First off, season’s greetings to you, Walfalcon!
Secondly, I am sorry. This is almost, but not quite, unlike anything you asked for…
This is my submission for the OSR discord channel’s Secret Santicorn, given Walfalcon’s gift request:
Something punk rock AF. Possibly related to England in the early 80s. Possibly also related to ska/reggae. Alternatively, vaporwave content would be appreciated. Monster, dungeon, class, whatever.
With a sinking feeling, I looked to my ‘most recently played’ list – somehow I felt that Matt Berry’s Kill The Wolf, The Goons’ Unchained Melodies: The Complete Recordings and the Chicken Run soundtrack weren’t going to cut it as inspiration.
Walfalcon, I’m afraid my knowledge of music and its underlying themes and memes is absolutely atrocious – my sole reference for punk is Patrick Moore letting himself go. And it’s better than my understanding of vaporwave.
So I put Building the Crate* on repeat, ran with your ‘related to England’** prompt and just hope that it might have some usefully punk-ish flavouring. (I fear, though, that I have simply equated punk with horror…)
It might not be a complete resource, but obviously that is to allow a GM room for their own creativity and not an end result of over-ambition and lack of focus. It’s a toolbox, missing a few tools.
* Best track for when letting the momentum of creativity take you from absolutely nothing to at least something. Includes all the beats: the despair of a blank page, the little flicker of inspiration, the tentative examination of the idea, the snowballing momentum of getting idea onto paper, the gut-dropping doubt about 75% of the way through when the idea seems terrible, and the final flurry of wrapping things up ‘cos it doesn’t matter is something is terrible so long as there’s something finished to hand in. This got me through so many university assignments.
I am listening to it now.
** No, England is not the same as London, but it was the first simplistic map which sprang to mind.
The Underground Caverns of Nodnol
Sorry, I have filled out the details on nowhere near that number of rooms.
This cavernous network is home to a number of known, sentient humanoid cultures, and innumerably more known unknowns. It is centuries old at the very least, and very little is known of its creators. Some discovered journals belonging to some explorers of old refer to a nation known as ‘elf-ants’ rule the passageways. Other documents have been recovered which indicate they were written by these elf-ants themselves, though they speak only of petty politics amongst themselves, and never refer to their nature by name. For all we know, they may have simply been humans, though there are theories pertaining to their physical appearance that speculate the existence of multiple legs and a natural affinity for digging en masse. These theorists are plainly charlatans.
What is certain is that they view themselves as the natural overlords of this subterranean jungle, and that they no longer are. Just what happened to them may never be known.
This large clan of unabashed cannibals holds sway over the north-western regions of Nodnol. Even when there is other food available, the Bakers choose to capture, fatten up and eat humanoids, considering them to be a pastry delicacy. That is not to say that they eat anyone who passes through their territory, but many explorers and adventurers find themselves being sized up in a very different way to what they might be used to.
Bakers conduct themselves in a very charming manner, keen to welcome visitors and open up avenues whereby they might source more exotic humanoids. The average Baker is considerably overweight and sparsely clothed – if at all – for the heat from their ovens has little in the way of escape, and visitors often wonder just how much hotter the ovens can be than the temperature outside.
Each family group within the clan is very proud of its man-sized ceramic oven, and will often decorate it with exquisite carvings which are, from one angle, fine art and, from another angle, recipes. Meal times are of great communal significance, and several families will sit around an enormous pie, measuring up to six feet in diameter, and eat together.
Best to bring sandwiches if you plan to stay under their roof, though.
Some adventurers over the last few years have seen fit to try and set up a base of operations whereby they might venture further into the depth of Nodnol. They quickly found themselves beset by raiders and attackers. Through strenuous and frustrating negotiations with the Jubilant, they ensured that they might have a neighbouring ally rather than enemy to the south, on the condition that they particularly seek out and destroy giant lion beetles, a forearm-long creature which feasted with special relish on the Jubilant Lot’s fungi food source.
Over the last decade, this agreement became the prime objective of many of these adventurers and the family units which began to form, and now they find themselves dedicating most of their resources to dispatching these pests rather than seeking out whatever treasures the elf-ants may have left in the tunnels. Some resent this, others merely shrug and adapt.
While not necessarily flourishing numerically, the Cullers are among the most feared martial fighters in the caverns, and they conduct themselves in a fierce but shrewd manner. Do not be complacent about them – most of them have chosen to live in Nodnol.
These, Nodnol’s inhabitants most likely to be seen above ground, have little in the way of dealings with the other ‘human’ denizens down in the depths, and quite frankly who can blame them? They have more dealings with the outside world than the other communities because they are in possession of Nodnol’s asset most highly valued in the overland circles – it’s ore deposits.
They mine this ore, and from it fashion strong weapons and armour in great demand above ground. They seldom venture further into the deep of Nodnol because they seldom have need – they are able to trade most essentials and luxuries with surface merchants. The only time they will head down with be when they seek out further veins, and to do so they will clad themselves entirely in the finest armour, for they know the dangers below.
They have no sense of sound whatsoever. Their forefathers’ constant mining and forging in enclosed caverns meant that the Hammersmiths quickly evolved out of their systems any need for hearing, and they communicate in an athletic series of lithe actions quite at odds with their gruff demeanour. Some might even call it dancing.
Any visitor to Hammersmith territory will do well to protect their ears because the sound of mining and forging in enclosed caverns is really, really loud, and liable to cause considerable lasting pain to any unprepared for the echoing cacophony of hammers striking metal all around the underground clock – there is no day or night here, and it is far more efficient to have the forges in constant use through the organisation of shifts and rotas.
* …these are just deaf dwarves, aren’t they? I was even about to type that they can sense movement through the stone around them.
Beards are not highly regarded amongst the Hammersmith. Stray hairs drop in forges, and long beards get caught in armour casing.
And what’s in cavern #8? Why is it not within the Hammersmiths’ territory? They have never said.
The Jubilant Lot
While the sound of the Hammersmiths is one of industry and rhythm, adventurers can mark the presence of the Jubilant Lot by the sound of shrill laughter.
The laughter comes in many forms, some maniacal, some sinister, even occasionally delightful, but chuckles, cackles and guffaws ring our around the tunnels by the Jubilant Lot. Conversation with them requires patience and decent interpretation as discussions are punctuated by sniggers and giggles.
They are amongst the more anarchic and loose communities in Nodnol, and refer to themselves as the ‘fun guys’. Fun is relative. They laugh uproariously through anything – death of a loved one, the loss of a limb, intimate evenings – and some even say that the air leaving a corpse comes out as one final titter. Nobody knows the exact cause of this remarkable affliction, but most point towards the Loowater Mushroom which makes up most of the Jubilant diet.
This of course makes it nigh on impossible to be surprised by a Jubilant raid – and the Hammersmiths will hire guards purely to sit and listen out for them – but they are also able to fight on through otherwise debilitating injuries, either feeling no pain or being powered on by some internal desire to see what the next moment holds. The more powerful the laugh, the more the laugher can endure before finally being silenced.
He who laughs last, laughs hardest.
The Scent Rats
The Scent Rats protest vociferously that they are human. They point to the artwork on their walls. They show the carefully archived and documented studies that they have carried out on the other denizens of Nodnol. They highlight their judicial system and positive behavioural reintegration schemes. They gesture to the Jubilant and Bakers and ask, really, are we counting them as human?
They demonstrate with a flourish their pride and joy – the aromatic minerals they take from the cavern around and carve with an artisan’s pride into exquisite figures, making their territory the finest smelling and most hygienic of all of Nodnol, free of mould and damp. Such stony designs are highly sought after by certain members of overworld society (though not as desired as the Hammersmiths’ weapons and armour because that is the way of the world), and many are freely given out to members of other Nodnol communities in an attempt to spread good will and encourage cleaner living.
But come on – they’re walking, talking rats. They’ve got tails.
Nobody knows much about the Strict. They keep to themselves and welcome no visitors. Rarely are they seen beyond their territories, and any interaction with them is brief and curt.
They are the palest of the sentient denizens, and extremely slim. Not skeletal, though they ought to be considering what must be an extreme paucity of food. They don’t appear to hunt anything beyond their territories, and no evidence of Loowater Mushroom consumption is evident in their humourless faces. No one has ever reported seeing them eat anything. What do they live on?
They are extremely regimented and stern. They say only what they need to say, and in the fewest syllables possible. Cunning is the adventurer who can get one of the Strict to unwittingly reveal a secret. And there must surely be many secrets to reveal.
Some adventurers have claimed to have had comrades fall in the caverns, and then seen very slim and almost… sleek… versions of those companions amongst the ranks of the Strict.
1. The Crossing of Wrathful Kings
On of the few parts of Nodnol specifically mentioned in the ancient elf-ant documents. Apparently it led to a particularly lucrative or empowering spot, and whoever controlled the pass effectively controlled the entire cavern. Historical sources never explicitly explained why, but some sages have theorised some sort of magical device which allowed its controller to regulate the contents of the whole network.
As such, it was the scene of many a battle, with monarchs rising up and overthrowing each other, to be deposed themselves further down the line. Although we cannot be sure of specific timelines, it would seem that very few elf-ant rulers passed away peacefully in their sleep.
17. The Elf-Ant Castle
It must have been on a first-come-first-survived basis, but deep within Jubilant territory lies a most impregnable fortress dating back to the height of the elf-ant era. It is the key reason the Cullers remain trapped in this ‘alliance’ with the Jubilant instead of having overrun them years ago.
While it ensures their position of strength within Nodnol, the underground castle is wasted in Jubilant hands. What manner of treasures and historical documentation must there be in those halls. Surely the archives can’t all have been used a bog roll.
38. Netting Gate
This massive set of stone gates guard one of the known routes into Nodnol from the surface, but they have been stuck open throughout living memory. The area is noteworthy for being a rare example of cooperation between several of the underground communities. The cavern is littered with deeps pits containing nets into which many an unwary visitor or overland beast has fallen. The Bakers claim any humanoid victims, the Scent Rats any animal or beast, and the Strict take any clothing or valuables from either.
49. The Bakers’ Treats
This enormous cavern houses some of the Bakers’ most prized captives. The line between captive and guest is blurred, for a meal is not improved by starving the protein. The walls are lined with the most luxurious cages imaginable, with great beds and dining spaces, with the inhabitants attended to by courteous minders. The chubbier captives are the one who have been there the longest, and the closest to their dinner date. Very few are allowed to pass their use-by point.
These captives herald from all over the overland world, for an exotic individual is a prized meal indeed. They are often happy to recount their own stories of travel and excitement, for many have worked out that the more extravagant the tale, the better and more plentiful their future meals are.
63. The Axe Fool’s Circus
Deep in Nodnol, in a cavern unclaimed by any of the major factions, lives a hermit who surrounds himself with tamed monsters of the deep. They roam freely, uncaged, yet do not strike him. He has never told anyone his secret, though he has always promised to do so if they let him relive his former days as an axe thrower in a travelling circus troupe. The thing is, his axes never miss…
Elf-Ant Cast Off
Our only impression of what ant-elves looked like has been unquestionably tainted by these waist-high creatures, but we know from the records that they were regarded as vermin and inferior by these caverns’ builders. Perhaps these beasts were the ant-elves’ constructions tools, burying into the ground at their masters’ instructions and leaving us this vast underground network.
Be wary if you see more than a dozen – they usually herald a swarm, crawling over floors walls and ceilings in their hundreds.
Armour Class: as leather
Hit Dice: 1
Move: Standard, climb as standard
Damage: 1d4 (bite)
Swarm: When endangered, they emit a pheromone which attracts more of their kind which usually emerge from the earth nearby. Every other round, 1d4 more cast offs appear.
Most inhabitants of Nodnol, in their own way, will warn you of the gapes, large but inconspicuous creatures whose ability to lie so perfectly still in wait can entrap even the most cautious adventurer. Their prey’s last thoughts are usually ‘Oh, of course that was a Gape’, followed quickly by ‘Aaargh’.
The most reported of their hunting techniques speaks of how they burrow their massive form into a widened nook in the ground, and then lie there with their gaping maw wide open, waiting patiently for any unwary victim.
They will eat anything.
Armour Class: as chain
Hit Dice: 6
Damage: 2d6 (bite)
Stationary hunter: When first encountered, the Gape can only be detected as a trap. If the ‘trap’ is triggered, the unfortunate PC must save to avoid being swallowed whole. Every turn they are swallowed, they take 1d6 damage. Up to three human-sized creatures can be swallowed at a time.
“Don’t, don’t, don’t do the punky gibbon.”
Nobody knows whether these creatures are some sick creation of a bored sorcerer or if their defence mechanism evolved to shield their ancestors from the elf-ants wiles. Whatever the case, these ape-like beasts wander the tunnels of Nodnol in small packs leaving a trail of despair and misery in their wake.
Literal despair and misery, for anything with even the most simple connection to emotions finds itself reduced to a sorrowful state of gloom in their presence. They are not physically intimidating, but they don’t need to be – the punky gibbon’s food often looks on in resignation as it is torn apart and eaten alive.
Armour Class: as unarmoured
Hit Dice: 1
Damage: 1d6 (bite or scratch)
Despairing aura: Any creature getting too close to a Punky Gibbon must save vs despair or sink into a sorrowful gloom, internally wailing at the pointlessness of it all. They cannot – or will not – resist anything, even if harmful to them.
The Many Faces of Nodnol
“All eyes are upon you…”
No one knows where in the depths these things came from, but they can’t be natural, can they? Some of them can speak, and talk of and curse the elf-ants – but surely that would mean that they are centuries old at least. And are they not elf-ants, then? The end result of a magical cataclysm? A self-replicating hex?
What is known, though, is that they seek to amalgamate, not destroy. Some of the faces in this mass of flesh and… stuff.. are newer and younger. They approach slowly and envelope their target. Before long, the victim’s face can be seen in the crowd, their individuality gone and replaced by a seething desire to bring all others into the fold. Some of these creatures are large enough to fill a cavern all by themselves, unable to move but able to entrap careless wanderers.
Armour Class: as chain
Hit Dice: 6+
Move: Half standard
Mass appeal: The many seek to add yet more to their number. Instead of attacking, their target must make a save against being enveloped. If they are still there after one combat turn, they are subsumed into the great collection and their face, shorn of all personality, is now visible to the party. There is nothing else left of the adventurer.