Shadow over Alfheim pt3 – Maze of Nuromen, concluded

My group wrapped up the Maze of Nuromen on Friday night, and as much as I enjoy the module as a reader of modules, as a DM I’m thankful that it’s over.

I know that a DM should always assume nothing, but I was at least hoping that I wouldn’t be dealing with a party that was chaotic stupid. Having a Thief in the party (played by someone I wasn’t expecting to show up) changed the group dynamic enough that it brought to light some serious flaws in both my own DMing and in the module. I had really thought that playing the stereotypical asshole evil thief was so played out and such a negative stereotype that it wasn’t a thing anymore. I was wrong.

While the fighter picked the pieces of the gallows off the cleric, I took up with the goblins who were camping at the bottom of the stairs on level 2. This group was now comprised of a few level 0 npc goblins, a level 2 character goblin, a level 1 elf pretending to be a human magic user, and a (barely)  level 3 goblin thief (I handwaved racial restrictions to quickly deal with an unanticipated complication), who I’m not sure understood that he was considered an asshole by goblin standards even.

The goblins broke camp and returned through the dining hall. Seeing that one of the harpies was dead, the NPC goblins took some time to loot banquet hall, with the thief taking some too, of course. Instead of immediately going for the prison wing where, the the Fighter and Cleric were, they went to the pantry first, and did some raiding of the stores. While they did, some skeletons showed up. Not as many skeletons as I rolled up, mostly because I didn’t feel like running that big a combat (they would’ve been fighting 8 skeletons with max HP; I put them up against 3). Glad I didn’t, because everyone was making lousy rolls, and it was the NPC goblins who did the most heavy lifting during the fight.

One goblin was mortally wounded, but was allowed to live via some DM generousity. After tending to the wounded goblin, they started hitting up the elf wine, figuring that since there was no way to haul it out of the dungeon, they might as well enjoy what they could then and there. The PC Goblin and Elf convinced the goblins, reluctant to stay in the dungeon, to stick around for at least one more day.

The Cleric and Fighter clumisly made their way back to where they found the drunken goblin party. After some awkward introductions, they finally got the ball rolling and found
Nuromen’s private chambers. I had a lot of fun describing the tapestries in the room, adding some of my own little details, but man, there is so much going on that room, and with 5 people all wanting to do different things, it took some serious crowd control to get things back on track. The elf was curious about the tapestries, and ended up taking one of them. The Goblin checked the drawers, and ended up taking the puppet, having some fun with that. The Thief and Cleric checked the bed. The Thief, being chaotic asshole, disregarded the bodies and pocketed Anthea’s bracelet without even looking at it (“The child’s wearing a silver bracelet with an inscription in ancient elvish”, “Yeah, whatever, i take it, what else is there here to steal?”). Thus the password proved too much a lynchpin of the dungeon. Without that clue, there was no way the party was going to get through the horror door unless I gave them reminders. First, i let them squirm a bit to see if they’d figure it out on their own, but they didn’t.

Leaving the bedchambers, they party found the groto and poked around a bit. The guy playing the Fighter was joking about getting naked in the fountain, so I figured that was a great opportunity to have a Giant Fire Beetle bite his hand. Late in the first round, the Fighter was asking everyone what, if anything, would be the benefits of fighting the Fire Beetles. Maybe because of how he asked it, I ruled that he lost his next combat round because he was asking the NPC goblins existential questions while a fire beetle was biting his hand. The other players all concurred that this was the appropriate (and amusing) response.

Anyway, the beetles were killed, leaving the players wondering if there was anything worthwhile in the Grotto. I let the Cleric know that based on his own knowledge of plants, he could tell everyone that everything in the garden was poisonous such that even touching it was not the best idea.

At some point, I don’t remember exactly when, but it was after they raided the bedchambed, the party camped for the night so the cleric could heal the dying goblin. On the second watch, Nuromen’s ghost wailed angrily. On the final watch (the thief’s), the ghost wailed again, shrieking curses, and mentioned the name “Anthea”. Of course the Thief, playing Chaotic Asshole wrote it off and told the party it was nothing. He got his comeuppance in the barrack’s though. Being a dude who tried to steal everything, he got hurt pretty badly in a surprise attack by the skeletons at the gaming table. Two more NPC goblins got killed in this scrap, at which point the goblins said it was time to go home.

The party continued to be confounded a bit by the dead-ends both on the second floor and the torture room, though they came up with a pretty elaborate scheme to grease the view-port of the iron door, so I let them get a glimpse inside. But seeing as they were going to be stuck unless I gave them a nudge, a few of the goblins, who were going to try to take a barrel or two of wine back with them, said “Hey, check that guy’s pockets, we saw him steal something back in the bedroom off that corpse.” Provided now with the information needed to get past the horror door, the party proceeded to Nuromen’s study.

This was another difficult room to run, since there was so much stuff in it and so much going on. The cleric made a bee-line for the bookshelves, since they were sent to find a book. For simplicity sake, I let all the books on the shelf be ruined ala Myst, but the Cleric found the secret door and went down it. Meantime, the thief is stealing exploding potions, and the goblin lets the frog out, which caused a bit of madness.

The cleric takes the Book of Power, the elf takes the two spellbooks, and the goblin takes the keys. The Cleric and Fighter have their objective, and Elf has some new spellbooks. The thief wants more treasure, and the Fighter and Goblin concur, so they decide to go on. The torture room is torturous, and the thief gets more treasure. The iron maiden has an angry zombie; I decided that the zombie is stuck on the spikes and can’t get out, so I gave him extra HP to see what the party would do. They spent about 4 rounds making sure it was dead, rather than just closing it back up.

The hall of Statues was a bit of an unsuccessful test of the party’s dedication. They got about halfway there, they really did! The fighter made his save after he turned the head the wrong way. The elf came up with an elaborate pulley to turn the other statue’s head, but turned it the wrong way. They gave up before trying to turn the heads the other way.

After finding the illuminated manuscript with the dead evil cleric, the party leaders decided they were laiden with treasures in the form of the 4 books and chest they couldn’t open, and decided that they’d head back to Alfort for their reward and wrapup.

So, Nuromen doesn’t show up, which means he’s now going to be an angry (and possibly recurring) villain, with a grudge against the elf, the cleric, and the thief.

I’m going to be sending my players some of their item assessments by email, after I tally up their XP. The Minstrel got to recur, this time playing in the tavern. (“You see. I was wrong. Caelden’s not coming back. He’s already here!”) I’m still trying to figure out the best way to assess items & calculate XP for things. As much as I like the realism of not giving out the value of non-coin treasures and not giving the exact number of coins in chests unless the party takes a turn or two to count them, I feel like it’s going to be a mechanical stumbling block, and a personal stumbling block for myself, since I’m having to keep track of treasures rather than just handing them off to my players.

Anyway, unless they decide to return to Laws End to continue looting, this will be the end of Maze of Nuromen. Again, it was harder to run than I would’ve liked, but going through with a highlighter helped tremendously. Also, have some contingencies if the party can’t figure out the Bracelet clue.

I hope I will find out after a few emails, but the players will either be taking on the Old Island Fortress, the Zombraire’s Estate, or Tower of Dreams in the next session.

Anyway, I won’t be around for most of the rest of this week, so it will take longer than usual to approve comments from new posters, but I’ll try to have a little bit of content scheduled for while I’m gone.

Music – boris, Another Noise

Bleh! I have been sick most of this week! Fortunately I am well enough to finish running Maze of Nuromen for my group tonight. Plus, I get to meet a new player, one who’s familiar with B/X!

Don’t know if I’ll have time for a real post today while I catch up on a lot of things, so enjoy these new tracks by boris in the meantime.

Is Mapping Unfair?

I was thinking about the mapping for my game, because i’m considering giving my players a couple of “work-in-progress” maps of the Maze of Nuromen, representing where they’ve been so far; the first to the group of goblins, who, since they started in the middle of the dungeon, need something for a bit of orientation, and the second for the alpha party, whose mapper is a novice.

The eldest member of the group pointed out to the novice mapper that he should be grateful that I’ve helped him with mapping and pointed to a few significant mistakes (“dude, you mixed up East and West; here, let me just turn your map upside-down. Now it’s right. I’ll draw you a compass rose”)

I guess the reason why I feel like mapping is unfair is because it’s much easier to draw a map based on what you’re seeing around you than what you’re being told. I mean, the game already takes into account “mapping speed”, implying that the characters, if not the players, are carefully measuring and taking account of things. Room descriptions can be somewhat cumbersome, because you have to tell your players what’s in the room that immediately jumps out at them (either an encounter or a more figurative ‘jumps out’, like a big statue or altar or whatever), what’s in the room, what’s in the room after careful inspection of the room, dimensions of the room (god help you if you’re in anything that’s not a rectangle or something that resembles a tetris piece!), the locations of the exits from said room, and you need to figure out the best order in which to tell the players this! The problem is even worse if the players are in the subterrain and the walls and tunnels are irregular. For instance, while Dyson is a phenomenal artist when it comes to dungeon maps, a lot of his maps I would have a difficult time describing effectively enough to my players for them map.

I like some of the things I’ve seen for 4e, which wholly embraced the board game nature, of which there are many vestiges found in Basic, of Dungeons & Dragons, that took iconic dungeons like the Tomb of Horrors and made printable tile-sets for the rooms and tunnels. No worrying about where the players were actually stepping, whether they did or did not walk over a certain spot or getting lost even though the character in game are mapping and are capable mappers (the player doesn’t have to know magic or be good with a sword to play a wizard or a swordman, but he has to be able to map to play a character who can map; that hardly seems fair).

But you can’t always print off your dungeons in handy tile or geomorph format, and you can’t always work your dungeons onto a HeroQuest board (unless you’re running a HeroQuest to D&D conversion!), so what’s a DM to do? Right now, I don’t have the answer to that. My game is running myriad OSR dungeons, all of which are using the 10′ square grid maps.

One thing I’ve been considering as a future solution, however, is flowchart dungeons. I’m inspired partially by Random Wizard’s interactive node maps of some of the old modules and also Matthew Schmeer’s incredibly bizarre One Page Dungeon, The Wizard in the Woods is Up to Something (Maybe), which has almost twice the real-estate of Maze of Nuromen on a single page thanks to its keyed flow-chart. Even Zork, with its massive underworld, is just a big flowchart. Thinking about how we conceptualize space, locations and the distance between them, the flowchart makes more sense than a rigidly scaled map, and is much easier to convey to your players. It’s easier to say “You’re in a large underground room held up by 4 pillars, there are 6 exits; north, northeast, east, southeast, south, and west” than “…there are doors north and south, and a door on the opposite end of the room from which you came in. Also there are two doors on the east wall at the northeast and southeast corners of the room”, which would be the Room 2 in the Maze of Nuromen.

After this dungeon, I might experiment with treating the mapped dungeons as a flowchart rather than in concrete terms. If they ask for or need dimensions, I can give it to them. We’ll see!

Vein vs. Vein: Anatomy of a boris Remixssue

So, after some careful listening, I’m beginning to figure out what the new Vein IS. IS, as in what it’s composition, based on the original vein, IS.

Disc 1, the reimagined hardcore version, principally takes the one-two minute punk/grindcore tracks, isolates them, and removes most of the droning/jamming (contrary to the name, the hardcore version is comprised of about 50-60% drone). Instead of the extended instrumental intro, it cuts the intro down to just over a minute, adds in an additional instrumental piece that I can’t identify (based on the mix, which is significantly different). The instrumental outro of Side A is instrumental outro of disc 1.

Disc 2, the reimagined drone version, seems to be an extended jam of the the second part of the original hardcore version’s instrumental intro (fuzz/feedback/doomy bassline). Some of this made it into side A of the drone version, but again, the mix is substantially different, with the driving bassline brought front and center. It has more in common, soundwise, with the instrumental intro (around the 5 minute mark) of Hardcore’s side A. The second half of Disc 2 seems like a more straighforward remix of drone side b, although somewhat condensed.

Vein CD is a very different experience than either of the Vein LPs. The hardcore disc is decidedly more hardcore, by simple elimination of the moodsetting instrumentals. The drone disc, while still instrumental and droning, has more of a doom element by pushing the noise to the back and the rhythm to the front of the mixes during its first phases. You have a fairly consistent track, in some ways reminiscent more of Cloud Chamber than Vein’s drone disc, which feels cohesive and thematically similar to the original, while it avoids the ubiquitous squealing of feedback, except in its climax (as mentioned before, taken from the latter portion of Side b), which largely defined its LP counterpart.

While an interesting experiment in reduction and remixing, I feel that a large part from the Hardcore disc is missing. Lacking the extensive and sweeping metal instrumentals that punctuated those brief and incredibly chaotic songs, the CD makes for less pleasurable listening than the LP version. It feels like less of a holistic experience than a collection of short and thrashing punk songs by a band that is more well known for their lengthy and melodious stoner metal suites. The Drone CD, in some ways is an improvement, offering some variation that wasn’t necessarily present on the original, and showcases some of boris’ best hard-driving instrumental metal since the Thing Which Solomon Overlooked series.


I have been trolled by Boris again.

I just got the new 2CD Edition of Vein the other day. My first thoughts were “Yay, now I don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars to hunt down the Drone version!” and “Yay, now I don’t have to setup my stereo speakers to where the cat will destroy them when i want to listen to my copy of the Hardcore version!” Because Vein, which was one of Boris’s best albums, was released as two clear, unlabeled LPs, the first disc of which was limited to 1100 copies and only released in western hemisphere while the second was limited to 400 copies only released in the eastern hemisphere. Needless to say, getting a full copy of vein was a difficult and expensive prospect, and succeeding would land you in an extremely exclusive group of individuals.

Well, they put out a 2cd set which, instead of being a cd reissue of the original album(s) was a remixed/reimagined cd version on 2 5″cds with 3″ bands (to reflect the strange pressing of the original which had a screened image on the outer two inches of a 12 inch LP.) So, instead of two 30 minute cds or one 60ish minute cd that included the entirety of Vein, they put out two 18 minute cds which together come out to barely over half the time of the original albums. I’m still interested, because it IS effectively a different album, but man! I’m still kinda cheesed that I have to turn to youtube for my digital versions of Vein.

Anyway, I also got their new album, Noise. The Japanese edition, of course, since it came with a second disc that extends things a little over 20 minutes. And I’m glad I did, because those songs on the bonus disc rock pretty hard. I think that Noise may grow on me. While I’m not completely blown away by it like the first time I heard Pink, I have to remember that it took awhile before I fully appreciated Smile and saw it for the masterpiece it was. Whether it grows on me or not, Noise is another step back in the right direction, away from the mess that was New Album, Heavy Rocks 2 and Attention Please.

New Album was such a jarring stylistic transition that it almost felt like a joke (i’m still not sure that it wasn’t, it just wasn’t a funny one, except for how confused western music review sites were when comparing albums in incorrect order because of the discrepancies between the Japanese and US release dates). I could never get past the feeling that “this just isn’t boris, why am I listening to J-Pop?”. Attention Please was interesting, but as much as I adore Wata as a guitarist who could wipe the floor with Eric Clapton any day of the week, she’s boring as a lead vocalist on this boring album that doesn’t really showcase what she’s best at. Heavy Rocks 2 was the best of that sad trio, but ultimately felt like a very uneven collection of B-sides for a better album that never materialized.

Praparat was a huge, shining ray of hope, and Noise is almost what I want from a new boris album. In fact it’s so close and so much better than their 2011 releases, that I’ll take it and be happy about it. It’s almost enough for me to forgive them the Vein CD. At least if I can ever scrape together enough cash for the Thing Which Solomon Overlooked Chronicles, I know it’ll be the original LPs and the bonus disc.

So, after I’m done soaking in the sickly stevia sweet Jetty Rae, I’ll be switching gears and taking in a little chaos from the Japanese lords of metal.