Tunnels under Crom Caemloch and Mellifluous Shrine progress
First, I would like to share continuing news about my partner, Ernest G. Gygax Jr. (I am Ben Poiré here posting under his account): Ernest is doing extremely well, sober and very well from a health point of view. His strength is coming back with each day, and his resolve is adamant. We are in communication with each other every few days or so, until such a time we go back to the material and maps I've been pumping out for the project, at which point we are going to assess the extra material together and Ernest will add his personal tweaks and touch to what I extrapolated from our original concepts.
Which brings me to the Tunnels under Crom Caemloch, which are done at this point. I gathered all the pictures I took while posting on the Facebook Group in a public folder that you can check out right here.
The purpose of the tunnels under Crom Caemloch, the described location in the Wilderness Expansion that could serve as the "home base" for your player characters, is twofold.
Early on in the campaign, it can serve as a break and adventure directly from the home base cutting from the back and forth to and from the dungeon of the Marmoreal Tomb. Think of it as an extra layer underneath the village the PCs could hear about from the villagers themselves, then investigate in some off sessions in between expeditions to the tomb. There, they would find various challenges from mushrooms to haunted tunnels under the old graveyard to remnants of the giant fortress north of the village itself, a wall of skulls and so on. Low level flavorful fodder that could add to the adventurous sandbox in the first stages of the campaign.
Later in the campaign, perhaps once the tunnels will have served as the stage of one or two scenarios and/or have been explored thoroughly, there will be the option to reawaken the ancient magic within, which the Shaman of the village is fully aware of and using to his own benefits, but this awakening could create a dooms day scenario, not unlike the classic "invasion of the orcs bent on destroying the village" cliché you can pull in your home campaigns, but with higher level characters, and the ancient forces of Chaos instead. This could lead to interesting developments, particularly if the PCs have grown complacent by superheroic (8+) level or something. A sudden threat on the village/home base could provide additional side adventures and break from the monotony of the back and forth to and from the Tomb, once again.
So there is the dual potential use going on with the tunnels. You can check the folder linked earlier in this post for all the drafts and developments on the map. This is the result:
You can see how the tunnels work with the layout of the village of Crom Caemloch on this superimposition:
The complexity of the map design came from the fact it was all twisted caverns and no straight corridors or rooms of any kind. It was particularly hard to put together and shade accordingly, not to mention the manual digital coloring and treatment later on, but it got done, as you can see.
After the tunnels, we started work on the Mellifluous Shrine, which is a complex area on level 3 of the dungeon, the Hearth of Chaos, that first appears as a wooden shrine in a high ceiling cave with waterfall and vegetation around. Here's how it appears on the level 3 map:
The design of the place is loosely based off the Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar, but at a much, much smaller scale. This is the real pagoda and inspiration here:
The pagoda is itself an interdimensional space, or "pocket plane" in D&D parlance. The inside of the pagoda is much larger than the outside. Within the boundaries of that shrine, there is a cult and guardians to the Mellifluous Plane itself, which is another interdimensional space or pocket plane inside the pocket plane, this time a Hive, which can be accessed and traveled on as a world of its own, with honeycomb hexes being literally 6-mile hexes on a regional map. A gigantic wax world that originally hailed from the perfection and stasis of Law and was gradually perverted and changed by the forces of Chaos.
When you enter the pocket plane of the shrine itself, it looks like this (this is the draft version as of this moment, I have to now make a clean copy of it):
Now some have expressed some worry about how to handle a giant hive world and how PCs could be crushed by literally miles long bees and the like.
Not to worry. Here's how it works.
You have two scales going on in the Mellifluous Shrine. Let's call them the Shrine scale outside the combs, and the hive scale inside/on the pocket plane of the Combs.
Blind Symian people (tcho tcho types), hive golems and servants of the green monk tend to the shrine. You have plants and flowers growing within the shrine and hanging over the hive (see pic -- you can see the trunks there in the rooms directly around the hive). Bees at the scale of the hive within the shrine pollinate, tend to the combs, feed the larvae at the scale of the hexes/shrine, etc.
There are portals inside the shrine that lead to the Mellifluous plane at Hive scale. This is a bizarre, cyclopean land of wax hexes... The actual hive in the shrine, but at a world scale, with each hex a 6-mile hex. The land has a history of its evolution and corruption by the forces of chaos. Its people and conflicts at the scale of the PCs at hive scale. Travelling the land means travelling along the wax ridges most of the time. There may be things down the hexes, and descending to any hex's depth is entirely possible at that scale.
Ruins of previous inhabitants, dungeons, treasures may be found there. There are communities and the like. Some hexes are lakes of mead. Others host miles long larvae squirming within, etc. Things unfold at a completely different scale there, and that includes "bees" at the scale of the PCs too. The "bees" outside the pocket plane, at shrine scale, that tend to the combs look like clouds, ephemeral, gigantic shadows passing over the lands, buzzing around, out of phase with those traveling the Mellifluous plane at hive scale.
I have been working on the combs from scratch, building custom hex paper and drawing them by hand from the start as can be seen here:
Together the combs from the kind of flower pattern you see at the center of the shrine draft, in such a fashion:
Actions in the lands of the hive might change the inclination of the combs and the portals within those lands that open up to the brave adventurers, but that's a different story. The combs themselves will be dressed with a variety of terrain types: crystalline honey mountains, lakes of mead, chaotic wax formations, hills of pollen, I ran some tests visible here and am about to draw final applications of these terrain types onto the combs as you see them above:
The PCs exploring the lands of the hive won't be killed by miles long bees landing on them or anything like that, but the DM can describe this constant back and forth of demonic multicoloured wisps and clouds coming in and out of focus from on high in the heavens and following no particular weather patterns... This is the population of the hive outside the plane, in the shrine, going about its business, and the source of cults in the lands themselves...
There is a strong Lovecraftian influence going on with the King in Yellow and the Queen in Red, but I won't spoil it further. The tcho-tcho alluded to earlier might be enough to awake some people's curiosity. I'll just say that links to Aldebaran and the like from the combs of the hive are not out of the question. People who know the fiction will understand, and I hope those backers who don't will be motivated to read more of HP Lovecraft's fiction, especially concerning the Dreamlands.
I've been in talks with a hive expert who is a font of knowledge on how hives work and the purpose of food and the types of drones and workers and whatnot that can be found in a working hive. From there it's my job to extrapolate the corruption of Chaos, and how the hive evolved at both Shrine and Hive world scales. It's complex but really worth it. I think it adds a really interesting layer of design to this particular area of the Tomb.
The work on the Shrine, the concept, how to make it work, the various parts of the maps and the combs and the shrine etc have been challenging, but this was an occasion to either go easy and okay, or go all out and create something really outlandish and unique for the module. I went all out and opted for the later solution. I hope you find the possibilities of such an extension of the module just as exciting as I do.
I will post back here when I have final versions of the shrine and combs to show.
As of this date, for the big picture, you can see all the maps done and what remains to be done map wise on this handy graphic:
The Twin Tankard and Prismatic Maze are already mapped/drafted and require final coloured versions. The lands of the Sammi-Zowa tale linked to the dungeon will be created in conjunction with Ernest and Nerissa Montie who worked on the original text and rearranged the geographic elements therein.
We're still looking at a late 2016 fulfillment. As always, the mission for me here is to do the job right, and if it takes time, so be it. I wouldn't rush it and end up with a module and expansions I wouldn't be fully happy with, and I am certain Ernest feels exactly the same way on that score.
And that is it for now.
Let us know what you think of this update, of the tunnels and shrine and these developments in the comments here. It's always a pleasure and an added motivation to interact with you all and answer your comments and questions.
Til our next update. Happy gaming in the meantime.
Founder with Ernest Gary Gygax Jr.
GP Adventures LLC.