Wednesday 26 September 2018

Into The Oceanic Abyss - an idea

I've been watching a lot of David Atenborough documentaries lately, particularly the Blue Planet series, and I think the deep sea is an area for adventure that's not been covered much, particularly in the OSR. I'm tempted to write something up for it once the library module's done, so here's my thoughts.

Adventuring underwater is weird enough that I'd probably knock together a simple little system that goes in the front of the book for it, and notes for how to adapt it for other OSR stuff. Features would include a blend of LotFP and ItO, and then:
  • Access to the deep sea is granted by 'pressurized diving suits' that are worn like armour. Each comes with air tanks that limit how long you can spend down there. The type of diving suit you wear is a function of your class (like armour is in normal games) and sets your AC, carrying capacity, manoeuvrability, and amount of air (which limits the time you can spend without surfacing).
  • Air is a resource. You have X turns of air before you need to surface or start drowning. Exertion might use up turns of air.
  • Injuries have a chance to damage your suit, resulting in loss of air, or even drowning. Maybe as a result of critical hits, or as part of an injury table when you hit 0 HP, or a chance on every hit.
  • Weapons and other gear set up for underwater adventuring.
  • Drowning and breath-holding will get more detail.
  • XP for treasure, but you get paid by land-bound scientists for mapping and doccumenting the weird shit at the bottom of the sea (on commission, of course), and this pay counts as treasure for XP purposes. So you get XP just for exploring and recording what you find.
The setup is likely to be a hexcrawl, roughly dividing the map into a few biomes (chosen because I like them). You sail your little boat out to an area and plunge down to the ocean floor to explore. The biomes are probably going to be:
Coral reefs - close to the surface, lots of life and light, tight areas and 'rooted' animals (sea anemones etc) that act a lot like traps.
Coastal areas - close to the surface, lots of life and light, dangerous tides and currents.
The abyssal plain - deep down (getting that deep takes a turn of air, as does returning), no light, a vast wasteland. Spooky.
Geothermal areas -  deep down again, volcanic stuff, vents, and other weird hazards.
Abyssal chasms - giant canyons with Nasty Shit at the bottom. Rocky, dangerous, super deep super dark.
Each biome has an encounter table (of course) of different types of wildlife. Each plunge into a biome also roles on a 'location' table that gives you some specifics for where you are. Start exploring down there, and you roll up new 'locations' as you travel across the seabed.

There'll be a little port you can return to where you can recruit new PCs or NPC crew for your boat, trade your maps/drawings for money, buy gear, etc etc. But stuff above the surface is basically downtime.
Some hexes - a lot of them, probably - will have some unique features on them. These are little adventure sites, such as:
Underwater caves.
Whale carcasses- crawl into their innards and explore them like a mini-dungeon, maybe they swallowed cool shit worth looting. Maybe carcasses of other sea-monsters too.
Shipwrecks. A pretty straightforward minidungeon and an excuse for skeleton pirates. Super spooky haunted wrecks in the lightless abyss.
Cyclopean ruins constructed in the distant past by Aboleths. Lovecraftian nastiness and SUPER COOL loot. Possibility of Deep Ones. I should ask Kelvin green about having them be the same deep ones as in Fish Fuckers.

No central conceit really, just an excuse to run around in the deep ocean because seriously that shit is COOL AS FUCK and full of weird shit. Like the deep ocean is literally full of boggle-eyed tentacle monsters that eat each other constantly and glow in the dark, and there are giant smoking volcanic vents and leviathan carcasses that form year-long banquets where even the bones get devoured and that shit is RIPE for adventure.
Also there's a fuck ton of good public domain art of the deep sea, so that's a plus 'cos I do love using old public domain art. Like even if I wasn't writing stuff I'd have huge collections of illustrations from, like, the 1880s to 1930s, there's so much good stuff.
Also I have been bingeing nature documentaries and not slept in twenty hours, I am made of caffeine and inspiration.


  1. This sounds awesome! The deep sea is so cool and creepy at the same time. Def my favourite part of the world to watch nature documentaries on and read about. I even have "bio-luminescent sea creatures" postage stamps! If I ever get a chance to run it, I'm totally going to have to put Mira Grant's mermaids in.

  2. What if you just took a lot of the aesthetic principle of the deep sea, the environs, the animals, and geographic features and just placed them on land? So, like VotE, most creatures don't have eyes, but if you have light or produce it- you have an advantage.

    Because the things that are most exciting about the deep is not the water all around or figuring out oxygen. Even if you make a mechanic for it, its about as exciting as "rations" or "water".

  3. I mean you could put them on land but then that's an extra layer of complication added onto what is already /quite weird/.
    Like my point is that the deep ocean is bonkers enough that its a fertile adventure site without any real alteration - the challenges of getting there and visibility and so on only add to the sense of oddness.
    That said, Veins is pretty good inspiration here.

    Also I can't think of any OSR products that are 100% underwater, and that's a niche I can fill and stuff :D
    (also most of the games I run already have a bunch of this stuff on land because I think it's cool).

  4. I've been watching a lot of David Attenborough documentaries lately too! Blue Planet actually was the one I started with, I think. Seriously nature documentaries are like the best thing for creativity, and also they just make you feel good about the world. Some of the underwater places in my Phantasmos setting were inspired by this and other of his series, and I'm working on a thing heavily inspired by the concept of coral that I haven't shared yet but was also based on stuff from these documentaries. I'd love to do an underwater adventure using whatever you come up with for this!

  5. I've been wanting to do something similar except it's more focused around races that live underwater and the alien world that exists beneath the sea. The Little Mermaid meets John Carter of Mars. The deep divers in their suits are like invading spacemen from a world beyond.

  6. This is wonderful. Definitely gonna keep tabs on it! :)

  7. What do you envision tech-level-wise?

    I did a whale carcass minidungeon this summer, by the way:

    1. I'm thinking probably 18th-19th century ish, but not too tech specific.
      Also I'm looking at the whale-belly-dungeon and like what I'm seeing.

    2. Glad you like it!

      I ran a playtest for my players and they liked it too. Since then they lug around the insane sailor in a cage and advertise him as a prophet...

      19th century is great for Jules Verne type of stuff...

  8. I love the idea, though I'd probably let the party use tethered air hoses so they don't have to track oxygen use most of the time. But you can't drag the hose into that underground cave you found, so now you're running on your air tanks and the clock is ticking... And of course if you get into a fight in the open spaces intelligent undersea opponents will probably go for the air supply first so they have the option of pinning you down and watching you die....

  9. Just ran across this today - has there been any progress on this? Very cool concept!

    1. very little, so far. It's sitting in my 'things to do' folder on my laptop for a rainy day.

    2. Understand this all too well... 8^)