Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Moon Castle: a Zelda-Inspired Dungeon Campaign

I've been trying to play through all of the Zelda games.  It's been a journey.

Anyway, there's something about the simplicity of it all that resonates.  Go to all of the dungeons, collect all of the items, defeat the evil boss in the center of the map.

Of course, I still want it to be OSR, so it has to be a sandbox.  And nothing should be a mandatory gate--players should be allowed to wander, exploit, and invent.  Bread crumbs will be placed (extensively, since I want all roads to lead to Rome) but fences will not.

The only things that I write seem to be the things that I'm actually running.  I just through some fresh level 1s onto the map last Wednesday (starting a new IRL campaign) so I'm undeservedly optimistic that this little zygote will come to term.

by zikwaga

The Moon Castle

Once a meteor fell onto the land of Gafferdy, and killed a great many people.

It wasn't a meteor, it was a piece of the moon, and no one was killed.  At least, the people that were killed weren't really killed; they got back up and were alive again.  They were different, though.

It wasn't a piece of the moon, it was a castle, and inside of it was a throne as white and as luminous as the moon.  The castle seemed to flow out from it like frozen milk.  Whoever sat on the throne inherited countless realms, all dreams, all imaginary.

The Moon Castle was claimed, eventually, and consolidated.  A city grew around it.  Rivals were destroyed; neighboring cities were razed.  Eventually the castle was the power center on the whole peninsula.  Even the dragon Beyoc was tamed.

And one king refused to yield his throne, as his predecessors had.  He was old and bitter and cruel, and he died seated in it.  And then something crept in his skull that had lingered in the throne, or perhaps some hidden corruption was finally revealed when the curtain of life was pulled back.  But then everything changed.

That was a generation ago.

Now the city is an evil place.  People starve, and the most desperate sell their bodies to the castle.  Their souls are moved into shells called cotters, the cheapest form of animate soul-vessel.  It's nothing more than a clay shell filled with dirt and ashes.  They no longer hunger or tire, but no longer do they feel the joys of the flesh.  Eventually the body crumbles, and the soul moves on to whatever afterlife it is due.  Or, more commonly, the soul despairs and loosens its hold on the clay construct, and the body is then reclaimed and rented to another.

Cotters are charged rent on their bodies, due on the first of each month.  Rent is usually required to be paid in a day of service, rather than coin.

They cannot speak.  They barely have faces.  They are almost blind.

The vacated bodies are then leased to lesser demons called poes.  Poes have skin and warmth, but their interiors are mostly filled with a strange mixture of smoke, blood, and light.  Young poes (incorporeal demons who have only just arrived from the underworld) usually behave like madmen for the first couple of weeks.  Having a body is a heady experience.

It is dangerous to kill a poe.  Unless you capture the escaping spirit, it will certainly report you to the authorities for the destruction of its skin.

Demons have been invited into the city.  Moneylender demons with golden skin and enormous horns.  Landowner demons who house dozens of servitor birds in their wooden bodies.  Guard demons that crawl over the roofs, enforcing strange laws that change almost daily.

The final castle is the Moon Castle.  It squats in the middle of the map, and its spires are rarely out of sight.

The players can choose to challenge the Moon Castle at any time.  Who knows how far a clever, lucky level 1 character can get?  

The Moon Castle has no gate and no key, but there are two large obstacles.  First, there is a chasm that surrounds the castle.  Second, the dragon Beyoc roosts amid its spires, watching for uninvited guests, and there are never any invited guests anymore.

Beyoc doesn't sleep because Beyoc is always sleeping.  His eyes are closed and his breathing is slow.  The Moon King steers him through dreams.  Who knows what he would do if he were woken?  Or what it would take to wake him?

The interior of the castle is unknown.  It is believed to be full of lunar organisms, demons, and dreams.  

The Moon King's power waxes and wanes with the moon.  The poes are only active during the night, and behave like extremely sleepy/drunk people during the day.

The Moon King rules through dreams, and all citizens must report their dreams to him.  (Dream audits are conducted to apprehend those that shirk this vital duty.)  People must sleep for 10 hours every day.

It is unknown why he does with all this collected information.  (But you can bet its something nefarious.)

The Eight Dungeons

Each dungeon is going to have multiple trails of breadcrumbs that converge on its door.  Some will be hard-locked and will require certain conditions to access.  Others will be soft-locked, and can be accessed as soon as you find out where it is.

Each one has a boss. Each boss has a connection to the Moon Castle, and a piece of the story that it tells.

Will there be a magical sword that you need to power up?  Maybe.  

Will there be a magical weapon in each dungeon?  I like that idea more.

The first two dungeons are common knowledge.

1. The Forest Castle

When the Moon Castle began attacking the forests (for lumber, but also to kill everyone who wouldn't immigrate to his new city), the druids fought back.

The druids lost, and all their people perished, but their counterstroke was deadly.  All of the survivors were turned into carnivorous plants--both defenders and attackers both.  None of the invading army survived (except for the Siege Castle, which limped away).  Now the place is full of carnivorous flora, preying on intruders but also on each other.

The Obstacle of the Forest Castle is simply fighting through the hungry forest, or finding a way to convince the plants not to attack you.  (Remember that they used to be soldiers.)

The Forest Castle is the remains of a natural cave system that the druids once dwelt in.

The Boss of the Forest Castle is King Golma, an earth spirit that the druids once served.

Your Local Ally is the Plague House, which is inhabited by four friendly plague demons.  Each demon wears a mask to keep the disease in--they've decided that they like humans too much to want to kill them.  They try to invite guests, and to be gracious hosts, but guests invariably succumb to the diseases eventually, so they try to survive on afternoon visitors and written correspondence.  Their names are Cholera, Typhoid, Cancer, and Plague.  

2. The Siege Castle

A thousand siege engines, heaped together, held together by a spine of twisted spears.  It plods along on armored feet, each made from a thousand iron boots.  It's head is a nest of ballistas and trebuchets.  

It was the Moon King's greatest weapon.  Now that the peninsula is pacified (and his attentions have turned elsewhere), the Siege Castle is retiring on the battlefield where it legs were first broken.

The Siege Castle wants war.  It wants to feel spears clash against its skin.  It wants to burn battalions under its lava spigots.  It wants to scoop up knights in its jaws and crush them inside their armor until the pulp runs down its chin.

But it can't move.  It's rusting apart, dying a slow death.  Rain has accomplished what armies could not.  It dies like a wolf; Fenris after Ragnarok.

It is still hungry.  It is still capable of assimilating metal and weapons into itself.  It is still capable of growing.  (That's how it got so big--it returned from the war bigger than when it set out.)

It has servants, too, but they are clumsy things, meant to kill, not to repair.  The knowledge and the tools needed to mend it are in the city.

At night, you can hear it groaning out on the battlefield.  You can see the forge-fires still smoldering behind its ribs.  Every once in a while, it makes an attempt to move.  You can hear the anguished metal tearing from a mile away. 

And yet it does move, slowly and painfully.  Every month it drags itself a few feet closer to the Moon Castle.  Does it still wish to curl up at the feet like a loyal dog?  Or does it wish revenge for its abandonment?

The Obstacle of the Siege Castle is just approaching it.  It fires at anyone that it sees approaching.  Expect trebuchets.  There's a whole battlefield surrounding it, probably with some trenches still intact.  It has also fortified itself against entry, but the metal is rotting apart.

The Siege Castle is the inner workings, the parts that were meant for human occupation.  The barracks, the command center.

The Boss is the Siege King, who is basically the rancor handler (Malakili) in Return of the Jedi, except he shepherds the Siege Castle instead of a rancor.

Your Local Allies are the Red Ring Army, a bunch of punks and pit-fighters that have befriended the Siege Castle by hosting gladitorial combats where the Siege Castle can watch.  They treat the Siege Castle like a Roman emperor when deciding when to kill an surrendering opponent.  

If the Siege Castle nods, they live.  If it roars, they die.  It doesn't nod very often.

Expect lots of gladitorial matches.

Other Castles

3. The Origami Castle - the same small dungeon repeated again and again and again with different themes, navigation is accomplished by non-Euclidean fuckery.

4. The Queen's Castle - the queen shrank her castle and her family, keeping them safe inside her own body.  This is the flesh dungeon.

5. The Skeleton Castle - a city that became a graveyard, EVERYTHING IS SKELETONS, SKELETON KING

6. The Slime Castle - the water dungeon, creating when the Moon King destroyed a merfolk city, degenerate merfolk

7. The Mirage Castle - they tried to escape the Moon King by hiding their utopia inside a desert mirage.  It didn't work; the Moon King found them in their dreams, where they are now imprisoned.

8. The Counterfeit Castle - a cheap mockery of the city and the actual castle, useful as a preview of what the actual castle holds.  Expect puppets and paper mache.


  1. Curious to see if you do something characteristically clever with dream worlds for this.

  2. Holy shit...

    Are you going to continue with this, or is this a bit of a one-off?

    1. As long as my players keep playing, I'll keep writing.

  3. You need to make this into a module. I'm a long time lurker of your blog and this is one of the best ideas I have ever read, period.

  4. This is delightful Arnold!

    And I agree, it's much easier to write off you have a weekly game to stimulate you.

  5. Posts like this are why I don't bother to create my own things, and just rip people off. Great job, Arnold. Both for preventing me from thinking too hard, but also in creating this fabulous post.

  6. Curious to know how you'll run this mechanically Arnold.

    I like the ideas, but I wonder if the video game structure of themed dungeons and boss monsters will work well with an OSR dungeon crawling rules more built for RP and exploration then combat and the sort of faction mechanics that make OSR mega-dungeons/campaigns function well.

    1. I have the same concerns. Classic Zelda is almost anti-OSR in its gameplay (except for the exploration elements).

      I *do* want to make it as sandboxy as possible. And I want to have as many interesting things/goals as possible so that players don't feel shoe-horned into "We must defeat the Moon King".

      RP and exploration should be easy to write in. Zelda games lack RP, but you do go to a lot of little places full of people who need favors.

      Factions might be trickier, but I bet I can work something out.

      The dungeons will be the least OSRish part, I think. Zelda dungeons are extremely mechanistic, non-naturalistic, and frequently linear. A compromise is probably going to be involved.

  7. Excited to see a Meal of Oshregaal-esque write up about this.

  8. I've always wanted to see Zelda-type dungeons in an RPG. Something about those massive puzzle complexes tickles my chin.
    It's not usually naturalistic to through your players into a dungeon with a sudoku-grid gimmick, but that can be accomplished with a world sufficiently awesome that it feels natural for such a thing to exist.

  9. Hello there! I found out this recenently and it inspired me to do some stuff on my own. Is there any mail to contact you to show you what I have done with your idea? For I cannot find any mail here or in patreon

  10. I'm sad this series ended before you got to the Origami Castle - I was really interested to see how you'd make that work.