Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Going to Africa

Hi all, I want to thank all the folks that have been reading or following Dreams in the Lich House and to let you know I expect to be offline quite a bit over the next few weeks.  I haven't been able to post as much gaming stuff lately as we've been planning a huge trip - we're going to Africa.  I'll be back at the end of the month.  We're specifically heading to Ethiopia.  While I have a few near term posts mostly ready to go, I'm not sure how good the internet connectivity will be out there and whether posting will be possible on the road.

It's good news - we're in the final stages of an international adoption, to help a four year old orphaned boy join our family.  On this trip we'll be heading out to the orphanage, meeting the surviving relatives, and doing all the court stuff; if approved we'll have a second trip early in the summer to bring the little guy home.

So if I don't get a chance to post or micro blog, I'm off doing good things, and will be back online the first week of May.  I'll have my brainstorming notebook for the plane ride, so either the Black City will get some love, or gamer ADD will crash Gothic Greyhawk like a house of cards - because we DM's are nuts.

See you all on the other side!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Tyranny of Continual Light

Lately my imaginings have been wending towards campaign settings that are more technologically sophisticated (Renaissance or later) and maybe even higher magic - which is odd, because I've been a Dark Ages advocate since returning to old school gaming a few years ago.  The recent poll here on "Which historical setting is your D&D game most like" had 60% of the folks responding Dark Ages and Ancient World - a lot of you like the grittier worlds, too.

So here's my question for the day - and maybe I think about this stuff too much, or maybe the rest of you solved this one long ago - how do handle such common, yet seemingly world-changing spells, as Continual Light?

I'm no historian, but the wise folks out there that write books indicate things like artificial light freed up labor to work around the clock and not be limited to the hours of daylight.  Continual Light, a cheap, permanent form of light, can be cast by any 3rd level magic user; the clerical version is a little harder to achieve, but I'd happily set up a shop selling Continual Light stones down at Beedo's Light Emporium and rake in a fortune.  Wouldn't that spell, by itself, turn the whole Dark Ages paradigm on it's head and launch humanity centuries along the tech ladder?

In my games, my crutch is artificially keeping magic rare.  Fear of spell casters and fear of magic keeps folks from studying magic or trafficking with enchanted items, that, and the persecution of the church.  But the implied setting of D&D is certainly much more forgiving of the arcane arts than my dreary Dark Ages settings tend to be, and implies demographics that have a higher proportion of casters than my games.

I'm also not overlooking the great sense of accomplishment I feel as a DM when the group has to micromanage their torches and oil flasks, wondering if their resources will hold out.  All that bean counting and logistics, potentially undone by a level 2 magic user spell.  I think all future dungeons will need at least one "continual light wiper", kind of like those things at the checkout counter that depolarize magnets - although then I suppose the group would just camp and recast the light spells.

Some time back I put up a post eulogizing The Principalities of Glantri, and one thing I've both loved and hated about that Gazetteer was it's unabashed assumption that magic was common and plentiful.  People zoomed through the canals using gondolas powered by trapped water elementals, basking in the glow of continual light orbs on the street corners.  It's the anti-Dark Ages.  Glantri how I loathe you, yet can't stop talking about you.  Opposites sometimes attract, I guess.

Anyway, I also put up a new poll - if there's no good answer that fits your approach, feel free to drop a comment instead.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mythic Monday: The Meenlock

Can you see them, Sally ... hiding in the shadows. They're alive, Sally. They want you to be one of them when the lights go out.

So check it out - I was recently listening to one of the Dragonsfoot D&D podcasts (Roll for Initiative) , and they were talking about the Meenlock from the Fiend Folio and puzzling over where the creature came from… and it struck me, don't they remember the old 70's movie, "Don't be Afraid of the Dark"?  I loved B-horror and that one scared the heck out of me as a 5-6 year old(?) on a Saturday afternoon.  Many years later I remember coming across the Meenlock in the Fiend Folio and making the inspirational connection.

The typical Mythic Monday monster has involved going back to the roots of folklore to get ideas on changing up or improving D&D monsters; the Meenlock doesn't quite have a centuries old pedigree, but I love the creature and the roots of the story, so here goes.  Besides, Guillermo Del Toro has a huge man-crush on the movie, and is doing a remake this summer.

In the movie, a woman and her husband inherit her father's house; he's away on business and she discovers a sealed fireplace in the dad's study while exploring.  She ends up bringing in a workman to unseal it, and discovers a network of tunnels (too small for people) underneath the hearth.  From that point on, she's terrorized by these little guys - they constantly douse the lights and set up little ambushes, and whisper in a way only she can hear; they kill her decorator by tripping her down the stairs.  No one believes her about the creatures, and the original ends on a stormy night where the woman is locked in the house all alone with the creatures; when friends finally arrive to rescue her, she's completely missing.  But then we hear her voice amongst the voices of the creatures… she's been dragged into the hole and turned into one of them!

Anyway, the write up for the original Meenlock is in the Fiend Folio and is totally over-the-top as a "stalk the party, claim a victim" type of monster for terrorizing adventurers; it tracks the movie monster almost identically, right down to the sealed lair, the telepathic messages that only the victim can hear, and then making the victim one of the monsters.  Here are the salient points from the Fiend Folio.  Their appearance causes fear; they live in a sealed vertical shaft and only become active against adventurers when someone opens the shaft and breaks the seal - the victim brings it on themself.  They pick a single victim to terrorize and send telepathic messages only to the victim, degrading their combat abilities and hopefully sowing some paranoia.  They have a paralytic touch, and their ultimate goal is to drag the victim back to the shaft and turn them into another Meenlock.

These guys are awesome!

One of us, One of us.
The Meenlock (flavored for Labyrinth Lord)
No. Enc.: 3-5
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 90' (30')
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 4
Attacks: 2 claws + paralyzation
Damage: 1d4 / 1d4
Save: M4
Morale: 11
Hoard Class:
XP: 300

Cause Fear:
Anyone less than 4HD seeing a Meenlock will fall to the ground in fear for 5-8 rounds (save vs paralysis to halve the effect).

Dimension Door:
Meenlocks teleport 6' every other round, giving them a -4 to AC on those rounds.  They typically use this power to extinguish light sources.

Telepathic Terror:
Range 300'.  The Meenlocks will stay at range and harass the victim, causing him or her to lose 1 point of Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence and Wisdom per hour, cumulative, in addition to a -1 on to hit rolls.  The effects end when the Meenlocks can no longer follow (like if the party moves into bright daylight).

Meenlocks surprise on a 1-5 out of 6.

It takes 3 Meenlocks to carry a victim; if they claim their target, the victim will be dragged back to the Meenlock lair and transformed into a Meenlock.

Edit:  Hey, someone else featured Don't Be Afraid in the Dark in a post - check out an alternate take over at Aldeboran.  I like the Jermlaine as these types of creatures as well, and could fill a similar role in an adventure.

Note:  Kind of an OGL questions - are we allowed to use a term like Meenlock on a blog, or is that IP protected because it's in the Fiend Folio?  Just curious how that aspect of the OGL works...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Game Report: Gothic Greyhawk game 26

Cast of Characters:
Mordecai, a Cleric-4: Adam
Forlorn, an Elf-3: Bo
Mister Moore, Magic User-4: Mike
Grumble the Smug, Halfling-3: Nogal
Barzai, a Cleric-3:  Z, recently promoted

Shy, a Fighter-3
Phat Kobra, a Dwarf-3
Zeke, a Fighter-3
Starkweather, a Thief-4

Hammers of the God:  Spoilers

No sooner had the gaming kickoff music* finished, then the group unanimously decided to take the submarine ride - as opposed to leaving the dungeon.  What's the worst that could happen?  Rolling characters is easy.

The first order of business was to haul up the second submarine from "the other side" and see what was inside it.  Shy and Kobra climbed the crane tower, with a light spell on Shy's sword, tied themselves to the ladder just below the cabin, and then Shy finished the climb to take on the zombie they expected.  It was a quick fight, and then they hauled up the submarine (it took about an hour, taking turns cranking the winch).

They excitedly hurried down the beach to see it bobbing on the water by the shore.  The bow men tried to keep a clear shot at the hatch, and then Shy popped it open.  Once the seal was broken, it popped open with a whoosh and a large cloud of mold spores burst into the air.  Time for saving throws!

About half the group missed the throw and sucked in too many spores, immediately losing their reason and going nuts (random madness chart).  A few of the guys wanted to clamber on the sub and get more spores, the others tried to take important gear and chuck it into the whirlpool.  Mister Moore decided to spell everyone, starting with web.  Oh no, The Crazies!

Shy put Starkweather in a headlock, Forlorn tackled Mister Moore, but most of the drama was Barzai and Kobra trying to keep Mordecai from throwing his backpack (with a dozen cleric spells on scrolls) out into the water.  Someone would snatch the backpack away, only for him to get it back next action.  Eventually, Mordecai got frustrated by keep away, and just dragged himself and the dwarf into the water; by then, some of the other folks had come to their senses and Forlorn was able to toss Kobra a rope.   Mordecai broke the dwarf's grip, insistent on drowning himself, and Kobra had to make a heroic effort to grab him again and let the others pull them both to shore.

Once everyone had the chance to recover, they decided to ignore Sub #2; it seemed like too much trouble to clean out the mold spores and risk more Mold Madness.  They sealed it up and went to Sub #3.  Sub 3 was empty.  Were they ready to go now?  No.  The only thing they were ready to do was to agonize over the decision on the best way to use the subs and the cranes.  The fact that there were cranks in the subs, and cranks in the towers, caused no end of consternation.  Did they need to leave someone behind to operate the tower?  Why else would the towers have zombie operators?

When the going gets tough, the tough go... to the library?  They made their way back to the dwarf library and started pouring over the catalog listing again hoping for a clue about operating the subs and towers.  The one named "Operations Manual" seemed auspicious, and a few hours later, the proscribed reading time, they confirmed it was a guide on how to use the submarines and winches.  The big winch in the tower would let them ascend faster, but the smaller winch in the sub should still work to get back up.  Everyone could go on the ride!  They went back to the whirlpool.

They inspected Sub 3 and noted the winch inside the sub seemed jammed, so they opted for Sub 1 (which had zombies in it previously).  They used ropes to secure everyone to the seats (the seat belts were gone), stowed their gear in the back, and used a light spell to see once the air tight hatch was closed.  The trick was pushing off, having Shy clamber in, close the hatch, and get in position to let out the winch.  The submarine spun around the whirlpool, slammed around a tunnel as it circled the drain and rushed quickly down, and then splashed into deep water after a moment of free fall.  There was a crashing sound from the rear of the sub, where many of the glass vials and oil flasks shattered despite their efforts to anchor the backpacks.  (That's what you get for filling up a backpack with 13 oil flasks).

The submarine continued to sink as it was pulled down by the current and flow of water; Shy had to crank it back to the surface.  They opened the hatch and could see they were in a new cavern!  Starkweather was picked to jump into the water and swim the submarine to the cavern shore.

As they paddled to shore, they could see statues of dwarves on the beach; gems glittered in their foreheads.  Once on land, they could see a passage leading straight ahead out of the cavern, and over the lapping of the water and splashing behind them, it sounded like there was a crowd roaring in the distance.  Was there an arena somewhere down the hallway?

Starkweather was on guard, and warned everyone that had just come ashore to turn around.  Emerging from the water behind them were a handful of dwarf zombies.  To be continued…

We've knocked our game time down from four hours to three the past couple of weeks as we've let a few of the 9 year olds (Nogal and Z) sit in on "the grown up game" as Nogal calls it, so I'm finding it can take a long time to play through a module.

*Gaming Kickoff Music:  the only thing happier than a weekly D&D game is Monday Night Football, so I start every gaming session with the 70's theme from Monday Night Football - best of both worlds, baby!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Black City Friday: Island Encounter Tables

Encounter tables for the southern and western island of Thule, as well as the northern glaciers and surrounding islands.  I prefer using a curve for encounter tables; common encounters are in the 5-7 range on the charts and the rare and dangerous encounters on the ends of the curve will appear infrequently.

The encounter chance is a 1-2 on a 6-sided die each day, and a 1-2 on 12-sided die each night in camp.

Southern Thule
Roll 2d6
2: Ice Troll 1-3
3: Ice Toad 1-3
4: Taer 1-8
5: Humans
6: Polar Bear 1-6
7: Herd Animals (Reindeer) 2-20
8: Giant Snake 1-4
9: Mammoth 1-10
10: Peryton 1-6
11: Irish Deer 1-6
12: White Dragon 1

Northern Thule (Glaciers) and other islands
Roll 2d6
2: Remorhaz 1
3: Ice Troll 1-4
4: Ice Toad 1-4
5: Taer 2-16
6: Polar Bear 1-6
7: Herd Animals (Reindeer) 2-20
8: Icy Hazard
9: Peryton 1-8
10: Irish Deer 1-8
11: Wind Walker 1-3
12: White Dragon 1

Notes on some creatures:
Taers are bestial white fur covered ape-men; substitute white apes as desired.

Humans will be a Northman themed NPC party (50%) or Berserkers (50%).

The Thule Snake is a giant poisonous snake covered with white fur.  They are amphibious monsters that live near the coasts and feed on marine mammals.

Icy Hazards:  Hazards can include avalanches in the mountains, treacherous ice crevasses on the glaciers, or holes and ditches obscured by snow.  If the party hasn't taken reasonable precautions, a hazard will require each party member caught in the hazard to saves vs petrification or take 3-18 damage.

Wind Walkers:  These are amongst the most feared creatures on the glaciers, bodiless demons of the winds that can strip flesh to the bone.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Metagaming, Illusionism, and the Zones

One thing I like about the megadungeon format is that it lets the players metagame - the megadungeon allows the players to pick their level of risk based on game features instead of story.  I'm using the term "metagaming" here because I'm recognizing that players know things about how character levels, hit points, and encounters interact in a way that their characters don't know.  The players make decisions based on game elements that have nothing to do with the story - but like I said in yesterday's post, we DM's are always trying to come up with story explanations for the game elements!

In the post on Danger Zones, I outlined an approach I'm going to use for organizing wilderness areas in "levels" to support  similar decisions.  Areas bordering the civilized areas may be threatened by humanoids and other low level threats, but higher level wilderness will be further away, or on other continents, distant island archipelagos, and lost worlds.

I don't play any CRPGs,  haven't ever installed one, but I seem to recall from friends that WoW had the concept of "zones".  Is that similar?  Are there areas of wilderness that are known as 'higher level' that would be foolish for lower level guys to go there?  (Kind of like a party of 2nd level characters visiting the Isle of Dread?)

Another question has to do with Illusionism.  In a world zoned with levels, the DM has laid out where it's dangerous and more dangerous in advance.  However, I think most people run their game so that the plot hooks, encounters, and adventures scale with the party.   The DM is constantly shuffling the world behind the scenes to fit the current game circumstances and to surface appropriate adventure hooks when the party is ready for them.  Maybe this isn't Illusionism, but it's a little fishy.  Why were goblins threatening the village when we were level 1, and it's ogres threatening the same village now that we're level 4?

I wonder how different a campaign would feel, "zoning the world" consistently right at the beginning and handing the keys over to the players right from day one?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ride into the Danger Zones

Psychedelic Danger Zones!
The game side of D&D can sometimes cause issues with believability and realism - if you care about that stuff - but the game elements create just as many creative opportunities to work solutions into the campaign.

For instance  - why can adventurers find thousands of gold pieces and hordes of magic items, but the economy of the world still runs?  How can a 10th level fighter hold off the an entire army of orcs and take multiple arrow shots?  Why do low level monsters live on the top level of the dungeon, and the monsters get more dangerous the deeper you go?

One thing I like about the megadungeon trope is that dungeon level = monster level.  It lets the players decide on their level of risk versus reward.  "We're only level 2, but we do have those extra scrolls and some healing potions - let's try those stairs down to level 3 and maybe score some bigger treasure!"

It's a little harder to structure the level of danger in the wilderness in the same way that dungeon level corresponds to encounter level.  I've been considering zoning hex maps with color coded hot zones; the players wouldn't see the zones, but they could learn about the dangerous areas through rumor mongering and investigation.  Danger zones would help structure wandering tables and lairs to fit the general level of an area; it's a way of implementing the Wild Frontiers idea I was talking about last week.

Take the example above.  The purple represents the civilized lands; once you cross the river into the wilds, you enter the realm of danger.  The green pockets might represent dangerous swamps or forests, the yellow is a long chain of mountains, the orange is the Murky Forest beyond the mountains, and areas of red might be dragon lairs or giant kingdoms (in the mountains), or the stronghold of a Big Evil Bad Guy.

Encounter Level by Hex Color

Violet:  Civilized Lands
Blue:  Levels 1-3
Green:  Levels 3-5
Yellow:  Levels 5-7
Orange:  Levels 7-9
Red:  Levels 9-10+

Below is a conceptual sketch of how this could be applied to a world map.  I've been wondering recently how I could get a D&D campaign to work for something like the Age of Exploration, balancing the gamist elements across a larger campaign world.  The civilized lands are very stable, and the group will need to travel to lost worlds and distant lands to find adventure.

In this map, faux-Europe is highly civilized except for a few areas that are still a little wild; the orange and red area in the dark country would be the misty lands of Gothic Horror.  The yellow islands are lost worlds like the Isle of Dread, and the continent across the ocean would be the Demon Lands and the big bad evil sorcerers.

This type of hex campaign could be structured with levels (like a dungeon) but involve world-spanning travel and pulp action.

Well, if a TPK happens to my current group any time soon we'll try it out... oh, and the Black City would work nicely on some northern island...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Mythic Monday: The Mermaid

Elements of folklore, myth and legend for your game

Flipping through the early editions of D&D and AD&D, I see that merfolk are an actual race of creatures - there are mermen and mer-women, with their merbabies and merkids.  They cultivate seaweed and raise fish in pens like happy sea farmers, and it makes me want to cry - a monster, an honest to goodness horrible creature from folklore, turned into a pastoral sea farmer.  (The monster naturalism gone too far...)

My hope is that anyone using a mermaid would already take a more folkloric approach anyway than the "sea farmers", but here's a brief survey of the mermaid in British folklore to provide an alternate view.  Note - one could conflate the mermaid with the Greek sirens, or the German nixies or Undine - I'm focusing on the British folklore (and definitely no Hans Christian Anderson!)

The first thing to understand is the mermaid is an omen of doom - every sailor that sees a mermaid knows that he's going for a swim and dying.  They'll be crashed against the rocks, sunken by a storm, or sucked down by a whirlpool.

Take for instance, these verses from the Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens (I'm sure all the english majors out there remember this from grade school - this should be a nice remembrance):

The king sits in Dumferling toune,
Drinking the blude-reid wine:
‘O whar will I get guid sailor,
To sail this schip of mine?’

In different versions, the king goes on to commission Sir Patrick Spens to sail in the winter, everyone is sad about the danger this represents, and of course they sink and drown.  There are lots of variants - some have them going to Norway, most feature bad omens of the moon and tides, and they often see a mermaid:

Out and starts the mermaiden,
wi a fan into her hand:
‘Keep up your hearts, my merry men a’,
For ye’re near the dry land.’

Out and spak Earl Patrick Graham,
Wi the saut tear in his ee:
‘Now sin we’ve seen the mermaiden,
Dry land we’ll never see.’

And of course, the various ballads usually end with the familiar quatrain:

Haf owre, haf owre to Aberdour,
It's fiftie fadom deip,
And thair lies guid Sir Patrick Spens,
Wi the Scots lords at his feit.

Another ballad, called The Mermaid, actually features the mermaid circling the ship to sink it (as opposed to watching the carnage from a distance):

Twas Friday morn when we set sail 
And we were not far from the land 
When the captain, he spied a lovely mermaid 
With a comb and a glass in her hand 
Then three times around went our gallant ship 
And three times around went she 
Three times around went our gallant ship 
And she sank to the bottom of the sea

But I think one of my favorite lines is in the story of the Laird of Lorntie, who is pulled out of the water from the mermaid's grasp by his manservant, and the mermaid mocks how she was going to be eating his blood:

"Lorntie, Lorntie,
Were it na your man,
I had gart your heart’s bluid
Skirling in my pan."

That's what I'm talking about!  The mermaid is a hateful water spirit that sinks ships and drinks the blood of drowned sailors - for fun!  Forget the pastoral sea farmers with the cultivated rows of sea kelp and herding the fishes and toting along the merbabies.

Fish boobies!
There's a spiritual dimension to the mermaid that get can get worked into the picture, if so inclined.  The medieval mermaid was thought to represent pride and vanity - notice how they're usually described with mirror and comb; carvings of the mermaid would appear in medieval churches as a warning against lust (a quick google search of mermaid church carvings will show a few).

The Mermaid for Gothic Greyhawk
Mermaids are creatures originating from the fairy realm that delight in sinking ships and drowning sailors - they are drawn to lair near dangerous shoals, clashing rocks, and hazardous seas where many sailors meet their ends.  The sight of a mermaid is an omen of impending doom.

The mermaid appears from the waist up as a beautiful topless woman with luxurious golden curls, and will often be seen sunning on rocks, combing her hair and regarding herself in the mirror.  Her body from the waist down is a fish.  Her sunken lair will be the site of numerous ship wrecks and the bleached bones of dead sailors.

The Mermaid (remade for Labyrinth Lord)
No. Enc.: 1
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 120' (40') swimming
Armor Class: 4
Hit Dice: 8
Attacks: 1 (dagger) + gaze
Damage: 1d4 / Special
Save: M8
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: XV, X
XP: 2050

The mermaid can call on the following powers:

Weather Control:
Once per day, as per the 7th level cleric spell, the mermaid can use this power to generate storms and maelstroms to destroy ships.  It takes just as long to generate the effect as the spell, which may give a ship time to outrun the storm.

Command Sea creatures:
The mermaid will have a number of sea creatures guarding it's undersea lair, such as giant fish and giant crabs.

Charming Gaze:
The mermaid has an innate charm ability, like the charm person spell, 3 times per day.

The mermaid has the standard fey creature vulnerabilities:  double damage from cold iron; can be turned by a cleric using the "special" line on the turn chart (in this way, you'll note that most fey creatures share similar traits with demons, the other creatures of chaos).

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Game Report: Gothic Greyhawk game 25

Cast of Characters:
Mordecai, a Cleric-4: Adam
Forlorn, an Elf-3: Bo
Mister Moore, Magic User-4: Mike
Grumble the Smug, Halfling-3: Nogal

Shy, a Fighter-3
Phat Kobra, a Dwarf-3
Zeke, a Fighter-3
Starkweather, a Thief-4
Barzai, a Cleric-3

Hammers of the God:  Spoilers

The group watched the acrid corpse smoke pour out of the tomb, and decided it'd be a good idea to camp further up the canyon.  They set up their tents out of sight from the entrance and huddled for a cold night in the mountains.  They were roused when a stone giant investigated the source of the smoke, knocking around boulders and making a racket, and sent the stealthy halfling to scout, but they avoided detection and the giant eventually left.

They took their time the next morning waiting for the smoke to clear; once satisfied, they returned to the tomb, briefly scouted the main temple to ensure the ancient corpses were destroyed, and then went through the west door.

Purple smoke still filtered out from beneath the west door, and the room was obscured by it.  It made breathing difficult so they wedged the door open and waited a few minutes for it to clear.  The smoke was coming from a handful of burning seeds in a fire pit, which they doused.  The other intriguing element was the meditative dwarf priest.

Seated across from the fire pit was a half naked dwarf priest, cross legged, and surrounded by a magic circle.  His eyes were closed, but he was still breathing.   This presented a puzzle - the group spent a long time trying to figure out how to safely wake him up (Mordecai's theory was that the magic circle kept him safe from whatever toxin asphyxiated everyone else in the complex).  Grumble the (Halfling) Barbarian kept flashing the elbow and telling them to do a wrestling move on him, like a forearm to the head - "That would wake up anyone!".  At one point, Grumble slipped and accidentally pushed the dwarf over, and then there was a "Weekend at Bernie's" moment as they kept trying to prop up the limp, unconscious dwarf priest and pretend nothing happened.  Eventually, they concluded he wasn't going to wake up and they just backed out the room carefully.

Out in the main temple, Forlorn decided it was time to experiment with the altar.  They had stolen a pair of golden implements days earlier, and had bypassed the huge chunk of meteoric iron that had flecks of gold all over it (which they interpreted was that it would be struck by the golden implements during a ceremony).  Forlorn did some striking, and a secret door was revealed.  They had a new area to explore!

They passed through a room with multiple fountains, puzzled over a few of the inscriptions (and made a big show of who would drink and who wouldn't - Forlorn and Barzai drank no water!) and then descended some short stairs into an immense cavern beyond.

The cavern was large enough that their lantern lit up only a nearby section; the ground was sandy, the air was damp, and conversation was hampered by the  roar of a waterfall somewhere deeper in the cavern.  But their attention was drawn to a metal structure nearby that stretched from the sand up into the darkness above them - metal girders and beams, like the superstructure for a modern radio tower.  A ladder was attached to the side.

Starkweather took a torch and began climbing, while they watched from below.  About 80' up the tower, there was a box at the top (a control cabin), and the tower had an armature and cable coming out of the cabin like a modern day crane.  Starkweather managed to hang on to the ladder when a dwarf zombie lurched out of the cabin opening, startling him and then swiping at his head.  He ducked in time but dropped the torch; Starkweather quickly bounded down the ladder and hoped the zombie wasn't clambering out of the cabin after him.

When it was clear the zombie was staying put, they voted to send Shy up the ladder, with a light spell on his magic sword.  Shy is their official undead slayer.  Kobra went up behind him.  They stopped a bit down from the cabin to secure ropes from their waist to the ladder; if Shy fell, he'd drop 15' instead of 80'.

The zombie and Shy battled at the door to the cabin, and Shy sliced off one of the zombie's arms; but then the zombie wrenched him off the ladder.  Their rope idea was a good one - Shy took damage when the rope jerked, but he caught on to the ladder.  Kobra scuttled up the ladder and finished off the zombie.

The cabin had a winch and a breaking lever; Kobra started cranking the winch and had the impression something at the long end of the cable was getting hauled in, but then it abruptly stopped and he wasn't strong enough to crank further.  Excitedly, he and Shy went down the ladder and told the group they needed to try and trace the cable to its end and see what was out there.

Their path took them down the beach to the edge of the churning water.  A 20' long metal canister (with a hatch) was tethered to the end of the cable, and was pulled nose first up against the shore.  Beyond the canister, the water churned and swirled, and they saw the edge of a whirlpool.  Water was crashing down a waterfall, swirling around the pool, and disappearing down the drain.

Mordecai exclaimed, "Ha ha!  It's like going over a waterfall in a barrel!  The dwarves lowered people down in that thing.  Look at the size of the dents in it!"

Mister Moore looked at the whirlpool, the dented submarine, and immediately said, "I have a better idea, fellas.  We left some gems encrusted in the door of the emperor's tomb - let's go get the gems, scoop the gems out of the fountain pool, and call this one a wrap - we've got some decent loot.  Mordecai can tell his "girlfriend" (the evil witch of witch mountain) we couldn't find the Elf Bane, and that'll be that.  You're not getting me in  that death trap!"

While they decided to consider Moore's idea of scrapping the delve, they first wanted to see if anything was in the submarine.  Shy opened the hatch and got a face full of zombie, and splashed back away from the opening as a troop of those hard-to-turn dwarf zombies spilled out of the submarine to maul the party, but the group put them down fairly quickly.

After the zombie battle, they saw the inside of the submarine had a series of chairs (the seatbelts were rotted away) and a smaller winch for letting out cable from within the submarine.

They decided to postpone the discussion about whether they'd actually take a submarine ride until this week; instead, they surveyed the rest of the beach and discovered that there were two additional cranes and cables.  There was a second submarine by the shore, whereas the third cable stretched into the water and down the whirlpool.  One of the submarines was already at the bottom!

See you next time.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Review: Inn of Lost Heroes

Note:  Spoilers Ahead.

Adventurers check in, they don't check out.
Inn of Lost Heroes is an adventure module by Small Niche Games; it's $4.95 for the PDF and available at the usual suspects (I got mine at RPGNow) and comes in at 30 pages - for levels 3-5.  Small Niche Games uses a clean layout and I find these easy to run at the table.  It's flavored for Labyrinth Lord.

The adventure traps the player characters in a nightmare world that alternates between the Ash World (nightmarish) and the Burning World (really nightmarish).  It borrows ideas from the Silent Hill video game series, and certainly could be an homage wrapped up as a D&D adventure.  It hits on a lot of excellent horror tropes - if you've seen my Horror in D&D post, this adventure features a bit of body horror, loss of control, atmosphere and danger, and plenty of vicarious horror as terrible things happen to NPCs (first).

This is not structured like an old school site-based adventure.  The players are trapped in a haunted Inn with other guests;  much of the action is presented as scenes and will feature a lot of role playing as the DM takes on the roles of the other trapped people.  There are opportunities for the group to explore the inn and unravel the secrets, but this is not a dungeon crawl.

What I loved:  I like to blend some horror moments into D&D, and this adventure is explicitly horror.  I have a small background in improv theater and it's a fun change of pace to run adventures that feature  lots of NPC's and scenes; the approach reminds me of newer, scene based games like White Wolf's.

Issues:  My biggest issue with the adventure is how the story reaches resolution.  When moving to the climax of the story, the adventure takes an abrupt turn, and the story-based solution to escaping the ghost story is thrust on the party heavily (via a death scene monologue).  In this type of adventure, the twist really could have been foreshadowed a number of different ways and worked into the build up.

I'd rate this a 3 on the Beedometer.  It's much better than a home brew, breaks some interesting ground with the Silent Hill themes, but has a (correctable) flaw on the story side.  By way of endorsement, it was *definitely* located in my sandbox for my players to encounter, which is why I held off on a review.  They made other choices, and I'm comfortable dropping some spoilers now.

In terms of my treasure chart metrics, this weighs in at about 21,000gp in treasure, and 12 or so encounters (not counting wandering monsters).  Probably 1-2 nights of adventuring.

Black City Friday - the Thule Archipelago

First look at the Thule Archipelago for the Black City campaign, and a skyline view of the ruined city.

Thule is within the arctic circle and much of the islands are covered by glaciers.  It experiences polar night and midnight sun.  However, the weather and climate is tempered by ocean currents and the winter is not as harsh as similar latitudes on the mainland.

Click to Embiggen
It wouldn't be Black City Friday without a quick sketch - here, the city scape as seen from the fjord.  Thanks Felt!

The Black City