Wednesday 28 August 2019

Disminster Town, a randomly-generated Occult Underground

So. I'm mostly done writing up the systems for generating a city for Esoteric Enterprises. The basic idea is that, before the game begins, you can drop a bunch of dice on a sheet of paper, and the numbers and position tell you what's there and how they interrelate. You do this twice; once to generate the physical layout of the undercity, and once to generate the various active factions and the political relations between them.
I'm gonna do this here. This isn't pre-planned or anything; consider it a sort of Actual Play for GM prep. Not everything is quite done, so if I roll something I haven't yet generated, I'll just have to make shit up to fill in the blanks, but that shouldn't happen toooo much.

So, to start, I'm gonna roll up the undercity itself: a mess of tunnels, caves, bunkers and ruins beneath the city, infested with supernatural weirdness. This is basically a small megadungeon that your PCs can drop in and out of as the campaign progresses.
The first step is to drop a bunch of dice onto a sheet of paper, and record what dice landed where (both the size of the dice and what it rolled). I don't have a camera, so I'll just draw the results in MS Paint. Here's what it looks like.
You roughly link up the map, joining each dice to a couple of neighbours with a line. Each dice is a complex in the undercity, and the lines represent the connecting tunnels between them. There's a bunch of tables for what these actually are. You can look up the number on the dice for what the complex is. For the connecting tunnels, look at the size of the dice at each end.
Applying this to our map, we get this: 

And then lastly, we just want to tidy this up. I'm gonna add another entrance from the surface, and tweak a couple of the connecting tunnels and complexes (since it makes sense to have two limestone cave complexes connected by a natural feature, and there's a derelict subway station that's away from the rest of the rail network that I'm gonna turn into something more fun).
I'm also gonna add a scale to the map, and colour-code some of the connections and complexes for easy reference.

This is pretty arbitrary, but I've divided the undercity into 5 rough types of area. Natural caves are blue, the subway system is yellow, the city's old mines are red, ancient ruins are green, and the city's infrastructure is purple.
Anyway, we'll be coming back to this. 

Next up, we want to see who our factions in the undercity are.
This uses the same method as before: drop a bunch of dice and see what you get. Here's where my dice landed for this:
Again, the result on the dice tells us who the faction are. Link the factions together like before, and the dice-size at each end tells us how the factions linked relate to one another. 
Doing this to our results, we get this rough network.
So far so good, right? But this is very bare bones, so I'm going to look up each of the factions, roll up the most relevant details, give them a name, etc. Let's see what we get.

Here's who these factions are:
O'Riley's Sausage Factory, an abotoire/butchers family business. Makes pork products. To give them an edge in the market, they employ a banshee, the ghost of a dead employee, and a cultist of Anassa the Spider Queen.

The Court of Grinding Hematite. A collection of chivalrous geological beings that have emerged from the depths of the earth. On a noble quest to smite and destroy the Children of Taash. Suffice to say, the conflict between an ancient vampire progenitor and the lordlings of the earth's core has not yet kicked off in ernest, but will be explosively disastrous when it does, with mere mortals caught between two titanic forces.
The Rosellini's. Standard Sicilian Mafia.
The White Eye Cartel. Smugglers from the European mainland. Specialise in counterfeit goods and bootleg alcohol, with a side-line in human organs and the memory-wiping drug Nepenthe.
The Puck Society, an occultist cabal. A variety of different fields of study, but their current research is largely into mind-affecting magic. 
Work closely with the Troy Town Gaming Club, a group pushing the possibilities of mind-shattering revelations as detailed in The Green Book (the diary of a teenage girl descending into witchcraft and madness in the early 19th century).
The Blake Street Lads. A collection of bored working-class kids from Blake-Street 6th Form College. Thoroughly infiltrated and controlled by members of the Puck Society and Troy Town Gaming Club; many of their college teachers are involved with the two cabals, and poor kids are excellent test-subjects. Suffice to say, being infiltrated by magicians working on mind-control and sanity-erosion is not great for the members' mental health.
The Carter Family. Local hard-man types. Care a lot about keeping up appearances, run protection rackets. Their conflict with the O'Rileys goes back generations.
Hillside Massive, another gang of angry kids. Mess around with various drugs, enjoy their cocaine. Also infiltrated by the Troy Town Gaming Club, which probably bodes poorly for them.
The Disciples of Pluto, Dis Pater. A cult worshipping the Roman lord of the underworld. See to it that the dead stay in their proper place, have a controlling interest in the city morgue. Led by Flavia Secondus; once, she was an oracle of Dis Pater, bringing His commandments to His followers in Roman-occupied Britain. She's a ghost now, but she still does the same thing. The cult are old.
The Usurian Society. A minor cult of Mammon, deity of obscene wealth. Basically a rich-kids club, where the unreasonably posh have decided that rubbing their money in the face of the poor is actually a holy calling. Date back to an 18th century Hellfire club that went weirdly spiritual.
The Crookeville-Marsh Family. Old, wealthy, and influential. Old money going back to the Renaissance, known for their trade interests in the south pacific. Have a distinct family 'look', with wide, round, pale eyes. The inner circle of the family, those of purest blood, have rubbery pale skin and luminous lamp-like eyes, and dwell in the permanently flooded basements of their ancestral home. The family patriarch is Ezekial Crookeville, a 15th century vivimancer who's still alive. The family matriarch is Volborolnos the Fecund, an ancient aboleth. It's best not to think about Ezekial and Volborolnos's love life, but they continue to produce descendants. 
The Dravinskis, a Ukrainian crime family. Heavily tattooed, involved in smuggling. Professional and courteous, but will fuck you up if you betray them. Have backing from abroad.
The 10-legged Spider. An occult research group. Possess the Eltdown Shards, detailing the culture of Triassic spider-people of supposedly magnificent power that they want. Looking to acquire Pnakotic Manuscripts that will allow them to reach into the past and contact these spiders. Most of their number are Arachnophile mages, with a few cultists of Anassa the Spider Queen in there too.
Greyguard Security. A mercenary company with dealings in the occult underworld. Saw some action in the middle-east, saw some nasty shit get dug up by archaeologists out there, and decided to limit their work to the British mainland. Thoroughly infiltrated by the Children of Taash.
Taash, an ancient vampiric progenitor from the biblical era. Dug up during the recent unpleasantness in Syria, and promptly used Greyguard Security to get themselves transported to the less war-torn UK. Taash himself is an 8-foot-tall, six-armed porcelain-skinned monstrosity of radiant beauty, claiming to a child of the goddess Tannit. In truth, Taash is a being of pale violet ichor that parasitically controls exsanguinated human corpses. His children retain some of their own blood and personality, but are likewise infested with Taash's ichor, which transforms them into marble-skinned Adonises. Taash and his children want to go back to the good old days of blood orgies and human sacrifices, and they're taking steps to get this done. Greyguard Security are merely the first front for their expanding infection.

Let's go back to our map of the undercity.

We have four cult strongholds, but only two cults in the city. I'd say that two of these are in fact the various hidden grave-shrines of the cult of Dis Pater, each representing a different aspect of the worship of Pluto. We can also say that the Reliquary was built by them in the city's history.
We can stick the Cult of Mammon in another cult stronghold, but this leaves one empty. What to do with it?
I'm going to stick a reclusive cult into the fourth stronghold. Since two factions (O'Rileys and the 10-legged Spider) have Anassa cultists among them, I'll make it a stronghold for Anassa cultists who mostly don't interact with the rest of the occult underworld.

There's a mad-scientist's laboratory on the map. Again, without a faction of mad doctors, these people are probably recluses and politically neutral. Let's say that Dr Alice is more interested in her cloning experiments, doesn't take sides, but will patch you up if you pay her. 
There's likewise a Morlock Camp, which again has a minor tribe in it that don't really get involved with outsiders. Let's call them the Flint-Scent tribe. Since the Morlock Camp will have a route down to the deeper veins of the earth, it makes sense that this is where the Court of Grinding Hematite emerged from. In fact, to explain why these Morlocks aren't an active faction of their own, let's say that the Flint-scent are direct servants of the Grinding Hematite. 
We've got an Underground Club here. It makes sense initially to have it be controlled by a criminal group, and I'm gonna pick the Carter Family for this. However, we know that Taash's children are depraved hedonists (and vampires hunting in nightclubs is a fine old tradition), so I'm gonna say that Taash's children also have a strong presence here, probably aiming to take control soon. Let's give it a name: Azrael's Club seems pretentious and edgy enough.
It's worth noting that the Flint-scent's camp is right next to Azrael's Club, connected by a section of natural caves. This immediately puts the Grinding Hematite and Taash in contact with each other, so we can expect that conflict to kick off soon!
Lastly, there's a few gang strongholds down here, and plenty of gangs to assign them to. Let's put both of the infiltrated street-gangs in them, giving them, and the wider alliance of the street-gangs and occultist cabals, some healthy access to the undercity.
Here's how our map ends up looking:
Lastly, let's roll up a few events for what's going down directly as the PCs enter the equation. I rolled some dice and got the following results:
There's a mainstream religious revival going down, making life difficult for people on the fringes. Maybe fire-and-brimstone Baptists want to get all of the dodgy pagan cults in town.

There's a serial killer stalking the streets, which makes life hard for everybody.
A bomb just went of recently. I'm gonna say this was Greyguard Security's work (on behalf of Taash), attacking the holdings of the Crookeville-Marsh family, who Taash sees as a threat.
Lastly, there's a job for the PCs! Word gets to them that somebody's been targetting the families of the Disciples of Pluto with harassment and intimidation, attempting to psyche them out. The cult of Dis Pater don't know who's responsible, but want it fixed. In truth, it's just our angry fundamentalists being obnoxious.

So, that's our town.
Looking at everything here, it's got old mines, a lot of old roman influences, and is probably close to the see considering that the Crookeville-Marsh family are basically Innesmouth People. I think I'll put it in Cornwall, making it an old tin-mining town. I'll call it Disminster, and say it's a once-prosperous tin- and silver-mining town that's fallen on harder times since the mines shut down. Since then, it's still by the sea, and police presence is low, so the harbour makes sense as a place where various foreign criminal organisations (the White Eye Cartel, Rosellinis and Kravinskis) to make a beachhead in Britain. Clearly, there's a conflict between fairly modern bible-thumping protestant christians, and the older pagan cults in the town, as well as various well-embedded old-money families with links to the occult and/or crime. Everything's a bit run down, with lots of timber buildings slowly falling apart. Probably graveyards everywhere, too.
All things considered, although things are currently peaceful, there's some tension there ready to blow up, in multiple directions.

I'm quite pleased with how this process works. There's enough noise and random detail to make pulling out interesting threads easy, and things come together quite organically. I could have spent ages deliberating, but instead I got to roll and see, which is fun in its own right. Putting all this together has been a couple of hours of rolling, sketching and inventing details. I'll still need to roll up the layouts of individual complexes, each of which is (again) a handful of dice dropped on the paper and linked up, to give a network of tunnels and rooms. But that can wait, as I only need to roll up a complex when the PCs decide to explore there.

Anyway, here's some art from the book, to give you a feel for the tone.

Esoteric Enterprises - Complete Edition is nearing being done, and I for one am excited. You should be too, tbh, because it's gonna be great.


  1. tbh it's just nice to have posted something which isn't a depressing insight into my angst-ridden SJW psyche.

    1. But wait, isn't this "occult brimstone underground with abandoned subways rails" just a metaphor for your angst-ridden SJW psyche?!!

      I like this system a lot. It brings together Unknown Armies (both the old and the recent edition with its network-building-as-character-generation), World of Darkness stuff (but with random generation and emergent connections instead of heavy lore set in stone)...

      And it's good to see your interpretation of the dice results, the process of turning abstractions into game content.

    2. How will layouts for individual complexes work? Similar to cave generation of Wolf-Packs?

    3. Like in wolfpacks, yes.
      But yeah, I love emergent settings so much.

  2. This looks pretty good. Actually, very good. I like the dice drop stuff - ever since I first saw it on lastgaspgrimoire for his take on city and neighbourhood generation. So with that, and your process here, people can get inspiration for both above and below ground. Better yet, we get factions as well, which is something I find hardest of all to get right or believable. Using this dice drop for factions and such is a very clever extension of this mechanic. You have a real talent for this stuff.

    1. that's very sweet of you to say that.
      honestly a lot of my ideas are recycled from elsewhere; as you say, LGG is a huge inspiration.

    2. LGG is great, and you add to it nicely.

      The other place i look at for this sort of thing is lizardmansdiaries. I like having a couple of good but different tools to generate things randomly - then i get to interpret and make sense of the results. Learned to do that with Traveller. It is time consuming but I think the results are often more original and varied than I’d come up with natively.

  3. How long does it take you to develop an underground like this? It’s marvelous like all of your work.

    1. Disminster took about 2 hours, but a lot of that was typing it up to post rather than just sketching stuff in a note-book. You could probably get the bare bones of a setting in twenty minutes if you rushed it, or go into more depth (rolling up & statting key NPCs for different factions, mapping individual complexes, etc) and spend an afternoon on it.
      Really, it's no quicker than just sitting down and deciding this stuff for yourself, but I prefer doing stuff this way anyway. There's probably a blogpost in why that is tbh.

  4. I want to play around with this so much.

  5. You had me at "randomly-generated Occult Underground".

  6. Okay, this is great. I sometimes wonder why I bother writing my own settings when other people write stuff like this. But that's just me being prideful, again.

  7. Looking forward to it. Can't wait to see the tables.

  8. I am excited for Esoteric Enterprises Complete Edition to release. Are we looking at hours, days, or weeks before this hits DriveThruRPG? Credit card standing by...

    1. we're looking at a scale of weeks. I write in bursts with fallow periods between, so I can't be more precise.