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Old 03-18-2020, 12:18 PM   #1
Dalin
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
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Default Citadel at Norđvörn

This past weekend, three of my players and I retreated to a small family cabin in the snows of northern Minnesota to launch our new Norđlond campaign. I've been buying Doug's great DFRPG products since the first kickstarter, but have only run bits and pieces as one-shots with side groups. (I snagged a few monsters and sample characters for other adventures, too.) My main group just wrapped up their previous campaign, so we decided to dive in whole hog.

I wasn't sure where to begin and, with my school rapidly retooling for distance learning, I had little time to prepare. It came down to skimming/rereading my Nordlond material (Hall of Judgment, Citadel at Norđvörn, and the prerelease PDFs from the Nordlond Sagas kickstarter) and hoping something would click.

As I headed into the weekend, I expected that we would begin with Hall of Judgment as an introductory scenario. The players, however, wanted to get to know the wider setting before diving into an adventure, so we decided to begin with some vignettes along the Jotunnáin river. This led me to pull out the Citadel at Norđvörn. This was the book that I was the most unsure about. I loved reading it as a setting book, but I wasn't sure that I would be nimble enough as a GM to flesh out the various plots on the fly. I should never have hesitated.

It was awesome. Seriously. I'll post more about it in this thread as I have time, but we probably played for 15-20 hours over the weekend and there was no shortage of material. The vignettes idea faded away as the group became absorbed by the plot threads in the small town of Áinferill. The NPCs were rich and evocative. The maps and pictures in the book made great game-aids, and my players were fully immersed. It grew naturally from low-stakes roleplaying with minor NPCs to an epic quest into the Dragongrounds. There were moments of comedy, pathos, and edge-of-your-seat action. It was some of the most rewarding gaming that I've ever experienced.

Last edited by Dalin; 03-18-2020 at 02:59 PM.
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Old 03-18-2020, 02:06 PM   #2
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Default Re: Citadel at Norđvörn

This makes me happy. Congratulations, Douglas!
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Old 03-18-2020, 04:35 PM   #3
DouglasCole
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Default Re: Citadel at Norđvörn

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dalin View Post
This past weekend, three of my players and I retreated to a small family cabin in the snows of northern Minnesota to launch our new Norđlond campaign. I've been buying Doug's great DFRPG products since the first kickstarter, but have only run bits and pieces as one-shots with side groups. (I snagged a few monsters and sample characters for other adventures, too.) My main group just wrapped up their previous campaign, so we decided to dive in whole hog.

I wasn't sure where to begin and, with my school rapidly retooling for distance learning, I had little time to prepare. It came down to skimming/rereading my Nordlond material (Hall of Judgment, Citadel at Norđvörn, and the prerelease PDFs from the Nordlond Sagas kickstarter) and hoping something would click.

As I headed into the weekend, I expected that we would begin with Hall of Judgment as an introductory scenario. The players, however, wanted to get to know the wider setting before diving into an adventure, so we decided to begin with some vignettes along the Jotunnáin river. This led me to pull out the Citadel at Norđvörn. This was the book that I was the most unsure about. I loved reading it as a setting book, but I wasn't sure that I would be nimble enough as a GM to flesh out the various plots on the fly. I should never have hesitated.

It was awesome. Seriously. I'll post more about it in this thread as I have time, but we probably played for 15-20 hours over the weekend and there was no shortage of material. The vignettes idea faded away as the group became absorbed by the plot threads in the small town of Áinferill. The NPCs were rich and evocative. The maps and pictures in the book made great game-aids, and my players were fully immersed. It grew naturally from low-stakes roleplaying with minor NPCs to an epic quest into the Dragongrounds. There were moments of comedy, pathos, and edge-of-your-seat action. It was some of the most rewarding gaming that I've ever experienced.
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Originally Posted by Steve Jackson View Post
This makes me happy. Congratulations, Douglas!
Thanks for the play report, Dalin (and to Steve for the words of encouragement!) - this tracks with my experiences running pick-up games at FnordCon 1 as well as playtesting. I'm glad it works for others and not just me!
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Old 03-23-2020, 02:00 PM   #4
Dalin
 
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I meant to write more about our adventure, but homeschooling three children while adapting to an entirely new employment paradigm approaches infinite-time-suck. (As an experienced teacher, I should know this... but I was still taken by surprise.) While taking a break from creating math problems, I'll add more here. I'll start with the player characters.

Three PCs at 300 points. The extra fifty points let them start at about the same power level as they were at when the last campaign ended. This way we can explore different power levels of the game.

There was Ruus, a one-eyed swashbuckler with a bit of fae blood (half-elven) from a region to the south (off the map somewhere). She was fast and could attack twice per turn. DPS wasn't especially high (though she acquired a better sword by the end of the weekend that boosted things somewhat). Her vow to never refuse a challenge to combat was very fun in Nordlond.

Then we had Valtyr, a sea druid. (He's the one I mentioned in the Druid's Harpoon? thread.) He acted, in some ways, like a cleric of the god of wind and sea. He enjoyed differentiating himself from landlubber druids. For example, he is less concerned with protecting trees. One of his big disadvantages was Weirdness Magnet. I haven't dealt with that as a GM for a long time, but I had a good time with it.

Finally, there was Thridi, third son of the Hajarl of Midgard, wealthy, connected, but eccentric. Some would consider him to be a bit of an embarrassment to the family, but he has developed a bit of a legendary reputation. He is notably plodding in the intellect department, never wears armor, fights only with a ridiculously expensive knife, and is impulsive and easily distracted. (His knife was discussed in this thread: My knife doesn't cost enough.) He seems to believe that he is blessed by the fates to be invincible, and thus far he has survived numerous ludicrously dangerous situations. Under the hood, he has serendipity, ridiculous luck, Move 8, Dodge 15, and HT 13. All of this barely keeps him alive since he truly has no fear of danger and chooses the riskiest course of action at all times.

More soon, I hope!
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Old 03-23-2020, 08:10 PM   #5
Dalin
 
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So, we started off the weekend with a swashbuckler, a druid, and an odd duck (mostly built with the thief template). Not exactly a typical group of Nordlond adventurers.

As a bit of backstory, we determined that Ruus (the swashy) and Valtyr (the sea druid) had met on a ship. At the start of the game, they were heading north up the Jotunnáin river in a longboat toward Ainferill. Opening with some action, a thurs hidden in a gully on shore tossed a boulder onto the boat, capsizing it. The third PC, Thridi, was coincidentally walking along the shore when this attack occurred (with serendipity and piles of luck, he is not afraid to travel solo). Shenanigans ensued. Soon the thurs was defeated, but some nordalfs slipped away into a dark tunnel beneath a gnarled oak. I riffed off of the nordalf warrens in Hall of Judgment. The party pursued but quickly realized that they were unprepared for the traps (even lucky Thridi was paralyzed after he only managed to dodge five of the six poison darts). It was tense and fun; the fae element added some fine atmosphere. The party crawled back out of the hole and decided to heal up in Ainferill, flagging down a passing boat.

Up to this point I was just grabbing threads at random. With Ainferill, the Citadel at Nordlond really came into its own. I gave the group a bit of backstory on the voyage upriver. The fact that the Happy Jotun was closed on the docks helped bring home the losses that the town faced. There were plenty of NPCs to draw from with clear, evocative personalities. We had a good time with some roleplaying and the players were quickly intrigued by the Elskadr backstory (ultra-short butchered version: a scorned lover attempted to prove his manliness by founding a frontier town in the scary forest; everybody died). There was a duel between our swashbuckler and the daughter of the Jarl (who wanted to see if Ruus was worth anything). It was a great scene where Aslief got the first two hits and was then dramatically disarmed by Ruus (on a critical success). Great stuff. It was amazing how easy it was to run this town with barely any preparation.

The party basically handed off the nordalf situation to the town cleric and decided to see if they could head to Elskadr on their own to retrieve the remains of the Jarl's family. I provided in-game hints encouraging them to hire some muscle, but they weren't interested. As a GM, I'm good with modifying things on the fly, so I took a break to read up on Elskadr and decide how to run it. I knew that I wanted it to be dangerous with a real possibility of failure (ideally with multiple failure options), but didn't want it to be an automatic TPK.

More tomorrow.
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Old 03-23-2020, 10:13 PM   #6
Tom H.
 
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I like these kinds of play reviews. Thanks.
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Old 03-24-2020, 08:59 PM   #7
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Default Re: Citadel at Norđvörn

Also enjoying the play reports!
I’ve been looking at some pre-session info to give my players some background before delving directly into Nordland... should I bother? Seems diving straight in worked well, or did you give some history while they were building their characters?
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Old 03-24-2020, 09:44 PM   #8
Dalin
 
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Originally Posted by LokRobster View Post
Also enjoying the play reports!
I’ve been looking at some pre-session info to give my players some background before delving directly into Nordland... should I bother? Seems diving straight in worked well, or did you give some history while they were building their characters?
Thanks! I sent out a few haphazard emails in the weeks leading up to our gaming retreat:
  1. I gave a very brief overview of the setting (a few sentences more than "Vikings do D&D") with one of the regional maps.
  2. A bit on the Nordlonder gods (mentioning Hand of Asgard in case anyone wanted to be a cleric).
  3. A few sample festivals from either HoJ or Nordvorn as background flavor. (The festivals are one of my favorite elements of these books.)
  4. A reminder not to ignore a few social skills (especially with 300 points to spend). I used the example of flyting from Nordvorn (p. 53) to highlight how various "fluff" skills could be useful.
I also included a few flavor pictures from the Nordlond books in some of the emails to give them a visual sense of things.
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Old 03-24-2020, 10:23 PM   #9
Dalin
 
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So let's see... the group took on the quest of finding out what happened to the frontier village of Elskadr. We played this out over the course of an entire day. (It was pretty glorious to start gaming after a leisurely breakfast, pause for lunch and a bit of snowshoeing around the lake, another afternoon session, pause for dinner, and a final one before bed. I haven't gamed like that in a very long time.)

Before we resumed play, I came up with a rough idea of how each of the three PCs could be useful. Obviously it couldn't be an all-out fight because they would be hopelessly outnumbered.

Highlights included:
  • I pulled some material from the upcoming Rosgarth adventure, including a flaming skull herald announcing the coming of the queen. Spooky goodness.
  • They spotted a gangaeđla scout riding some sort of aerial beast (a small dragon). It seemed to be keeping an eye on the "road" from the wall to the old town.
  • They found a dragonkin "blind" watching the approach to the village, but more than a mile from it. The PCs made short order of them.
  • They scouted the village carefully, saw the undead, realized that it was low mana, and confirmed that the druid's abilities were still in good shape. Indeed, the druid sensed that there was a powerful nature spirit somewhere nearby.
  • Thridi, the crazy daredevil, decided to sprint through the village, shouting and waving his flaming knife. He got into a few tight spots where the dead blocked his way, but managed to use his luck, high acrobatics skill, perfect balance, and climbing to leap up to the roofs of buildings and keep running. Pretty soon he was kiting most of the horde. He ended up leading them out the main gates back into the forest (toward the wall).
  • The only undead left in town were ones who were too slow: one-legged, etc. They were still pretty scary. (The dead children had a powerful ick factor.)
  • Valtyr, the druid, and Ruus, the swashbuckler, headed into the central hall. Ruus looked for strongboxes (they were charged with finding some of the money from Ainferill) while the druid approached a central table made from an enormous polished tree trunk. As he touched it, he could feel the raging spirit below. At first he thought it was the spirit of the tree, but he began to realized (using various druidic lore skills) that the spirit was within the earth below the village.
  • We ended up cutting back and forth between three scenes. Valtyr was using his spiritual abilities to attempt to calm the spirit (while also learning a bit about the ley lines and meteoric iron). Ruus located the treasure and then fought off creepy undead who were coming to stop Valtyr. Thridi was keeping the main host of undead chasing him into the forest.
  • There were many amazing moments in all of this. Perhaps the best was when Thridi ran into a dragonkin patrol who had just discovered that someone had killed their scouts. (He was running straight down the road toward the blind.) He skips back and forth between the undead and the lizardfolk, trying to fast talk the lizardfolk into letting him handle the undead. Meanwhile he realizes that the undead won't cross a line about a mile away from the village. (Which, not coincidentally, is where the dragonkin watchpost was positioned.) The lizardfolk want weregild for their fallen. Thridi likes his gold and refused. So they start taking pot shots at him. He ends up charging into the undead and attempting to tackle Asbjorn and Sigrid, pushing them over the line. He uses his luck and amazing skills, rolling a critical success at a key moment, but is seriously injured, rolling against unconsciousness every second. He eventually staggers across the line away from the undead, pulls out a healing potion, and fails his HT check before he can drink. So he collapses with the undead horde just barely out of reach behind him and the lizardfolk in front of him.
  • Eventually, Valtyr does manage to calm the spirit, at which point all of the dead fall to the ground. He and Ruus make a beeline out of town to find out what happened to Thridi. They come upon a mountain of dead being picked over by diffident lizardfolk (who aren't too bright and have no idea what's going on). There are some tense discussions between the dragonkin and the PCs. I don't remember exactly what bargain they struck, but the PCs basically conceded that Elskadr was dragonkin territory in exchange for Thridi's body and a guarantee of safe passage down the road until sunrise. (Not that they had any authority to make any such pledges, but the dragonkin didn't know that, and they needed time to get reinforcements from their main settlement.)
  • This would have been a happy ending except for one small fact that the PCs didn't fully understand: there was no way they could make it to the wall before sunrise. Especially hauling the treasure and the fallen bodies of Asbjorn and Sigrid.
Next time: ambush from above!
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Old 03-25-2020, 08:07 PM   #10
Dalin
 
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Ok, the final episode:

The party is running back to the wall from Elskadr. They've got a cart loaded with some of Gunnulf Bjornoxl's wealth along with the bodies of his son and wife. The sun rises in the east just as the forest begins to thin. The wall is near, but the hastily organized "truce" between the dragonkin and the humans has ended. Suddenly, a 10-yard long winged beast swoops down from above (a drekafugl from Dragons of Rosgarth). Upon its back is mounted a gangaedla.

This launched the most cinematic battle of the weekend involving numerous lightning bolts, a miraculous harpoon shot killing the gangaedla in a single shot, the scion of Midgard grabbing the harpoon rope and swinging into the air. Many lucky rolls later and he ends up in the saddle while the beast swoops and twists, trying to dismount him. (His Perfect Balance advantage paid for itself in spades during this sequence!)

What does it take to control a domesticated winged predator? I can't remember how we resolved this, but Thridi ended up with a modicum of control, though he couldn't make it fly toward the wall. He wanted to capture it, but couldn't figure out a way to pull it off, especially because he spied a flock of similar creatures flying toward him from the east at high speed. He managed to land and sadly realized that the creature was a tremendously powerful weapon in the hands of an enemy, so he used his Luck to land a critical neck shot with his knife, killing it with a single blow. (Everyone was appropriately sad at this slaying of such a grand creature.)

This led to an all-out sprint to the wall. The druid and swashbuckler were ahead and made it to the gate unscathed. (The druid used his Penetrating Voice to alert the guards on the wall before they got there.) Soon there was a crowd on the battlements watching as Thridi raced toward the gate with a squadron of lightning hurling dinosaurs behind him. (The druid was still maintaining Resist Lightning, or he would have likely been toast.) In the end, his Move of 8 (9 while sprinting) combined with the drekafugls' dread of the wall allowed him to make the gate ahead of his pursuit. The crowd cheered wildly as the dragonkin turned back toward their grim woodland.

The weekend ended with the party being treated as the returning heroes that they were. The news traveled faster than they did, and they arrived in Ainferill to be greeted by an ecstatic crowd. The players made some very astute decisions during this time, recognizing Gyda as a bad influence on Gunnulf, and attempting to maintain strong relations with Asleif. They turned over all of the wealth and the two bodies, holding nothing back in their tale (except one small detail; see below). They proposed that the funerary rites and associated festivities be hosted at the Happy Jotun (a formerly popular establishment on the docks that stood empty because the proprietor and his entire family joined Asbjorn's doomed expedition to Elskadr). This was a brilliant idea that played very well with Gunnulf, Asleif, and the remaining townsfolk. The druid, who has a few skaldic pretensions, delivered an epic poem about their deeds.

After the public events, Ruus (the swashbuckler) meet with Asleif privately. She told her that in addition to finding much of the town's treasure, she also found Sigrid's jewelry box and private diary. She had carefully kept these safe to return to Asleif. (Honestly, this scene was so powerful that my voice was cracking as I tried to roleplay Asleif's heartfealt thanks.)

Crazy good times.

And, truly, this was just one tiny sliver of what The Citadel at Norđvörn has to offer. Imagine if I had actually prepared some notes prior to the weekend?
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