Solo Skald |||

Some time ago, I experimented with Abenteuerspiel, Worlds Without Number (WWN), Perilous Wilds, and Numenera. I wanted to come back to this approach, or at least a variant of it, and document it a little better.

As before, I’ll be interspersing AI-generated fiction between my game notes, called out as block quotes. While there are certainly lots of nuanced issues around AI-generated content, I feel like using it personally for a blog that has no commercial intent (other than the occasional affiliate link) should be relatively non-controversial. I don’t even have analytics for this site!

Resources

Once again, I’m thinking in the sense of the Solo GMG (also available in hardback). Here are the specific resources I actually use in this game.

Generative

  • Worlds Without Number Chapters 6 & 7 (Creating Your Campaign, Creating Adventures)
  • Ninth World Bestiary (Numenera)
  • Numenera Discovery
  • ChatGPT itself

Suggestive

Rubric

  • Abenteuerspiel
  • WWN (see Characters below)

Setting

Despite the name Latter Earth”, I’m not relying too much on the setting as presented in WWN. I’ll use the implied setting (tables and such) but not the specific maps, locations, etc.

However, the key concept remains the same. Much like in Jack Vance’s Dying Earth and in Numenera, this game takes place so far in the future that today’s world is not even a memory; it’s quite literally prehistory. Strange ruins from prior civilizations dot the land, and the world is being slowly rebuilt by their descendants. Occasional wars happen, but in general most communities are not large or powerful enough to field real militaries. Instead, they rely on adventurers to protect them from the dangers of the wilds.

Magic is, in actuality, the manipulation of poorly-understood technology. Mages have some knowledge of how to manipulate the ambient nanoswarm fields to their advantage, but generally this is considered risky because their control is imperfect at best. Their academies and guilds pass on knowledge of these rituals and the remnant technologies called artifacts”, but in reality they are more like legends and myths. The true nature of these things is lost to time.

Characters

These are the same characters I used in the experiment. I’m adjusting and fleshing them out a small bit based on how things went there. Also, as I previously noted, I’m tweaking the Abenteuerspiel character resources to match the WWN classes:

  • Warrior: -1 Ritual, +1 Equipment
  • Mage: -1 Equipment, +1 Ritual
  • Expert: -1 Ritual, +1 Skill

I’d like to use the WWN foci somehow, but I’m not sure how to do that yet. Backgrounds make more sense, though, and so everyone will get a Background and a related skill. As much as possible, I’ll use the skill listed in WWN but, where it makes sense, I’ll use the name from Abenteuerspiel.

Warrior: Dana Al Piz

  • Pronouns: she/her
  • Background: Carter (Beasts)
  • Equipment: Animal Traps; Rope
  • Melee weapon: Spear
  • Ranged weapon: Scavenger Bolter (basic recycled rifle)
  • Skills: Tactics; Traps
  • Story: Incredibly skilled but scatterbrained. Do not mention the war.

Dana Al Piz is a former Carter, skilled in beasts, tactics, and traps. Standing at 5’7″ with fiery red hair, she is an imposing figure. Her eyes are sharp and always scanning her surroundings, taking in every detail. Despite her incredible skills, Dana can be scatterbrained at times, easily distracted by the next exciting adventure. She is fiercely independent and does not like to be tied down, but she is always willing to lend a hand to those in need. One thing to avoid when speaking to Dana is mentioning the war, as it is a sore subject for her.

Mage: Sarca Artifiziale

  • Pronouns: they/she
  • Background: Scholar (Myths)
  • Equipment: Dagger; Caltrops
  • Skills: Rituals; Artifacts
  • Rituals: Summon Spirit; Protect Area
  • Story: Nervous. Saw a mysterious creature. Twice.

Sarca Artifiziale is a former Scholar with a keen interest in myths and rituals. Standing at 5’5″ with a slender build and piercing green eyes, they exude a quiet intelligence. Sarca is skilled in artifacts, allowing them to analyze and use these remnants of prior worlds with ease. They know the rituals Summon Spirit and Protect Area, and they are always looking for new knowledge to add to their arsenal. Despite their impressive skills, Sarca is nervous by nature and is easily intimidated by danger. They have seen a mysterious creature twice and it has left them shaken. Nevertheless, Sarca is determined to learn more about this strange and fascinating world.

Expert: Kasciuto Moderni

  • Pronouns: he/him
  • Background: Artisan (Craft)
  • Equipment: Fire Oil; Flint & Steel
  • Ranged Weapon: Slingshot (stones or small explosives)
  • Skills: Destruction; Bartering; Improvisation
  • Story: Full of jokes. Terrified of murmurs of the machines that eat.

Kasciuto Moderni is a former Artisan, known for his quick wit and love of jokes. Standing at 6’2″ with broad shoulders and a rugged appearance, he is a formidable presence. Kasciuto is skilled in craft, destruction, bartering, and improvisation, making him a valuable asset to any team. Despite his confident exterior, Kasciuto is terrified of the murmurs of the machines that eat. He is quick to crack a joke, but he is also quick to act when danger threatens. Kasciuto is always looking for the next opportunity to prove his worth and he is not one to shy away from a challenge.

Also, last time the group picked up a small device that seemed to be living, an artiform”. Let’s see what it looks like:

The group is accompanied by a small artiform named Spark. Spark is a compact, spherical device with a smooth metal exterior. It has a single, glowing eye in the center, which lights up with a warm, friendly glow. Spark is equipped with advanced sensors and can communicate with the group through a series of beeps and chirps. Despite its small size, Spark is surprisingly durable and always ready to assist the group in any way it can.

Enough time has passed since the previous adventure that pools and other resources are fully refreshed.

Wilderness Encounter

For this adventure, I envision the three of them moving through a light forest. The undergrowth is relatively clear and so they can move at decent speed along a trail hewn by generations of rangers and uncountable animals. Perhaps the trail is leading down to a river or other large body of water, but a smaller creek runs more or less alongside it.

The group is looking for the entrance to some ruin, like a metal hatch with small lights on it. They expect to find it built into the side of the ground or even directly under a tree in its root system. However, they don’t have an exact location and so they are just following the trail and hoping to find it.

I want them to have some sort of encounter before they discover the entrance, so I’ll roll on the Wandering Encounters table (p. 247):

  • Type: Solitary intruder or unaffiliated creature
  • Goal: They’re investigating other intruders
  • Mood: Greedy for gold or glory

What kind of creature is this? I’ll roll on the Random Encounter Table Wandering Through the Woods” in the Ninth World Bestiary (p. 18): [95] Travonis Ul.” The description comes from Numenera Discovery p. 257, modified for our setting:

A writhing mass of tendrils 15 feet (5 m) across and 12 feet (4 m) high, a travonis ul is a creature from another world that hunts for cellular material to consume. Three to five tendrils are particularly long, with bulbous yellow eyes at approximately their midpoint. One broad tentacle has a mouth with several mandibles.

A travonis ul is an intelligent creature, but it’s utterly alien to almost everything that dwells in the Latter Earth. It doesn’t seem to speak, read, or use tools of any kind, but it clearly understands and respects prior-world artifacts.

Is it an extraterrestrial or an ultraterrestrial? No one knows for certain.

Travonis Ul Travonis Ul” (c) 2018 Monte Cook Games

This is a significant obstacle. We really don’t want to fight this horror! Has this creature seen us? Let’s roll the Die of Fate from Abenteuerspiel, which is just high is good, low is bad”. On a d6: [4], no, it hasn’t seen us yet but we’re close enough that it could at any moment. The creature doesn’t move particularly quickly, so we’re going to flee from it.

Dana sets a trap for it, although it’s not clear how effective it will be. Success would give advantage on fleeing; failure and she may have to fight the creature. Roll: Stressed, Unconditioned, Skilled (traps), Equipped (animal trap), Supported. Total of 5 dice, highest is 4: success with a complication. Stress = 1; pool decreases to 5. The trap works but will not hold for long; we have to leave now and the creature will probably not be too far behind.

Kasciuto leads this roll, trying to find the group’s way through the forest. On a success, the Travonis Ul loses their track, but on a failure it catches them and they’ll have to fight it (at least for a bit). Roll: Stressed, Unconditioned, Skilled (improvisation), Supported, Advantaged (trapped creature). Total of 5 dice, highest is 6x2: critical success! Stress = 6; pool unchanged. Not only do they leave the Travonis Ul behind, but they manage to do so without losing their way in the forest. They are now safe from the creature, and Kasciuto has led them back to the trail further down.

Finding the Ruin

While the group believes they’re close to the ruin they seek, finding it has proved more difficult than they’d hoped. Spark hasn’t picked up anything on its sensors, so Sarca decides to ask the local spirits.” (I imagine these spirits as emergent AIs from the nano field or other previous technological infrastructure.) That’s a ritual, summon spirit, which is always risky. On a success, we find a friendly spirit (AI) to ask; on a mixed success, the AI isn’t that friendly; on a failure, there aren’t any and we’ll be unable to summon any more in this wilderness area for the time being. Roll: Stressed, Unconditioned, Skilled (rituals), Supported. Total of 4 dice, highest is 6: success! Stress = 3; pool decreases to 5. A shimmering blue form manifests in front of them; it’s really just a semblance of a face in a mesh grid. Sarca describes what they’re looking for: a metal hatch with small lights on it. Of course, the spirit will ask why they seek this place.

At this point, we should figure out a little bit about what this ruin is. I’m using the Ruin Tags from WWN p. 190+ and we get: [97] Useless Treasure.

The ruin was once a carefully-guarded storehouse of some substance or information that was priceless at the time but is now largely worthless. Obscure materials, Outsider goods of no present use, exotic matter fashioned by sorcery and of forgotten purposes, and critical intelligence on empires long since dust might all be found here.

If it’s so useless, why are we bothering with it? After pondering it, I decide that the group doesn’t know that that the contents are worthless. They just know that it’s a ruin and that ruins are often full of treasure. They’re not sure what they’ll find, but they’re sure it’ll be worth their time.

The blue face gives them a wry smile and tells them that they are no more than 100 paces from it, and that they should look carefully under the trees to their right. But it also says, You are not the first to seek this place. There are others who came and left disappointed. You will not be the last.”

Of course, it’s trying to warn them that it doesn’t think the ruin is worth their time, but why should it try to stop them? They don’t heed the warning and press on. Sure enough, further up, they find the entrance.

The Hollow Tree

I’m inspired here by The Hollow Tree by Dyson Logos, based on the Mad Hermit from Dungeon Crawl Classics. I also like the concept he describes of a sort of matryoshka tree - a hollow tree that contains a smaller tree, which contains a smaller tree, and at some point opens up to a hive. I’m going to use that idea here, leaving out the hermit.

The site needs a short random encounter table in Chris McDowall’s Small Tables style. As he describes it:

  • 1-3: Common. Three variations on a single encounter either carrying out different actions or varying slightly in composition.
  • 4-5: Uncommon. Two variations of a more unusual encounter, again varying in behavior or composition.
  • 6: Rare. Something weird and likely dangerous.

So what encounters would be common? I asked ChatGPT to generate a creature list from Numenera, and although I’m pretty sure that none of them are actually in the Ninth World, I’m going to use them anyway because they all feel like they could be and that’s enough for our purposes.

  • Cysts - strange, organic creatures that move through the ground and feed on the energy of other creatures.
  • Whispers - small, insect-like creatures that emit a mesmerizing hum and can control the minds of other creatures.
  • Spore Plants - enormous, sentient plants that release clouds of spores that can infect and control other creatures.
  • Rust Warriors - mechanical creatures that have been activated by some unknown force and are now rampaging through the forest.
  • Shadowbeasts - mysterious, shapeshifting creatures that can blend into their surroundings and attack with surprising speed and power.
  • Swarmers - clouds of tiny, flying creatures that can swarm and overwhelm their prey, devouring them in a matter of seconds.

I then asked for more details about the whispers, and got the following:

Whispers are small, insect-like creatures that are found in the forest and other areas. They have a distinctive, humming sound that is both beautiful and hypnotic. Their hum is so entrancing that it can control the minds of other creatures, causing them to become lost in a trance-like state. This allows the whispers to control their prey, using them as they see fit.

Whispers are elusive creatures, often hiding in the shadows and waiting for the right moment to strike. They are quick and agile, making them difficult to catch or evade. Their small size also makes them hard to spot, as they can easily blend in with their surroundings. However, their humming sound is a tell-tale sign of their presence, so the group must be on the lookout for any signs of their hum.

Despite their dangerous abilities, whispers are not always hostile. They can be used as tools by those who know how to control them, but they can also be dangerous to those who do not understand their abilities. The group must be cautious when encountering whispers and must be ready to act quickly if they are threatened.

These sound useful in the context of this adventure so I’ll use them related to the hive.

For the uncommon encounter, I’ll use the cysts:

Cysts are strange, organic creatures that are found in the forest and other areas. They are subterranean creatures, moving through the ground and feeding on the energy of other creatures. They have a unique ability to drain energy from anything they come into contact with, which makes them incredibly dangerous to any living being.

Cysts are not sentient beings, but they are driven by a single goal: to feed. They are tireless in their pursuit of energy, constantly moving and searching for their next meal. They are not picky about what they feed on, and will drain the energy from anything they come into contact with, including animals, plants, and even other cysts.

When a cyst comes into contact with a living being, it will begin to drain its energy. This process can be incredibly painful, and it can quickly kill its prey if left unchecked. The cyst will continue to drain energy until it is full, at which point it will retreat back into the ground to digest its meal.

Cysts are not easy to kill, as they are protected by a hard, chitinous shell that is nearly impenetrable. The best way to deal with a cyst is to avoid it altogether, as it is nearly impossible to stop once it has begun to feed. The group must be cautious when exploring the forest, as they never know when they might come across one of these dangerous creatures.

The other enemies for the tag in WWN are Tireless immortal guardian, Brutally relentless treasure seeker, Maddened sorcerer trying to unlock the real value’ of the treasure”. I like the tireless immortal guardian, and will use that as the rare encounter. ChatGPT generated the following:

The tireless, immortal guardian inside the ruin under the tree is a massive, armored creature known as a Carapace Titan. Standing at over 15 feet tall, the Carapace Titan is a formidable presence, with a massive exoskeleton that is nearly impenetrable. Its body is covered in thick, chitinous plates that protect it from all sides, making it nearly invulnerable to attack.

The Carapace Titan is a non-humanoid biological creature, with a body that is more insect-like than humanoid. It has multiple legs that allow it to move with surprising speed, and a pair of large, pincer-like arms that can crush anything in their grasp. Its eyes are compound, with multiple facets that give it an almost 360-degree view of its surroundings.

Despite its fearsome appearance, the Carapace Titan is tireless and immortal, making it the perfect guardian for the ruin under the tree. It has stood watch over the entrance for countless generations, never tiring or faltering in its duties. The group must be cautious when approaching the Carapace Titan, as its loyalty to its post is unwavering and it will not hesitate to attack any who pose a threat to the ruin it guards.

In general, for my random encounters, I like to have nothing happen on a 1-3, an indication of a nearby encounter on a 4-5, and an encounter on a 6. I’ll use the following table:

  1. 1d6 whispers mesmerizing prey
  2. 2d6 whispers controlling a host to lure other prey
  3. 3d6 whispers swarming (will attack if threatened)
  4. A cyst digesting its meal
  5. A cyst looking for a new meal
  6. The Carapace Titan ensuring no one disturbs the ruin

The actual tree has a few major areas:

  • The large entrance, which includes spiral stairs leading inside the tree from the hatch in the trunk.
  • The main chamber, which is a large, roughly circular space with a smaller hollow tree inside it.
  • Stairs leading up to the hive
  • The hive itself, home of the whispers

Each smaller tree has a replica of the larger tree above it, descending in a manner reminiscent of a fractal. The real (potential) value of the tree is the hive, which we’ll describe in more detail when we get there.

Entering the tree

The group approaches quietly, looking around for any sign of danger. The lights on the hatch are dark; perhaps the ruin has been looted already?

I’ll roll for a random encounter: [6], one definitely happens. Which encounter is it? [4], a cyst digesting its meal. It doesn’t look to be hostile at the moment, but that could change. Dana decides to take charge for this bit, directing the group around and deeper into the tree, using her knowledge of tactics. Roll: Stressed, Unconditioned, Skilled (tactics), Supported (by the group). Total of 4 dice, highest is 6: success! Stress = 2, pool decreases to 4. They edge around the cyst, and continue deeper into the ruins below.

Here in the larger chamber, they see the small tree and the stairs behind it. I’ll roll again for the possibility of a random encounter: [1], no encounter. The smaller tree itself is an enigma: what manner of magic could have created such a thing, and why? They could enter it, albeit they’d find themselves quite cramped, but first they’re going to scout out the hive.

Sarca quietly whispers to Spark, sending it up the stairs to scout out the hive. Roll: Stressed, Unconditioned, Skilled (artifacts), Equipped (Spark), Supported (by Dana). Total of 5 dice, highest is 6: success! Stress = 2, pool decreases to 4. Spark returns with a report: the hive is full of whispers, humming and buzzing in a confusing way (I don’t think their ability works on artiforms). Dana decides to take the lead again, and the group heads up the stairs.

The hive

Here we see at least 4d6 = 12 whispers, no random encounter roll required. The group is uncertain about this one: it seems like a lot, and dealing with them seems highly risky. What they want is the hive itself: the structure that the whispers have built is sought after by wealthy collectors. Kasciuto suggests a very high-risk plan: he’ll splash fire oil all over the area, then have Sarca light it with Dana providing protection. On a success, the whispers will be incapacitated by the smoke and fire, and they can loot the hive. On a failure, the whispers might attack or the tree could even ignite (this seems much less likely and would involve a Die of Fate roll). The other two agree, reluctantly, and Sarca is particularly nervous. Roll: Stressed, Unconditioned, Skilled (destruction), Equipped (fire oil), Supported (by Dana). Total of 5 dice, highest is 5: mixed success. Stress = 5, pool decreases to 5. He scatters the fire oil quickly, although gets a bit on himself in the process and takes the condition Doused in oil”.

Now Sarca must move quickly to ignite the oil before the whispers begin to mesmerize them! If this goes poorly, they’ll all be in trouble and Kasciuto might even get set on fire. Roll: Stressed, Unconditioned, Equipped (flint & steel), Supported (by Dana), Advantaged (fire oil). Total of 4 dice (max from ready pool), highest is 5: mixed success. Stress = 4, pool stays at 4. They light the oil quickly and the whispers are incapacitated by the smoke and fire. But Kasciuto is briefly set on fire, and though the group puts it out (“stop drop and roll!”) he takes the condition Burned” to replace the Doused in oil” condition.

They’ve got to start tearing chunks out of the hive while they can. Again, this is Kasciuto’s specialty, although Dana will help. Sarca will stay on the watch in case the whispers get active or something else goes wrong. Roll: Stressed, Skilled (destruction), Supported (by Dana). Total of 3 dice, highest is 6: success! Stress = 2, pool decreases to 4. They tear out a large chunk of the hive and make it back to the stairs before the whispers can react.

I need to roll a random encounter again, this time taking the highest of 2 due to all the ruckus: [5], indications of an encounter. Which one? [5], a cyst looking for a new meal. It doesn’t see them but they can hear it slurping across the ceiling above them. They move a bit more quietly into the main chamber. Given the size of the hive, they decide not to head down into the smaller tree within; maybe another time?

Here in the main chamber, we roll again; if an encounter happens it’ll definitely be the cyst: [3], they’re clear. Sparky peeks up the spiral staircase to see if there might not be a guardian at the entryway: [2], no, they can head back out into the forest.

Back to civilization

For this particular adventure, I’m not using a hex map or anything, so we’ll just assume they have at least one encounter on the way back. Returning to WWN p. 247 on the Wandering Encounters” table, we have [2] small group of local inhabitants who are [11] repairing or maintaining the site. In this case, site” means this wilderness area, not the ruins, so I’m imagining a few rangers who are maintaining the trail itself. However, I’ll roll the Die of Fate to see what they think about these adventurers hauling around chunks of a hive they clearly ripped out of someplace in the woods: [1], which is ill-fortune”.

I’ll ask ChatGPT to envision this scene:

Dana, Sarca, and Kasciuto make their way through the forest, the whispers’ hive safely tucked away in their packs. They have been on high alert ever since they retrieved the hive, knowing that its value makes it a tempting target for thieves and other unsavory characters.

As they move, they hear the sound of footsteps behind them. They turn to see a group of rangers, their weapons drawn and their expressions stern. The rangers approach, their eyes fixed on the packs that hold the whispers’ hive.

What do you think you’re doing with that material?” one of the rangers demands, gesturing to the packs. That’s a valuable resource, and it’s not yours to take.”

The group exchanges a worried glance. They know that they must handle this situation carefully, as any misstep could result in a violent confrontation.

Kasciuto takes the initiative, trying to make some kind of deal with the rangers. Maybe he can convince them that this is okay, or that they’ll make a donation to the rangers’ lodge, or something else. But if they don’t go for it, this could end up in a fight and he’s not in a good way right now. Roll: Stressed, Skilled (bartering), Supported (by the group). Total of 3 dice, highest is 5: mixed success. Stress = 5, pool remains unchanged. The rangers are not particularly impressed, but grudgingly allow the group to proceed since the damage has already been done and they have larger issues to deal with. Kasciuto will need to make some sort of lodge donation later, though. For now, they’re free to go.

End of session

I think I’ll end the session here. Slogging all the way back to civilization is not a lot of fun in an adventure.

As a quick debrief, we got through a wilderness encounter and a very small site. I ended up not really sticking with the tag for the site, instead relying more on the Hollow Tree map and description for inspiration. The tables and tags serve the game, though, not the other way around.

I’m not sure how well I liked that procedure in the site, though. I think next time we enter a ruin I’ll either do a bit more preparation of the site or use a different procedure (maybe using Perilous Wilds again).

Similarly, I want to grab some regional map (maybe one of Dyson Logos’ hex maps) and use that in closer conjunction with the WWN wilderness procedures. I think that might make an interesting adventure: exploring the wilderness for whatever we find, possibly including shallow ruins” that don’t necessarily need deep exploration and can be handled without so much focus on the detail.

But when we come back next time, we’ll start off back in a town doing some rest and replenishment before setting off into the wilderness again.

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