You head directly towards the Black Basket, an area of the jungle avoided by natives due to the population of Cynocephalus Volans there.  Once there, you scan the canopy for the glowing red eyes of the winged horror…

(Failed Luck Saving Roll)

…but they are clever and only look your way when your head is turned.  Jungle cacophony masks the sound of the two that are gliding down in ambush.  Your superior instincts give you but a moment to react.

Attempt to dodge both of the ambushers.
Attempt to skewer one of them on your machete.

All are welcome to participate in this adventure.  Just indicate in the comments which course of action you’d like to see followed.  Optionally, you can provide a semi-relevant movie quote and a bonus will be granted to the character’s rolls.  Check out the previous posts about Revenge in the Dark Jungle.

The most important factor when traveling the jungle is to establish base camps.  Put some effort into constructing, supplying and defending camps at ideal locations.  Surviving in the jungle is difficult enough, but to do so without having good places to rest, resupply, and reassess is asking for trouble.

A typical day’s travel for my outfit was six miles of progress.  I say “progress” because as much effort is spent going up, down, and around various obstacles as going forward.  Much time was also spent each day either resting or hunting and foraging to supplement and extend our preserved rations with the bounty of the jungle.  Some days presented ideal conditions allowing us to as much as double our progress, but then others days met us with hardship that slowed us considerably.

Of course, an expedition should travel the waterways when possible. They enable the transport of a greater bulk of supply, deeper into the jungle.  Going upriver is hard work, but still faster than stomping through the bush.  Going downriver with a sturdy craft and stout oarsmen, it was possible to travel thirty miles or more in a day.  River travel is less eventful, but also presents its own dangers such as rapids, waterfalls, and fish and snakes larger than I’d seen before or since.

The jungle has swamps and mountains too.  A small canoe is of use in the swamps, but any larger craft will be impractical.  Valleys and cliff-side paths in the mountains aided travel there, but some ranges were just impossible for my men to cross.  More than once I hired a brave mountaineer to guide just myself to the top of some of the most treacherous ridges so I could make observations.

Speaking of which, a jungle traveler should take advantage of any opportunity to get atop the canopy and have a look around.  Down on the floor there are no landmarks.  Everything looks the same.  Despite my skill and experience I often discovered that I wasn’t traveling precisely in the direction I had intended.  Seldom did I get to where I was going without an unintended detour or two.

You gather the remains of your wife and child in a large panther pelt and carry them to a nearby waterfall, passing through the water and into a chamber.  There you place the bundled remains into a crevice, then loosely seal it with stones.  You spend the night in the chamber.

In the morning you return to the hut.  You find a black arrow lodged into the wall near the door.  A symbol of the Bats, a tribe of natives that worship the winged creatures of the night, in the Dark Jungle of near-perpetual night.  You dislodge the arrow and smell the length of it.  Though you’ve never wholly trusted or befriended the Bats, you have traded with them on occasion.  Likely this is the work of a rogue war party led by a young warrior in search of prestige, acting without approval of the tribal elders.  Nonetheless, to exact revenge on the rogue warriors would turn all Bats against you.  So be it.

Indications are that the war party consisted of up to ten warriors and that they headed north after their attack here.  The Bat tribal center of power is in that direction, at least a three week journey from here.  You estimate that your prey has a head start of a week, but with your fury, stamina, and knowledge of shortcuts, you may be able to catch up to the war party before it reaches their tribe.  You dash off into the jungle in pursuit of revenge.

Take a shortcut through a region of jungle currently experiencing an active and dangerous fungal bloom?
Take a shortcut through territory known to contain many Cynocephalus Volans?

Cynocephalus Volans:  A large patagium-winged primate that swoops down from the canopy and envelopes victims.

All are welcome to participate in this adventure.  Just indicate in the comments which course of action you’d like to see followed.  Optionally, you can provide a semi-relevant movie quote and a bonus will be granted to the character’s rolls.  Check out the previous posts about Revenge in the Dark Jungle.

So last week I mentioned the saga of Liver-Eating Johnson.  I was thinking about how it could be converted into an interesting roleplaying adventure, but decided “Nah, it would probably end up being too heavy handed.”  Then I thought, “Hmm, choose-your-path solo adventures are kinda railroady by design, the saga is basically one man’s story, and I was considering doing another solo adventure on my blog, so…”

The Jungle of Lost Souls adventure was a success (despite all characters dying), so let’s try another solo adventure. We’ll use the Tunnels & Trolls rules again since they seem to work well for solos.  The adventure is set in the Dark Jungle region, and here is our vengeful Jungle Man:

“Mossy” Hayes, Level 4 Warrior
Strength 17
Charisma 8
Dexterity 12
Luck 15
Constitution 11
IQ 8

Combat Adds +8
Leather Armor (character is a warrior, so leather absorbs 12 damage)
Machete 2D+3
Mossy’s Kickin’ Boots:  Successful kick will stun opponent.

Just as with the Jungle of Lost Souls adventure adventure, everybody is welcome to participate in the comments.  Indicate which path or action you’d like to see the character perform.  The choice with the most votes will be taken.

Check out the other Revenge in the Dark Jungle posts.

The actual adventure will begin in a couple days.  In the meantime, here is the introduction…

After several years of exploring and surviving the Dark Jungle you decided it time to acquire a wife.  Running Bird, daughter of Broken Rain, chief of the Greyfoot natives (named for their mud-covered lower limbs), captivated your interest the last time you had visited the clan to trade.  And so after that dry season’s Rendezvous you took a dowry of many skins, weapons, and live animals to the chief.  An elaborate ceremony began, in which Broken Rain pretended to be surprised and hesitant to accept your offer.  Finally, a deal was made for you to wed Running Bird.  Broken Rain was very happy.  A week of festivities ensued before you and your wife were allowed to return to your trapping grounds to prepare for the next rainy season.

It was a productive season of trapping and hunting.  Running Bird was more than capable of taking care of herself and the hut for periods of time, enabling you to engage in long, multi-week treks to the most productive regions of jungle.  As you returned from the final foray, you couldn’t help but thinking about how this was your most profitable season ever and what gifts you might purchase for your wife at the upcoming Rendezvous.

But something was clearly wrong as your hut came into view.  A maintained homestead in the Dark Jungle can show considerable deterioration after only a week of not being maintained.  That was precisely how it looked.  As you got closer, buzzards near the front entrance squawked and flew up to the safety of high branches.  There on the ground you saw the remains of Running Bird, flesh rotted and stripped to the bone.  You recognized the design of her painted fingernails.

Nearby you discovered the remains of your unborn child.

Natives in the Jungle

March 25, 2011

Description of the jungle natives in the FitJ supplement is minimal.  There are hooks and bits of info that can be pursued to bring the natives into the spotlight, but the FitJ supplement puts the spotlight on The Jungle itself.  Judges and players are encouraged to use their own knowledge of various native cultures, or even tropes, to fill in the gaps if necessary.  While my own conception of The Jungle’s natives is dotted with Filipino influences, it is more informed by Native American culture and history.

The Native American cultures were numerous and varied, as are the books and movies that portray them.  Some of these portrayals are more biased than others, and some are not to be taken seriously, but there are many that hint at the richness, strengths, and weaknesses of these cultures.  Here are some of my favorites:

Painting by Richard Barham

The Journals of Lewis and Clark, edited by DeVoto.  Unless you are willing to read the nearly 5000 pages of the full journals, this DeVoto edition is the one to get.  For me, the most memorable thing about this account of the expedition’s journey across the Great Plains, over the Rocky Mountains, and to the Pacific Ocean and back is the descriptions of the many different tribes encountered.

Crow Killer: The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson by Thorp and Bunker.  Politically incorrect to the extreme and of questionable historic quality, the tales of Liver-Eating Johnson are nonetheless an important piece of Weird American Mythology.  Liver-Eating’s hatred of the Indians is obvious but, when all is said and done, so is his respect for them.  The movie Jeremiah Johnson (1972, starring Robert Redford, directed by Sydney Pollack) is partially based on this saga.

Black Robe (1991) A Canadian movie directed by Bruce Beresford.  The greatest “D&D movie” of all time?  I think so, and I’m not even a big fan of clerics.  I also interpret it to be an accurate portrayal of the natives and Europeans of the 17th century in what is now Quebec, Canada.

Painting by William Ahrendt.

Hexcrawling in style.

ChicagoWiz offers fair and useful criticisms of my book.

In summary, ChicagoWiz says:  “Any setting book is going to have things that the reader can use, things they don’t like, and things that simply serve as seeds for imagination later on. Dustin’s Fire in the Jungle is exactly that. There was a lot I found in here useful right away, even outside of a jungle environment, and some things that I didn’t like. Aside from the issue with the dungeon map being difficult to use as-is, there’s not really anything “wrong” with the book that I would hold up as a red flag. The random tunnel/dungeon generators is a personal issue, and many people will no doubt find it a positive part.

I really liked Dustin’s brevity, his straight to the point approach and a few hints of what seems to be his sense of weird, whimsical and odd humor throughout. That only adds to the overall great nature of the book. I recommend this book to anyone looking to incorporate a jungle setting, or just wanting a very inexpensive sandbox setting book to use as some reference.”

ChicagoWiz played a hand in motivating me to make the supplement as good as I could make it, so I’m pleased that he gives it an overall thumbs up.  We also had a productive exchange of emails this week discussing the supplement.  Here are my responses:

Thanks for writing this review, ChicagoWiz.  A fair and useful criticism of my book.ChicagoWiz and I had a productive exchange of emails this week about what he did and didn’t like in my book. I feel my responses to him were rather longwinded, so I’ll try to summarize and just hit the highlights here:Regarding the MagCloud service. They market themselves as a magazine POD service, but really you can publish anything there. My wife and I printed our holiday cards there. Very easy to use.Advantages: Reasonable production costs for full color interior @ 20 cents per page, or 16 cents per page for bulk orders. Cheap shipping to US, Canada, and UK. Reasonable shipping elsewhere. Super easy to create, upload, and manage publications. Another big factor for me was the THICK paper stock for books of 16 pages or less.Disadvantages: Limited options for format…basically it’s all full color 8.5×11. Not much RPG stuff there currently, so I don’t expect to get any “window shopping” sales.

“I’ve found that random dungeon generation at the table slows things down and seems – at least to me – to create a different feel to the game, almost like a gambling game or card game.”

This is fair criticism, and one I recognize. The Tunnel Event system is an attempt to abstract the essential tension of dungeoneering: “Should we continue deeper in search of greater reward at greater risk, or return to the surface while we are still alive and know where we are?” The intent was to enable exploration of a complex, changing, and unmappable tunnel system, while still retaining that essence of dungeoneering. The side effect of additional abstraction (beyond what abstraction D&D already contains) is that it may begin to feel more “gamey”. Indeed, it may not be to the taste of some roleplayers, but I think the general concept has potential and I’m eager to learn of other techniques for accomplishing what it tries to do.

“…but it was that very view and the color selection that made the map difficult to use. There’s no grid, and just a ruler that lays out what is 5′, 30′ and so on. If the DM has to escalate by turns, and you’re using movement to measure how long a turn is, this map is going to frustrate you.”A valid criticism of the Tomb of the Monkey God, especially regarding the problem of reconciling the turn-based escalation system with the non-gridded map. ChicagoWiz clarified to me that he liked the presentation and structure of the map, but didn’t like the lack of measurement grid. I didn’t include a measurement grid because I prefer to “eyeball” the length of corridors. My intention was to discourage square-counting and encourage a faster, off-the-cuff playstyle, but ChicagoWiz brought to my attention that a grid can also help encourage that playstyle via the time-saving convenience it provides the DM.I’ve come to realize that ChicagoWiz and I have a similar playstyle, but because most of my play these days is via email, the tools that help me run games might be too clunky to be of use to him DMing a fast-paced tabletop session. For him, the random dungeon generation systems are more useful as a prep tool.Also, to clarify how I view the relationship between the Ant Tunnel Event system and the Tomb Escalation system: They are different and accomplish different purposes. The ant tunnel system says “with greater risk comes greater reward, but these tunnels are unpredictable so whatchya gonna do, punk?”. Whereas the escalation system simply says “the longer you stay in there, the more frequently you’ll encounter wandering monsters, so hurry yer ass up!”Lastly (and this has nothing to do with this review but is just something I wanted to make note of), to give credit where it is due, the escalation system I use in the Tomb of the Monkey God is based on the system Paul Jaquays used in his “Crypts of Arcadia” adventure contained in his classic Book of Treasure Maps.

To the east of The Jungle proper lies more jungle, known as the Dark Jungle.   Remnant of a primordial past and untouched by the apocalyptic Wizard Wars.  The Dark Jungle canopy is much taller and thicker, blocking out nearly all sunlight.  For this reason, the undergrowth is not as thick as in the western jungle.  In fact, the floor of the Dark Jungle would more accurately be described as a honeycomb of giant fallen trees, rot, fungus, mist, and mud.

Genteel explorers have described the Dark Jungle landscape as a dim, boundless cathedral.  The great buttress-rooted trees serving as mighty pillars supporting an impossible roof of leaf and branch, letting through few stray beams of misty sunlight, lending the spectacle a feeling of grim solemnity and desperation.  The sound of rot, they say, is most unnerving.

Those aristocratic early explorers from the expanding eastern kingdoms found the Dark Jungle too inhospitable and seldom do they venture there anymore.  Instead, a more hardy breed of eastern men wander the black jungle:  the Jungle Men.

(Imagine if the fur trapping mountain men of the Rocky Mountains journeyed further west — the gold miners, settlers, and the encroaching civilization bringing an end to their era in the mountains– hoping to continue their solitary and fierce way of life and, instead of the Pacific Ocean, they find…the Dark Jungle.  Those are Jungle Men.  They’ve adapted their clothing to the new environment, of course.  Some have even trimmed up their beard slightly to reduce jungle lice.)

Aye ett dut barr forit ett meh.

Most Jungle Men could no longer live in the civilized world of their homeland, so they came to the mountains and jungles in search of solitude and an unfettered life.  Some were fugitives wanted for brutal crimes.  In a sense, the Jungle Men combine the most savage elements of their culture with those of the jungle cultures.  For this reason, they are both feared and respected by all who hear stories of their exploits, some of which have reached mythical status.

The Jungle Men cherish their independence and freedom, but they still maintain a connection to their civilized homeland through the goods and materials they gather in the Dark Jungle.  Pelts, carapace, and ivory are examples of materials taken by the Jungle Men.  Gold and other treasure, magical or not, is also found occasionally.  Most of the harvest occurs during the rainy season when the animal goods are at peak quality.  During the dry season, Jungle Men from all over bring their bundles to a Rendezvous with merchants from the east to trade, debauch, and tell stories.

The life of a Jungle Man is perilous.  In a necessary adaptation for survival, Jungle Men have become proficient in junglecraft.  Some even rival the skills of the jungle natives.  Interaction with the natives is the source of much of their jungle survival knowledge.  Though they are commonly in private war against some clans of natives, the Jungle Men would have difficulty surviving without the mutual agreements and friendships established with other clans.  Many a Jungle Man has purchased or been gifted a native woman as wife.

The natives currently found in the jungle are descendant of the decimated survivors of the Wizard Wars, but they are nowhere near the level of civilization that they once were.  Scattered and elusive, with few, if any, large groups of natives to be found in a single area.  It is more common to hear their drums in the distance than it is to see them.  Villages are usually no more than a few well-hidden huts or caves and are quickly abandoned if trouble arrives.

Special skills have been passed down through the generations within the clans.  Outsiders are most impressed by these two:

  • Beast Riding.  Different tribes have mastered a talent for taming different wild beasts to use as steeds and work beasts.  The way it is described by the natives suggests that it is not so much a matter of taming the beasts, but entering into alliances with the elders of the species in question.
  • Vine Swinging.  An effective mode of travel and ambush.  Difficult and dangerous to master, the unfortunate ones fatally smashing into a tree or left dangling over a den of hungry beasts.

Secret Talismans grant magical powers to the natives.  Spellcasting is rare among jungle natives.  Instead, powers are held by secret talismans…secret because they are closely guarded and concealed.  The relations of the native tribes are largely governed by the fact that nobody knows who has what secret talismans and to make assumptions is dangerous.

Many secret talismans are simply trinkets or charms such as relics, stones fallen from the sky, strange symbols, etc.  Some talismans must be consumed to gain their powers, such as enchanted mud, fruits harvested at special times, or slivers of wood inserted under the skin.  If a native with a secret talisman is encountered, choose one or select randomly from this non-exhaustive list of powers:

  1. Great jumping
  2. Great strength
  3. Heightened senses
  4. Stop projectiles
  5. Electric shock
  6. Telekinesis
  7. Miracle healer of others
  8. Quick self-healing
  9. Premonitions
  10. Shapeshifting
  11. Chameleon camouflage
  12. Bilocation

(Secret Talismans were inspired by the Filipino concept of Anting-Anting.)

Over at his tavern, Tenkar posted a mini review of the Fire in the Jungle supplement.  I’m happy to learn that he found it packed with useful ideas and inspiration.  By no means do I feel my little book is groundbreaking or the be-all-end-all of jungle settings, but I do believe there are some fresh, imaginative, game-able ideas in it and I thank Tenkar for helping spread the word.

Because it’s a “mini review” Tenkar doesn’t go into any detail on the flavor of the setting, but he does get across the method by which the setting is primarily presented:  random tables, simple rules sub-systems, and flavorful stuff easily adaptable to your own campaign.

The Wizard Wars

March 21, 2011

The history of the jungle is mostly lost and forgotten. It’s believed that different creatures dominated the jungle through the ages.  Long ago it was the Giant Ants and the Giant Women.  Then it was the Dragons and Elephants.  Next, the Gorillas and Men became dominant.   Since the Wizard Wars ended, there hasn’t been a dominant group in the jungle.  Or has there?

The historical details of the Wizard Wars (or the Pig Wars, since the native word for “wizard” is the same as for “pig”) are largely forgotten by the natives.  They know it was fought between two powerful wizard kingdoms from distant continents that both wanted control of the jungle for some reason.   The natives referred to the wizards as the Black and the White, after the attire and war motifs of each kingdom’s army.

The natives believed the soldiers and war machines of the warring kingdoms were controlled by The Beam, sent from the Great Pig in each kingdom’s capital faraway across the edge of the world.  Some tribes allied with the army of one or the other kingdom.  Other tribes adopted a brutal ritual on the belief that it would prevent them from being controlled by The Beam.  This ritual involved a transorbital lobotomy, making many of them emotionless or worse.

Neither the Black Wizards or the White Wizards can claim to have won the war in the jungle.  High Wizards from each side unleashed devastating magics that destroyed large swaths of jungle.  After that, the war moved to some other continent.   Effects of the powerful magic linger in the jungle still, in the form of cratered and deformed areas called Scarred Jungle.

In a veteran’s memoirs of the Wizard Wars:
“Our center of power was the area south of the bad bend in the Big Muddy river. We had a base in the jungle there, and also in the Tunnels of Leeches in the mountains a little further south. Well, things started to get ugly towards the end. The high command decided to abandon the jungle base and make a last stand in the mountain tunnels. Not wanting to leave anything behind for the enemy, the jungle base was destroyed, pushed all together into one big pile of trash a thousand feet high and set on fire. The war didn’t last much longer after that.

“I was one of the last to be evacuated from the mountaintop before the enemy laid it to waste, trapping many good soldiers inside the tunnels. By this time there were soldiers from both sides scattered throughout the jungle. Deserters, routed squads, and abandoned casualties. There may have been more soldiers lost in the bush, fighting to stay alive against the jungle, than there was soldiers still fighting the other side. A real shame. Some are probably still alive there. I wish I could go back and find some of my buddies. I heard a rumor that my old commanding wizard, Zougklapteryx, stayed in the jungle and went native. Built a treehouse and cooped up with a pretty girl there.”