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.

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Siege of Alfort (Morgansfort): Tower Defense Style – Prep Work Part 2, Scripting the Scenario

To make this Tower Defense style scenario work, I need to come up with a basic script for the battle, including the strategies of the NPCs invovled, to faciliate the overall flow of the encounter.

For ease of play, all monsters share initiative and take their turn first, followed by defenders ranged attacks, then the PCs’ actions.

“Zones”
1 Main Gate
2 Behind Main Gate
3 Below Tower 2
4 In Front of the Stables
5 In Front of the Bank
6 In front of the Chapel
7 Beyond the Chapel
8 Between the walls
9 The Green
10 The Keep

I’m renaming the towers to make it easier to follow.
“Towers”
1 – Tower 18
2 – Wall between Tower 18 and Main Gate Main Gate Tower
3 – Main Gate Tower
4 – Wall behind Main Gate Tower
5 – Wall between Main Gate and Tower 2
6 – Tower 2
7 – Wall between Towers 16 and 2
8 – Tower 16
9 – Wall between Tower 22 and 19
10 – Tower 19

Important note: “Towers” may or may not hold their fire against skeletal or aetherial undead; regardless, their attacks have no effect. Special rules will be described later for ‘special’ undead (including leaders), who MUST be fought by the PCs.
Phase 0:
The enemy army approaches; this gives PCs and the south towers opportunities to fire on enemy mobs.
Phase 1:
Someone has answered the Call of Caelden, and, betraying the garrison, lowers the gate.

Ranged attacks from south wall concentrate on gate & road.

Phase ends when 8 HP of monsters enter area 1.
Phase 2:
Undead focus efforts on entering area 1 and moving beyond to zone 2.

Towers:
1 – moves 4 to 2; after 3 rounds, targets road.
2 – moves 2 to 4; after 3 rounds, targets monsters entering zone 2.
3 – pours oil down murder holes 2 rounds, fires through on enemies below or on road.
4 – targets zone 2
5 – targets road

Phase ends when zone 2 is overrun.

Phase 3:
Undead move along course toward Zone 3 under Tower 6.

Towers:
2 – targets road
3 – Priorety: murder holes, zone 2, then road.
4 – targets zone 2
5 – targets zone 2
6 – moves all to 7, holds until phase 4

Phase ends when zone 3 is overrun.

Phase 4:
Undead move toward zone 4. Garrison has built blockades in front of where Taramedes house stood.

Towers:
2 – targets road
3 – Priorety: murder holes, zone 2, then road.
4 – targets zone 2
5 – targets zone 3
7 – targets monsters moving from zone 3 to zone 4

Phase ends when zone 4 is overrun.

Phase 5:
Undead have overrun zone 4.

1 out of every 2 HD of monsters will enter the stable (area 3). After 8 HD have entered the stable, from east door, they will emerge from west door. All animals & npcs in the stable will have been eliminated, and the stable will begin to burn.

Other monsters will continue moving toward Zone 5

Towers:
2 – Targets road
3 – Priorety: murder holes, zone 2, then road.
4 – targets zone 2
5 – targets zone 3
7 – targets zone 4

Phase ends when zone 5 is overrun.

Phase 6:
Monsters have access to the east plaza area. Garrison has attempted to blockade the chapel street, zone 6.

Monsters will move towards any accessible buildings. 4HD worth of monsters will destroy buildings they enter; unlike encountering “garrison”, this does not eliminate the monsters.

Destroying these buildings will be a priorety (except in my campaign, the building designated as the residence of the villain).

After these buildings are destroyed, monsters will focus on zone 6, the alley in front of the chapel.

Towers:
2 – Targets road
3 – Priorety: murder holes, zone 2, then road.
4 – targets zone 2
5 – targets zone 3
7 – targets zone 4
8 – targets zone 5

Phase ends when three buildings are destroyed.

Phase 7:
Monsters attack zone 6. Towers begin to route.

Towers:
2 – Targets road
3 – Begin moving toward Tower 9, arrives in 12 rounds.
4 – Are killed
5 – Are killed
7 – Begins moving towards Tower 9, arrives in 12 rounds.
8 – Begins moving towards Tower 9, arrives in 11 rounds.

Phase ends once Zone 7 is overrun.

Phase 8:
Once zone 6 is overrun, monsters with more than 2 HD will enter the chapel. Other monsters will attack Zone 7

Towers: tower units that are able will shoot at targets of opportunity while moving towards Tower 10.

Phase 8 ends when 10 HD of monsters enter chapel and Zone 7 is overrun.

Phase 9:
Monsters attack Zone 8.

Towers:
Towers 9 & 10 will attack monsters in zone 7.

Phase 9 ends when monsters overrun zone 8.

Phase 10:
Monsters attack zone 9.

Tower 10 attacks targets of opportunity.

Phase ends when monsters overrun zone 9.

Survivors may escape via tunnels to somewhere Northwest of the fort along the coast.

Next time:
Figuring the monster hordes and possible Win conditions for the heroes.  (Important to note, that if things get past phase 5, the battle should be, for most intents and purposes, lost, and hopefully the heroes will realize this.  Then again, heroes love fighting to the bitter end.)

Let no one say Chris Gonnerman is not an alright dude.

Several months back, I wrote a rather scathing polemic about violence against women in RPGs, and the BFRPG module Morgansfort was the unfortunate target of my fey mood.

I won’t say that I don’t have problems with Morgansfort as I read it, because there are some personal lines that it crosses for me with how it was originally written. The original post, however, unfairly hammers Chris Gonnerman’s work when there are far more egregious offenders out there, but my frustration reached a boiling point while I happened to be reading Morgansfort.

I like BFRPG, and enjoy the several modules I’ve read, and I even enjoyed reading Morgansfort. The modules are VERY well written and super easy to pick up and run. But what happened for me was what I’d consider an “Awww, man!” moment. Finding really good gaming material out there that is free from sexist tropes seems harder than it should be, and finding it in something that I REALLY LIKED kinda made me snap. I really think that if I hadn’t had every intention of running Morgansfort at some point, I wouldn’t have said anything.

Violence against women and victimization of females is commonplace in fictive fantasy of any media because it elicits such a visceral response, and it’s an easy way to shine a glaring bright spotlight on something or someone to say “HERE BE GREAT INJUSTICE!” (Insert essay on Women in Refridgerators phenomenon here.)   And I’ll admit, I’ve been guilty of it myself in the past, because it’s such an EASY way to show just how evil and bad someone is. When I revisited my decade old notes on from Cirsova as a 3e campaign, one of the first ‘episodes’ ends with the kidnapped women & children dead at a bandit camp, because “aww, man, those guys are seriously bad dudes!” I’m glad now, that I never ran it, because it was using victimization as a cheap plot device to elicit a reaction from players.

Anyway, Chris found my post, but rather than flip out and start an internet fight, he came over, addressed and acknowledged points while making some of his own. In no way do I think that Chris Gonnerman is a gross sexist or racist dude; at worst, he slipped into an easy and commonplace (so much so that most people won’t even realize it unless it’s pointed out) narrative trap. And I think that if I didn’t enjoy his stuff, I wouldn’t have got all butthurt about it. One point he made was that I should’ve contacted him personally with any grievance I had so he could’ve dealt with it quicker. Having been an indie publisher myself, it should’ve occurred to me that, as an indie publisher, Chris would’ve loved to hear feedback. At the time, though, I didn’t make the mental connection.

In reality, there are only a few things that would have to be done to ‘fix’ the problems that I had with Morgansfort. Drop one word that makes the Orcs seem to be itching for a fight, not have the ‘wink’ in the DMs notes regarding surrendered Orc women, and maybe give some sort option to save the poor zombie girl… I know that wouldn’t be enough for people who are hard-set against inherent sexism of the ‘damsel’ trope, but those people are way harder to please than me.

I’d like to thank Chris for his feedback, and offer the above as apologia. To everyone else, please check these things out for yourself and reach your own conclusions. I’m a B/X person, but as far a system with lots of materials that are both free and easily adaptable, BFRPG is one of the best and one of my favorites.