A dark fantasy RPG adventure based on The Island of Dr. Moreau
Writing, design & illustration.
Stranded on a mysterious island, the players have to find a way to escape the mad sorcerer's will and his grotesque creatures. I wrote and designed this H.G. Wells-based adventure for Através das Trevas crowdfunding.
An animal may be ferocious and cunning enough, but it takes a real man to tell a lie.
H.G. Wells - The Island of Dr. Moreau
I wrote this Role Playing Game adventure as extra material for the hit Brazilian crowdfunding "Através das Trevas" by Ramon Mineiro — the book hit almost 300% of its funding target.
"A Ilha do Dotô Morô" is obviously based on the 1896 book "The Island of Doctor Moreau" by H.G. Wells, one of my favorites by him. The book tells the story of a mad scientist who modifies animals by vivisection — surgical intervention in living subjects — and creates hybrid human-and-animal beings.
The book had several film adaptations, the first in 1913 and the last (for now) in 1996. This latter version, starred by Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando, is the big inspiration for the adventure.
In the movie, the doctor modifies genomes instead of vivisection — as in the book. In my adventure, the doctor fiddles with magic, something deadly and maddening in the Através das Trevas universe, making this quasi-plagiarism even more bizarre, grotesque, and gory. It's fun for the whole family.
Instead of countless hours creating every monster the players could encounter, I did a very efficient anxiety helper called give this responsibility to someone else. With the help of a table, the DM and the players can create any kind of crazy mix of animals just by rolling the dice. The table can even be used mid-game, so the DM can give the responsibility to the players. Lazy people, unite!
With a die for each characteristic — head, shoulders, knees & toes — the players could meet a creature with a leopard head, bear claws, and dog feet — dark-seeing, claw-striking, fast-running — and decide on the spot if they would be friends or not.
The game has no clear path set for the players — they can visit whichever area and decide which mystery to solve whenever they want. Depending on their will, they can try to flee or even make friends with the villain. There's a handy map (drawn by me!) to help the DM and the players.
Writing an RPG is hard, especially when you are not the one creating the rules — thanks, Ramon, for making such an easy rule system.
I didn't want to create a closed story for this adventure but let the players free to roam Morô's island and find out stuff themselves — decide who they would befriend or attack, which paths to choose and how to approach different situations.
With this sandbox setting in mind, I started by writing what kinds of characters I wanted the players to meet and which encounters they would have.
Then, I drew the map and defined the locations the players could visit. I'm not an illustrator, so the drawing by itself was a great experience. All the other illustrations in the book are in the public domain.
While drawing the map, I created a simple timeline of possibilities. The hardest part is knowing the players will betray the Dungeon Master and thread the unknown path, so I asked myself multiple times, "how to offer possibilities without spoiling the fun and without locking the players in a single path?"
I created a possibility/solution table in which I tried to fix the fixable. The rest — unpredictable and unwritten — is what makes RPGs fun, right?
For instance, the players could try to leave the island anytime with a makeshift raft... unless there was a magic-induced constant rain that prevented anyone from leaving the island. This feature even added to the mystery of "why haven't any of these creatures fled this awful place?"
Another possibility would involve players not even wanting to go near the mage — the one responsible for all the weirdness on the island, rain included. I didn't entirely solve this by giving them a clear alternative but chose to offer more reasons for them to defeat the mage. Instead of mechanics, I chose emotions.
All these solutions became interesting puzzles and encounters with hostile and friendly humans and/or creatures. I also ensured the DM knew they had complete control of the adventure and could change the rules as they wished.
The adventure is available here, in Brazilian Portuguese.