Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Realms - Taluna

For the next few posts, we're going to examine some of the otherworldly Realms that will appear in the new Treasure Hunters for Hire campaign model, exploring the far-off places that were hinted at but never visited in the previous City-focused campaign.

The first new Realm we're going to examine is Taluna, the site of the Treasure Hunters' first adventure. It is a simple place, designed around the problem that the PCs will encounter rather than as a complete world—which should hopefully make it a good starting point!

Archetype: I wanted to start off the treasure hunting with a classic dungeoncrawl, in which the hunters are searching for a specific item. Since I am terrible at map-making, I used a random dungeon-map generator (which I would link to, if I remembered which one I used) to put together a series of branching passageways and rooms. In traditional "dungeon" fashion, these would be ruins of an ancient city, that left behind dangerous traps and monsters to guard their treasure. Not the most original concept, but I wanted to start off simple. To populate this archetypal dungeon, I pulled up Maptool, the virtual tabletop program my group is using, and looked through the monster "tokens" included in the program (not unlike sorting through a random pile of miniatures and grabbing a few interesting examples).

See the rest after the jump

I picked out a minotaur, a rust monster, something that looked like a pile of dirt with tentacles coming out, some form of demon or devil that I only vaguely recognized, and a couple of dwarves (all obviously designed as D&D-specific monsters). Since City of Lives is not D&D, however, I decided to change them all to suit my own needs. The minotaur became, based on inspiration from a random-monster generator on seventhsanctum.com, part man, part ox, and part scorpion, and named the Toxinox (which I'm really not sure how I feel about... perhaps it's too "punny"). The rust monster became an old Alien-inspired critter I used in an old sci-fi campaign known as a Sss'ch'kinsa (it's deliberately hard to pronounce: it's alien!), that leaps at its prey, pins them to the ground, and crushes their head with its mandibles while injecting eggs with an ovipositor (or "mouth penis" as the players nicknamed it). The tentacled dirt became a Whiptree, a carnivorous plant with dangerous vines. The demon became a Fleshtearer, something nasty but rather ill-defined (as I was running out of time before play would begin), and the dwarves became ordinary people twisted by the magics of the dangerous relic this dungeon was protecting, the Euphorica.

Real-Life Inspiration: Taluna was based on several influences. Firstly was a fictional influence, the euphoria-inducing record from the TV show Warehouse 13 (a major influence on this campaign model, I believe I've mentioned). I took the premise of an object causing euphoria and expanded it, so that its effects would be felt not only in the ruins where it was housed, but all the way in the small village of City-dwellers who had recently settled there. Here I took a common sci-fi premise, that of the "mysteriously content little town" and twisted it a little: there is no terrible secret beneath the town, no aliens or Stepford wives or what have you, but instead they have been affected by a relic. I named the relic the Euphorica, inspired by finding a picture of Pandora's Box that seemed perfect (yes, I know mythologically it's actually a jar) and the recent Doctor Who creation the "Pandorica."

Second, the name "Taluna" I pulled from my random-name generator, the Everchanging Book of Names, where, on a whim, I selected the "Finnish" name category. It seemed nice, and since Finnish isn't associated with any of the City bloodlines, it must be the original name for the Realm from the defunct ancient civilization of the Euphorica.

The third real-life inspiration I pulled almost from mid-air in the midst of a session. One of the PCs is an artist, and specially trained in discerning information from artwork, while another PC is an expert in cross-Realm cultures. When the two of them wanted to look for clues as to what kind of civilization this ruin had come from, I had to scramble, as I hadn't worked it out. However, since I had the Toxinox and the Euphorica, I decided that oxen and happiness were the two most important pieces of imagery for the Talunans, and derived some inspiration from the ancient Minoans, specifically their obsession with bulls. I also decided scorpions were a big thing for them, and so thus, logically, the Toxinox was a real-life magical recreation of a mythological figure.

Theme: The theme of Taluna is something related to addiction and decadence, and the danger sometimes posed by the seemingly benign. I see the ancient Talunans as valuing happiness above all else... perhaps the complacency of an ox in the field? So they decided to create a magical relic that would grant them that happiness, but they became addicted to its effects and their civilization slowly collapsed, much like the rats that will keep pressing a button that stimulates their pleasure centers until they starve to death. Not an entirely original idea, of course (I can think of a Stargate SG-1 episode with the same plot just off the top of my head), but a simple one that will do for a dungeoncrawl.

Similarly, the colonists found themselves suffering from the effects of the Euphorica because they explored where they shouldn't have, "dug too greedily and too deep" or investigated "what man was not meant to know." After all, everyone knows you should just leave the creepy ruins alone!

Twist: Well, the theme speaks to the narcotic effect of happiness and how it can addict and deaden people to the world. However, what if the Euphorica could be controlled? A depression cure, or at least a way to fight grief? The ethics are muddy, but happiness is certainly a good thing if it's not out of hand. So let's say that the hunters will be given the chance to use the Euphorica, transform it from a tool of evil into one for good. That twists the usual theme of these kinds of tales, where the tool (Raider's Ark of the Covenant, the Alien xenomorphs, Frankenstein's monster) is too dangerous to be allowed to exist, and fits with my personal pro-science and pro-technology beliefs.

Okay, so that's Taluna. Next time, we'll venture somewhere further afield, into the elemental Decaying Fields of Forever.