…and Almost Finished with Game Content!

I spent a pretty good chunk of the evening working on bonus content for Mongoose & Meerkat!

The result is roughly 3,000 words of gaming content, including:

  • How to drop the Battlefield of Keres into your hexcrawl map
  • Suggestions on how to run a short adventure based on Brandy & Dye
  • Scenario for Sword of the Mongoose
  • Encounters in Terzol
  • Statblocks for monsters and encounters, ranging from the Hands of the Bursa and the Terzoli Remnants to Isak Yan and his undead to  Keres’s magical anomalies
  • Much much more!

I’ll be putting the finishing touches on it soon then will be running it by Jim Breyfogle for approval.

Once he gives it the OK, it will be added to the Appendix of the hardcover.

In fact, we’ll be adding all of the bonus material to the hardcover [except for the list of backer names, of course] this week, at which point the hardcover will be officially Almost DoneTM.

Once we have a page-count, we can do the layout for the hardcover’s dust-jacket.

No promises, but this could begin fulfilling by as early as June!

6 x 9 cover

A Special Message to the OSR & Gaming Community

Kickstarters have been a staple in the OSR and Game Blogging community since well before I became a member. Crowdfunding has been used as a platform for countless bloggers and game devs to get everything from their latest module & supplements to their complete fantasy heartbreakers off the ground and into people’s hands. Even big name publishers have been using it as a tool to get new projects and new printings funded with quick investment capital.

There is, however, a downside that has been seen all too often in our community. It seems like much of the content at Tenkar’s Tavern over the years I’ve been following him has been a litany of failed and delayed Kickstarters. Sometimes life got in the way, other times dishonest folks took the money and ran. Even great companies with established track-records for success sometimes bite off more than they can chew, resulting in some pretty significant delays. The Skinny DM had an excellent article on the situation with Goodman Game’s DCC 4th printing Kickstarter which, despite my fondness for Goodman Games, I absolutely agree with.

So, why do I think you should back our Kickstarter?

A Proven Track Records – In 2016, Cirsova ran 3 successful Kickstarters – one for our first issue, one for our second issue, and one for our third and fourth issues. In all three cases, backers received their rewards almost immediately* after the money cleared through Kickstarter and Amazon Payments. There may have been one or two individual hiccups or items lost or damaged in the post, but I am confident that anyone you’d ask would say that we resolved all issues as quickly and satisfactorily as possible.

We Are Gamers – Before we started the magazine, Cirsova  was a gaming blog. We came out of the RPG Blog Alliance and the OSR community. Many of our contributors are fellow gamers, and the stories we all love and that shape our content are the same stories that shaped our games. Many of the stories we publish are the kind that could be run as a one-off adventure with nothing more than a couple of stat blocs; in fact, that’s almost an unspoken acceptance criteria!

We Exist to Support Writers – More than anything else, Cirsova exists as a Semi-Pro Market to support writers of exciting fiction. There are people out there still writing stories in the vein of Burroughs, Brackett, and Vance, but they need places to sell and publish their stories. Many of the big-name magazines and publishing houses are simply not interested in the kind of adventure fiction that inspired the games so beloved in the OSR. By supporting Cirsova, you allow us to stay open as a market for these writers and to continue paying in the $75-$100 range for short fiction.

Please consider checking out our Kickstarter. It costs only $1 to get both of our 2017 issues**, if you’re just curious. You have to admit, that’s hard to beat. We also offer softcover and hardcover editions of our magazine.

If you have a gamebook, module or other product coming out, or even if you just want to get word out about your blog, consider supporting us with some advertising space. In 2016, we had over a hundred subscribers and ended up selling over 500 copies of our magazine.

*:Needless to say, they received the winter issue when it came out, rather than in September when the money cleared and we sent the fall issue.

**:PDF and eBook.

both-covers-small

B4: The Lost City – Part 2

Things proceeded a bit more smoothly in our second session of the Lost City.  I had time to better flesh out the factions and even come up with some mini-quests that each side would possibly offer.

The Brotherhood of Gorm are followers of a god of justice and law, so despite their chauvinism and inability to get on smashingly with Usamigaras and Madarua, I’ve set them up to be a sort of facilitator faction; this plays well into the fact that these are the first guys the party met and with whom they are staying.

Usamigaras’ followers, as magic users, I’ve decided are a bit more capricious as a faction; they think that both Gorm and Madarua’s followers are too stodgy and serious.

Madarua’s followers are similar to Gorm’s in many respects, though their misandry leads them to disliking both Gorm and Usamigaras as male-led factions.  They dislike Usamigaras’ faction a bit more, as they have to share a tier together, and would like to see Gorm and Usamigaras’ followers at each other’s throats so that the women can get down to business.

Brother Kanadius of the Brotherhood of Gorm has decided that it’s time for a council of war to discuss dealing with the Priests of Zargon.  He has therefore tasked one of their PC initiates with delivering letters to the other factions inviting them to parley.  This gave the PCs a reason to find and meet the other factions.

I did give Usamigaras and Madarua faction specific quest options in which they would attempt to foment discord between the other two groups, but neither of these have really come up yet.  They still may eventually.  Part of Kanadius’ task for the party was make sure that the other factions aren’t trying to kill each other, so the PCs are awkwardly trying to mediate between the factions.  So far, I believe one player has a character who has joined Gorm and a character who has joined Madarua, while two players have one character each who has joined Usamigaras.

I’ve also gone ahead and determined what each faction sees as a goal that the players can help them with in the dungeon to aid them in their long-term plans; the faction leaders will discuss these during their council of war and, of course, fail to agree on which MacGuffins are more important.  This council will, however, give the PCs a reason to plunge into the undead hell of Tier 4 to find some sweet swag which they will be tasked with finding.

Much of the session was spent clearing out Tier 3 and meeting the factions.  The rotating room puzzle at the heart of Tier 3 provided the best possible use of a Read Languages spell.  Tada!  Suddenly the wonky runes are Cardinal and Ordinal directions!

The party evaded a small swarm of Cave Locusts by spinning the room to a new direction.  They impressively made the correct choice when rotating the wand-arm of the statue of Usamigaras and found the back way to the faction’s area.  There was a rough fight with a bunch of oil beetles, but the party managed to just survive it without losses.  The magi were grateful that their food supply was saved.  The followers of Madarua proved surly and taciturn, but welcomed one party member into their ranks.  Note on Madarua’s faction area – those ladies must all sleep on the ground or something; they don’t have any quarters!

The party did a spectacular job of taking care of the Draco Lizard in the NW corner of the pyramid; they lured it into an oil-trap they’d set, and it burned up real good (2 8s on 2 d8s + two successful ranged attacks!); it didn’t even matter that the part of the plan where they’d cast sleep on it was doomed to fail (Draco lizards are just barely too powerful to be sleeped).

On the way to find the trap door to level 3, the party was ambushed by a pack of giant weasels which, if I hadn’t been employing shield-break rules, would’ve killed at LEAST two PC, if not more.  The yellow mold room was wisely avoided, and the party tried stealing the vases from the Jester’s Tomb.  I think they’re going to try to floating disc his sarcophagus, move it to a more remote part of the dungeon, and use the trick-jars to stash loot.  I approve of this and will probably let them run with it.

So, a few things I’ve noticed – non-individual initiative is taking a bit for people to get used to, not because it’s significantly different, but everyone wants it to be their turn and roll their attacks right away; instead I’m making everyone take turns, going around the table.  It makes me feel vaguely parental in an unpleasant way, but I still think it’s preferable to the countdown method.

I am also begrudgingly beginning to admit that maybe ascending AC is a good thing.  I hate that feeling when players are looking at me like I’m stupid when I ask what AC they hit.  “I rolled a 14!” “What AC did you hit?” “I… rolled… a 14?”  I feel like it’s too late to switch now, but I think the next time I run a game for people, I’ll go ahead and convert everything to ascending…

There’s also some—I don’t really know what to call it; it’s not exactly griping—comments/feelings about XP and leveling up among the players, especially those relatively new to RPGs.  Someone pointed out that we averaged about 36 XP per hour that we played (it was actually 288 XP per hour split 8 ways), and at that rate it would take forever to reach level 2.  Once upon a time, I would’ve felt the same way, and even told someone once that if characters were still level 1 after the first few sessions, something was wrong.  I know now that I was wrong then, but I don’t know how to show this to my players.  There’s definitely a focus on leveling (at least one player admits to being a recovering MMORPGer) in newschool gaming, that makes it hard for folks to kick back and enjoy the adventure and perils that 1st level adventuring has to offer.  I mean, they killed a bunch of giant bugs, a pack of weasels and a Draco Lizard without losing a single party member!  It was a near run thing with the weasels, but no one died.

Hopefully the grumbling is more observational than actual complaint; we didn’t level particularly fast in DCC, where after months of playing, the highest level character is my 4th level Thief (who still only has 10 HP).  Still, DCC is a higher HP system, where you get half a hit die at level 0 and it uses a base d8 rather than a base d6.  Its ‘XP for encountering something’ system rewards Scooby-Doo-esque running through halls, opening doors, seeing monsters, slamming doors, then running to another door behavior, though if we weren’t being allowed to buy XP with gold, we would almost certainly be hovering around 2nd level still.  I’ve run the numbers on B4, and the first 5 tiers, monster XP excluded, has enough treasure to get a huge party to level 3 (Thieves and Clerics may hit level 4, even), and if it takes two-to-three weeks to clear Tier 4 and three-to-four weeks to clear Tier 5, everyone could easily be level 3 in about a month to a month and a half.  I’m not old enough to be all “Back in my day, we only had three levels, and we liked it!”, but seriously!  I’m hoping folks will be come to appreciate low-level B/X for what it is.  Despite this, everyone seems to be having a good time, and as long as they are, I’ll be happy.

And man!  Players are always concerned about details that never specified in modules and are usually overlooked in dungeon design, especially pertaining to doors: “What do the hinges on this door look like?”  “Does the door open inward, outwards or swing freely?” “Are the hinges on the right or the left?”  You’ll save yourself a headache if you go in beforehand and mark this sort of stuff up.  I at least had sense to figure that the doors coming off of the rotating room all open away from the moving part so that they wouldn’t snap or get jammed when the corridor spins.

“Hey, Tom Moldvay – would it have killed you to make the names in this module easier to pronounce?”

Thiefy Stuff

Playing DCC, thieves have become one of my favorite classes, particularly since DCC’s weird, wild and woolly system of magic kind of puts me off of playing any caster classes.  Though DCC works on the d8 Hit Die rather than the d6 Hit Die, meaning Thieves are d6, my character – with all of my really lousy HD rolls and negative modifier to Stamina/Constitution – feels like a d4 Thief!

Naturally, the thing that makes Thieves fun to play is the opportunity to do Thiefy stuff.  The problem is, for both players of Thieves, DMs and the rest of the group, that Thiefy stuff is typically best done without half a dozen guys with swords, chainmail and magic wands derping around and making noise.  Sometimes dungeons provide opportunities to flex those Thief muscles, disarming traps, opening locks and chest, but what you really want to do sometimes as the Thief is some truly daring late-night breaking and entering back in town.  Who hasn’t wanted to relive the thrill of Bafford Manor heist in their D&D game?

The problem is multipart: the Thief usually wants to run this sort of job solo – no sense in having half a dozen guys banging clanking and wisecracking while you’re trying to sneak through a temple or a mansion – which means that most players will have nothing to do while the Thief does his thing.  At most, some members of the party may be wrangled into being look-outs.  The best time to do Thiefy stuff is when only a small group has shown up, if you can’t wrangle your DM into some solo time.  The other issue is that the DM is now obliged to actually map whatever temple or manor you’re hoping to rob.

Where am I going with this?  You’ll find out tomorrow when I post my review of Castles of Mad King Ludwig!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shadow Over Alfheim – Pt 11 “Burn it to the Ground!”

The megadungeon in Morgansfort which i’ve been using for the ruined elven city of Malek is proving a bit problematic, because of its lack of sensible dungeon design. Now, it’s also problematic because I haven’t really included giant insects or the ecology necessary to sustain them in Alfheim, but I’m able to handwaive that as “evil elf magic”.

The dungeon’s first level is basically a small horizontal figure-8 in the middle of a large vertical figure-8. The northwest portion of the loop is closed off, however, to both the characters and to most wandering monsters by a giant nest of pony-sized ants. The choked up nature of a lot of the dungeon’s first floor makes random encounters a bit difficult to rationalize. Where was the monster going? Where was it coming from? There’s a neat trick mirror in one of the rooms that shows what happened an hour in the past (specifically a wandering group of goblins), but the room is located in such a place that the goblins wouldn’t have been there unless the party already ran into them coming the other way (away from the giant ant nest). I really like the idea that goblins are trying to take over this dungeon to use as a base, but the layout of the first level, the singular entry pointin the middle of the figure-8s, along with the infrequency of random encounters has made it harder to work in than I would like. The goblin encounters worked out a lot better above ground.

In retrospect, what I should’ve done was treat the goblins as a separate adventuring party, rather than a random encounter. Their presence would be felt in the wake of the effects they had on the dungeon, whether they were encountered or not.

This is also the first really deep dungeon that the party has hit, and it could take several sessions to clear it out. In the meantime, I worry that the story will drag. I probably shouldn’t have used this dungeon for this game, but that’s not the dungeon’s fault. Still, it’s given me a few places to showcase how messed up the elves are. Especially since I’ve gone ahead and made the Ghouls curse-bound elves.

Anyway, the party left the safety of the talking-face room and tried to finish clearing out as much of the 1st floor as they could. They started with the alchemical laboratory, where the lightning trapped door put some serious hurt on the goblin thief. They poked around the room for awhile, bagged the valuable alchemical equipment, and considered coming back some other day for the Kiln on the off chance they could bring back a team of engineers to tear the place apart stone by stone.

The party then trekked to the “dark room”, one of the many fun-but-not-really-thematically-connected tricks in the dungeon, where the room is filled with continual darkness and nothing else. This room would’ve probably been less fun if the party had not had the staff of light and dark; since they did, it was neat having them mess around with how a continual light source affected the continual dark, creating wispy maelstroms of flickering shadows. While the party was having fun playing with that, a giant ant showed up.

It was a pretty tough fight. The wizard, whose player could only play with us once, shot off a magic missile and vanished. The giant bug nearly killed the fighter, but the party was able to eventually take it down. If anything, they were sufficiently discouraged by the fight to try to face down an entire nest. As for the Bargrish the evil Wizard, I think I’ll turn him into a Wizard of Frobozz type character, who shows up randomly, casts a spell then leaves.

The party continued on to the octagonal room for the stirge fight. Much less of a headache than the ants, but still hurt some. They found the secret lever that would’ve disarmed the crossbow trap that they sprung much earlier on, but they didn’t know that.

Heading on to the upper loop of the vertical figure 8, the sneaky characters stumbled onto a random cursed elf who was wandering in circles. The cursed elf failed all of his attack rolls and was killed pretty quick. The party couldn’t figure out where it was headed, and honestly, off the top of my head, neither could I. But he was headed the same direction as the players, so I guess he’d come up past the stirges just a bit earlier. From where? I have no idea.

The mapper figured out that they’d made a full circle back to the ant colony (just on the other side). They found the aforementioned magic mirror and did some playing around with it. Again, I screwed up, because I should’ve had them run into goblins somewhere along that path between the main entrance at the middle of the figure-8s and the top of the vertical loop, but I’d forgotten about the mirror room and hadn’t really prepared for it. So, uh… there are goblins somewhere. I’ll assume that they quickly made their way back outside because screw this dungeon.

The thief pricked his finger on the trapped chest across the hall from the mirror, the room filled with poison gas. The monk managed to stick his foot in the door and get everybody out before they were too badly affected. Cheap trick, but it was harder to pull off than i would’ve liked. Oh, well.

One fun thing I was able to work in was the room where the giant shrew has one of the dungeon key rubies. I treated it as one of the shrews that the party had given its food to the first time. The fighter gave it some more food, so the shrew nuzzled the gem out of his hidey-hole. The party considered for a moment killing it to see if it had more treasure but opted not to. I know in descriptions, Giant Shrews are supposed to be super hostile, but in both encounters, the monsters had 10 or higher reaction rolls, so I went with it.

On the way to check out the last of the rooms that they hadn’t hit on the 1st floor, they scoped out the spitting cobra room. Lucky for the thief, the cleric still had a bottle of anti-venom; even if the monk could’ve collected herbs enough to make a potion, it could’ve either taken too long or they’d be picked apart by the goblin patrols in the woods.

On the way south, a green slime fell on the goblin ranger, who was burned half to death to get it off. Same thing happened to the fighter. Good times.

The illusory ladder down forever room was mistaken for a route to the second floor and was left for later. The teleporter room zapped the monk down to the cells. Took the monk about a half-hour in game time to get back to where everyone else was, but since he was the mapper, he found his way fairly quickly. As he did, the others peeked into the room where the bees were. “Anybody here remember those levels in Donkey Kong Country 2? It looks like that in there.”

Beaten up pretty good, the party decided to try to camp in the talking stone face room again. They found two cursed elves seated and listening to it saying unintelligible things. The ensuing fight was pretty rough, with two paralyzed heroes, but a few lucky rolls managed to keep it from becoming worse than it was.

As I said before, some variation of the phrase “We just need to burn this place to the ground” was uttered at least three times that night.

I definitely think I prefer running smaller dungeons to megadungeons. There are a lot of little traps and random things, but they don’t quite come together the way that the set pieces of the smaller mods I’ve run have.  Also, for being so big, it’s kind of claustrophobic.  With a dungeon laid out the way that Maze of Nuromen was, there was plenty of ways for things to come and go unseen, yet despite its openness, it had a very cozy feel.  It was easier for characters to get a connection to the place.  For Malek, I’ve done a lot of improvisations to give more than the most barebones detail and descriptions so I could make it fit.  I think it goes back to my theory on dungeons and purpose.  All dungeons have to have some sort of purpose to them: buildings were built for reasons, and even if that reason is a mystery to the explorers, making it a mystery to the DM can make it difficult to use.  I was able to extrapolate enough elven-ness to make it usable, but I’m starting to wish I hadn’t.  Most of the players still seem to be digging it, though.

Shadow Over Alfheim Pt7 – Interlude

There was a respite in the action in our last session. A lot of story-related stuff needed to be handled as did some in town resource management.

The cleric fired off a letter to Lord Richmond, which would be taken by one of the refugees from Stull, informing him of the situation. Ironically, the party may overtake this letter.

With little to do in Stull but pick up the pieces, the party decided to return to Alfort and figure out what to do with the Elfstones. In regards to their ill-fated agreement with the saw-mill, Mayor Barclay handed them a letter to be taken to the Laquin home office in Portsdam explaining the terms he had agreed upon. The agreement will almost certainly be rejected by the home office, especially since the deal was for the party to save the mill, which will now have to be rebuilt at great expense.

After hearing a rumor from goblin scouts of brewing war among the northern tribes, the party took a couple barges and floated down the river back to Alfort. After two days, they arrived to find the heads of 9 goblins and 5 orcs posted on spears along the shores of the isle.

Back in town, the Cleric got a note from Richmond’s solicitor, who has arrived in Alfort. The solicitor offered the new information he had regarding elven ruins in the region, including a very large city which was once along the road between Alfort and Portsdam. The party was originally reluctant to hand over the elfstones, as they did not know their purpose. Upon finding the value of the stones, the party nearly crapped themselves, but rather than handing them over, they elected to deliver them to Lord Richmond in person.

This is an interesting twist; I was wondering if and when they’d consider why they were turning in items in Alfort if the only route to Portsdam was overland through territory that was becoming less safe. Of course nothing is being delivered to the Imperial University and forgeries are being used to manipulate the party in to believing the correspondence between the museum curators and nobility.

The party has set out to hand deliver a pair of artifacts they’ve been told are worth 100,000 gold. The evil thief and the monk have both signed up to be agents of Lord Richmond. Soon, they’ll find themselves caught in the middle of a goblin war and delving an ancient elven labyrinth filled with animals made twisted and gigantic by cruel elvish magic.

Shadow Over Alfheim Pt6 – Night of the Necromancer Concluded

One of the players who wasn’t available last week was here this time, so he and another absent player’s character showed up in Stull to find it burning and overrun by zombies. Needless to say, the other players still in the dungeon were all “Oh, sh….”

The Goblin and Orc fought some zombies with the help of a couple townsfolk to save the mayor. One townsperson became a level 1 something or other, after surviving the battle with a handful of zombies in case any players lost their characters in the dungeon. The mayor told the where the party was. I ruled that he’d arrive at the encounter under-way in 4 rounds.

The turned and fleeing zombies attracted the attention of the big-bads of the dungeon, Thaen (MU) and Behiric (CL) and Thaen’s Wight friend.

I molly-coddle the party a bit more than I’d told myself I would, if only because a party, however big, of level 1-3 characters were out of their depth against two 6th level magic users and an aethereal undead. Rather than hold personing everyone, the cleric only held-person a couple (ultimately one, the cleric who failed his saving throw). The evil cleric relied more on his +2 warhammer than his spells, though everyone did get scared when he healed himself to full. The goblin/thief found out that his +1 mace was actually cursed and evil, when the cleric laughed after being hit for max damage with a weapon blessed by and dedicated to his own evil god.

The Magic User put the hurt on some folks with magic missiles, and downed the fighter. Again, I didn’t want to be mean and have him use his lightning bolt straight off for a TPK. The monk (my OSR monk) used a poison dagger on Thaen and sent him running.

The wight bumbled around a lot, completely unable to connect to anyone, which was good, I guess, since level drain is really mean. Of course, a lot of characters didn’t have +1 weapons, so there was a lot of really great acrobatic roleplay of characters grabbing magic weapons from fallen characters. The goblin/thief needed a different weapon, so someone tossed the held cleric’s mace at him, but he caught it with his face. The goblin/thief nearly got KO’d after the evil cleric picked him up and threw him against a wall. The Elf also had an “oh, no!” moment when sleep didn’t work on Behiric.

The Elf chased after Thaen, and shot him in the shoulder, so Thaen KO’d the Elf pretty hard with a lighting-bolt before wizard locking himself in his room.

The wight eventually got killed, and Behiric, almost dead, yielded. As he yielded, the goblin/thief bashed his skull in.

The party couldn’t open Thaen’s wizard-locked door, so they decided to cover his door in oil, set it on fire and smoke him out. The dungeon got filled pretty bad with smoke, and the party hid out sifting through Behiric’s dirty clothes waiting the fire out and killing the turned zombies who were hiding in his room.

I decided that wizard lock does not stop wooden doors from burning, so they returned, kicked in the remains, found Thaen dead from smoke inhalation, and the rest of the turned zombies cowering in his room with him. Thaen had destroyed his spellbook as one of his last living acts. After searching the room, the party dispatched the turned undead and dragged themselves back to the village, which was more or less burned to the ground.

Of course before they got out of the dungeon, they had been messing with the lever in Thaen’s room, and the cleric fell in the pit trap (the goblin/thief was not heavy enough to set it off and declared it ‘disarmed’). They turned the zombie in the pit just for the hell of it, so it was turned and stuck on spikes at the bottom of a 30 ft pit.

They spent two days recovering, during which time, Garrett arrived in town, delivering the Elfstones(Orbs of Necromantic Power) to the clerics and told them what he knew of Thaen, Behiric and the cult of Caelden. The students had been promised to learn many great arcane secrets, but had been unaware that it entailed their destruction of the city and raising an undead army. The level 1 MU didn’t stand much chance of leaving or stopping Thaen & Behiric, but with them dead, he was able to murder his companions and deliver the artifacts to the clergymen.

The party returned to the tomb the next day, fought the two other wights in the tomb (who also managed to not hit anyone) then found the giant pile of dead bodies where the orbs had been kept. They debated forever over what to do with the corpses, where to move them, how to bury them, etc. etc. The goblin/thief wanted to mutilate their bodies, the cleric wouldn’t let them. They ended up spending the better part of the day dumping the bodies into the pit with the zombie. “The 30′ pit is now a 15′ pit, and there is a turned zombie under the bodies who is very unhappy about the situation.” The party took the last of the loot out of the student’s room and then went to the treasure room, the last room they hadn’t explored.

The goblin/thief made a b-line for the treasure-chest and got squished by living statues. A heroic effort was made to drag him out, and the party opted to seal the statues in the room rather than go after the treasure.

All in all, Necromancers of Stull was a fun module to run. The only problem I had with it was the cramped nature of some of the rooms meant that the opening tunnel, rooms 3, 9, 10 and 11 all constituted one big encounter. And really it wasn’t so much of a problem as it was a balance issue. While the zombies are not an issue, especially with clerics in the party, fighting two lvl 6 spellcasting characters with that much interference being run for them is really tough. If I’d played to win it as the bad-guys, I’d’ve had Behiric hold everyone. Thaen then could’ve killed the still-level 1 elf with magic missiles, and anyone who wasn’t held could be killed off with missiles and lightning bolts. Even if Behiric hadn’t managed to hold anyone, Thaen has enough damage going on with his Lighting Bolt, he could’ve easily killed half the party with a single spell. Still, even going easy on the party, it was a pretty exciting encounter, and having the goblin/halfling and orc show up on round 4 added to that excitement, very much in a “Yay, we’re saved!” sort of way, especially when the party got down to the light-healer, the thief and the elf as active combatants.

For a party as big as the one I’m playing with, I’d say this would be good for a level 2-4 party (thieves at the high end, elves at the low end) or level 3-4 for a smaller party. Otherwise an encounter with 8 zombies, a wight, an MU-6 and a CL-6 is going to be brutal.

At least I think that most of the party has finally leveled,

Night of the Necromancer is a free mini-module in the AA1-Adventure Anthology One, available for download at the BRFPG site.

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.