claws, a frozen fang-filled snarl 11. by Dishonour: phantom castigation chants, ashy touch, burning brand upon the brow 12. by Repudiation: clouded eyes, tongue of flame, flesh of marble seamed with ember’d veins
Sometimes adventurers are a little more organized than random rapscallions who threw themselves together in a tavern before looking for a ruin to plunder or bandits to, well, plunder. Or, maybe those rapscallions decided to make a decent go at the ruins-spelunking and the bandit eradication and the cleaning up of abandoned graveyards and their restless inhabitants — that sort of thing — and eventually passed along the tricks of the trade to younger, fresher faces.
Or adventuring is more of a cover for finding the ways and means to get the resources needed to push back against an iron fist. That’s also a possibility.
In fact, all these and more are the multi-threaded genesis of the Vine. Less an “adventurer’s guild” and more an interconnected web of chapterhouses, informal associations, whisper networks, chartered “adventuring parties” (where such exist), individual explorers and mysteriously maintained dropboxes, way-houses and gear caches, the Vine — once a budding adventuring sort, young or old, makes a connection — is your best source for weird gear, weirder rumours, tips and tricks, and suggested sources for anything from replacement travel spellbooks to friendly sources of healing magic to the best smith for silvershot weapons to nesting material for an angel’s egg.
Aid received for aid offered, of course. And vice versa.
Vine “Give a little, get a little; we’re all in this crazy thing together, yeah?”
An informal collective of adventurers, explorers, rebels and similar roaming, delving types, connected by their spelunking through ruins and labyrinths and necropolei and trading around rumours, tips and news
– dark green, wine-red and violet; grape or ivy tendril (or related emblem)
– mess kit, scrollcase of scribbled maps and notes, reinforced backpack, lantern and oil or candles, “souvenir” from latest delve
This Vine contact knows of …
01. a deep-forest ravine where a strange blue portal appeared last week 02. a soon-to-arrive band of deer-goblins that make amazing mead 03. a rumoured location to the subterranean cult chambers of Iiifryth Of The Amber Hells 04. a newly discovered sublevel in the Sundered Castle 05. the hidden vices of Marquis Barran, the region’s new conqueror 06. the calculations needed to divine the next appearance of the Pearl Tower, and where 07. a grateful supply trader specializing in trail rations and camp gear 08. the location of Dagger Bright’s newest bandit hold 09. a formula for a balm said to blunt the agony of dragonfire 10. a fervent crusader looking to find a fallen temple to restore and reconsecrate 11. a sorcerer who wants an escort to the magic pool on the Underloft’s fifth marble level 12. what best to bribe the lord’s ailing seneschal with to gain access to The Books
This Vine contact is looking for …
01. a sorcerer who’s willing to take on a wilful apprentice 02. someone who can speak the languages of hobgoblins and unicorns 03. a party to retrieve a fallen friend in the depths of the Bone Cathedral 04. referrals for signing on with a mercenary company for a season 05. clues to the locations of the remaining Night Ruby shards 06. a good source for ingredients for lightning-magic scroll inks 07. the buried granite gateway of the Great Black Delve and its lost halls 08. advice on a source for healing that doesn’t require faith or (too much) charity 09. a body-double for a lordling’s son, just for one night 10. spellcasting strong enough to break the Eleventh Moon Curse 11. leads on iron rations that taste less like wood and have less mushroom 12. a dragon heart, or at least a dragon’s lair and companions to travel with
Minstrel’s tales and the whisper-net of adventurers, ne’er-do-wells and other glory-seekers all speak of, at times, a certain fey and strange fountain.
Its location changes, from tale to tale: some say in the deepest of labyrinths (but none agree which), some name an isolated shrine half tumbled to ruin, some a far-off palace ruled by emperor or angel or formless wraith.
What doesn’t change is the fountain’s description, and its thorny gift.
It is a font of smooth grey stones, faintly translucent, fitted so cunningly together that not even a hair could slip between them; a half-moon of framing stone, set flush to a wall or standing free, and a basin in which water wells up gently from an unseen source. Resting on the basin’s broad lip is a dipper shaped so smoothly from milky crystal as to look grown, not carved.
Drink the sweet, cool water from the dipper and be absolved of all your failures, all your regrets, all your shame both secret and known throughout the lands. Be absolved, and know yourself to be free.
Balance, of course, must always be maintained.
What is the fountain’s price?
01. Your greatest accomplishment is also forgotten 02. Your greatest enemy or rival has also had the slate wiped clean 03. You have aged one-tenth of your lifespan 04. One of your senses is dulled; choose carefully 05. You will fail at one great endeavour at one crucial, critical point 06. Your dreams remind you of what you were absolved of 07. Your vitality is weakened, leaving you vulnerable to illness or poison 08. One archivist, unknown to you, is moved to record the sudden knowledge in their thoughts …
Outside of the sometimes omnipresent street urchins (whether NPCs or player characters) and the occasional sprog in need of rescue, maybe a creepy zombie or glowing-eyed waif, there’s not always that much reference to children of any stripe in rpgs.
To be honest, I’m quite happy with that fact and maaaaybe there’s some selection bias going on because of that.
But hey, sometimes you need to at least acknowledge that youngsters exist, so here’s a few pre-adventuring professions, almost-organizations, unusual origins and similar such sundries that do exactly that acknowledging. Not for playing as children, but acknowledging nonetheless. Not just human youngsters either, because where’s the fun in that?
01. Spore Collector
You gather up the clinging dust from tiny mushrooms and towering ferns, distributing it to new growth-beds and nurturing it to life.
hard-sided, partitioned leather satchel; dozen or more stoppered bottles; dusting brush; wooden funnel
02. Keeper Of The Rolls
You took up the census for your community, recording births and milestones in life. Use your knowledge wisely, now.
ink-kit; bundle of quills or pens; illicit copy of the Rolls; personal genealogy project
03. Former Youth-Cursed
You were, for some reason — fae “gift”? cursed enchantment? an act of or descent from the divine? — a child for an unnaturally long time, perhaps decades or centuries. Now you’re finally aging. Now what?
several antiquated toys or games; clothing you’ve grown out of but are attached to; many helpful “aunts” and “uncles”
There’s midwives, and then there’s you. You’ll see a birth through to its conclusion safely, right enough, but they have to trust you, not the healer nor the gods.
protection-woad; wooden charms; white sheepskin; curved flint knife
05. Creche Singer
Raising children together builds bonds and keeps them safe in one place. You were dedicated to teaching the creche’s inhabitants, using catchy songs and memorable rhyming rhythms to impress wisdom on your young charges.
memory aids, drawn or written or patterned; musical instrument; small shoulderbag of odds and ends, carvings and props
06. Guardian of the Light
They came to you in the darkness, luminescent saviours. They promised you salvation and healed you. They pressed a gleaming precious thing into your hands. You must keep it safe until its gestation ends.
fur-lined carrying pouch or grass basket; dream-journal; smooth, glassy, luminous “egg” the size of two fists together
07. Devoted Shepherd
You spent most of your life protecting the lambs from the wolves. When the reavers came, you did the same for the village nearby. The children trusted you. You will value that always.
reinforced crook; heavy fur mantle; broad sickle or knife; wolfsteeth necklace; toy gifted from village child
Someone has to soothe the little ones who no longer see the light of day; that someone is you.
blessed milk, several children’s shawls, oil lamp, brazier, effigies of toys and treats
Maybe you don’t want to play a human character today. Or you want to give this NPC something more than “this human duder”. But the game you’re playing or running doesn’t offer non-human options, or you don’t want to deal with “race-as-class”, or you just want some flavour, etc etc etc …
That’s where these two tables come in.
The first table offers a selection of other species — kiths, if you will — with a few suggestions for appearance and two traits or quirks, positive and negative. The second table instead presents variants, whether from environment or accident or intervention or what have you — the “kinds” of the kiths — and this table works similarly to the first.
You can, of course, only roll on the second table to find out what kind of human your character is.
The positive and negative traits have been left vague; you can probably assume most that are a do-a-thing type (like making or destroying something) can require some kind of test or check for success, if you like.
tapered ears, slender bones
get lost in memories
scales, tail, fanged muzzle
digitigrade, hooved, plumed tail
short, burly, shaggy-haired
broad, tall, bull’s horns and tail
1/2-human-size, pointed ears
large furred ears, tail or fangs
towering, sculpted, tusks or horns
enfolding “blossom” on back
12. Talking Beast
animal with odd mark or colour
interpret traits, or add concrete definitions, as required