Friday, April 8, 2022

Secret Jackalope 2022: Mythical/Dreamlike Islands Generator

Suitably piratical adventures. Shades of Harryhausen.
Fantastical, maybe mythic, probably not very dreamlike.

Secret Jackalope 2022 prompt via the OSR Discord: "A Mythical (dreamlike) island generator" for PaperMagus#9478.

I love an island (or an archipelago) as a setting, so this was right up my street. I've kept things setting and system agnostic.

Roll a mixed handful of d6, d8, d10 and d12, then consult the numbered lists below. 

Some of the outcomes contradict others. Ignore anything that doesn't make enough sense and/or you don't like. Climate and terrain as appropriate to the milieu/mythos. Sorry to leave so much of the work to you, but filling in gaps and making connections can be fun.

If you want, roll those dice onto hex paper and use the spread to map the island or surrounding archipelago (highest roll is the most important location, however you define it). Chuck in some d4s to represent volcanos, mountains and mysterious mounds/pyramids (no tables for them).

The island can be found only:

  1. At the crack of dawn.
  2. When the sun first touches the horizon at dusk.
  3. Under the light of a full moon.
  4. Only when the sun is at its highest and hottest, with no breath of wind and the sea like a pane of glass.
  5. When everyone is asleep (or otherwise unconscious).
  6. When you are at the very end of your supplies.
  7. By those under a curse or enchantment.
  8. By those responding to an omen (good or ill).
  9. By those castaway from their vessel.
  10. If someone onboard is dead or dying.
  11. When your vessel is adrift, at the mercy of the currents and the winds.
  12. Once you have already resorted to drinking piss and sea water, cannibalism or the Bear Grylls hydration-enema (kind of CW/NSFW YT link).

The island lies:

  1. At the heart of a vast float of sargassum/deadly maze of icebergs/expansive gyre of the rubbish of civilisations.
  2. In dense fog, looming up suddenly and unavoidably.
  3. To starboard, glimpsed through the slashing rain, towering waves and dazzling flashes of an uncommon storm
  4. To port, just at the edge of peripheral visibility.
  5. Confoundingly astern, where you were but a short time since.
  6. Dead ahead, unexpected and uncharted.
  7. As 2, but when the fog clears it is revealed to have been cloud and the island is in the sky.
  8. Where the sea plunges over the Edge into endless space. You might see the effects of this long before you spy the island.

The island is full of lights:

  1. Corpse candles illuminating the faces of undead that are invisible by day.
  2. Sheets, sparks, and crackles of electricity/plasma.
  3. A sickly green glow suffuses everything, intense by night but just visible by day. It spreads to objects brought to the island and carried away from the island. 
  4. The lit windows of dwellings where there are none.
  5. Parading jack-o-lanterns, punkies, spunkies and will-o-the-wisps.
  6. Cannibal/Ogre cooking fires.
  7. The lamps of search parties, distress flares and signal fires. A general sense of urgency.
  8. Multitudes of eyes glimmering in the face of the dark.
  9. The ghost of a lighthouse. Does it signal doom or safety? Is its blaze even meant for something of this world?
  10. As if the constellations themselves have stepped down from the sky to roam the earth. May be accompanied by stark dark patches in the heavens.

Any of these lights can also be in the water.

The (super)nature of the island:

  1. Like a pop-up picture book, 2D within a 3D space, and either realistic or in a particular style of art/illustration. Time and distance are redefined as if by flips of a page. Whether those arriving or leaving update to fit the environment they are entering is up to you. Possibly everything is extremely vulnerable to fire.
  2. Under an enchantment/perception filter that hides its true nature. It appears like a paradise when it is a hellhole, or a fortification bristling with cannon and swarming with armoured mechanical warriors when it is in fact the peaceful convent of lycanthropic vampire nuns. And vice versa. It is possible to be able to perceive both aspects under the right conditions.
  3. A dream construct, with dream logic, and sustained by a specific Dreamer. It is real unless/until the Dreamer is awakened. The Dreamer is not always aware of their status, nor necessarily a participant in the dream.
  4. An actual illusion/telepathic-feedback-dependent hard light construct. It is vulnerable to a particular weight of disbelief, from an individual (including only a specific individual) to the whole sapient population. Awareness of the illusion/simulation does not necessarily aid active disbelief. Is there an island under it, or just the swallowing sea?
  5. A nightmare construct, as if produced by the Dragon Warriors Nightmare. You are probably all lying shivering on a beach surrounded by fragments of your wrecked vessel while this is going on.
  6. Everything on the island is alive/awakened, and survival here is dependent on accepting an animist worldview and communing with the genius loci of the place. I recommend PARIAH.
  7. Cinderella/Circe transformation - everything is something polymorphed into something else and vulnerable to counter-spell, disbelief and/or effect expiry. Leaving the island may or may not reverse any unfortunate changes.
  8. The Shores of Death. If the island is not actually the realm of the dead, or contain an entrance to the realm of the dead, it is the last mortal staging post on the journey to said realm. 
  9. Groundhog Day. The island is on repeat, resetting at intervals. The reset can be a regular occurrence, or be based on collective or individual acts. Agency, awareness and memory may persist (for inhabitants and/or outsiders), or the effect may be a trap, turning you into puppets in someone else's play.
  10. Altered Reality, whether by nature of its substance or the power of one (or more) of its inhabitants. This is something like an illusion, but is persistent and real if it is not disbelieved (or if there is no-one there to disbelieve it).
  11. Persistent shared dream-space. The island can be reached by sea, but is better reached by plunging into the collective unconsciousness of those who dream it. If the dream-substance does not resist it, potentially all dreamers/visitors can alter and influence the unreality.
  12. Non-Euclidean. However wholesome or horrible the island is, it defies conventional mortal geometry, making getting around and getting away both difficult and nauseating. 

Going ashore:

  1. Safe, sheltered bay/cove and easy trails to the interior
  2. Narrow tracks and/or crude steps zig-zag vertiginously up cliffs/crags from the sparse spit of land at their base
  3. Seemingly impregnable walls of rock/ice circumscribe the island, broken suddenly by a concealed passage, scraping low overhead your vessel
  4. Treacherous reefs/rocks/sandbars that necessitate a stay while repairs are carried out
  5. The silent quayside of an apparently abruptly and recently abandoned settlement (from trading post to sprawling metropolis, as appropriate)
  6. As you approach the shore, the sea suddenly retreats - impossibly fast and far, leaving you within walking distance of the island but with miles of stinking mud and dying aquatic creatures in all other directions.

The island is full of noises:

  1. Regular muffled thump like a great machine (or enormous heart) underground.
  2. Hummadruz. Not necessarily debilitating.
  3. The sand in the hourglass of your life running inexorably down.
  4. Distant raucous birds and the mournful honking of sea mammals that almost sound like comprehensible language.
  5. Shrill discordant notes and runs that you can't be sure aren't caused by the wind.
  6. As if the entire island was underwater. There may be an accompanying visual effect, or the island is actually underwater.
  7. Regular ticking, like a clock counting down or hot metal cooling.
  8. More and more elaborate and louder and louder fart noises, followed by barely human juvenile tittering.
  9. Wordless songs and sweet plangent notes.
  10. Industry appropriate to the technological level of the adventure.
  11. Muttering and cursing, meeping and gibbering.
  12. The sounds of a contemporary (or any preferred historical period or cultural variation) IRL shopping mall, airport, stock trading floor, space shuttle launch control - anything alien and incongruous to the milieu and the characters.

The islanders are:

  1. Curiously/suspiciously like your home culture.
  2. Dead (whether they are also talking and walking around is up to you)
  3. Diseased, obviously or otherwise.
  4. Echoes of the future/the past. Not quite real, a little alien, uncanny.
  5. The last remnant of a famously long-vanished civilisation
  6. Beastfolk: talking animals, Moreauvian vivisects, werewolves, satyrs, sirens, people wearing animal masks or acting like beasts.
  7. Merfolk, obviously or otherwise.
  8. Immortals. Possibly (weakly) godlike, or maybe vampires or elves.
  9. Easily exploitable; extremely vulnerable.
  10. Living statues (or other sapient elemental substance).
  11. Cannibals, obviously or otherwise.
  12. Completely surprised that there are other living beings beyond the island.

Reaction Roll to determine their general disposition towards outsiders.

The island doesn't need to be heavily populated - it might even work better for atmosphere if it isn't.

Just the one island, but it's pretty fucking cool.

The island's big personality/main character:

  1. Enchanter. Charms and transformations.
  2. Elementalist. Storms and weather magic.
  3. Sorcerer. Usually scholarly, with magical minions. 
  4. Scientician. Conducting private experiments far from interference.
  5. Necromancer. Their own fiefdom of the undead.
  6. Giant Humanoid. Strong enough to threaten shipping.
  7. Prehistoric Colossus. A Lost World survival or recently resurrected.
  8. Monster of Legend. One with the definite article and capitalisation.
  9. Cannibal. Not necessarily a compulsive gourmand, nor a cultural caricature.
  10. Forgotten God. Might want to reverse or preserve this situation.

Reaction Roll to determine their general disposition towards outsiders. There doesn't need to be one of these, but there often is. 

Don't know where the Lizard King (or the Gonchong on their head) fits on the list.

The island's gift, the island's prize:

  1. Sanctuary. No harm may befall those who abide here, as long as the legal and/or magical terms are not violated. 
  2. Healing. Bodily, emotional and/or mental good health arise from the conditions, substance or inhabitants of the island. The effect cannot be transported elsewhere, but there are always those who will try.
  3. Longevity. A condition of the island means that lifespan is extended. Often only as long as you remain there, the years catching up with you in an instant should you leave. Youthfulness and good health not always part of the deal.
  4. Knowledge. Could be magitech, could be psionics, could be the truth you were unwilling to hear. Includes mythical sages and the libraries of lost civilisations.
  5. Wealth. Whether it's lucrative trade links, rare materials or simply treasure vaults bursting with gold, there is always a price and it's usually blood and doom.
  6. Victory. The ally, the weapon, the mentor that you seek is here. There will be unforeseen consequences, even if you believe your motive is righteous.

All these islands have a Doom and will likely suffer it while the PCs are at hand, or even because of them (by accident or design):

  1. The Dreamer awakens and prosaic brute Reality comes rushing back in.
  2. The nemesis musters overpowering forces and invades. Unbridled massacre and pillage.
  3. The Sleeper stirs and the island tumbles from its back. Or it's just an earthquake/tsunami.
  4. The inexorable sea consumes the island, by inches but completely and forever.
  5. The slumbering volcano that raised the island bursts back to destructive life, affecting the climate even on the other side of the world.
  6. The spell that holds back the bitter cosmic cold breaks at last; perpetual winter crushes the island in ever-thickening snow and ice.
  7. Starts to fade away, either to nothing or to another dimension. 
  8. Contagious combustion/disintegration/liquefaction/petrification.

Somewhat zany, but it's got islands and a bit of Graeco-Roman mythological flavour.

Also take a look at:

A Strange Voyage Twitter account.

The section on randomly generating magical islands with a fairytale/mythic flavour in 2e AD&D HR3 Celts Campaign Sourcebook by Graeme Davis

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