Into the OSR is an occasional series in which I write up some of the creative decisions I have made in the preparation of my old school sandbox D&D style fantasy RPG campaign. The rest of the series can be found here
Last week I wrote a bit about how I was using the Gygax ’75 framework to provide some structure for the work I am doing on a new OSR campaign that I am going to be running next spring.
Week 2 of Gygax ’75 is all about drawing a map that is of a particular size and which has a certain number of features. While I could have drawn the map in a notebook, I decided to use this week as an opportunity to acquire some new skills and so I downloaded and taught myself to use Cone of Negative Energy’s neat little map-drawing app Hex kit.
While I may yet wind up writing a proper review of Hex Kit, I was really surprised by how easy it was to use as I have tried downloading mapping software before and found those apps way too complicated for a brain addled by too much speed and Japanese pornography.
In truth, my only complaint so far is that I really regret using the Fantasyland tile set as the intense vibrancy of the colour palette has produced something that looks less like a map and more like a clown’s jizz-rag. I used to think that the limited colour scheme of maps in old school war-gaming was a failure to be evocative but I now realise that this simplicity was just a product of wanting something that was easy to parse without being overly busy and I think my map of the island of Rosemere demonstrates the wisdom of those design principles.
Using Gygax ’75 was an interesting experience as the formal requirements instantly exploded my original concept for the island. In my head, the group were going to start off on a really small island and then travel to a small island off the coast of a larger landmass. In my head, Rosemere was about the size of the Isle of Wight.
This point of comparison matters as I had imagined Rosemere as a victim of decay and neglect. I imagined it as a place that had once had both military and touristic value only for that value to disappear as the local imperial power began to shrink. I wanted it to feel like a cross between a former colony and a British seaside town: A place where power and wealth had evaporated leaving nothing but an empty space where darker things could grow. The problem with this concept was that while I could imagine somewhere like the Isle of Whyte being forgotten by a shrinking imperialist state, I couldn’t imagine any state just walking away from an island that was half the size of Ireland.
I could have respected the structure and had Rosemere be an island off the coast of a larger landmass that would also be included in the map but in truth, I am still thinking through my options for the local Imperial Core and so I decided to update my original concept to fit the structure on the understanding that I could always change things up later on.
This Rosemere is a place of contested occupation and layered history. Much like 6th Century Britain, it has been colonised and fought over by a variety of different factions and the retreat of the most recent hegemon means a new balance of power and a new set of opportunities for different factions.
The Rosemere Estate is home to the Earl of Rosemere, the titular governor of the Island and face of Imperial power. However, the current Earl of Rosemere is a fourteen year-old girl and both her father and grand-father were distracted halfwits who were largely content to collect their stipends, fulfil ceremonial roles, and take little interest in the actual governance of the Island.
Mugsborough is the island’s economic heartland in that it is home to both the island’s fishing fleet and its tourism industry in the form of a selection of quacks, fools, and deranged visionaries who make a living by offering cures and weight-loss regimens to the grotesquely wealthy citizens of the Imperial core. With the Rosemere family trapped in a state of terminal disinterest, the town of Mugsborough has turned to the fishermen to provide some sort of governance and so the town is now effectively run by the local harbourmaster.
The Hospital on the Western Coast was once the most celebrated medical facility in the Empire but the past couple of centuries have seen it first fall from popularity and then under the control of sinister forces that use their medical expertise to pursue goals far darker than the mere acquisition of money. I imagine the hospital as a place where deranged wizards have been experimenting first on monsters, then on the people left in their care. The hospital may well eventually wind up becoming the island’s largest dungeon as I can imagine level after level of old medical equipment, blood-stained padded cells, and hideous creatures born of unnatural medical practices but I think I will probably keep all of this in the background and drip-feed clues to the group until they eventually feel obliged to go and investigate.
The Black Glass Tower is another site of magical experimentation. I imagine it as this quite futuristic space that is mostly cut-off from the outside world as the experiment is all about interiority and delving into other worlds. I had this idea to make it into a cybernetic city where magic is being used to construct virtual worlds that the group can enter, but I also quite like the idea of the virtual world actually being ‘more real’ than the one containing Rosemere. Still playing with this idea, will see what comes of it but one of the themes I wanted to explore with this map is the idea of different cultures and eras being laid on top of each other; so you have traditional fantasy, you have grungy folk horror, you have a regency-style Empire, and then you have some more futuristic sites as well.
The Village is home to The People. The People are the original demi-human inhabitants of Rosemere and they are effectively Hobbits. Most People are the equivalent of shire-dwelling farmers but they also consider themselves inheritors of a cultural tradition steeped in sinister magics exemplified by the weird ten foot-tall wooden figures they dot across the landscape. When asked about these unsettling wooden constructions, the People will talk about scaring away the birds and protecting the crops but to be anywhere near one of these figures is to feel observed and people swear that they have seen them move.
Dolmen is another colonial outpost but this time it belongs to the inhuman Sea-fiends. The Sea-fiends are a race of intelligent Iguana Men who reside in underwater caves and who have recently decided to start colonising the World Above in an effort to secure access to more natural resources. At the moment the Sea-Fiends are mostly found in swamps but they have recently been pushing further and further inland, putting them in direct conflict with the human inhabitants of Rosemere.
The Lighthouse is where I am going to start the campaign. Built centuries ago when the Empire first started expanding beyond its borders, the lighthouse has now been abandoned by the Imperial Navy allowing the Sea-Fiends to begin filling the power vacuum. Aside from making the local waters safer to shipping by warning them about the presence of rocks, the lighthouse once served as an imperial intelligence-gathering device in that the facility contains a room that allowed imperial wizards to peer through the eyes of specially-designed portraits that hang in prominent buildings as well as the homes of prominent citizens. The Sea-Fiends have yet to discover these hidden chambers.
The Abandoned Naval Base is another potential site for a dungeon as I can imagine a suite of inter-connected buildings and fortifications filled with treasure, loot, and a variety of colourful monsters. I can also imagine the base containing some remnants of a military presence and that opens up the possibility of a dungeon full of factions and power balances that the group will have to negotiate.
I decided to draw up two of these but, having never used random encounter tables before, I have literally no idea how well they will work out in play. Taking my cues from some of the videos I have watched, I tried to strike a balance between hostile and neutral encounters as well as between roaming monsters and groups that belong to factions that are part of the island’s political make-up.
I also decided to include a couple of dinosaur encounters purely for the What-the-fuckery and in the hope that it might make the island feel a little bit more wild and weird. I’m mindful of that scene in the original Tomb Raider when you emerge into an underground cavern and encounter a T-Rex.
|2||Sea Dragon, picking through the remains of a trading ship that it dashed on the rocks.|
|3||A band of Imperial Marines (1d6+1) patrolling the area. Their tattered uniforms in no way dimming their sense of patriotic pride.|
|4||A grizzly bear emerging from the sea and dragging an entire tuna up the beach. Closer inspection reveals that the bear has gills and serrated metallic claws.|
|5||Lesser sea serpent|
|6||The crew of a fishing boat taking on fresh water from a nearby stream.|
|7||A group of miners or loggers returning to work after a few days spent ‘relaxing’ in the nearest town. Empty pockets and full hearts.|
|10||A Scare-crow erected on a rock overlooking a small cove. Beneath the waterline (visible at low tide) are a dozen dead bodies chained to rocks, their eyes nibbled-out by fish.|
|11||1d4 Hunting Spiders|
|12||A Sea-fiend staging area. 1d4 groups of 2d6 Sea-Fiends preparing to explore the interior of the island. Area contains 2d8 humans in cages.|
|2||A Wellness guru leading a group of 2d6 wealthy people on a gruelling hike through the wildnerness.|
|3||An owl bear on its hind legs, trying to knock down a bee hive.|
|4||Group of People erecting a Scare-crow.|
|5||A group of human settlers beset by 1d4+2 Sea-Fiends|
|6||A small group of bandits (1d4+1) bickering by the side of the road as they prepare to set-up an ambush.|
|7||A Merchant at the head of a caravan, returning to Mugsborough with carts full of raw materials.|
|8||A sinister black carriage driven by men in strange livery. They do not acknowledge the group as they are on business for the Dark Glass Tower.|
|9||A group of 1d6 skeletons wearing tattered Imperial armour. Patrolling a boundary that has long-since been lost to time.|
|10||A Sea-Fiend raiding party (2d6) returning home with plunder and/orhuman slaves.|
|11||Manticore with a mechanical tail.|
|12||A Triceratops, its hide dotted with arrows.|