Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dwimmermount, Session 51

Session 51 began with the Fortune's Fools still trapped within the level of Dwimmermount known as the House of Portals. Knowing that a demon and a party of Eld were somewhere nearby, the party elected to be careful in their explorations. They wanted to find a way out of the level -- they badly need to re-supply -- or at least away from the Eld, whom they feared would overpower them in a straight up fight, particularly if the demon were with them. Consequently, the party moved slowly and cautiously, listening at each door, looking for any signs of recent movement, checking for traps, and generally being paranoid.

Looking at their map, there were several obvious avenues of further exploration. One led them to a room containing a large curtain covering one wall. Behind the curtain was an altar and a statue of a granite statue of a male figure in armor, wielding a maul. The altar was also made of granite and had no markings on it nor did it show any signs of having been used for blood sacrifice of any kind. On top of it was a ceramic jar, inside of which was a rusty reddish dust. Dordagdonar smelled it and found that it had an "earthy" scent. He then taste a bit of it and declared that it was in fact dirt, albeit of a strange coloration.

Moving on, the party came upon a room inside of which they heard growling animal-like noises. They entered and came across a beast known to all D&D players but which I'd not yet introduced into the campaign: the displacer beast. Overall, I've use a fairly small sub-set of the monsters available in OD&D + Supplements. My general feeling is that a campaign setting feels more "real," or at least coherent, if there aren't dozens of different intelligent races besides mankind and so many different kinds of bestial threats wandering the world that one wonders how the average non-adventurer survives. But I love monsters nonetheless and, when opportunities arise to use them, I take them. I'd decided, at just that moment -- I was stocking the dungeon as the players proceeded -- that displacer beasts were from Areon, the home of the Eld, and that the Red Elves used them as guards and pets. Like the demon, the Eld brought this creature with them as they explored Dwimmermount.

The displacer beast proved tougher than expected but not so tough that the PCs couldn't defeat it. From there, the party pressed further on, finding several more rooms, some of which showed both evidence of recent activity and had bits of reddish dust scattered about -- just like the dust in the ceramic jar near the statue. Following the trail of dust, the characters made their way down several corridors and discovered a room from which voices were emanating. Assuming that they were the Eld, they made an effort to surprise them by bursting into the room -- and succeeded. The Red Elves found themselves caught off-guard, which gave the PCs enough time to use a wand of paralyzation, which took out one of the three Eld. Another was caught in a hold person spell, leaving only one mobile and able to attack. This one, a warrior by the looks of it, did not break morale and continued to fight, dealing some damage to the party before being slain.

Then, came the inevitable interrogation. My players dislike questioning NPCs, because they're never sure of what questions to ask and because they're naturally predisposed to avoid being too cruel to their prisoners in order to get them to spill their guts. Regardless, the chief Eld, who wore attire that seemingly marked him as a magic-user (he carried a staff too), was strangely willing to speak to them. He identified himself as "Jallak, servant of Phytos Kan, archon of Morkoja" -- whatever that meant and the characters didn't inquire.

Jallak explained, in response to the questions that the PCs did ask, that he and his compatriots had been sent to Dwimmermount via a portal on Areon to see if the citadel was indeed again accessible to outsiders. You may remember that the dungeon had, long ago, been first an Eldritch base and then a Thulian fortress. During the fall of the Thulian Empire, its last commandant sealed it behind a magical barrier to prevent anyone from entering it and so it remained until just shortly before the campaign began. Now that the barrier had been lowered, quite a few power groups had taken an interest in it -- the cult of Turms Termax, Cyrus the vampire, agents of Adamas, representatives of a Thulian successor state to the south, and, now, the Eld. As Dordagdonar moaned, "For a fortress abandoned for centuries, this place sure sees a lot of visitors."

Jallak provided little other information except to point out that he'd seen a party of humans elsewhere on this level, which the PCs surmised were Termaxians, though they had no proof. He also alluded to the fact that Areon has long been without a ready source of azoth and that the entire reason the Eld had invaded so long ago was to acquire more for themselves. Indeed, Dwimmermount was originally a "refinery" of azoth, something the PCs suspected based on what they'd seen elsewhere. If Jallak is to be believed, the lower levels of the dungeon consist of magical devices intended to collect and process azoth for use by the Eld.

The party then took the weapons, armor, and equipment of the two surviving Eld and marched them into the portal room and sent them through it, back to their home world. To do this, Jallak threw a handful of the reddish sand through the "swirly Photoshop magic" of the portal, which then revealed a rusty red rocky desert. Jallak and his guard passed through it without incident and the portal shut down. At this stage, in need of rest and the re-memorization of spells, the party sought out a safe room in which to sleep. Before finding one that met their requirements, they came across a room filled with large containers, one of which they opened. Inside was what looked like swamp water. Broth Candor surmised that perhaps it, like the reddish dust, could be used to key the portal to a particular locale somewhere in the universe, but the theory was not tested before the session ended.

A good session that introduced some new elements to the campaign. A cornerstone of the way I run campaigns is to constantly throw out new characters, places, mysteries, and so forth, hoping that at least one or two of them might get seized upon by the players. I have only the vaguest ideas to carry me through. I mean, if the PCs went through the portal to Areon, I don't know precisely what they'd find there. I've got a lifetimes-worth of sword-and-planet material to draw inspiration from, of course, but that's not the same as having a lot of NPCs statted up or locations mapped out beforehand, so I'd have to wing it and see how it all unfolded.

But then that's my favorite part of gaming.

15 comments:

  1. And its amazing the plot threads that your players will invent for you, if you are humble enough to adopt them!

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  2. I'll bet I know where the swamp water would take them...a "beautiful" adventure hook, James!

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  3. Sounds like another great session. I'm continually impressed by how you are able to keep the players on their toes with new mysteries. I think my group would get bored if they kept finding empty rooms with small oddities in them - I'm not sure they have the explorer spirit.

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  4. How do you use the displacer beasts ability of 'displacement' in your campaign? I've never quite understood it.

    The way I use a displacer beast is roll a d10 to determine the creatures actual location. The PC's make a -2 attack against the illusion. If the illusion is hit, the PC that hit it will make a save vs spell to "break the illusion." If the illusion is broken, the actual location of the displacer is visible for the rest of the round until it can again 'displace' itself. I'm almost positive I'm not playing this out the right way, but it seems to work best for me. I'd really like to read about your thoughts on the displacer beast.

    Oh, and the earthen smelling dust, is that perhaps dust from the home of the Eld? Is that how one travels through the portal, by using a natural item such as dirt to create their home scenery? Lots of questions about this one.

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  5. I really like the way you infuse mystery into your campaign; it's very inspiring.

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  6. I think my group would get bored if they kept finding empty rooms with small oddities in them - I'm not sure they have the explorer spirit.

    I am lucky in that I have a group of players with whom I have played for years and they know my ways well enough to have adapted their play style to it. I sometimes think that the only way to play any RPG successfully is to do so with old friends.

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  7. How do you use the displacer beasts ability of 'displacement' in your campaign? I've never quite understood it.

    According to the OD&D description, they're treated as if wearing a cloak of displacement, which translates to a -2 penalty to the attack rolls of opponents, in addition to a +2 bonus to saves (which are already as those of a Fighting Man of 12th level). The visual effect is just color and has no other mechanical benefits.

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  8. I really like the way you infuse mystery into your campaign; it's very inspiring.

    You're very kind to say so, but the truth of the matter is that most of the "mystery" comes simply from the fact that I'm a "just in time" referee. I rarely think farther ahead in my campaign than what's happening right now at the table. If I have a virtue, it's that I'm quick to come up with ideas and details to throw out there and see if my players grab hold of.

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  9. "If I have a virtue, it's that I'm quick to come up with ideas and details to throw out there and see if my players grab hold of."

    Essentially, you're tossing out seeds to see if the players will grow the mystery for you. Using "toss off" facts like this is a technique I like, and something my favorite Chaosium products did. Done right, it's very satisfying for the players: they think they've figured out some deep mystery or plot, while all you've done is worked from the cues they've given you. Sounds like you're doing a great job, too. :)

    And I don't think I want to visit the world the swamp water is key to....

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  10. Sounds like a great session, congratulations :) I too am notorious for turning some unexpected desire of the PCs to follow some odd rat-hole into impromptu campaign directions.

    My main, most-explored campaign was the result of a random encounter with a wizard with his entourage.

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  11. "I sometimes think that the only way to play any RPG successfully is to do so with old friends."

    I know what you mean, but it is possible with a little work to incorporate new people into a game.

    My current campaign started about 10 1/2 years ago and I'd say out of the four consistent players who are left, I was only really good friends with one of them before the game started. The other three are good friends now, but when they started we were probably acquaintances at best.

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  12. And I don't think I want to visit the world the swamp water is key to....

    Neither did the PCs, which is why they never even considered using it on the portal :)

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  13. I love the development of the Eld, James. They're coming across as very Martian/Burroughs-esque. The red dust world, naming conventions, etc. Great stuff!

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  14. I love the development of the Eld, James. They're coming across as very Martian/Burroughs-esque.

    That's the idea, so I'm glad that it's coming across. :)

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