Sunday, December 24, 2023

State of the Blog Year 5

This is the 5th anniversary of A Distant Chime! Another good year of gaming ends with another Christmas Eve, now on to the reflections!


There were slightly more posts this year than 2022, in large part because I was back to regular play reports for my AD&D campaign. All the same trends continue from last year, except for the fact that I'm now living with my partner, and homemaking takes up extra time (though I no longer have to look for other spaces to run games, which is great). Highlights from this year: 

Thoughts on AD&D Currency thinks more deeply about the currency conversions in AD&D, and what we might conclude about the implied worldbuilding behind them. 

On Playing Raw: Nasty, Brutish, and Undercooked challenges the assertion that playing Rules as Written (RAW) is superior to homebrew

The GM Is Dead, and we, Murderers of All Murderers, Have Killed Him is a rather overwrought title for a post examining various perspectives on interpreting the rules and world of D&D, via a very strange forum discussion. 

And finally, my AD&D play reports document my current game, starting with AD&D Session 1: Violence Breeds Violence

Also, I wanted to point out a couple of posts outside the blog that just came to my attention.

Daniel from the Basic Red blog has just broken his silence after a few years of hiatus; I remember Basic Red fondly from my early days in the hobby, and I'm glad to see he's back, so show him some love!

Red_kangaroo from Library of Attnam (one of the first old-school blogs I read, come to think of it, this is a year for nostalgia!) has a post on GLOG class quests; it's a delightful little thing that reminds me of what I loved about the GLOG. Almost tempts me to go back to it. 


Blogger tells me the blog has received 48k views in 2023, somewhat less than last year, once again mainly on the strength of my backlog. My most viewed post was Intro Statistics for RPGs: The Wheaton Dice Curse, which continues to have a much longer life than I ever expected. 


I only sometimes share my posts outside the blogroll nowadays; still, I keep reaching people, so I suppose it ain't broke. 


Whispered legend holds that this blog once had an index. Today, this is naught but a cruel joke. 

Away from the Blog

With how little I've been posting, you might think I've been sundowning this place, but I haven't. Rather, most of my RPG energies have been pointed in other directions. 

2023 was a busy year for me overall. I was studying, working, building a relationship with the love of my life. And I've been running games, both my (unfortunately undocumented) L5R campaign in the beginning of the year and my ongoing AD&D game at the end. However, my real attention was focused on two long-running projects. 

The first, which began late last year, was preparation for my current AD&D game. More than learning the rules, setting up a world, and making a bunch of supplementary material (maps, weather generators, and such), the biggest time sink there was rewriting the AD&D PHB. While I generally stick to the rules, my game was different enough (different species, new classes and spells, and the like) that handing my players a copy of the 1978 PHB plus a bunch of 'but in my game this instead of that' supplements would have been confusing and frustrating. 

I'm sure this project started with a smaller, scope, but it eventually turned into a full rewrite, plus my own campaign-specific details. I think most of the time wound up being spent on the spells: I managed to cut the word count by something like a third and make a lot of them easier to read. That and all the formatting, since I have a neurotic fixation on making everything fit in two-page spreads. 

I've hesitated to share this for a while, because some of the classes are from someone's else's paid supplement, but I wound up just pulling them out of the version I'll share. You can find the PHB for Bell and Candle here

That project was basically finished in late summer, with a few corrections made after players found typos and errors. The project occupying my time now, as I've recently blogged about, is The House of Pestilence, my entry in the NAPIII module contest. 

I've tried making things before: years ago I was supposed to make an adventure with Joseph Robert Lewis, but then the pandemic happened and everything got sidetracked. I've also made all sorts of promises on this blog, like an attempt at an underwater play supplement, which went nowhere. The times I have successfully made something it's because I had a deadline. My entry for Wavestone Keep was baseline. My entry for Out of the Sewers (still unpublished) was better. But I can safely say that House of Pestilence is the best thing I've made. 

It's not quite done yet; I have to consolidate feedback from the first playtest and hopefully do another one with my in-person group, plus I'm waiting on art and improved cartography. Still, this is the first time I've really been proud of an RPG thing I've written. With all luck, you'll be able to pick it up in the NAPIII anthology some time next year. If not, I'll release it myself. 

I hope to keep running AD&D for a long while to come, and keep you all updated with play reports (session 6 play report is in the works...). I also have plans for my next writing project after NAPIII is done. While I won't make any promises, since I'm not being driven by a deadline on this one, I hope to delight you all with Three Lives in the Crystal Pyramid of Xeen-Thoth one day soon. 


So ends another year! Particular thanks to Melan and JB for their support, and I hope you all have an excellent holiday and new year!

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

House of Pestilence Playtest 1: An Unexpected Speedrun

Starting in May, I began designing an entry for No Artpunk III, which I finally submitted a month ago. It got a good review from Prince, so now I'm revising and playtesting it in the hopes it will be included in the NAPIII anthology later this year. This is the first playtest, a rather abridged one which I did online last night via the OSR Pickup Games server. Lots to learn from it, so here we go!

SPOILERS for House of Pestilence below!

The Party

Valeria, Sovereign of Sighs, Paladin 11, played by Luke
    Soo Meri, Elder of the Moonstone Sect, Monk 9
    Thryn the Sun-Blessed, Cleric 10
Haught Taupik the Blood Sword Emperor, Elven Fighter 7/M-U 11, played by Malcolm
    Kore, the Vision of Temperance, Illusionist 11
    Helefres, Magician of the Far Shore, M-U 11
Stribor, the Devil of Bukosevac, Fighter 7/Thief 9/Bard 15, played by Shea
    Ko, the Stone of Kushiel, Fighter 9
    Aodhan the Reborn, Druid 12
Liphindor, Hierophant of the Cathedral Severe, Cleric 12, played by Rune
    Vindictus the Hand-Chopping Judge, Dwarven Fighter 9/Thief 11
    Saumur, Hangman of Orscea, Fighter 9


Larvae and unholy symbols (purchased)
Gem of Seeing (stolen)

The Game
  • Deep in the Underdark, a dozen masters of the surface world met. They were not united by creed or country, but by a common enemy: the dark wizard Vas Arghul, whose ambitions to lichdom would soon come to fruition, and would become a great threat to all their domains. 
  • They knew that the would-be lich was down in the Underdark, and had a mission of his own: kill the high priest of a drow noble house dedicated to the daemon lord Anthraxus, the House of Pestilence, and take her still-beating heart to the court of Orcus. This would be their best, and last, chance to catch him outside his stronghold and put an end to him. 
  • So they journeyed through the underworld, convened at the drow citadel of Erelhei-Cinlu, and set out on their journey. Through many miles of tunnels and subterrene wilderness did they travel, and soon they arrived at the threshold of House Umil-Da, the House of Pestilence. 
Doc Savage - Land of Always Night
  • This is where the game properly began. Past a miles-long, winding tunnel, their lizard mounts splashing through pools of fungal secretion, they came to the foot of a wide chimney, leading up out of view, filled with crumbling stone shelves. Kore conjured an illusion of the same chimney, but quiet and empty of intruders, and the group made their careful way up the shelves. 
  • As they crested the top of the chimney, they heard the sound of falling rocks below, and their lizard mounts stood to attention; the party was on guard, but no more came of this. 
  • Before them now was a cave mouth, dark and bore-smooth. Stribor palmed a stone of continual light and scouted ahead alone; past a nexus point, and noting several instances of mossy fungi on the cavern floor, he heard a loud scraping upon stone from the caverns beyond, and caught sight of something large turning the corner and fleeing back through the tunnels. 
  • He returned to the party with this information, and the whole group followed his trail. Tossing a lit torch over the suspect fungi, they illuminated the silhouette of a great beetle-like creature, the size of an ogre, that clung to the wall. The creature fled their show of force, and shortly afterwards, they felt another consciousness touch upon their own.
  • "Who goes there? State your business in the name of House Umil-Da."
  • Stribor opened negotiations with the telepathic being, whom they soon learned was Eastler, formerly a wicked mage of great renown upon the surface, who disappeared many years prior. The bard suggested to Eastler that a mage of his renown could benefit from a 'change of leadership' down here, and offered to help him return to the surface in exchange for his aid. Struck by such an audacious offer (and Stribor's natural 00 reaction roll), the mage invited them to his nearby sanctum. 
  • Another of the great beetle-creatures, which they now identified as an umber hulk, and which had been behind them the entire time undetected, escorted them. They found a dank cavern with a dozen hulks, and the ghoulish mage welcomed them with half-rotted meat, which Valeria politely sampled without fear of disease. 
  • With a great deal of flattery and innuendo, the party won the wicked mage over to their side, and learned a great deal about the drow house and its procedures. Though they had little intention of actually helping Eastler, they led him on and put him to good use. They also traded gems for demon larvae and unholy symbols, preferred barter items within the House. 
  • In short order they left the sanctum and were escorted to the very threshold of the drow stronghold, a great door embossed with daemonic imagery and topped with plastered skulls. They knocked in the advised pattern, Soo Meri determined that the party just got pinged with clairvoyance, and they were met on the other side by armed drow guards who demanded to know their business.  
  • Well-advised by Eastler, a quick bribe of larvae and a request for audience with the drow nobles got them through the door. Beyond was a cavern, a mile long and a third of a mile wide, lit by a sphere of radioactive ore in psychedelic reds and golds. At the back of the cavern was a high-walled fortress, and a path of shining moonstone pebbles led to the gate. Some further bribes got the party information on recent guests: a human mage and his apprentices, a demon from the court of Pazunia, and a pair of mind flayers. 
  • The party also knew that their enemy would recognize them even if they did not recognize him, and likewise resolved to disguise themselves. The drow did not find it objectionable or uncommon to take on a temporary identity within their domain, and so they took on new personas: Haught Taupik became Caald, Valeria became Hysperia, Liphindor became Rodni, and Stribor became Fennic the Clean (who was distinctly dirty). 
  • After a short wait, a cloud of mist sprung up on the path and resolved into a rider upon a demonic steed, flanked by drow and bugbears. The guards sprang to attention and saluted 'Warden Triel'. Stribor did the same, while the rest of the party stood stoically. 
Tony DiTerlizzi
  • This high-ranking drow inspected their auras, and found only Stribor's to be pleasing. She instructed the guards to hand the new guests visitor passes and cloaks (which glowed lime-green under ultravision) and recommended that they visit her bazaar... and mind their business otherwise. 
  • The steed and rider dissolved to mist once more, but left behind a drow servant, Malrux, who answered their questions and provided all the hospitality the drow had to offer. The party deduced that their quarry was likely disguised as one of the guests, and wanted to make for the bazaar, where they would mostly likely be found. However, there was another stop first. 
  • Past the gardens of violet grasses and exotic flowers, past fungal trees and vineyards fed by the blood of mangled slaves, through the great steel doors of the compound embossed with scenes of wealth and luxury, they found an open-air shrine. A huge bust in verdant marble bore the visage of the daemon lord Anthraxus, and slaves and bugbears knelt before the shrine at varying distances, offering their prayers and slop upon the ground. Malrux requested that the party pay obeisance to the House's patron and make a small offering. 
  • Stribor alone knelt enthusiastically, the rest only reluctantly. While the others made offerings of larvae or gems, Liphindor alone neglected to make any offering, shamed enough by this profanity. 
Bugbears: Look that one isn't making an offering. 
No, don't you see, he's offering his dignity!
What a delicious offering!
  • Near to bursting with humiliation, the party continued into the compound, past the cave-homes reserved for guests, and straight toward the bazaar, covered in patchwork fabrics like the wings of innumerable bats. Underworld creatures hawked wares from dozens of stalls, but they spied none of the guests. However, Malrux directed them to a tent at the center of the bazaar, woven from coins. A further bribe to the guards there, who just wanted to make sure the party was wealthy enough to partake of the goods within, won them entry. 
  • Within were two mages, a huge, inebriated demon with a vestigial arm sticking out of its abdomen, and a pair of mind flayers, engaged in a bidding war over a glowing violet gem. Only the auctioneer, a night hag, was happy to see new bidders enter the tent. 
Sold! To the tentacled gentleman
  • The party held back from entering the bidding, through the gem, a violet ioun stone, was quite tempting to several party members. Instead, they set about examining the bidders. The two mages, Snake-Eye and Orbix, were apprentices of the great mage Neroe, who was back in his guest chambers. They wanted to pick up a nice gift for their master, but the mind flayers kept bidding up the price and egging on the demon: the bid had swelled past 13000gp. 
  • Valeria's fine-tuned sense for evil confirmed that both the night hag and the demon radiated supernatural fear, as would be expected, while the mind flayers, mages, and items did not. This ruled out the demon as a suspect. Stribor became quick friends with the mages, and offhandedly badmouthed Vas Arghul in their conversation. 
Stribor: he doesn't take apprentices, he doesn't keep up the traditional of evil wizardry, it's a disgrace.
Snake-Eye: Absolutely, so gauche. 
Orbix: Not that we'd say that to his face. 
Snake-Eye: We would never say such a thing to the World-Scourge's face.
Orbix: But still, very gauche.
  • Haught Taupik noticed that one of the mind flayers was simply standing, making only small movements, while the other was involved in the bidding, and its tentacles twitched every time Vas Arghul was mentioned. 
  • They had their prime suspect. The ioun stone went to Snake-Eye, at a final, eye-watering price of 20000gp, and the auction took a break. However, the party noticed one of the other items available was a gem of seeing, and they swiftly hatched a plan. 
  • Stribor made a show of desiring the gem while Valeria exited the tent and dropped her disguise. With the gem next on the auction block (starting at a dreadfully high 25000gp!) she came back in with great fanfare, and declared she absolutely must have this gem, for with it she could unveil the imposter among them, the dark wizard Vas Arghul!
  • Stribor, still disguised as Fennic the Clean, played along. The suspect mind flayer entered the bidding, but with all the party's spending money behind her, Valeria kept bidding up. That mind flayer left the bazaar, muttering about how we wouldn't be party to such a farce, but the other one, which until now had been almost entirely still, took over the bidding seamlessly. The party decided that this one was an illusion, but changed their minds when it won the bidding at 40000gp, and physically took the gem. 
  • By this time, the party split; several party members tailed the suspect mind flayer, while several others stayed in the bazaar. In this latter group, Liphindor bumped into the mind flayer, and the gem of seeing went skittering on the floor. The mind flayer picked it up and left, but it was one of Kore's illusions! The real gem had been pickpocketed by Vindictus, who had taken a potion of invisibility.
  • Now possessing the gem, the party sped after the other mind flayer, and through the gem Vindictus saw that it was actually a human silhouette under a hat of disguise. This was Vas Arghul, without a doubt! 
  • He was out in the open, still believing himself disguised, on the path to the guest caves. They wondered how to negate his disguise and show his true nature to others, but Helefres realized it was a very simple process. She just got close enough, and knocked the hat off his head with an unseen servant
  • The would-be lich turned on the party in a fury, knowing his cover was blown. Initiative was rolled... and he rolled dead last. 
  • Everything went poorly for Vas Arghul after that. Kore's color spray and a bungled save knocked his first effective action back to segment 10 (!), Aodhan's fire seeds blew him away, and the party's warriors closed in. With Haught Taupik, Soo, Ko, Saumur, and a still-invisible Vindictus all crowding around him, the best he could do was unleash a cloud of smoke and begin fiddling with his magic bracer. But another nasty initiative roll pushed him back, and Liphindor's scroll of holy word defeaned him (as well as Stribor, and vaporized some nearby drow), drastically damaging his ability to cast spells. 
  • The final word was Stribor's animal summoning II, which summoned a group of boring beetles that tore the would-be lich to shreds.
He never even got to cast a spell!
  • Alas, not all was well: a beeping emanated from Vas Arghul's robes as he died, and several of the characters, plus the beetles, were caught in a blast of light. When they came back to their senses, they, along with Vas Arghul's corpse, found themselves on a salt flat under a crimson sky, punctuated by dessicated blue trees with fleshy, purple fruit. A huge castle, rolling toward them on wheel over the salt flat, was preceded by the cackling of hyenas and gnoll outriders: they were on the 422nd layer of the Abyss, the domain of the Gnoll Prince Yeenoghu, and nobody heard of them after that. 
  • Though the rest of the party, still on the material plane, was doubtless in great danger since they had just killed several drow as collateral damage, we ended the session there. 

Hoo boy, where to begin. 

House of Pestilence includes both the drow noble house itself, as well as several underworld wilderness areas a la D1 and D2 prior to it. For this playtest, I elected to skip past those and start the players right at the threshold to the House proper. Since Christmas is coming fast and I'm busy as soon as January starts, I didn't expect to have another playtest with this group afterwards. That said, I didn't expect them to find and defeat the wizard!

While the adventure has been in development for quite some time, the hook with the wizard is much more recent. I think I added it a week before submission. My intent with it was that an effective party could accomplish this goal with much less risk by infiltrating and treating this as a social/investigative adventure, rather than spamming fireball and getting subsequently dogpiled by a few dozen drow. That turned out to be the case, but not quite how I expected. This party managed to accomplish the main objective within a single session, without engaging with most of the location! At the same, time they got quite little in the way of loot, especially since the wizard's body got shunted to another plane. 

Is that a bad thing? I'm not sure. If you strip out this objective, the rest of the location remains, and there's still lots to do, lots of intrigues and plots and treasure and exploration; but players ought to have some inkling that it is there in order to decide whether they want to go after it. 

I expect I'll revamp the hook; maybe taking out the wizard is just one part of the goal, and non-evil parties still have some reason to take assassinate the matriarch (other than the usual reason one would have to fight against the drow as a neutral/good party). Not sure, will have to give this more thought. 

The actual fight with the wizard was also much easier than expected; none of them took a single point of damage! I don't think this is the fault of the adventure, but a combination of luck, strategy, and the way I ran it. Vas Arghul was loaded down with powerful items and spells, but it takes time to activate them, and spells can be interrupted. Had he rolled better on initiative, they would have been fighting him, plus a half dozen umber hulks, in the dark, with a wand of force. But he got unlucky, and got overwhelmed. Should I update his items to add something which can open up some breathing room in situations like these? Maybe. This too will take more thought. 

All said and done, I felt the session went quite smooth, and the playtesters had a good time of it. Out of all of us, only one had prior experience with high-level AD&D. My CX game only really went to around 6th level, and the other playtesters have managed to get to 4th in the course of their current campaign. A fair amount of play, especially in that combat at the end, was spent looking up the details on spell effects; luckily, CTRL-F speeds that up a good deal, and I already had my improved spell descriptions at hand. 

Still, picking up new characters at high level, especially when you haven't gotten characters to that level organically before, definitely feels stilted. In the absence of a group of veteran players it's unavoidable, though it's a good reason to not design for higher levels in the absence of a high-level group. 

Since most of the session was exploration and social interaction, the much-vaunted issues with high-level play didn't get a chance to pop up. 

Alright, I think that's all I have to say about the playtest now. I hope to do another round in the coming months with my in-person group, and that playtest will hopefully be longer and more complete. Until next time, have an excellent week!

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Playtest Call: House of Pestilence

I must apologize from a rather lengthy absence from the blog: a whole lot of busy crunch time, travel, and now a lingering head cold have kept me from finishing up the latest session report, let alone other posts. 

However, there is good news: besides my actual AD&D game, the business keeping my RPG-related energy hostage was my contest entry for No Artpunk 3, the House of Pestilence. After months of work and refinement (I'll probably make a whole post documenting the process) the beta draft was complete, an AD&D adventure for levels 10-14, following directly from and further detailing D3: Vault of the Drow. 

There's HOW MANY drow?!

The praise is rolling in...
House of Pestilence is not just good, in that it preserves the energy and strangeness of the original D series, while shoring up some of its weaknesses, it is in fact downright great... an open-ended location in grand style... a caravan of delights ... lavish, complex, and multi-faceted.
-Prince of Nothing
This looks delightful, but I am a sucker for nostalgia, and this definitely conjures to mind D3.
Intimidating and exciting...
-N. Alexander Peter
But to become all that it can be, it must be playtested!

While I expect to playtest it in person once my group meets up again in January, I would like to have more players and eyes on it. I'm currently organizing an online playtest via the OSR Pickup Games server, right now for evenings GMT, but an American-time playtest in January is also likely. 

If you can't make the time to playtest but would still like to look at the module and give feedback, you can comment below or message me on Discord at nroman1938. 

I hope to see you there and hear from you! Until then, have an excellent week!

Saturday, November 11, 2023

AD&D Session 5: His Cohorts Were Gleaming

In the last session, the Order of the Perfect Circle escaped the quiet halls of Stonehell, partied and leveled up, traveled to Clifton, defended a sage from attack and got stuck in a cave during a supernatural hurricane. They now have more clues towards the lost treasure of the Clifton family, but also new problems to face. Will they succeed in their search? What shall come of Ingvar's strange ring-box and
Agatha's ancestry? Join them in this week's journey to find out...

The Party

Norbeth Yelfiel, elf mage/thief with a periwinkle wide-brimmed floppy hat, played by Finn
Akiva ben Moshe, beetlefolk fighter with a short ponytail, played by Ali
Agatha, human paladin with a smiling-masked samurai helm, played by Anne
Innus Entus, goblin cleric/fighter with a bishop's mitre, played by Cao Linh
Ingvar Duram, human cleric with an extravagant tricorn hat, played by Jackson
Dra'kon Deznitsz, beetlefolk cleric with a spiked, tasseled helmet, played by Felix
Precious, domesticated rat


8000gp in fine metal ingots
2500gp in fine fabrics
Ring of warmth 
Trollbane, broadsword+1, +3 vs regenerating creatures 
Uzakear, scimitar of speed+2
Trident of fish command+1
Potion of ESP
Potion of Flying
Potion of Invisibility
Potion of Speed 
Potion of Water Breathing
Mine of pseudo-ambergris (value unknown)
Commendation from the Clifton Sheriff
High-class tavern
A very minor enemy
A birthday

The Game

12 Low Summer 1113
  • The Order of the Perfect Circle stepped out of their cave into the rainy, miserable, but non-hurricane weather. They soon ran into a relief effort, sent from Clifton to search for Eramay after the Order left to warn her and didn't come back.
"Wait, who are you guys?"
"We're the pre-lief effort"
  • They were overjoyed to see everyone alive, and while most of the relievers went to greet Eramay, a beetlefolk cleric came to speak with the Order. He was getting on in years, but still quite stout, and was a member of Akiva's sect. After a short discussion, he resolved to join the Order in their adventures.
  • His name... was Dra'kon Desnitsz. 
  • They all returned to Clifton to briefly resupply, and from there traveled the muddy road down to the coast. By evening, they arrived at the high, rocky cliffs. Though much of the forest along their path had been blown down by the hurricane, the area the map indicated was long since bare of trees. 
  • As they admired the setting sun, they soon found themselves on the wrong end of several spears. Lightly armored warriors, their faces and the exposed skin of their arms covered in a grey, clay-like paint, blocked their path. Selkies. 
  • The Order tried to spin a half-truth about the last Clifton lord and how they were his inheritors, but the selkies soon got the truth out of them. 
  • At the same time, Dra'kon's long life experience came in handy: he had spent a short time among selkie many years ago, and recognized the grey paint as a mourning rite.  
  • The selkie led them down a treacherous path, to the hidden village cut from the cliffside. It looked all but abandoned. The selkie led them to a waterfall, and instructed them to step through. Beyond was a high cavern run through with rivers and pools of seawater, and an iron bridge led to a two-story hall of painted wood carved with shamanic imagery. 
From Tintin: Prisoners of the Sun
Fucking loved that book as a kid
  • The bulk of the selkie villagers were there, wailing and keening before the body of an elderly woman on a slab. The guards pulled one of the mourners out and introduced her to the Order: she was Khunney, daughter of the late matriarch, and one of the leading elders of the tribe. 
  • She confirmed that the last Clifton lord, Haemedelian Clifton, had left a key with the tribe decades ago before his disappearance, stating that it would open the way to his treasure, and that the selkie would one day share in his inheritance. 
  • If only the party had come earlier, they might not be mourning today. 
  • Some time ago, the selkie were approached by Maylorites, strange eel-like creatures from the deep sea descended from a human tribe of this region, transformed by their dark god to flee their destruction. They were searching for a treasure on the nearby sea floor, and wanted the selkie to cooperate, if not by helping the search, at least by concealing their presence from the humans, with whom the Maylorites have a long enmity. 
  • The selkie sent a delegation to meet with them and discuss terms, but received a ransom note and a delegate's finger. When the matriarch saw this, she fell into shock and passed away some days later. 
  • One of those delegates, Khunney's aunt Ogdo, was the distant cousin of Haemedelian Clifton who inherited the key and kept it on her person. 
  • The Order and the selkie negotiated: for the Order's help in ransoming Ogdo, the selkie would help access the treasure, and would receive at least a portion equal to double the ransom. The Order agreed. 
  • Khunney's brother Ergey and his faction among the warriors advocated a night raid upon the island where the Maylorites and their pirate allies were holding the hostages. Khunney advocated sending an armed escort with the ransom, with a secondary force hidden behind to fight if they were betrayed.
  • The party went with Khunney's plan, and got put into the secondary force along with Ergey and his warriors, to keep them in line. They equip themselves, and that very night set out under reddish moonlight. The main force goes out on a conspicuous ship, while the secondary force follows behind in broad-keeled boats low to the water, both guided by selkies swimming below to avoid the fossilized reefs. The Order talks philosophy with Ergey and discuss the merits of circles and triangles. 
13 Low Summer 1113
  • They soon arrive at the island, and the hidden boats beach silently on the sand. The island was covered with patches of trees, which should have been knocked over by the recent hurricane, but somehow remained standing. A great dhow is anchored on the opposite side of the island, doubtless belonging to the pirates. A human crew came out and escorted the ransom delegation beyond the treeline at the island's high point. A roar like that of a big cat was heard, then nothing. The secondary force had been instructed to wait twenty minutes, and if they heard nothing else, to fight their way in. Ergey wanted to head in immediately, but the party held him back. 
  • Still, they weren't idle. Norbeth's ultravision became very useful, and he snuck up to the treeline. He observed three pirates standing guard, lightly armored, several fire pits dug into the earth to hide their glow, a starved leopard in a cage, and a cave entrance leading down into the island.
We don't want no trouble, do we?

  • After the dwindling of their candles marked twenty minutes, the Order and Ergey's soldiers fell on the lookouts and slew them without a sound. Ingvar noticed the leopard had two small cubs, so he opened the cage, threw in the corpse of one of the pirates, and left it open. 
  • Down into the caves beyond they went, and they captured another group of pirate lookouts. These ones they interrogated, and learned a bit about the situation. 
  • These pirates, the crew of the Black Parrot, had been hired by the Maylorites from the City of Vultures. They knew the eel-creatures were looking for something on the sea bottom around Cascabel, and originally planned to bribe the selkies and get their help. However, one of the selkies was too smart for her own good, and figured out what the eels were looking for. They captured the delegates and sent for a ransom instead, with the plan to capture the rest and kill them too. 
  • The pirates agreed to drop hostilities and leave the island, as anyone capable of killing the lookouts without a sound wasn't someone they wanted to mess with. 
  • Further down in the caverns, in a cave flooded with seawater, they found the remainder of the pirate crew. In a shallow island in the center of the cavern the captives sat, both the original delegates to be ransomed and Khunney's disarmed rescue party. A shimmering dome hung in the air around them: a spell of silence. 
  • There were three tall, lanky figures in long robes, with slick and oily skin: the eel-like Maylorites. One of the eels held aloft a trident, the point to the head of a middle-aged selkie, Elder Ogdo!
  • The Order and their accompanying warriors launched an assault without hesitation. Agatha yelled a warning to the pirates, telling them to leave and they would not be harmed and that their ship would sail away soon. Struck by the paladin's words, the pirates turned tail and fled out of the cavern. 
  • However, the Maylorites stood fast, and the one with the trident raised it high and called forth a school of sharks! The predators attacked both the party and the fleeing pirates, and the eel-people proved formidable opponents in close quarters. 
  • Yet, in the face of dire odds, they prevailed. Akiva managed to cut the bonds on some captives, and Norbeth's swift arrow caught the trident-wielding eel in the side. It turned to flee, and would have escaped through the underwater tunnels, but Agatha picked up a pirate's discarded dagger, threw it with all her might, and struck the eel in the back of the head. 
  • After that, the sharks fled as well, and the remaining Maylorites were cut down. The selkie were freed, still mostly unharmed, and they recovered some treasure from a hidden chest, including some coinage and potions. In addition, Norbeth determined that the trident was a trident of fish control. It didn't have many charges left, but even when they were depleted it would still act as a magical +1 weapon, the party's first!
Innus Entus: Fish want me, women fear me!
Akiva: What about fish women?
Innus Entus: It's a wash. 

  • By the time they surfaced, dawn lightened the sky through the rainclouds. The pirate ship was gone, but the leopard was still chewing on the bodies of the dead. Agatha felt bad about leaving the leopard and its cubs on the island, which surely would not have enough to feed it after it finished with the pirates, so she resolved to tell Occam (who spoke Feline) have him take care of it. 
15 Low Summer 1113
  • They returned to the selkie cove and alternated mourning and celebration as everyone recovered for a couple of days. During that time, Norbeth took the holy herbs he had purchased in Clifton and burned them in front of the sea. Shortly thereafter, a black cat appeared on the rocks, and Norbeth sealed his familiar contract with a name: Heathcliff.
Norbeth: It's a reference. You wouldn't get it. 

  • On the 15th, elder Ogdo and a band of selkie soldiers accompanied the party away from the selkie cove, toward the old Clifton Manor. 
  • Since the Potentate's soldiers torched it, the manor and the land around it lay abandoned, because of a persistent sense of dread that emanates from it. Despite that, the land is filled with life: varicolored flowers bloom everywhere, high mountain chocolate brush sprouts with many pods, beartooth hedges cover everything; but the hedges on the side of the dirt road have only started to encroach: someone has cleared it recently. 
  • The manor lay in ruins, with most of it totally fallen down, and only the west wing, which abutted a dome-like hill, still stood, though slowly collapsing. The great doors leaned ajar on broken hinges, inviting them in. 
  • Norbeth scouted within. Down one path, he found some inhabitants: a group of armed mercenaries, some robed worshipers kneeling before a plaque on the wall, and the sound of porcine grunting. Though he snuck forward, a hidden guard placed a blade to his neck, and the two had a little chat. 
  • Norbeth told him he hadn't come looking for anyone, and was just examining the ruin. He promised not to interrupt the 'clients' worship and was allowed to leave. He noticed that a bony, preserved index finger hung on the plaque, and the grunting came from a chained-up boar, huge and bloody-eyed, that the guard promised would 'fuck him up' if he caused trouble.
  • Down the other way, the party found what they were looking for, mercifully free of weird cultists. On a wall adjacent to the stony hill where the ruined mural of sheep cavorting amid golden fields of grain stood, Ogdo found a tiny hole, just a pit in the wall. It was a perfect match for the Clifton key, which had a shaft and no head, but was carved with runes. 
  • She placed the key within, turned it, and a doorframe outlined in light appeared, and swung open. Beyond, the thick scent of perfume emanated. 
  • The tunnel spiraled down, and came to a well-dug cave room. It was an armory. Hundreds of pieces of armor, weapons, and ammunition, enough to outfit a small army. The value of the mundane arms alone far exceeded the amount the Order had promised to the selkies. 
Hell yeah!
  • But there was more: a chest filled with valuable metal ingots, mostly gold but even a pair of adamantine bars, and piles of linen, satin, and rarest spidersilk. Add to that several potions and an enchanted ring!
  • But best was the suit of shining plate armor, sitting on its rack, with a broadsword and scimitar at each hip. 
  • The Order and selkies eyed one another, and came to a new arrangement: they split the fine metals and fabrics cleanly, and while the selkies claimed the immense quantity of mundane weapons and armor, the Order took the handful of magical items. 
  • But this was not the end: the tunnel spiraled yet deeper. They trudged down into the earth, and the scent of perfume grew yet stronger. At the bottom, the caverns opened up once more, with porous, spongelike structures of stone. At first it seemed empty, and then they found the wall. 
  • A wall of greyish-amber, semi-opaque matter stood before them. It was soft enough that a fingernail could leave a dent and steel tools cut through it like butter, and most certainly organic in nature. And it was very fragrant, reminiscent of ambergris, though it was far more diluted. The Order recalled how the Clifton family made a fortune selling ambergris-based perfumes,  and managed to scavenge much more of the rare substance than anyone else in the region. Now it was clear how: they weren't hunting or scavenging it, they were mining it. 
  • The Order and the selkies floundered at the possible value of the find. Even the portion visible here was worth thousands of gold pieces once it could be processed and rendered down, whether as a base for perfumes or fine oils. There might well be tens of thousands of gold pieces worth here. The two groups once again came to a decision: the Order would ensure the safety of a future mining operation, and the selkies would lend the manpower. That way, nobody else needed to get involved in the business. 
  • Many obstacles stand in the way of profiting from this find: the order needs to kick out any strange cultists in the area so they don't get too suspicious, get rid of the strange, ominous feeling emanating from the ruins, and find an alchemist willing to work quietly. All the same, they were optimistic, and left behind the forboding mansion with high spirits. 
22 Low Summer 1113
  • They returned that night to nearby Clifton, and got down to partying even as they offloaded their haul. It turned out that Dra'kon's birthday had passed during their adventures, and they celebrated his 270th together! In the course of their first week of carousing, Norbeth wound of swiftly befriending the proprietor of a high class tavern who, in an emotional and drunken state, signed away his tavern to the adventurer and retired from a life of business. Thus did Norbeth become the proprietor of Clifton's own Cracked Flagon tavern. That same night, a swiftly-intoxicated Ingvar insisted on firing the Flagon's veteran bartender, and when a row broke out between them, Innus Entus stepped in to brawl for his compatriot's honor. Thereafter, Ingvar and that bartender were bitter enemies. 
  • With Akiva's help, Norbeth sent for Eliezer to come and work as the tavern's manager. By the day of the 22nd, the tavern was closed for renovation and all the papers were signed and sealed. They also got a visit from the Sheriff, who thanked the Order for their help in ensuring Eramay's safety. Since the sage's house was blown to matchsticks by the hurricane, she took up residence in Clifton, which in no way hurt the town's prestige and promised to bring in a great deal of business. In gratitude, he gave the Order a Commendation: with this letter, they could go up to the capital, Cascabel, and apply to become a Free Company, allowed to carry all weapons and armor within the walled cities, though they could be called upon to join the kingdom in warfare. 
  • All seemed to settle down, until that morning the Cracked Flagon received a new patron. He had a sword at each hip, wore a gambeson (illegal within city walls), and had a face like a naked mole rat: not so much as a single hair anywhere on his body, as though he had been born without them. 
  • At the same time, a squadron of soldiers carrying steam rifles (also illegal within town walls) lined up in front, just visible through the window. He introduced himself:
"Captain Fen, of the Zangaran Third Mounted Dragoons. You are the Order of the Perfect Circle, yes?"
No, you heard me right
  • And that's where the session concluded. What does this strange visitor want from them, and what is his relation to the Order of the Ultraviolet Flame, which also hails from Zangara, domain of the Undying Witch King? How will all this business with the inn go? What shall come of the pseudo-ambergris mine hidden under the Clifton manor? Join us for next week's session of Cascabel!

Hot on the heels of last week's session, I came into this one rather antsy, but left much more confident.

I did feel that the treasure reward here (though split halfway with an NPC party and with most of the value locked up in the yet-inaccessible ambergris) was getting into Monty Haul territory in comparison with the challenges faced to acquire it. When I wrote up these locations, I also expected the possibility of combat with the cultists in Clifton Manor, but this was coming right at the end of the session and I didn't want to have another big combat and was also unsure that the challenges I had written down would challenge the party, so I toned down their aggression. 

That said, my impression might be wrong. My thinking as a DM was 'clearly, that fight with the Maylorites didn't threaten the party, none of them even went to 0hp!', while Agatha's player told me after the session, 'I almost got eaten by sharks!'

This is, perhaps, a weakness of spending so much time on the DM side of the screen and not so much on the player side. I do recall, when I sit down to play, a real terror and suspense that I obviously don't experience as a DM, and I have difficulty telling what the internal experience of my players is like on that front. This makes it a little bit more difficult to calibrate challenges, methinks. 

In either case, I shall use today's victory as a springboard for future woes to shower upon the party!

In other news, around the same time this game was running, a Cauldron was overflowing across the deep blue sea. It's really inspiring to read about that con (Melan's account of it here). Is AD&D 1e experiencing a renaissance, or is this a blip on the radar? I suppose time will tell. 

Speaking of Melan, I just picked up Echoes #10 and the Nocturnal Table, which will really bring my urban adventures together. Not going to do a full review, but I have to say I'm consistently impressed by the quality coming out of EMDT, right down to the physical paper. 

This session is also a victory for my Mundane Treasures, which... I now realize I have never mentioned on this blog. A while back I got inspired by DMG p.92 and figured that converting monetary hoards into items of similar value and weight was the way to go wrt stocking treasure. So I buckled down and tried to convert every piece of equipment, armor, and weapon in the PHB, plus every type of trade/grave good I could think of into a gp/# ratio and group those into approximate categories, 'copper', 'silver', 'electrum', etc. It was really nice being able to turn a big electrum hoard (boring!) into spears, ammunition, armor, and the like, and to do so pretty quickly. Unfortunately, that piecer of work is in a sweet spot where it's developed enough I don't have to do more work to use it, but undeveloped enough I can't share it outside of a small circle. Whether I ever get around to completing and professionalizing it is up in the air. 

That's all I have for you today. If you enjoyed the post, do comment below, follow the blog, and share it around. Until next time, have an excellent week. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Icewind Dale Remix Notes (Chapters 6-7) and Addenda

We continue from the last post with remix notes for chapters 6 and 7 of Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, as well as some rather extensive and hastily written addenda, including notes on making Auril an actual tripartite goddess with folkloric flavor, an exploration of Auril's motivation and a clean writeup of our new continuity, some alternatives to the text of the Rime, including a musical recording (!) and notes on prophetic dreams foreshadowing/replacing the trials in Chapter 5. 

As written, the timescale of the adventure shortens as the level increases. The first couple chapters feature a lot of travel and will have the party facing a large number of small problems, probably split up over the course of several weeks. Then Sunblight and Destruction's Light play out in the course of a couple days, max. Auril's Abode and the Caves of Hunger are dungeons that the players will take on in the course of a few in-game days, and Ythryn is basically a pointcrawl with a few small dungeons. Anything after that is likely to feel like an extended denouement. 

Chapter 6: Caves of Hunger

This section is quite solidly done all things considered.

There is one issue Justin Alexander brings up in his review: the PCs are the first people to enter the caves in a very long time, and they had to steal a scroll from Auril's basement to do it, but this is undermined by the quite substantial number of other creatures that are also here. 

Oh, it's you

In fairness, the specifics of this are handled pretty well. Most of these creatures are constructs or undead that have been around for a while, the rest are mostly minions of a vampire which the PCs woke up by opening the entrance. The presence of drow mages looking to get into Ythryn is a bit too coincidental. It can be justified: maybe the presence of the duergar in the region also led the drow to pay more attention, and they dug a way in or found one as a result. But it needs to be set up a little more. I don't have many more notes on the content of this section, and didn't make substantial changes. That said, this chapter's place in the structure and pacing of the campaign needs some attention. 

Campaign Structure

This is the home stretch. In all likelihood, the PCs are leaving Icewind Dale for the last time on their way to the Caves of Hunger, which lead directly to Ythryn in Chapter 7. The previous events of the campaign need to set up the climax and connect with it. Do they?

In the first two parts, the focus is on the Dale and its people. There's lots of travel, gaining renown among the survivors, and coming face to face with the effects of the long winter. 

Then the duergar show up, you do a dungeoncrawl, and a substantial number of the towns and people get destroyed. At this time, the focus switches from the Dale and its people to a treasure hunt. There's little support or guidance for sticking around and helping to rebuild, or leading the survivors out of the Dale. Nor is there a sense of pressure to actually try to solve the problem of the long winter. 

The players might wind up doing this by accident, by slaying Auril in her abode, or by killing her pet bird. There's a very loose sense in which exploring Ythryn can solve the winter, in that the floating city was powered by a device which could probably control the weather, and which might still be operational. However, as written, it doesn't quite do the trick. While the mythallar does exist, is functional, and can control the weather, as written it's not powerful enough to be a permanent solution (the weather controlling spell has to be recast 3x a day, might require concentration to maintain depending on how you interpret the rule, and, eyeballing the poster map, its range doesn't even seem to reach Bryn Shander). 

Not to mention, from the perspective of characters in the world, this has to seem pretty far fetched. If the goal is to end the Rime, why uncover an ancient frozen city instead of taking the fight to Auril (which is far-fetched in a whole different way, but simpler in comparison). 

In any case, going to Ythryn is the quickest way to solve the winter... because 24 hours after you get there Auril shows up out of nowhere and wants to fight to the death. For some reason. And if the players win, which is fairly likely, there goes the winter and the players' biggest reason to explore Ythryn. 

Chapter 7: Doom of Ythryn

In my own campaign I made some substantial changes to Ythryn, mostly to make it consonant with my version of Auril's plot. I put the city in a 12-hour time loop which gradually turns the mortals who survive it into nothics. There's more details, but they're so specific to my own campaign that they're not worth hashing out here, especially because I would do it differently if I had to run it again. 

More than any other part of the campaign, Ythryn needs a solid answer to 'What does Auril want?' and suffers for the vagaries of the base text. Auril is weakened and afraid that other gods will come to attack her so... she draws attention to herself by blanketing a whole region in endless winter? It doesn't quite add up. I ad-libbed an explanation dealing with Auril's daughter, the end of Dungeon of the Mad Mage, a phaerimm, and the aforementioned time loop, (how's that for a noodle incident?) but looking back on it now there's a much simpler solution.

What does Auril want? She's trying to drag Icewind Dale off the material plane and make it into a demiplane under her own control. Why do the other gods have difficulty reaching their followers? Because she's deliberately cutting off their connection. Why the endless darkness and winter? To transform the Dale into a place suited to her own divinity. You can also do some neat stuff with Auril as a tripartite goddess, a separation of herself into three parts which has weakened her, but is also necessary in order to fuse with the Dale and take control of it. 

Home sweet home

If you take this route, then the role of Ythryn likewise falls into place: it's the core of the whole ritual, a fallen city which she has already basically turned into her own plane (hence also why reaching it requires the Rime, as opposed to a really big drill); it's the proof of concept for her whole scheme, and also the fulcrum on which it turns: I would make it so that the mysterious obelisk the Netherese were messing with that caused the city's fall is also the thing Auril needs to fulfill her plan. 

[EDIT: These two posts were originally written and almost finished around June 2023. As I come back and finish them in November, it turns out that my post-hoc explanation for Auril's motivations is basically the same as the evil mind flayer plot in Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk. Someone owes me money.]

Now it makes sense for the PCs to come here to end the winter, and it makes sense for Auril to come here and stop them. 

The other details on Ythryn are going to depend a lot on your table and other changes you've made, but it's mostly a matter of maintaining consistency. 

One issue might be that Ythryn as written is both too large and too small. It's too small in that, if you look at the map and the attached scale, the whole city is... half a mile across. 

Now, I've never built a magic flying city, and those who can, do, and those who can't, write blog posts. But all the same, it's really underwhelming for the city to be so tiny. But at the same time, there's a ton of stuff packed in there. Which makes sense, it used to be a city filled to the brim with mages and their crazy experiments. But in terms of pacing, it's in an awkward spot. The players will see an appreciable fraction of what the place has to offer, but then Auril shows up and... denouement. 

There's a whole laundry list of things to collect in the city which ultimately lead to opening the forcefield and getting to the mythallar, but I just don't see any party getting close to collecting all of them before Auril shows up, especially because the random encounter table is going to throw about a hostile random encounter at them every other hour of exploration. Even if one can explore basically the whole city and unlock the force field in a day, that just makes Ythryn feel even smaller. 

If you do defeat Auril, end the winter, and then decide you still want to explore Ythryn, great, but... where's the urgency? You can bring in some rival parties, maybe Arcane Brotherhood or some drow, but that'll feel like a huge letdown. 

This is the change I would advise: first, make the city way, way larger. There's a disconnect in the mapping with the Caves of Hunger: the region map makes it look like the distance between the cave entrance and Ythryn should be several miles, but the caves as mapped are nowhere near that large. This works to our advantage. In this new continuity, Ythryn is colossal, dozens of miles across. Virtually all of that is frozen solid under the glacier, but this central section is intact and accessible thanks to the lingering power of the mythallar. 

You might also split up the Caves of Hunger a bit, so some rooms are separated not by a few feet, but miles of icy caverns. Alternately, perhaps we're leaning into the Caves/Ythryn as Auril's personal domain, and it's more like an extradimensional space that the Rime is needed to access; the entrance and the city have geographical locations, but spatial relations have gotten so messy that you can cross miles in a single step.  


The conclusion to the adventure admirably acknowledges that the ending is likely to change based on both player decision and the whims of the dice, with broad descriptions of what may come if the players defeated Auril, were defeated and allowed winter everlasting to fall on the Dale, or even transported themselves back in time to Netheril. 

I have no particular insight here. My game ended early with the party destroying Ythryn and killing half their number by calling down the Ebon Star, leading to the land's subsequent takeover by Hastur. Good times.  

Fuck that one planet in particular!


Addendum: Tripartite Goddess
In his review, Justin Alexander notes that the premise of Auril as a tripartite goddess (full of feyish mystery and promising really interesting interactions) was rather underutilized. 

I did not make Auril a tripartite goddess in my version (my party only ever managed to destroy her first form before they fled/got killed [by their own damn foolishness and a meteor], and never saw her third), but I would recommend doing so for anyone remixing the campaign. 

We can keep each 'form' pretty much as is, but now they're separate aspects, and destroying one does not transform it into another. 

The first form, a giant chimera of woodland beings, is wild and animalistic. It is the boogeyman that snatches children in the night, kills livestock, lurks beyond the treeline. Rather than putting this form in any one place, put it on the wilderness encounter table. At CR 9, it's a tough cookie, but by no means insuperable even for a level 4 or 5 party: most of those wilderness encounters will be the only ones the party faces that day, and single monster encounters of a given CR are easier than equivalents with many monsters, as a general rule. 

Having Auril, albeit in her weakest form, on that encounter table elevates the wilderness and gives it a nice touch: it's one thing to be big and deadly, it's another thing entirely for the bestial avatar of an evil goddess to actually stalk the land! Coming up with some situations in which the first form could be found might also be good. 

Since defeating Auril permanently is likely to require defeating all three forms, this means players might not get a chance to do so just by going from dungeon to dungeon: they might instead have to be proactive, organize search parties, and hunt Auril down later in the campaign. Imagine running down an evil god on axebeaks, undead sled dogs giving chase! Now that's pulp flavor!

The second form should be on Grimskalle, and works very well with the more thorough remix of that location mentioned in the last post. This one is a frost queen, beautiful as the dawn, treacherous as the sea, whom all must love and despair! This carries the most oomph if Auril is surrounded by her devotees the frost druids. Again, this requires much more work in remixing than other changes I've mentioned, but I think it's worthwhile: of all the elements in the campaign that don't get a lot of payoff, the cult of Auril itself and the frost druids who serve it are a big lost opportunity. 

Chapter 5 is big on Auril having a genius loci (basically local omniscience) of the island of Grimskalle, which I too quite like, especially if played intelligently. At the same time, she can't leave the island, and is instead focused on coordinating the frost druids and keeping up their morale, as her primary agents in the Dale. Do note that the goal of Chapter 5 has not changed: we want to get the Rime out of the basement, not kill Auril. Granted, destroying the second form is more doable than defeating all three forms, but our addition of frost druids should swing the party's chances back the other way. 

The third form should be in Ythryn, hidden away inside the mythallar chamber. In addition to being a cool setpiece for the final showdown, it makes obtaining the mythallar conditional on defeating Auril and gives every party a reason to investigate the city and take down the force field, which leads them through an interesting treasure hunt with a lot of neat encounters. 

It also makes more sense given our remixed motivation for Auril, but even makes more sense in the original. Whether Auril is on the run from divine enemies or trying to turn the Dale into her own demiplane, there is no better place to hide her divine spark: a powerfully magically protected magic item, whose power she can siphon to heal to heal or do whatever else she needs, hidden away for millennia under a glacier in a frozen, preserved city. Arguably moreso than Grimskalle, this is her home turf, the place that resonates with her divine essence. In any case, it should be clear that her control over the endless winter comes from the mythallar, and defeating her here ends the winter, even if her other forms remain extant. 

To add some more folkloric flavor to our tripartite goddess, we might make defeating her take more than just reducing her to 0hp. Maybe the first two forms can't be destroyed in combat, instead reappearing the next 'dusk', but they can be destroyed for a year and a day under certain conditions. The bestial first form crumbles to snow if caged or otherwise restrained from dusk till 'dawn'. The second form recreates itself from the surface of Grimskalle within an hour of destruction, but is likewise destroyed for a year and a day if it is tossed into the ocean, where the hostile energies of her enemy, Umberlee the Bitch Queen (yes, that is seriously what Ed Greenwood called his evil sea goddess) unmake her. The third form, I think can be destroyed the usual way. That boss fight has enough already, no need to complicate it further. 

We might also make it explicit that Auril's tripartite nature (which is apparently new to this module) is actually a ritual component of her attempt to absorb the Dale: becoming three to merge with the land and become one again.

Of course, she's still a god. Each destroyed form will return after a year and a day (perhaps they all return a year and a day after the most recent destroyed form), but if all three are destroyed before the others can return, that does something more lasting: perhaps she cannot set foot bodily upon the mortal realm until a powerful summoning is conducted, or she is at the mercy of her divine enemies. 

Sovereign of summers lost

Addendum: Auril's Motivation
Let's collect all the things we've implied previously and put them together for clarity, laying out Auril's plan and a how it interfaces with likely player action. 

In our revamp, Auril wants to turn Icewind Dale into her own demiplane by shrouding it in eternal winter, eventually blocking off escape and killing the remaining sentient beings (maybe including her own cultists, maybe not) as part of a mass blood sacrifice. By the time the campaign begins, the winter has gone on for two years, and the ability of other gods to interfere in the region is patchy (not sure how clerics are still getting their spells, in that case, but let's roll with it). 

Through her cultists and frost druids, Auril has instituted a climate of fear and paranoia in the Ten Towns. They say that Auril is wroth and wants to kill them all, but her wrath may be spared with a sacrifice, chosen by lottery. These killings are doubtless secretly sanctified to the Frostmaiden (or perhaps, after two years, it's not secret at all) but it's a lie. Auril doesn't want to kill everyone yet; she just wants to keep Ten Towns in line and keep the fear and cruelty and suffering and murder at a steady, controlled simmer. This is evidenced by the continued survival of other groups like the goblins, orcs, and the Reghed tribes. They aren't making sacrifices, and they're suffering, but not nearly as badly as they ought to be if Ten Towns' condition is being bettered by sacrifices. 

The Sunblight duergar were invited into the Dale by Auril under false pretenses: a sunless surface would be great for them, conditional on them being able to survive the cold, and she must have promised them some favor when it's all over. This too is a lie, as Auril just wanted more sacrifices and figured that a struggle for dwindling resources between the Ten-Towns and duergar would give the Dale's last days some extra kick, just a nice little spurt of rage and despair. 

Unfortunately, she underestimated the duergar and their ability to construct colossal robot dragons. The flight of the Chardalyn Dragon blindsides everyone, including Auril and the frost druids, and both its attack and the simultaneous duergar invasion kill too many too quickly, thus galvanizing resistance and giving rise to heroes in Ten Towns, instead of continuing the slow, steady decline into helplessness and despair Auril wants. 

This is probably the first time the payer characters seriously appear on Auril's radar.

Whether motivated by a treasure hunt, a search for answers, or range against Auril and her cult, seeking their headquarters in Grimskalle is a natural move that lots of PCs will do on their own, eventually. If they know from some studious source that the Rime contains the secrets of the cult's inner circle and that Auril's second form simply reforms from destruction, they will probably focus on retrieving the Rime and sabotaging whatever they can. Lady Frostkiss' genius loci over Grimskalle is still a big problem, but some thing like, say, a coalition of human and orc tribes, ten-towners, and goliaths launching a coordinated raid might just distract her long enough to heist the Rime. Or whatever other plan the PCs can come up with, it's their call. 

Here's where we add another wrinkle: the Rime not only contains the teachings of her cult's inner circle, not only contains the formula to open the way to Ythryn, but contains this very plan, as outlined to the cultists and frost druids (whether she told them the truth about their own eventual death is up the GM). With this in hand, the PCs likely set out to abolish the lottery and destroy the cult's influence in Ten Towns. 

Auril realizes her plan is now seriously threatened. She mobilizes her remaining followers and sends the first form to hunt down the party, but PCs being PCs it's likely not enough. Her second form is bound to Grimskalle and her third has to stay in Ythryn to control the mythallar. She steps up her timetable. The winter takes a sudden turn for the much worse and leaving becomes much, much more difficult. She wanted to smother the Dale and let it die slowly, but now a quick and dirty death will have to do. 

Going to Ythryn now becomes a must. Chapters 6 and 7 play out as outlined above. Hopefully, Auril is defeated in time, the spell is broken and the Dale can begin to recover. 

Within our new structure, the campaign only really needs a few assumptions about player behavior, those being:

1. The players want to fight the evil robot dragon burning down their home,
2. Want to get answers about the winter/stick it to the frost cultists,
3. Want to steal the book with said answers holy to the frost cultists from Auril's basement,
4. Want to explore a city of lost magical wonder and in so doing end the winter,

I think most parties will do all four without NPC hand-holding, not least because all of these are awesome. Now that the Rime is a source of answers about the adventure's plots and going to Ythryn is actually a reliable way to end the winter, our linear campaign structure is much more robust, with the Chapter 2 sandbox available to fill in the interludes, and proactive play is rewarded. I'll call this a good day's work.  

Addendum: Wilderness Encounters
I gave the wilderness encounters short shrift in the first post, I think for good reason, but it stands that having those encounters is useful in making the wilderness feel big. 

Of course, they collaborate with other elements to this end. If you want wilderness journeys to feel long without actually making them take longer at the table, your bets bet is do have them deplete resources. This is more challenging in 5e because the most important resources to the players (their daily abilities and hp) come back almost entirely after a long rest, and is made more difficult because most games don't track things like food, encumbrance, light, et cetera. 

Before changing the encounters table, take steps to enforce these things. Of course, if you don't want a game with resource depletion and survival elements (my own campaign dropped these elements for expediency), then the wilderness encounters table can become a sometimes food as well. 

I might advise turning it into a 1d8+1d12 table, adding a few non-hostile encounters, and having some entries pull double duty, like 10: 1:2 chwinga, 1:2 dwarves. The blizzard die can stay. 

For a more ambitious remix, prepare variant encounters with higher difficulty to use either in the deeper tundra or as the winter gets worse. That peryton encounter won't challenge parties after Chapter 4, but increasing their numbers a bit and giving it some other new spin or buff can breathe some new life in and keep it fresh and challenging.  

Source unknown

Addendum: The Rime
The whole module is named after a poem ('Rime' being a pun, both an archaic spelling of 'rhyme' as in 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner' and meaning frost that covers an object like a window), but the actual poem is pretty meh. The community for the module on reddit had some good alternatives, with Shelley's The Cold Earth Slept Below being my favorite alternative. 

I also edited the original to be a consistent trochaic tetrameter catalectic, reproduced below, and someone else put this version of the Rime to music

Bow to She who bears the Crown
Shiver all in whispered Dread
Clad in winter’s whitest Gown
Snow enshrouds the blesséd Dead

Fury sheds but frozen Tears
Wolven howling issues Forth
Wind across the wasteland Shears
Breathing blizzards from the North

Ice-kist flowers caught in Bloom
Beauty kept in perfect Place
Summer swiftly locked, Entombed,
Stilling in Her cold Embrace

All the world in winter’s White
Gossamer of sleet and Ice
Set on never-ending Night
Calls unearthly Paradise

Spy her everlasting Rime
Grace in every sparrow’s Fall
Pray that you be trapped in Time
Fill her glacial palace Halls

Sovereign of summers Lost
General of winter’s War
Long live queen of cold and Frost
May She reign Forevermore

Addendum: Dreams
I mentioned in the first post that I cut out the trials from Grimskalle, both for pacing and just because I didn't like them. However, I took some of those elements and put them earlier in the game, specifically as prophetic dreams. After the players experienced cruelty, isolation, endurance, and preservation in some significant way, I'd give one of them a dream. I still have the texts written up, and they follow.

First set of dreams

You spend the night in Dougan’s Hole. The wind howls hatefully through the Stones of Thruun. Your dreams turn toward the cold, and in a moment, you are elsewhere.
You are the shaman of the Bear Tribe. The Bear King’s third wife has come to you for help with her morning sickness. You brew her the same concoction you brewed for the last two wives, to make her and her child waste away. Perhaps the King will recognize your love for him now and take you to wife. 
The snow beneath your feet vibrates, each crystal forming a note of a discordant voice. It says, “This is the virtue of **Cruelty**. Compassion makes you vulnerable. Let cruelty be the knife that keeps your enemies at bay.”


You are the shaman of the Elk tribe. The tribe trudges through a horrible blizzard. Your fingers have frozen, and with them your magic. You slaughter one of your sled dogs and warm your finger in its entrails. This is surely a punishment by the Frostmaiden. It cannot be undone. It can only be endured. 
The snow beneath your feet vibrates, each crystal forming a note of a discordant voice. It says, “This is the virtue of **Endurance**. Exist as long as you can, by whatever means you can. Only by enduring can you outlast your enemies.”

You are the Queen of the Tiger Tribe. You saw your husband impaled on a mammoth’s tusk, and did not save him. His child is born to you months later. You toss her into the Sea of Moving Ice as a sacrifice to Auril. With the Frostmaiden’s blessing, you will live forever, without need of any other.
The snow beneath your feet vibrates, each crystal forming a note of a discordant voice. It says, “This is the virtue of **Isolation**. In solitude you can understand and harness your full potential. Depending on others makes you weak.”

You are a hunter of the Wolf Tribe. You struggle to raise your yurt in the dark. It’s just a few of you left now. Everyone says the Wolf Tribe will not survive even another year of the endless winter. You shield your child from the cold. You will teach her the ways of the wolf tribe. She will teach it to her children. The Tribe will remain. It must.
The snow beneath your feet vibrates, each crystal forming a note of a discordant voice. It says, “This is the virtue of **Preservation**. Every flake of snow is unique, and that which is unique must be preserved.”
You wake in a sweat, the howling of the wind loud in your ears. You return to sleep to escape the cold.

I also write up a unique dream at this stage for ht fifth player in the group, who was playing a frost druid worshiper of Auril. The bit in bold is specific to my campaign, and you should replace it with details of your own. 

You stand amid an endless sea of snowy dunes under a black sky. You are not alone. You sit beside a cross-legged figure, cloven-footed, wolf-furred, with the head of an owl with curling horns. Her cloak is a frozen waterfall that moves like fabric. 

She looms over a miniature city, perfect in every detail. With inhuman care, she paints and polishes over every scratch and imperfection, places figures of scrimshaw and carved ice to her fancy. She mutters a rhyme to herself as her talons work with impossible precision.

*The cold earth slept below; Above the cold sky shone; And all around; With a chilling sound; From caves of ice and fields of snow; The breath of night like death did flow; Beneath the sinking moon.*

Over her shoulder, you spy some of the figures. A red-mawed hyena. A skull. A black dwarf. A white dragon. Four wizards, one already tossed aside. Another dragon, black and half-constructed from crystal. You, and the other Giantslayers. The prize of her collection, a slug with a vicious maw of teeth, preserved inside a glass bauble at the heart of the city.

Her tune stops as she notices you looking over her shoulder. He pushes a talon between your eyes and you fly back, fly up with impossible force. You hang above the world, standing still yet furiously accelerating.

No sun, no moon, no stars. Only the luminous shape of Toril. The coastlines you know only from maps are there before your eyes. All the land is white with snow, and all the seas gleam frozen. 

She catches you in her talon, now large enough to hold the world in her grasp. Her head rears back and a cry echoes forever.


This round of dreams came early in the campaign, around level 3 I think. The players got another set of dreams, these showing relevant characters who also embodied those ideals. 
You are the Cub*. Your parents gave you another name, but you no longer remember it. It has been ripped from your mind. You are the Cub. It is what they called you. The monsters that slew your parents and gave you up to the abominations from beyond the stars. They have you sedated, half-awake. Your scalp has been cut away, and they prod at your brain, tearing out the memories they don’t need. You are conscious, but unmoving as one of their machines plucks out your eye, nerves and all. Then they replace it with cold metal. You’ve never known something so cold, even in the Dale. Your body rejects the implant, and they take notes. There is one thought left, and it is what you focus on, every moment of every day. The faces of your abductors, and what they would look like strangled, purple and bloated, begging for your mercy.
The vision folds and refracts, as if seen through many layers of ice, and a discordant voice radiates from within you. “This one has passed the Test of Cruelty.”

You are Dzaan, Red Wizard of Thay. You recline in an upside-down laboratory, amid the wreckage of alchemical equipment and magic runes on the walls and ceiling. You bounce a ball of light against the wall idly. Eight hundred thousand and one. Eight hundred thousand and two. Or was it three? Your servant, the wight, stands in the door outside, glaring at you. Eight hundred thousand and four. Eight hundred thousand and five. Moment by moment, you’re putting together the pieces. It all makes sense. It’d be very impressive if you could ever tell anyone about it. Maybe someone will come by and rescue you? Unlikely. Eight hundred thousand and six. Eight hundred thousand and seven. 
The vision folds and refracts, as if seen through many layers of ice, and a discordant voice radiates from within you. “This one has passed the Test of Isolation.”

You are Roderick**. You rest fitfully, adjusting back to soft beds and a warm fire after four years of prison life. The mead in your blood dulls the adjustment. You don’t know what’s going to happen next. For all you know you may have been safer in prison. Will you leave the Dale? Can you? Is it really possible, as Stughok and his friends claim, to end it? You don’t know. Right now, it’s just a matter of staying alive. The vision folds and refracts, as if seen through many layers of ice, and a discordant voice radiates from within you. “This one has passed the Test of Preservation.”

You are a survivor of Dougan’s Hole. You shamble through the snow, surrounded by less than two dozen of your fellows. Good Mead rejected you, and so you pass on to Bryn Shander, where you all beg and cry outside their gates for hours before their mercy is roused and they allow you in. Now they force you to sign on to their lottery, to forfeit yourselves to blind chance. And after great protest, you do. It can only take one of you this moon. You wonder what mighty force could have brought the dragon’s destruction on your people. The vision folds and refracts, as if seen through many layers of ice, and a discordant voice radiates from within you. “This one has passed the Test of Endurance.”

*The Cub is the yeti cub from Kelvin's Cairn, which the party 'adopted' and held captive after killing its parents (evil party!), before eventually selling it to their squidling allies after the Id Ascendant was repaired and returned to the Far Realms. 

**Roderick is an NPC created from the rogue PC Stughok's custom secret I made, reproduced below. This dream occurred after the party rescued him from prison and put him in Bryn Shander. 

New Secret
Jailbreaker: A friend took the fall for a crime I committed. A bad one. They were sent to Revel’s End, a high-security prison in the Dale controlled by the Lords of Waterdeep. I’m getting them out if it's the last thing I do.


And that's about it! Most of the remix was written months ago, but the addenda came about in about a day (during which I really ought to be doing other things), and it was a blitz. All said, it's nice to have it posted. 

If this post interested you, comment below, share it around, and subscribe to the blog. Until next time, have an excellent week.