Shadow Over Alfheim Pt 16b: The Zombraire’s Estate

Once the party had been pointed in the direction of their adventure hook, they went to the farmlands west of the fort, the last place anyone had seen a zombie cow.  These monsters seemed to be originating from the direction of Sigyfel’s Tomb, but the Cleric, the only member who had been on that first adventure, knew that the tomb was small and not the source of the troubles.  Outside the tomb, the fighter discovered some “not quite leather” that had torn off one of the zombie cows on a trail nearby.  The party followed the gory trail of blood, fur and hoof prints through the scrublands and beyond into the wooded swamps.

The party heard a distant groaning “moo” in the distance.  The goblin thief climbed a tree and was able to spot an undead bovine staggering awkwardly and bumping into trees.  The party set upon it and quickly dispatched it, though they were a bit surprised by how much punishment it could take.  They continued on in the direction it had come from until the trees gave way to a clearing with an obvious and large graveyard between them and the wall of surrounding the estate.

Rather than poking around in the graveyard, or even going around the wall to the south gate, the party -starting with the goblin thief- decided to scale the wall.  This was an interesting choice, because it allowed me to show the party the entire layout of the estate (NW: barn, SW: undead chicken coop, NE: manor house, SE: undead garden) and gave the party a lot of options to try to launch a surprise attack.  What they ended up doing resulted in a ridiculous cascading encounter which everyone agreed was pretty epic.

The party saw the 7 zombie elves (4 women, 1 man, 2 children) working in the garden just south of the manor house; instead of jumping into the fray, they leapt from the wall onto the roof of the manor house.  Given that the roof was in somewhat bad shape, I kept making rolls to see if anyone fell through, but no one did.  The party unsuccessfully tried to ambush the family of zombies, never quite sure whether they should stay on the roof or climb down and fight.  The zombies seemed remarkably tough because I didn’t bother to tell the players that arrows did minimum damage and blunt did half.  The cleric tried and successfully turned 3 of them, but the other 4 ran into the manor.

(By this point, everyone realized that they’d forgotten to do anything with the lead-entombed crown; it was determined that the mage was still carrying it in his knapsack.)

I gave the party a few moment to figure out what they wanted to do before a wraith rose up from the roof to attack the players who weren’t on the ground.  The party managed to kill the wraith, largely thanks to the new fighter, but not before the mage and thief got energy drained.  I haven’t quite settled on how I’m going to handle it, but I’m thinking of an XP deficit, rather than an out and out loss of level.  I think my players are more scared not knowing.  “The wraith strikes you.  You feel sad.”  “What happens?” “All of the joy in life has left you.  You feel as though all you’ve been doing is meaningless.  The treasures seek are worthless and those which you’ve found, you know you’ll never get to sell, and even if you do, what will it even matter?”

Meanwhile, the remaining zombie elf women are hacking the cleric up.  The mage holds up his bleeding body with a floating disc while the fighter cuts through the zombies, but he doesn’t realize he’s offering the cleric up on a plate.  Of course, all the commotion has alerted the Zombraire; half a dozen of his pet stirges crash through the thatched roofing as they soar into the sky.  That’s when the mage makes one of the best uses of Sleep I’ve ever seen: “How high up are the Stirges?” “About 150 feet in the air or so.” “What’s the range on Sleep?” “Let me check…  240 feet.”  “I cast sleep on the Stirges!”  Everyone dives out of the way as stirges go splat around them, careening into the undead plants.  A purple bolt is fired from a window in the tower, striking the goblin thief as the party finishes slaughtering the zombies (who had been dealing wicked damage in rolled plain sight).

“Well, you’re surrounded by death: dead elves, dead stirges, undead plants, a million flies and the stench is unbearable.  What do you do?”

Go into the manor, of course!

The party makes it into the great hall just as the Zombraire has made his way down from the tower.  He was going to blast the party with an illusionary fireball cast from his wand of illusions, but everyone made their saves.  “He waves the wand at you…  And seems incredibly surprised that nothing seems to have happened.”  Having taken a hit, the Zombraire tried to make a run for it.  The fighter caught him before he could get very far or cast more spells, cutting him down on the stairs of his tower.  If he could’ve gotten his mirror image off, things might have been very different.

The party was now free to search the manor, found some swag, and burned some rot-grubs off the goblin thief.  Though Richmond is under some suspicion and the party clearly isn’t going to give him the crown right away if at all, I was happy that the party discussed which items he might be interested in.  We finally called it a night because I warned that any further exploration of the Estate would probably lead to an encounter almost as big as the last one.

So, thoughts on the Zombraire’s Estate module!

This is one of the mini modules from BFRPG’s free Adventure Anthology 1.  Though it’s been teased at for some time, I didn’t ever know when I was going to get to finally run it.  I hadn’t looked at this module in two months and still managed to run it by the seat of my pants and everyone had a great time.  That alone is a sign of a quality supplement for a DM.  I screwed up the placement of two rooms (transposing the bedroom with the kitchen) in the manor and as such lost a minor set-piece encounter that would’ve ended with the cleric turning the skeleton maids to dust the first round, but I’m okay with that.  The wand of illusions is going to introduce some fun chaos to my game, but will be balanced by the fact that damn near everything has been undead.

So long as I can answer “why would the elves have an undead farm?” sufficiently with “because they’re terrible and evil”, ZE fits nicely into the Alfheim setting.

After Maze of Nuromen, this has probably been one of my favorite modules to run, even if I only get two sessions out of it.  Depending on how you let things play out, there could be anywhere from as many as a dozen encounters to two or three monstrous battles.  I don’t know how things will turn out with the barn, the zombie chickens, and the rats in the graveyard, but I think my players would concur that a fight against several zombies, stirges, a wraith and an elven zombie wizard was sufficiently awesome.

Shadow Over Alfheim Pt6 – Night of the Necromancer Concluded

One of the players who wasn’t available last week was here this time, so he and another absent player’s character showed up in Stull to find it burning and overrun by zombies. Needless to say, the other players still in the dungeon were all “Oh, sh….”

The Goblin and Orc fought some zombies with the help of a couple townsfolk to save the mayor. One townsperson became a level 1 something or other, after surviving the battle with a handful of zombies in case any players lost their characters in the dungeon. The mayor told the where the party was. I ruled that he’d arrive at the encounter under-way in 4 rounds.

The turned and fleeing zombies attracted the attention of the big-bads of the dungeon, Thaen (MU) and Behiric (CL) and Thaen’s Wight friend.

I molly-coddle the party a bit more than I’d told myself I would, if only because a party, however big, of level 1-3 characters were out of their depth against two 6th level magic users and an aethereal undead. Rather than hold personing everyone, the cleric only held-person a couple (ultimately one, the cleric who failed his saving throw). The evil cleric relied more on his +2 warhammer than his spells, though everyone did get scared when he healed himself to full. The goblin/thief found out that his +1 mace was actually cursed and evil, when the cleric laughed after being hit for max damage with a weapon blessed by and dedicated to his own evil god.

The Magic User put the hurt on some folks with magic missiles, and downed the fighter. Again, I didn’t want to be mean and have him use his lightning bolt straight off for a TPK. The monk (my OSR monk) used a poison dagger on Thaen and sent him running.

The wight bumbled around a lot, completely unable to connect to anyone, which was good, I guess, since level drain is really mean. Of course, a lot of characters didn’t have +1 weapons, so there was a lot of really great acrobatic roleplay of characters grabbing magic weapons from fallen characters. The goblin/thief needed a different weapon, so someone tossed the held cleric’s mace at him, but he caught it with his face. The goblin/thief nearly got KO’d after the evil cleric picked him up and threw him against a wall. The Elf also had an “oh, no!” moment when sleep didn’t work on Behiric.

The Elf chased after Thaen, and shot him in the shoulder, so Thaen KO’d the Elf pretty hard with a lighting-bolt before wizard locking himself in his room.

The wight eventually got killed, and Behiric, almost dead, yielded. As he yielded, the goblin/thief bashed his skull in.

The party couldn’t open Thaen’s wizard-locked door, so they decided to cover his door in oil, set it on fire and smoke him out. The dungeon got filled pretty bad with smoke, and the party hid out sifting through Behiric’s dirty clothes waiting the fire out and killing the turned zombies who were hiding in his room.

I decided that wizard lock does not stop wooden doors from burning, so they returned, kicked in the remains, found Thaen dead from smoke inhalation, and the rest of the turned zombies cowering in his room with him. Thaen had destroyed his spellbook as one of his last living acts. After searching the room, the party dispatched the turned undead and dragged themselves back to the village, which was more or less burned to the ground.

Of course before they got out of the dungeon, they had been messing with the lever in Thaen’s room, and the cleric fell in the pit trap (the goblin/thief was not heavy enough to set it off and declared it ‘disarmed’). They turned the zombie in the pit just for the hell of it, so it was turned and stuck on spikes at the bottom of a 30 ft pit.

They spent two days recovering, during which time, Garrett arrived in town, delivering the Elfstones(Orbs of Necromantic Power) to the clerics and told them what he knew of Thaen, Behiric and the cult of Caelden. The students had been promised to learn many great arcane secrets, but had been unaware that it entailed their destruction of the city and raising an undead army. The level 1 MU didn’t stand much chance of leaving or stopping Thaen & Behiric, but with them dead, he was able to murder his companions and deliver the artifacts to the clergymen.

The party returned to the tomb the next day, fought the two other wights in the tomb (who also managed to not hit anyone) then found the giant pile of dead bodies where the orbs had been kept. They debated forever over what to do with the corpses, where to move them, how to bury them, etc. etc. The goblin/thief wanted to mutilate their bodies, the cleric wouldn’t let them. They ended up spending the better part of the day dumping the bodies into the pit with the zombie. “The 30′ pit is now a 15′ pit, and there is a turned zombie under the bodies who is very unhappy about the situation.” The party took the last of the loot out of the student’s room and then went to the treasure room, the last room they hadn’t explored.

The goblin/thief made a b-line for the treasure-chest and got squished by living statues. A heroic effort was made to drag him out, and the party opted to seal the statues in the room rather than go after the treasure.

All in all, Necromancers of Stull was a fun module to run. The only problem I had with it was the cramped nature of some of the rooms meant that the opening tunnel, rooms 3, 9, 10 and 11 all constituted one big encounter. And really it wasn’t so much of a problem as it was a balance issue. While the zombies are not an issue, especially with clerics in the party, fighting two lvl 6 spellcasting characters with that much interference being run for them is really tough. If I’d played to win it as the bad-guys, I’d’ve had Behiric hold everyone. Thaen then could’ve killed the still-level 1 elf with magic missiles, and anyone who wasn’t held could be killed off with missiles and lightning bolts. Even if Behiric hadn’t managed to hold anyone, Thaen has enough damage going on with his Lighting Bolt, he could’ve easily killed half the party with a single spell. Still, even going easy on the party, it was a pretty exciting encounter, and having the goblin/halfling and orc show up on round 4 added to that excitement, very much in a “Yay, we’re saved!” sort of way, especially when the party got down to the light-healer, the thief and the elf as active combatants.

For a party as big as the one I’m playing with, I’d say this would be good for a level 2-4 party (thieves at the high end, elves at the low end) or level 3-4 for a smaller party. Otherwise an encounter with 8 zombies, a wight, an MU-6 and a CL-6 is going to be brutal.

At least I think that most of the party has finally leveled,

Night of the Necromancer is a free mini-module in the AA1-Adventure Anthology One, available for download at the BRFPG site.