Shadow Over Alfheim, Pt 13 – Regrouping

Well, we are only slowly easing back into things after our holiday break and brief interlude playing Pockets.

The players sold some of their non-coin loot, but held onto the Cat’s Eye Ruby, because “priceless” clued them in that either no one would have the money in town to buy it or maybe it was important, and the jeweled walking stick, because the goblin-ranger wanted a pimp cane. See? What’d I tell you about non-coin treasure’s awesome potential?

In a lot of ways, this session was dumping my players back into the sandbox and pointing out where the sand castles were. We were under some time constraints and the absence of one player influenced my decision to make this a bit of a “half-session”, but I think it worked out.

The goblin-ranger received a letter from a fellow goblin from the southeast tribe, informing him of the alliance between the southeast and northern tribes and the upcoming assault on the Old Island Fortress. 30 days, a force would try to dislodge the NW tribe and would welcome assistance from the young goblin noble and his companions. Goblin-ranger shared this with the goblin-thief and they are excited about the prospects of some goblins kicking ass, but decided to keep the note on the DL from the other players. Basically, this was a reminder that there was an unfinished nearby dungeon, but I’m going to be modifying the original module substantially to accommodate the shift up the timeline from when the party initially scoped the place out.

Meanwhile, the swordsman went walking around and happened upon a zombie cow that had strayed into the farm country northwest of the fort. This brief encounter reminded them that there is, indeed, still an elven plantation full of dead horrors somewhere in the wilderness to the west of Sigyfel’s Tomb.

The Cleric did some investigating in town, finding that things were pretty bad morale-wise. A lot of his following that he’d accumulated in the past have lost faith, and he even acquired a few hecklers who doubted the powers of the Saint. He met up with some refugees from Stull who report that the town is not doing well despite the players’ intervention (there just aren’t any jobs), and they plan to continue on to Portsdam to sail back to the empire. Most folks seem sure the colony is going to fail, but the cleric swears by his god that so long as he remains in Alfheim, it shall not fall.

The goblin thief caught me off guard a bit because he wanted to break into the Alfort keep at night. I managed to do a little bit of a castle climb on the fly, but between not having a map prepared and no real specifics given for the keep in the Morgansfort module it was rough going. With some difficulties, the goblin thief managed to scale the north wall of the fort and avoid patrols on the ramparts and climbed in a window. A couple locked doors (where the baron would’ve been, and a guest room), a little hall, and a sitting room were crammed into the 5x5ish keep’s upper floor. The goblin evaded a lazy guard, stole a few silver candle sticks, and no one in my gaming group has played “Thief” apparently (“From beyond the stairs, you hear a gruff voice saying ‘I’m going down to the bear pits tomorrow, you wanna come?’ Anybody? Anybody? Really?”).

Here, I’d like to shill for a moment (though no one is paying me to do so); if you ever need to come up with a mansion-dungeon on the fly, there’s no better tool than “Castles of Mad King Ludwig“; this game is perfect for this sort of thing.  It’s a tile-laying mansion building game that is a lot of fun in its own right, but if you’re as lazy a DM as I am, you can grab a handful of tiles, put them together and have an instant mansion-dungeon map that you only have to guess a few relevant treasures and guards to populate it with.

In the end, the party decided that they would take another run at Law’s End to see if they could figure out why the goblin thief had had a vision of Nuromen or maybe why Taramedes’ house had burned down. I might have the elf who had to leave the game show up as a mini-villain. After our 5th player is back, I can retroactively adjudicate some in-town purchases so we aren’t in one of those situations where players are deciding whether or not they bought scrolls while the first encounter is happening.

I’m stoked about revisiting and hopefully finishing Maze of Nuromen!

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Shadow Over Alfheim – Pt 12 – That’s All These People Want… POISON!

Things took a grim and brutal turn in underhalls of the ancient elven metropolis in our last session. It should’ve been a Total Party Kill, in all likelihood, but I’d really hate to do that when one of the players was out sick. And maybe I’m too damn nice?

The party descended the spiral corridor down to the second level of Malek. The party still seems convinced (mistakenly) that whatever they need in this Dungeon is probably in the Ant nest, but went downward because they are still convinced (mistakenly) that the talking stone face was giving specific rather than generic advice on how to defeat the ants. Some throwaway rhyming lines listing things that are helpful fighting monsters in D&D that included mention of magic rings had them sold on the idea that there was some sort of ring of giant ant removal somewhere at the bottom of Malek.

Anyway, following the right hand rule, the party hit the south bend of level two, which is more or less empty until it turns back north again. Disaster struck the party in the form of a random encounter just as they turned north. The Cleric and Thief stumbled over a nest of pit vipers. 8 pit vipers. They also both immediately failed their saves vs. poison. I checked the listing for Pit Vipers. Save vs. Poison or die. Man, I thought, that’s rough; I’ll let them make it to the end of the encounter before the venom works its way through their system and see if they have any options. At first, the party only was fully aware of the two snakes that had bit the Cleric and Thief. The Thief, following his “burn this place to the ground” strategy that he’d begun applying to small vermin, torched the viper nest, sending the remaining half-dozen vipers into a biting frenzy. Very luckily, the party killed these and survived the rest of the vipers’ low attack rolls.

Given a moment to assess the situation, the Cleric and Thief both understood that they were dying and there was very little that could be done for them. Minor magic healing could cure the wounds but not counteract the necrotic toxins slowly killing them. Tourniquetes were applied in an attempt to slow down the poison, but it was concluded that amputation would be just as bad, if not worse, as dying. The Monk, however, pointed out that they’d milked poison before and might be able to create some sort of anti-venom on the fly; given than the monk’s shtick for how I built him is to make non-magical anti-death-poison stuff as well as slow-acting heals, I allowed that if he made a successful roll, that he could use the venom they’d milked and some of the alchemical equipment they’d salvaged to make an anti-venom. As they weren’t attacked during the time it took to make, I allowed that he successfully created a counteragent, though both the cleric and thief took substantial damage due to tissue necrosis. This was enough to “kill” the thief; after being brought back above 0 HP, he’ll have a permanent limp hampering his combat movement rate. So, now he’s a one-eyed limping goblin.

Why the party thought it would be a good idea to press on at this point is beyond me, but they did, finding first the empty stink room, then the room with more freaking snakes. The party’s response to this other viper nest was to immediately try to torch them. Luckily, these vipers were fewer in number and failed their morale save. But as this was going on, they were spotted by some wandering accursed elves, who made a mad dash at them. At this point, the thief, dying to make a sneak attack on something, ducked behind the corner of the room where they had just torched the snakes, while the other party members backed off and made ranged attacks. The cleric went down from the paralyzing strikes, and the Thief rolled a 1 on his sneak attack, but the others, including the goblin ranger who made his save vs. paralysis, managed to kill both elves.

Still determined to press on, the party found the room with the grey ooze. Grey ooze is a particularly nasty monster which is damn near unkillable for a party without an arcane caster. Anyway, the thief pokes at it with a stick (he really should’ve learned by now). Though he’s able to usher the others out of the room, before he can leave, the ooze manages to get on his arm, causing ridiculous amounts of damage. At this point, the party says “time to go” and carry the dying goblin thief out of dungeon. They find an entire squadron of goblins, presumably those who’d been dogging them upon their arrival at Malek, massacred, butchered, disemboweled and gnawed on. Among the dead goblins are also the scattered bones of larger humanoids.

The thief’s melting glove is removed along with all of the ooze cleric and monk are able to get off. A potion of healing is poured down the thief’s throat, but it’s not enough. The monk covers the thief’s burned arm with salves. The party finds enough combat-anti-septic paste among the remains of the massacred goblins to come up with something with 1/2 efficacy of a cure light wounds to bring the thief back to 1 HP.

While this is happening, the Thief is having a traumatic near death vision: an angry elven mage points at him and shrieks with hatred. When he regains consciousness, the thief finds that the bracelet he stole from Nuromen’s maze is on his wrapped, burned arm, though he could’ve sworn he’d sold it. A strange tinkling music begins to emit from the goblin ranger’s pack. The strange puppet that had once belonged to Nuromen’s daughter has begun to dance on its own in a wriggling fashion inside the ranger’s pack.

Upon returning to Alfort, the party is greeted by an atmosphere of dejection. Plans for the construction of the harbor seem to be in jeapardy, the church does not seem to offer the people much comfort, and the gloom of defeat seems not limited to the party but to the whole of the town. Things are bad. Even I’m not sure just how bad, yet. But to get a small indication of how bad it might be, the Cleric learned that the home of the mage under whom the the party’s now-departed elf was studying has been burned to the ground. Taramedes was burned up inside along with all of his scrolls and spellbooks, including Nuromen’s.

It may be awhile before my next Alfheim update, as we won’t be meeting again until the new year. In the meantime, I still ought to have plenty of content to write about, I’m sure. Soon, I’ll have some time to devote to MYFAROG when I’m not making home-made Enderman plushies by hand. I might talk some about the card games I’ve been playing, but I don’t know that there’s much to say other than that I’ve played them. (Props to both Cthulhu Gloom and Cthulhu Fluxx for sticking to Lovecraft and not including all of that fan-wank by subsequent mythos writers. There, that saves me a long rambling blog post on the subject.)

Lastly, screw people who talk about the need for greater diversity, inclusivity and access in the game markets out of one side of their mouth and praise the takedown of James Desborough’s product from DriveThru out of the other. If you care about keeping access to avenues of publication open for all, be sure to politely express your concern to DriveThru.  You can also throw a few bucks into the art scholarship he is offering. Regardless of what you think of James, the games he likes or the games he puts out, unlike the folks who are trying to run people out of the industry, he’s actively encouraging and supporting people to get into it.

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.

Shadow Over Alfheim

So, the 3.5e Gestalt campaign seems to be sputtering out, giving me the opportunity to swoop in and run some B/X dungeon crawls. In honor and maybe memorium of the stalled Shadow Over Beryl campaign, I’m calling this Shadow Over Alfheim.

I’ve pretty much just dropped a handful of OSR dungeons in a custom setting loosely based on Morgansfort, which allows me use of some of those dungeons as well as all the others. I’m trying to prepare for anything I can, since I’d like to be able to sandbox it and keep it an ‘open’ campaign, so I’ve written up rumor cards, have a location flowchart, and a nice little intro blurb:

“Alfheim lays in ruins. The humans who live there now call it the Wilds. A few coastal towns and strongholds flourish, but the shadow of bygone ages lies over the land. Those who do not live behind walls still feel the menacing presence of lingering magics and the stench of death that wafts from the old places. The Elves of Alfheim were a foul and decadent lot by the end of their history. Too much dabbling in the black arts, orgiastic debaucheries, and worship of foul unearthly powers brought a swift and unpleasant end to their dark revelries. While semi-nomadic greenskins are known to inhabit the Wilds, occassionally claiming castles, caerns and crypts as their own, the men and women who eek out their existence from the land have found that it is easier to live with their demi-human neighbors than the ghosts of the past.

Doing various odd-jobs around Portsdam may have finally paid off. Kadesh Richmond, a person of some import has caught wind of your names and contacted you via his solicitor. While his affairs keep him largely occupied in the port city at the northern edge of the Wilds, he has business interests he wishes to develop in Alfort and is seeking agents who would be willing to participate in a profitable venture. The solicitor informs you that Kadesh will cover your expenses for food and equipment as well as grant you each a retainer stipend of 100 gold per month. All you need to do is accompany a few wagons with some cargo and capital from Portsdam south to Alfort. It’s just one week, and once you reach Alfort, you’ll be given apartments, paid for by your benefactor. Once things start to solidify in Alfort, there may be more work for you.”

Here are the rumor cards:

-Some Goblins would like to set up a toll along the road between Portsdam and Alfort as it passes through their territory.
-No One has heard anything from the Village of Gernauch for a month.
-There’s enough Elf magic lying around Alfheim to destroy the world twice-over.
-It’s not the Elves you need to worry about, it’s the Gremlins.
-Alfheim is crawling with undead; they have to come from somewhere.
-The Elves of Alfheim were a completely different race of beings altogether than the “Elves”(PC elves) from across the seas.
-There are no such thing as Elves.
-There are no such thing as Vampires.
-Dozens die every year trying to explore the old fort. While the city has not outlawed attempts to explore it, they strongly recommend against it.
-If Elves could be vampires, we might all be doomed.
-Merchants would like to see Alfort build a harbor to reduce the need for using roads through Goblin territory or pass too close to Elven ruins.
-Worshipping Dark Gods may have turned Sigyfel into a Lich. True or not, Farmers around Alfort shudder when they hear his name.
-There’s a beautiful sorceress named Merilla who has a tower in the Wilds, but no one has seen her in awhile.
-There was an Elven King named Calden who once may have controlled all of Alfheim, before even Laws End Fell into decadence. His wickedness may have started Alfheim on its self-destructive decline. His tomb is somewhere deep in the wilds, but no one is sure where.
-The old Elven Town of Laws End was destroyed and cursed in some sort of Cataclysm. Its lord, an elf-mage named Nuromen, was said to be exceptionally depraved.
-Stull is an unhappy place made worse by kids who obsess over the ancient Elves.
-Milk from Zombie cows can’t be good for you.
-All of the old Elves of Alfheim are dead. Too bad they don’t stay that way.
-Too many mages in the Wilds are obsessed with old Elven magic.
-Some Punk Kid has figured out how to become a Lich.
-Some tribes of Orcs have been known to be led by women.
-Things are so bad in the Wild that there are entire plantations of undead.
-Somewhere there’s an abandoned keep where lights are seen and a strange gibbering noise fills the valley at night.
-There’s a haunted tomb just Northwest of Alfort.

I’m also using Zenopus Archives’ Adventurer/class packs (or at least a variation on them) to help quickstart everyone’s characters.