May 14, 2023


This week I read:

Roleplaying Games

Cartographic Curiosities

We returned to the Tomb of the Serpent Kings this session, and then it went in an unexpected direction.

All but one character, a retainer, got petrified by the basilisk. The players saw broken statues all over the floor, heard the clanking of a chain in the darkness, even joked that this was a Dark Souls boss room, and then decided to walk across it holding a torch high and check for the other exits.

The basilisk got surprise on the party, which means they automatically met its gaze, and then all but two (a PC and a retainer) failed their saves and so got petrified. The surviving PC leapt onto the basilisk’s back and held its head up for a few turns before succumbing to petrification, giving the retainer time to drag most of the statues to the next room (which, sadly, wasn’t back towards the exit).

The surviving retainer made his loyalty check, so I decided that he’d try to find a cure, at least if it’s not too dangerous. So the players piloted this guy deeper into the dungeon—mostly trying to figure out how to escape without entering the basilisk room again—before bumping into a goblin. The goblin said he had a secret way out, but refused to share it, and said that maybe the Goblin Market would have a cure for petrification. So, with nowhere else to go, the retainer snuck through the basilisk room and made it back to the surface.

So that was pretty much a TPK.

I guess next session will start with a bunch of adventurers (new PCs) volunteering to quest to the Goblin Market for a petrification cure.

The Halls of Arden Vul

Almost all of my free time this week has been spent preparing for this huge campaign.

I’ve read a few hunded dense double-column pages covering setting lore, factions, new monsters, the local area around Arden Vul, the ruined city itself, and the dungeon areas the players could visit early on. And I’ve skimmed hundreds more of stuff that isn’t going to come up for a while but which I want to have a basic awareness of.

The material is organised fairly sensibly:

  • Volume 1 starts with a broad overview of the setting, then talks about the local area, the ruined city, and the first few dungeon levels. I’ve read in detail about half of this, and skimmed the rest.
  • Volume 2 covers the rest of the main dungeon levels. I don’t expect to need this book for months, so I’ve not looked at it at all yet.
  • Volume 3 covers all of the sublevels. There are a lot, and they’re scattered all over the rest of the dungeon, so I’ll dip into this in my session prep as needed.
  • Volume 4 covers monsters, magic items, spells, and more in-depth lore. I’ve read in detail the lore, the monsters which have significant factions, and some of the easier-to-find magic items, and have skimmed the rest.
  • Volume 5 is just maps. Despite having “read” the maps, I’ve not used this book at all, since the PDFs have the full-size map images, not broken across pages.

Volume 5 is by far the most useless of the printed volumes, since the large maps that have been broken over pages aren’t aligned to the grid. So you’ll have half of one row or column of squares on one page and the other half on the next, rather than the image being broken between rows or columns. And there are so many pages. It’s way harder to use than the PDF maps. But it was cheaper to get them all in a bundle, so volume 5 is sitting there on my shelf, never to be used.

On the topic of maps, while a lot is mapped, there are a few small exploration sites in and around the ruined city itself that are merely described, and not mapped. A few ruined palaces, a donjon (but not the dungeon), and a gladiator school. I might make maps for these, I might not. They’re not super interesting, but they do have little bits of treasure and their own secrets, so maybe it’s worthwhile.

I had to figure out and set up our virtual gaming set-up too. I decided to not use Foundry for this campaign, because the drawing tools kind of suck and would make mapping really annoying; instead we’re using Owlbear Rodeo. But Owlbear doesn’t have built-in character sheets, so I whipped up a template in Google Sheets for that:

Character sheet for Arden Vul (with AI-generated character portrait).

I’ve also rewatched a bunch of the earlier episodes of 3d6 Down the Line’s Arden Vul actual play, to see how they introduced, approached, and foreshadowed things.

It’s been a lot of work, but after all that today we did…

The Session Zero of Arden Vul

That’s right! Campaign talk, rules talk, and character creation.

My proposed house rules were accepted without complaint, even the bit about needing to pay for training. I like it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the players end up watching to ditch it. (I’m also fairly happy with the layout of my house rules doc, I took the opportunity to play around with some new fonts.)

For characters, since we only have two regular players right now I had them roll up a PC and a retainer each, and I also gave them a henchman, giving us a respectable starting party of:

  • Calsif, Paladin (PC)
  • Cinnabar, Dwarf (PC)
  • Aesgeir, Mage (retainer)
  • Ethelflad, Acolyte (retainer)
  • Chyde, torchbearer / treasure carrier / combat liability (henchman)

I’ve advised them to always have at least a couple of retainers around, so that when characters die nobody is just sat around waiting to get back in the game.

And since we got through all that with an hour and a half of the session to spare, we immediately moved on to…

The Session One of Arden Vul

We rolled for a start date (the middle of winter, ouch), I gave them a bunch of rumours, and then we started with them at the foot of the Long Stair, having approached and heard the waterfall and seen the colossi from a distance.

Ultimately we didn’t get much done in this part of the session. They went up, looked at a few things, and headed over to the inn. But there wasn’t really time for actual dungeoncrawling, so they just ended up with a list of things to look into next session.

It was still fun, and starting next to the dungeon with a bunch of leads, and having had a week to think about them, isn’t a bad position to be in.