Thursday, December 28, 2023

A Dungeon Crawl Fabula Ultima Style

 I'm currently running some Fabula Ultima at home. If you are not familiar with it, it is a TTRPG based on the Final Fantasy video games,  which have had an immense influence on the gaming culture of the 80s and 90s.  It uses a pretty funky fusion of the Japanese TTRPG Ryuutama and Blades in the Dark to create a game that captures the kind of storytelling that made Final Fantasy IV - XII such compelling games. As my wife and I are both long-time fans, and my oldest is just finishing his first ever playthrough of a FF game (FFIV - I am making sure the boy is classically educated. )

I like the game,  even if it is a little heavier on Storygame conventions than my personal tastes ususally run.

Today, I had the challenge of setting up a dungeon crawl as our heroes must brave the ruins of an extinct Dwarf civilization to get to the mountain peak.

The Abominations from FFIX were
some of my all-time favorite CHUD
monsters. I think of these when
I read the tunnel chapter of
The Gunslinger 
Image ©️2001 Squaresoft
This is an adventure in two parts; the party has to navigate unexplored ruins full of slow  mutants (inspired by the Dark Tower) that are drawn by sound and certain spectra of light. Eventually they will be able to reach a fortified position in the ruins where the people of the nearby nation keeps some of the tunnels safe and clear so that they can transit the mountain from within.

While many of the early Final Fantasy games are full of D&D-inspired dungeon crawls, it doesn’t necessarily play well with the heroic storygaming milieu Fabula Ultima is trying to capture: like later editions to the series like parts of FFIX, and FFX, dungeons are often implied to be much bigger; the player only shows areas that tell key components of the dungeon's story or include puzzles and enigmas.

Fabula Ultima suggests doing something similar; show players only the places in the dungeon that have something interesting to offer: then translate the rest into Forged in the Dark-style progress clocks.

Setting Up the Uncharted Ruins

Progress Clocks

First, my Progress Clocks: I decided to create a trio of clocks. 

Discovered by the
Slow Mutants 
The first is a clock that will dicate when the party is Discovered by the Slow Mutants. This is a 6-point clock. Any time they are noisy (critical fumbles, use of spells, explosives, etc.), the Slow Mutants gain a point on the clock. Smart diversions might reduce the clock.

Once that clock is full they will have to work through a couple of conflict scenes where they have to defend themselves until they can escape.

The second progress clock is a hidden danger: the ancient pipes, steam machines, and waterworks of this part of the dungeon are unstable; they could collapse and wash away parts of the dungeon. 

These will be credible threats to life and limb that will harm the PCs until they can beat a clock together indicating escaping the danger..

Mechanical Failure 
Accordingly,  I am setting up a four-segment Mechanical Failure clock. If this clock is filled up, the PCs will have to survive a sudden release of a cloud of steam or a rush offreezeing water washing them towards a ledge. This will fill in segments for each round dof fighting, the use of explosives or powerful elemental Rituals, etc.

Players will get increasingly frightening cues that thd machinery is faili g each time a segment is filled in.

I am also going to destroy a random clue to the puzzle when this clock is filled. Once filled, it will reset, allowing for multiple disasters.

If I were preparing this for publication, I might have a random disaster table to supplement this.

Find a Path to the
Guarded Dwarf Road
Finally,the dungeon goal clock: Find a Path to the Guarded Dwarf Road. This eight section clock will represent their wandering through the dungeon looking for a way back up to the surface. 

Each time the PCs try to navigate this crumbling labyrinth of stairwells, tunnels, rope bridges, and cliff-dwellings I will get one PCs's method of trying to help with navigation and call for a roll if necessary. 

This will give them a chance of getting through without danger if they are clever and swift, or turn this into a nightmare of rushing water and mutant horrors if they are careless.

But, as is, this is just some dull rolls.

Adding a Puzzle

I wanted the dungeon to have an (optional) puzzle and reward in it that required learning from multiple different locations to get a pass key of sorts.

The puzzle takes the form of nine monuments created by the last Dwarf who died in this place. A bittersweet ritual to make tomb-raiders at least pay their respects and read the Last Dwarf's lame.

Whenever the PCs attempt progress on the Find the Guarded Dwarf Road clock, I will roll 1d10 to find put which monument they discover, with 0 being a hazard that might advance the clock. If the progress roll was successful,  I will reroll duplicates.  If they fail, I will allow duplicate rolls to be rediscovered,  as they may have been going in circles. 

Each monument has a phrase that includes a unique noun, a clue as to which order the nouns should be placed, and has an offering at it, except the 9th shrine, which has an offering bowl. None of the shrines will be numerated to the PCs.

They are

I - Before all else, remember us for our Excellence • A fine iron hammer.

II - Then to begin, behold that which we made, adorned with hammered Light • a bundle of magic candles: if lit, they will cause the keywords they shine on (boldface here) to glow.

III - Following that light, you can appreciate the Elegance with which we shaped. • Magic electrum ring that grants resistance to shock.

IV - Our lust for Coin sat tragically before our centre. • Bag of 250 zenit (gp)

V - Only after a trade of coin could many Dwarves find Trust. • ornate silver key

VI - It was we who etched the Runes of the sixth pillar*.  • Magical Tome

VII - Only just before we perished did we understand the value in Unity. • Jewelled figurines worth 200z

VIII - And so, under this Mountain, we crumble, forgottev, a final beautiful act. •  Wreath of hammered metal leaves (150z)

IX - These are the epitaph of Eoric, the last of the Dwarves of Weth. Learn of our folly, then return here with the jewel wrought by storms into perfect unity.

The players should be able to piece out E-L-E-C-T-R-U-M... and have found an electrum ring... which is a electrolysis-fused alloy of silver and gold ("wrought by storms" being a hint about electricity.)

If the PCs collect the ring and pla e it in the offering bowl, they will be blessed by the Spirit of Eoric with 2 FP, 4 XP, and access to him as an Arcanum should any party member take levels in the Arcanist class in the future. Eoric will automatically show the party the way out.

*A hint at lore important in the future. The Nine Pillars control a gate in Time.

The Catch...

Deliberately looking for the shrines instead of for a way out will not progress the Find the Guarded Dwarf Road clock,  and possibly increase the other progress clocks as they explore, depending on how they go about searching.

Final Obstacle

Once the last segment of Find the Guarded Dwarf Road is complete the PCs come to a gap where a stairwell has collapsed. On the opposite side is an iron gate near which is a Wayfinders mark that will lead the PCs on the path to the controlled portion of the road.

They key to the gate is sitting at shrine V. 

Getting across could be done many different ways, but many of them could fill segments in one of the Teo danger clicks.

Some Drama

Finally, no dungeon is complete in a Final Fantasy game if it doesn't point towards the rising threats in the campaign.  In this case, I will have the PCs stalked by a villain who is trying to take a relic they are transporting. It's loss could cause a breakdown of the peace process between the homelands of the various PCs.

I will hint at their presence if a critical success presents itself while they search the dungeon.  

The Villain is a rival from one PC's past, and is now a member of an apocalyptic cult that is trying to start a war. She and her lackeys will be a big gateway into understanding what is at stake.


No map, only a few clues to an optional puzzle, and a trio of clocks, plus two obstacles... yet I feel that this scenariois pretty complete, except some guidelines on describing things. It would be easy to turn into a pamphlet adventure... but the style is pretty alien to me. I will report back about how it plays.

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