I keep putting off doing new short reviews. I’ve got quite a few stories I could talk about, but I keep getting distracted by shiny things like Jack Vance, Leigh Bracket and Algis Budrys. Tomorrow, I’ll knock out “Time is Money” by Haskell Barkin just to finally put the January 76 issue behind me. I’ll talk some about the ’74 issue I have (it’s not all bad), but I’m probably going to try to get through those quickly so I can dive into the stack of Astounding I have.
I gotta say, those suckers have some flimsy covers! Unlike the 70s F&SF, which are perfect-bound to a card-stock cover, the 40s & 50s Astounding are staple-bound with a gloss paper cover (the same thickness as a regular page, though of a less sturdy fiber) which is glued with a very sparse bit of adhesive to a spine that is hardly flush. As such, you have a booklet that is quite well held together, but virtually all of the covers are coming off because they aren’t aren’t glued to a solid block of papers but to 8 or so individual micro-spines. I doubt if even half of the issues I have will have covers that stand up to another read. But I’m here for great stories, not collectibility, so I’m prepared to sacrifice the physicality for the spirituality in the name of evangelizing science fiction. The Planet Stories might be another matter, because every blemish on those (already ragged, admittedly) covers is a crime against art…
Sad to say, Alfheim is now completely defunct. Player absences and drama-llamas have hammered the final nails in a game that should’ve ended back in late March or April.
I’ll give a rundown of how much was left, though everyone who has regularly followed those posts probably has an idea of how things would go down.
-The Zombraire’s Estate module would be resolved; admittedly, it wasn’t well tied into my story, but it was a blast to run, and I’m sad that I won’t get to finish it.
-The first of two goblin related missions would’ve been resolved. This would involve a relatively quick run through of the Old Island Fortress portion of the Morgansfort module; the party would be one of many teams made up of goblin shock troops cleaning out any monster down to the lower level so that the OIF would be a base for the Eastern goblin tribe. Resolving this would result in goblin allies from the east during the Alfort Siege
-The second of two goblin related missions would be presented and possibly resolved; the Orcs in the necromancer’s cave module would be turned into goblins for purpose of this scenario; it would’ve allow the party to end the war between the eastern and western goblin factions by ridding them of the necromancer (rewritten as a human acolyte of the elf king).
-The party would get sent to the Caelden’s Tomb (The Deathcrypt of Khaldun), find that the elf-king wasn’t home at the moment, retrieve the Book of Caelden after fighting the high-priest of Caeldun (originally the mummy of Khaldun) and the undead dragon. At this point, if the players have figured out that Richmond is Caelden, he would show up and take the book by force. The players have to make a dash back to Alfort.
-At that point, I’d run my Alfort tower defense scenario. Goblin allies would show up to help, the cavalry from the Imperial city would show up with an army of warrior priests to help turn the lesser undead and get folks out of the city. Depending on its outcome, the players would either stop Caelden then and there or be forced to admit defeat and abandon the Alfheim colony to its fate.
I probably could’ve got it all knocked out in about 8 more sessions (we were 2/3 of the way through!), but at this point, it seems like it would take an eternity and it’s not worth it to me at this point.
So, why did Alfheim die?
Part of the problem was that I made a sandbox a bit too big and a bit too unfocused. But that only covers a small piece of the problem; if I’d had less content and pushed the story quicker, I could only say that I managed to finish before things fell apart for other reasons. It could not have hurt, though, if I’d given the group a better idea of the scope and scale of content.
Originally, I’d hoped for Alfheim to be more of a drop-in game. We had some drop-ins, but with one exception, they became drop-outs. The group coalesced around a core group of players. When core players began to have scheduling conflicts or drop-out for other reasons, there wasn’t enough of a group left to work with the (admittedly bloated) scale that Alfheim had taken on; I could run for 4 players, but not easily for 3, and I wasn’t able to fill spots.
Finally, and most relevant to the game’s demise, you can’t maintain a long-running game if problems spring up with or between players. You can do your best to alleviate it or mitigate it, but when there are players who either can’t stand each other or are simply intolerable to the group, you can’t keep that group together, no matter how much you wish and hope that people can get along, even if only long enough to finish a game.
DMs can’t actually control everything; sometimes a game can stall out and die from reasons that are no fault of their own. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.