Shadow Over Alfheim pt 9 – Return to Malek

The players who showed up were pretty happy with the list of goodies for sale. Of course, they didn’t have enough money to get both the sceptre of light & dark and the dancing bear. The goblin/halfling/ranger desperately wanted it to be able to ride it into battle. Eventually, they’d settled on a possible agreement with the orc that he and his bear be taken on as hirelings for 2 shares of treasure, but the goblin, upon learning that under no circumstances (other than outright purchase of the bear) would he be allowed to ride on the bear’s back. So the party decided that since the bear would probably get killed anyway, they’d go for the scepter of light and dark.

Their initial experimentation with it was less that successful. They had returned to the site of Malek, the elven city filled with giant insects, and were again attacked by goblin skirmishers. They tried to hide their position with the scepter, but when you’ve got a big glob of darkness in the middle of the forest where guys used to be, archers are just going to shoot in the general direction of the darkness. The party awkwardly lashed out without really knowing where the goblins were other than their general position. The party’s goblin managed to get a lucky arrow off, killing a goblin who didn’t make his hide/concealment check. Meantime, the other goblins managed to bugger off.

The party descended into the Nameless Dungeon (which has now been named Malek), following the right hand rule. The party stumbled into a pit trap in the octagonal room, drawing the skeletons from 20. It was a tough fight, but the party handled themselves nicely, deciding that turning the skeletons would just turn into a cascading encounter (since it had before). The room with the firebeetles proved an easier encounter, though they ended up covered in bio-luminescent goo that will keep them glow in the dark for the next 2 days or until they can wash their clothes. The trap room off the octagon speared the monk, but they didn’t find the secret treasure chest in the trap mechanism.

The party headed west through 20, opened the secret door, finding the corpse with all the coins. Random encounter of two giant flies ended up giving them a minor annoyance, but the party dispatched them without too many problems. The party stumbled onward, finding the giant ant colony and the bat room, carefully backing out of each.

One of the things that strikes me about the Nameless Dungeon is how many monsters are cramped into tiny rooms. Firebeetles are 2 1/2 feet long. 6 of them are cramped into a 20×10 room with no exits save a closed door. The room with the giant ant colony is bigger but considering that giant ants are the size of ponies, and there were 2 dozen of them, that’s gotta be pretty cramped. There’s at least an egress for them to come and go from. How all of these giant insects are together, relatively foodless in a such a cramped monster menagerie style dungeon has been hand-waved as being the result of evil elf magic.

My group’s elf dropped out due to being over-committed, though he extensively complimented me and my game. Another player has raised the question of when the game will conclude (I think he’s interested in running a game). Even though everyone seems to be having a good time and enjoying themselves, I’m also experiencing DM fatigue. If I had a more flexible schedule that allowed me to participate in multiple games on multiple nights, I wouldn’t be feeling this way, but when i can only game 1 night every two weeks, I’m wanting to play more than DM, and I’m ready for it to end. But I also don’t want to leave players hanging who might be invested in the story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.