Necromancer’s Atlas: The Great Cuttle, a Dungeon23 Project

Early in December 2022, Sean McCoy (designer behind the Mothership RPG and Two Rooms and a Boom) made a tweet that’s spawned quite a movement in the online tabletop RPG sphere:

This quickly picked up steam, leading Sean to make a more detailed post on his Substack, which added more fuel to the fire. And now it’s all I see on various social media streams, which is bloody awesome.

So, of course, I’m going to do this…with a little Rainy City twist.

Let’s explore The Great Cuttle megadungeon together, shall we?

As a bit of set-up, here’s the original game night call from 2019 that spawned this idea. It was for a one shot Rainy City session, so naturally instead of keeping things small and contained, I came up with a megadungeon idea. Typical Devenney…

Tales of the Rainy City: The Curious Jaunt of the Nautilus Dove

The Windy Season is behind us. The Quiet Season is upon us. And refugee traffic into the Rainy City has started to pick back up after falling off during the Windy Season. It’s a time to scrape the barnacles off the boat, stretch out creaky limbs, hoist the main mast, sharpen the cutlass, and sail the Swells again, looking for refugee salvage, the One That Got Away, or that damned blackhearted pirate you just can’t stand to see the face of anymore. What a time to be alive!

In the piss pots and public houses of Vagabond Bay, the talk bubbling up, in amongst chat on the recent Dragon Boat Festival race and the latest seas duels between the pirates of Rickety and the Admiralty, is the curious jaunt of the Nautilus Dove, a recent refugee ship floating dead in the water somewhere between Rickety and the Bobber Sea. 

Refugee ships making it past the Outer Swells wrecked and ruined with all hands lost are pretty common and are key targets for salvage operations (it’s basically how Rickety survives, after all). If unmolested by Rickety scavengers, such dead hulls drift near the Rainy City, eventually washing up near Vagabond Bay, where city salvagers of all sorts take over. 

But the Nautilus Dove is curious. It has not drifted towards Vagabond Bay. In fact, it remains fairly stationary between Rickety and the Bobber Sea. It has also not remained unmolested. In fact, at least three crews from Rickety that are known have sailed to the Nautilus Dove, but none have returned whole. 

Gee Willy Will and his crew of cutthroats were the ones to find the Nautilus Dove, with the pirate Dirty Jim’s boat, Soapy, floating adrift nearby, Dirty Jim and his crew long gone. Willikers sent some men into the Nautilus Dove. They did not come out. Gee Willy cut his losses and lived to tell the tale. Then Barnacle Bill Pushings got his dander up, and blessed by a wayward gull feather that landed in his rum, set out to take the Nautilus Dove for himself. But alas, the Gull’s Brush was but a Brush Off, and Bill Pushing’s Rickety berth has already been claimed by another. Most curious indeed. The Nautilus Dove must be filled with such dangers to claim so many able pirates.

Clearly these Rickety ruffians and scalawags are showing their ineptitude when it comes to salvage. Surely someone from the City, a reputable salvage crew perhaps, will show the pirate scum how it’s done. Absolutely the dangers are exaggerated. Assuredly there must be excellent salvage and wealth in the wreck. Such is the talk in Vagabond Bay this rainy, quiet day…

I made a few sketches on some notecards to prep for the session, one of which was the secret of what was beneath the dead in the water Nautilus Dove:

The original sketch of the Great Cuttle. I’m an historian by training and throw nothing away.

A few more notecards laid out some other details, a ganked ship layout from some old 3rd Edition module provided the Nautilus Dove, and the session was ready. And, as usually happens, being a one shot, we never followed up on it. And the prep went into my Rainy City Field Notes notebook from that time…until now!

So, what is the Great Cuttle?

Well, it’s a giant alien cuttlefish free floating in the Inner Swells somewhere between Rickety and the Bobber Sea. And other than the notecard sketch above and some other notes I made at the time, I don’t really know.

The spirit of Dungeon23 seems to me to be about the habits of creation itself and the discovery of it all, not to create some sort of product at the end (although that is obviously my secondary motivation here). So while I have some notion of what’s going on, I guess we’re going to see together.

Is it the abandoned avatar of long dead god that’s still alive but not? Is it a vast ocean beast trapped in some sort of stasis prison, unable to react as the denizens build through and consume it (that’s pretty dark)? Is it a living, floating arc created by some powerful wizard to survive the flooding of worlds?

I guess we’ll see. I’ll post weekly updates to the feed here. You can select out either the category “Publisher’s Blog” or “Dungeon23” to add just these posts to your blogroll, if you so choose.

In terms of mechanics, I plan to key this for Into the Odd Remastered by Chris McDowall and Johan Nohr. The rules-light system lends itself very well to this kind of megadungeon, and the fact that I don’t have a lot of space to play with (which will keep me from overworking on this, maybe!).

Last week, as a warm up, I sketched out and keyed a part of the initial starting zone for the Great Cuttle. On the surface floats the Wake Fields, a mass of shipwrecks, dead beasts, and other flotsam and jetsam extending out from the Nautilus Dove itself at the very center. To get to the wrecked ship, one must navigate the Fields, not an easy task!

Ideally, I would sketch out all four sections of the Wake Fields, but for now, I’m going to stick with this, and start figuring out what’s underneath it all.

Yes, I am writing and drawing small here. The notebook, a Hobonichi Techno weekly planner is not super large.

See you all next week!

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