I was writing the contents of the secret underground chapel of Izorides the Goddess of Witchess and statting up Velrathi the 8735 God of Wind when Michael Tom popped up on gchat. 'I heard an internet rumor that you were in New York last night.' 'Yeah, I was at the Westgay until 4 a.m., we spent seventy-six bucks on Stella Artois," and then I reached for my coffee and knocked water onto my laptop, which froze and died.
I went to South Philly to hang with my pals, despondent, exhausted, and without any notes to play from. We moped together, drank Budweiser Lime-a-Ritas (gross, don't do it), talked about the merits of gay bars over straight ones, and finally I said, 'Fuck it, let's play a one shot. Here's a dungeon a bunch of guys on the internet wrote. There was an earthquake and the lizardmen are paying you to map the new rooms which have just opened up beneath their camp.'
Nick: 'Oh yeah? What can they give us to sweeten the deal?'
'Fuck off, this is what we're playing tonight.'
So we scratched the surface of the Galleries of the Nyctites, a crowdsourced dungeon that can be found here.
There is an impressive organization of theme: otherworldly painters compelled to create their own existence through strange art-works, which seem to act as portals to another dimension. There's a lot of dimension hopping and unexplained creatures. However, because the dungeon WAS crowdsourced, there is a lack of over-arching direction. The dungeon /feels/ like it was created piece-meal, even though the different rooms and characters reference each other in multiple places. The Nyctites are meant to be a group that work together, but because of the nature of crowdsourcing, there was no way to describe how they do that.
These days when I write a dungeon for myself, I usually include a heading that describes the complete forces available in a given wing, their leader, their powers, and how they react to intruders of friendly and unfriendly varieties. In the Galleries of the Nyctites, there was no reference point to give me that information at a glance, which I needed when running it at a moment's notice off my iPhone. I ended up sort of floundering.
The other thing that made this dungeon difficult to run was the lack of essential information on creature abilities, powers, and character. What is the name of the Nyctite master? How long have they been down here? What exactly is an arachnorooster? What are the capabilities of a shoggoth, Catalytic Plasm, psychic Aether Slime, and giant wailing toddler? Do the Nyctites have powers that distinguish them from each other? Basic statistics (hd, ac, hp, damage, etc) are not a problem to make up on the spot, but creating powers and motivations for each monster room by room is difficult, and more importantly makes the game feel less like a GAME and more like a STORY that we're making up as we go along.
These are probably not problems for crowd-sourced hex-crawls, since a degree of preparation is necessarily implied for wilderness exploration games. And this would not be a problem for the gallery if I decided to run this a week in advance, since this is an excellent draft with a lot of atmosphere and great ideas. But since I have a regular game, and would always rather play that, a crowd-sourced dungeon is necessarily a dungeon I would want to pick up and play. With that in mind, I hope that writers of dungeon rooms in the future do their best to provide a greater degree of specificity.
The goods news is that specificity is good advice for any kind of writing at all.
But hey! It was free and I got the describe the way the arachnorooster cried as Nick poked it to death through its food slot with a sharpened stick. It was horrible.
So here are some details:
Nyctites are sallow-skinned five-foot tall cyclops with three arms - their third arm is on the left side and made of ivory, and every round they grab you, you hemorrhage from the eyes and nose for 1d12 damage, plus they can stab with their free hands.
(When I described them Maddy said, 'Okay they're off balance and have bad depth perception. I shoot an arrow in its eye.' Roll roll. Success. 'Great, I loop my rope around its feet to trip it.' Roll roll. Success. 'Nick, kill it please?')
Powerful Nyctites are able to speak words of power. The Nyctites in room 13 can speak each a word of Insanity, Blindness, Paralyzation, and Fear. The Master of the Nyctites, Jareth Orbis (thanks Henry) is able to speak a word of Pain. The Master's Paramour is able to speak a word of Transformation, which turns the target of the word into a hybrid of its previous race and a random animal (you should have a random animal list), either the top half or the bottom half at random. The Nyctite prophetess can speak a word which forces the targets to immediately witness all possible futures of their next ten rounds, overwhelming them with Confusion.
In addition to the powerful Nyctites, there is a rotating guard of 15 nyctites armed with hooked nets, 2 poisoned daggers each (one causes excruciating pain and paralyzation for ten minutes, the other causes hallucinations to emerge from the shadows and hover about all moving forms, granting them +4 to armor for ten minutes), hooked cross-bow bolts attached to strong cords which they use to manipulate attackers from a distance, and a belt of three muted bells which they ring to sound the alarm. The first bell indicates hostile forces, the second bell indicates an overwhelming force, and the third bell indicates an all clear. 5 of the Nyctite guards know a second level spell, and have a 30% chance of knowing a third level spell. They travel in groups of 3-6 (d4+2), sometimes accompanied by d4 ghouls.
If faced by intruders, they go ahead and release the arachno-rooster and aether plasm to roam the complex. They probably also have the ghouls lie in wait, or even better roam the complex as well.
The non-monster painters and artists dwelling in the gallery all have HD equal to the level of the average party member +2.
The arachnooster has six wings and 27 eyes and a poisoned bite that deals d3 damage and 2d6 Con damage as it liquifies your insides. It can fly 50' and make a bite attack.
The catalytic plasm deals 3d8 damage per round that you're immersed in it, or d8 damage if it just splashed you, and if you take 6 7 or 8 damage you have to make a Fort save or gain a random mutation.
The aether plasm has an extraordinarily complex crystalline structure. Gazing into it causes it to take your form, though its features are blurred. Touching it causes 1d6 Cha damage per turn as it devours your features. It can also extend a threadlike tendril to attack. When it absorbs 10 Cha damage, it gives birth to a doppelganger, which attempts to escape the dungeon complex.
The Corpulence is HD 8 + party level, ac 8 or 12, move 20', can grab at Strength 20 and automatically crush for d12+7 damage, or can eat a grabbed creature for d8+5 damage and try to crush another at the same time. Normal weapons are useless against the Corpulence, as his layers of fat simply heal themselves as fast as they are wounded. When he takes damage, his hot liquid fat splashes on a random adjacent target, dealing damage equal to the amount of damage he would have taken if he weren't so fat.
That should do it. We didn't get very far. They made friends with Jin Jubboflex the mouse-man, tortured some Nyctite guards, and threatened to push the canvas stretcher into the God room until they decided to push him into the room with the Corpulence. Then I looked at the room with the Corpulence and saw there wasn't enough information to run it on three hours of sleep and said, 'Zzzzzzzzzz.'
I wanted to get to the part where they explore the alternate dimensions but that would take a few sessions. More than anything though, I want to see my players get skewered by the razor sharp bill of a giant heron god.
Oh and yeah I'm a gay role player and I play with a lot of gay guys, or maybe they're bi or queer or something, but I don't think any of them are straight, except for maybe Thomson and Nick. I've never asked because it doesn't seem important. Henry and his boyfriend Josh sometimes play together. Shayne and I get messaged by the same guys on cruising apps during play. Shayne works at a gay bookstore and while I was trying to figure out the name of the Nyctite master he said something like, 'Some guy came in and asked me if I knew a place where they give blowjobs. What the fuck?' We make a lot of dick jokes (who doesn't?) and when Nick says something like, 'The Nyctites eat ass,' I get to say, 'Is that a bad thing? You take 9 damage as you bleed from the eyes.'