Awhile back there was a craze for profile geomorphs; I thought they were really neat, but I could not run a game from them. Width and spatial relations are too important. I liked the pretty pictures, but just couldn’t run something from the geomorph alone.
Not one to complain without offering a solution, I figured I’d offer a 3/4 view (leaving the geomorph idea behind).
Any time I work in a medium, I want to focus on doing things in that medium that are difficult to translate into other mediums, to take full advantage of them. In this case, the vertical shifts of the environment are designed to be quickly and easily grasped at a visceral level to portray a really 3d feeling environment.
This is an early experiment; it is not designed to be polished or top of the art, but I’m sharing my first steps towards maybe doing more and better maps like this. (I did this with a gel pen on typing paper, which is brave, as you can’t easily fix mistakes.)
A priestess of Dufell, goddess of dark places and secrets, has set up shop on the Fydria trade route. She wants to create a major temple to Dufell in the area, and towards that end, she’s first creating mystery. She crafted a shrine to Dufell under a tavern on the road, known as the Tasty Last Drip—a terrible name, and the proprietors know it, but tradition; what can you do?
She tunneled deeper and deeper with her magic, at last forming a cavern with a lake, and putting her cave next to it. Up a twisting tunnel to a shrine to worship Dufell, next to a torture chamber where she is keeping the road wardens that have been tracking her cultic activity.
To persuade cooperation, she has offered shelter to some smugglers, who have yet to realize the danger they are in by working with the unstable and secrecy-mad priestess. And above all, an inn, happy to be ignorant in exchange for a bit of gold.
How to involve characters? Maybe they are staying at the Tasty Last Drip and get wind of smugglers below. Maybe the road wardens hire them to help find some of the missing agents. Maybe they are hired by a temple of Dufell to trace an unauthorized temple, or they have a grudge against Dufell and find they may be able to settle it along this road. Maybe their friends were snatched for learning too much, and the smugglers have handed them over to the mad priestess already. Maybe the paranoid priestess orders them kidnapped, fearing they know more than they actually do, and they find themselves in the prison.
- Tasty Last Drip Tavern.
- Mundane stuff. The owner family/staff, some colorful characters, whatever. Normal inn. Kitchen in the back, with a cellar door.
- Sealed Well.
- The Wellshaft. Out back, behind the stable, a well with a boarded-up lid. A bucket hangs about 5 meters down on a rope, and 10 meters down there are metal bars blocking the way. At the bottom, it opens to a fireplace-like hole in the Meeting Room—it is an escape route.
- Cellar. Barrels of drink under the stairs, crates of foodstuffs against the west wall.
- Back Cellar. Hogsheads piled against the east wall; but to the southeast, a gap in shadow that leads to stairs going down.
- Antechamber to Secrets.
- The stairs down are rough, and this open room is overflow storage for fugitives, smugglers, illicit goods, and interviews.
- Smuggler Den.
- A bed on the north wall, a desk to the east, usually piled with goods not yet fenced or moved. A door to the north leads to a hard-scrabble tight passage about a meter to a meter and a half wide, with ladders as needed, exiting in the brush about half a kilometer from the inn itself.
- Meeting Room.
- Acid Font. The west wall has an enclosed font full of green acid. It also has a number of syringes without needles; the point is to squirt the acid on the bars from beneath, if escaping up the well shaft on the east wall past the bars.
- Decision Table. Up to 8 people can sit at the round table that is the room’s central feature. A hidden compartment in the table’s central trunk can hold a good-sized box of treasure.
- Darkspinner Shaft.
- Confinement. Runes line the corridor heading to the shaft, that limit the movement of the shaft’s guardian; a wicked thing borrowing from spiders and darkness but made of neither.
- Grating. The barred grate 2/3 down the shaft is about 8 meters down (the shaft is about 3 meters wide.) The rope down to the bottom is held steady by an anchor hanging at the bottom, and to get down, keys (or lockpicks) must open the grating at the characters’ feet…
- Crank. The cable and anchor are lowered by a crank on the north wall; it is not generally used, but can be if need be.
- Hiding Place. The priestess has dreamed a knight champion of Dufell will come, so she has prepared a place for him/her/it to stay. She has an enchanted sword and shield of Dufell to grant to the champion when this happens. The sword allows its wielder to see in the dark, and the shield can blind opponents.
- Boneshrooms and Anchors.
- Bones litter the bottom of the pit; troublesome corpses are tossed down there, and the mushrooms greedily devour the rotting stink and grow even more vibrantly.
- Torture Prison.
- Cells. There are 4 cells, each one about 2 meters square, with a 1 meter square crawlspace to get in. Those inside can easily overhear events in the main room.
- Rack. The rack in the northeast corner can be used to pry secrets out of anyone, with other prisoners a nauseated and enraged and terrified audience. A furnace built into the wall is designed to hold brands and other instruments of torment.
- Dufell Shrine.
- Approach. The locked door and polished black corridor approach to the shrine.
- Statue. A statue of Dufell in the guise of a goblin wise woman dominates the room.
- Pit. Gaping over 2 meters across, the pit twists down into the earth; sometimes it has handholds and footholds carved like a ladder, or like steep stairs, descending and twisting into the mysterious darkness.
- The Deep.
- Approach. The stairs come down among tumble-flowed rock, to a lake underground.
- Lake. Darksharks live in the lake; they drink darkness for sustenance, and merge with the dark in the lake, coming forth to feed. Only light hurts them as they drift in the silent black.
- Lair. The Priestess lives in a cave off the main cavern, nurturing the holy dark and all her secrets far from risk of discovery.