At the inhospitable settings round table, we had Nor Cal Mythos, who has nearly half of planet LokDown facing the sun and forever blazing in heat, Biohazard Games of the RPG Blue Planet and Valiant Fox Gaming and their frozen world of Fading Embers. It’s easy to see what’s inhospitable about all those settings; burning, drowning and freezing.
Darkness too. It’s there in the depths of Blue Planet and it’s nearly the other half of LokDown as well. Of course, on the planet of LokDown, there’s a narrow strip of inhabitable geography that supports some life.
Darkness can be hard to describe beyond telling the players to imagine their characters cannot see anything. It can be even more challenging to bring to spooky life. So, during the round table, we asked “what encounters could happen in darkness” and in this article Nor Cal Mythos and Geek Native are spun that out into a random encounter in darkness table.
As you can see, these encounter ideas aren’t in the style of “the monster attacks”. Instead, the focus is more on mood and atmosphere. The monsters can always attack in the next scene!
|1d10||Darkness encounter||What this could be|
|1||Whispering, soft and hissing, like the escape of air or the flicker of a forked tongue, but barely audible.|
As you peer into the looming darkness, the stillness is broken only by a soft and barely perceptible hissing sound softly whispering through the shadowed gloom just beyond your light. The source is unidentifiable as the sporadic noise seems to taunt you with its mystery.
|Air vents, natural or otherwise. The wind through a narrow gap. Insects rubbing their legs or snakes giving off a warning. Any artificial audio recording. Bat-creatures hunting overhead. Unseen entities watching you. The voices of long dead explorers or travelers warning you away or beckoning you to join them.|
|2||The occasional drop of liquid, a gentle plop without a splash but the origin of the sound is unclear, uncertain and echoes strangely.|
The soft sound of liquid dripping onto the moist ground sporadically radiates through the darkness beyond your feeble light. The soft pattering of liquid impacts echo in a strange manner seemingly from all around, leaving you no closer to uncovering their elusive source.
|Water dropping off stalactites. Melting ice. A leaking tap. A drooling predator stalking the party from the concealing darkness. A semi aquatic creature, fresh from unseen waters, circling you in the dark. A corroded system of pipes overhead. The slowly exsanguinating bodies of previous explorers or victims suspended above the ground.|
|3||A lingering and putrid scent curls tendrils in the air, fading into the background for much of the time and occasionally getting stronger.|
A rank odor drifts on errant drafts of wind. Its malodorous miasma fading into the darkness before the shifting of the wind carries its foul tendrils to once again assault your unwilling nostrils.
|Sulfur vents. Decaying fruit or flesh. Exposed chemicals. Waste disposal pipes from an unseen settlement. The dumping ground or lair for a murderous denizen of the area. The remains on a recent battlefield.|
|4||The ground suddenly and silently becomes hazardous as ankle-high obstacles threaten to send characters tumbling.|
Your pale light struggles to pierce the darkness ahead as without warning the footing becomes uncertain and you can feel unseen obstructions catching at your feet. You pan your light down to reveal the nature of the obstacle.
|Tripwires left by a hunter. Tangled vegetation. The scattered wreckage of a crash. A cracked and uneven ice surface. The skeletal remains of explorers or travelers. The open entrances to the dens of burrowing animals.|
|5||A body and while it is frightfully hard to inspect in the darkness, it still seems to be armour and the cause of death is not clear.|
As you advance, the darkness grudgingly retreats from a prone figure lying upon the ground. The figure appears to be fully armored and equipped. While a cause of death is extremely hard to determine, it is clear that whatever happened to this individual was able to strike them down despite their seeming preparedness. What is clear is that they died in extreme pain as their face is contorted into a frightful visage of pure agony.
|Someone who died of starvation or thirst. Someone who died of infection or disease. Someone who succumbed to foul magic. The wound is discoverable with more light; perhaps a venomous animal bite or sting.|
|6||A sudden silence.|
A sudden void of noise assaults you. The omnipresent darkness radiates an aggressive silence. There is no wind, no movement, only your own heartbeat disturbs the stillness of the towering silence.
|Has the wind just dropped? Or are the characters now in a particularly sheltered spot? Has something large and unseen moved to block the wind?|
A small but bright light is now visible somewhere ahead, but the distance is hard to determine.
In the distance ahead a small, bright light glitters in the darkness. Its size and distance are nearly impossible to determine, but it pierces through the gloom like a welcoming beacon against the dark.
|A random encounter like this can become the opening for something more significant. If that’s not wise then the light could be glowing fungi, a bioluminescent creature fleeing, some abandoned gear (which may or may not be salvageable) or it could mysteriously disappear again.|
Something brushes against your hand. It’s a fleeting graze, soft but definitely there and unseen in the all-encompassing darkness.
|Vines or other vegetation, and this could be the first of many touches. It could be spider webs or other natural traps created by predators that may threaten the group. Or there could be ruins and remains nearby and the touch of torn material just the first of a gruesome discovery.|
|9||Ruins, suggesting that people lived out here once…|
Inexplicably located in darkness, now fallen into a state of dilapidation are broken arches of rotting wood and stone. The circular site is large enough to have been a small dwelling, if oddly shaped. But what’s it doing out here?
|If near the edge of the darkness, perhaps this building was once in the light. If not, maybe the home or semi-permanent camp of people to whom the darkness was scared or compelling and living in it made sense. Mundane items may be found strewn in the rubble.|
|10||Vibrations through the ground.|
As you walk, the ground begins to feel strange beneath you. Each step in the darkness brings your feet in contact with something that seems to pulse to a faint rhythm. The earth itself is vibrating slowly.
|It could be nothing more than a large engine ahead, some mining apparatus or other big machine. More significantly, there could be force shields in place that push through the soil to protect an area in an enclosed sphere. Or even a huge beast, and each pulse felt here is the creature breathing.|
A big thanks to Nor Cal Mythos’ Mike Dumas who did the heavy lifting on this little table of inspiration. Mike has helped not just with the dark side of the tidal locked LokDown, but with the sun-trapped side of the planet too. Thanks also to Jeff Barber, the designer of Blue Planet: Recontact, a watery world with its own dark oceans, and round table from John Yackel of Valiant Fox Gaming and frozen world of Fading Embers.
Creative Commons credit: Dark Forest by Keening And Sunder.
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