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!


Siege of Alfort (Morgansfort): Tower Defense Style – Prep Work Part 4, Factions for Flavor

This is going to be a briefer post than the others, largely because it does not involve number crunching. In fact, the purpose of this portion of the prep work is to reduce the amount of number crunching.

The battle and conflict as it’s statted out and scripted in the previous posts does not reflect the battle as a whole. While the 200+ Hit Dice of evil elven undead represents a formidable force more than capable of overwhelming the PCs and the fortress’s defenses, it doesn’t connote that “army” feel. It’s not big enough. Now, admittedly, this is going to be window-dressing, but it will certainly help the battle feel bigger.

Other factions –
Imperial expeditionary force – I’m not sure what all will have happened between the time I am writing this and when the encounter will happen, but one possibility is that Portsdam is destroyed by an earthquake. Whether that happens or things have just been so bad in the colony that word has gotten back to the empire, let’s say that an expeditionary force has landed north of Alfort and is on its way. Maybe 2000 strong, this force, while small will certainly distract a chunk of the Elf King’s undead army, preventing it from bearing its full brunt against the fort. If the PCs haven’t cleared out the Zombraire’s estate module, this force will probably be ambushed from west and arrive significantly weakened and unprepared to stand against Caelden’s army.

Eastern Goblin Coalition – The Southeast and Northeast goblin tribes have formed a military alliance. They understand that a limited human presence in Alfheim is preferable to the land being awash with undead elves. Sometime between now and when the battle is run, the PCs will be presented with a chance to dislodge the Northwest goblin tribe from the Old Island Fortress (if the PCs don’t go along with it, the goblins will later take this on their own). The Old Island Fortress will be used as a staging ground for the eastern goblin tribes to lend their support against Caelden’s army.

Northwest Goblin tribe – I’ve retconned my setting a bit to eliminate Orcs as an indigenous people of Alfheim; while Orcs are there, they’re mostly imperial mercenaries (note to self, the imperial expeditionary force should be comprised largely of Orcs). That said, I’m rewriting Starisel’s dungeon to be inhabited by goblins (with Orc stats) instead of the orc tribe. These will be part of the same tribe who were trying to take over Malek (the Nameless Dungeon) until they were slaughtered by undead. If the PCs can reconcile with these goblins (successfully run Cave of the Unknown), there is a good chance that they might be willing to commit to fight against Caelden.

So we’ve got a Battle of Five Armies, here, a perfect climactic fight for the campaign.

To incentivise the players to gather these allies, I might even take away the last two waves via some sort of plot-flash.

Siege of Alfort (Morgansfort): Tower Defense Style – Prep Work Part 3, Enemy Combatants

So, this part is going to take some tweaking, and maybe even some test runs, so these numbers are far from final.

Let’s have a run-down of the various undead we have to work with:

Skeletons 1 HD 20′
Zombies 2HD 40′
Ghoul 2HD* 30′ (paralysis)
Wight 3HD* 30′ (Level Drain)
Wraith 4HD** 40’/ (Level Drain)
Mummy 5+1HD* 20′ (disease)
Spectre 6HD** 50’/100′ (Level Drain x 2)
Vampire 9HD** 40’/60′

The bulk of the monsters are going to be skeletons & zombies, low hit dice monsters who should probably be ignored, if possible, in favor of the bigger baddies coming through. So, let’s come up with some ground-rules for how each of these monsters operates:

Skeletons – move along the scripted path. Remove 1 HD of defense and ‘go away’.

Zombies – move along the scripted path. Remove 1 HD of defense and ‘go away’.

Ghouls – move along the scripted path. Remove 1 HD of defense and ‘go away’ so long as there are at least 3 HD of defense present; otherwise, remove 1 HD of defense per round until no defense is present and continue along path.

Wights – move along the scripted path. Remove 1 HD of defense per round until no defense is present. When no defenders are present, continues along path.

Wraiths – move by flight through walls & buildings towards currently targeted zone. Remove 1 HD of defense per round until no defense is present. When no defenders are present, continues along path. Once, Nuromen may use “Sleep” to allow the elimination of 2d4 HD of defenders.

Mummies – move along the scripted path. Remove 1 HD of defense per round until no defense is present. When no defenders are present, continues along path.

Spectres – Considering their special ability of creating new spectres, I’m highly considering omitting these guys. We’ll see. moves by flight to towers, eliminating tower & rampart defenders. Remove 1 HD of defense per round until no defense is present. After reaching zone 6, will enter the chapel.

Vampire – moves along the scripted path. Remove 1 HD of defense per round, though continues along path without stopping.

Here’s a sample elven army.

60 skeletons
30 zombies
15 ghouls (accursed elves)
5 wights (undead elf knights)
4 Wraiths + Nuromen (undead elf mages)
4 Mummies (undead elf clerics)
2 Spectres (undead elven princes)
1 Vampire (Caelden, lord of elves)

Wave 1
10 skeletons
10 zombies

This wave might even be completely turned.

Wave 2
10 skeletons
5 zombies
5 ghouls

Some of this wave might be turned; I expect this to be the first wave to do some damage in zone 1.

Wave 3
10 zombies
5 ghouls
1 wight

This is something of a wakeup call with the wight. If the heroes are fighting from the walls, it should be apparent that someone is going to have to go down and deal with it.

wave 4
5 zombies
5 ghouls
2 wights

Things being in earnest now. Clerics within the castle will likely have run out of turning, and the wight’s level drain could be a serious problem.

wave 5
10 skeletons
2 wights

Boss wave. While the skeletons just march onto reduce various zone HD, Nuromen will be casting spells and with the two wights who accompany him, he’ll be pretty tough, even with his limited HP.

Wave 6
10 skeletons
2 wraiths

Consider this a sequel to wave 5, but at least these wraiths aren’t casters.

Wave 6
5 skeletons
1 wraith
1 mummy

The mummy is going to slowly tank his way through the defenses.

Wave 7
1 wraith
2 mummies


Wave 8
10 skeletons
1 Mummy

Consider this wave a reprieve?

wave 9
5 skeletons
2 Spectres

If things aren’t already really bad, this may be the end of things. The heroes might seriously consider running at this point.

Wave 10

The vampire more or less makes a Beeline to the bank, the apartments, the chapel, then the keep. He’s got important things he wants in those places.
Ultimately, the castle is meant to fall. The main goal the heroes should have is staying alive or maybe stopping Nuromen (wave 5). Anything after that point ought to be gravy, though they should probably try to either escape through the Chapel Tunnels, the Keep Tunnels or any other possible means.

On the off chance that 8 waves are defeated before the chapel falls, I would consider this a decisive “win” for fort, if it weren’t for those pesky spectres. While Caelden might ‘retreat’, there would be a ton of dead that would need quick sanctification or things could easily be worse than before, in which case, the fort falls anyway. If the heroes manage to somehow defeat all 10 waves, Caelden likely retreats to lick his wounds. In this final case, he’ll probably be treated like any other vampire and sent to his lair (I might stick him in the Gibbering Tower) to be hunted down.
Up next, I’ll detail the tactical scenario leading up to the siege.

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.

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.
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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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 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.)

Siege of Alfort (Morgansfort): Tower Defense Style – Prep Work Part 1, Statting Defenses

(Download Morgansfort to follow along.)

First of all, I need to figure out roughly what Alfort’s (Morgansfort’s) defenses are and translate that into numbers that can be used in a Tower Defense style scenario.

So, what I’ve done is figured out the total Hit Dice of the fort’s defenses. All told, there are 129 Hit Dice worth of garrison, 134 if we include the Baron/Castellan/Lord. This doesn’t mean there are 134 defenders (it’s actually closer to just over 100) who are in the garrison nor does it mean that there aren’t various level 1 and level 0 persons in the town who might be caught up in the fighting; this is just the number we’re going to use to determine the Keep’s “HP”, for lack of a better term.

One interesting difference between Morgansfort and the Keep on the Borderlands is that most of the guard are not specified to be carrying ranged weapons, though the notes indicate the presence of such weapons in 1, 2, 16, 17, and 22 (all various towers). Though there are none mentioned present in 19, the central tower, one should assume that anyone heading there will have passed someplace that they can grab a bow or something.

Rather than have a fixed HP for the Alfort/Morgansfort, various key points in the fort will have strength represented by the number of HD of garrison present; the fort will fall to the attacker in successive waves as the defenders lose ground. Each HD of monster (regardless of the damage they will have taken) will remove 1 point from a location’s defense.

Now, how to figure out where the defenders are? Well, the notes for Morgansfort explain that the main garrison force is comprised of 8 squads of 11 of the 88 footmen (these do not include the “Knights”, and all told account for 93 of the defense’s 134 hit dice). Now, the Knights will be around doing their own thing with other defenders OR it will be assumed that they’re among the defenders adding to the numbers of whatever location they are represented by; since none of these individuals have been characters in my campaign, it will be unnecessary to adjudicate their deaths, but if you’ve been running Morgansfort by the book, you might consider being more particular about who is where.

Since Morgansfort can really only be attacked from the south and the west, We can assume that 22 (North central tower), 17 (Northeast tower) and 16 (East central tower) will be relatively undefended unless the situation changes. Men in towers will get ranged attacks at attackers but not count towards the “HP” of a zone unless they get down.

So, let’s talk defense zones:

1-main gate
1a- behind main gate
2a- below tower 2
3a- in front of the stables
6-the Square is big enough I think it worth breaking down
6a- in front of the bank
6b- in front of the chapel
6c- in front of the inns
6d- in front of the warehouse
15a- the plaza south of the chapel
19a- the avenue between the central wall and south wall
20- the Green
25- the keep

That’s a lot of areas, but there are a lot of HD to be spread across it. Truth be told about 6, however, the spot in front of the bank, trader and herbalist’s is pretty do or die, so anyone defending the square would make this spot a priority; I’ll assume that if this area falls, there’s nothing but archers in the 16(East Tower) to keep baddies out of those buildings. 6 can be condensed, therefore, to some key strongpoints set up by the bank and in front of the street the Chapel is on.

So that leaves us with (no longer using the module key)
1 Main Gate
2 Behind the 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

That’s still going to be a lot to defend. Let’s see if we can plug some numbers in.

1 Main Gate – 8
2 Behind Main Gate – 10
3 Below Tower 2 – 8
4 In Front of the Stables – 15
5 In Front of the Bank – 20
6 In front of the Chapel – 8
7 Beyond the Chapel – 10
8 Between the walls – 8
9 The Green – 10
10 The Keep – * We’ll come back to this.

That’s 97 HD worth of defenders. Part of this number assumes that defenders from the northern towers have descended the walls to join the fighting.

“Towers” (These WILL use the module key)
1 Main Gate – 4
Between 18 and 1 – 2
Between 1 and 2 – 2
2 – 4
16 – 4
18 – 4
Wall between 22 & 19 – 4
19 – 4

So, there’s 28 HD worth of firepower coming from the various towers. We’ll say that the remaining 9 HD consists of the Castellan and 4 personal guards remaining with everyone in the Keep, perhaps ushering them out of tunnels somewhere to safety.

Up next, I’ll write up a short script of how the scenario will play out, after which point I’ll try to figure out how many undead and in how many waves should they come.

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.