Fractal Galaxies uses a standard deck of playing cards to develop the large and small details. The card readings will just be using face cards plus jokers, while I'll be using the numbered cards to determine the shape of the reading (aka. "the spread") and to determine which suit is predominant.
First, I want to figure out the overall themes and conflicts:
The hearts represent the living world and the people who work with it, and the whole court is here. Kh represents these forces taken to their most powerful extreme, but the Kh is in the bottom, representing the past. Perhaps a leyline nexus is in this place, from which the font of life emanates. The Qh represents their suit at its most stable is on the left, the side of chaos. In that position, with the Kh beneath her, she cannot be tamed. 3/*
The clubs represent society and it's institutions, with Kc again taking that too far. At first I thought it'd be some kind of powerful cult, but it's on the side of Order which feels less subversive than a cult. The Fulcrum at the center of our reading is the Qs, representing the sure and stable application of technical knowledge. Not too reckless nor timid nor bold. All this makes me think that perhaps instead of a cult, we're looking at some kind of a Guild or College of Inventors. 4/*
Maybe they're trying to tap the leyline nexus to harness its vast power. And the Jh in the future tells us of a world weakened, fragile, and desperate. It's technical skill is simply not up to the task they're attempting and the Guild’s hubris will be our doom.
Each floor we descend through their experiments as they delved deeper, growing more sophisticated, but stretched beyond their limits while the Nexus energies lash out wildly.
Next I'd like to learn about the entrance to the dungeon. 5/*
A treacherous approach with some very well equipped (Ks) junior members of the Guild (Jc) outside, but they have some wild animals or biological weapons or great numbers (Kh) that aren’t apparent immediately. The joker indicates that the chaos and order in this situation are unmediated, unrelated, and don’t work together. Perhaps triggering the Kd is what allows access to circumvent or destroy the Kh etc.
I'd like the megadungeon to have multiple entry points but I'll figure that out later. 7/*
The treacherous physical approach where the main danger is unseen makes me think of a steep mountain gorge (probably because I live near those). Between a rocky river and rock slides, there's plenty of potential for chaotic physical danger. The Ks on the side of Order across from the Jd in Chaos makes me think of a dam or some other large, impressive technical achievement. But the Jc is in control of Ks, so maybe the dam was built too hastily. Maybe that's the Kh lurking in the Undercurrent. 8/*
If we have a dam, we should have hydropower! Pathfinder 2e's genre expectations don't totally rule out electrical power, which could definitely be cool and fits with the Kh vibe. The hydro power could be driving pumps bringing rubble and contaminated leyline energy up and sending air and electrical power down. The power station has workers maintaining the equipment and the dam and also conducting experiments on the contaminants that aren't getting dumped into the river. 9/*
That could be our initial plot hook! The river that feeds the town has become sluggish and runs low and now the water is poisoned! It's unsafe to drink and without the river, the town will have to be abandoned. Our heroes go to investigate! But what do they encounter first? Let's find out by finally coming up with our first room! 10/*
S.1 - The way upriver
I forgot to take a picture of the spread, but I wrote it down. It was a 4h, so living things are the main feature. And the spread was Jc and joker in "The Surface" and Js and joker in "The Undercurrent". The jokers represent *nothing*, so there's just no order in this situation. The Jc is some desperate, weak, aggressive, or minor Guild member and the Js means there's some secret technological thing with or driving them. 11/*
Since our predominant suit is hearts, which represents the Leyline, what if a lab accident exposed them to an awful dose of corrupted leyline energy and they're stumbling blindly down the gorge, dying, but lashing out miserably? Let's have two of these poor, doomed scientists be our first encounter and our first clue!
Recalling the physical treachery, let's say navigating the steep sides of the canyon off the path made by the Guild requires DC 15 climb checks between little outcrops. The river is easily navigated but drinking the water (or being knocked prone in it) functions as very diluted arsenic (DC13 instead of 18).
2 Poisoned Scientists
Our reading today was an easy one, the ace: 1s
The pip on the ace was face up so our reading with be a single card in the Surface. The predominant theme will be technological, so let's see what it is!
Jack of Diamonds which represent the non-living world. Physical resources and the people and institutions that work with them. Our Inventor Guild antagonists are almost certainly very interested in Diamonds, so the combination of technology with physical resources here makes a lot of sense. 14/*
A 1x room shouldn't have a much going on, so I see this more as an opportunity to open up different pathways for the players to choose from. The Jd in this case represents a vantage point that gives the players their first look of part of the facility (as represented by the spades). Perhaps there's a steep bend in the river and they can climb up to the ridgeline to see the dam and power station. 15/*
Then they can continue along the ridge, pass over the power station (which has a service entrance the Guild created that descends to straight to the second or third level down) to overlook the lake created by the dam where there's a natural cave entrance created by a spring that can be entered too. The spring is the entrance the Guild originally found before they made their own way in down at the power station. 16/*
From this vantage, players can see the dam driving a large waterwheel attached to the power station. They can see people working on the dam and on the outside of the power station, which is probably 2-3 floors. The people working are fixing up the dam, moving debris brought up from below, and dumping a barrel of toxins they're done with into the river. 17/*
The first thing to notice is that the Hearts are our predominant suit, so something related to life, living creatures, or the leyline nexus should be the focus. Also because of the way the 6 of hearts was dealt, most of the cards are in the Undercurrent, so most of what's going on here will be hard to spot until it's too late! 20/*
The Surface displays the Qd in Chaos, there's a moderate uncontrolled physical factor at play, and the joker leaves nothing at all in Order to counterbalance that. My first instinct is to make this be about the cannisters of poison getting dumped into the river and stored outside, but that feels more like a Qh/Kh dynamic in the Undercurrent, so let's come back to that. In this case, the Qd in Chaos could mean there's some nice bit of rock or something to make a secretive approach easier. 21/*
Partway up the chasm wall, there's a ledge that the party can skirt across to drop down onto the Power Station from above! But that Ks dominated by Qh lurks beneath! Perhaps an incautious party could send some scree tumbling down onto the cannisters below, triggering an explosion of poison gas that plumes straight up towards them! This would also alert the Guildmembers on the Dam and in the Power Station that Something(TM) is afoot! 22/*
Meanwhile, the Scientists and Technicians inside the Power Station (Qc) are cleaning up whatever accident created the poisoned scientists they saw earlier. They're wearing some kind of magical hazmat suits and have been sopping up toxins which could come into play as weapons if the alarm is raised (Ks and Kh).
Approaching along the ledge requires each member of the party to make a DC 15 acrobatics, athletics, stealth, or survival check, at least one of each must be attempted for the group. Each failure escalates the situation... in fact, this is a perfect situation to adapt #Pathfinder2e's rad as hell Infiltration subsystem! Each failed check or set off trigger adds to the Power Station's Alertness Level, with critical failures adding 2. At certain thresholds, the stakes and danger increases. 24/*
At this point, players can be approaching in 1 of 3 ways. Along the top of the ridge where they're basically skirting around this whole section. Along the ledge to get to the top of the Power Station. Or along the cart path on the valley floor. The latter is the easiest approach, but is also in the open. They can't hide as the walk up the cart path and will be readily seen by the workers outside the Power Station who will stop working to come talk to them. 25/*
Like most guilds of yore, this one jealously guards their secrets, but maybe one of the poisoned scientists from before could have had a badge or something that the players could recover undamaged. If they did, they could try a series of hard Deception checks to convince these workers that they're members. Each failure increases the Alertness level rather than immediately triggering a fight. That rising Alertness means increasing suspicion and more checks until the Alertness = 3. 26/*
When Alertness hits 3, they've had it with your bullshit, take your stolen badge, and tell you that you need to leave. They still don't attack you unless you refuse to leave, which will add more to Alertness until it hits 5 at which point they call more people to help deal with you. Critically, even if you leave, the Alertness stays at 3. The worker doesn't forget they saw you, but they don't yet feel like they need to do anything urgently and can go back to work. 27/*
I'm tired, so I'll get into this more later, but today's room - the inside of the Power Station - is going to be exciting! If you've been following along - and especially if you've read the rules for #FractalGalaxies - you might have some fun coming up with your own readings of this spread and seeing how similar or different ours are.
Again with the joker in Surface Order! I swear I'm shuffling every time. This Guild is really struggling! Ks/Qs shows that technology is in chaos with that Kh smugly sitting beneath them all laughing.
7d ruling over this scene makes me think the accident we've gotten clues of so far is still not under control and had to do with the technological attempts to control the physical environment. The Dam, the pumps, the screw bringing stuff up from below, etc. 30/*
Because it's fun and cool, and We've got Ks and Kh on either end of Chaos against a joker and Jc mediated by a Js (the Queens balance somewhat), I think that chaos is just the overwhelming vibe here. The Power generator is shooting electricity all over, the corrupted lifeforce energy of the leyline has been zapped and come alive as an ooze, Guildmembers in hazmat armor are desperately trying to control the situation.... 31/*
So I want a complex electrical hazard, an ooze boss, and some hazmat guild agents. Since the guild and ooze will be fighting each other instead of/in addition to the party, I can push the whole thing to be more dangerous than a level 1 party should be able to handle. There could be an opportunity here for the party to gain favor from the guild by saving them from the ooze. 32/*
Another way to make the whole encounter more dangerous and play up the themes of H/C+S conflict is to give the ooze poison, positive, and negative properties! So as it's hurting people, it's also healing them. As the wounded conditions stack up though, the situation can still get dangerous, but it'll give the party way more staying power than a level 1 party should have while creating a weird tension because getting close can heal or hurt you. 33/*
So what if the key to the encounter is a series of crafting checks to get the power station to stop electrocuting everyone, something the guild members are particularly good at, but they need help keeping the ooze away from them long enough to work. The encounter then has two objectives, stop the ooze and fix the power station... OR! Help the ooze kill the guild agents (a dangerous ally) and destroy the power station on the way to destroying the dam!!!!! Long term consequences for what's below!
So I drew my next reading and got overwhelmed because it felt like too much for what I was expecting to do. But tonight I remembered that just because a reading has a lot going on doesn't mean I have to make it especially dangerous or high stakes. I calmed myself down and resolved to keep on keeping on. Let's take a see.
Since the predominant suit is hearts, we're going to be looking at the other end of the lake where a spring flows up from the depths issuing from a cave and there a Guild house has been built with a farm to produce food and whatnot for the guild members working here.
Hearts tells us that living things is what this area is about, and perhaps that simply means that the farm is center of our attention. 39/*
If the PCs had helped the folks at the Power Station and built up some goodwill... this makes me realize the final version of this should use the Reputation subsystem so players can end up working for the Guild - which is incompatible with helping the town because they need the dam destroyed and for the Guild to stop poisoning them. But I digress.... If the PCs come in peace with a chaperone, they can get some information and perhaps even some consumables. 41/*
S.6 - Guild Garden - Severe 1
2 Elite Apothecaries
If the fight moves into the building, there are bubbling beakers and cauldrons and whatnot that can be tipped over for an action, splashing one adjacent space (DC 15 basic Reflex). Roll a random effect from level 1 alchemical items and apply its effect on a failed save or half as much on a successful one. The Apothecaries roll before deciding which space to send it.
So far we've got
S.1 - Entering the valley: moderate 1
S.2 - Lookout
S.3 - Outside the Power Station
S.4 - Inside the Power Station
S.5 - The Guild House
Tonight, I'm adding a quick one. I drew an Ace of Diamonds and a Queen of Hearts. This simple drawing reminded me of something I said back in S.2 and S.3 but never followed up on. Players have the option to climb up the ridgeline and pass over the Power Station entirely and come down into the Lake behind it. 44/*
S.6 - The Ridgeline
The ridgeline provides an excellent view of everything and in particular, let's the players see down into the lake. From this high angle they can see that something huge and amorphous is moving around in the depths. The dam - and thus the lake - is new, and so is this creature. It's the coagulating leyline energies that will turn into something if left to grow. 45/*
NOTE: I thought the Guild House was S.6 and labeled that encounter wrong.
I wanted to add some rooms without doing a reading just because I felt like I already had so much to go on that these other rooms were just extensions of what we already have.
In particular, I'd like to add an upstairs to the Power Station, where there's a trashed laboratory complete with busted cages of animals that had been exposed to the same stuff that had infected that first Guildmember the party ran into. Also I want to add the Alchemist's Lab and bunk house inside of the Guild House 46/*
S.4.2 - Inside the Power Station - Upstairs
A trashed electroplasmic laboratory. Sparking wires dangle from the ceiling, smoking alchemical mixtures give off acrid odors, wild, mutated animals thrash in their damaged cages, provoked into agitation by the party's entrance they'll immediately start trying to break out anew and will soon succeed. The animals aren't especially dangerous themselves, but there's a variety of hazards throughout the place. 47/*
Aside from the ladder descending from the trapdoor to the roof, there are stairs descending to S.4 and a door leading to a barracks with 6 beds, a kitchen, and a latrine. This encounter downstairs is ongoing and there are audible shouts. If the party doesn't go downstairs and engage, the ooze will slowly kill the scientists and then curl up around the generator. 48/*
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Without a chaperone or - even worse - if they destroyed the dam, then there'll be unfriendliness and a hard social encounter to avoid a fight, or immediate combat. The gardening robots are obedient to commands from the Guild members, but aren't built for combat, but the few people have mutagens and other consumables and - if the fight happens inside - dangerous alchemy in progress that can get tipped over and react wildly. 42/*