Gothic Earth Session 10: Return to the Haunted Belalp #3

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Played last weekend and it was fantastic! The players didn't know what to do next, session 9 had been an intense investigation that ended with a conclusion. They had no leads and low morale. The Village of Belalp was going to have a big party celebrating the end of the Witch murders, and the biggest scumbag in town made it look like he was the hero. Oddly enough, the players didn't want to attend this party.

I figured that this would be a good time to head back to Belalp #3, and have a dungeon crawl. This would be their 3rd trip down into its depths, and there is a lot to do down there, so it was a good time to open it up some more.

 Designing Kobolds

In Switzerland, the word for Fairies is Kobold. Above ground, Kobolds are seen as benevolent and helpful nature spirits, but below ground, they are twisted and evil. I've been using the word Kobold as well as Tommyknockers. The mine is haunted, but not all of the spirits in the place are dead.

I had never run kobold monsters. Never! In my power-gaming days, I saw them as too weak. They are weaker than the lowly goblin. As a DM, I just never had a place for them. Goblins in my worlds usually take the spot of booby trap-ambush experts, so in the book they stayed, until this dungeon.

I modified them some. I gave them a natural ability to turn invisible at will, and added “Spook”. I wanted them to be different, so while my goblins are traditionally forced into the wilderness, these sneaky things can quietly live among us. They are physically weaker than goblins, even a child could beat one up, so psychologically they had to be different, they depend on people. They are expert thieves. They rely on these skills to survive and are happy to live like rats. For the most part, their traps are designed as warnings and are more insulting in nature than dangerous, however, they rely on very dangerous traps to keep them safe. The tripwires for kobold traps are a bit more ingenious than Goblin's need. Traps are their primary method of attack, but for the most part, they are not nearly as aggressive as goblins are.

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The mine is a tricky dungeon. It is designed to open up over time; I don't enforce this; if the players find a secret door they find a secret door. It features a backstory that evolves and tells itself through play; it predates human history, first opened by Gnomes who lived here for centuries. Romans and Medieval men moved in to terrorize them, it was always the same story, the gnomes would allow the humans to share the wealth of the mine, as long as they kept to their sections, but without fail the humans wanted the whole thing for themselves.

There was a massacre, the humans crossed a line and murdered gnome women and children, ancient blood ran in rivers. The survivors of this genocide swore revenge, and something within the gnomes minds became twisted, they killed every last human in that mine. Not just killed, this was not war, this was murder. After the deed was done, and the Adrenalin wore off, they had time to reflect on what they had done. They had won nothing. Their families were still dead, they were still alone, and one gnome, in particular, believed something else; that he was cursed. He murdered his accomplices while they slept, leaving him totally isolated and insane. Rage was his motivation, it was all gone, the gods had abandoned them, and existence itself was punishment. He is still here.

This story is told in the Gnome section of the mine. This area, hidden from the main mine through residual illusion and kobold ingenuity, is being used by a small community of kobold miners who work sections that the humans don't.

There are other mysteries to be discovered in regards to the kobolds, but that is the story that the players have learned so far. Communication with them is very difficult, both are reduced to drawing pictures in the dirt, or pantomime.

The players stumbled upon their living quarters and stayed passive. Some communication was accomplished, the kobolds knew that if they attacked they'd be slaughtered, they'd die fighting if they had to, but they didn't want that. The kobolds were able to ask the party to kill some nasty spiders who also lived in these gnomish tunnels, which wasn't too difficult for the players, but impossible for the kobolds.

Heroic NPCs, how much is too much?

I was able to get my two wizard NPCs some XP, they are low level and both were able to use spells which the players themselves didn't have access too. I like playing them, they are totally in over their head but have no idea. This game the players had to first find them, they had gotten spooked by a kobold and when they ran, they put out their candles and were now lost in the dark.

Playing NPCs of this nature is a challenge, you don't want to take anything away from the players. You can give hints sometimes, and I often forget that they are even there, I got caught not rolling Saving Throws for traps. I coughed it up as NPC immunity, the odds of them making their saves would be annoyingly terrible and only serve to irritate the players and me. I want them there.

I got the idea from watching a show on the Syfy Network called “Ghost Mine” and wanted to incorporate it into this story. They supply the motivation to keep this mine open. If they die or aren't there, it will close and have economic repercussions on the village of Belalp which really needs this place to survive. If these investigators aren't there, the village won't be either; else the party will get paid to work here full-time and that isn't what this adventure is about either.

The mine is a piece of the Belalp Puzzle, but it isn't the point of the adventure. Is it railroading to keep these NPC's hiding behind the party, or as safe comic relief? I don't think so, they are an element of the design. They are open to attacks; when picking targets I remember that they are there, but they aren't destined to die in a trap. Not yet at least. If they bite it during an attack, then we'll deal with that. That is also up to the party. So far, they feel responsible for the safety of the investigators. One almost got eaten by a giant spider, and they hustled, took risks, and were able to save her. When she used her spell, it also furthered the story.

 1st Level Mage To The Rescue!

The problem was a weird one. The spider webs chocking the hall needed to be burned, but nobody had any torches or oil because the cleric was using magic to light the place. The wood in the gnome ruins is ancient and not fit for anything. The party was going to have to go all the way back just to get something to burn the webs out, which was boring, so I offered up my NPC. She is a horrible wizard who has no confidence in her abilities, but she had gotten the spell to work a couple of times. She told the party that she needed some components which could be found in the area, namely bat-poop and some spiderweb clippings. She ground it up and made a powder which she poured into her hand and blew onto the webs, then she said the magic words . . . and! Nothing happened.

She apologized for getting everybody's hopes up when a web shot out of the passage and got her, quickly pulling her in. Without even thinking the party all raced through the webbing, everybody getting stuck but one person who was able to get a hold of the NPC's foot, and THEN the fire spell was activated, forcing everybody to make a saving throw vs. spell for half damage.

That, to me, was more interesting than having to leave the dungeon. They got to be heroes, and I got to burn them all, so it was a win-win. Was I manipulating the game? Yes, but sometimes I think that the DM has to. This scene needed a bit of spice, and I wanted to remind the party that the investigators were there. They had to serve a purpose. Do you think that I over did it?

The hall was cleared and the creepy spiders were dispatched, opening a hall that hasn't been seen by even the kobolds. That is where they found the bulk of the gnome story, in a room, at the end of the hall is a temple to a Gnomish God, the floor glittering with huge piles of cursed gems and a pickax stuck in the statue of the god. The heroes were able to pry that pickaxe out of the statues head, hoping that maybe that would end the curse . . . it didn't. The mystic used her sense of touch to learn what had happened in this place, it wasn't perfect, but she does know that the angry gnome who put that pickax there still haunted the dark.

Instead of murdering the kobolds, they figured out that the things were using an ancient gnome press to mint coins. Why they are doing this, the party has no idea; well, actually that isn't true. They have an idea, but they don't like it and aren't sure what to make out of it. Anyway, they decided to pay the kobolds off and figured out a way to tell them that the mine was to be shared. They could work their section, but they had to leave the human section alone, and not scare or attack any more miners, nor sabotage any more equipment. The kobolds agreed, and the mine was reopened.


In regards to what the kobolds are up to, they got a clue. One of the kobolds pulled out a small bone statue of a dragon, calling it Zudet. The PC Wizard, instead of going up to the village right away had gone to the city of Brig to research the area and had found mention of a medieval settlement somewhere in the mountains called Zudet Castle. He also learned that an archaic name for the Alpine Skinks that infest the area every Spring and Summer is “Spawn of Zudet”. Is Zudet some kind of Pagan god? A symbol of some kind? Or is the statue literal?

There has been other news in town! But, that will have to wait until next game. This one is in the bag!


Unknown said...

I think you handled it exceptionally well and avoided the usual pitfalls.

While the NPC techically DID solve the problem to forward the scene/story, it did so in a way that engaged the players, both to find the ingredience, but they also reacted when the NPC got webbed. A less skilled DM would just have the NPC cast 'burning hands' and that was that, but you did so much more - it even helped characterize the NCP and help flesh her out, so she stood out more than a prop.

I do agree that it's tricky to account for an NPC in all situations, and I've had the "oh yeah, that guy's still with you" moment myself. But I think that's a better mistake to make, than have the NPC be the immortal problem-solver and railroader that makes the players the passive audience. It's a fine line, and I think you handled it well. It was not a problem, the players couldn't have solved them selves, but it would have been less interesting, so you made the right call, in my opinion.

RipperX said...

Forgetting NPCs in the party is easy to do. I am already running monsters. If the NPC is a fighting type character, I'll give the basic stats over to an experienced player and have them manage the combat-hp side of things. I still role-play the character, but we'll switch to the morale system to dictate bravery and such.

Hirelings, henchmen, and temporary party members really do add a lot to the game. They work in a grey area, and I have misused them in the past, and no doubt will act overly impulsively in the future, but they do add an element to the illusion that just isn't there without them.

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