The Dwimmermount campaign resumed once again after too long a hiatus (my recent birthday festivities having preempted it last weekend), with the characters picking up where they left off, in a cabin in a vale near Dwimmermount. Said cabin had a history of association with Thulian necromancers in the not-so-distant past and the PCs, particularly Dordagdonar, wanted to learn more about them and their dubious activities. In the previous session, the characters had explored the entirety of the cabin and assumed there had to be a secret or trapdoor somewhere in the place. After thoroughly searching, they found one that took them some distance underground and into a large subterranean complex that they took to have been the true lair of the necromancers.
The corridor they first entered was covered with thousands of small human faces carved from stone. They expected the faces to come to life or to be a trap but neither proved to be the case. Likewise, when they came to a locked bronze door with the key still in the lock, they assumed the worst. Again, they were proven wrong and I think these events filled them with more apprehension about what lay ahead of them than real traps would have done. Exploring beyond the bronze door led them to a room filled with small tables on which rested skeletal human hands -- all left hands. They also found another set of bronze doors, this time engraved with a sigil they assumed was of some significance to Thulian -- or possibly Termaxian -- alchemy, though they have no proof of that as yet.
Beyond the second bronze door was a large temple, filled with stalls, an altar, and a non-functional organ made from bones. The ceiling was also festooned with bones, skulls specifically, which hung from metal chains in large numbers above their heads. On top the altar rested a large bowl in which there was a jeweled dagger and a necklace, both of which they determined to be magical. However, Brother Candor wanted nothing to do with them, assuming they were probably cursed. Dordagdonar also worried about their status, but eventually took possession of them, taking care never to actually touch them with his skin. He used a thick cloth to pick them both up and then placed them in his pack.
Leaving the temple behind, the characters came across first an embalming chamber, where Dordagdonar, thanks to his helm of comprehend languages, came across a book called the Grimoire of Walking Flesh, which looked to be a manual on the construction of a flesh golem from dead bodies. Dordagdonar was unclear about exactly why he wanted the book -- "Research." -- but he took it anyway. Exploring further, the party came across room after room filled with the mummified remains of human beings whom they presume to have been associated with the cult that once thrived here. The rooms were all large (30-foot ceilings) and packed with niches into which bodies were resting. After briefly musing about the prospect of starting a mummia powder business, they moved on.
I should note here that one of the interesting things about this session is that there was no combat and indeed very little dice rolling beyond searches for traps and secret doors. And yet it still very much felt like D&D to me. I think that's because, then and now, I associate the game very strongly with exploration. There was careful mapping of everything, a cataloging of room contents, and the sorts of precautions you'd expect when entering dangerous terra incognita. The session had more in common with Carter and Carnarvon than with action movies and yet it felt right. Indeed, as I noted above, there was a great deal more tension present than in more combat-heavy sessions, probably because each new empty room without any obvious traps suggested that the next room must be the one that had one or the other -- or both. It was very interesting to watch this and it hit home the value of emphasizing the exploratory aspect of dungeon crawling.
The characters continued to explore the place, finding many more intriguing and suggestive items but no sign of any life -- or unlife -- amidst the dusty rooms. I'm not yet certain what they think is going on here or if they think anything is going on at all, as their approach to date has been a methodical one, filling in the map, checking out every corridor, and carefully seeing if there might have been some significant detail they missed. I don't doubt that some gamers would find our sessions a bit dull, even tedious at times, but, so far, it's managed to hold everyone's attention.
I suspect it's because our approach is to treat the dungeon as a big "puzzle" that needs to be unraveled rather than as simply a backdrop against which combat takes place. Now, there is plenty of combat, as my earlier session recaps have made clear, but combat is (in general) just another obstacle in the way of the party's coming to unravel the mystery of the dungeon. And by "mystery," I don't mean that there is some Secret Truth at the heart of Dwimmermount that explains it all, because there isn't. Rather, I mean that Dwimmermount is a locale filled with unknowns and my players seem to take pleasure in bringing those unknowns to light. That's what drives them and holds their attention and I have to confess I get a big kick out of watching them grapple with the little hints and clues I've placed throughout the dungeon. Sometimes they figure things out and sometimes they don't, but, even when they don't, it's led to some great fun, which is why we're doing this in the first place.