Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Inspiration for The Gloom: Children of Time

I recently finished Children of Time by Adrian Tchaijovsky, and below are my brief Goodreads thoughts:

"An incredible work -a future sci-fi classic and absolute must-read. One of the most accomplished pieces of science fiction I have ever read.

Children of Time threads together two narratives: the desperate striving of humanity's last monster-slaying colony ship, the Gilgamesh, and the rapid evolution and expansion of our misbegotten children: a race of hyper-intelligent spiders delivered to sentience by cosmic accident. 

The effect is dizzying, and Tchaikovsky elegantly en-webs the high concepts of speculative fiction with the petty and personal - it is both readable and grand; space-opera and soap opera. 

Tchaikovsky's mastery of perspective will have you rooting for a race of cannibalistic giant spiders to wipe out out the human race.

I cannot give praise superlative enough."

Beyond that, Children of Time has two rich seams to inspiration for The Gloom.

Firstly, The Gloom is a land of perpetual darkness, and Darkvision has been excised from the Player's Handbook. Fear and horror emerge because your hominid, forward-facing eyes and sensory focus on eyesight are wholly inadequate. Darkness abounds, meaning that those things that rely on echolocation, proprioception, vibrations, bioluminescence, the taste of the air - these things have an advantage, an advantage more terrifying in that it is alien. My players have pieced together how some things in The Gloom sense (the Gloomlings - retextured Goblins - hear by echolocation and thus recoil from gunfire and loud noises due to their sensitive hearing...) but much is mystery. Children of Time depicts a society of spiders whose primary senses are based on vibration and texture; whose life is three dimensional. This colours their philosophy and language in intriguing ways, and I'm trying to explore that with the denizens of The Gloom; to craft a tactile, feeling culture of sound and taste and touch and senses no human possesses. Soon I'll be posting posts about the Drau, the Gloomlings, the Pale Kings and the Araneids - some of what passes for the nations of The Gloom, and I'll be trying to work that sensate strangeness into their fibre. An Araneid taster:

"The Parliaments of Silk

Deep in The Gloom they lie: landscapes textured only by the interplay of stillness and vibration. Every tree or protrusion of rock or ancient building wreathed in a veil of near invisible-webbing. Adventurers may pick and cut their way across a silent and ghost-like expanse, brushing the silken threads away or burning them with torches, and believe they walk across an old home; an unloved room; an abandoned tomb.

They would be wrong.

Each vibration of taunt silk is felt; recorded, gestated, analysed. An arachnid mind contemplates in perfect stillness. Wordless silk-talk continues as the Parliament tug at threads and perform a deliberate and slow stepping-dance –in the terrible language of the Araneids, they plan their hunt.

What was once a city of the Precursors is now parcelled in silk: a trap of impossible vastness. With delight the Araneids are rapidly learning that the silver objects, marble sarcophagi and statuary which works so well as web-anchors also draws prey into their domain. "

The second seam is the human experience of Children of Time: one of desperation and in-fighting and the persistent, primal fear of extinction.

The Gloom wasn't always thus: players have already uncovered ruins that hint at what I'm calling Preumbral civilization. Unable to translate or decipher any text they've found, the great history of the Preumbral civilization is at yet guesswork to the players. But soon they'll be uncovering the history of The Gloom. For me, the world-building of The Gloom stems from an event I'm simply calling The Dusk, when a fairly recognisable if fantastic society suddenly loses its congress with the life-giving sun. Crops die; plants yellow as photosynthesis becomes a memory: in the terror, foot-riots and messianic cults obliterate and constrain order; scarcity and murder become a way of life, leading to ghouls and societies of ritual cannibalism.Vampires and horrors from beneath crawl out to prey freely in a world almost granted to them. Magical and technological and religious and cultic coping mechanisms are devised as a self-confident and mighty society suddenly looks the end of things square in the eye.  I extrapolate from this process the sentient foes our Gloomdelvers are likely to face: the last survivors of a teneborous entropy.

For the other side, I've been researching what grows and dwells in a world absent light and blessed of accelerated arcane evolution. A cursory look into the bestiaries of the deep and dark recesses of our own planet gives ample inspiration for such things: an image dump should happen soon.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Into the Gloom - Sanity and Foibles

Each character in Into the Gloom has a Sanity Points score, determined by the formula below in the same way as hit points. Each class has a Sanity Hit Die pe level and adds the highest modifier of Wisdom, Intelligence or Charisma to their roll each level – just as Constitution determines a character’s hit points. Add the sanity hit die per level and highest modifier to a base of eight. (Eg a Warlock of Level 2 with 16 Charisma would have 2d4 + 3 + 10 Sanity Points – leading to a total of 19 is averages were taken.) Players may take the average as with hit points.  Some classes are more vulnerable or resilient to sanity depletion.  Sanity is recovered by a Long Rest.





Numerous things afflict sanity damage, as detailed below:

Being afflicted by a status affliction: Poison, Paralysis, Frightened, Charmed, Slowed, Possession, Exhaustion.

Spending one day in The Gloom.

Running out of light.
Being struck with an attack that has the Horrifying tag, eg a Banshee’s Wail or an Anophelli’s proboscis.

Being hit by a brutal critical.
Being knocked unconscious.

Failing a death-save.

Running out of supplies or being engaged in a hopeless situation.
Witnessing a party member’s death.

Engaging in a serious taboo eg cannibalism.

Cosmic horror.

Hitting 0 Sanity will result in a breakdown, causing the acquisition of a Foible. These will have both role-playing and mechanical effects. If you work against your Foible, you will take D6 sanity damage. Working with the Foible will give you bonuses to sanity recovery and inspiration die. Should you hit minus half your Sanity Point Total, your character will die.

PARANOIA: “I trust my comrades less and less with every passing moment. They are madmen all, who dragged me to this place.” Your character must take all actions for self-preservation, hoarding food and trusting only himself. You automatically fail on saves against Fear effects – characters immune to Fear no longer are. You must argue against trust or diplomacy. Taking actions that harm the party in line with this trait will earn you inspiration and sanity recovery.

MAD BRAVADO:  Three against one? Finally a test!” Your character cares not an inch for self-preservation and will throw themselves into any danger or challenge. You will gain inspiration for every risk you take and will take sanity damage if you attempt to mitigate risk at all.

FATALISTIC DESPAIR: “Why fight on? All hope is lost.” You have disadvantage on all mental saving throws. You desire only to give up and surrender yourself to an inevitable doom.

FAITHLESS, AT THE END:   “We are the forgotten children of dead gods…”. Your character has lost all faith. Clerics and Paladins lose access to their spells. You are now an Atheist convinced that you live in a cruel and unloving cosmos. You must tear down the faith of your party or risk sanity damage.


PENITENTIAL: “Oh sweet gods shelter this unworthy form…” You are a fanatic. Only God has spared you from the horrors that abound so far, and only in that faith can you be spared. You must convert the others in your party or risk sanity damage.

THE HUNGER: “Just a few more mouthfuls…” You must make a WIS 14 saving throw to not eat and drink double rations whenever rations are consumed. You progress through exhaustion from starvation at double the rate of normal. It will never be enough.

CHEMICAL DEPENDENCY:  A tincture to ease the pain…” Upon returning to town, you find solace in some manner of drug or alcohol. You must consume or utilise that drug every day with your rations of suffer withdrawal (use rules for exhaustion) or in moments of extreme stress. Choose/agree with DM:
Laudanum: 5GP a dose. If taken immediately before combat, use the MAD BRAVADO rules to adjudicate the subsequent euphoria. Long-term use results in damage to Constitution (1point per week of addiction).
Gin: 1gp a dose. If taken enough to become drunk, take disadvantage on anything requiring rolls link to Intelligence, Dexterity or Wisdom.

EATING DISORDER:  You are too shaken to eat, and sustenance does little to dampen your despair. You must pass a 12 WILL save to eat when rations are consumed. Normal starvation penalties apply.

BLOODLUST: “I will spill your intestines in the dirt and trample them, Gloomling!” You exult only in carnage and death. You only find peace in war, mutilation and combat. You do not recover sanity damage through rest, but upon killing a foe you may gain 1d4 sanity recovery. You may spend an action mutilating their corpse for a further 1d6.  You take sanity damage if you seek a peaceful or diplomatic solution.

THIS IS A GAME:All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…” You are a aware of living in a reality controlled by the rules of a mad and careless god known as DE-EM, and that you are merely the pawn of some otherworldly avatar. You hear all table conversation in character – adjudicate sanity loss or gain as appropriate.

Photophobia:  “Away from the burning light, a blanket of perfect night.” You fear the light. You gain the Bright Light Sensitivity of many Gloom monsters (disadvantage on attack rolls in bright light) but gain 20” of Darkvision. You can recover sanity by resting in perfect darkness.

Nyctophobia: “It is not the dark I fear but what lurks within it.” You fear the pervasive dark of The Gloom more than anything. You take sanity damage if in anything less than bright light and must roll a WIS 10 or become frightened of areas of severe darkness.

Pyromania: “A righteous fire would scour clean the world.” You are obsessed with burning things and the power of fire. You may recover sanity by burning objects, buildings, creatures and fellow adventurers. Magic you cast that does fire damage does an extra 1d4 damage.

Compulsive: “Eighteen times around the candle so the Grue doesn’t get us.” You develop a debilitating compulsion eg:
You must open and close every door five times.
You must have an even number of torches burning at any one time.
You must be on guard in the same order each night.
You take sanity damage if you fail to live up to your compulsion.
Anthrophobia/Introversion: “……….”.  Noone understands you, so increasingly you prefer solitude and silence and the self. You have disadvantage on Persuasion and Performance rolls and will rest physically removed from other adventurers, with attendant dangers. If placed in crowds of some kind, you take sanity damage.

Solipsism: “A dream within a dream.” You believe that you alone are real, and the rest are mere shades in an endless dream. You couldn’t be expected to take this charade seriously, or care too much for the well-being of the other ‘people’. You gain inspiration for foregrounding yourself and taking the stage. You take sanity damage if you become a minor character in your own dream.

Gallows-Humour. “First the physician told me the good news – they’d name the disease after me…”  You can find the mirth in the darkest quagmire and make others revel at the absurdity of the macabre. Once per short rest when an ally would take sanity damage, you may make a witty remark and reduce that damage by your Charisma modifier (minimum 1).

Masochist: “My tastes are…unconventional.”  Whenever you would take sanity damage from physical harm, recover that sanity damage instead.

Serenity:  “What is this but a quintessence of dust?”  You possess the unerring calm of a Bodhisattva. If you spend an adventuring turn in meditation, you recover your sanity. If at full sanity, you gain a buffer of temporary sanity points equivalent to your level.

Stoic:  “This too shall pass.” You have faced many horrors and survived. Every time you would take sanity damage, roll a d4 and subtract the result from the damage. If this would result in a minus number, you regain sanity. 

Valiant: “Once more into the breach!” You are unbroken by the horrors around you. Recover to your sanity total. If you commit an act of self-sacrifice or bravery, you may recover 1d4 sanity for yourself or an ally.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Into the Gloom: Rules-Light Wilderness Survival

Survival in The Gloom.

During an expedition, one must survive The Gloom – not just the horrors within, but the mundane and prosaic threats of starvation, exposure and ever-present darkness. A character may only Long Rest within Gloamingen – meaning every expedition is essentially one adventuring day for the purposes of fifth edition rules. Short rests can be had in the wilderness is suitable shelter is found.

These rules are designed to be challenging and intense. The Gloom is not a nice place.

Travel in the Overworld

The world of The Gloom is divided into hexes. Travelling across a hex takes a day of travel, unless the hex represents some difficult terrain such as a swamp or mountain side. Each day of travel will cost each character, retainer or animal in the party 1 food and 1 water ration. Taking any action in a hex (scavenging for food, searching or investigating, taking a short rest) will cost an adventuring turn. If you use three adventuring turns in the same hex, time has passed and night has fallen once more – meaning another day’s rations are needed. If a dungeon or other landmark is entered and investigated, that will also cost an adventuring turn. Spending adventuring turns in a region or travelling through it will come with the risk of a random encounter native to that region. In travel or an adventuring turn, characters declare their actions from the DMs left around the table after sufficient bickering.

In the Darkest Dungeons
Should the characters encounter an adventuring location, play will then resume in initiative. Every turn within the dungeon will go in initiative order and all actions will be adjudicated thus. These are places of great danger, so extraneous time spent conversing, plotting or bickering may result in a random encounter check. Players may freely delay or pass their turn.

The Darkness and the Light
The Gloom is a place of perpetual darkness – in the ‘brilliance’ of midday the light level resembles twilight, requiring low-light vision or light. At night, The Gloom is as utterly dark as the recesses of the void, requiring dark vision, Devil’s Sight or an appropriate light source. Torches are a much needed currency in Gloamingen and players will expend a torch per adventuring turn for the party. The Gloom is capricious, however, and in the darkest night or recesses of a dungeon torches can give out unexpectedly – every round of initiative there is a small chance of the light being snuffed out. Characters whose vision is limited have disadvantage on everything requiring vision and are at considerable risk of sanity deterioration.

Food, Thirst and Starvation
Food can be gathered in the wilds with a suitable survival check – bearing in mind The Gloom is not teeming with easy sources of food so this may be more difficult than expected depending on the region.
Success is as follows:
Less than 16: Failure. You find nothing.
16-20: Moderate success. You find food with a complication. (Rotten, stumbled across predator, food is other adventuring party’s remains etc)
20+ Success: you find food (one ration number over 20, minimum one ration.)

Should the party run out of food and water, each day of starvation will have an effect equivalent to cumulative exhaustion (see PHB).

If an already exhausted creature suffers another effect that causes exhaustion, its current level of exhaustion increases by the amount specified in the effect’s description. This will also damage a character’s sanity.

The Weather
Weather and climate are ever-present threats in the Gloom. Every day or when travelling to a new hex, the DM will roll to determine the weather. Each hex will have a modifier to the weather (eg hexes in the extreme north will have a -8, making cold weather extremely likely.

-20C. Freezing. Risk of immediate character death when not in shelter or source of warmth.
-5C. It is bitterly cold. Characters need a source of warmth to rest successfully and risk death from exposure when not in shelter.
0-10. Whilst not exactly balmy, this weather does not threaten characters.
10-16   It is actively warm. Roll twice on the precipitation table for weather effects, combine or choose.
20oC+. It is as hot as The Gloom gets: a muggy, sultry heat. Strenuous activities (fighting, travel) face a constitution check or cause a level of exhaustion (CON 14). Players must consume twice as many water rations.

A torrential downpour, snowstorm or tropical storm. (See temperature). Bows have disadvantage as bowstrings are wet, visibility becomes 10”, survival checks are taken at disadvantage, all fire damage is halved, fire and torches go out and characters risk death from exposure.   Firearms may misfire.
Drizzle. The party needs to use twice as many torches per adventuring turn. Firearms may misfire.
As clear as a day gets in the Gloom.
A Gloom Mist. Visibility becomes 10”.
A Sunburst! Spirits are lifted, The Gloom recedes, visibility is perfect, sanity recovers: roll 3d6 Sanity Points recovery for each character.

Into the Gloom utilises a simplified system of encumbrance. Your character’s STRENGTH score determines their carrying capacity exactly, with each point of strength being equivalent to two Encumbrance Units. (A character with 14 strength can carry 28EU).  This measures not just weight but the general difficulty of carrying something and moving fluently. You must track your own encumbrance – if encumbered you are treated as heavily encumbered as per 5e rules:

“...your speed drops by 20 feet and you have disadvantage on ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws that use Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution.”

1 Weight Unit
2 Weight Units
3 Weight Units.
A day’s food or water ration.
Three torches.
100sp in cash.
A handful of trinkets, garnets or other small treasure.

A one-handed weapon.
A shield.
A small curiosity or art object ie idol or painting.
A two-handed weapon.
A larger source of treasure ie a strongbox or candelabra.

Clothing/None = 0 EU
Light = 2 EU
Medium – 4 EU
Heavy = 6 EU

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Into the Gloom: Premise and Design Maxims


“There on the banks of this new continent – this GLOOM - has been disgorged our colonists. And what are they, these brave pioneers? Rogues, heretics, pick-pockets, dissidents, dreamers, rebels, outlaws, degenerates, beggars, whores, zealots, anarchists – the cursed and debased sweepings of an empire’s streets. With this ill-fated rabble we are to claim The Gloom? Preposterous!”

Design Maxims for Into the Gloom:
1) This is not cinema, the DM is not your friend, the dice fall where they fall. Should you fall with them, no one will batter an eyelid.
2) Gothic misery pervades. Hope is a currency made valuable by rarity.
3) There is no CR in Into the Gloom. If you seek deeper and further than is wise, you will not live long enough to grow wiser.
4) Players should fear the dark, the cold, hunger and thirst as much as they fear monsters. Torches and mules will be as valuable as vorpal swords.
5) Deadliness is fun. If you are ill-prepared, you die.
6) Players start at level 1. If you die, you start again at 1.
7) Resource management will be critical and built on easy-to-understand rules.
8) The ramshackle town of GLOAMINGEN is the only civilised place known on the continent, and it is barely civilised. 

The PREMISE of INTO THE GLOOM is simple:
Newly discovered in the Sea of Desolation is The GLOOM; a bizarre arcane distortion of near-permanent twilight or darkness which masks a whole continent. Whilst initially of little interest to the bean-counters of various empires, a few lost expeditions returned with untold wealth from some of the ruins in THE GLOOM. To this end, the major powers of several nations have shipped off the chaff from their streets in chains to the newly found town of GLOAMINGEN, that these less-than-savoury souls might plunder and pioneer this new world for them. 

CHARACTERS is INTO THE GLOOM are not heroes. They arrive in GLOAMINGEN in chains and in poverty. Most sell their bodies or find some small craft or artifice to ward off starvation, but the truly mad or foolhardy don rusty armour and a bent sword and stride off into THE GLOOM to seek their fortune or an end to their troubles.

As everything in GLOAMINGEN is imported, prices are very high and opportunities slim. But for a few brave and lucky souls, a fortune lies waiting in ancient catacombs and forgotten forests, dust-covered in ancient tombs just waiting for to be sought out...

How does INTO THE GLOOM differ?

Gameplay in Into the Gloom will be divided into stages. 
1) An EXPEDITION, in which a group of players will assemble and head beyond the borders of GLOAMINGEN and into the wilds and dungeons of THE GLOOM. This will be played out in session and will be a combination of wilderness survival, combat, diplomacy, risk management, dungeoneering resource management, grit, determination, creative thinking, acquisitiveness, mettle and panache.

2) A HAVEN turn, in which players will plot, prepare, purchase and plan. The HAVEN TURN will be played out over Facebook and will see players expand the wealth of their characters and their standing in GLOAMINGEN. For those who were unsuccessful in their EXPEDITION, the ever-present threat of GRINDING POVERTY will snap at their very heels.