Gloomwood Falls

I’m still working up some posts about my TotalCon experience, including a lot more info on my horror game, Bryson Springs, which I got to run twice. In the meantime, I thought I’d share Gloomwood Falls, the OD&D game I ran on Thursday afternoon. Originally written a part of my campaign, I’ve now run this at several conventions and it continues to be both easy to run, and a bit of a crowd pleaser. I’m sure I’ll run it at yet more conventions in the future.

In my campaign, this adventure came up when I had two princes competing for reign of the kingdom — Prince Harry and Prince Gwey. Harry was a pretty militaristic guy, with a habit of showing up in free cities with his army and notifying them of his dominance by putting the heads of the local rulers on spikes by the gate. There was a rumor that he was actually a hobgoblin, actually started by one of my players. They didn’t much care for the guy, so they decided to track down Prince Gwey to try and get him on the throne.

Gwey was a more quiet, academic type, and at the time I wasn’t sure where exactly he was. But what I did have was an area on the map named “The Shelf”, which was meant to be a sort of primordial lost plateau type of place, full of giant creatures and possibly some dinosaurs. I decided Gwey had taken off to that area with his personal guard to try and find some ancient magical artifacts to help him in his fight against Harry. So off my players went to track him down, marching through the Gloomwood and fighting the lycanthropes that live there while I played for time. See, I had no idea what happened to Gwey or how to get up to the shelf — this all came up in one session and I was GMing by the seat of my pants. After that session, I sat down and created a means of getting to the top of the shelf.

I dusted off my geomorph painter and slapped down a couple geomorphs (thanks to Dyson Logos) for some caves behind a waterfall with a couple ways up to the top. I quickly stocked the thing up with some interesting monsters, including both a lich and a purple worm. In retrospect, I sure hope my players were high enough level to handle this! I also amused myself by tossing in some of Gwey’s men transformed into werewolves, just to hint at his fate.

The purple worm lead me to a theme – giant sized monsters. I figured since the plateau above them contains all kinds of giant primordial creatures, this area could be the equivalent of their underground. I especially liked the idea of there being giant birds (rocs) that ate the giant (purple) worms.

While the campaign ended long ago, this adventure it turns out has some serious legs. I think it works well because it has some very interesting twists, a back story that’s easy to summarize but doesn’t really matter (nobody seems to care about the missing sir-not-appearing-in-this-film), and three separate locations that can all constitute achieving the goal of finding a way up. In fact, when I first wrote this it only had two ways up, but after repeated play I added a third just to drive that aspect home.

The interesting thing is that this dungeon is mostly full of seemingly random stuff that hints at some connection but is usually not obvious to the players. There are three major themed areas — windy caves with large monsters, pools with aquatic denizens, and a worked area full of undead. This adds to the sense that something interesting and/or weird is going on, but the players usually can’t figure it out. Nor do they seem to care, they’re happy to explore and fight monsters, but eventually as time ticks past they start to get anxious about discovering their goal.

And that’s where this dungeon pays off — I have yet to have a case where the game didn’t reach some kind of satisfying ending. In this most recent run the players found one of the ways up (the magic reverse-gravity chute), but got nervous and backed off. I was starting to worry they wouldn’t reach a conclusion when with 15 minutes left on the clock they approached the door to the lich’s chambers. They’re actually the first group to go back to that area for me. Also coincidentally I think they’re the first group to entirely skip the area with the purple worm.

So there I am, trying to figure out if I can cram a fight with a lich into 15 minutes, and one of the players knocks on the door. OK, I guess a little roleplay might be cool, I put on my best lich voice and demand “Who is there?!” The mage casts read minds, and discovers something truly powerful and evil is behind the door, so of course in they go, but again instead of fighting they decide to have a chat with the lich.

I have to make up all kinds of stuff at this point — what does the lich want? Did Gwey come this way, and if so how did he get by the lich? Eventually this leads to the highest level magic-user in the group pledging himself to become the lich’s pupil and learn the secrets to everlasting life. “What of your minions?” the lich asks, “They will die all too soon anyway, let us simply kill them now.” “No,” my player answers, “let me send them to the surface to find that pesky human that snuck past you not long ago.” The lich agrees, and directs the players to the stairs up (which at this point for the sake of time I abbreviated to be in the very next room), and thus we end, with one player sacrificing himself to be in service to a lich and perhaps become one himself some day, so the rest of the party can make it to the surface.

It was an incredibly satisfying ending, and we didn’t even have to run a combat. Who knows, maybe that clever magic-user would one day find a means of killing the lich and returning to his friends. Maybe his friends will find Gwey and they’ll return through the caves to rescue him. Or maybe they all die horrible and exciting deaths.

7 thoughts on “Gloomwood Falls

  1. I think one of the brilliant things here is the 3 separate ways out — very reminiscent of the famed A4 Escape from the Dungeon of the Slave Lords. I think that highlights the importance of having not just one fairly clear goal, but possibly several for players to choose from (e.g., in a bog-standard dungeon, clues to several large treasure caches). That way if one task turns out to be too hard (maybe a puzzle or secret door?) players can redirect and feel like they’re making progress. I’m still trying to do better at that myself.

    1. Thinking back on it, I now realize this aspect of the adventure grew organically through repeated play. I think when I first wrote it there was only one way up, the one by the lich. If I recall correctly when I ran it for my campaign players they had a very exciting fight with the purple worm, after which one of them thought that maybe they could follow the worm tunnels to the surface, to which I applied the good old “Yes, And…”

      After that I ran it at few conventions and while some other groups also took the worm tunnels to the surface, still others ended up mired down in the caves with the pools. In one particular case I had a player who rolled on the motivation table and got something about a ghost near an underground pool, and then used various divination magic to find her way to such a place. I figured there had to be a pay-off there so I invented a way up from that area at the table, and realized after the fact that I should just always have one there (and then spiced it up by making it a bit double-edged via the reverse-gravity chute).

      I’m not sure what all this means for adventure creation. I agree that you’re correct that we should aim for multiple avenues of resolution. I guess I would also say that repeated replay really helps — run it, tweak it, run it again, etc.

  2. This is a pretty groovy little dungeon (though the treasure take seems a little low for the power level of the encounters). Thanks for posting it!

    Is there supposed to be anything in room 13a?

    1. Thanks! Good point about the low treasure. Since it’s a convention game, treasure tends to be a lesser motivator for the players, so I probably haven’t spent a lot of time thinking up some good ones. It shouldn’t be too hard to goose up the treasure count though.

      Huh, look at that, what’s going on with 13a? I guess I forget about it. Weird. What do you think we should put there?

      1. Well, I’d think it’s pretty obvious: #13A should be the lich’s “coat closet,” which he’ll stop by on his way out the southern exit (for gathering potion ingredients and whatnot in the valley below). Should contain a decent traveling cloak, a (magical) walking staff, some sort of “attack wand,” and a purse filled with his “walking around money” (sometimes it’s easier to bribe a wandering band of hobgoblins than waste magic on them). The amber golem is probably sufficient guard, but there might be a magical trap (or locked iron chest) in the room as a ward against potential thieves.

        Of course, I have no idea why he wouldn’t use a secret door…perhaps the closet is concealed with an illusion?
        ; )

        Looking forward to the next webcast (though I haven’t yet made it to the “livestream”); lot of good info in the Con Vs. Campaign video.

        1. I like the treasures, good ideas. Concealing the room however I think would screw me up at the table – I’d likely describe the presence of a door based on the map before looking at the description and realizing I wasn’t supposed to do that because it’s concealed. Also, I kind of want the weird little divot in the back to be something. I have no idea what Dyson was thinking when he drew that, but it seems important.

          Perhaps the closet is full of boots, cloaks, walking sticks, etc, and the magic stuff is in a concealed alcove at the back?

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