Monday, March 22, 2010

Horrors of The Vermin-Pits

Whatever world the Middenmurk exists within, it is the bad place, the source of nightmares. I envisage it as being a dungeon that was delved too deep and ruptured the boundary between the worlds so that a badness was unleashed. Things crept into the dungeon from elsewhere and were unleashed upon the world, harbingers of pestilence and death – demons from beyond the world.

It is important to me that there is nothing in the Middenmurk that is too familiar. Everything should be new and different, whether or not goblins and ogres and dragons exist in the campaign world (my default position is that they do not) down in the hole are other things, entities that do not have names and histories. I am aware that there is an extent to which I will be making a trade-off, sacrificing the preconceptions and assumptions associated with familiar icons of the genre in order to be able to take advantage of the shock of the new.

This particular angle arose for me from a couple of sources. James Maliszewski’s assertion (based on a passage from OSRIC) that the primary activity of D&D was exploration, and Philotomy Jurament’s characterisation of the dungeon as The Mythic Underworld. These things captured my imagination and led me on what is essentially an atavistic exercise. I am essentially trying to recapture that ephemeral essence of what was so enchanting to me about the game, and fantasy in general, when I was young. What was, and is, intriguing to me about dungeons is the mystery, they are perfect repositories for the projection of fears of the unknown, of darkness and predation.

I remember with fondness the exhilaration of being new to the hobby and encountering carrion crawlers and rust monsters for the first time. I intend to produce a set of random monster generators and other associated tables to generate novel content in an attempt to capture that sense of exhilaration.

One of the other concepts I’ve become intrigued by in old school play is the open world. All the DM needs to provide for the players at first level is a dungeon and a town or two and perhaps a rough concept of the world around, the world can grow to accommodate the actions of the players according to their actions. This intrigues me and appeals to me. The agency of the players in this respect is very important to the development of the world. In a similar sense, I hope to provide tools to allow the players and DM to collaboratively stock the world with elements which are brought to life and rendered significant by the interactions of PCs. Essentially, I hope to provide scope for emergent phenomena to spring forth from the interaction of complex systems. I don’t think this is anything new and believe it to be something that happens in normal play all the time. The unpredictability of setting PCs loose upon the world causes all manner of interesting shenanigans to happen. I do, however, intend to make the collaborative exploration of the unknown geography and inhabitants of a mythic underground foregrounded in this setting.

As a DM it’s nice to have all the elements prepared and ready to run so that the work is minimised. It can also be a lot of fun to have free rein to craft your world. I’m trying to tread that middle road between by preparing lots of nice tables for random generation or selection of content, a distinctive look and atmosphere and various other tools to make the process of crafting a grim-dark psychedelic hell-pit dungeon easy.


Vermin-pits are frequently found in upper levels of the Middenmurk, they are unwholesome places, filled with organic detritus and festering with disease. Many crawling, biting and stinging creatures lurk in these caves, having crept in from some dimension of creeping horrors. Tunnels are often natural caverns, the burrows of some enormous otherworldly thing, or if hewn by intelligent beings, long since overwhelmed by the swarms of extra-planar vermin that infest these accursed places.

Here is the prototype of the vermin generation tables, as with all of these tables it is suggested the DM generate the creatures ahead of time.

DM rolls for Special+Element+Form and also rolls for atmospherics if they can't think or somethink cool. e.g. (rolls) Invisible-Gloom-Toad, follows at a distance never coming close. Damn! That would be comical if it wasn't creepy. OK, it is comical.

Default No. Appearing is 2d6.


Roll d10

1. Flying: MV 150’ (50’) (360’ (120’) if already flying.
2. Leaping: Initiative Reach bonus in first round of combat
3. Chameleonic: Surprise on 1-4
4. Venomous: Save vs. poison or paralysed 1d4 turns (Save or Die if already poisonous)
5. Festering: Save vs. poison or contract disease (i.e. mummy rot)
6. Giant: Double hit dice and dmg
7. Armoured: + 3 AC bonus
8. Spitting: Corrosive drool 30’ range, 1d6 dmg
9. Invisible: -4 to hit
10. Hypnotic: Save vs. petrification or paralysed 1d6 rounds


Roll 1d10

1. Gristle: +3 hp
2. Chitin: +2 AC bonus
3. Cinder: extra fire attack 1d6 dmg/HD
4. Glow: thrice per day can project a concentrated flash that blinds for 1d4 turns
5. Fungus: when struck releases a cloud of spores 20’ radius save vs. poison or suffer confusion
6. Muck: Stinking aura, save vs. poison or lose 1d6 Strength for 10 rounds
7. Gloom: Darkness 15’ radius 1/day
8. Blight: save vs. poison or contract disease (treat as mummy rot)
9. Phase: If initiative is won, this creature attacks, then phases out before it is struck back
10. Lightning: extra lightning attack 1d6 dmg/HD 30’ range 3/day


Roll 1d12

1. Rat: AC: 7 MV: 90’ (30’) HD: ½ Att: 1 Dmg: 1d2 Morale: 5
2. Bat: AC: 5 MV: Fl 240’ (80’) HD: ½ Att 1 Dmg: 1d2 Morale: 5
3. Serpent AC 7 MV: 60’ (20’) HD: 1 Att: 1 Dmg: 1d2 + paralysing poison Morale:8
4. Beetle AC 5 MV: 60’ (20’) HD: 1 Att: 1 Dmg 1d4 Morale: 8
5. Spider AC: 8 MV: 90’ (30’) HD ½ Att:1 Dmg 1d3 + paralysing poison Special: Web 1/day as M-U spell Morale: 8
6. Ooze: AC 9 MV: 30’ (10’) HD 3 Att: 1 Dmg: 1d6 Morale: 12
7. Leech: AC 7 MV: 60’ (20’) HD: 1Att: 1 Dmg: 1d2 + 1d2 blood drain/rd until dead. Morale: 10
8. Fowl: AC 6 MV: 60 (20) Fl 240’ (80’) HD: ½ Dmg: 1d3
9. Toad: AC: 8 MV 60’ (20’) HD 2 Att: 1 Dmg:1d4 + Swallow small creatures on a 20. Morale: 7
10. Lizard: AC: 6 MV 90’ (30’) HD 1 Att:1 Dmg: 1d3 Morale: 7
11. Fly: AC: 4 MV 60’ (20’) Fl 240’ (80’) HD ½ Dmg: 1d3 Morale: 8
12. Swarm AC: 9 MV: 120’ (40’) HD:3 Att: special Dmg: 1d4/round 10’ radius Morale: 11


1. Smells of ozone, brimstone, blood, decay or ripe fruit
2. Is associated with half-heard eldritch whispering
3. Is albino white, blood red or sulphur yellow
4. Has striking metallic striations
5. Appears to dance weirdly
6. Pulsates unpleasantly
7. Is associated with apparently purposeful glyphic marks
8. Follows at a distance, never coming close
9. Has extra eyes that glitter with malice
10. Makes a hideous scratching/hissing/tearing/buzzing noise

The Vermin-pits need lots of extra tables for room contents, hazards, smells, textures, miasmas and treasure, of course. I expect to produce tables for Fell-warrens, Abyssal Deeps, Necropolises, Verdant Gulches and various other unpleasant domains of the Middenmurk.

Additionally, information about whatever world these creatures came from (e.g. cinder-world, phase-world, muck-world)would be cool.

Pictured is a festering-phase-serpent, a Grinzelwurm, poisonous, contagious and otherworldly, hisses horribly as it phases between worlds.


  1. I really like the dark, dank atmosphere that this world seems to conjure. The name Middenmurk is cool, and your art is awesome. Not saying it's tolkienesque at all but it brings to mind a poem called 'The Mewlips' from the Tales of Tom Bombadil. It was in a book of kids poetry I had when I was little though god knows why it was in a kids book it's pretty dark and scary.

  2. Yay! The Mewlips are actually an influence "You sink into the slime who dare/ to knock upon their door". There's a great animation with someone singing the verse on youtube.

    It's got fantastic atmosphere, very much the kind of thing I'm shooting for. The Wild Wood from Wind in the Willows is also an influence. Basically any forbidden place beyond the boundaries of the civilised world.

    Thanks for the feedback.

  3. I like the feel and tone of your world. The vermin-pits idea ijust exemplifies your whole approach, really walking the line between weird-strange and familar that successful fantasy needs to have. You give lots of real-world behavior and appearance hooks that people can relate to, but you mix them up in such a way they will seem threateningly uncanny. Nice!