Shadow Over Alfheim – Pt 11 “Burn it to the Ground!”

The megadungeon in Morgansfort which i’ve been using for the ruined elven city of Malek is proving a bit problematic, because of its lack of sensible dungeon design. Now, it’s also problematic because I haven’t really included giant insects or the ecology necessary to sustain them in Alfheim, but I’m able to handwaive that as “evil elf magic”.

The dungeon’s first level is basically a small horizontal figure-8 in the middle of a large vertical figure-8. The northwest portion of the loop is closed off, however, to both the characters and to most wandering monsters by a giant nest of pony-sized ants. The choked up nature of a lot of the dungeon’s first floor makes random encounters a bit difficult to rationalize. Where was the monster going? Where was it coming from? There’s a neat trick mirror in one of the rooms that shows what happened an hour in the past (specifically a wandering group of goblins), but the room is located in such a place that the goblins wouldn’t have been there unless the party already ran into them coming the other way (away from the giant ant nest). I really like the idea that goblins are trying to take over this dungeon to use as a base, but the layout of the first level, the singular entry pointin the middle of the figure-8s, along with the infrequency of random encounters has made it harder to work in than I would like. The goblin encounters worked out a lot better above ground.

In retrospect, what I should’ve done was treat the goblins as a separate adventuring party, rather than a random encounter. Their presence would be felt in the wake of the effects they had on the dungeon, whether they were encountered or not.

This is also the first really deep dungeon that the party has hit, and it could take several sessions to clear it out. In the meantime, I worry that the story will drag. I probably shouldn’t have used this dungeon for this game, but that’s not the dungeon’s fault. Still, it’s given me a few places to showcase how messed up the elves are. Especially since I’ve gone ahead and made the Ghouls curse-bound elves.

Anyway, the party left the safety of the talking-face room and tried to finish clearing out as much of the 1st floor as they could. They started with the alchemical laboratory, where the lightning trapped door put some serious hurt on the goblin thief. They poked around the room for awhile, bagged the valuable alchemical equipment, and considered coming back some other day for the Kiln on the off chance they could bring back a team of engineers to tear the place apart stone by stone.

The party then trekked to the “dark room”, one of the many fun-but-not-really-thematically-connected tricks in the dungeon, where the room is filled with continual darkness and nothing else. This room would’ve probably been less fun if the party had not had the staff of light and dark; since they did, it was neat having them mess around with how a continual light source affected the continual dark, creating wispy maelstroms of flickering shadows. While the party was having fun playing with that, a giant ant showed up.

It was a pretty tough fight. The wizard, whose player could only play with us once, shot off a magic missile and vanished. The giant bug nearly killed the fighter, but the party was able to eventually take it down. If anything, they were sufficiently discouraged by the fight to try to face down an entire nest. As for the Bargrish the evil Wizard, I think I’ll turn him into a Wizard of Frobozz type character, who shows up randomly, casts a spell then leaves.

The party continued on to the octagonal room for the stirge fight. Much less of a headache than the ants, but still hurt some. They found the secret lever that would’ve disarmed the crossbow trap that they sprung much earlier on, but they didn’t know that.

Heading on to the upper loop of the vertical figure 8, the sneaky characters stumbled onto a random cursed elf who was wandering in circles. The cursed elf failed all of his attack rolls and was killed pretty quick. The party couldn’t figure out where it was headed, and honestly, off the top of my head, neither could I. But he was headed the same direction as the players, so I guess he’d come up past the stirges just a bit earlier. From where? I have no idea.

The mapper figured out that they’d made a full circle back to the ant colony (just on the other side). They found the aforementioned magic mirror and did some playing around with it. Again, I screwed up, because I should’ve had them run into goblins somewhere along that path between the main entrance at the middle of the figure-8s and the top of the vertical loop, but I’d forgotten about the mirror room and hadn’t really prepared for it. So, uh… there are goblins somewhere. I’ll assume that they quickly made their way back outside because screw this dungeon.

The thief pricked his finger on the trapped chest across the hall from the mirror, the room filled with poison gas. The monk managed to stick his foot in the door and get everybody out before they were too badly affected. Cheap trick, but it was harder to pull off than i would’ve liked. Oh, well.

One fun thing I was able to work in was the room where the giant shrew has one of the dungeon key rubies. I treated it as one of the shrews that the party had given its food to the first time. The fighter gave it some more food, so the shrew nuzzled the gem out of his hidey-hole. The party considered for a moment killing it to see if it had more treasure but opted not to. I know in descriptions, Giant Shrews are supposed to be super hostile, but in both encounters, the monsters had 10 or higher reaction rolls, so I went with it.

On the way to check out the last of the rooms that they hadn’t hit on the 1st floor, they scoped out the spitting cobra room. Lucky for the thief, the cleric still had a bottle of anti-venom; even if the monk could’ve collected herbs enough to make a potion, it could’ve either taken too long or they’d be picked apart by the goblin patrols in the woods.

On the way south, a green slime fell on the goblin ranger, who was burned half to death to get it off. Same thing happened to the fighter. Good times.

The illusory ladder down forever room was mistaken for a route to the second floor and was left for later. The teleporter room zapped the monk down to the cells. Took the monk about a half-hour in game time to get back to where everyone else was, but since he was the mapper, he found his way fairly quickly. As he did, the others peeked into the room where the bees were. “Anybody here remember those levels in Donkey Kong Country 2? It looks like that in there.”

Beaten up pretty good, the party decided to try to camp in the talking stone face room again. They found two cursed elves seated and listening to it saying unintelligible things. The ensuing fight was pretty rough, with two paralyzed heroes, but a few lucky rolls managed to keep it from becoming worse than it was.

As I said before, some variation of the phrase “We just need to burn this place to the ground” was uttered at least three times that night.

I definitely think I prefer running smaller dungeons to megadungeons. There are a lot of little traps and random things, but they don’t quite come together the way that the set pieces of the smaller mods I’ve run have.  Also, for being so big, it’s kind of claustrophobic.  With a dungeon laid out the way that Maze of Nuromen was, there was plenty of ways for things to come and go unseen, yet despite its openness, it had a very cozy feel.  It was easier for characters to get a connection to the place.  For Malek, I’ve done a lot of improvisations to give more than the most barebones detail and descriptions so I could make it fit.  I think it goes back to my theory on dungeons and purpose.  All dungeons have to have some sort of purpose to them: buildings were built for reasons, and even if that reason is a mystery to the explorers, making it a mystery to the DM can make it difficult to use.  I was able to extrapolate enough elven-ness to make it usable, but I’m starting to wish I hadn’t.  Most of the players still seem to be digging it, though.

Hard, yet soft!

Hey, this is pretty cool news! Blueholme is a really great Holmes clone with a neat fairy-tale feel to it.

Dreamscape Design

01 Old & New
The first print proof of the Lulu print-on-demand version of the BLUEHOLME™ Prentice Rules has arrived. Soft cover, perfect bound, and shiny. I have a few observations, and I think I might need one more try before I’m satisfied, but overall I’m happy. Who am I kidding, I ran around the flat waving my arms in the air and singing a silly tune – but let’s not dwell on that.

The blue of the cover is not quite the right shade – I want to try for something a little closer to the Holmes book you can see to the left there. Although the perfect binding seems fine so far, I also want to try a saddle-stitched option. If that works, I’ll probably offer both options.

The interior looks good, and the 10-point font is nicely readable – something that I can’t say for most rulebooks in this day and…

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Bad and/or Weird Books I’ve Been Reading

Not long ago, I mentioned how I’d been reading Clan of the Cave Bear and then suddenly the second-hand book market got flooded with hardcover copies of several of Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children books. In the middle of Clan and loving the hell out of it, I picked up several of the sequels for a couple bucks a piece.

Well, I’m about 2/3s of the way through Valley of the Horses, and I’m a little blah about the direction it’s been going. The first half of the book is like two different books that have been spliced together. The first book is the actual sequel to Clan of the Cave Bear in which Ayla finds herself struggling to live in exile, adapting to life along, and winning over awesome animal companions. The second book, whose chapters are interspersed with the first, is rather awkwardly written and fairly explicit caveman erotica. The inevitable conclusion is going to be when Ayla and the new protagonist finally meet up and Ayla’s loneliness and isolation is cured by the new male protagonist’s giant caveman dong.*

I plan on finishing it, because I really hate not finishing books I’m in the middle of, but I don’t know if I’m going to read any of the other sequels.

Now, one book that I don’t think i can finish is Godhunter. It was one of several free books I downloaded from Drive-Thru Fiction months ago. Of the books I downloaded, the one of the only ones I was able to read all the way through was Thieves at Heart. I wanted to like Thieves at Heart, and at times I really did enjoy it, but it took some really bizarre turns, and I doubt I’ll ever get around to finishing the series. It sells itself as a fantasy take on Oliver Twist, only Oliver in this is a half-elf girl and the Fagin character has on his one ward and is not so entirely characterized in terms of his Jewishness. It had some nice slice of life, life of a petty thief and shill stuff that might give you some interesting game ideas, but the later portion of the book gives a pretty strong focus to the protagonist’s puberty, upon the reaching of which she goes into full-on sex-fiend mode. While it’s nowhere near as explicit as Valley of the Horses, it was not particularly pleasant. When I grabbed Godhunter, I didn’t know that it was an “erotic thriller” though despite that, it is generally less explicit than either Thieves at Heart or Valley of the Horses. It is laughably bad, though laughable badness can only carry one so far through a book before the boredom sets in. Godhunter is a tongue-in-cheek-but-not-parody-unless-Poe’s-Law story of a woman who kills gods who are actually ancient-evil-atlanteans-who-have-deceived-mankind-but-not-all-of-them-are-evil-some-want-to-save-mankind-from-the-evil-ones. The protagonist ends up having a rocky relationship with Thor, who, honest-to-god, is written in such a way that I can’t imagine him being anything other than Aquaman from Batman: Brave and the Bold. Seriously, imagine this guy as the male love interest in a smutty romance novel:

Like I said, the “oh, god, this is so bad it’s funny” humor only got me so far, and I don’t think I can force myself to finish this trainwreck. I can totally understand why people are so apprehensive of self-published ebooks, especially free ones. The ones I’ve read so far have been pretty iffy. Except Ava Delany. Thirst was okay, I guess, but I don’t think I’m going to read any of the others in the series.

I think I’m going to turn to non-fiction for a book or two once I’m done with Valley of the Horses. I’ve got a bio of Tallyrand that’s just screaming to be read.

*:like serious, it’s an important character development point how big this dude’s dong is, and he’s kind of mopey that none of the cavewomen he meets on his adventure are able to take all of it.

Organizing Topics in a Post

Wow. Crazy industry news over the weekend. The IGDA released (or endorsed) a twitter blocklist, which its champions were hailing as a potential blacklist against game developers who support gamergate. This blocklist accidentally blocks Roberto Rosario, who happens to be the Chair of IGDA in Puerto Rico, because of its poorly thought out algorithm that blocks based on one’s follows and followers or something.  Needless to say, he’s pretty pissed.

Anyway, I’ve decided that I’m probably NOT going to finish transcribing the Geordie Tait interview. I think I reached the crux of it, and if you’re really interested, the audio is there for anyone to listen to. I just can’t deal with spending so many hours typing up what this guy has to say.

As for Alfheim, so much crazy stuff happened, I’m still piecing stuff together myself on just what went on. Might go up today, might go up tomorrow. We nearly lost a couple characters to green slime! Fun! It was another high XP night in the ridiculous monster menagerie that is the City of Malek. The phrase “Can’t we just burn it all down?” was uttered at least three times over the course of the night.

Anyway, sometime early-mid december, I’ll be hammering out some MYFAROG related stuff.

Now, if only I can soldier on through the last hundred pages or so of Valley of the Horses! I’ll be able to recap that, Godhunter (a free ebook, which I doubt I’ll finish) and Thieves at Heart (another free ebook which I read months ago but never talked about) in a big reading roundup.

Now enjoy this SNL skit that the Washington Post thought was important enough to fact check: