The up-and-down numbers of my AD&D player base saw only four players attend this weekend’s session. I wouldn’t be utterly surprised if I’m dealing with ten players next week; it’s that sort of campaign! The regulars of Jesse and Tait were there, along with Tim and a new player, Mike. Mike rolled up a fighter, and so we had characters from 1st to 9th level at the table. Yes, working out the best encounters for this group was going to be challenging!
They decided that instead of venturing into the Caverns of the Oracle – the standard dungeon for the campaign – they’d go to the local town of Jarlsby, and look for some missions there. This is always a problem for me as a DM; I’ve got to quickly work out some NPCs who can offer them work! And the actual nature of the missions… now, that I find challenging. I really need to create a set of basic missions that I can choose between when the group decide to get away from the dungeon-delving. So, I worked on the old standbys for the area: guarding caravans, causing trouble for the frost giants, or seeing the local lord about his rebellion against the Snow Barbarian overlords. The group chose the last option.
One of the ongoing threads in this campaign – well, as much as it has ongoing threads – is the domination of the Frost Barbarians by the Snow Barbarians. The Frost Barbarians in this campaign have had a rough trot. A long time ago now, in 1991, TSR released an adventure that had the Frost Barbarians finding the five swords that would release their god from imprisonment. I ran that adventure back then, with my brother’s character, Brunak (a frost barbarian) in the starring role. Of course, it was all a trick and so, by the end of the adventure, Brunak had been set up as a puppet king by a false god. Jeremy and I didn’t do much role-playing together after that, but we did establish that Brunak did escape and the false god was cast down.
In this game, I’m not using the standard Greyhawk gods. Well, not the ones for the barbarians at any rate. Instead, I’m using the Norse gods – Thor, Loki, Freyr, and Odin. The game does inherit from the official world the idea that the chief of the barbarian gods is imprisoned. Thus, Odin is imprisoned. The ultimate goal of the characters is to free him. Which is why they’re looking for the keys that will unlock the portal of Bifrost.
However, when some of the more experienced players can’t attend (especially Rich’s Thief 10 and Paul’s vorpal sword-wielding Fighter 8), they either do low-level dungeon-crawling or trouble me for other plots.
The game isn’t all about recovering Odin. The Great Kingdom, always interested in disrupting the Barbarians, has sent a group of Knights of Hextor north to cause trouble. The Barbarians, like the Vikings of old, also go on raiding voyages and voyages of trade. With winter closing on, they’re getting home, which is why the need for caravan guards has increased. Frost Giants, Ogres and other dangerous creatures have been raiding the barbarian settlements. And, of course, the Frost Barbarians don’t like their Ice Barbarian overlords, which was the thread that we first addressed this session.
I’m basically running it like this: the local Lord is recruiting people to his side to overthrow the Ice Barbarian Prince who is on the Frost Barbarian throne. Every so often he needs to smuggle someone out of Krakenheim, and he asks the PCs to do that for him. So, they got to rescue a high-level cleric of Thor this session. There will come a time when it becomes more than that, but we’re still in the early stages.
The journey to Krakenheim takes two days. On the way there, they ran into a priest of Loki and his followers. This was just an excuse for a little role-playing of the chaotic kind; he wasn’t threatening at all, instead exhorting the players to be free and to cause trouble, sentiments I expect they quite agreed with, especially given the content of the adventure. There’s a lot of Loki in the Caverns, and he’s likely to become more important later on.
Once in Krakenheim, it didn’t take them long to discover where the priest was being held under house arrest. Large house, garden around back, but other dwellings on each side. And a couple of guards out front. Seeing no way to get in but the front door, the group chose to distract the guards with illusions – it caused one to go investigate, but the other stayed there. So, silence on the guard, and they then attacked and neutralised both of them, leaving anyone inside none the wiser.
That lasted until Tait stuck his head into the house and saw six more guards. He retreated, and the guards inside prepared for his attack, putting the priest into a closet (see Let’s Kill Hitler) and calling for their magic-user back-up. In deference to the low-level members of the group, I made sure none of the opponents were too high level – nothing says, “I hate you” like a 7d6 fireball against a first level PC! So, sleep and stinking cloud were about the extent of this magic-user’s skills. It wasn’t all that hard for the group to rescue the priest, but then they had to leave the capital. If they’d attempted to leave right away, they would have managed it. However, they decided to lay low for a day!
This meant that when they did decide to leave, the Prince was well aware of what had happened and had his guards on high alert. The party needed another way to escape. After discarding a few options, they decided to contact the Thieves’ Guild. Of course, Krakenheim has a Thieves’ Guild. It’s a sword’n’sorcery world! It might only have two thieves in it, but any time there are thieves together they form a guild! In any case, the thief they contacted seem to know the Baron of Jarlsby, and so – for a small fee – they were all able to escape by a smugglers’ tunnel. Oh, and they ended up leaving their horses behind. They have a horrible time keeping their horses in this campaign!
I don’t always follow the “one encounter on any travel” trope (expressed so well in Order of the Stick), but it’s useful at times, especially when you need to up the action. So, at the midway point of the journey back, a raiding party of ogres led by a troll came to the village they were staying in. This combat allowed Jesse to cast his fireball spell, and the ogres were swiftly dispatched.
The priest delivered, we still had more session to fill. Frost giants raiding farms? Seems fair – and another source of experience for the new members. Mike equipped himself with a bow, and the group went hunting giants. Finding the giants’ lair wasn’t that hard – a large cave – and only two giants with two winter wolves were there, but they were approaching the group from different directions. Jesse’s fireball failed to kill one, rocks fell amongst the party, causing little damage (throwing rocks is a giant thing!) and soon the melee was underway, with Tait very definitely in the firing line. The amount of damage a frost giant can do – 4-24 – is incredibly high in AD&D terms. It’s incredibly likely to fell a first-level character in one shot. Tait has more hit points than that, and so didn’t go down as I hit him. He also has a good armour class! Spells dealt with one of the giants, and the fighters slew the other. The winter wolves did some good damage with their icy breath weapons before also falling.
The group found no money, but did loot a few magic items from the lair. Including a ring of protection +4 AC, +2 saves, which will probably cause some trouble. I let the dice fall where they may when rolling up treasure for this campaign; in that manner, Paul ended up with a Vorpal Sword, and Reece once ended up with a Ring of Contrariness!
And that was the session for the night. We ended it a bit early, but we didn’t really have time to play through yet another small adventure.
Making sure I have the resources for the next session will take up a small amount of time this week. I really need to have a small selection of quests available for when the group decide to go Outside The Dungeon. One book that will help me with that (in a true swords’n’sorcery fashion) is Cities, a supplement initially published by Midkemia Press (yes, the guys who played D&D with Raymond E. Feist). My edition is the Chaosium reprint. It has a lot of fun encounter tables for city encounters, as well as some tables for randomly generated missions. Is there anything else like that out there?
I also need to print off a copy of Viking names and put them into my binder; if only to help the players come up with character names! (Yeah, I need them as well!) I might even draw up maps of some of the towns they visit! Well, perhaps. If they keep visiting them, reference material so they are similar between visits seems like a thing to be desired.
We’re over two years into this campaign at present. I had this vague idea of winding it up and running the original Dragonlance adventures this year (in AD&D), but I’m having too much fun with this campaign to really consider that at present. Yeah, I might miss the Dragonlance 30th anniversary, but having a campaign that continues to attract people seems to be a good thing not worth throwing away.