With the imminent release of DCC, I find myself returning to my perennial project of converting the old, classic Macintosh computer game "Exile: Escape from the Pit" to a tabletop game world. I think DCC has a suitable amount of weird horror to fit this setting, but there are some challenges. I will think aloud about these a little later.
(N.B., I have hacked the original setting to fit into Jolly Blackburn's excellent Aldrazar, a slightly gonzo take on Greyhawk).
Far south of the idyllic and secure Fangerian City States lies the oppressive Goremunyan Empire. Once a small and peaceful coastal kingdom, the last Goremunyan lord was the first to discover the Pit, a sprawling and seemingly endless network of massive caves deep below the shelf of the earth. With their limited understanding of sorcery, the court mages worked furiously for over a decade to strengthen the tenuous portal to the underworld, and soon the first tentative expeditions were undertaken. The account of those early sojourns in the deep dark has been since lost, but part of the tale remains in popular memory, despite the attempts of the crown to suppress this history. The King and his army descended into the Pit on several occasions, on each journey going deeper and discovering more terrifying and wonderous things, until the elderly ruler returned with a single sword plumbed from the depths.
In his final days, the king bequethed this relic to his son, who would discontinue such forays into the Pit during his reign and turn his attention on his formerly allied neighbors. The newly dubbed Emperor would take the powerful artefact and use it to conquer these realms, absorbing them into his new dominion and ruling over their people as second class citizens. In the aftermath of the long and brutal war, the Pit would once again serve a purpose. Any critic, dissident or enemy of Emperor's ambition would be cast without trial through the portal and forced into a lifetime of lightless confinement, thousands of leagues beneath the earth. Successive generations of eerily identical Emperors would continue this policy, filling the Pit with every manner of murderer, criminal, freethinker and innocent bystander alike.
A tattered parchment letter, found on a lizard-gnawed skeleton:
My Liege, contained herein is a true account of the underworld realm of Exile, including a study of all its benighted inhabitants, bizarre terrains and unspeakable horrors; in short, the end result of the thirteen year mission to the deepest depths commanded by your Lordship. Humbly, I offer my findings...
My review of these darkened lands is that they can be of little use to your Lordship. The people here are of weak constitution and live their squalid lives between starvation, disease and being devoured by the unimaginable monstrosities of the deep. Life here is short and cheap and wandering outside of the poorly constructed fortifications of “settlement” entitles you only to a quick death at the fangs of the horrors that inhabit the surrounding impenetrable darkness. Whether there is mineral wealth to be found here is not apparent, as the exiles here (who call themselves “Avernites” with a misbegotten flicker of pride) arm themselves mostly with flint or other crude stone tools and weapons. The occasional iron or even steel equipment is seen, but is of such rarity that it is worth as much here as gold in our world. If there are crystals to be found, they are surely buried in the deepest, darkest caves such that any such expedition to recover them would be foolish and fatal.
With these findings, I must conclude that this blasted realm, so far from the golden sun that is but a distant memory, cannot be used for any sort of profit or gain. In these long, cold, terrifying years, I have surveyed all the regions that men dare explore and some in addition. With this, I beg your Lordship to allow my return to your kingdom. This darkened realm in the deep hollows of the earth should be forgotten alongside its already forgotten inhabitants. Certainly I have learnt my lessons, and would serve humbly in your court once more with your Lordship’s blessing...