Issue #1: It Begins...
This is it! The very first one!
I don’t want to bore you with a lot of details introducing myself, and some long, drawn out story of who I am, what I’ve done, or why I matter. What I want to do is get right into offering interesting content. Along the way, I’ll likely talk a bit about myself, but if you have any questions, you can email me: email@example.com. I’m always happy to chat and answer questions, and listen to suggestions, too.
I will say this much about me right now: I’ve been roleplaying since I was 7, I started up a blog in 2008 (http://thesecretdm.com), I launched a business called In Search of Games in December of 2016, our first product was nominated for an Ennie, and while I’ve produced some additional products since then, I decided to quit my business and the gaming industry as a whole in December of 2021.
Fast forward 5 months, and I’m sitting at my computer, about to launch a newsletter with gaming content to 60+ subscribers.
Sometimes you gotta yield to the siren song of the beast.
When I quit everything I knew I wasn’t done, but I was in bad shape mentally. I’ve been battling depression for 10+ years, having to do with my dad developing dementia and then his eventual passing at the end of 2016. I have struggled to find a way out of that depression, to capture some kind of sense of who I was before, a long time ago.
And two months ago, I found my answer. I won’t go into details here, not right now, but I’m happy to share that I’m no longer depressed. A lot of has to do with starting therapy with a person who listens and helps me uncover my emotions and face them in a very human way. But that’s not the whole story.
Anyway…welcome to CHRIS MENNELL PRESENTS!
So what is it exactly that I “present”?
If you’re part of my personal group on Facebook, (Chris Mennell Presents: Tabletop Roleplaying (TTRPG) Ideas and Art), you know I like to share art I find inspiring, but also original art I commission or have commissioned, as well as setting ideas I have, thoughts about game mechanics, and game systems and rulesets I’m trying to develop myself.
This newsletter will function in a similar fashion, except for a couple of key differences:
The words I write aren’t strictly protected by copyright. I would love it if you didn’t steal my words and some things I share I’m actively working to turn into something but if you’re inspired by something I write and you want to make use of it, commercially or non-commercially, go right ahead. It’s cool if you attribute me, it’s cool if you link to my newsletter, but hey, I’m not coming after you with lawyers because something I shared here inspired you to make something. Go bananas.
The art I share here is wholly original, created by friends of mine for the purposes of not only being used with this newsletter, but also for you to reuse in your own commercial or non-commercial works. This permission is granted courtesy of each artists I’ve partnered with provided you attribute them for the work they created in whatever you produce. All of this is backed up by the Creative Comrades License, created by JN Butler and adapted to support this newsletter. You can find out more about the CCL here: http://creativecomrades.org
This first publication also includes an original map courtesy of Dyson Logos. This rare treat is made possible because this newsletter received over 50 subscribers before launch day, and that means a great deal to me and I love celebrating milestones. This map will be released by Dyson under his commercial map license, but he’s granting the readers of this newsletter an early access license so that you can get to work using this map in your commercial and non-commercial works.
There’s probably more I should mention but the bottom line is that this newsletter is being produced with the core value of the DIY movement at its very heart: read it, appreciate it, cut it up, and reuse it for materials and make something of your own.
And just acknowledge the people who made the stuff, but do with it what you want.
Okay! Lets get to the content!
#1: The Bloated Shills of the Wanton Sluice
There is a drowned city, 3/4 submerged in water, at the far edge of an unnamed swamp forest. The water is murky and difficult to see through. Dark shapes dart and slither beneath the surface. Occasionally, a body rises to the surface, bloated with the slick, dark water, eyes dissolved or eaten away by cruel fish.
Near the main entryway into the city there is an open portcullis, but the water at the entrance is deep, and characters who aren’t careful can get pulled down by an unseen force churning the water by the gate. Once through the entryway characters find themselves in a vast lake, with the tops of buildings poking through.
Here, near the entrance, the party will encounter the Bloated Shills, opulent looking humans with glistening skin, long, black hair, and their ears and necks covered with sparkling jewelry. They have big mouths and wide faces and broad shoulders, and they mostly bob and float in the water, close to the buildings. They lazily wave their hands and call out with guttural yet booming voices “Come, come! The water’s fine! Come!”
Beneath the surface, the bloated shills are only half a human body; the upper half is the pristine shape of a person, while the lower half is completely eaten away, and in its place is a long tentacle that goes far down into the dark depths.
Bloated shills are puppets for a nasty creature of the deep, who took up residence here when the city flooded and converted drowned bodies into its own puppets. It is capable of activating the nerves and muscles of the human bodies its connected to and can force them to speak, trying to trick anyone entering the city into drawing close, after which the tentacle rips through the bloated body and attacks fresh prey.
This deep creature is very hungry and hasn’t eaten fresh meat in about eight months.
DMs should treat each tentacle as its own monster, and not really connected to a whole beast. Stat them as needed for your game, but I generally make them 2-3 HD each, with a decent armor class because the tentacles, once exposed, are pretty fast.
I thought about making the controls of the bodies a psychic act, but I didn’t want to make the creature into an aboleth.
#2: The Black Gate Navigator
One of the projects I’m developing is called The Dark Between, a far-future space opera that blends Dune with DOOM. I’ve been going back and forth on how I want to handle FTL travel, and I came upon this interesting idea to use incense from different worlds to allow ships to travel to those worlds.
It’s really cool I think, but it’s not the best; after all, it means you can only travel to worlds you have substances to inhale, so travel is rare and difficult, most likely.
Enter the The Black Gate Navigator:
The stars are strange, especially where the rift to the dimension of Hell opened up. Awful things spill out of this tear in space/time; monstrous ships and their hellspawn pilots. And while the forces of Hell continue to pour into our reality and consume the worlds of the dying Immortal Imperium of humanity in war, there are divisions of the Imperium that have embraced…in small degrees…the potential the hell rift offers to those who are willing to…embrace its darker offerings.
Enter the Cult of the Black Gate, a secretive and scientific arm of the Immortal Imperium. Here technicians and engineers build dark machinery that draws on the same energies spewed by the dimensional rift.
And through their processes, and their pacts in secret meetings with hellspawn, they have created specialized navigators, mutated by the hellrift and no longer human, their minds are capable of occult calculations, allowing them to manipulate and bend space to send their vessels across great distances…for a price.
Rituals are expensive, and contracts must be signed, often requiring sacrifices, beyond monetary compensation. It could be of the flesh, or of the mind…a crew could take on some amount of corruption onto themselves just for the promise of safe passage between two distant points.
Those who use the services of a Black Gate Navigator are often desperate to do so, unable to afford another method of travel on the star lanes.
(Concept developed by Christopher Mennell and Joel Clapp, words by Christopher Mennell)
#3: The Dungeon of Ithral
Ithral was a demon shopkeeper who traveled the planes selling rare artifacts stolen from the gods. He perished 1,200 years ago when one of his trinkets proved to be a fake and a group of ruthless deviants hunted him down and exacted revenge.
The legend of Ithral is misunderstood and poorly remembered, but this structure in the nearby mountains is believed to have been a temple built by merchant cultists trying to restore Ithral to life to be granted wealth by the devious demon.
In fact it’s a temple to Uhsuul, a far worse demonic entity who cares nothing for treasure or wealth and seeks only to destroy.
Entryway, the Stones of Ithral: Five stones surround a fire pit, where recently charred remains of birds are piled in the center, feathers and bones ripped to pieces and scattered around. The rocks themselves are marked with demonic faces, deep carvings into the rocky surface. 3 of the faces face the fire pit, two of the faces are turned away. The stones can be turned, but with difficulty, it will take several people working at once and putting all their effort in to turn the stone, and it takes about ten to fifteen minutes to turn each rock. If the rocks are all turned to face the fire pit, and a fire is lit in the pit, a low-level fire elemental will appear and attack the party. If the rocks are all turned to face away, and a fire is lit in the fire pit, a column of fire will appear and flash out of existence, leaving a clay mask matching the appearance of the demonic faces.
If worn, the wearer becomes hungry for raw meat. If they do not consume fresh meat within an hour, they lose 2 HPs. This continues every hour until they eat raw meat. The mask can be removed; doing so leaves the wearer cursed with the facial appearance matching the demonic face on the stones…but no longer hungry for raw meat.
Main Entrance: Up the steps to the left leads to a chamber featuring alcoves on the left and the right, with various shattered pots and scattered debris. Towards the far left there is a half shattered statue carved from basalt, most of its upper half missing. the lower half appears to be a male humanoid. There is a smell of incense coming from the stairs at the top right.
Desolate Chamber: Three bodies of robed figures lie strewn across the floor, and two other robed figures are hunched over them, hungrily feasting on the flesh. Not undead, these cultists are crazed with hunger for raw meat; their eyes are crazed and bloodshot. They do not hear the player characters approaching (unless they’re especially noisy). They are armed with ceremonial daggers that grant them +1 non-magical bonus to attack rolls and damage.
The door leading to the right is flanked by two pillars that have different demonic faces carved into them than the ones on the rocks at the entrance. the pillars are painted blue and have hieroglyphs carved and painted with golden coloring. If anyone is capable of reading infernal or has ancient history, they’re able to discern the name of a demon: Uhsuul. The door itself is locked, and requires rotating the pillars in 3 segments each: Upper Middle Lower to align them to read Uhsuul is King; a false result will spell out Ithral Offers Wealth; solving the puzzle incorrectly shocks anyone touching the pillar for 2d4 lightning damage and does not open the door.
Inner Sanctum of Uhsuul: small dog-like beast statues carved out of basalt rest on either side of the entrance to this chamber. At the far wall is what appears to be a massive door of crimson-hued rock carved with intricate infernal symbols. Anyone that can read infernal will decipher that the door says Feed Me and I shall be Whole Again. The door cannot be opened, except if someone smears blood on the door, and then the whole dungeon begins to shake and tremble and Uhsuul begins to manifest in the room, a fiery demon of large size that seeks to destroy everything around it. 7HD Fire Demon, fully materializes in 2d6 rounds.
Treasure Hold: This rocky chamber carved into the mountain houses several sacks of silver pieces, as well as fine plates and other trinkets worth about 200 gp total. These were collected by the cultists from throughout the dungeon but they turned on each other and started a feeding frenzy.
Whew! Well that’s all I have to share tonight, that’s issue #1 of Chris Mennell Presents.
I hope you enjoyed what I shared, and I hope you find at least the art and Dyson’s map useful for your needs, again including commercial ones! I thoroughly enjoyed this, even if the dungeon was out of my element — I typically run dungeons off the cuff, I don’t really write things down, so this was new for me. And it’s lacking stats for things because that’s not a strong suit — if anyone has suggestions for how to present information for a dungeon in a better format let me know, I’m happy to listen!
Finally, if I can ask, if you did enjoy this, please invite your friends to subscribe as well. I’m so happy having the opportunity to share my writing and the art of my friends and I look forward to doing this again next week!
If you’d like to support me, I set up a Patreon where you can pledge $1, which is just awesome to me. Certainly not a requirement by any means. You can do so here: http://patreon.com/chrismennell
Thank you again…until next week!