Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dwimmermount, Session 45

Session 45 was a long and momentous one, when multiple strands of the campaign all intersected and wove an interesting tapestry. I suspect, in the weeks to come, this session will be viewed as a major milestone.

The session picked up where the last left off, inside Dwimmermount, investigating a necromantic/alchemical laboratory filled with undead. Though low on spells and provisions and in need of re-supply, the party pressed on, hoping to complete their map of the immediate area before returning to Muntburg and then to Adamas. One of the last rooms in the area they explored housed two wraiths, who got the jump on them and drained Dordagdonar's Valkyrie-like henchman, Angrboda, of a level.

This was the first time that this had happened in the campaign and, judging by the reaction, the players were none too pleased. Too be fair, the source of the dissatisfaction was not my use of the wraiths or even of the level drain itself -- though, obviously, no one liked either. Rather, it was that there was no saving throw to avoid the level drain. Throughout the campaign, lots of bad stuff has happened, but in nearly every case there'd been a last ditch chance to escape the consequences by means of a saving throw. My players, to their credit, don't mind "save or die" rolls, because, well, you at least get a saving throw. But no save sat poorly with them and I understand the logic behind their complaint. I'm not sure how, if at all, I'll deal with this issue, but they did make me think about alternative approaches.

Angrboda's loss of a level was the signal that it was time to hightail it out of Dwimmermount and back to Muntburg. When they arrived at their apartments there, they discovered that the door was unlocked and slightly ajar and its interior was bathed in darkness. Gaztea could find no evidence of traps, so, with caution, they proceeded and discovered that Cyrus, the vampire they'd unleashed on the world months ago, had returned and availed himself of "some refreshments" -- the players seem to have overlooked what he meant by this -- while he awaited their return.

Cyrus explained that he'd been hoping to contact them again, but that their regular forays into Dwimmermount made this difficult, as he'd been on the surface, "making contact with some old friends" in preparation for dealing with the cult of Turms Termax, against whom he'd sworn revenge for his unholy state. He and the party exchanged information about the cult's activities in Dwimmermount and elsewhere, with Brother Candor explaining that they'd not been able to venture much deeper into the ancient Thulian fortress due to the large number of Termaxian forces on Level 5.

Cyrus noted that the cult had massed many of their members, making it well defended against outside attack, but added that, even if the cult wasn't there, the party wouldn't be able to proceed much further, because of "arcane reverberations" that had created a seemingly impenetrable barrier to further descent. As the PCs already knew, Dwimmermount lay at a nexus of ley lines, receiving power from other similarly magically potent locations, that power being in turn amplified by the azoth reservoirs found within the mountain. If the flow of arcane power to Dwimmermount could be altered, it likely would have deleterious effects on the operation of the fortress, including closing it off from the wider world. Cyrus said that, in his mortal life, the Thulians had come to fear that rebels against their rule had found a way to do just this and so they made great efforts to guard known ley line nexuses, including an observatory to the south -- one that the PCs had recently visited and which was filled with lycanthropic druids seemingly in league with the Termaxians.

Cyrus surmised that the cultists are probably doing everything they could to restore the proper flow of arcane power and put an end to the reverberations that are preventing their descent further into Dwimmermount. When asked why they were so desperate to descend, he replied, "Why, to free Him, of course." Without missing a beat, Brother Candor simply said, "Termax." Dordagdonar found it unbelievable that Turms Termax was not only alive -- he'd dismissed him as a myth -- but that he'd survived the fall of the Thulian Empire and was now trapped somewhere in the deepest levels of Dwimmermount. Cyrus corrected this supposition, explaining that Turms was probably not in Dwimmermount so much as existing in "some place parallel to it that's accessible through its deeper levels." After all, Dwimmermount contains many portals to other worlds, dimensions, and times; Turms Termax is likely located on one of them.

Cyrus told the party that there were likely means to circumvent the barrier blocking further descent but it would require further research and exploration to reach the right portals that would enable this. Likewise, odds were good that the Termaxians had increased their defenses considerably and no small band of adventurers would be able to deal with them effectively. Brother Candor then suggested the party ought to travel to Adamas in order to seek out a mercenary company whom they could hire to assist them. Dordagdonar liked the idea, but was quick to point out that hiring mercenaries in Adamas without first acquiring a legal charter to do so was asking for trouble, especially in light of their history in the city-state.

Unfortunately, the party lacked the funds needed to obtain a charter and instead opted to sign on two new henchmen, a dwarf crossbowman named Murn and a junior cleric of Tyche called Marius. They relieved Osric and Eryth of their dungeoneering duties and left them behind in Muntburg to guard their apartments while they were away. The prospect of re-entering Dwimmermount without a large number of soldiers to assist them weighed heavily on the party's minds. As the session ended, they were contemplating alternatives, including visiting the necromancers of Yethlyreom and seeking out the bandits they encountered earlier to see if they might be willing to serve as an illicit mercenary force.

All in all, a great session and one that's opened up a large number of new avenues of exploration for the future.

11 comments:

  1. Sounds like a great session! Thanks for another eminently readable report. I enjoy reading well-written session recaps, especially because I am slowly cooking up campaign plans of my own, and I like to hear about what other GMs are doing. Many people say they don't like to read session reports, but I think the reason for this dislike is because few such reports are well written. Please keep it coming!

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  2. I'd love to read a book about your campaign, in the same style as the Maze of Peril. Now that would be fun!

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  3. I must say it's been quite a saga so far, and quite a pleasure to follow along. By my count, that's a year and a half of fairly regular play under your belt, averaging slightly better than once every two weeks, and 2 changes of the base rule set (S&W -> OD&D -> LL + AEC). I just went back and read the Session One post, and its interesting to see how far the campaign has come.

    Your mention of the level loss by the henchwoman, and the players reaction to it brings up a question that I don't think I've ever seen you talk about which is: who does most of the decision making for NPC party members? e.g. moving them in combat, deciding who scouts ahead, who pulls the mysterious lever, etc.

    Specifically I'm wondering if perhaps each player has certain henchpersons/minions that they typically control as sort of a secondary PC, if/how often you as the GM intervene to dictate NPC actions, or how that all plays out at the table. As intriguing as the narrative of Dwimmermount is, its the occasional insights into the procedures of play as they develop at your table that I am most fascinated by.

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  4. for future reference, i just want to say right here that the entire first season of our show was filmed BEFORE I read this session report.

    any similarity is strictly coincidental.

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  5. Very dramatic, the the final revelation of a mid-season cliffhanger. I'm enjoying these write ups immensely. I have to admit, the prospect of the party hiring a mercenary company reminded me of the "Bag Wars" saga in KoDT. They should be careful to pay their men well. :)

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  6. James, my first thought was "so much for S&S over high fantasy and saving the world."

    But then I had a flash of insight about how high fantasy a la Tolkien works in D&D and what most people have missed.

    The players are now involved in "saving the world" because of adventures they undertook for completely personal reasons. Their involvement in the saving is both incident to their adventures and voluntary.

    It's kinda like one of them had found a magic ring in a dungeon and left it to his heir. His heir could then get rid of it or save the world. Man, that would be an awesome novel.

    Anyway, let's assume your players become "The Fellowship of the Azoth" or something it won't because of cool character hooks you built in at the beginning that trapped them. It will be as an organic development of their prior playing. No matter how fated it may seem in retrospect it will have been as unknown as Frodo's missing finger was the morning Bilbo overslept.

    And I think it'll be much more satisfying for the same reason.

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  7. Herb,

    I can only say in my defense that there is, as yet, no suggestion that, if the Termaxians do get through the barrier and free Turms -- assuming it's even possible -- that the world will end or a new Age of Darkness will descend. In fact, no one even really understands what Turms is or how the stories about his supposed ascendance to godhood played out in the real world.

    So, bear with me: I haven't yet abandoned the S&S fold :)

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  8. @James: No worries, I wasn't accusing you of going high fantasy, at least not by intent.

    I was much more interested in the fact that if the campaign does take that turn it's not because of "plot" or "story" or any of those things that are "new school" in design.

    It would be as an organic result of the choices your players made with the world as presented. Had they chosen otherwise the Turmaxians would have succeeded or failed without them, but the campaign would still be about what the players wanted not what the GM imposed.

    I just see it as an amazing demonstration that you could have LotR result from actual play or the characters could continue their lives as they wished while that occurred in the background (as much of Middle Earth probably did) and have it all come from player choices.

    After decades of being told "that's impossible" it's refreshing to see theory run aground on practice.

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  9. when multiple strands of the campaign all intersected and wove an interesting tapestry. I suspect, in the weeks to come, this session will be viewed as a major milestone<

    I've written in my blog a lot lately about how my games as a youngster evolved away from regular dungeon crawls and into a more character and location drive high fantasy where cliched dungeons were infrequent. Lots of NPC and city dealings, plus travel quests and such, started to make up large portions of my scenarios as I got older (I had no experience with 2nd edition on, so my path evolved separatly from that).

    Your quote at the top, plus the vampire dealings in the city, make me feel that you might be headed that way too. Not a bad thing at all, just more character juice to utilize. As long as you have a cool city for things to happen in, you're game will stay more Lankhmar than LOTR high fantasy like mine kind of stayed grounded in as it evolved. Hey, I have refound my dungeon love though lately, as my last few blog posts make clear...

    I have to say that PC's coming home to find "visitor" from their past, friend or foe, was something I did a lot in my games of the past. It's cool and can be kind of epic. Also let's the players know "nowhere is safe."

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  10. when multiple strands of the campaign all intersected and wove an interesting tapestry. I suspect, in the weeks to come, this session will be viewed as a major milestone<

    I've written in my blog a lot lately about how my games as a youngster evolved away from regular dungeon crawls and into a more character and location drive high fantasy where cliched dungeons were infrequent. Lots of NPC and city dealings, plus travel quests and such, started to make up large portions of my scenarios as I got older (I had no experience with 2nd edition on, so my path evolved separatly from that).

    Your quote at the top, plus the vampire dealings in the city, make me feel that you might be headed that way too. Not a bad thing at all, just more character juice to utilize. As long as you have a cool city for things to happen in, you're game will stay more Lankhmar than LOTR high fantasy like mine kind of stayed grounded in as it evolved. Hey, I have refound my dungeon love though lately, as my last few blog posts make clear...

    I have to say that PC's coming home to find "visitor" from their past, friend or foe, was something I did a lot in my games of the past. It's cool and can be kind of epic. Also let's the players know "nowhere is safe."

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  11. Rereading these sessions. I like that Dwimmermount has all these portals to other places. Kind of like Ninguable of the Seven Eyes' caverns. And a very good device for dropping in other settings, genres (touches of sci fi..) and beings. Great campaign. Inspiring.

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