Navigating a Fantasy World with Google

I was looking at some paintings this morning by British artists working during the Victorian period. The painting below was painted by Richard Parkes Bonington in 1826. It depicts the Rialto in Venice.

From this great blog

Since the Rialto is a landmark, I decided to have a look on GoogleEarth …

Not the same angle, of course, but close enough. This got me wondering how useful it would be to use GoogleEarth’s street view for fantasy gaming. I’ve used it in the past for a Mystery Men! game, mostly to stage a chase and fight in Chicago IL. That was set in the 1960’s, so not so far in the past that the modern cityscape wasn’t close enough to use “as-is”.

This section of Venice has some nice alleyways that appear to be “walkable” in GoogleEarth, and the buildings don’t seem terribly different from 1826, when the above painting was painted. It makes me think that by picking an old city, and jumping into the old part of that city – the part that’s been kept “oldey-timey” for the tourists – you might be able to turn it into a fantasy city and navigate players through using random encounters and random building tables, and a few set pieces, to facilitate play and give them a better reference point when fights break out or cut purses nab their gold and a chase ensues.

Some other cityscapes that might prove useful …

Carcasonne, France – be sure to have your adventurers stay at the Best Western Hotel le Donjon.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Ghent, Belgium

Prague, Czech Republic

Siena, Italy

Unfortunately, many cities outside of Europe don’t have street views available, such as Algiers’ famous Casbah. You can at least use the street maps, though, and supplement it with old paintings.

You can also use real world landscapes from GoogleEarth for wilderness exploration to provide something more visually stimulating than a simple hex containing a landscape symbol. The NOD hexcrawls use 6-mile hexes. Below, a roughly 7-mile wide chunk of the Himalayas.

Much better than a hex with a triangle in it, don’t you think?

You can zoom in as you play and, depending on the resolution of an area, have a better understanding of the path that has to be taken, and maybe find a convenient spot for a dwarf village or red dragon lair. The pictures can give the players a better understanding of what they’re going through.

You’re walking up a narrow defile. The ground is covered with gravel and boulders, and the slopes tower above you on either side. Strange noises echo down the defile …

And what about random weather? Well, why not just use today’s forecast? How is this bit of the Himalayas doing today? Rainy, fairly warm (well, when this post was written, anyways).

Just a few ideas for leveraging modern technology for better tabletop gaming. If you have any tips and tricks, please wax poetic in the comments, or toss in a link to a blog article you wrote.

Adventurers Face Death, Yes, But Also Taxes

Image found HERE – Click through for more info on medieval taxes

We all know the formula. Start in town, buy equipment, journey into the unknown, hopefully find lots of money, come back to town, buy more and better equipment (and maybe healing), rinse and repeat.

I have found that in practice, there are three ways this can go. The first, of course, is perfectly. More often, adventurers either come back without enough to support themselves in the hyper-inflationary economy they’re all creating in town, or they come back with more dough than they can spend (assuming they’re like mine and stubbornly refuse to hire men-at-arms).

It seems like the latter might have been more of a problem than the former in the old days. In AD&D, Gygax introduced “training costs” to, as I understand, siphon money away from successful mid- to high-level adventurers.

Another option is the bane of man’s existence from the earliest days of civilization … The Taxman!

Folks who regularly read the blog will know I was recently delving into the pages of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. He does a long chapter on taxes, and as I was reading about the myriad forms of taxation that existed in the 18th century, it occurred to me that a random taxation table could be fun, with adventurers never sure just how the local prince was going to steal their money.

The idea here, of course, is not to make life needlessly difficult for adventurers. If they’re relatively poor, the taxes will be relatively light, and an inability to pay them will result in being impressed into doing work for the sovereign, which can be used as a way to introduce new adventures and even entire campaigns (Robin Hood, anyone?). Adventurers tend to be outsiders and ne’er-do-wells anyways (why else are they delving in dungeons instead of holding down respectable jobs?), so another reason to bristle at authority should help to keep them on the adventuring path.

To get this rolling, we need to determine how heavy the taxation is in the locality, who is collecting it, and what the actual taxes are.


Different kingdoms/city-states/whatever have different expenses, and folks who spend tax money tend to overspend rather than underspend.

Each community will impose 1d4+1 taxes (see below) on adventurers.


The tax collector is usually a normal human, but might also be a captain (5 HD) or an aristocrat (3 HD). In rare cases (1%) he is a fighter or thief of 4th to 7th level.

The tax collector is not a popular fellow, so he is always accompanied by 1d6+4 men-at-arms (light infantry usually).

Not all tax collectors are created equally, of course, so we will differ them by their alignments. Roll as follows:

LAW vs. CHAOS (D6)

1-2. Lawful = Cannot be bribed or frightened easily from his appointed duties

3-4. Neutral = Can be bribed (Charisma check, -2 penalty) with an amount of money equal to half the taxes owed; can be frightened, but will return with triple the number of men-at-arms

5-6. Chaotic = Can be bribed (Charisma check) as above, but there is a 1 in 6 chance he will return later and pretend no taxes were ever collected; can be frightened, but will hire 1d6 assassins or thieves to get revenge.

GOOD vs. EVIL (D6)

Note, if you use the three-fold alignment system, consider Good to be implicit in Law above and Evil to be implicit in Chaos above.

1-2. Good = Is willing to fudge the tax bill down a bit (maybe 10%) if people look hard on their luck.

3-4. Neutral =No special behavior.

5-6. Evil = Will overestimate taxes by at least 10% if one is not very careful.

Where’s the Taxman?

The taxman is usually stationed at the front gate of a stronghold, village, town or city, but may be encountered as a random encounter outside of town, but rarely in the wilderness.


1. Tax on coins: A tax of 1d4 x 5% on all coinage carried is assessed.

2. Tax on cargo: A tax of 1d6 cp is assessed for every 20 pounds of goods, above and beyond one’s own clothing, they carry into the settlement. If the goods are “valuable”, this is increased to 1d6 cp per pound.

3. Tax on arrows and bolts (and quarrels): The arrow tax is 1d6 cp per arrow, bolt or quarrel. There is a 1 in 6 chance they will also assess a 1d6 cp tax per foot length of bows and crossbows. This protects the local bowyers and fletchers.

4. Tax on iron and steel: A surtax of 1d6 cp is assessed for every pound of objects composed mostly of iron or steel. This protects the local iron industry.

5. Tax on copper: A surtax of 1d4 cp per pound of copper (including coins), bronze and brass carried into the settlement.

6. Tax on silver: A surtax of 1d4 sp per pound of silver (including coins) and electrum carried into the settlement.

7. Tax on gold: A surtax of 1d4 gp per pound of gold (including coins) and platinum carried into the settlement.

8. Tax on gemstones: A tax of 1d4 x 5% of the value of gemstones carried into the town; those who cannot pay have their stones confiscated until they can pay, but must pay an additional 10% fee for failure to pay and for storage.

9. Tax on magic items: Obviously, this requires the presence of a person in the tax collector’s retinue who can cast detect magic, or obviously magical items. A premium of 10 gp per item is collected, and items of a demonic or diabolic nature will be confiscated by local church authorities, with 10% of the item’s value (determined by the church authorities) to be paid to the original owners, unless they are determined to be Chaotic (Evil), in which case they are clapped in irons and sent straight to the dungeon.

10. Tax on magic-users: Those who appear to be magic-users (the spellbook is a dead giveaway) must spend 1d6 nights patrolling with the night watch, or else must buy out of this duty at a rate of 1d10 sp per night.

11. Tax on holy symbols: Foreign holy symbols are assessed a blasphemy tax of 10 sp (wooden or stone or common metal holy symbols) or 10 gp (precious metal holy symbols). Each healing spell cast in court on behalf of the king/mayor/prince/etc. is the equivalent of 5 sp of the assessed tax.

12. Tax on strength: Settlements always have hard work that needs doing on civic projects. Characters who look sturdy (i.e. Strength of 10 or higher) are impressed into a work gang for 1d6 days, or else must buy out of this duty at a rate of 1d10 cp per day for able-bodied folk, 1d10 sp per day for muscular folk (i.e. Strength of 13-15), and 1d10 gp per day for the truly mighty (i.e. Strength of 16+). If a creature does not look as strong as he or she is, use your best judgment as  TK as to whether this applies to them.

13. Tax on beauty: The local ruler has an eye for beauty; those with Charisma scores of 13 or higher are tasked with attending court in their finery (or finery will be provided) for 1d6 days while in the settlement to impress visitors, or else must buy out of this duty at a rate of 1d10 sp per day.

14. Tax on feet: A tax of 1 cp per unshod foot/hoof, 1 sp per sandaled or shoed foot or shoed hoof or 1 gp per booted foot is assessed. If your game includes centipede men, they’re going to hate this!

15. Tax on wheels: A tax of 1d6 sp per wheel is assessed.

16. Tax on beards: The locals have had trouble with dwarves, and so they assess a tax of 1 gp per inch of beard length on all (not just dwarves) who enter town. If you don’t know how long a character’s beard is, guess or roll randomly. If the dwarf’s player has ever mentioned looking like “the dudes from ZZ Top”, he’s going to regret it.

17. Tax on warriors: The locals need strong warriors to deal with the humanoids and monsters of the wilderness. Anyone who looks the part of a warrior (leather armor or more) is impressed into patrol duty for 1d6 days, or else must buy out of this duty at a rate of 1d10 sp per day.

18. Tax on finery: Jewelry, silks, mithral, adamantine, cloth-of-gold and the like are assessed a tax equal to 1d4 x 5% of their value.

19. Tax on hides and pelts: Hides and pelts are assessed a tax of 1d10 sp for animal skins, 1d10 gp for magical beast skins (and similar) and 1d10 pp for dragon skins. If the tax cannot be paid, the hides are confiscated into the treasury of the settlement or king.

20. Tax on retinues: In order to support the local labor market, a tax of 1 sp per hireling or man-at-arms is assessed.

You’ll note that there is no tax on thieves’ tools – that’s because they’ll probably just arrest a person who has them or toss them out of town.

If taxes cannot be paid, the offenders are either barred entry to the settlement and its environs (i.e. sent back into the wilderness under armed guard) and threatened with being declared outlaws if they again return without their assessed taxes, or is taken into custody until they can work their bill off (i.e. a great adventure hook!).

DIS, Grand City of Hell – Preview 2

Still plugging away. I’m working on “spades” tonight, which I was going to have revolve around violence, but then got my head out of my butt and realized needed to revolve around bureaucracy. How could I have missed that? Anyhow … enjoy some crazy diamonds.

2. Natijula: This block is as hot as an oven, with brick buildings of bright red, with flint roofs and wrought iron accoutrements that give it the appearance of a Hellish New Orleans. The buildings hold bakeries of hellstoker demons producing ashen loaves and deadly delicacies, café’s that serve scalding coffee and bitter tea and every sort of restaurant and tavern. In the streets there are fire pits on which are roasted stench kows and other hellbeasts. These pits are tended by lemures whose flesh drips into the pits, the fire hissing and sending up gouts of steam that become sinister steam mephits. Zombified shades in silk finery walk the streets selling wine from casks on their backs or giant rats on iron skewers.

The gates of Natijula are tall and composed of ivory-colored stone with steep battlements and blue, conical roofs. The battlements and towers that flank the gates of thick, bluish wood, are defended by a company of anti-paladins sans heads. Behind the gates are hidden a giant ballista, cranked by a stone giant in black platemail and armed with a giant halberd.

Natijula, the self-proclaimed Lady of Agony, is an inhumanly tall woman with an hourglass figure. Her head is bald and she has deep-set green eyes. Her body is covered in golden scales and she wears a classic chainmail bikini and many rings on her fingers and toes. Two massive eagle wings sprout from her back, and she has the ability to take the shape of a roc.

Her “palace” is a great courtyard paved with azure stones and filled with long tables where all manner of demons and devils feast, served by emaciated halfling shades weighed down by iron boots. About 1 hour in 6 is filled with a melee between the demons and devils, always over something trivial, but always fought to the death. Natijula has a deep, abiding hatred for all Mephistopholes (they’ve had dealings in the past), and will do everything in her power to oppose him and his servants.

5. Liro: This quarter is reminiscent of Venice, with many canals of water, Stygian black, cutting through the Renaissance-style buildings of glistening, slick black stone with silver highlights and ornaments; the tarnished domes, the thin bell towers with their black, iron bells that, when struck, cast a deafening silence over the quarter (save or deaf) and their crooked piazzas of spongy stone that spurt blood as one walks over them. Floating above the streets are ghostly shades engaged in a never-ending dance and cavorting in the heady fumes dispatched from great, silver braziers that line the streets and produce no light or heat, only a thick, white smoke that stings the nostrils.

Within the canals there float black lotus that attract ill-tempered sprites, and on great burgundy lilly pads there sit black-fleshed hezrous, fat and self-satisfied, eyes drowsy and glazed, thick purple tongues darting about, capturing screaming sprites and sending them to a terrible death in their bellies.

Leather goods are the business of this quarter, leather drawn from every creature imaginable. Some shops sell the prepared hides, while others fashion them into suits of armor (always of the finest quality), scabbards, boots, saddles, cloaks and other goods. Leprechauns handle most of the fancy craftwork, the other goods being imported from other quarters.

The gates of the quarter are located about 20 feet below the surface of these waters – quite a surprise to those who have entered through a normal gate from elsewhere – and are secured by walls of ice one foot thick. Swarms of giant piranha guard the gates, under the seeming command of the hezrou, who make some effort not to displease the mistress of the quarter.

Liro’s palace is set between three of these canals, giving it a triangular shape. It is the most imposing building in the quarter. It is a gracious affair, though much of that grace is robbed of the place by the tempestuous behavior of Liro. Liro is a short, elegant, petite demoness with dark, ruddy skin that is slightly scaled around the hands, feet, shoulders, neck and eyes. Her eyes are teal in color and appear to be looking directly into the eyes of every person within 30 feet of her (even those behind, who see her as facing the other direction). She wears only a cloak of tiny, triangular gold panels and a diadem of gold and pearl. She is surrounded by a pall of the same stinging white smoke that issues forth from the braziers on the streets, though this acts as the death fog spell. Liro is always accompanied by a guard of chittering rubinous xaocs, visitors to Hell who find it entirely too stifling and staid for their tastes.

J. Astaroth: Astaroth is a prince of Hell, and through the markets of his quarter flow spices, narcotics and other such substances sought after by the manors of the demon lords and arch-devils. Astaroth’s quarter is a maze of zigzagging corridors between ziggurats of iron and marble, atop of which pit fiends on thrones of fire roar defiance to the assembled masses of bearded devils who cluster at their feet.

The streets are lined with walls covered with blue tiles and mosaics of serpent people, demonic lions, pit fiends and great battles between devils and demons, all with the bodies of mortals trampled beneath them. Alcoves are set into these walls wherein sit wrinkled, pot-bellied shades wrapped in tattered, dusty azure robes. Before them are spread shallow wicker baskets filled with all manner of herbs, spices and narcotics. Anything you could want, at tremendously high prices, though they will sell almost anything for a drop of a person’s blood. Mangy camels covered with oozing sores, some with leathery bat wings, are led through the dusty streets, laden with goods from the world above, or with the bodies of shades in need of correction and punishment. The everpresent buzz of fly demons can be heard above, the demons swarming over the streets and sometimes swooping down to pluck up a shade, camel or traveler for a quick meal (i.e. 1 in 6 random encounters is with 1d8 fly demons).

The streets are patrolled by scorpion demon magistrates, on the lookout for double dealing and a cut of the proceeds of the shades’ business. They serve Astaroth as his enforcers in his quarter, keeping the spice lords (there are several) under control. Among them are Tizu the hezrou who controls the opium trade, Mosheveti the marilith who controls the supply of saffron and white pepper and Vucarik, the pit fiend who controls the flow of honey. These lords dwell in the ziggurats with their retinues.

The gates of Astaroth’s quarter are numerous, though most of them are false. Finding a gate in this quarter can always be accomplished in 1d3 hours of travel, but only 1 in 4 found gates is genuine. False gates drop people into deep pits lined with burning coal, where they are roasted alive. All of the gates are guarded by twin sirrush and a company of bearded devils armed with mancatchers and heavy crossbows that fire spiked spheres. When these spheres hit a person, they discharge an electrical shock that deals 1d6 points of damage and paralysis for 1d6 rounds (save to negate).

Astaroth dwells in the largest of the quarter’s ziggurats, one surrounded by a moat of mercury (those passing over must pass a saving throw or lose 1d6 points of wisdom and suffer confusion for 10 minutes). Within the ziggurat there is a grand palace of chambers thick with painted columns and deep pools of icy water inhabited by bound water elementals which Astaroth can shape into the form of beautiful women who dance seductively for the arch-devil and his court of pseudo-intellectuals. Astaroth commands three squadrons of inquisitor demons (xxx), five companies of scorpion demons and ten companies of bearded devils. Astaroth is mounted upon a wolf-headed black dragon so ancient it may predate Hell itself.

Dis, Grand City of Hell – Preview 1

This one took me a while. I couldn’t map it, couldn’t treat it just like any other city (it was too large to do it justice with a few shops and such) and needed to find a reason for characters to wander around a bit. I think (or hope) I finally cracked it.

Dis is like a collection of cities, which will still be represented on cards, that connect with one another – kinda like they predict the great eastern megalopolis of Boston – New York – Philadephia will be one day. Each of these cities/blocks/quarters is ruled by a separate demon or devil lord, and each is like a prison with heavily guarded gates. The only way to get through a gate besides fighting through it is to gain a brass seal from the lord of the place, and that means doing a favor (rolled randomly). This creates a reason to move about and explore – finding the other demon lord that has to be parlayed with / killed / paid tribute to etc.

Escape from one block to another is one thing. How about escape from Dis. The city of Dis just sprawls – it has no beginning and no end. Nobody can simply walk through it and get to the next circle of Hell. To escape, one must summon Geryon for a lift, and to do that, they need a silver seal from one of the more powerful lords of Hell, represented by the Jacks, Queens and Kings of the deck. Getting in to see them requires seals from at least three of the demon lords under them (i.e. of the same suit). The whole point is to draw players into the politics of Hell and, hopefully, produce a fun experience.

With that said, here’s a sample of some of the quarters in the suit of Clubs, the suit of toil and despair.


The buildings in this block are tall and irregular, and covered in a greasy sheen that stinks of rotting flesh. Those who enter the block must save as though facing the noxious stink of troglodytes. The streets are narrow and twisted, and every so often empty into vast, circular courts. These courts are flurries of activity, as manes demons scurry about, tossing writhing mortals and shades into a pit, about 30 feet in diameter, of boiling liquid. Bearded devils armed with iron staves push these poor souls back into the pit when they try to escape. Other bearded devils are in charge of ladling off the greasy slime that these people are rendered into, scooping it into large black barrels carried on the backs of manes demons. These barrels are loaded on carts when they are full and delivered to other blocks for processing.

The gates of Borbazu’s block are composed of a vast weave of skeletons. Above the gates, bearded devils man great pots of boiling oil to pour through murder holes that send a great spray down before the gates (all within 30 feet of a gate must pass a saving throw or suffer 3d6 points of damage from the boiling oil). In towers that flank the gates there are 40 manes demons armed with heavy crossbows ready to send a volley of bolts down on invaders. Each gate is under the command of a barbed devil armed with a chain that ends in a three-pronged meat hook. If an attack with a chain beats an opponent’s AC by 5 or more, it hooks into their flesh and holds them until removed with a successful bend bars check (which inflicts an additional 1d6 points of damage). The skeletons of the gates can deliver 1d6 attacks to any within reach, trying to grab and hold intruders rather than kill them.

Borbazu, a minor lord of Dis, rules this block. He takes the form of a towering serpent of pallid flesh (not scales) that dwells beneath the block. He can emerge from any of the flesh pits scattered through the city. Borbazu can also assume the form of a ruddy-skinned, boyish warrior, handsome, but with vestigial horns and a lenonine mane. This form has aquamarine eyes and wears white robes. In this form, Borbazu can form metal objects of up to man-sized with the merest thought.


This block consists of crooked buildings made of pale, sweaty stone. The buildings hang over the streets, making the air close and stifling, though at odd intervals blazing hot winds whip through these corridors. The walls are spiked, and the doors are all clad in green copper. The streets sometimes empty into pit-like courts with ophidian designs carved into the sides, and winding ramps that lead down into the courts.

The gates of Caila’s block are all at the end of cramped streets, and consist of circular doors. The doors are coated in deadly poison, and touching the doors causes the spikes in the nearby buildings to fire (1d6 poisoned dart attacks, 1d6 points of damage from each). The buildings on either side of the street hold a company each of bearded devils. Behind each door, a purple worm lurks, waiting to lurch out and swallow people whole.

One of the courts is entered via a bronze arch hung with crystal beads that cut one’s flesh like razors and whisper portents of doom into their ears. The court’s walls are set with dozens of little windows covered by shutters painted with images of demons or devils, others with shocking scenes of hopelessness and despair. Behind each of these windows is an oracle who can give one piece of information, provided the questioner passes their palm with an equally valuable piece of information written on a parcel of their own flesh. The oracle reaches their hand through the shutter (as in incorporeally) to retrieve their payment and then reaches back out with a tiny scroll containing the desired information.

Within sight of this alley is the jagged red tower of Caila the Judge. The upper portions of the 10-story tower are circled by a guard of young red dragons. The tower’s interior is as red as the exterior, with ornaments of carnelian, ruby and bloodstone. Movement from one level to the other is via teleporting cabinets, though some of the cabinets in the tower instead fill with poison gas or spears that leap up from the floor.

Caila is a short, leggy demoness with blue-black skin that bristles into barbed scales when she is excited. She has almond-shaped eyes of azure. She surrounds herself with artists, who she can inspire with her gaze, replacing a portion of their soul with her own. Caila can summon 1d6 fiendish giant scorpions three times per day and can assume the form of a giant scorpion once per day.


Malphas is both a prince of Hell and a grand president, and he is the patron of architects and masons. As one might imaging, his sprawling block is composed entirely of stone buildings, and everyone a piece of art. Cathedrals, strongholds, towers, all ornamented with flying buttresses, fanciful water spouts, bridges, tunnels, fountains, statuary, veritable skyscrapers; amazing and very difficult to navigate, as it is so crowded and the streets so narrow. Construction is constant here, with bits of masonry sent falling to the ground at random intervals (1 in 6 random encounters forces adventurers to pass a saving throw or suffer 4d6 points of damage).

The gates of Malphas’ quarter are great strongholds, ten stories tall, with perfectly straight and smooth walls. They are patrolled by his gargoyles (three companies are assigned to each gate) and barred by wooden portcullises that instantly rust any metal that touches them. Within each gatehouse tunnel, Malphas’ soldiers can pour green slime on invaders and deliver fusillades of poisoned darts.

Malphas occupies the grandest cathedral in his domain, a veritable demon-made mountain of stone, all of it rare and expensive, with spires that defy gravity. Within this monument he houses the remainder of his infernal army and keeps a population of slaves, artisans (he has bargained for the soul of many great artists and can summon them at will) and priests. He sits at the center of a maze of passages, all trapped and well-guarded, for Malphas is paranoid in the extreme.

Malphas appears as a crow, but can be induced sometimes to take the form of a handsome humanoid with blue-black skin and curved, golden horns. In either form, he carries a mason’s trowel, which attacks as a +2 battleaxe, can cleave through any stone, cast disintegrate and earthquake once per day and can, at will, transmute rock to mud and mud to rock. Malphas is always at war with one demon lord or another, and is always in the market for spies.

Thoughts on the City of Dis [Hellcrawl]

Dis presents a unique challenge for the Hellcrawl, as it is a city that dwarfs anything mankind has ever known. Mapping it would be impossible, and producing enough unique encounters to fill its streets would take more time than I can possibly devote to the task.

For that reason, Dis is going to lean more heavily on randomization than the other cities I’ve presented in NOD.

For geography, Dis will rely on a deck of playing cards. As players enter Dis, the Refeee will lay down a card in such a way that everyone can see it. The card’s suit determines the general activity of that “block” of the city, while the number will determine the level of that activity and thus the likelihood of adventurers being caught up in it. The common cards in the deck represent something akin to suburbs, while the “face” cards represent city cores, each governed by a different arch-devil or demon lord of Hell.

Clubs = Magic – illusions, alchemical experiments, magic storms, wizard wars

Diamonds = Commerce – con-men, slavers, thieves, doxies, hucksters, beggars, merchants selling indulgences and buying souls

Hearts = Religious Fervor – unholy preachers, sacrifices, religious processions, gruesome holidays and festivals

Spades = Violence – duelists, gladiators, angry mobs, gang wars, armies fighting street to street or besieging a small castle, etc.

Each hex of Dis is taken up by four cards, placed thus:

Dis is generally three hexes thick, so winning through the other side of Dis will involve, at a minimum, navigating through six cards. Naturally, this isn’t as easy as it sounds.

The streets of Hell are mazelike, so finding one’s way through is difficult. Unlocking each maze depends on the wisdom of the party members. The wisdom totals are added together and divided by two. This is the percentage chance that the party members can navigate through the maze. If they fail, they can remain where they are and try again tomorrow – though that means finding lodging and dealing with the possibility of frightening urban encounters. They can also go back the way they came.

Becoming lost in Dis is not just a matter of physically finding one’s way through the city – it also represents becoming spiritually lost. When a group becomes lost, the member with the current highest wisdom score loses 1d4 points of wisdom. If their wisdom score is reduced to a 9 or lower, they begin to question the value of virtue and become more attracted to vice. If their wisdom is reduced to 3 or lower, they become enmeshed in sin and take on the chaotic alignment. If their wisdom is reduced to 0, they become one of the undead citizens of Dis (those citizens will be given more detail in the actual article) and they cease attempting to escape.

If a group’s wisdom roll is successful, they find 1d3 exits from the current block they are in, allowing them to move in one of three directions to another card.

1 Exit – you can move right or left (50% chance of either)
2 Exits – you can move right or left
3 Exits – you can move right, left or forward

The higher the value of the card, the more difficult it is to find one’s way.

To finally escape Dis, one must win their way to the other side and hire transport to the next circle. In Dante’s Inferno, this transport is provided by Geryon. In Stater’s Inferno, it is provided by any number of contrivances, but whatever the method, one must show a silver key. These keys might rarely be found on random encounters (and there are many counterfeit keys), but they are most often won by providing services to one of the arch-devils or demon lords of the city. The only way to escape Dis is to become involved in the politics of the place – a tricky thing indeed, and sure to wear on one’s soul.

Among the lords of Dis (most are courtiers and bureaucrats) are Medusa, Titivilus, Adramalech, Astaroth, Behemoth, Buer, Leonard, Glasya-Labolas and, of course, Dispater, the grim king and final authority of the city (or so he thinks). Dis also holds the parliament of Hell, Pandaemonium.

The look of Dis will differ from block to block, from heaping ruins to the cobblestone streets of Dickensian London to Hell’s Kitchen to Babylon to the soulless blocks of buildings of Soviet-era Russia. There are streets of embers, canals of magma and more than enough horrors to keep a party of adventurers busy for a session or two.

Family Feuds

The other day, I was thinking about fantasy cities and ways to define them. Most of my cities for NOD are done as a small section of the place with interesting personalities to run into, along with a run down on the ruler, high priest or priestess, etc. Just enough to make the place memorable and with a focus on something special that might bring the players hundreds of miles – the finest armorer in the region, a black market for stolen goods, etc.

The idea of a key industry crossed my mind – think of several industries and specialties and generate one specialty in one industry in which a city excels – i.e. if you want the best éclairs, you have to travel to Barnabas, the City of Eclairs. So, Barnabus would have a bunch of master bakers who produce the best éclairs in the universe, and in fact are so skilled they can bake magical effects into their éclairs (i.e. magic potions). Barnabas would have many excellent normal bakers as well, and to support the baking industry would need associated industries like milling, farming, orchards, jelly makers, beet growers, spice merchants, etc. As I played with working this into a system, I realized that it was breaking my #1 rule for NOD – focus on adventuring. This industry stuff was interesting, but how was this forwarding the goal of sending players on adventures? Putting an hour of work into generating some demographics that will never lead to one daring sword fight, swing across a chasm, assassination attempt, kidnapping or plundered treasure horde just doesn’t make sense to me when we’re working at creating an adventure game.

One thing that did come to me, though, was the idea of rival families. You see, when I was thinking about different medieval industries, merchants came to mind. But how does a city specialize in merchants? Well, maybe banking – but every city needs merchants. And then I thought about great merchant families, and the Montagues and Capulets came to mind and I thought – you know what every fantasy city needs – rival families. Three families at least – one the most powerful, the other the bitter rival and the third the up-and-comer playing one off the other. That can lead to adventures, as players get involved with these folks and their endless machinations. With that in mind …


Every family has a head – the man and woman who holds the legal reins. We need to determine how old they are and what they can do. In this case, all of these families are going to be mercantile in nature. All family heads are going to be venturers. Their level depends on their generation: Adult 1d6+1, Mature 1d8+2 and Old 1d10+3.

1-3. Adult (25 to 35 years old)
4-5. Mature (36 to 55 years old)
6. Old (56 + years old)

Now we need to roll 1d6 for the family head’s siblings. Each sibling has a 50/50 chance of being male or female and comes from the same generation as the head of the family. We’ll presume that any older family members are dead, or else they would be in the leadership position.

The siblings are probably nondescript merchant types or venturers, but might be something else. Roll to find out for sure. At the same time, roll a 1d4 to figure out their general personality.


1-6. Merchant (0-level)
7-10. Trader (3 HD)
11-13. Venturer
14. Sage
15-16. Artisan
17. Thief or Assassin
18. Magic-User or Illusionist
19. Cleric* or Druid
20. Fighter or Duelist (1% chance of a paladin)

* Clerics worship as follows: 01-70 – Deity of Trade or Wealth; 71-90 – Lawful Deity that might frown on some business practices; 91-100 – Chaotic Deity/Demon/Devil

1. Sanguine (impulsive, pleasure-seeking, sociable, emotional, creative, compassionate)
2. Choleric (ambitious, leader-like, aggressive, passionate, energetic, dominating)
3. Melancholy (introverted, thoughtful, pondering, considerate, artistic, perfectionists)
4. Phlegmatic (relaxed and quiet, lazy, content, kind, accepting, affectionate, shy)

For those with class levels, roll them as follows:

Young* – 1d4
Adult – 1d6
Mature – 1d8
Old – 1d10

* For children of adults

75% of males and females are married and have 1d4-1 children. Each siblings mate is (1-4) from the same generation or (5) one generation older or (6) one generation younger. The children are all from one generation younger than the younger partner in the marriage. Roll up the children’s personalities and occupations as well, unless the children are from the generation younger than “Young”, in which case they are too young to have an occupation.

For each person in the family, roll up their Charisma score as well on 3d6.

Adult or older children of the siblings have the same chance as the siblings as being married with children. Young children of the siblings have a 50% chance of being married and have 1d3-1 children.


Each of these mercantile families has core assets dependent on the number and age of the family members (not including spouses). Each family also has a town house for the head of the family and each sibling, and the necessary servants for each town house (butler/valet, cook, upstairs maid, etc.)

Young – 1d20 x5 gpAdult – 1d20 x 10 gp
Mature – 1d20 x 50 gp
Old – 1d20 x 100 gp

In addition, the family gets 1d4+1 rolls on the following table of special assets.

1. Tied by blood to a noble family – the head of the family is a (1-3) 3rd cousin, (4-5) 2nd cousin or (6) first cousin to a (1-4) baron, (5-6) count or (7) duke or (8) king.
2-3. Tied by marriage to a noble family – replace the head’s spouse or one of the sibling’s spouses with a person of noble blood (as above).
4-9. Owns a caravan of 2d6 wagons or elephants or 4d6 camels to a nearby city
10-15. Owns a merchant galley that travels to a nearby city
16-20. Owns a caravan of 3d6 wagons or elephants or 6d6 camels that travels to a far away city
21-25. Owns a merchant cog that travels to a far away city
26-27. Owns a valuable heirloom that is (1-3) a major piece of jewelry, (4-5) a major gem or (6) a minor magic item
28-30. Owns 2d4 fine horses
31-33. Owns 3d6 fine hounds
34-36. Owns 3d6 fine falcons
37-38. Owns a single magical beast
39-40. Has a hired magic-user (roll 1d4+1 for level); all family members can cast a single non-offensive 1st level magic-user spell per day
41-43. Has a hired assassin (roll 1d4+1 for level); all family members carry vials of mild poison
44-48. Has a hired duelist (roll 1d4+1 for level); all family members +1 to hit and damage with rapiers
49-50. Has a hired gourmand (roll 1d4+1 for level)
51-55. Owns a fine manse in the city (1d6+6 rooms)
56-59. Owns a fine mansion in the city (1d10+10 rooms)
60-62. Owns a fine villa or manor in the country (1d8+8 rooms)
63-66. Owns a fabled wine cellar (total value of 3d10 x 100 gp)
67-70. Owns a fabled art collection (total value of 3d10 x 100 gp)
71-74. Owns a fabled armor and weapon collection (3d6 pieces, all masterwork and legendary)
75-78. Has a seat on the city council
79-80. Has a seat on the king’s privy council
81-83. Has master of the local merchant’s guild
84-85. Has a dark family secret
86-88. 1d4 x 10,000 sp in additional assets
89-90. 1d3 x 1,000 gp in additional assets
91. 1d2 x 100 pp in additional assets
92-95. Has a letter of marquee from the king
96. Suffers under a family curse
97. Enjoys a family blessing (an ancestor was a saint or martyr)
98. Has an infamous (and rumored) torture chamber
99. Has an infamous (and rumored) cabinet of horrors
100. Has an infamous (and rumored) shrine to a demon or devil lord


Arnou Montefleur – Sanguine 4th level Venturer, Adult

Arnou has two sisters:

Gallia is a phlegmatic, adult trader (3 HD) married to Merlin, a young merchant. They have three infant sons, Merlin, Arnou and Delmar.

Allyriane is a sanguine, adult duelist (1st level) married to Octave, an adult merchant. They have three young children, Tristan (3 HD trader), Therese (3 HD trader) and Fleurette, a goldsmith.

The families assets are 10,000 sp and 310 gp in cash money, locked away in the family’s town house.

The family also owns a caravan of 5 wagons that travels to a far away city, 8 fine hounds, a merchant galley and, though this is only rumored, a shrine to the devil Mammon in their cellar (it’s really behind a sliding wall in their dining room).

Yun-Bai-Du Sideview

Finally got a moment to draw the sideview of Yun-Bai-Du. (1) corresponds to a royal palace and (2) to the upper fortress of the sohei of the Splendiferous Tiger King. The other divine mountains are similar in profile. A great wall connects these eight mini-cities to one another, with the interior flat land serving as grazing land for the King of the Yun.

And, just for fun, a couple more locales.

44. Barge Captain: This single-story brick house with the overly ornate roof belongs to Muhisim, a youthful barge captain who operates primarily between Yun-Bai-Du and Artuk. A shameless womanizer, he has a family in each city, his local family consisting of wife Anaima and six children (four rugged boys, two equally rugged girls). In Artuk he is married to the wealthy (and old) Jarengi. Muhisim is built like a panda bear and always maintains a neat appearance, even when plying the filthy canals of Mu-Pan. He considers the gods to be a sham and makes sure to mock priests constantly behind their backs. Besides his collection of wives, Muhisim also owns a collection of exotic monkeys from the southern jungles.

48. Apartment: This single-story brick building with a bowed roof is divided into four apartments. It is owned by Noyorbelu, a young woman with vibrant skin and eyes as bold as a stormy sky. Short and pretty, she owns several buildings in this area, making her money renting them out. Though one would hardly suspect from the looks of her, Noyorbelu was once a queen among the wako of the eastern coasts. Deposed in a mutiny, she managed to find her way back to civilization after seducing first a shark man called Kidaki and then his lord, the gold dragon called Chaachingh. Noyorbelu has a magical trident hidden beneath the floor boards of one of the apartments. It is still sought by the dragon, so she does not wish to have it too close to her own domicile.

Naming Yun-Bai-Du’s Streets

Time to name some streets. I noted them on the map using letters, since writing the names on the streets can be a pain and sometimes the darn things obscure the buildings.

In Yun-Bai-Du, you have the long, circular streets that wind around the divine mountain and then the smaller streets that slope down from the mountain to the outer wall.

A – Street of the Earthbound
B – Way of the Dragon
C – Sublime Path of the Tiger King
D – Street of the Ninefold Virtues
E – Nine Dragon Road
F – Street of the Eastern Wall
G – Street of the Most Low
H – Splendid Abundance Street
I – Street of the Western Wall
J – Tiger King Road
K – Street of the Yellow Swordsman
L – Street of Jubilant Spirits
M – Street of the Black Tortoise
N – Street of the Golden Rabbit
O – Peaceful Flower Road
P – Road of the Five Manifold Thunders
Q – Street of the Unflinching Stone
R – Street of the Slumbering Warriors
S – Filial Piety Street
T – Northern Gate Street
U – Golden Promise Street
V – Street of 10,000 Monkeys
W – Street of the Blessed Peach
X – Calligrapher Street
Y – Street of the Wondrous Maiden
Z – Street of Elemental Truth
# – Street of the Burning Red Star
@ – Street of the Prosperous Phoenix
$ – Street of the Jade Tiger
& – Silk Merchant Road

Yun-Bai-Du: City of the Clouds Part IV

The map is finished except for the street names. By the next posting, I should have the street names in and a side view of this chunk of the city, which is constructed on the slopes of one of eight divine mountains. Here’s a few more locales …

29. Shanties: This low-lying, mucky area of the city-state is covered by a many shanties, the people living as beggars, thieves, fishermen and collectors of refuse. Many have benefited from aid by the Silent Hand, and the children of the shanties are a good source of information for those do-gooders. Notable among them is Juchidug, a recent arrival who claims to have been a captain of the Tiger Empress’ guard in Khatan. This is, in fact, an exaggeration, but he was a member of the royal guard and a favorite concubine of the empress. His indiscretions about his time in the palace and his stories of the empress have reached the ears of Buga [63], and his eventual death at the hands of an assassin is assured.

33. Armorer: The doors of this 2-story brick building have been closed and locked for over a month now, opening only to admit stores of food and fresh water. Smoke billows from the chimney night and day, and people wonder at the presence of a strangely beautiful man in robes of the deepest dye and fringed with the feathers of a white crane. The building belongs to Oorchin, a master armorer of Yun extraction who is very tall and quite fat, with hard eyes and a square jaw. Fearless and haughty, Oorchin has never been shy in bragging of his skills, and the shugenja Kuzhaidan has taken him up on his boasts and has ordered him to complete an enchanted wakizashi. The finished weapon is intended to be a +1 weapon capable of launching arcs of flame when swung. A piece of jet has been shaped into the form of a skull and will be implanted in the hilt of the weapon, while an essence of efreet blood is to be injected into the length of the blade. Kuzhaidan does not permit visitors, other than the aforementioned deliverers, and he allows Oorchin only brief naps – the armorer now regrets his bragging.

40. Healer: This three-story building has lovely wooden accents, carved in the shape of raccoon dogs and cobras. The bottom floor is a parlor of sorts, with a small pantry and kitchen attached. Here, the resident of the house, Temyshid the Healer, entertains prospective patients and friends on red velvet couches around a teak table, also richly carved. Stairs hidden behind a tapestry give access to the second floor, Temyshid’s operating chamber, where she provides such services as acupuncture and minor surgery. She is assisted by her husband, Kaik, a pleasant little man who uses too much cologne. The third floor contains the family living quarters, a chamber for Temyshid and Kaik and another for their four children, as well as a short hallway lined with shelves of glass jars and bottles containing medicinal compounds, herbs and a few odds and ends taken from former patients. Temyshid is younger than her husband, and entirely too bright for her own good. She has golden skin, black hair and blue eyes, with a neat, scholarly appearance. Although a healer, she is unfeeling and immoral.