Thursday, November 26, 2009

Dwimmermount, Session 23

Session 23 was short on action but high on information gathering, which is only reasonable, as the PCs were very much in the dark about many things. Although they had promised Cyrus that they would take him (and his coffin) to Dwimmermoun in exchange for his having helped them escape the catacombs beneath the cabin, Dordagdonar suggested they not follow through with it. This is another area where my implementation of Death Frost Doom differed from the adventure as published: there was no magical component to the oath they swore to do as Cyrus asked. I felt it preferable that the PCs not be bound to keep the promise they'd made if they did not wish to do so, although I was prepared to visit (non-magical) misfortune upon them as a consequence for any duplicity on this score. A magical oath seemed, in context, too heavy-handed a tool and so I abandoned it.

As I said, Dordagdonar saw no need to keeping their promise and indeed saw Cyrus as a threat to be disposed of. During daylight hours, he was immobile and at their mercy. They could easily have destroyed him. This didn't sit well with Brother Candor, who, in addition to be unhappy at the prospect of breaking a promise, felt that even so evil a being as Cyrus had a role yet to play in the world. He was certain that Tyche, as mistress of fate, was teaching him something through this dilemma and so he argued against destroying Cyrus. A compromise was reached, whereby a stake was put through the vampire's heart to immobilize -- but not destroy -- him. The party then set out for Adamas to consult with Saidon, archivist of the temple of Typhon, hoping he'd have some information to aid them.

Saidon was, as ever, happy to see them, particularly since they brought him Thulian spoons -- and a ladle -- they pilfered from the catacombs. The PCs requested access to his library of Thulian history books, hoping to find information about Cyrus. Of course, they didn't wish Saidon to know precisely what they were looking for, so they requested lots of books on a variety of historical subjects, hoping to muddle the issue, in case the old man got a bit too nosy.

Looking through the books, they discovered that Cyrus Haldeion had once been a general of the Thulian empire. He was extremely successful, putting down many rebellions against Thulian rule, and popular. He was also a vocal critic of the cult of Turms Termax, which he believed had bent the empire to serve its purposes rather than the common good. So great was his dislike of the cult that, when faced with a harangue by Hierophant Oriseus, a local Termaxian leader, he slew him in a rage. His actions made him a traitor to the empire and he was executed. Of course, the PCs knew his "execution" did not in fact happen and he was instead cursed with undeath as a vampire and placed within the catacombs for reasons unknown -- perhaps to lead the zombie horde that lay slumbering within them.

Armed with this information, the PCs then chartered a riverboat and took Cyrus' coffin on board. They removed the stake to interrogate him. Needless to say, Cyrus was unimpressed with them, sneering at their betrayal and noting that "honor obviously has lost all meaning since the fall of the empire." Brother Candor asked him to reveal just what he intended to do in Dwimmermount, but Cyrus refused to answer. He said he'd held up his end of the bargain and was at the PCs' mercy. They should either do as they had already promised to do and take him to Dwimmermount or they should destroy him now. He would answer no further questions nor be in any way helpful to them until they demonstrated their good faith.

Cyrus' words clearly pained Brother Candor, who started to feel that perhaps they had done the wrong thing by coming to Adamas. He went to consult Morna, high priestess of Tyche, and ask her advice on the matter. He explained the presence of the zombie horde, its likely movement toward Adamas, and the mystery of Cyrus. Morna had very little advice to offer, suggesting only that Brother Candor do what he felt was most in accord with the Lady's will. The cleric had come to believe that Cyrus would not have been allowed to exist for so many centuries after his natural lifetime if he did not have a role yet to play. He noted his antipathy toward the cult of Turms Termax, a common enemy with the PCs, and soon decided that Cyrus should be returned to Dwimmermount as promised.

Before he could do that, Morna recommended they speak to select members of the Senate of the city to inform them of the situation and ask their assistance. As a member of the Senate, she could get them an audience. The Senate was naturally shocked and horrified to learn of the imminent zombie invasion. Worse still, they disliked the possibility that there might be more such zombie crypts hidden about the countryside, perhaps close to Adamas. Dordagdonar offered to lead a small scouting party to attempt to locate any signs of the horde and to see if they could uncover evidence of yet more crypts. Brother Candor meanwhile wanted to return to Dwimmermount to release Cyrus, as promised. The Senate was none too keen on this notion but agreed as Brother Candor argued emphatically that the vampire could yet be of use if he felt the PCs were trustworthy.

By means of a teleport spell, he knocked three days off his travel to the megadungeon. Once there, he removed the stake and set Cyrus free. The Thulian general thanked Brother Candor for showing him that there was still some glimmer of honor left in this benighted age. The cleric asked him if he knew more about these zombie crypts. Cyrus admitted he did. They were put in place by the cult of Turms Termax to ensure that any who brought down their empire would pay the ultimate price for their arrogance. Once active, a horde would slay all living things in its path and move toward the nearest crypt it could find and active it, so as to add to its strength and numbers. Cyrus opposed this plan and had been attempting to stop its implementation when he slew Hierophant Oriseus. He told Brother Candor the location of all the crypts he knew about -- including two beneath Adamas. With that, Cyrus disappeared into Dwimmermount, saying that he felt he and Brother Candor would meet again some day.

Brother Candor road back to the city-state to pass along what he now knew to the Senate, which had already authorized a large military force to face the incoming zombie horde. Dordagdonar having found no signs of crypts outside the city, he and Brother Candor resolved to lead a team into the sewers and catacombs of Adamas to find the two crypts there and deal with them -- somehow -- before the incoming horde's presence activated them and through the city-state into chaos.


  1. James,

    I discovered your blog a couple of weeks ago and have devoured all of your Dwimmermount posts. It makes me yearn for my old D&D group that is alas about 10,000 miles away from me now. This lastest entry makes me realise that you must be a very good DM indeed. It is easy for DM's to railroad players towards content that the GM has put a lot of work into. The way that this session played out strongly indicates that not only do you resist that tendancy, your campaign is full of depth and political meaning. The players have graduated from being low level tomb robbers to direcly influencing events in the immediate region. That must be very rewarding both for them and yourself.

    Love the blog, it's brought back so many memories. I had even forgotten that I once owned a copy of Dungeon!


  2. Woo! First post?

    And ... wow. Talk about the dramatic shift! Here Come da Zombies!

    VerWord: pinklest (adv) Superlative of "pinkle", of course.

  3. I must say, Brother Candor is really an interesting character and the dual role he plays as both adventuring priest and medieval detective is highly entertaining. I could easly see a series of Brother Candor Fantasy/Mystery novels being done.

  4. @crow re: Medieval monk detective great series, if you like the British Mystery/Detective genre.

    James, don't take this the wrong way. I'm honestly curious of your opinion and thoughts (and your readers' of course). This current situation seems like a epic plot of the storypath variety. In that if the characters ignore it, it's still gonna come a shambling into their lives.

    If it's not revealing too much, how are BIG issues like this dealt with (in a sandbox) if the players ignore them. Do NPCs step up? Do you radically alter the campaign to some post zombie apocalypse survival game? Do you not really give the players that choice? Or, ?

    I would like to add the risk of Big Bad Things to my campaign. But not if the risk at stake is (radically) changing/ending the campaign.

  5. If it's not revealing too much, how are BIG issues like this dealt with (in a sandbox) if the players ignore them. Do NPCs step up? Do you radically alter the campaign to some post zombie apocalypse survival game? Do you not really give the players that choice? Or, ?

    That's a perfectly valid question. My general attitude is that sandbox gaming doesn't mean static gaming. The world can and will react to what the PCs -- and NPCs -- do. In this case, the PCs set off a centuries-old trap that released a horde of undead into the world. That's a natural consequence of what they did and, regardless of what they do from that point on, it will change the game setting. Exactly how it will change things depends on numerous factors, not just PC actions, although those actions are obviously significant.

    Where I think this differs from adventure path/story-oriented gaming is that I have no endpoint in mind. Whatever happens is as unknown to me as it is to the players, because we haven't yet played out the full consequences of the PCs' actions. The events now transpiring are ones that evolved naturally through play rather than being based on a master plan beforehand.

    Naturally, as referee, I am planning ahead to deal with a variety of possible outcomes, including one where the undead become a huge menace and the focus of the campaign does shift radically because of that. That's my job as referee. However, I'm not assuming that's going to happen and I'm not privileging that outcome over any other possibilities. In the end, the players -- and the dice -- will carry the day and decide where this particular chain of events leads.

    I hope that makes sense.

  6. Your dwimmermount is a huge inspiration to me and actually made me want to play D&D again. All these posts are a super exciting to read and playing with you must be a mind blower!

    I've started a blog to work on my own setting, would greatly appreciate if you'd take a look! Thanks anyway!

  7. Could you change the names of the player characters, I don't like them very much.

  8. Well, the original group was going to be called the Fellowship of the Bling, with the core group being Grimli the Dwarf, Lagolas the Elf, and Grandoaf the White Wizard.

    Quickbeam and Bombadil were going to do the theme song.

    I'm not sure why it never came together. I guess we're stuck with the other names now.

  9. You are being funny I hope.

    Who knows? Kent has of late become fond of making cryptic posts that could be read in a variety of ways, depending on how charitable one wishes to be. I'm not in a particularly charitable mood at the moment, so I read it as a dig against me and this blog, which is fine, but I'd much prefer it if he'd make such comments on his own blog rather than here.

  10. I discovered this blog a few weeks ago, and have been particularly interested in the Dwimmermount posts (first thing I did was read through all of the old ones). They've given me some ideas for a campaign that I hope to start soon (though scheduling with the players will be very difficult, so we'll see how that plays out).

    I was wondering how you organized all of your material, especially for Dwimmermount itself, while planning? Did you just have notes on various rooms, etc. within the megadungeon that you'd throw out there when appropriate, or did you actually map the whole thing beforehand? I tend not to run large dungeons when I DM, but this has inspired me to try it out.

  11. This posting on Dwimmermount session twenty-three helps destroy by example a false dichotomy in the gaming community.

    The advocates of pre-scripted storylines believe that without predetermined ends, overarching stories are impossible. They believe that if you allow the players' actions to create the story, chaos will ensue instead and no story will be possible.

    Your session description here shows how much fun and interest - and how much story - can be generated by the lively dance between the intended and unintended consequences of the players' activities.

    Advocates of pre-scripted stories in gaming believe that what just happened in your campaign should have been impossible because they have artificially linked the idea of unscripted storytelling with the idea of dungeons containing nothing but monsters, traps, and treasure. The idea that dungeons might also contain or create consequences without containing prescripted stories somehow seems to be the missing link in their ability to comprehend the OSR argument.

    Thus, once again, you've demonstrated the power of an inconvenient example in demolishing an otherwise unassailable theory.

    Nicely done. Your campaign is both fun and enlightening to read about.

  12. Hi James,

    I was re-reading some of your earlier Dwimmermount posts and I was curious to know how you determine what the PC's encounter in the dungeon - are your levels pre-populated or do you populate as they explore.

    If it's the latter do you run from a small encounter table of your own creation or the LLB's tables?

    Same question for treasure?

  13. I have to confess, reading the last 2 Dwimmermount posts my first reaction has been to think that the story gears have suddenly engaged - that where before there was relatively static-world exploration, here we have Plot. I realise that's probably a mistake, though: a bunch of things, (eg. Azoth, the party's dealings with established experts) could have had large consequences, and it's in the nature of exploration that it leads to sudden and often unwelcome breakthroughs. It's a delight to read.

  14. Just wanted to add my voice to the choir of praise you absolutely deserve, and voice my hopes of someday seeing a "Supplement X: Dwimmermount" :)

  15. Just wanted to add my voice to the choir of praise you absolutely deserve, and voice my hopes of someday seeing a "Supplement X: Dwimmermount" :)

    Thank you for the praise; I'm glad people are enjoying my session reports. I'm of two minds about a supplement describing either Dwimmermount the megadungeon or even the campaign setting in which its based. On the one hand, I do like sharing this stuff and I know it inspires people. On the other hand, I am hesitant to offer up anything too coherent lest it be misinterpreted as being somehow definitive: "This is how it's done," if you know what I mean. Too many people seem intent on misunderstanding what I do and why as it is that I'm not sure I have much interest in inviting yet more ignorant criticisms.

    But who knows? I may yet change my mind.

  16. On the other hand, I am hesitant to offer up anything too coherent lest it be misinterpreted as being somehow definitive

    I don't see that as much of a problem; you can always add a preface saying this is "only one possible Dwimmermount." Some people will see what you write as definitive no matter what you say, because they want to. Others will take you at your word and happily adapt Dwimmermount to their own worlds. I, for one, would love to see this as a formal product.

  17. James-

    I don't think you need to sweat the criticism so much. You created Dwimmermount, so why shouldn't what you say be considered definitive when it comes to the setting/megadungeon? Besides, people are going to tweak and alter Dwimmermount as they see fit, the same way you did with Death Frost Doom (not a setting, I know) and the way I did with Iron Kingdoms back in my d20 days.

  18. Very good stuff here James! I join the chorus in cheering for a supplement!

    This campaign is a great example of good sandbox play where heavy-handed plots are out and instead players encounter "situations" that they can choose to explore.