So you've read Veins of the Earth and you want to try it out.
One problem; your players have read Veins too. Or they know about it by reputation. Or they're wise to your usual tricks. Or the invitation to "visit Patrick Stuart's nightmare visions" didn't appeal. The mysterious chasm at the bottom of the dungeon will go unplumbed. The mention of a deep cave system sends them howling back to the surface in terror. Anything that doesn't have doors and ceilings gets a hard pass.
This isn't because they don't want a game with Veins content. It's what they signed up for. But it's like jumping into an outdoor swimming pool in January. Dip a toe in and run away shivering.
You could force the issue. Have a stairway collapse. Have a worm eat them. Have a teleport spell go awry. Make a vital item to their quest (or ambition) only available underground. All sensible ideas.
Or you can do something very silly.
Introducing: Lumps of the Sky
Step 1: Buy and read Veins of the Earth.
Step 2: Get your players onto a cloud (by falling off a mountain, by crashed airship or hot air balloon, by catapult, etc.
Step 3: Run a slightly modified Veins of the Earth game.
Clouds are big. Very, very big.
A typical low-level fluffy round-looking cloud is like a single cave or series of caves. Inside most clouds there's a Lump. It's made from condensed wind, water, ice, and magic. Maybe silver too if you like a good joke. It looks like a weird twisted-up potato thing. Caves are negative space. This is positive space.
Lumps of the Sky are sticky. They have a sort of gravity all over them. You can walk on them like an ant walking on an apple. Jump too high or get hit and regular gravity takes over. Their stickiness, plus their tumbling, plus the all-enveloping soft-white cloud, makes telling your direction very difficult. You usually can't see the sun or the ground.
These sky lumps trundle and tumble in the wind, bumping into each other, changing shape, flying high, sinking low. Never disappearing, but sometimes changing shape dramatically. Real clouds evaporate, but this is medieval meteorology.
There are cities up there, built inside permanent storms or roving cloudbanks. Some are built on the lumps, ever-shifting, ever moving. Some are stone castles suspended by ancient magic or technology. Lots and lots of loot because nobody ever loots the sky and makes it safely to earth.
Imagine seeing a town below you and leaping from your cloud onto the spire of a church, only to find that the town is also on a cloud.
|Pro tip: you can map caves using a pile of cheez snacks.|
Light isn't a problem anymore (except at night). Replace all instances of "light" with "heat". Heat is initiative. Warm things move more quickly than cold energy-conservative things, but are easier to spot.
Heat could be from torches, campfires, dry clothing (it slowly gets soaked), desiccants, chemicals, etc.
Generate caves normally except you're on the outside rather than the inside. Generate cloud by cloud.
Climbing rules become Jumping From Cloud to Cloud rules.
Food is just as rare and expensive.
Generates ice instead of melting through stone. Builds ice palaces in the sky. If it touches you, it freezes all the blood in your body (messily).
Spiders can fly. Their construct is light and diffuse and very fast, more like a wooden fighter jet than a fortress.
Cloud bacteria. A native species. Change flavour, not effects.
Ozone farmers with wind-socks. More like wasps now, building big papery nests to trap rare high-altitude chemicals. Or maybe helium? Grab a nest and use it as a balloon.
Whales evolved from wolf-racoon-things. So did these guys. They got thin and wispy and hunted birds in the trees, until the drifted upwards and into the clouds. They are pale and transparent and fast. Some of them are filter-feeders. Not these ones.
Calcinated Cancer Bear
What happens to surface creatures when they spend too long in a high-altitude radiation-rich environment. Bears, wolves, men, etc.
A native cloud species. Too dumb to survive on the surface. Full of antifreeze and soap. Occasionally fall out of clouds, convince people to launch them back up with catapults/rockets/big see-saws.
Castilian Caddis Larvae
Lives in airship wrecks or one of those Laputan sky-castles. Covered in air loot (angel feathers, etc.) plus regular magic items. Kill it and the stuff starts dropping on to the world below. It's raining wars.
They say disease is carried by bad air. Well they're right. Closer to ghosts than people, closer to heaven than hell, but still very deadly and very crazy. Also, plague-doctors on a flying city trying to invent cures (and dropping them on areas they pass)
Laputan sky-fortress that flies over cities and scoops up artists with it sentient fogs. Damp but astonishing.
Clay bird instead with a heron's head. Stabs instead of cracks. Weaponized prehistoric osiris.
Not all dragons lay their eggs underground.
Works pretty well in cloud-land too. Still scary.
Ash cloud vampire. What happens if you burn a vampire to death but don't actually kill them. Usually found in mass graves.
The same. Spores rise, land, find some dirt, grow. Fungus people arise, are enslaved.
Leftover prototype angels.
Laputan war-engines gone amok. They orbit a Lump (one on one side, the other on the opposite) with contrails and steam following.
Sunspots. They fly out of the sun on bright days and leave dancing lights in front of your eyes.
I don't understand what Patrick was getting at with these guys and I'm not sure I can adapt them without knowing... so they're Sky Assholes. They scoop babies out of carriages on foggy days and leave jars of farts behind.
Warm birds. They live in clouds and are incredibly fluffy. You can make a coat out of one. They also pick you up and drop you off the cloud (possibly onto another, worse cloud).
Flying glass praying mantis.
Genetic ghosts. All the evolutionary pathways you could have taken but didn't. Turns you into a lizard like it's an episode of Star Trek and you've been devolved.
Gets caught in clouds too. Possibly an entire cloud made of the stuff, or it forms in pools (like mercury). Evaporates in sunlight; big problem at night.
Sky-whale. Bigger than the not-Gigaferret. Instead of aquatic whale-nightmares, you get parasitic thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hail.
Panic Attack Jack
Broken-down inventors strapped to wings of wax and wood. They still fly.
Phantom Hand of Gargas
I don't get this one either, so instead it's aliens who beam you up to fight in an alien war on the far side of the moon.
The Volcanic Virgins. Plus some cows. The bits that didn't get burned. Ashy, flighty, old sacrifices, full of self-confidence. The world didn't die and they helped.
Space probe. Sputnik murderbot. Eats samples, shoots lasers. Inscruitable.
Rename to Vertigo, change very little.
Cloudfish. Swoop between clouds eating people.
Space aliens taking samples. They are aware there's stuff on the ground; they say they'll get to it eventually.
Infrared Puffins! They give you a tan (and make you shit yourself).
Spectre of the Bröcken
Thermal Sharks. They shoot either heat rays or they suck in heat with bimetallic chameleon tongues. Ick.
They live inside the Lumps. Ripple ripple, what's that below your feet? Reach down to touch it, get pulled in and replaced.
Some strange upper-air predator native to the Lumps. Anyway, it's an ooze with hydrogen pockets.
Titanskull Hermit Crab
Robot servant from Laputan flying castle. Alternaitvely, lives inside a crashed flying machine, uses it to float from cloud to cloud.
Solar manta ray. Soaks up sunlight (low efficiency) or swarms and eats people (high efficiency). And because of the source material, it looks vaguely suggestive.
Upper air apocalypse prepper. They're going to be the first into Heaven when the end comes. They've got a score to settle with God.
Same, except it scoops children out of their beds in mountain villages, leaves them dangling below clouds. Expect frantic pursuit on horseback below.
Same. Sentient sun-halos.
Angel feathers. Same effect except feathery.
High Elves, maybe? Or Cancer Elves, burnt red and raw by the light of their risen god?
Replace "stone" with "air" and make them another kind of flying elemental thing in a palace.
One word: chemtrails.
Another kind of alien or possible weather angels.
Descendents of the Laputan castle-builders, living in simple, pastoral peace in the sky.