Maze of Nuromen, Breaking the Speed of Light, and 2020 Advertisements

Maze of Nuromen at Arkansas RPG Con

Over the weekend, I ran the Blueholme introductory module, Maze of Nuromen. It’s called The Necropolis of Nuromen now, but I’m Old SchoolTM.

Michael Thomas of Dreamscape Design was kind enough to not only send us some player guides, he also sent a copy of the updated module [which turned out to be a lot of help]. I made sure to let everyone there know that DD had sponsored the game and gave out the Prentice rulebooks as gifts to my players.

We ran the module DCC style, with each player having 3 characters. I gave everyone a Fighting Man and let them pick two other classes; these two other classes were where their “goals” came from:

  • Elves and Dwarves looking to retrieve the Elven Crown
  • Magic Users looking to find the Book of Power
  • Thieves looking to find the chest of the Master Thief
  • Halflings looking for the body of a long-ago halfling adventurer [which I made Yolo Swaggins from my B/X B4 game]
  • Clerics looking to find and destroy an unholy bible of the ape god

Fighters were hired muscles to act as the “front row”.

This is the first time I haven’t used minis for a Basic game, but this setup made it easy to do things Final Fantasy style–unless there was a “boss” or unique circumstances, fighters get hit, then folks in back as characters go down. Worked out nicely, actually.

My players made surprisingly good progress on it for a con module that lasted roughly 3 and a half hours. If I didn’t have to go run some errands and could’ve stuck around another hour, they might have even finished it.

So quick rundown:

They got into the Maze without any real problems; for some reason, I always forget about the goblins in the first room, so I just handwaived that they’d hidden behind rocks when they heard nearly two-dozen adventurers gathering around the tower entrance. The party crossed the stream and wisely ignored the bottomless pit. Surprisingly, the character they sent to secure the rope across the stream only had dex 7 but he made the check.

Some elves in the main hall told them that they’d seen a boatload of goblins in the dungeon, so they’d been hiding and waiting for a moment to make a run for it.

The party got hit pretty hard with the Harpies’ charm person in the dining hall–the PCs that made their saves managed to pull everyone out, but at least one MU got nabbed and torn to shreds.

They explored the prison corner to little avail [it’s a trolly dead-end with almost no loot and just some encounter bait].

The barracks proved a bit more of a challenge, but some lucky rolls and good choices helped them survive it. A shrieker attracted a gelatinous cube, but they wisely didn’t mess with it–unless you’re determined to get yourself killed by a jelly cube, they’re pretty easy to avoid. The skelies didn’t prove much of a problem, either.

While the party was pretty uninterested in the pantry and kitchen, they smartly guessed that they could use the wax for the candles to plug their ears so they wouldn’t be affected by the harpies’ song. Sated on mageflesh and fairly outnumbered, the harpies were content to leave them be as they skulked out of the dining hall.

A fighter got green slimed near the savage garden, but since he was wearing plate and helmet and it was a VERY SMALL green slime [ended up like 1hp], the fighter took more damage from having it burned off his armor than from the slime itself. The party didn’t poke around the vegetation, and the dwarf kept everyone from tripping up the water features, so fire beetles kept to themselves.

The party raided Nuromen’s apartment, found the keyword to open the door to his lab and made their way there. They messed with EVERYTHING.

At least two characters got blown up by the alchemy lab trap, someone got hurt by the frog, they found Yolo’s stuff, and the trap doors.

With all the magic users dead, no one achieved a “goal” from the Tome of Power, but an elf got permanently infused with Detect Magic. One of the clerics thought the Tome of Power was the evil book they were trying to destroy. It wasn’t, but it unleashed a chain reaction that permanently enchanted their mace with light. If any MUs had been alive, they would’ve lost their mind over it, but elf didn’t really care.

Party dropped down the trapdoor to the temple of the ape god and found the back-way into Nuromen’s ancestral tomb. While the party made pretty short work of the three zombies, Nuromen himself killed 3 party members with Magic Missile and level drains. They managed to drive him off by, of all things, hitting him repeatedly by throwing the silver puppet at him and then dousing him with holy water.

That’s where we called things.

Funny thing, for how many goblins were crawling around the Maze, they never actually encountered any because they never found the room where they were camping out and goblins never came up on the Random Encounter table.

Great part was DMing for old school guys [including Shane Stacks from Shane Plays] who were demanding more blood and more PC death, even saying that it would be great for things to end in a TPK [because Con Game]. It was a blast.

Wild Stars: Breaking the Speed of Light 

This comes via Wild Stars author, Michael Tierney:

When I wrote my first Wild Stars novels back in the 1970s, three of concepts that drive the mechanics the Wild Stars universe challenged the accepted views of our reality. One was that mankind made our first migration into space and colonized planets circling the brightest stars in the night sky some 75,000 years ago. Then, around the year 2000, geneticists cracked the human genome and discovered that the human population crashed to only a few thousand people alive on Earth around 75,000 years ago (the Wild Stars explains where the rest went). The other two were the often mocked concepts of time travel and starships that can travel faster than the speed of light. A couple of weeks ago, this story was released:

Also, Michael’s shared the following tidbit about author sales rankings:

For anyone who ever wondered how the rankings work on Amazon, here is today’s snapshot of my sales in Science Fiction, superimposed with new works released at the time. Amazon recalculates hourly, who what might be an upwards spike in the morning could end up as a rankings dip by the end of the day.

michael's sales rank

2020 Advertising

We’re opening up advertising for 2020 a little bit early so we’ll have enough money to buy stories for next year. John E. Boyle has already claimed the back cover slot for the Spring Issue [#3], but there is plenty of interior space.

Details on ads are here:

Why are we trying to get our hands on as much capital as quickly as possible?

I need at least another $3k monies to buy all of the stuff that we’re wanting buy for 2020 and still be able to replace the ductwork in my house. I’d rather not have to take out a loan; I mean, I’m probably going to have to take out a loan anyway, but I’d rather it only be for a few thou than

ductwork quote.png


Shadow Over Alfheim Pt 15: The Second Death of Nuromen

The latest session of of my B/X game saw the wild mage rejoining the party (yay! another arcane caster!). The conclusion of the run of the Maze of Nuromen was complicated slightly by the loss of the original player’s map from nearly a year ago and the player who normally maps’ absence that night. Fortunately, the second floor is mostly a straight run.

The party was looking for the Crown of Caelden. Some of the players didn’t know why (or had forgotten why) they had come back to the Maze (this had to do mostly with the fact that there have been several interruptions that have led to several weeks between sessions), but a quick reminder of the hooks that had led them there got us back into the swing of things.

The party remembered the hall of statues – mostly that the statues had been trapped – so rather than muck about further, they pressed northward. At the 4-way junction, they took the left to the dead-end empty room. The walls were covered in scratch marks; one of the hallmarks of my elves (since they’re ghouls) is the long clawed fingers with which they incessantly scrape along the walls as they shamble down haunted corridors. The clawmarks led back to the priest’s room, where the skeletal body had been moved onto its bed.

My players didn’t find the secret door in the priest’s chamber, but they did find the chute below the sacrificial basin in the temple of the evil ape god. Now let me say that Maze of Nuromen has given me a lot of places to fudge things, rewrite the rooms and improvise to insert things into the Alfheim setting. The giant doors of horrors & debauchery in the main hall have given me kind of the idea that every room here (whether described or not) is covered in bizarre Hieronymus Bosch-like paintings and reliefs. The party was amazingly paranoid that the 8-armed statue would come to life and kill them all (they still remembered those obsidian living statues back in Stull which they never managed to kill), and luckily for them, that paranoia kept them from catching leprosy (curse); they made sure their ropes were tied to the basin and not the statue.

They crawled down and made their way toward the crypt, killing the two elves who were posted as guards. I tried to make Nuromen’s entrance as dramatic as possible, rising from the ground while the party was examining the desicated remains. Nuromen gave the party a few moments to explain themselves and maybe get a clue (i don’t know if the party picked up on the fact that he pointed out that they had been serving Caelden all along and that HE was actually attempting to stand against his former lord in death, but he at least gave them a shot) before telling them he would no longer stand the tresspasses of those who’d defiled his grave and stole from his daughter. I was glad that the cleric used turning; having all of the bodies on the slabs burn to ash in a bright white flash was not only deemed pretty cool, it meant I didn’t have to muck around with miniatures. Very different from the previous boss fight.

I tried to keep Nuromen using spells, mostly; level drain is such a cruel and unusual punishment. Luckily for the party, Nuromen made crappy melee rolls. Unlucky for the party, very few characters had weapons that could hurt him; magic items are fairly sparse in my game, though a few characters had silver implements. I’ll admit, I DID pump Nuromen up a little bit HP-wise, but I kept his spell-list intact. Before playing as J’Rhazha, I would’ve maybe swapped out one or two of his spells for attack spells, but I decided having the cleric think that he burst into flames and roll around on the ground trying to put himself out was more fun than giving him another Magic Missile.

In the end, nobody died, Nuromen was defeated and they found Nuromen’s medallion in one of the piles of white ash. The group popped the secret door behind the statue (weeping elf-maiden; the Doctor Who fans were more freaked out by the statue than the Wraith, natch) and opened Nuromen’s vault. Thief makes his saving throw vs poison, the cleric does not; I’ve made a behind the screen executive decision that a failed save, rather than causing instant death, the effect instead is doing whatever a character’s current hit dice is in damage; rather than instant death, the 4th level cleric takes 4d6 damage. Doesn’t die, but comes close; he’s burned through the most healing of anybody this session.

After the cleric is patched up, goblin thief notes the pit full of spikes and the treasure on the other side. Goblin thief tries going down into the pit. He finds that the pit is full of treasure. He goes up the other side to check out obvious-trap because GREED! The party is filled with bolts. Ouch. The party manages to get the treasure hoarde out of the pit, but still no crown.

On the way out of the vault, the party comes across the back side of the secret door out of the caverns, where they find the hidden stash of treasure and the crown. Somehow, the skeletal hand with the sword had the party just as worried as some of the harder fights, but the cleric finally decided to try blasting it.

Goblin ranger finds the crown, puts it on, screams in agony, has visions of the elven king, hears over and over in his head “mine, it’s mine”, loses 2 charisma.

“Looks like this is the right crown.”

I’m not sure what the party plans on doing with it, but someone mentioned taking it to Richmond. Richmond was actually waiting for them outside of the ruins of Laws End, and was going to pull a Rene Belloq, but he decided to hang back and watch what happens. The only hint that something was amiss was the howling of wolves in the hills surrounding the ruin.

So, at last, I think I’ve exhausted content from Maze of Nuromen, but I sure got a lot of play out of this one module. The only thing the party never found was the troglodyte cave, and they did not bother to re-check the library to find that Nuromen had gotten his spellbook back with the help of his ‘apprentice’. I doubt the players will be back this way until the showdown at Caelden’s crypt, but until then, the Maze is behind them. There are a little over two weeks before the goblins launch their attack on the Old Island Fortress, but there are a few adventure hooks left to tide them over. Most importantly, i think everyone will be about level 4 by now, so I can start throwing a few tougher things at them. Content-wise, I’ve still got Zombraire’s Estate to run, though the cleric and the abbey monk very well might cut a swath through that one. They never finished Malek. Now might be a good time to run Cave of the Unknown, but I’d rather wait until after the battle for the Old Island fortress if I can help it. Malek may never be finished; things may be too far in motion for Caelden’s plan to sit on the backburner for a nifty but unnecessary artifact to add to his collection.

Anyway, Richmond will be meeting the party in Alfort when they get back and see what they want to do with that Crown.


Shadow Over Alfheim Pt 14 – Mirror Image is a Pretty Brutal Spell

I think I may have underestimated this spell a bit in the past, but when given to an evil NPC, things turn into the last big fight from the end of the old TMNT Arcade game. Which was pretty sweet.

We had everyone all back together for the first time this year. The party started the session on the bluff looking down over the ruins of Law’s End. The ghostly procession that descends into the valley and beyond toward the mountains each night from the crossroads at dusk had passed. The goblin with low-light vision was able to see that 8 skeletons were milling about the ruins of the elven city rather purposelessly. I had the skeletons, who were specifically noted as being unarmed, there just for funzies to see what the players would do and my group did not disappoint.

Despite having two cleric types in the party who could’ve easily blasted the skeletons into oblivion, the party discussed and attempted to engage in all sorts of weird strategies, essentially making fools of themselves, using both magic and mundane lighting sources for illumination, and the fighter clumsily searching the grounds thinking that the skeletons had been looking for something, all while the skeletons formed two lines of 4 on either side of the path to the entrance of the Maze. Just waiting.

The party assumed that either something was coming out of the maze to meet them or something was going to arrive that the skeletons were welcoming. It took awhile for the party to figure out it was them the skeletons were welcoming. Finally, the cleric of St. Cuthbert tried to turn them. They immediately fell to pieces (they were 1hp monsters) in 8 nice little piles forming two lines of 4 on either side of the path to the entrance of the Maze. The thief smashed all of the skulls systematically.

Meanwhile, the Cleric was getting ready to tie some ropes to go back down into the base of the tower when he discovered that there was already a rope ladder in place. Cue the collective “uh oh”.

The party managed to get down the tower, go across the underground river, down the stairs, and to the great chamber.

A party always knows trouble is ahead when you ask for marching order. And trouble they got. The brazier in the center of the room bursts into flames, and the party is approached by an unrecognizably charred black version of their former companion. Questions were asked and answered, though the party didn’t ask anything that revealed relevant story information. On the plus side, they’re beginning to doubt that Lord Richmond’s on the level.

The encounter consisted of 8 undead giant insects, 2 “elves” (ghouls) and a quasi-undead 4th level version of their old elf companion. I knew that the insects would be turned right away, and they were there to be turned, but it also was a tie in to when the elf learned the animate vermin spell from the Necromancers of Stull module.

Really, other than making him a weird and gross looking burned up bend’em man with rubies for eyes, this baddie was just a 4th level elf. His spells for the day were Animate Vermin, Mage Armor, and 2 Mirror Images.

I don’t think the party figured out that he’d cast Mage Armor, because they thought he was nightmarishly powerful: rather than simple “misses” for their ranged attacks, he’d swat them out of the air. That bit alone made him somewhat terrifying. That and the fact that there were 4 of him. Because the players weren’t familiar with the exact text of the Mirror Image spell, they assumed incorrectly that there was a “true” version of the elf. Once they got they got him down to 1, he managed to split off again, so they ended up fighting 7 of him in total.

Before he could split the first time, the elf was hit with a spear, and he didn’t have a lot of HP to begin with, but he was still a hard to kill badass and I’m going to have to come up with a penalty for the fighter who was KOed and then healed back up by the abbey monk.

It was great when the goblin-ranger finally killed him:

“Can I have your eyes?”
“If you take the Crown from this place, make sure it does not fall into His hands…”
“That’s cool, dude, gimme your eyes.”

Former PC as Boss-fight

The elf in our party had to drop out for personal reasons, but that doesn’t mean that the character has magically disappeared from the land of Alfheim.

When he was last involved, he had three spellbooks, his own, Nuromen’s book of 1st level spells and a book of 1st level spells from one of the necromancers of Stull, and he was practicing with Taramedes, the resident mage of Alfort/Morgansfort. Well, during the party’s absence in Portsdam and Malek, Taramedes’ house burned down and no one has seen hide or hair of the elf.

He’ll be waiting for the party in the Maze of Nuromen. He’ll be undead and scary, completely burned to a crisp, an apprentice to Nuromen and 4th level.

His purpose there will be:
-to let the party know about the crown treasure in the module
-to answer a few questions about what’s going on with Caelden, what Nuromen’s relationship with him was, and how the party has been playing into the elf king’s hands (if they ask the right questions)
-to build some dynamic continuity and get the players a bit more invested in the world
-to have a sweet boss fight.  We haven’t had a sweet boss fight since Stull.

Welcome! It took you long enough. I was beginning to think you’d never arrive. Well here we all are.

While only one of us came here invited, your coming was expected. He’s looking for his crown, you know. Caelden. I assume you’re here for it, as well.

You have no idea what we’ve started, do you? I suppose you have questions. Fair enough. You deserve to at least know the part you’ve played in this ruinous affair. Nuromen has granted me the liberty of answering you each one thing before you go poking about and defiling his resting place. But know this: you cannot be allowed to leave here alive.

If you find the crown, you must get it out of Alfheim by any means possible. Do not let it fall into Lord Caelden’s hands.

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!

Shadow over Alfheim pt3 – Maze of Nuromen, concluded

My group wrapped up the Maze of Nuromen on Friday night, and as much as I enjoy the module as a reader of modules, as a DM I’m thankful that it’s over.

I know that a DM should always assume nothing, but I was at least hoping that I wouldn’t be dealing with a party that was chaotic stupid. Having a Thief in the party (played by someone I wasn’t expecting to show up) changed the group dynamic enough that it brought to light some serious flaws in both my own DMing and in the module. I had really thought that playing the stereotypical asshole evil thief was so played out and such a negative stereotype that it wasn’t a thing anymore. I was wrong.

While the fighter picked the pieces of the gallows off the cleric, I took up with the goblins who were camping at the bottom of the stairs on level 2. This group was now comprised of a few level 0 npc goblins, a level 2 character goblin, a level 1 elf pretending to be a human magic user, and a (barely)  level 3 goblin thief (I handwaved racial restrictions to quickly deal with an unanticipated complication), who I’m not sure understood that he was considered an asshole by goblin standards even.

The goblins broke camp and returned through the dining hall. Seeing that one of the harpies was dead, the NPC goblins took some time to loot banquet hall, with the thief taking some too, of course. Instead of immediately going for the prison wing where, the the Fighter and Cleric were, they went to the pantry first, and did some raiding of the stores. While they did, some skeletons showed up. Not as many skeletons as I rolled up, mostly because I didn’t feel like running that big a combat (they would’ve been fighting 8 skeletons with max HP; I put them up against 3). Glad I didn’t, because everyone was making lousy rolls, and it was the NPC goblins who did the most heavy lifting during the fight.

One goblin was mortally wounded, but was allowed to live via some DM generousity. After tending to the wounded goblin, they started hitting up the elf wine, figuring that since there was no way to haul it out of the dungeon, they might as well enjoy what they could then and there. The PC Goblin and Elf convinced the goblins, reluctant to stay in the dungeon, to stick around for at least one more day.

The Cleric and Fighter clumisly made their way back to where they found the drunken goblin party. After some awkward introductions, they finally got the ball rolling and found
Nuromen’s private chambers. I had a lot of fun describing the tapestries in the room, adding some of my own little details, but man, there is so much going on that room, and with 5 people all wanting to do different things, it took some serious crowd control to get things back on track. The elf was curious about the tapestries, and ended up taking one of them. The Goblin checked the drawers, and ended up taking the puppet, having some fun with that. The Thief and Cleric checked the bed. The Thief, being chaotic asshole, disregarded the bodies and pocketed Anthea’s bracelet without even looking at it (“The child’s wearing a silver bracelet with an inscription in ancient elvish”, “Yeah, whatever, i take it, what else is there here to steal?”). Thus the password proved too much a lynchpin of the dungeon. Without that clue, there was no way the party was going to get through the horror door unless I gave them reminders. First, i let them squirm a bit to see if they’d figure it out on their own, but they didn’t.

Leaving the bedchambers, they party found the groto and poked around a bit. The guy playing the Fighter was joking about getting naked in the fountain, so I figured that was a great opportunity to have a Giant Fire Beetle bite his hand. Late in the first round, the Fighter was asking everyone what, if anything, would be the benefits of fighting the Fire Beetles. Maybe because of how he asked it, I ruled that he lost his next combat round because he was asking the NPC goblins existential questions while a fire beetle was biting his hand. The other players all concurred that this was the appropriate (and amusing) response.

Anyway, the beetles were killed, leaving the players wondering if there was anything worthwhile in the Grotto. I let the Cleric know that based on his own knowledge of plants, he could tell everyone that everything in the garden was poisonous such that even touching it was not the best idea.

At some point, I don’t remember exactly when, but it was after they raided the bedchambed, the party camped for the night so the cleric could heal the dying goblin. On the second watch, Nuromen’s ghost wailed angrily. On the final watch (the thief’s), the ghost wailed again, shrieking curses, and mentioned the name “Anthea”. Of course the Thief, playing Chaotic Asshole wrote it off and told the party it was nothing. He got his comeuppance in the barrack’s though. Being a dude who tried to steal everything, he got hurt pretty badly in a surprise attack by the skeletons at the gaming table. Two more NPC goblins got killed in this scrap, at which point the goblins said it was time to go home.

The party continued to be confounded a bit by the dead-ends both on the second floor and the torture room, though they came up with a pretty elaborate scheme to grease the view-port of the iron door, so I let them get a glimpse inside. But seeing as they were going to be stuck unless I gave them a nudge, a few of the goblins, who were going to try to take a barrel or two of wine back with them, said “Hey, check that guy’s pockets, we saw him steal something back in the bedroom off that corpse.” Provided now with the information needed to get past the horror door, the party proceeded to Nuromen’s study.

This was another difficult room to run, since there was so much stuff in it and so much going on. The cleric made a bee-line for the bookshelves, since they were sent to find a book. For simplicity sake, I let all the books on the shelf be ruined ala Myst, but the Cleric found the secret door and went down it. Meantime, the thief is stealing exploding potions, and the goblin lets the frog out, which caused a bit of madness.

The cleric takes the Book of Power, the elf takes the two spellbooks, and the goblin takes the keys. The Cleric and Fighter have their objective, and Elf has some new spellbooks. The thief wants more treasure, and the Fighter and Goblin concur, so they decide to go on. The torture room is torturous, and the thief gets more treasure. The iron maiden has an angry zombie; I decided that the zombie is stuck on the spikes and can’t get out, so I gave him extra HP to see what the party would do. They spent about 4 rounds making sure it was dead, rather than just closing it back up.

The hall of Statues was a bit of an unsuccessful test of the party’s dedication. They got about halfway there, they really did! The fighter made his save after he turned the head the wrong way. The elf came up with an elaborate pulley to turn the other statue’s head, but turned it the wrong way. They gave up before trying to turn the heads the other way.

After finding the illuminated manuscript with the dead evil cleric, the party leaders decided they were laiden with treasures in the form of the 4 books and chest they couldn’t open, and decided that they’d head back to Alfort for their reward and wrapup.

So, Nuromen doesn’t show up, which means he’s now going to be an angry (and possibly recurring) villain, with a grudge against the elf, the cleric, and the thief.

I’m going to be sending my players some of their item assessments by email, after I tally up their XP. The Minstrel got to recur, this time playing in the tavern. (“You see. I was wrong. Caelden’s not coming back. He’s already here!”) I’m still trying to figure out the best way to assess items & calculate XP for things. As much as I like the realism of not giving out the value of non-coin treasures and not giving the exact number of coins in chests unless the party takes a turn or two to count them, I feel like it’s going to be a mechanical stumbling block, and a personal stumbling block for myself, since I’m having to keep track of treasures rather than just handing them off to my players.

Anyway, unless they decide to return to Laws End to continue looting, this will be the end of Maze of Nuromen. Again, it was harder to run than I would’ve liked, but going through with a highlighter helped tremendously. Also, have some contingencies if the party can’t figure out the Bracelet clue.

I hope I will find out after a few emails, but the players will either be taking on the Old Island Fortress, the Zombraire’s Estate, or Tower of Dreams in the next session.

Anyway, I won’t be around for most of the rest of this week, so it will take longer than usual to approve comments from new posters, but I’ll try to have a little bit of content scheduled for while I’m gone.

Is Mapping Unfair?

I was thinking about the mapping for my game, because i’m considering giving my players a couple of “work-in-progress” maps of the Maze of Nuromen, representing where they’ve been so far; the first to the group of goblins, who, since they started in the middle of the dungeon, need something for a bit of orientation, and the second for the alpha party, whose mapper is a novice.

The eldest member of the group pointed out to the novice mapper that he should be grateful that I’ve helped him with mapping and pointed to a few significant mistakes (“dude, you mixed up East and West; here, let me just turn your map upside-down. Now it’s right. I’ll draw you a compass rose”)

I guess the reason why I feel like mapping is unfair is because it’s much easier to draw a map based on what you’re seeing around you than what you’re being told. I mean, the game already takes into account “mapping speed”, implying that the characters, if not the players, are carefully measuring and taking account of things. Room descriptions can be somewhat cumbersome, because you have to tell your players what’s in the room that immediately jumps out at them (either an encounter or a more figurative ‘jumps out’, like a big statue or altar or whatever), what’s in the room, what’s in the room after careful inspection of the room, dimensions of the room (god help you if you’re in anything that’s not a rectangle or something that resembles a tetris piece!), the locations of the exits from said room, and you need to figure out the best order in which to tell the players this! The problem is even worse if the players are in the subterrain and the walls and tunnels are irregular. For instance, while Dyson is a phenomenal artist when it comes to dungeon maps, a lot of his maps I would have a difficult time describing effectively enough to my players for them map.

I like some of the things I’ve seen for 4e, which wholly embraced the board game nature, of which there are many vestiges found in Basic, of Dungeons & Dragons, that took iconic dungeons like the Tomb of Horrors and made printable tile-sets for the rooms and tunnels. No worrying about where the players were actually stepping, whether they did or did not walk over a certain spot or getting lost even though the character in game are mapping and are capable mappers (the player doesn’t have to know magic or be good with a sword to play a wizard or a swordman, but he has to be able to map to play a character who can map; that hardly seems fair).

But you can’t always print off your dungeons in handy tile or geomorph format, and you can’t always work your dungeons onto a HeroQuest board (unless you’re running a HeroQuest to D&D conversion!), so what’s a DM to do? Right now, I don’t have the answer to that. My game is running myriad OSR dungeons, all of which are using the 10′ square grid maps.

One thing I’ve been considering as a future solution, however, is flowchart dungeons. I’m inspired partially by Random Wizard’s interactive node maps of some of the old modules and also Matthew Schmeer’s incredibly bizarre One Page Dungeon, The Wizard in the Woods is Up to Something (Maybe), which has almost twice the real-estate of Maze of Nuromen on a single page thanks to its keyed flow-chart. Even Zork, with its massive underworld, is just a big flowchart. Thinking about how we conceptualize space, locations and the distance between them, the flowchart makes more sense than a rigidly scaled map, and is much easier to convey to your players. It’s easier to say “You’re in a large underground room held up by 4 pillars, there are 6 exits; north, northeast, east, southeast, south, and west” than “…there are doors north and south, and a door on the opposite end of the room from which you came in. Also there are two doors on the east wall at the northeast and southeast corners of the room”, which would be the Room 2 in the Maze of Nuromen.

After this dungeon, I might experiment with treating the mapped dungeons as a flowchart rather than in concrete terms. If they ask for or need dimensions, I can give it to them. We’ll see!

Shadow over Alfheim, pt2 – Maze of Nuromen

I’ve had a lot going on! After I finish this rundown of Maze of Nuromen, I have some more thoughts on the new X-Men now that I’ve actually seen it.

First, I’d like to mention, the reason I shared that previous article, aside from my hatred of hashtag activism, is because I think Shonda Rimes is pretty awesome and what she’s saying is being decontextualized. Which is ironically why she begins with saying that she doesn’t like giving commencement speeches, because instead of being the intimate affairs they once were between the speaker and the students, they’re now posted, criticized, reviewed, and generally picked apart by anyone and everyone. But the gist of her whole speech was “Be someone who does something”; she didn’t tweet “#morewomenandpeopleofcolorinTVnow”, she actually went out there and created successful ensemble shows featuring incredibly diverse cast and crews. Yeah, it’s hard, yeah it takes a lot of work, but if it’s something you really want, you’ll put in that work to see what you want become reality.

Which segues awkwardly into the rest of this post. It’s one thing to talk about game theory and write about gaming; it’s another thing to actually run a game. It’s a lot of fun, but it takes a lot of time and a lot of work, and I’ve found that I’m fudging on things I told myself I wouldn’t fudge on, making my game a lot more forgiving than maybe a b/x game should be, though my reasoning has been that I’m running modules balanced for parties of 4-6 for two characters. When one person dies in a large party, it’s easy enough to write in a new character, a replacement. It happens often enough in stories with ensemble casts. But when there are only two characters, it’s like if mid-way through the first season of CHiPs, someone shoots Eric Estrada and he’s dead for real. Or if someone shoots Stephanie Zimbalist and Remington Steel just chugs along with some other lady. That’s not a MJS trapdoor; that’s an aborted story and probably the end of the series, or, in this case, the game.

I was really hoping to do a more in-depth review of Maze of Nuromen, but now is not a good time. First, because I’ve been crazy busy and don’t have the time to devote to it at the moment, and secondly, my players are still in the Maze! No fair giving spoilers, but I’ll talk about what I’ve done already.

In some ways, I’ve made Law’s End a lynchpin of my setting, even though I’ve changed a few things about it. In this setting, there was no entourage of elves and an elven prince, rather Nuromen himself was an elven autocrat and servant of Caelden, the wicked high elven king. The crown was a gift to Nuromen for his loyalty. I’ve also cursed it: since elves are unconscionably evil, it’s definitely not going to give any charisma bonuses to non-elves, but it might give them some affinity for the elven undead. Mwah ha ha.

One of the advantages of making Law’s end an early crawl in this setting is it just goes to illustrate how horrid and depraved and evil the elves in my setting were. And if Caelden is even more wicked than Nuromen, and he is going to return to claim his kingdom, heaven help us!

Going through the module with a highlighter and checking off the things that are important to be mentioned in the room was a tremendous amount of help. If there’s one problem with Maze of Nuromen, it’s that it feels like a module meant to be read rather than run. A lot of details, while fun and adding to the ambiance, will never be known to the players, will be difficult for a DM to work in easily, and make the room descriptions more cumbersome than they need to be.

I put the group of goblins under the control of a new player (since halflings are goblins in this setting) who wanted to play a ranger (thanks, Zenopus Archives!). He was supposed to be with a Magic User whose mentor had killed himself, driven mad by dreams of Caelden, Nuromen and Law’s End, but the player who wanted to be a MU bailed at the last second. SO, they all camped in room 16 for the duration of the short (traffic was a nightmare, and everyone was late, myself included) session. I have to take a little bit of pride in my DMing that even though this new player didn’t get into the action, opting to stay put until the other characters found him, he had a good time and enjoyed listening to the rest of the game. He also remarked how much easier it was to play and create a character than our previous 3.5 gestalt game where we spent 4+ hours creating characters while it was Ragnarok outside.

Anyway, my players who were a part of the action began some serious exploration, including the main hall, the dining hall, kitchen and dungeons. I went easy on them with the harpies and after a few hits, the harpies legitimately failed their morale checks. I could’ve had a TPK on my hands, but preferred it to be good scare. Ironically, they had more trouble with the zombie who shuffled out of the kitchen to see what was going on. They set it on fire, and then had to fight a burning zombie.

I had fun with the locked door to Nuromen’s study, though I wish that the door were described in the main hall or that the Study’s number was closer to the main hall’s, if only because there are a lot of important details about something IN the main hall that’s listed a few pages away. Again, I also had a lot of fun with the illusory prisoner; because I’d established that there were elven ghosts, they couldn’t figure out whether it was an illusion or a ghost. They eventually figured out that they were wasting their time. Now, THIS was one of the times when the additional information in the room descriptions was helpful, because it gave an idea of how to roleplay the illusory prisoner.

Anyway, the party is looking for a book that their patron has asked for them to retrieve. Ideally, they’ll bring it back, be handsomely rewarded, and the lord will have some money to begin his project to start building a harbor near Alfort. But things are never what they seem. Plus, if they leave after only completing part of the dungeon, I can always send them back for more stuff.


Shadow over Alfheim, Part One – Sigyfel’s Tomb –

I kicked off my B/X game on monday. It’s been the first time in several years that I had DMed, and the rust was apparent, though I feel like I did a lot better than I’d worried I would.

I only had two players, which in a B/X game that was going to primarily use OSR modules dropped into a custom campaign setting made things difficult. We were supposed to have at least a 3rd person, which would’ve been significantly improved the party’s chances against tougher foes, but she forgot that we were gaming(despite the fact that we held the game monday to specifically accommodate her, as she is leaving the country soon, to the expense of two other potential players) on monday/had a nasty argument with the host about the benefits, or lack thereof, gluten-free foods possess for individuals who do not have coeliac disease and was too butt-hurt come over and play. This made having Sigyfel’s Tomb a real blessing, because as piddly as this Labyrinth Lord one-sheet is, it is almost perfectly balanced for a party of two.

The guy whose first game it was as B/X played as a fighter. It took a bit longer to roll up a character than I initially thought, but he was ultimately impressed with the simplicity of the system, especially when compared to a 3.5 Gestalt build. The older gent decided to play as a Cleric, because a party that small needs two decently capable fighters and some spellcasting/healing ability. Plus turning. Of course, being a medieval scholar of history, religion and language makes him both a natural choice for a party cleric, making him the intellectual and moral center of parties much in the same way that he is the intellectual and moral center of our town’s larger gaming group. So, Sven and Cynewulf make their way into the wilds of Alfheim under the patronage of Lord Kadesh Richmond.

One of the first things I discovered was that despite the detail I’d put into my world, it was still a bit too shallow in some regards, namely in terms of local cults and religions, so I had to come up with a number of things on the fly as best I could.

While I wanted my world to be a sandbox, I made the mistake of introducing too much, too soon, including things I was not really prepared to cope with, given the party’s makeup. The setup for Sigyfel’s tomb involved a run-in with the wife of the victim, lamenting her husband’s fate in the farm fields just outside of Alfort (in most but name). The hook worked both too effectively and somewhat ineffectively. Their initial instinct was to go straight to the tomb at nightfall, but they decided to check in at town first. This worked out, because it gave the widow a chance to collect her thoughts and approach the cleric in the morning with more coherent information about the tomb and a request that someone help put an end to the evil that plagues the farmers.

My new fighter learned how to map OSR style. He had some trouble at first, but I was patient, helped him and even corrected him in a few places. In this, Sigyfel’s tomb was good because it was a simple and more or less symetrical map. They came in, got hit by the pendulum trap for minor damage. I made a few rulings about it, since it’s not well described in the module, that it could either be spiked or they could simply walk under it in the future.

While they were messing around with a door on the west wing, a pair of skeletons showed up. They did some very minor damage, and the cleric turned them. The skeletons ran and got clocked by the pendulum. It was a nice moment. They found the secret door with the stash of silver, but poked around long enough that rats appeared in the bolts of rotting silk; they failed to do any damage and after two of them were squished, they ran off (“I don’t think they’re going to run and warn anyone”). I hesitated to have the skeletons in the sarcophagi animate immediately, and maybe I shouldn’t have, but it worked out nicely; the PCs said “There’s nothing worth fighting for in here”, so they spiked the door shut, sealing the angry skeletons inside.

When they tried the locked door toward the tomb in the central tunnel (there are two locked doors and no key in the module; this could have been a bigger problem than it was), the fighter decided to bash the door down. I decided that this loud bashing attracted the attention of the evil cleric’s two orc body-guards from the east wing, who attacked and were promptly dispatched (one killed, the other fled and got an arrow through the neck) after doing minimal damage. The module says that if the Cleric’s body-guards are killed, he should try to flee. The problem with this is that he really doesn’t have anywhere to run. So, I decided that after his body guards were killed, the players find him kneeling in supplication, begging for his life. This gave me an interesting and fun roleplaying opportunity.

This guy has no motivation or story or even name given in the module, yet unless the dungeon is being run for a single hero, there’s no reason he won’t promptly surrender. A level one evil cleric by himself is hardly even a cleric at all. So, I decided that he was actually a mad-man, who had been instructed in a dream to come here and pray for the return of the big-bad’s lieutenants. It involved lots of mad ramblings and was a lot of fun. It also let me get away with not having the overall plan fleshed out yet; this guy is too low on the totem pole to have any idea what the big-bad is up to. He’s taken prisoner, tied up, and given a key (so the players can unlock the doors) on his person that wasn’t from the module.

They open the first locked door. And here’s where I had one of my first real dungeon problems: how to describe a room that stepping into triggers a trap. Do I describe the room first or activate the trap and then describe the room? They clearly would see the room before they went inside. It’s kind of a flow-thing. Anyway, the room is oddly shaped, and though it has some description to it, nothing in it is important, except for the trap. So, I just sprang the trap and treated it like a normal hall.

They opened the second locked door and entered the burial chamber. There are three really evil looking statues here, and it was fun to watch the players panic thinking that they would surely spring to life. They ultimately decided that opening the sarcophagus would be a bad idea (and it probably would have; I’m not sure they could have survived the ghoul unless I ruled that it would not use paralysis with its attacks) and made a pretty cool roleplaying choice. They dragged the evil cleric back to Alfort and turned him over to the Magistrate. The Magistrate thanks them for their service, informs them that the cleric will be tried for murder, attempted murder, assault, diablerie and Medism, and will dispatch a company of local constabulary to investigate and cleanup the crime scene. The next day, the party heads to the tomb, and are pleasantly surprised to find that everything is under control. Two guards are posted outside, the dead orcs have had their equipment seized, and the party finds a few of the guards smashing the evil statues, burning what’s left of Sigyfel, and tending to the two wounded guards who are suffering from ghoul paralysis. The cleric uses his one spell (I let them start at level 2, since it would be cruel to run a game for two people at that low a level) to heal one of the two guards. My older player remarks happily that in all of his years of playing D&D, he’d never been in a game where he’d been able to call the cops before.

My problem was that I didn’t do a chapter end right away (partly because I wasn’t aware of the time). I’d created too many things for them to be interested in checking out that I either was not ready to run yet or would need to significantly re-balance given the party’s extremely low cumulative hit-dice. Already they were interested in checking out the Zombraire’s Estate (undead farm animals was too juicy a rumor to pass up), and they were about to start exploring the Old Island Fortress (though they’d been instructed not to by their patron’s solicitor “You were just hired; the last thing Lord Richmond wants is for you to get yourselves killed before he gets any work out of you”), where they would’ve promptly been torn apart by wolves. I’m mad at myself for not giving myself a better out and for making my invisible walls too visible. I wouldn’t have had to do it if I’d ended my session sooner, or at least been able to do the time-skip to make things feel less rushed (the first letter said to expect orders in 5 days, the orders came the following day, delivered hastily by a messenger who basically said ‘the plot is over here, sorry but you haven’t got into sand-box territory yet’; i’m not proud of it). But, they wanted to keep on going, and really, I wanted to oblige.

They got their instructions to seek out Laws End so that they might run the Blueholme Maze of Nuromen module. Their instructions in the letter were to “Find a certain book” I had to come up with the contents of the letter on the fly, and really it wasn’t one of my finer moments. “What book is it?! The letter doesn’t say what book we’re even looking for!” The solicitor’s(my) oversight was thankfully forgiven, and the pair were off in search of Law’s End. This led to a fun encounter at a crossroads, where a bard was noodling and giving cryptic answers about the return of the elves. I don’t know if the fact that he was there at the crossroads to sell his soul to evil elves to play better lute was lost on my players or not, but it was still a fun encounter to roleplay. Another nice little set piece, and I don’t know if it was effective or not, but I liked it, was outside of Laws End, when a procession of ghost elves carrying a dead king on a bier marched past, through the valley and off into the mountains.

My players made it into the entrance of the dungeon when i realized that it was time that I had to call it a night.

I had a blast, and despite my mistakes, I think my players had fun too.

As for Sigyfel’s Tomb, I give it a 4/5. There’s really very little substance to it, and it will take some work adding your own details, unless you’re running it as a board-game style encounter, but it worked really well for a tiny party and someone almost completely a novice to old-school style tabletop rpgs. The main changes I would recommend would be removing the pendulum trap altogether, naming the cleric and give him some sort of reason for being in the tomb, and adding an encounter in room 4. In some ways, the tomb itself is too small to justify having random encounters; the tomb itself is at most two-three times as big as a house and is actually set up kind of like a tomb, rather than a crazy non-sense dungeon maze. Overall, though, I was happy that I had something that I could run that wasn’t too hard for new players to map or for two pcs to fight through.

After I run Maze of Nuromen, I’ll do a write up about that one as well. While i initially loved it upon reading it, I’m now feeling a bit wary about actually running it. A lot of the rooms have a LOT going at once, and my fear is that I’ll fail to describe some important aspect of a room because it is buried in the description. The one advantage of having block-text is that it give you an idea of what your players see vs. any mechanical interactibles in the room. It’ll be a tour de force, but I think if I study it hard enough and do some highlighting, I can run the module with a decent modicum of competence.

Update: Note that the module’s actual name is “The Tomb of Sigyfel”.

Looking for Art for Towers of Dream + Campaign Prep!

Well, I’m finally on track to getting Towers of Dream play-tested. I’ve got my first player and we’re looking  to round out the rest of the group. It might not be the best test environment, since I’m incorporating it into a bigger campaign, but it’s better than nothing!

In the meantime, I might be looking for two or three pieces of original artwork for a published version, so if anyone might be interested in that, let me know, and maybe we can work something out.

As for the campaign I’m looking at running, I’ve cobbled together a hodge-podge of OSR modules, created a subway-system style map of how the hubs dungeons/modules are connected in a vague geographic sense, and a flimsy meta-narrative to drive the plot.

In summary, the adventure region was once an ancient, and very evil, elven empire where Necromancy and debauchery were the watchwords of the day. Necromancy seems to be coming back into vogue, a local wizard is thought to have become a lich (he hasn’t), tombs and towers of old elven necromancers seem to be stirring again, and no one really knows why. Turns out, a particularly wicked elf figured out how to surmount OD&D’s level cap: Become a vampire. I figure that as much as I love liches, they’re kind of played out (yeah, I know Vampires are pretty played out, too, but definitely not in high fantasy). Having a 10th level elf become a vampire will definitely pose some unusual challenges and create a truly unique and dangerous foe. I feel that a vampire’s powers make him an even more formidable enemy than a lich, if for no other reason than he can so easily come and go (combine living appearance & charm vs shambling skeleton wizard) and is harder to destroy (unless he’s Voldemort, a lich will have one phylactery, whereas a Vampire may have crates of earth hidden all over the place, especially if he is planning something big.) I might post some more high level vampires later.

So far, what I’m looking at is:
Morgansfort (Basic Fantasy Roleplaying) – as a hub city, plus some nice dungeons to act as time sinks while the enemy puts his plans in motion.
Sigyfel’s Tomb (Labyrinth Lord) – A nice warm-up, I think
Nuromen’s Maze (Blueholme) – See evil + elves + necromancy. I don’t think it’s stated if Nuromen’s an elf, but hey, why not?
Towers of Dream (ME!)
Gibbering Tower (Labyrinth Lord) – A crappy dungeon with no real way to win or worthwhile treasure? Well, that’s because the big bad already hit the place first and found what he wanted!
Merilla’s Magic Tower (BFR Adventure Anthology) – Either the bad guys get some legendary weapons, or the good guys get the means to stop him.
The Zombraire’s Estate (BFR AA) – A fully operating undead plantation totally fits the necromancy theme. (This is probably my favorite mini-adventure from the BFR Anthology)
Deathcrypt of Khaldhun (BFR AA) – High level undead monsters + a high level macguffin? I think this fits.
Night of the Necromancer (BFR AA) – Just need to tweak it so the necromancers in question are subordinate to the big bad.
Crooked Rock Tower (BFR, Fortress, Tomb & Tower) – This one is a maybe. I don’t know how I feel about incorporating the Lizard men, but it’s a cool dungeon that could be played a lot of ways in this setting.