Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Wherein History is Revealed

What follows in the history behind the Dungeon Not Yet Named™. It consists of what a party of adventurers might know about the years leading up to their arrival at the site. Obviously there is more to the story. How they go about learning this additional information is up to them and not the arbitrary roll of a Gather Information check against some DC number. Which is the way is should be.

The History of Baron Murthiz Kahyaten

The Baron was born to the Kahyaten bloodline, a family that had grown rich during the dark years following the fall of the Old Empire. In addition to their land holdings, the Kahyaten had established a sea trade empire, which plied many foreign shores and returned with rich bounty.

Growing up in an atmosphere of easy wealth and idle responsibility, the Baron developed a love for art in its many forms. Despite this love and the desire to create great works of art, it became obvious very early in the Baron’s life that he himself possessed no true artistic talent. Initially despondent over this, the Baron soon resolved that if he couldn’t create art, he’d do the next best thing: become a patron of the arts. Gifted with wealth, the Baron began lavishing money and commissions on many unknown artists. In addition, his taste for the bizarre and wondrous soon began to be well-known. Many adventurers sought out the Baron to sell him the strange artifacts and relics they had encountered in their journeys or to seek his backing on expeditions to recover the same.

Born with an infectious sense of humor and outgoing personality, Baron Kahyaten cut a swath through the social gatherings of nobility, earning him many friends and well-wishers amongst not only the elite, but the common man as well. He delighted in showing off his bizarre collection, which soon filled both his family castle as well as his city manor. For many years the Baron was content with his lot.

As the years passed, however, his friends noticed a certain sadness creeping into his nature. Having never married or sired children, the Baron grew concerned about his legacy. He’d be remembered for his patronage and his personality, but such things only lasted as long as the people around him. People, who like himself, would one day slip from this mortal coil.

His friends began to grow concerned as the Baron started avoiding social functions, often spending his time brooding alone in his holdings. Concern turned to outright worry when, quite suddenly, the Baron vanished. His castellans and butlers knew not where he’d went. His managers and financial advisors grew anxious at the thought of his trade empire. Means were undertaken to locate the Baron, but methods both mystic and mundane turned up nothing. Steps were taken to begin the process of declaring him dead and dissolving his money and lands.

Then, without warning, the Baron returned.

Inquires as to his whereabouts were shrugged off with jests of needing time to stretch his artistic wings. Wherever he might have gone, the Baron had returned more energized and exuberant than ever before. He announced that on his sojourn, he had been gifted with divine inspiration from the Capricious. He intended to create a masterpiece of art as his legacy. Since he himself lacked the necessary skills needed to create it, he’d employ others as his tools to realize his grand vision.

As his canvas, the Baron chose the family hunting lodge, Mosshurn. Never a huntsman himself, he sought to put the neglected holding to good use. Hiring a crew of stonemasons and engineers from Ringhammer Hall, the Baron began his work.

For five years, the Baron’s crews worked away in the small cave system located beneath the keep. The Baron employed no architect or advisor in his planning. From time to time, the Baron would provide his foremen with crude plans, drawn by his own hand, to build beneath the manor. His financial advisors dubbed the project “an endless otyugh’s pit of financial ruin” as they watched more monies from the Baron’s trade coffers sunk into the work. The Baron paid them no heed. He began to reacquaint himself polite society, returning to the balls and galas of nobility. Inquiries regarding his strange project were met with the cryptic response, “Wait and see. You’ll be amazed.”

The nobles began to wonder about the Baron. Had his mysterious travels unhinged his mind? More than one sharp-tongue in the court began to gossip about “The Mad Baron’s Burrow.”

After the passage of half a decade, the Baron finally decided to unveil his masterpiece to a select few. Comprised of the richest of nobles, the most inspired of artists, and his closest friends both common and elite, his guests arrived at Mosshurn to view the Baron’s creation.

They left stunned and amazed.

Requests for details concerning their visit were met with reticence to reveal what exactly they experienced. The privileged few would only admit that they had never seen such wonders in all their collected years. The Baron only fueled speculation with his rare invitations for other visits. Securing one became a sought-after status symbol, and the uninvited were green with jealousy. All the guests returned with a look of wonder, excitement, and closed mouths. The privileged few would gather is groups at balls and whisper amongst themselves.

In addition to his occasional galas, the Baron began to invite others to visit on a more permanent basis. He offered a place to work and create to artists, philosophers, alchemists, engineers, mages, musicians, actors, and the like. They’d be free to perfect their art away from the distractions of the city and towns, funded by the Baron’s still great wealth. Some of the best and brightest, along with their students and apprentices, took the Baron’s offer.

Despite the wonder that already existed, the Baron’s workmen continued to expand and dig deeper. While festive balls were held in the levels above, the crews still worked the stone below. Well-paid, they kept their mouths shut and built.

In 1533, the work stopped. The residents of the closest human settlement, the tiny village of Crouchja, watched as the dwarves passed through on their way back to Ringhammer Hall. It is said by some that they did not appear pleased and more than one dwarf glanced back over his shoulder with a grim look upon his face.

The Baron’s galas continued, still attracting nobles and wealthy merchants, who’d travel through Crouchja in gilded coaches attended by liveried servants and armsmen. The artists who had accepted his patronage continued to create in the comfort of the Baron’s architectural wonder. Some, however, began to notice a change in the Baron’s demeanor. The glint of laughter and the smile was still there, but something seemed to be troubling the Baron. His jests and fests took on a seemingly desperate air, like the carousing of a man destined to be hanged in the morning.

By 1539, things turned even more sinister. The monthly wagon caravan that brought staple supplies to the Baron’s manor failed to appear. A party of the village elders of Crouchja journeyed to the keep to investigate the Baron’s health and well-being. They were turned away at the gate by the baronial guard. When they insisted to meet with the Baron, a hail of arrows sent them running back towards the village. After that, the village let the Baron and his obvious madness lie undisturbed.

Finally, in 1542, the Baron was sighted one last time. On one autumnal evening, Crouchja was disturbed by the thunder of frantic hooves racing down its main thoroughfare. Those villagers who rushed to their windows beheld the Baron riding through the village, headed towards his manor. None had seen him leave his demesne, and his wild eyes and panic stricken face clearly revealed that something had disturbed the Baron greatly. Little did the villagers of Crouchja know that this would be the last time anyone would see the Baron alive.

A year passed before anyone raised the courage to visit the manor. In the end, a band of young men headed towards the keep, claiming only to desire to learn if the Baron still lived. It is widely surmised that they hoped to find the keep empty and the wonders rumored to lie within free for the taking. The one lad who survived the trip would later tell of finding the keep abandoned; its drawbridge raised and the shutters of its windows barred tight. When they attempted entrance into the lower levels via a door that lay within the manor’s orchard, they triggered a deadly trap on the staircase that led below. In that inferno, all save the one lad perished, and even he would succumb to his horrible injuries before long.

In the seventy-five years that have passed since, the Baron’s manor and its secrets have slept quietly. Shunned by the villagers and forgotten by generations of younger nobles and adventurers, what was supposed to be Baron Kahyaten’s legacy is nothing more than a footnote in the moldering histories of the period. The fate of the Baron and his wonders remains unknown. It would take the efforts of brave men and women, willing to risk their lives against unknowable peril, to discover what might still lie deep within the ground under Mosshurn Manor…

If you've made it this far, congratulate yourself. I know it's a long piece, but if you'd indulge me a moment more, I'd just like to say a couple of things about the above.

First of all, I'm rather proud of this bit of doggerel. Not the writing itself, but the fact that I managed to come up with this while remaining within the parameters that I established for myself. It would have been easy to go the way of the classic "lair of the insane arch-mage" or "deathtrap of the King of Thieves" type dungeon. Instead I wanted something relatively fresh for the setting, and having the mastermind behind the dungeon be a failed artist, albeit a rich one, provided something new. By having the dungeon also be a sort of fantastic artists' commune, I could go a little wild with what might be found within and not have to worry about it jiving with an overall design scheme. This loosens the reins quite a bit.

Secondly, I'll reveal what exactly I had in mind when I wrote this up. I hope it manages to shine through, either on initial viewing or when looking back on it. Quite simply, I went to perhaps the greatest written account of subterranean exploration that I know:
I inserted the candle and peered in...as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, gold--everywhere the glint of gold. For the moment--an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by--I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, "Can you see anything?" it was all I could do to get out the words, "Yes, wondrous things."

- from the notes of Howard Carter regarding his 1922 discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb
That account always stokes my fire. If it doesn't give you goosebumps, I wonder why you've chosen role-playing games as a hobby.

The Dungeon Not Yet Named™ is chugging along. I'm going to wait until I finish up the second level before I open it up to a first run and/or playtest. A lot of the mental walls that I've run into have been breached, so it's just a matter of time being available to finish the initial notes. Once that's done, I've got enough stuff set that the next two levels will feed off of what has come before it, allowing me to pick up the pace a bit. Then the fun just gets better.

6 comments:

Mr Scratch said...

Wonderful setting Mike, there could be anything in there. I can see gala ballrooms and labs of wonder but there is that ancestral darkness and stale madness that will set the goosebumps. Something "Rats in the Walls" going on in there, you better go first.

Amityville Mike said...

Well there is the section that I've been calling "The Lovecraft Wing" in my head for months now, but that's going to have to wait a few levels. I'm not sure how many Hit Dice a shoggoth has, but I'm sure it's not living next door to the kobolds.

I promise that one of the sub-levels off of level two is going to be Clark Ashton Smith by way of Robert E. Howard, so I'll have all my Weird Tales authors covered.

Restless said...

It sounds fabulous! I would hope you would publish it at some point, it sounds like a blast.

As for naming it, it seems to me that you nailed it already: The Mad Baron’s Burrow.

mr scratch said...

Shoggoth? At that point your THAC0 doesn't matter. What matters is your running speed and willingness to trip other party members.

Amityville Mike said...

@restless: Thanks! I'm not sure if publication is ever in the future for this stuff, although elements of it may appear someday in some format. As for the name, I'm still leaving it open for now. I'm waiting for the right name to "pop" for me. It might ultimately be named by the first party or parties of adventurers who enter and survive. "The Mad Baron's Burrow" was intended to be derogatory to the whole endeavor, so I'd prefer something a little more grand. Hopefully the adventurers will see that the complex is much more than just a "Burrow".

Restless said...

Yes, I suppose that would be the case, but the less assuming a name you give it, the more mystery there is as to what is contained therein. Also, if that's the name that was going around I could see that being the name that it was remembered by among the populous. I could see there being a grander name for it, that may only be remembered by the most learned of sages, however.