Friday, November 14, 2014

Blink, and the Age of Villainy is gone

Continuing the tale of my second game ever of How To Host A Dungeon.  In part one, the Dark Elf cities of Kharsoum and Leyban (and the Colony of Silla) burned themselves out in a hurry, and then a huge earthquake shattered the rock around them. In the second act, various monsters moved in to the ruins, and were hunted mercilessly by parties of roving adventurers. In this chapter, a new villain arises, shakes up the dungeon a bit, and then meets a quick demise. In the end, though, I've got a pretty cool map that I could use for D&D as the basis of a old-school dungeon with a rich history. So that's cool.

Link to First Post. Link to Second Post. (Click here for Index of all my How To Host A Dungeon articles.)

Here's the map as we last saw it:

Picking A Good Villain:

There’s four Villain options in the rules: the Thought Lord Cult, the Liche King, the Alpha Villain, and the Dungeon Master. You can either roll randomly, or pick the one that seems best suited to your map.

Our map is a little tricky. On average, we would have expected to see 1.3 adventuring parties in the first 8 turns of the Age of Monsters. Instead, we rolled up 3 parties, the last of whom wiped out most of the monsters on the map, and hoovered up most of the treasure. Whatever Villain we add is going to be facing serious resource shortages, and not have much of a buffer between them and any further do-gooder adventuring parties.

There aren’t enough monsters to fuel the Thought Cult’s sacrifices. It would die off very quickly.

The starting position (largest empty room) for the Dungeon Master is too close to the surface, and likely to result in a long unproductive battle of attrition with the Count that eats up all the resources and leaves the DM too vulnerable. The very first of the mandatory yearly Adventuring Parties of the Age of Villainy would almost certainly wipe the DM out.

I could make Count Laventhorpe an Alpha Villain, but there’s some potential issues with the way his “Zone of Control” would bounce around whenever Adventurers tried to kill him, thanks to the rules that I made up for him when a rolled a “12: Create your own” on the Alpha Predator chart. As a Minion of the Liche King his powers would still be interesting, but not likely to break the game the way they would if I made my unkillable Count into the big bad.

A Liche-King could work, with either Count Laventhorpe or the Magma Spirits as the Liche King’s primary Minion. It would be a slow start, due to the dungeon being cash-poor, and having very few tombs (one in Leyban, and if you’re generous the vampire’s coffin could count as a tomb - in fact, the version I put up on the How To Host A Dungeon Wiki specifically labels those escape rooms as Tombs). It's probably the best official option, but boy is it likely to make for long slow burn that takes forever to get anywhere. I'd rather save the Liche-King for use in some future tomb-ier map.

Thinking outside the box, another option would be to assume that last Adventuring Party was corrupted by the Great Flail of Melancholy they found in the Temple to Dame Chaos, and that one of them became the new Dungeon Master. This would start the DM with a lot of extra treasure, since they'd picked up 6 treasures via questing and pillaging. I would have to break the rules of placement as well, putting the DM’s HQ in old Kharsoum instead of the larger room abandoned by the vampire. While this is stretching the rules quite a bit to the benefit of the Villain, they’d also be facing a high difficulty due to how well-developed the surface kingdom is. (If the DM miraculously met his army size trigger on turn one, he’d still lose the war. He has to weaken the humans before facing them in the final confrontation if he wants to win.) I think this is the most interesting option. We want the game to be exciting, and this will do it. Thankfully, the game encourages you to ignore the dice if a more interesting choice is calling to you.

Age of Villainy, Year 1: 

I named the villain Elzulgur Melanquish, Master of Dungeons. I rolled up his name from a mishmash of charts in Gary Gygax’s Extraordinary Book of Names. Elzulgur was the fighter of the adventuring party that just smashed it's way through the underworld. Only he and the party's wizard had survived, and they were both a little shadier than their companions. He was corrupted by the Great Flail. Hearing the voice of Dame Chaos herself, he returned to the ruins of Kharsoum, intent on restoring them to their former greatness.  Perhaps it should have been the Great Flail of Nostalgia, not Melancholy.

As Dungeon Master, he renovates old Kharsoum into a spiffy new HQ. He spends some money hiring human mercenaries (other adventurers he’s worked with before).  Renovates the Old Elf Road going west. The DM enslaves the Earthmen. Since this only used half his allowed expansion for the turn, the DM also constructs a new tunnel to the lower section of the Abandoned Merfolk Mines, and drains a room. The digging goal is to connect his new HQ to the Temple of Dame Chaos that changed his life. He also spends 1 treasure building a Laboratory for the Wizard from his old party.

Meanwhile, the Surface Humans get the fifth person in the castle, and send him out to make another farm. As mentioned in a previous post, I now suspect the rules actually intend you to create new peasants to run the farms, but I’d already run 6 or 7 turns the wrong and slower way, so I’ve decided to stand by it. I can see what the difference is like on my next play. This is not the sort of game where you stress yourself out trying to do everything just right. Tweaking and experimenting is much of the fun.

The Earthmen increase in number instead of taking a normal turn. They have been dominated by Elzulgur Melanquish, but he has not yet begun conscripting them for his army.

The tunnels between Count Laventhorpe and everyone else are longer than his hunting range. However, the way I wrote up the Earthmeld special ability for him allows him to encounter either the new human farm or the earthmen by melding through the dirt. (In hindsight, this may be over-powered and have some odd corner cases. The version I put up on the How To Host A Dungeon wiki yesterday left that part out to compensate. I’m gonna stick to my guns for what's left of this game, and see how it plays.) I could decide his target with a die roll, but I figure he probably hungers for human blood more than Earthmen dirt. Though there are a ton of humans on the surface, each construction has it’s own strength. So the farms are relatively vulnerable (+1 to the roll) whereas the castle and city are much stronger (currently +4 or +2 on their defense rolls). The minor lordling who was just recently awarded a small fief is devoured in the night.

The Magma Spirits continue to make their way up towards the Mithril ore. This “should” have been a random tunnel exploration, which could have sent them in any one of 9 (or more) directions. They were just so close, and given that they are fire-based mining creatures, it seemed hard to justify them choosing to go somewhere other than the direction that had an eternal flame and ore worth mining. It wasn’t in their zone of control at the start of the turn, so they can’t start mining it just yet, but it’s there for next time. While I was at it, I added some stairs to the shafts they’d dug. If they’re capable of mining, the "spirits" must have physical forms and thus probably legs. Plus, I think it just looks better with stairs.


At the end of every year in the Age of Villainy, an Adventuring Party shows up to seek out the big bad. Right off the bat I roll up a party of 6, which is quite possibly enough to end the game this turn if they go down the right tunnels. There was some temptation to ditch that roll, but no matter what happened, I knew this map was going to be hard on the Villain.
I decide to let random luck play it’s part, and the dice send them toward good ol’ Count Laventhorpe first. Perhaps on their way to the dungeon they passed by the bloody massacre at the farm house. They defeat him handily and take his treasure, but the Count escapes with his unlife once again by melding with the earth.
With everything cleared on the first level, I move the Adventurers to the waterfalls chokepoint, and roll to see which of many passages down they take after that. They go down the old Dark Elf exploratory shaft above Leyban and from there into the abandoned Merfolk canals, much like the previous party that ended up corrupted by Dame Chaos.
That leads down into the merfolk city that was built on the ruins of the Dark Elf Slave Pits, all of which the Villain just recently tunneled into, drained, and remodeled.
The adventurers push their way into the Dungeon Master’s Headquarters. They shatter his mercenary army in the first battle. Then they hunt down the DM himself, and take him out in a climactic confrontation. The Age of Villainy didn’t last very long at all. That's what he gets for building a crummy laboratory and expanding tunnels instead of focusing all his efforts on traps. Poor dumb DM.

There’s still a few monsters on the map, but they’re all lawfully-aligned, and very weak compared to the adventurers, so there doesn’t seem to be much point in playing out whatever clean-up might happen. Either the magma spirits hire the adventurers to kill the earthmen, or the earthmen hire the adventurers to kill the Count, whom they can’t reach. There’s at best a 1 in 12 chance the adventurers will lose to the strongest of the monster groups at this stage, and even if they do the game is basically over.

I mean, umm... hooray! Good triumphed, and the villains were vanquished! No questions about where my sympathies lay. No, sir-ee. Just another good guy here. No need to cast Detect Alignment when I'm around.

Post-Mortem Report:

Fun game. Cool map. Documenting it for the web was a bit of work, but enjoyable.

The game worked best when it was inspiring me. Sometimes the random charts were perfect and provided unexpected results that really shook things up. Other times, I was better off over-ruling the charts and making my own calls. To the game designer’s credit, the rules encourage you to do just that.

Relying too much on the charts, or the strictest interpretations of the instructions didn’t always pay off. The Plague and Fate caves went unused the entire time, because with all those interconnected tunnels there was little reason for anyone to dig. I could have fudged the earthquake rolls, or taken more liberties in early turns to direct various groups into those hazards. Next time that sort of situation comes up, I probably will. Since this was only my second time playing the game, I wanted to see if any of the random rolls would actually hit those hazards, but I can see now that with certain layouts that just won’t be likely. I also might draw those caves larger, as being just 1 or 2 beads in size makes them not much more than a needle in a haystack.

Delver Groups in particular were an area that was a little disappointing as written. That last bit of mithril sat out there forever, and when I finally “cheated” to send the magma spirits at it it was too late to matter. This may be just a function of the earthquake creating so many tunnels for them to randomly explore, but that basic scenario seems likely to happen in many games. I'm not sure I'm quite capturing the layering effect of the tracing paper the core rules assume you'll be using instead of a computer. If I was to fade out or partially clog the caverns when new Ages start, there'd be more need for the Delving monsters to tunnel, and that might shake up the map some more. What few complaints I have could also probably be resolved by either fudging rolls more often, or at least weighting my random rolls a bit more. Simply doubling the odds that Delvers will explore any tunnel that leads to ore might well fix it. (I also went to the How To Host A Dungeon Wiki and added a homebrew Delver option that would be a little more aggressive about treasure-hunting.) It's easily fixed by any number of possible house-rules, and it's certainly not particularly broken if you don't house-rule. Some maps may even solve this problem on their own by virtue of random luck. Don't let this minor gripe discourage you from giving the excellent game a try.

Using this Map elsewhere:

Here is a version of the map without tokens, in case anyone wants to use it as a basis for their D&D game or something.
The layout during that last turn seems like it has potential in that way. The vampire so close to the surface doesn’t exactly fit the “the deeper you go, the tougher the fights” paradigm of D&D, but other than that it’s set up to fit the laws of drama and provide some meaningful choices to the players. The Magma Spirits will need some fleshing out for an RPG, but the place has tons of history you can draw on. The dungeon is loosely organized into different regions, each with their own theme and flavor. There’s a couple of Dark Elf treasures waiting to be discovered, as well as little Timmy’s tragic remains. Few actual PC parties will be willing to take the underwater routes that my adventuring parties in the HTHAD game loved to access, but it’s there if they think outside the box (and comes complete with the body to loot if they make their spot checks while down there). You could bend the history a little bit to justify leaving a few merfolk, dark elves, trolls, etc (and as whatever species the feral slave beast were) on the map. The rough caverns and waterfalls are probably worth breaking out the hardcore dungeoneering rules for your system of choice, if such things exist. Or you could hand-wave that difficulty by saying the adventurers who came before you left ropes or ladders in place (like the little one I drew in the Misty Vale).

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