This week I read:
Elric: the Fortress of the Pearl by Michael Moorcock
I’ve got to say, I find the order in which these books are organised a little weird. I think it’s in-universe chronological order, rather than publication order. So the reader is just kind of dropped into things without having any context. I had the same feeling with the previous book, which starts with the script of a graphic novel prequel which was a confusing start for someone who didn’t know anything about Elric beyond what’s made its way into general nerd culture.
I’m still able to follow it, and it’s all good and enjoyable, but it does feel like I’m missing references and having to infer background details that would be more apparent were the books arranged in publication order instead. So this might be a series I end up re-reading to fully appreciate.
Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson
This is, as far as I’m aware, the origin of some key fantasy tropes, like law vs chaos, regenerating trolls, and paladins (at least the modern formulation of paladins). So I was mostly going into this looking for that original context, but thankfully I also got a good story out of it as well!
It’s pretty short, I read it in a single day, and yet it’s got so much atmosphere packed into it. It’s got a very fairytale feel, I am certainly going to draw upon it for my Dolmenwood campaign. It also heavily references the Matter of France which I—being a poorly read and uncultured swine—didn’t pick up on until the protagonist made the connection. This isn’t the first time I’ve read some fantasy which has directly referenced Charlemagne and his paladins, so I think I’ll have to add those old classic tales to my reading list.
I thought it was pretty funny how the whole book up to near the very end is the build up towards this big war between the forces of law and chaos, and then the war itself is resolved in a couple of sentences: the protagonist gets the magic sword he’s been searching for, regains his memories, crushes the fairy armies, and saves the world. The story is the journey, not the destination.
Once again, I’ve been looking at my RPG book wishlist and wondering what to get next. I bought The Halls of Arden Vul months ahead of schedule (which turned out to be a good thing), so there’s some space in my budget.
Because I have two big campaigns running right now, I’m leaning towards collections of one-shots and short adventures for systems I plan to run in the future, rather than more published campaigns or sourcebooks. I like to break up a campaign with the occasional one-shot.
So right now I’m looking at:
- Destroyer of Worlds and Heart of Darkness for the ALIEN RPG;
- Fear’s Sharp Little Needles and The Things We Leave Behind for Call of Cthulhu; and
- Black Sites and A Night at the Opera for Delta Green.
No Traveller or OSR books for the foreseeable future. I’ve picked up a lot of those over the last couple of years, and I don’t think I really need any more for now (beyond the Dolmenwood sourcebooks and adventures when the kickstarter happens).
Last time the whole party (except one retainer) got petrified by a basilisk and we decided to pick up with a new party of adventurers, recruited by this retainer to go free the original party.
There’s been a lot of talk since then.
One player decided to drop out, rather than roll up a new PC. They weren’t really happy with the difficulty of the game, and it’s something they’ve mentioned before so this isn’t a new issue: they’ve played for nearly a year, but it’s not for them. That’s sad, but fair enough. Not every game is for every player, and they gave it a more than fair try.
This then prompted a long group conversation about difficulty, genre expectations, the OSR philosophy in general, game systems, what sorts of games people like, whether we should just end the campaign here with this TPK and do something else…
I think we’ve got past the crisis point though, we’re sticking with Dolmenwood, we’re not changing games entirely. But the group is now leaning towards having a little time-skip and introducing a new party of PCs who aren’t connected to the previous PCs at all. They might hear a rumour that some adventurers went into the woods a few months back and only one returned, raving about a basilisk who killed his friends, but that’s it. These new characters aren’t being introduced specifically to go and save the old PCs.
So if we’re changing things up from mapping the Dolmenwood, what next?
I don’t know.
There have been a lot of good ideas, since the players are all now familiar enough with the setting to have specific agendas they’d like to pursue. I’m going to give it a few more days and then nudge the players towards making a decision, so I can get something prepared.
But I’m glad we’re not leaving Dolmenwood behind.
The Halls of Arden Vul
The players made their first foray into the caverns beneath the ruined city, after figuring out the puzzle at the Pyramid of Thoth which reveals the stairway down. They got threatened and extorted by halflings, poked around a bunch of rooms, defeated a few skeletons and zombies, and didn’t exactly find much in the way of monetary treasure but they found a few scrolls and potions which I’m sure will be useful in future delves.
I’m giving additional XP for “feats of exploration” (see my house rules), so they did end up gaining a few hundred experience points when they made it back to the inn. This week they:
- Solved a puzzle
- Confirmed a rumour’s veracity
- Explored a bunch of rooms across two dungeon levels
- Creatively dealt with some zombies
- Found a magically concealed room
Which is worth enough XP to get them 12% of the way to level 2. It’s something, but levelling up just from exploration isn’t really practical, so next time they’re planning to go visit the nearby town to stock up on supplies, then head back into the dungeon for a more serious delve.
- Dolmenwood Progress Update — May 2023
- Dolmenwood Player’s Book — New Material
- Why Telegraphing Danger Improved My DMing