Tuesday 16 February 2021

72 encounters from the City of Spires

 Apologies for the two month silence. The Covid situation has fucked things up. 

Anyway. The City of Spires campaign is still going strong, and will soon rival my previous Team Tsathogga game for the sheer number of sessions played. The PCs took over their city and have now transitioned from ruin-crawling scavengers to ambitious oligarchs, rebuilding infrastructure and establishing trade routes and clearing out the last of the old monsters from what they now regard as their territory. In the process they have encountered so much stuff that, as the Gawain poet put it, 'Hit were to tore for to telle of þe tenþe dole' - so, instead of boring everyone with campaign write-ups that no-one cares about, I've made a list of all the random nonsense that the PCs have stumbled into over the last eighteen months and put it on a series of tables instead. Feel free to roll on it next time you need a random encounter in the crumbling fantasy city-state of your choice!

(And, yes, everything on this list has appeared in the campaign. The PCs managed to make friends with most of it.)

Roll 1d6 + 1d12: 1d6 for category, 1d12 for encounter


  1. Tombs and Tunnels
  2. Magical remnants
  3. Trade and crime
  4. Encampments and settlements
  5. Monsters
  6. Power players

1: Tomb and Tunnels

  1. Disintegrating necropolis of blue-tiled mausolea infested with burly, stinking ape-like creatures covered in matted purple fur. They lair in desecrated burial chapels and eat carrion.
  2. A tottering tower in which nests a great winged beast, with poisonous breath and skin like lead. It was once the pet of a tyrant-king who now lies buried beneath its tower, clutching his cruel law-code in his huge, skeletal hands. His enchanted crown fills the wearer with unnatural hungers: the more that these are slaked, the larger and stronger the wearer grows, and the more powerful their urges become. 
  3. A dusty graveyard in which the sense of misfortune is almost palpable, haunted by shadowy beings that can choose to appear as wild dogs, or as dust-clouds, or as armoured men with the heads of jackals. In a pit at its heart lives a grotesque, giggling ape-demon, which knows the locations of many hidden treasures but takes a sadistic pleasure in toying with and tormenting those desperate enough to come to it for aid.
  4. Ancient burial chamber with a stone sarcophagus at its centre, its walls riddled with cracks and holes. If the sarcophagus is disturbed then an awful protoplasmic slime will surge up from within, attempting to grab hold of someone and crawl inside them just as it once did to the unfortunate soul buried here, using them for its own alien purposes: meanwhile, a small army of tiny, wizened, mummified lizard-creatures will come pouring from the holes in the walls, intent on tearing apart anything in the chamber. (They are immune to the slime, and were placed here to watch over it.) Magical treasures of the ancient world await anyone capable of besting both threats.
  5. Immense tomb surrounded by a high wall, covered in layer upon layer of scratched signs warding against misfortune. Here, according to local tradition, a cruel king was once buried, and the people still regard it as a place of ill-omen, blaming all their misfortunes on his restless and vindictive ghost. Anyone listening at its lead-sealed door can hear something flapping and fluttering around inside it. (No further details on this one - my PCs haven't been in yet!)
  6. Immense pit leading down to a vast, vaulted concrete chamber where immense iron serpents hang coiled on the walls, the slumbering war machines of a now-vanished civilisation. One of them is still semi-active and will attempt to repel intruders, turning its huge spotlight eyes upon them, its speakers blaring warnings in long-dead languages as it slithers forwards to attack.
  7. Sinkhole leads down into tunnels infested with long-armed, semi-intelligent subterranean humanoids with coal-black skin, who scurry across walls and ceilings like spiders and reach down to strangle intruders. Anyone who can make it past them will reach a complex containing the blinking, semi-functional terminals of ancient artificial intelligences, which - if contacted - will be enraged to learn that the civilisation that built them has fallen into ruin while they slept.
  8. Recently-unearthed tunnels lead to battered subterranean laboratory guarded by animated skeletons wearing tattered military uniforms and wielding basket-hilted swords. Beyond lie flickering electric lights, bloodstained cages, scattered bones, and a computer monitor playing a looped distress signal on continuous repeat. 
  9. Tunnels inhabited by a pale young woman with silvery circuitry imprinted across her skin, marking her as the priestess of a being she calls 'the Black Messenger', whom she believes to be a long-forgotten underworld god of journeys. The Messenger is actually the still semi-functional corporate AI of the city's old maglev subway system, which is extremely anxious about the fact that its trains are running thousands of years behind schedule, and would very much like its rubble-choked tunnels cleared before the negative customer feedback starts coming in.
  10. Half-flooded ruin of a once-noble mansion. The family that dwelt here fought to the last man in defence of their homes, and their furious ghosts will animate their shattered bones to avenge themselves on would-be trespassers and thieves.
  11. Buildings with doors nailed shut from the inside, haunted by the anguished ghosts of those who starved to death within them. 
  12. Nailed-shut trapdoor in a chapel basement leads down to a vault whose walls are lined with skeletons resting in alcoves. A bronze bell hangs from the ceiling, and a pair of engraved brass doors lead to a chamber in which a dead princess lies in skeletal splendour on her bier, flanked by the bones of her handmaidens and bodyguards. Each night at dusk one of the skeletons animates and rings the bell, causing the princess and her attendants to rise from their tombs for their nightly prayers before returning to their eternal rest: the tolling of this bell is faintly audible in the chapel above. The princess is a pious soul who will be horrified to hear of the state of the city, and eager to help restore it to glory, but her undead attendants will not allow her to leave. 

2: Magical remnants
  1. Fortified estate of a sorceress still guarded by clumsily-built magical servitors with emaciated bodies and shining eyes. They refuse to stand down until they receive orders from their maker, who has spent the last eleven years in suspended animation in a meditation chamber within the estate, watched over by a terrible invisible guardian.
  2. The secret study of some vanished magician contains maps showing the way to a half-legendary mountain where the ancients embalmed and buried their most esteemed dead, accompanied by disturbingly-well-developed plans for retrieving the corpses of the sages of antiquity and wringing their secrets out of them by magical force. 
  3. Wrecked home of a long-dead wizard. In a secret chamber beneath seven flaming demons sit patiently inside a summoning circle, singing softly to themselves, waiting for the inevitable earthquake.
  4. Sealed house containing the silk-robed bones of a dead magician, whose pack contains stoppered bone scroll cases documenting his unwise excavations beneath the city, and the ancient secrets that he discovered there. 
  5. Abandoned estate inhabited by spooky extended family with innate magical gifts, who tell far-fetched stories about how their ancestress emerged from the impenetrable swamplands of the west, no doubt a fugitive princess or something equally romantic. For a sufficient bribe of alcohol their matriarch can be persuaded to reveal the location of their ancestress's grave, but may neglect to mention its undead guardians.
  6. A woman with skin the colour of ash searches the ruins, surrounded always by the smell of smoke. Feral creatures that might once have been human scamper at her heels like dogs, covered in masses of tangled black hair. She claims to be searching for magical items that will help her reunite her 'family', and offers to share arcane secrets with anyone who will help her in her work.
  7. Shattered laboratory cloaked in fast-growing stranglevines, leaking weird chemicals into the surrounding soil and water, causing the local vermin to grow to prodigious size. If the chemicals could be gathered up and deployed in less concentrated forms they would be immensely valuable as fertiliser.
  8. An enchanted tree with shining leaves that drives all those who pass beneath its branches mad with rage, surrounded by the scattered bones of animals that killed one another in their fury.
  9. Heavily fortified building full of ancient alchemical machines, where the rulers of the city convert their favoured henchmen into scale-covered mutants, the better to enforce their cruel edicts upon the people. Those whose minds or bodies are left too warped to be useful are kept in pits, mad and bestial, held back for use as an emergency attack force in times of need.
  10. Ruined streets roamed by clanking skeletons held together with metal struts and joints, steam engines bolted to their ribcages, clouds of black smoke pouring constantly from the smokestacks welded to their spines. At the heart of their territory is a surprisingly well-maintained smithy, from which the sound of hammering can be heard echoing at all hours. (Again, no details on what's inside yet - my PCs haven't been in!)
  11. Dilapidated palace inhabited by an ancient woman guarded by flickering semi-humanoid locust-warriors. She is the last true devotee of a long-suppressed religion, but now that everything has fallen apart she sees no further need to conceal her faith. In her home she keeps a human corpse tied to a chair, through the dead mouth of which something speaks with a loud, booming voice, and visits it whenever she is in need of oracles.
  12. Sacred subterranean meditation chamber guarded by a hovering angel of blue light, its face smashed to fragments. Any unrighteous soul who tries to enter will be struck by coruscating blue lightning. Those who are allowed to pass within can, by meditation, establish psychic contact with certain roaring elemental beings of pure force, who wordlessly communicate their desire for the city to be cleansed of the evils that infest it.

3: Trade and Crime
  1. A low opium den, where those who pass beyond the tattered yellow curtains can enjoy the dubious pleasures of stained couches, clouds of opium smoke, and decanters of sour wine. Miserable serving girls cater to the thuggish clientele, under the watchful eye of a withered landlady and the gigantic bravo whom she pays to guard the door. Every one of them would burn the place down in a heartbeat if she thought she could get away with it. 
  2. Tailor's shop, where terrified children labour at sight-destroying embroidery work under the supervision of their cruel and supercilious taskmaster, who - frustratingly enough - genuinely has excellent taste in clothes, ensuring that his services are much in demand among what remains of the city's great and good. 
  3. Market stall selling honeyed pastries, popular with a variety of local workers. Its keeper is actually part of a conspiracy that aims to seize control of the city, and among her regular customers are several of their agents, to whom she passes secret briefings and communications in the form of papers wrapped around the pastries that they buy. 
  4. Stimulant-fuelled consortium of perpetually-desperate market traders, who live in fear and hatred of the talking silver skull they have hidden under their guildhall, which always tells them where more money is to be found but insists upon them debasing and disfiguring themselves in exchange for every treasure. (In my campaign, it eventually turned out that this skull was a mouthpiece for the ape-demon at 1-3.)
  5. Stall manned by weary, travel-stained merchants selling miserly quantities of adulterated tea, coffee, and spices, imported with great cost and labour from foreign parts, watched hawkishly by preening guards in the employ of the city's government who are trying to work out just how much to demand for the 'import taxes' that they've just made up on the spot.
  6. Ragged school run by an outlaw occultist turned schoolteacher, much happier in his new life but perpetually anxious about his blood-soaked past catching up with him. 
  7. A desecrated temple inhabited by dropout temple acolytes turned wannabe cultists of the dark powers, usually drunk and hopelessly in debt to the gangsters who provide them with all their drugs. Have just enough forbidden magic to be dangerous to themselves and others.
  8. Encampment of bandits turned opportunistic slavers, led by a thuggish drunkard who spends most of his time in an alcoholic stupor. His second in command is a violent and badly-traumatised woman who seeks to convert the band to her apocalyptic religion, convinced that their bloody work is a righteous punishment visited upon the city for its many sins.
  9. Huge dome of near-unbreakable glass that once served as a prison, long since taken over by its inmates, now the home of bellicose and anarchic 'crime tribes' who roam the surrounding ruins, resplendent in their gang colours. They feud constantly among themselves, but will unite instantly against outsiders.
  10. Shattered noble house now degenerated into a mere street gang, its scions roaming the streets with jewelled knives tucked into their sashes, extracting the 'tribute' they believe themselves to be owed by their 'subjects', at dagger-point if necessary. Their leader is a mere girl, skinny and malnourished but crazy-confident, with the pride of a duchess and a conviction that empire is her birthright. She lives in the three-quarters-ruined home of her ancestors, followed everywhere by a flock of mad and feral peacocks.
  11. Old trade route rendered impassable by an infestation of savage, loping, fur-covered humanoids who lair up in the hills to either side of the road, filling the night with their mournful, sonorous howling.
  12. Pilgrim road that once led to a site of great spiritual significance, its sides dotted with wayside shrines and ruined, dust-choked caravanseris, a few of which still have functional wells and water-holes hidden beneath all the rubble and sand. No-one has walked its length in over a decade, now, and what - if anything - remains at the far end of it now is anyone's guess.

4: Encampments and Settlements
  1. Community of fisher-folk living by the side of a river: they have dug a wide trench from the river around their houses, effectively turning their district into an island for ease of defence. Their red-sailed boats range far and wide along the river. Their leader is a rough and weather-beaten man with a not-so-secret weakness for crab and lobster, who will happily lend the PCs boats and crews in exchange for particularly fine crustaceans. 
  2. Rows of shattered porcelain manufacturies, now inhabited by tusked and snuffling beastmen, placid unless provoked but suspicious of outsiders.
  3. Community of isolationists in a walled settlement, who have ringed the land around them with networks of hidden traps to discourage intruders.
  4. Miserable village devoted to the cultivation of opium poppies under the command of brutal overseers, who punish villagers found raising any other crop. The people are sick and scared and half-starved, kept too weak and demoralised to challenge their oppressors. 
  5. Stockade in the ruins guarded by men in bronze masks, with polished copper shields: they carry crossbows, and are extremely wary of outsiders. Within, a small community of desperate souls has coalesced around a miracle-working teenager, whose prophetic visions help her in guiding her people, but whose alarming fits and seizures suggest that she probably does not have long left to live.
  6. Demoralised mining town up in the hills. The local lord is depressed, sunk in gloomy reflection on the sins of his ancestors, while his neglected children run wild on the hills outside. Something horrible has taken up residence in the copper mines, putting them out of action, and now the whole community faces ruin unless something can be done.
  7. Village of wretched pastoralists languishing under the dubious 'protection' of a bandit gang in a hilltop fort, who raid the nearby roads and prey upon the people at will. In the centre of the village stands a crude idol of hacked wood depicting a winged woman, sacred to the cruel faith that their bandit overlords have imposed upon them. 
  8. Painstakingly cleared area of ruins irrigated and farmed by bent-backed labourers, too stubborn to leave their homes even after all the disasters that have fallen upon them, and led by a council of elders even more bent and stubborn than they are. Rickety watchtowers ring their fields, allowing them to spot trouble coming from afar.
  9. Stockaded hinterland settlement built around a fragment of the old irrigation network that still functions, guarding its water like gold, surrounded on all sides by desertified farmland and abandoned villages. 
  10. Vast sinkhole in the ruins. Climbing far enough down its treacherous sides will take one to a subterranean complex flooded by acrid-smelling but highly-fertile chemical slurry from some ancient alchemical laboratory. This complex is inhabited by isolationist humans who use the chemicals to grow crops of pale, flabby edible fungi, making it one of the few places in the region where food is actually abundant. Years below the ground has left them pretty pale and flabby themselves, and they fear outsiders.
  11. Zealous would-be warrior and his followers hard at work domesticating and training giant rats as steeds, hoping to thereby make up for their lack of horses.
  12. Column of wretched refugees, expelled from their homes by an imperious lord who values their land more as a hunting preserve than as a village, stumbling through the ruins in search of a new home.  

5: Monsters
  1. An infestation of demonic monkeys with charred flesh, knowing smiles, and wickedly hooked brass claws. The spell that summons them is distressingly easy to learn.
  2. Ruins hung with corpses, each with spikes hammered through their eye-sockets into the bricks beneath. These are the hunting grounds of an accursed thief, who stole an enchanted hammer from a dark temple and fell under its power: now he kills by instinct and has a hypnotic gaze, enabling him to mesmerise his victims into waiting passively to be killed. If the hammer was taken from him he could yet be saved, but anyone taking it from him risks falling under its curse.
  3. Ruined house whose basement contains a nest of insane human-snake hybrids, the results of botched experiments, who sleep through the cold months and creep out in summer in search of prey. (In my campaign they were created in the building at 2-9.)
  4. Area overrun by giant worms, ruled over by a crazed individual who encountered some kind of 'worm-god' beneath a distant mountain and now serves as its self-appointed 'priest'. He's more worm than man himself, now, his eyes mere pits of ooze, his body slimy and segmented and covered in thick, bristly hairs. He is served by a retinue of keening radioactive zombies. (In my campaign he'd come from the mountain described at 2-2.)
  5. Royal park and menagerie now fallen into utter neglect, overrun with strange exotic plants. The cages are all rusted and empty, and weird beasts from far-off lands now lurk in the undergrowth.
  6. Ruined district overgrown with trees and alive with songbirds. Desperate, tangle-bearded, ex-human cannibals lurk in the basements of these overgrown buildings, warped by the sinister powers to which, in their utter misery, they have surrendered themselves. Their flesh is woody and fibrous, resistant to blades and bludgeons but still vulnerable to axes or fire.
  7. Ruined distillery infested with feral ghouls. Most are mad and naked and bestial, but their leader retains enough mental coherence to talk, dress himself in flapping black robes, and consecrate their kills to a grim divinity that he believes to dwell in the mountains to the south. The copper distilling equipment that litters the building could be used to produce quantities of raw alcohol, valuable both as a trade good and as a means of setting things on fire.
  8. Ruined temple built around a courtyard in which stands a fountain, choked with translucent paralytic slime. Dormant during the day, this slime-beast stirs into activity in the moonlight, glowing with iridescent colours as it squirms around the temple, reaching upwards with a thousand waving tendrils towards its distant lunar home. Three blank-faced servitors roam the ruins on its behalf, feeding it whatever they can catch, from squirrels to people. Its paralysis-inducing slime could make a powerful weapon if harvested.
  9. Wrecked complex in which every surface is covered in soot: if disturbed, this soot hurtles together to form roaring 'smoke giants', horribly solid when they want to be but capable of bursting apart into clouds of whirling soot if threatened. (If killed while solid, however, they stay dead.) Sealed boxes in a basement contain more such giants, ready to leap into life as soon as their lids are pulled off. 
  10. Abandoned temple, its doors barricaded shut. Within, a vast network of wire hangs like a huge metal cobweb across its vaulted ceiling. Animated corpses crawl across this web like spiders, and will drop down to attack anyone who ventures within. Powerful holy items litter the floor, abandoned during the panicked flight that occurred when the temple became the abode of horror it is today.
  11. Ruined streets overrun by flocks of aggressive dire pigeons, the unfortunate outcome of an ambitious attempt to construct a carrier pigeon network among the surrounding settlements.
  12. Ruined manor house guarded by rusted iron automata in the shape of humanoid eagles, slow and heavy but nearly unkillable, their beaks and talons still murderously sharp. Within are furnished chambers that bear witness to a hasty evacuation - a rich looting opportunity, if it wasn't for the automata. In a barricaded room upstairs lie the corpses of the house's masters, around the unwisely-opened sarcophagus of the horror that killed them, which ever since has crawled out of a hole in the ceiling each dusk to trouble the city by night. 

6: Power players
  1. Outcast clockworkers wearing outlandish mechanical prostheses, crazed and scarred and mutilated by years of ruin-delving, guarded by a retinue of kitbashed automata which carry them and their gear from place to place as they search for relics of lost technology, dreaming of the day they will return in glory to the guild that cast them out and trying not to think too hard about all the lives they've sacrificed along the way. 
  2. A disconsolate child being raised in total isolation by a resurrected bandit-king and a highly-strung vat-born butler. Her jewellery proves her to be the last surviving heir of a noble house otherwise believed extinct. (In my campaign she was the heir to the house at 1-10.)
  3. Isolated estate housing a proud lord, his troop of black-clad horsemen, and his many, many illegitimate children. One of his older sons, a skilled and relentless huntsman, is being groomed as his successor. The lord's latest teenage mistress is thoroughly sick of his brutish ways, and would happily betray him to his enemies in exchange for a chance at freedom.
  4. A walled monastery guards the relics of ancient holy wars from the sinful world outside. Some of these 'relics' are actually pieces of pre-cataclysm technology, coveted by a band of rogue technologists who lair nearby, plotting how best to steal them from their current guardians.
  5. A plaza with a gigantic, crippled clockwork war machine slumped along one side of it, guarded round the clock by agents of the city's rulers. Under cover of darkness, ratfolk from beneath the city come creeping up with scavenged fragments of machinery from the underworld, which the guards buy from them in the hope of eventually repairing the war machine enough to render it fully operational. It's slow going, but they are making progress...
  6. Palace of a monstrous despot who never leaves his stronghold, his movements weirdly inhuman, his body covered by voluminous silken gowns. His whole body from the waist down is a single mass of squirming, spitting, biting poisonous snakes, a fact that he is at some pains to conceal from his subjects.
  7. Gilded barge setting off on tribute-gathering mission for the city's rulers, packed with empty crates and barrels that will soon be stuffed with confiscated goods and foodstuffs under the watchful eyes of the city's soldiers. The mission is overseen by one of the government's chief enforcers, a towering bruiser long since grown cynical about the regime he serves. Convinced that the city is doomed, he carries out his duties with impersonal cruelty while keeping his ears open for hints of better opportunities elsewhere.
  8. Deposed queen kept under house arrest in one wing of her confiscated palace, attended by a staff of bored and inattentive handmaidens, her remaining jewels and wardrobe regularly plundered to adorn the wives and daughters of the city's current masters. Starved of activity, she spends her days weaving elaborate but improbable plans for her revenge.
  9. Soldiers patrolling the city by night in polished helmets and breastplates, holding lanterns on the end of long poles, peering fearfully into the dark corners that loom on every side. They carry halberds and crossbows, and will willingly engage human foes, but flee at once if they cross paths with any of the true horrors of the city.
  10. Fortified tower, home to a reclusive noble family who barely ever leave their home. Their treasures and trinkets are being sold off piecemeal to fund their luxurious lifestyle, the tower dotted with empty alcoves and half-filled bookcases that bear witness to the slow but steady evaporation of their wealth. The windows are all filled with tinted glass, blocking out the world outside, and the family themselves view any allusion to the current state of the city as being the height of rudeness and vulgarity. 
  11. Bustling manor house full of activity, soldiers and servants coming and going, the master of the house ensconced in his study while his three tall sons practise riding and swordsmanship outside. Closer examination reveals flaws everywhere, cracks in the masonry, peeling paintwork, the household accounts recording a thousand sordid compromises with the reigning powers. The head of the house maintains his stiff and military bearing but his heart is breaking by inches. He has almost given up on any hope of a better future.
  12. Fastidious visiting emissary from a neighbouring city-state, whose veil cannot quite conceal his unnatural dead-grey skin. Accompanied everywhere by silent bodyguards in black and silver liveries. He believes that this city's ruinous condition means that it is high time someone else took charge, and is willing to pay for information that might help his masters seize and consolidate power in these lands.


  1. Bookmarked, this all looks fantastic and I'll have to loot it as much as possible later

  2. This sounds like a super fun campaign!

    Also, these tables are a great resource. Do you have all these little dungeons mapped out? It'd be cool to see them.

    1. Thanks! Some got mapped, but they're mostly just small complexes with 1-3 'encounter areas' each, so I'm not sure how much the maps would add. The campaign usually operated on a more zoomed-out level, with the different districts of the city playing the same role that the different rooms in a dungeon would normally play.

  3. This might have come up before, but what game system are these campaigns in?

    1. B/X, lightly modified. Most crucially, we've ditched the XP system in favour of 'everyone levels up whenever it makes sense', which is why we're 50+ sessions in and the PCs are still only level 5!

  4. This is an amazing resource! I wish I had it when I was running my Exalted game.

    1. Thanks! Though I fear Exalted-level PCs would run roughshod over most of this stuff unless it was all scaled up by a few orders of magnitude...

  5. I think people probably would enjoy reading your session write ups, but I can imagine that with a backlog of this length you wouldn’t enjoy writing them, which is more important.

    1. Oh, I absolutely couldn't write it all up from the start at this stage - we're 18 months in! I *could* start doing writeups of more recent sessions, but without context I'm not sure that there would be much reason for anyone to care about it. So I'll probably just keep mining it for more general resources, as in this post...

  6. This is really cool. Hope to hear more about your campaign soon.