Thursday, January 13, 2011

Return to Moria - Wrapup

One of the loose ends from my RPG dumping ground blog is my Moria campaign. To recap, the idea was a short campaign set in Tolkien's Moria after the War of the Ring using 1st edition AD&D rules. The campaign is now over, with mixed results, so I thought I'd offer up a recap and snip that loose end.

On the good side, the sessions were fairly successful. I think everyone had a good time cave bashing and killing things for their stuff. There were some interesting twists at the end of the game, which some people liked and some people didn't. On the bad side, by the third session I was finding the setting a bit constrained and contrived as a GM. Prior to the start of play for the third session I decided that it would be the last session of the campaign, a choice that was received with mixed reactions.

The second session (and by session I mean weekend-long gaming extravaganza) was focused on exploration in Moria and by the end of the weekend the party has lost two members, one to giant ants and one to a monstrous troll, and gained a pretty good understanding of the area near the entrance they were using.

The third session went a completely different direction. While the party was in town someone or something started attacking outlying farms and settlers near Hollin, their base of operations. The game opened the party the first thing the party faced was an attack against a nearby farm. In true PC fashion they charged off to the rescue. As they arrived at the site of the attack, a second alarm was raised and another farm went up in flames. Since the group was fairly large, they split the party and sent part of the group off to deal with the second attack.

It turned out that both attacks were carried out by Goblins accompanied by the strange ash-creatures the party had previously encountered in the second session. Creatures that were somehow tied to the crazed hermit they rescued from Moria, then lost track of in the first session. The Goblins had the same tribal markings as those previously encountered in Moria so the group assumed they had been followed. Not so. The Goblin leadership had been corrupted by an artifact left buried in the site of the Balrog's demise near Moria, a potent corrupting influence that had possessed the crazy hermit and started spreading its influence like a sort of magical plague. With the Goblin leadership under control the device was able to expand its power base and start direct assaults upon nearby human settlements. This threat was the focus of the rest of the weekend. After chasing the Goblins to their surface lair the party engaged in a running battle with the remnants of the tribe, eventually hunting down their leader, who had been a thorn in their side from the very first encounter in Moria.

The Goblin shaman, under the influence of the artifact, escaped with the prisoners and the remnants of the Goblin tribe to Balrog's End, where the prisoners were possessed by the artifact. The party pursued and managed to slay the remnants of the tribe, including the powerful shaman, and freed the now-comatose victims, but a new threat emerged while they were doing so. The crazy hermit emerged from the depths of Balrog's End, fully possessed and enhanced by the artifact. The party, already pretty well hammered by the pursuit and fight with the shaman, fled with the victims in tow.

Back in town the party regrouped and left the victims in the care of the local clerics. They suspected the victims were lost as they were already manifesting symptoms of possession. Leaving that in the hands of the locals they returned to Balrog's End and in a final climactic battle they took down the big bad, destroying the last active manifestation of the artifact. The party's theory was that Balrog's End itself was the source of the infesting evil, and without any active agent it would go back to being a passive threat. They were mostly right. Mostly.

After a brief foray into the mines, which revealed a newly constructed wall cutting off the party's proposed line of advancement, the group took off in another direction, eventually encountering a group of friendly yet not friendly Dwarves in the mines. They were willing to talk but would not let anyone bearing metal pass. Since they had displayed some rather impressive powers (like walking through stone walls), the party decided to return to town minus one of the Dwarves, who decided to join his brethren in Moria (hey last session). Back in town, expecting the worst, the party was surprised to find that someone had killed all of the victims before they awoke. Whoever it was succeeded at sneaking into the shrine where they were being tended by the town's two clerics and slitting their throats without raising the alarm. The party had suspicions about who did it, but remained mute, realizing that the victims were probably going to turn into the possessed creatures they had been fighting.

The return to town marked the end of the campaign. With the big bad dead, the goblins thoroughly destroyed, and one major passage into the depths cut off, the players decided it was a good stopping point. There was some discussion about the next game, and some griping about ending the Moria game as we did, but I had expected that. I have mixed feelings about the game as a whole. On the one hand I had a lot of fun with the game and it's always a great thing to see my friends. On the other hand I felt I didn't handle the game wrap-up well, and even though the initial Moria premise was a short filler game there were some hard feelings about the ending. I don't think there will be long-term fallout from this, and in the end, I can't run a game if I'm not having fun with it and Moria was reaching that point.

Final Notes

This was the recap I sent out to the players after the game was over. Some of it might not make sense without context, but it does a fairly good job of identifying the major players the party encountered. This was written shortly after the third session, so 'this weekend' refers to the final session we played.

Helwin the Hermit - Helwin was a cleric from a previous adventuring party, the sole survivor. He suffered a serious head wound, which left him somewhat deranged. That combined with his long confinement in Moria left him as you found him. If he had been returned to civilization he would have at least partially recovered.

Orange Skull Goblins - The Kortek tribe, under the leader of Sacrab (Mr. Shiny Chainmail), were one of the larger tribes in the area, they were allied with the Goat-head Orcs from the fort, and part of a larger organization. Their mission was to harass the other groups in the 5th Hall (the area you entered) and secure the entrance to the surface. They also committed occasional surface raids, primarily to prevent more surface interest in the area around the exit.

Goat-head Orcs - The Rok-shai Orcs have much the same mission as the Goblins, secure the 5th Hall and the tunnel beyond the fort, which lead to a more important area in the eyes of their bosses, the Folding Men. The Goblins were essentially a disposable force for the Rok-shai, and the Orc commander used Sacrab as a scapegoat for the failures at the fort. The Goblins had actually been banished from Moria when you encountered them on the surface.

Ettercaps - The spider/man crossbreeds were a product of the Folding Men's sorcery. The ones you encountered on your second trip were actually a trap set by the Folding Men to test the group. They live in giant nest complexes ruled by a queen. Each group shares a limited form of telepathy, which makes them great spies / scouts.

Folding Men - a.k.a. the Corrupt. These guys were one of the true powers of Moria. They were the last remnants of Angmar's people, driven underground after the Battle of Fornost. They eventually ended up in the deeps beneath the Misty Mountains, and finally found their way through the caverns and tunnels to Moria. They discovered a cache of black lore in the depths where the balrog lurked, and may have been responsible for its reawakening. Unfortunately they got along just fine. The Corrupt were a potent force in Moria, but their long years of hiding and seeking lore had fundamentally altered them. They are more interested in their own internal political games and the black lore of the depths than the surface world. As a group their goal was to retain control of the deepest parts of Moria. It was their decision to wall off the passage, using Dwarf slaves to carry out the work. They control segments of many of the groups in Moria, including the Goblins, Orcs, Trolls, and the Ettercaps that you ran into on the 2nd trip in the big spiral descent.

Sporelings - The elf people living in the fungal woods. They were the original inhabitants of the vast underground caverns that provided Moria with much of its food when it was an actual city. Back then they were friendly with the Dwarves and many avoided the rampaging Balrog when it was awakened. They have since repopulated many of the desolate caverns beneath the mountains. They were potential allies and trading partners. The fungus that infests them is beneficial, a manifestation of their primary allies, the Undermind (which you never encountered).

The Undermind - While the Ents tend the surface forest the Undermind dominates the underground woods. It is a fungus based intelligence, almost god-like, buried in the depths beneath the Misty Mountains, with tendrils of power running through all the fungal woods and caverns. It can manifest Ent-like fungus constructs and uses these to assist the Sporelings and grant them the fungal symbionts they use.

The Nameless - The nebulous black creatures that attacked the fort and had infested some of the ants you fought in the second session were all manifestations of the Nameless, the creatures of the ultimate depths. The Nameless are manifestations of the alien god known as Malagish. His attempted incursion into Middle Earth was defeated long ago, but some remnants of his will remain. More below. The Nameless are extra-dimensional, and can force beings into the Wavering Expanse, the space between worlds. Now that a conduit has been reestablished to their own realm, Malagish is once again controlling them, at least indirectly. Some of these are incredibly powerful beings (mostly still asleep), but the ones you saw are the lesser versions. Malagish is an insane god, his original plane of existence was all but destroyed, so he uses conduits through the Wavering Expanse to suck artifacts and places of power into his own realm, the Nexus.

The Cult of Stone - The Dwarves you ran into this weekend. They are the remnants of the last free Dwarves in Moria, along with some of the slaves who have escaped from the Corrupt / Orcs. Unfortunately their leader was taken over by one of the more powerful Nameless quite a while back. Under its guidance the Dwarves have opened a conduit through the Wavering Expanse and portions of Moria are slowly being pulled through the Wavering Expanse to the Nexus. The Dwarves have been brainwashed to believe that metals were the cause of the woes that befell Moria, so they travel the nearby Halls stripping them of any metal they find and sacrificing it to the Altar of Stone, essentially feeding it to the conduit connecting the Nexus and Middle Earth. People get sent through too. The purple / green skin color is part of the brainwashing process, and allows the recipient to wield some of Malagish's powers over earth and stone.

The Havoc Eye - This artifact was in possession of the balrog when it fell, bound up in the hilts of the creature's sword. When the balrog fell the artifact was freed from its binding enchantment and free to being searching for a suitable new host. Luckily no one really messed around with Balrog's End so it was stuck with creating the lesser creatures (the ash swarms and possessed animals). Helwin the Hermit was a much better vessel for the Eye's will, but the brain damage he suffered was enough to prevent full potency. The Eye was originally created by Melkor and contained a tiny portion of his malevolence. The ideal host would have been someone with divine power, thus Helwin's interest in the paladins and clerics. The Eye itself was actually melted into the rocks beneath Balrog's End.

The Zergoth - The creatures created by the Havoc Eye. The Eye could manifest the living ash clouds, two or three each night, but they were destroyed by sunlight. If they managed to kill something they turned it into the dessicated beast creatures like the mules. If a creature wandered into the Eye's area of influence it could also be directly converted to this form. Creatures with any intelligence (like humans, goblins and the greater wargs) would eventually evolve into fire hands / ash cloud / rock skin creatures. These are driven by hunger for life force (drained CON) and if they consume enough they evolve into more potent versions (3 stages). If they are smart /potent enough they eventually go through a hibernation phase and turn into what Helwin became (Mr. Tentacles). That's the terminal evolution for creatures unfit to be a host. It was really good you guys killed the goblin / warg, as they were about to go into hibernation. The goblin was a shaman and might have been powerful enough to become a true host.

Big E - Keshla was essentially a water naga, albeit a super potent one. She had the ability to shape-change into the form of a beautiful (albeit scaly) woman. She also had a charming gaze which she used to control her minions, the toad-like creatures you saw on the first trip through that area. She was an aloof observer of the events in the deeps. The party was essentially entertainment. She most likely would have destroyed the party had they attempted an assault. She was definitely evil, but more neutral than active. She could have been negotiated with, though it would have been risky. She could, in fact, have raised Turin from the dead, but it's likely she would have used reincarnation instead of raise dead to do it, destroying his paladin-hood (and yes that does mean she could use both magical and clerical spells).

The Corrupt, Cult of Stone and Keshla were all aware of the Havoc Eye, though not its exact location. Keshla wanted it left where it was, being smart enough to realize that A) she was a perfect host and B) if it was released it would have meant her eventual enslavement / downfall. The Corrupt were seeking it (cautiously) because they wanted to study its power. They believed the magic used in its creation was part of the lore used to create the One Ring. The Cult of Stone were seeking it to send it through the conduit to Malagish's plane, which would have been both good (Havoc Eye gone - yay!) and bad (insane alien god with access to Middle Earth now has super powerful evil artifact - doh!)

Hollin - Nothing super special here, except that some of the prominent citizens were former adventurers. Chief among them the backers of the bank project, the Dwarf you met and the human couple that were staying at Durin's Rest, the nice inn / tavern in town. The main force behind most of the HBC was Harry O'Bree, who was a bad bad man. He and his henchmen were pretty much running everything shady in and around town. (H.O. in the cavern wall was Harry O'Bree). The first of the three surface attacks was actually carried out by human bandits working in the area and staged to look like a goblin / warg attack. The fire was just to cover any additional clues left behind. It was Harry and his right-hand man Bertie the barkeep, who killed the five possessed people in town.

So I think that's about it. If I missed something, let me know and I'll try to explain.

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