The Iron Gates - Maps, Clues, and Speeches

I'm working on an Alexandrian Dark Souls setting. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. You don't really need to read the other parts first, but it might help. This is (probably) the last planning post. After this, I'll try to stick to locations, boss fights, items, classes, etc.

The map isn't accurate or complete or to scale. It's just a tool I'm using to plan the content.
PCs will start on the far left, in Outer Meridia. Some locations will have mapped areas but most will use an encounter table or two.

For comparison, here's the Dark Souls 1 map.

Gold and the Promise of Safety

OSR-type games tend to work best when there is localized order but general disorder. "Safe" towns and "dangerous" wilderness/dungeons. Somewhere the PCs can sell loot and somewhere they can find loot.

In this game, markets are bonfires. If there's a market, there's enough local order to allow gold to flow without violence. In a setting where gold is closely tied to ambition, that's more important than you might think.

Repeated Information

Dark Souls relies on repetition. Items with vital lore clues in their description have a random drop rate. NPC questlines have bizarre activation conditions that usually require an internet guide, crowdsourced testing, and a great deal of time.

Well, this is an RPG. The PCs only have one shot. I'll try to layer as many clues and hints as I can into everything they encounter.

Readaloud Text

Embers of the Forgotten Kingdom uses a very unusual technique to convey lore. They have Dark Soul-style item descriptions in each chapter heading page.
Now, this is definitely in keeping with the video game's style... but it's completely useless to the players! The items aren't indexed, so the GM can't flip back and read off the text when needed. They are purely for someone reading the book as a novel. It's one of those frustrating little things that looks good on paper but is useless in practice.
So I'm not going to be doing things like that. I'm going to try to embed as much lore as possible in player-facing content and minimize read-aloud text wherever possible. Descriptions can be read verbatim or summarized.

Dark Souls Names

Anor Londo. Knight Artorias. The Way of White. Yhorm the Giant. Gwynevere and Gwyndolin.

These names are immediately evocative. They evoke real-world myths: Guinevere and Lancelot and Sir Gawain. The developers even used Tolkien's elvish language dictionary to name things. I'm going to try to use names with the same level of care. I'll probably fail, but I'll try.

I also want to use a limited number of names. Jumping into the middle of a module and seeing dozens of named NPCs and/or locations and/or setting concepts mixed together is, for me, a tiring and disheartening experience. If you're going to name something you should have a good reason, and you should tell the GM or the players something of vital importance.

"As children of the abbey, both Ceidwen and Caddell were forced to live lives of the faithful under the care of the Stargazers. Learning the abbey’s role in the Cycle, as well as the nature of souls, aiding their passage into the Hearth. [sic]"
-Embers of the Forgotten Kingdom pg. 31


The only "mandatory" readloud text will be speeches. Dark Souls embeds a lot of lore in NPC dialogue. Possibly because the speeches are translated, or possibly because they were originally very strange, speeches have a peculiar cadence. Unlike most things in Dark Souls, this is relatively easy to replicate in a tabletop RPG. I'll use the same format I used in Kidnap the Archpriest - a few introductory words, and then optional answers to questions the PCs might ask.

I also intend to use repeated phrases. I really recommend this as a worldbuilding technique. For some reason players tend to fixate on these phrases and remember them session to session.

"For gold, and crowns of gold"

     "Iron must be quenched in blood." 
          "As it was in Iskandar's day."
                         "A dream, a terrible dream."

Sherbakov Stanislav

Not the Boss Fight You Expected

Dark Souls has several unusual boss fights. Sometimes they don't make a lot of sense if you don't pay attention to the lore. Yhorm the Giant is a good example. He's a giant king. He has very powerful sword... next to his throne. Run over, grab it, and it's trivial to kill him.What a weird fight.

But if you understand the lore (and the linked video helps), you'll realize he put the sword there deliberately. It was half of a matched pair. Its twin is carried by Yhorm's close friend.

Recurring NPCS

The PCs may cross paths with several NPCs. A knight traveling to fight. A merchant with wild dreams. An agent of the church, looking for anyone who might disrupt the existing order. I'm going to try to reference these NPCs in a limited number of locations to prevent flipping back and forth constantly... or telling a novel-length story in the middle of a module.


  1. Skerples, could you talk about your RPG workflow? You are a really productive and systematic writer, I would like to know more about your processes.

    Looking forward for more Iron Gates content, it looks promising.

    1. I'm not sure I have a formal process.
      -Writing isn't hard. Writing every day is hard. So you should try to do that.
      -The first million words you write at the highest level you can possibly write are crap, so get those out of the way first.
      -Try to read some RPG content and some non-RPG content every day.
      -In fact, just read more books in general.
      -Listen to problems people are having and write content that solves those problems.
      -Look for how other people have solved similar problems. Figure out what worked and what didn't.
      -Test everything you intend to sell and be honest with yourself. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work.
      -Listen to feedback, but don't be a slave to it.

    2. I'm curious, and while it isn't everything, about how much do you try and write every day?

      Re: Magic items, I've found a lot of the description and flavour can come from a direct and cohesive set of effects on the wielder. Double down on them, use fluff and mechanics simultaneously to have things *happen* to those that carry such dark and twisted objects, rather than treating them as mere tools.

    3. I try to write 2,000 words a day if I'm not up to anything else in particular.

  2. What tool did you use to create that map? Looks nice and useful!

    1. Either Affinity Publisher or MS Powerpoint.

  3. I know you don't work on this anymore, but what was the Pyreclasm supposed to be?

    1. To clarify I'm aware its on semi-Hiatus

    2. Pompeii/ Vesuvius, still-burning.

    3. Damn, that's cool. I'm setting up my own iron gates setting, with some heavy hacking.

      I think I'm going to drop Pyreclasm (though I love the name), move Sekar elsewhere and make it more explicitly post-troy (in contrast to Iskar, a newly added Alexandria equivalent), add Mythas as an Athens equivelent, and Mount Kadmus as the home of the assassins.

      There's a few other minor renames and some location reshuffles, but the core of the idea is super evocative.

      I've definitely run into the "what do the players do" problem and have semi-solved it (I think) by starting them out on a slightly more focused starting experience: They start in the countryside of Merida, where things have been getting steadily worse, and head to the capital to petition the King for aid. As they get closer, things get increasingly unhinged, and when they return home, they find it burned. By then they'll have a rough idea that the world is ending, and a few rough reasons to search other places.

    4. Very fun! Post links as the game progresses. I'm interested to see where you take the concept.

    5. Things so far:

      I dug into the actual Alexander Romance and started pulling off ideas for monsters and locations. All of the stuff when he reaches India is great for a bestiary, but I'm wondering how much of it I want to lock behind the Endless Night.

      I also am taking a few of the things he did and then undid, or the things he threatened to do, and making them permanent: The rubble of Thebes and the mad immortal bard who sung its destruction, the ten toungless Oraters of ruined Athens.

      Targran and Merida are the areas that I was struggling the most with, due me not having a huge grounding in the myths or 'feel' of the area, but I'm making do. I couldn't figure out a historical-mythical figure for the General of either of them, so I'm using an amalgam of a few different characters for Merida (ending up with a decaying king surrounded by treacherous vizers, consorts, and sons), and holding off on deciding for Targran until I do some more research.

      I'm running Merida as a weird mix of pre and post Andalusian Spain: There's Inquisitors (Vestigators) of the Moon God, but the main religion is Sun Worship.

      Lastly, I've started setting up the NPCs the players will interact with. There's at least three starting ones:
      Ser Arcus, a veteran of Azure, associated with Iron. Clear-Eyed Sariq, a sage associated with Water. Tark the Rat, a thief/scammer associated with Gold. Every PC is going to begin with a relation to one of these, determined by their class: Knights got taught by Arcus, Merchants got scammed by Tark. It's a bit restrictive, but I think tying the characters down very firmly to the starting area will make the punch when they start to leave it hit a little harder.

      I'm having a lot of fun with this project: It's just the right mix of daunting and constrained, where I can focus on going deep instead of broad.