21 December, 2014

A Fox's Guide to Conlangs (Part 4)

How does the language feel?

Last post I briefly touched on the way a language might develop with regards to the environment in which it has been spoken. That basically gives an idea of the types of sounds a language might be made up from. Vowels might be long or short, they might have inflections in them halfway through their utterance. Consonants have a plethora of ways they can change the sound of speech through the shaping of the mouth, the variance of air flow, separation of lips, placement of tongue and teeth.

There has been a system of symbolism developed to describe the sound forms involved in every language spoken on the planet, it is called the “International Phonetic Alphabet”. While it’s great and comprehensive, it’s a cow of a thing to type on a standard ‘qwerty’ keyboard. There are specific fonts that make it easier to type, but even then I’d need to make sure that you had access to those fonts and had them installed while reading this series of blog posts. Unless you’ve had a bit of practice, reading things written in standard International Phonetics can be a bit tricky too. With that in mind, I’ll be trying to stick to standardized English/Roman lettering, maybe with a few unusual letter combinations to add a bit more mystery to the final developed language. I’m not just going to throw a string of random consonants together, and add in a bunch of vowels at arbitrary points and some quirky punctuation, each sound used in the language will be there for a reason (even if that reason is sheer laziness on the part of certain speakers that has generally infected the wider vocabulary).

Let’s look at a distribution of sound forms. I actually think we should probably take note of zipf’s law before we go much further…

Zipf's law states that given some corpus of natural language utterances, the frequency of any word is inversely proportionalto its rank in the frequency table. Thus the most frequent word will occur approximately twice as often as the second most frequent word, three times as often as the third most frequent word, etc. For example, in the Brown Corpus of American English text, the word "the" is the most frequently occurring word, and by itself accounts for nearly 7% of all word occurrences (69,971 out of slightly over 1 million). True to Zipf's Law, the second-place word "of" accounts for slightly over 3.5% of words (36,411 occurrences), followed by "and" (28,852). Only 135 vocabulary items are needed to account for half the Brown Corpus.

The same relationship occurs in many other rankings unrelated to language, such as the population ranks of cities in various countries, corporation sizes, income rankings, ranks of number of people watching the same TV channel,[5] and so on.
- Wikipedia

(Wikipedia may not be the most accurate source, but it often says the right general things and provides a good starting point for people who want to do more research.)

Basically, the more natural a language is, the more likely it is to conform to Zipf’s Law. I’d be tempted to vaguely apply the law to the sound forms that make up the language. It’s pretty common knowledge that the six most common letters used in the English language are “E”, “T”, “A”, “O”, “I”, then “N” in that order, and that the letters vary in other languages. So it might be worth considering what the most common sounds are in a conlang. I know that letters aren’t sound forms, but for the simplicity of typing the conlang’s wordforms, I’ll be using standard letter forms (for the reasons described above). If we need new letter forms, I’ll try to keep them simple (such as underlining letters with a different pronounciation…which gives us 10 vowel types to play with and 42 consonant types).

So, I’m going to be using standard lettering for the sound forms in this language (a bit like the “romaji” form of Japanese), and I’m going to try to make sure the sound forms follow a distribution where some are more common than others to give the language a “natural” feel. I’m also going to make the language coherent and capable of conveying meaning through the sounds and linguistic structure. Perhaps even providing a guide to how that language might adapt other words into it’s lexicon when it encounters a concept that it just doesn’t have the words for (again probably taking cues from Japanese, which has some notoriety in linguistic circles as a magpie tongue…almost as much as English). 

20 December, 2014

A Fox's Guide to Conlangs (Part 3)

Despite what you might think from looking at the English alphabet, there are more than 5 vowel sounds in regular use, and more than 21 consonant sounds. When it comes to vowels, there are long vowels and short vowels, monophthongs (single vowel forms), diphthongs (changing vowel sounds when two vowels follow one another), they alter their sound patterns based on open-ness of the lips and placement of the tongue as air passes through the mouth. When it comes to consonants, sounds change based on the way air stops, is interrupted, or redirected in its flow. It’s not really as simple as this, but that will do for the basic understanding of phonemes (the linguistic base forms that join one another to form words).

There are specific names for the way the mouth shapes the flow of air in each consonantal form, different languages and dialects tend to favour different patterns of consonants, some favouring specific forms of tongue placement, others favouring the manner in which the air is controlled. Languages described as guttural may tend to be filled with disjointed stops and starts, lots of “g”, “k”, “t”, and “d” sounds. More melodic languages might be filled with redirections of sound “l”, “r”, “s”, “w”, “y”, “f” and “n”.  

I don’t know if languages developed in the way I’m about to describe, and the research I’ve done into the topic suggests that no-one really knows; but it makes a logical sense to me, so this is the way I’ll get the basic rudimentary forms of the language started.

At the absolute basic level, I’d consider a language developed in a desert environment to use more consonantal forms, with vowels that minimise the opening of the mouth. This type of language structure would prevent sand getting into the mouth during dust storms, and thus allow for ongoing communication during such a dangerous event. Stops in the flow of air would also prove more useful because they are distinct and would be more readily understandable when a mouth is muffled by a cloth. 

Similarly, a language developed in a jungle environment might be more open to wider vowel forms, thus allowing louder speech more easily. This might be good for talking above the constant sounds of wildlife, and long vowels might be distinct from the chattering sounds of animals and rapid trilling of birdcalls. Consonantal forms in such a language might develop to make sounds quite different to the wildlife (especially if the culture speaking this language believed they were divinely created and thus separate from the animals around them), or the consonantal forms might develop to replicate the sounds of the wildlife (if the culture believed that it was a part of the wider natural world).

As you see, the very shapes and sounds of a language start to tell us something about the way the speakers view the world. There’s a controversial theory in linguistics known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, where it is believed that a specific language enforces a paradigm of thought onto its users. In the strong form of this hypothesis, a speaker of a single language is unable to perceive things that exist outside their language, while in less strict interpretations the speakers may perceive things they cannot describe but they are unable to fully comprehend them. The theory states a symbiosis between the development of understanding and the development of language, thus a flipside of this debate is the idea that a once something is perceived, terminology is developed for it, and once it is fully understood a word forms. The more words in a language, the more complex it is and the more suitable it is for the understanding of a wider section of the world. If a language doesn’t need to describe parts of the world that its speakers don’t encounter, then the language doesn’t evolve terms to describe those things. The words contained within a language describe certain things about a culture, the words it doesn’t have say other things about the culture. While working out the intricacies of the language, consider both of these…don’t just create a standard lexicon of 10,000 words that are the same 10,000 words you’d use for the development of all your conlang forms.

But I digress…

Let’s choose a specific place and develop the basic forms of a language that might be spoken in such a location. The continent/island known as Tankay exists on the opposite side of the planet to the Empire of the Sun, and the nations of the Old World. It also exists close to the island and it’s archipelago that we described recently as the focus of our game setting, close enough that a language developed for this region might have some people in the setting who speak it. We don’t really know anything about Tankay at the moment, we don’t even know if the people of Tankay call their own homeland by that name. It might be like the medieval maps of our world where China was referred to as “Cathay”, and where the Chinese actually call their land “Zhongguo” in Mandarin (while “China” as a term is derived from the Persian word “Chin”).

What is the land like? How does that shape the language? What words do they need? What vowel and consonantal forms do they find most commonly useful, and which ones are used as secondary forms to flavour their terminology in some way.

We know virtually nothing about the land so far, so we don’t know how the language might have been shaped by it. Let’s start by looking at the shape of the land, it’s jagged and not particularly big, there’s no part of the land that it a long distance from a large spread of water. It’s probably safe to assume that there isn’t much desert on the landmass. There might be rolling plains of grassland and savannah, as well as jungles and swamps along the southern coastlines, and temperate forests across the northern coasts. These geographic distinctions might form coherent regions for variant dialects of the language.   

Let’s assume they’ve got a rich history, where several generations of culture have risen and fallen. We’ll start with a single civilising influence, a culture that spread across the land as a catalyst (arguably like the progenitor culture that spread the proto-indo-european tongue across Eurasia in our world), this might limit itself to a couple of hundred words. Then we’ll be breaking that culture into a few dialectical variants, each expanding their phrases to incorporate specific elements that become important in their native lands. Then we’ll recombine a few of those dialectical variants, as though a single conqueror has spread their version of the tongue across the other lands of the region, but has assimilated some of the variant terms in their conquest. Hopefully that should give us a fairly rich language, rather than something that seems to clinical and formulaic.

Tankay is probably the size of Europe (maybe a bit smaller, but it’s at least the size of Western Europe), so it might be a bit of an over-generalisation to say that the entire region speaks a single language. If you want to develop a cluster of related languages, that’s great, but it’s an extra degree of difficulty. I’ll just be starting with the development of a single language. If I can maintain the momentum I might generate a pidgin form or creole mixed-language variant of the core tongue.  

19 December, 2014

A Fox's Guide to Conlangs (Part 2)

Languages can generally be divided into “Subject – Verb – Object” languages (“SVO”, such as English and most European forms), and “Subject – Object – Verb” languages (“SOV”, such as Japanese, Hindi and Korean). An SVO language might state that ”I (subject) run (verb) to the house (object)”, while the same concept described by an SOV language might be that “I (subject) to the house (object) run (verb)”. As long as the verb comes after the object, it generally works in an SOV language…it sounds a bit awkward to say “To the house (object) I (subject) run (verb)”, and only slightly less natural (and slightly pretentious) to say “To the house (object) run (verb) I (subject)”. I’m pretty sure these last forms are referred to as “sentences in the passive voice”, because the object comes before the subject. They’re still fully understandable, but a bit awkward when too many of them are strung together. These are important structural concepts that we’ll work around later in the series.

(…and yes, I’ve been referred to as a grammar Nazi).

For the purposes of a constructed language, we need subjects (the agents of action), we need verbs (the types of action that occur), and we need objects (the targets of those actions). We don’t really need prepositional terms or adverbial forms (in the previous sentence examples, these were “to” and “the” respectively), but they do make conversation in a language flow cleaner and clearer.

To get the basics of this new language, we’ll focus in order on…
  1. Core Sound Forms (the basic mouth shapes that define the language)
  2. Nouns (objects and subjects)
  3. Verbs (actions)
  4. Adjectives (which describe and refine noun forms)
  5. Adverbs (which describe and refine verb forms)
  6. Participles, Prepositions, Phrase Forms, and Infinitives
  7. Punctuation (which will come as a function of combining word forms into phrase forms and sentence constructs)
  8. Pronouns (as distinct from nouns because they are specific names of people, places and conceptual ideas). You can create an entire language without pronouns, and this says something very distinct about the culture using such a language, but this might be a bit too alien for most people to play with.

(We won't necessarily go through posts in order according to this list. As normal my posts will probably bounce all over the place and the development of the conlang will be organic rather than regimented, but the priority list should hopefully remain intact.) 

There are plenty of theories about how language actually started, and linguistic anthropologists are coming up with new theories all the time. Perhaps the earliest forms of language began like the mimicry of lyrebirds, perhaps certain tonal screeches took on specific meanings, and eventually the screeches were pulled back while the tonal information remained, there are certainly claims that the whole thing started as a result of divine inspiration…but let’s not go there for the moment.

Most languages have onomatopoeic forms in them. In English we have words like “Crash”, “Boom”, “Crack”, “Meow”; these are words where the Spoken form sounds vaguely like the actual noise when it occurs in nature. Most other words have assigned meanings, and those meanings don’t necessarily convey the meaning of the related term specifically through the sound shapes of the word. We attach our own meanings to terms, and those meanings change over time.

Consider the word “pineapple”, used in English to describe a specific form of tropical fruit. The fruit is not related to either pine trees or apples. Arguably, the fruit does look a bit like a pine cone, but what is there about the sounds making up the term “pine” that gives reference to this particular shape? The designation of the word for the object being described is fairly arbitrary, and from a linguistic and semantic perspective the term “arbitrary” means exactly that; a made-up connection between a symbol (in this case a word) and the notion being symbolised. This can be reinforced by the simple fact that most other languages around the world use the word “ananas” to describe the fruit that the English language calls a “pineapple”.

Some people might say that terms aren’t arbitrary, they link back to the terms used in previous languages, English leads back with German and a few other tongues to a “Germanic” root language, which then links up with other languages further back in time such as Greek and even Sanskrit to an “Indo-European” and “Proto-Indo-European” language. But even this far back in time, the original symbolic meanings and the symbolised forms had some kind of arbitrary connection that started the whole thing off.

What if you started with a blank slate, where you could assign the meanings to the combinations of sounds? That’s one of the two places where I’d start a conlang.

The second place I’d start a conlang would be the mouth shapes used to speak the language. In recent years, mouth shapes have generally been used to modify a language, forming variant dialects from a core tongue, but somehow languages had to be formed in the first place this way. Grunts, groans, howls and screams, gradually turning into words, syntax and grammar. That’s where we’ll head with the next post.

18 December, 2014

A Fox's Guide to Conlangs (Part 1)

Conlang is an abbreviation of “Constructed Language”, the practice of creating such things is referred to as “conlanging”. Conlanging is a hobby as old as fantasy literature, and perhaps even older if you work on the assumption that superstitious folk might have made up languages spoken by the gods and the faeries at the bottom of their gardens. Some of the most famous conlangers include JRR Tolkien with his creation of the Elvish and Orcish tongues of Middle Earth, George RR Martin with his rudimentary formation of the Dothraki tongue (which was expanded and refined far more thoroughly by linguistic scholars for the ‘Game of Thrones’ TV show), and the controversial creator of the Klingon language in Star Trek (claimed to have been invented by James ‘Scotty’ Doohan, and a number of other individuals). One of the more famous and respected conlangs is the hybrid tongue of Esperanto, designed as a universal language, but never really getting far except as a hobby among certain circles.

There are web forums dedicated to the conlang as an artform (for example conlang.org and conlang.wikia.com), and plenty of resources scattered across the web. The problem is that most of the conlangs I’ve encountered are rather crude. Many conlangs are primary a bunch of exotic nouns, possibly with a few verbs thrown in, and are barely able to form a meaningful communication of ideas.

This series is designed to act as a resource for people thinking of forming their own languages for fantasy (or sci-fi) setting. The purpose is to create a linguistic form that does not rely on the cultures of earth, and might in fact help in the description of non-terrestrial cultures.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Generally, there are two forms of grammar.

Prescriptive grammar comes first, it describes the way people should speak and the rules they should use when engaging in conversation within a specific language. As an example that most people would recognise, the forms of grammar for computer programming languages are prescriptive. They tell you the rules you need to follow before the communication process will be understood by a computer to perform a specific task.

Descriptive grammar comes second, it describes the way people already speak, and the rules they do use when they seek to communicate within a specific language. The rules of grammar used by anthropologists trying to understand the languages of tribal groups tend to be descriptive; the language came first, and the grammar simply tries to understand it.

There are some interesting cases that exist between these two general forms. Upper class English, which you might also call “The Queen’s English” uses a prescriptive grammar. The grammar is based on the dialects of England but was specifically formulated as something “other”, a form that was not in regular use, and thus a form that would differentiate “educated speakers” from the commoners. French as a general language also exists somewhere between prescriptive and descriptive as a council of scholars meets every year to formally recognise any changes, and rein in any linguistic anomalies that they deem undesirable to the tongue.

The grammar of a constructed language will almost always be prescriptive. The language exists as a fantasy that no-one is capable of speaking until the grammatical rules are formulated. Some people might dream of a language, and try to describe the grammar so that people in the real world might speak it, and there could be a debate regarding how “descriptive” or “prescriptive” such a grammar might be. But generally, since the language didn’t exist in the physical world, any grammar describing it is prescriptive and comes before the speech.

The aim of this series of posts is to prescribe an effective non-real language, a “realistic” language that is not “real” but which might be used to convey information. Such a language might help form the backstory for a culture, there might be elements of history in its words, semantic and metaphorical constructs that inform us about the thought patterns of the cultures who use the language. The aim is not to string a bunch of consonants together with various apostrophes and other unusual punctuation forms to sound “exotic and alien”. 

17 December, 2014

A Fox's Guide to...

A few months ago, I put forward the idea of a blog series about constructed languages, an artform known as "conlanging". As someone who has studied linguistics, I figured this might be interesti g to explore for a few posts, delving into the way words might be structured from mouth sounds, grammar might be built up from combining terms in different ways, and logical structures of conversation might accumulated.

Conlanging is a common thing found in plenty of fantasy worlds and games, but like "world-building" there are too many instances where it's done poorly (either due to laziness, or from simply not understanding the logical processes involved).

I'll try to work my way through this using a combination of the things I've learnt in my linguistic study, and working through the development of an actual constructed language.

Since I've got parts of this new world that lie as blank slates, I'll probably develop a new language for one of them.

16 December, 2014

Another Way to Explore the Island

I've been having fun exploring the steampunk pirate setting. There is certainly enough material to get a campaign happening, and plenty of ideas for continued play in tabletop or LARP format. 

Still, I'm not sure I really want to leave this setting quite yet. 

Maybe we could look at exploring the setting from a different direction.

Since I've already done a series on miniature painting, maybe it might be time to produce a miniature wargame that ties into the setting.

Maybe in the new year.

15 December, 2014

Worldbuilding 101 - Filling in Some Gaps Part 2

While I'm finishing them off, here's two more of those random encounter tables...

A – Sacred Totem Stone (Mysterious Fragment of the Past)
  Basic: You see a standing stone from the ancient past, covered in vines. It obviously hasn’t seen much worship or attention of any kind for a long time.
  Heightened: A well-tended standing stone sits in a small clearing ahead of you. As you approach, you feel a tingling sensation and your hairs stand on end, it feels just like the calm immediately before a thunderstorm.
  Extreme: You don’t even have time to realise what is heading your way, a bolt of lightning shoots through the undergrowth (striking the character with the most metal armour, or the character possessing the highest weight in metal items). The struck character is knocked to the ground unconscious.
2 – Native (Notable Person/Creature from this Location)
  Basic: A Native is nearby gathering some herbs and roots.
  Heightened: A Native is looking for something in particular and asks you if you know where it is.
  Extreme: A group of Natives (roughly equal to half the number of players) has captured something big, and it’s about to break free from their trap. 
3 – Entangling Vines (Uncommon Environmental Effect)
  Basic: You need to be careful of trip hazards in this part of the jungle.  
  Heightened: The undergrowth seems to be alive, it constantly grabs at your legs and any protruding bits of equipment. Unless you take your time, you’re bound to injure yourself or lose something important.
  Extreme: You can literally see the vines writhing like tentacles as they reach out to grab you (wood elemental).
4 – Fungal Jungle Fever
  Basic: You start to feel sweaty and feverish. It shouldn’t be too much of an issue, but your joints are starting to feel stiff and you are getting a bit fatigued.
  Heightened: You are sweating profusely and your bones ache. Any items you carry with moving arts are starting to get stiff and will need to be thoroughly cleaned before they may be used in the regular way.  
  Extreme: Your skin is dripping in sweat, patches of your skin are taking on a faint yellowish hue, and your joints are incredibly sore. By the time you notice this, any metal items you carry are starting to look rusty (if you spend a few minutes polishing them they’ll be fine, but if you leave them they corrode away to uselessness.) Any items with moving parts are locked into position with a yellow fungal sludge (they’ll each need to be completely disassembled and polished before they may be used again).
5 - Campsite
  Basic: Ahead in a small clearing is a ring of stones around the charred branches of a regularly used campfire. Patches of compressed ground indicate tents have been used here recently, but for the moment there is no-one here.
  Heightened: Gentle tendrils of smoke drift up from a recently used campfire ahead. Although you can’t hear anyone near, the presence of packs and sacks strewn around the campfire suggest someone is still nearby. Or have been forced to leave in a hurry.
  Extreme: A campfire up ahead still burns, tents are set up around it in a clearing. You can hear the sounds of clanging metal. There’s a rumble in the jungle, and it’s getting closer.
6 – Map fragment
  Basic: On the edge of a rough clearing ahead, you see something pale against the relentless greens of the undergrowth. Closer inspection reveals a torn piece of parchment covered in marks. Some of the shapes vaguely look like trees you’ve seen in the last few minutes. It’s a shame that the parchment seems to be torn from a larger sheet, and this piece doesn’t have an “X” on it. 
  Heightened: Hanging from a tree, long ago caught in a snare, a desiccated body still clutches a rolled up scroll. You’re not sure how long the body has been here, or how useful the scroll’s contents still are, but it’s got to be worth a look…right? 
  Extreme: Pinned to the side of a tree with a steel dagger is a map fragment, it appears to have been done very recently. Something feels very wrong about this.
7 - Natives
  Basic: A spear in the nearby undergrowth indicates the presence of native hunters very recently.
  Heightened: A spear whizzes past your head, plunging into a nearby tree with a dull “thunk”. You know the general direction it came from, but can see nothing in that direction.
  Extreme: At first, you thought it might have been an animal in the underbrush. By the time you see the first native, you realise that sets of eyes have been watching you for a while. You are caught in the middle of a hunting party (roughly three times as many native hunters as there are players).
8 – Wild Animals (Something Commonly Seen)
  Basic: You see a break in the undergrowth, a twisting, but generally straight line indicating the recent passage of animals through this part of the jungle.
  Heightened: A few native animals are startled as you walk past them.
  Extreme: You startle a predator tracking its prey, it decides that you might make a better meal.
9 – Jungle Explorers
  Basic: A team of explorers is scavenging the jungle, trying to find something according to a map they possess. At this stage they’re not sure that the map is authentic.
  Heightened: An organised troupe of imperial and church explorers are looking for something particular in the jungle (the number of them is roughly half the number of players). They’ve been at this for a while, and their guards are getting restless (the number of guards is roughly twice the number of players)
  Extreme: A group of imperial and church explorers, and their guards (as above), have found something that should not have been uncovered. They are running for their lives through the jungle, right towards you.  
10 – Dire Animals (Likely Signature Event)
  Basic: A lone predatory beast stalks this part of the jungle, it is much larger than you would normally expect for this type of creature (a dire animal). It generally keeps its distance unless threatened.
  Heightened: A pack of enraged Dire Beasts hunts you (with a number roughly equal to the number of players). It uses the typical tactics of its animal type but with far more intelligence, and a higher degree of lethality.
  Extreme: A solitary Werejaguar or Wereserpent hunts in this part of the jungle, it hunts with a pack of highly disciplined Dire Beasts (with a number roughly equal to the number of players). Few live to talk of this type of encounter.
J – Woodland Elves
  Basic: You come across evidence of a recent encampment, no-one is here now but the camp hasn’t been abandoned for long.
  Heightened: A lone Elf patrols this part of the jungle, just because they are alone it doesn’t mean they are helpless.
  Extreme: An Elf emerges from the undergrowth, unhappy with your presence in this part of the jungle, his shambling companion of earthy fungal form doesn’t look happy either (a Fungus Elemental).
Q – The Birds and their Keepers
  Basic: A flock of birds sits on the branches of nearby trees surrounding you. They seem to stare right through you, weighing the measure of your soul.
  Heightened: An assorted flock of birds that don’t normally belong together are making their various bird calls. In the midde of them all is a creature that looks like a beautifully sculpted wooden maiden (a dryad), echoing each of their calls in kind.
  Extreme: At first a few birds come sweeping through the canopy, then comes a rush through the undergrowth. A figure looking like a beautifully carved wooden maiden runs through the forest carrying a spear, with her (and making most of the noise) is a shambling mass of roots, bark, leaves and vines (a wood elemental). They are hunting something, and you’re right in their way.
K – Jungle Strangeness
  Basic: The branches of this tree are drifting and swaying despite their being no breeze in this part of the jungle (it is an awakened tree). It’s almost as though the tree is dancing to music you can’t hear.
  Heightened: You see a tree pull up roots and start walking through the undergrowth (an awakened tree). Surrounding it, bark, roots and leaves seem to weave themselves into vague humanoid shapes and follow (a number of Wood Golems roughly equal to half the number of players). You’re not sure what prompted them to move, but have an uneasy feeling about the whole situation.

  Extreme: The first thing you notice is the smell of rotten meat and faeces. Within seconds it is overwhelming, clutching at your gag reflex; moments later you see the amorphous mound of flesh which looks both fungal and animal, a horrific wave of molten protoplasm somewhere between life and death, fertility and blasphemy. Run.

Underground – Caves/Ruins
A – Shattered Relic
  Basic: Here, the walls do not look eroded by water or natural processes, instead they appear to have been melted or fused by some kind of incredible heat. The cavern also appears to be vaguely spherical. Lying in the middle of the floor round, are fragments of metal and crystal of unknown origin.
  Heightened: A dull hum comes from the cavern ahead. Those who choose to venture in that direction find the hairs on the backs of their necks standing on end. (Those who get closer find any metallic equipment/armour pulled toward the humming cavern. Those who actually reach the cavern find a floating ball of metallic debris and equipment that has been pulled in from other wandering explorers, pulling metal objects from the ball might be dangerous).
  Extreme: At the centre of this cavern is a giant metallic egg, cracked along one side and oozing a mucous-like fluid across the floor. There is an echoing rattle in the nearby caves that sends shivers to your bones.
2 – Bats
  Basic: You startle a colony of sleeping bats.
  Heightened: As you pick your way through this part of the caves, you have the feeling that the bats hanging from the roof are watching you (there are a number of bats equal to roughly ten times the number of players). Your suspicions are confirmed when one of the bats asks “What brings you down here?”
  Extreme: From a colony of bats up ahead, a flittering set of shadows descends, like congealing liquid they form a vaguely humanoid form that grows more coherent as it approaches. A cloaked and heavily armed Werebat slowly approaches (surrounded by a number of awakened bats roughly equal to the number of players).
3 – Unstable Ground
  Basic: The floor of the caves in this part of the complex is unstable and requires careful progress to avoid injury.
  Heightened: Crumbling rocks and slippery cave walls make progress of any type treacherous in this part of the caves.
  Extreme: A slide of rocks as caused a cascade behind you. The caves behind have collapsed and are now impassable (without a lot of digging).
4 – Toxic Fumes
  Basic: The air is foul and smoky, with hints of something rotten in it. Nothing too much to worry about, but the stink lingers on your clothes until they are thoroughly washed (or incinerated).
  Heightened: Thick and oily, the air causes you to gag. If you stay too long you risk passing out.
  Extreme: The smoke is almost alive, it seeps into your clothes, hair, nostrils. It may be lethal if you linger.
5 – Carvings
  Basic: It seems strange that there would be wall paintings so far from the surface, but there are cryptic wall paintings scattered across the walls. Perhaps they’re symbolic of something or remnants of long forgotten rituals.  
  Heightened: Carved into the wall in an ancient script are hundreds of lines of text. These carved words are in no language currently known, but some of the illustrations and symbols scattered across the walls are reminiscent of crude versions of the symbolism found in the cathedrals of the Imperial Church.
  Extreme:  Elaborately carved into the walls are a delicate range of bas reliefs depicting animal headed humanoids, strange beings in ancient clothes performing unknown tasks, and inhumanoid creatures that look more comfortable in a fever dream or nightmare. Looking at them for too long, the carvings seem to move subtly, it could just be flickering shadows, but something doesn’t feel right.
6 – Mushrooms
  Basic: A cavern opening ahead has slightly fresher air drifting through it. Approaching it you see mushrooms as large as a person growing from the walls, they smell of truffles. (These mushrooms are edible)
  Heightened: Sweet smelling mushrooms grow along the walls in this part of the caves, they are covered in large ants (each 2-3cm long). You’re sure that you’ve seen mushrooms like this in marketplaces. (These mushrooms are mildly hallucinogenic in small doses, and toxic in large amounts)
  Extreme: The walls of the cave seem covered in a single living fungal entity. Protruding from the walls like delicate tentacles, or leafless vines, headed with dandelion-like spores. You’d have to be very careful to avoid touching these heads, or avoid releasing the spores. (These are Metaphysical Spores, possibly lethal, or mystically enlightening. Highly sought by mystics but highly volatile)
7 – Dwarves
  Basic: A lone Faeblood miner chips away at the cave walls here with a pick. They seem to have collected quite a range of gems and semi-precious stones.
  Heightened: Although it seems to be sculpted from the very earth itself, a short stone figure moves slowly through the cave (a Dwarf). The figure is performing some kind of inscrutable ritual, and appreciates neither being watched nor interrupted.
  Extreme: The earth shakes as though it’s about to collapse. Rocks tumble through passages toward you, but as they come into your light they appear in human forms (a number of Stone Golems roughly equal to the number of players). At the centre of them all is an angry looking creature of stone, its eyes glowing like magma (an angry Dwarf).
8 – Underground pool
  Basic: A natural depression in the cavern complex has gathered a pool of still water.
  Heightened: Seeping through the walls and dripping down into a pool, you see drops of pale tinted water. There are obviously some type of minerals dissolved in the water, and the moss and lichen on the edges of the pool would suggest it isn’t toxic, but you are unsure if it would be completely safe to drink.
  Extreme: A large cavern opens up ahead of you. To one side of the cavern is a large underground lake, on the other side is an open space where someone has built a stone hut. You can hear noises from inside the hut.
9 – Cave Explorers
  Basic: Up ahead, you see a small group of cave explorers who have become lost in the underground labyrinth (roughly half as many as there are players).
  Heightened: There are sounds of a group up ahead, approaching them you see that they are well equipped cave looters, with mining gear, lanterns, and weaponry (roughly twice as many as there are players). They don’t look impressed that someone is approaching their claim.
  Extreme: You don’t notice them until it’s too late, first they block the passageway ahead, then they appear from behind…slowly closing the gap around you. They might once have been civilised people from the surface, but have long since degraded into bloodthirsty mockeries of their former selves. (There are a number of mutated cave looters roughly equal to the number of players)
10 – Subterranean Glow
  Basic: The cave network through this part of the complex is riddled with glowing mushrooms. This seems to have lured a few more bugs and other wildlife to the area.
  Heightened: Embedded in the rock are veins of a faintly glowing ore. This ore faintly illuminates the cave passages, and looks vaguely like veins through the wall.
  Extreme: Ahead, the air itself seems to be alive with a pulsing light. It might be a swarm of fireflies, or a glowing toxic gas. If you want to keep heading forward and take the risk of passing through it, that’s up to you.
J – Cave Hermit (Unlikely NPC Encounter)
  Basic: You almost pass him by the time you realise he is there, a simple hermit sitting in meditation in an alcove on the side of the passageway. He remains silent with his headed pointed downward.
  Heightened: You almost pass him by the time you realise he is there, a simple hermit sitting in meditation in an alcove on the side of the passageway. While he still seems to be gently breathing, he has obviously been here for a long time, lichen and moss grows across his shoulders and knees. (This is one of the legendary immortal hermits)
  Extreme: A side alcove of this passage has been furnished with cushions, low tables and antiques. Reclined on the cushions you see a comfortable figure who enthusiastically invites you in, it’s obvious that they don’t get many visitors down here. (This is one of the mythical banished Immortals, a godlike being stripped of power and forced to spend an eternity in this underground cell, until someone might release them).
Q – Mind of the Earth (Unlikely Signature Event)
  Basic: Out through the soft rock of the wall, the head of a worm emerges. It looks confused.
  Heightened: Glistening in the distant light, you see a pool of writhing liquid. As you approach, you see that it is filled with dozens of worms each a metre or more in length. You can almost feel them probing your mind as you get near the pool.
  Extreme: The walls of the passageway collapse around you and you are covered in writhing worms that bite at any exposed flesh and wriggle into any exposed holes in armour or clothes. Your mind fills with static and chaos as they writhe around you, the oblivion of the worms is seductive, every second you are in their presence it gets harder to resist them.
K – Cave of Wonders (Highly Unlikely Signature Event)
  Basic: This part of the cave network was obviously used as a treasure stash at one point, but any crates remaining have been long ago looted, and anything of value that might have been here is now long gone.
  Heightened: Someone has used this part of the caves as a stash point. There are a few small crates and barrels here, but it would have been hard to get anything larger into this part of the underground labyrinth. (This is a trapped stash of treasure)
  Extreme: The close passageways open out into a vast cavern filled with gems, precious metals, pile of ancient antiques and treasures. At the centre of it all sits a pedestal, and sitting atop that pedestal is an elaborately sculpted glass bottle that seems to radiate a palpable darkness. (This is a legendary Djinn, if this result is ever obtained again, reselect the random encounter)