Sunday, October 19, 2014

Westmist Session #82 - Damm That Duncal!! Again!!!

While waiting for the rest of the party to prepare for the trek to the Cerebral Shield of the Gann, Kern began to think about Duncal again. It had been a few weeks since they had last left the troubled heir, and given his history of trouble, Kern felt it was time to check in on him again. He convinced Erijay to join he and Bjorn for the trek through the winter snow to Sir Janus' lair. First though, Erijay had him open the metal box she and Lomar had recovered a few days before. Successfully opened, inside the found two items. A black ebony wand with the word "chinoes' inscribed on the butt; and a strange silver and gold bracelet, decorated with spiders, and with two spikes, one over and one under the hand. Taking these finds outside, the duo found a cute bunny and aimed both items at it. Erijay's wand did nothing she could see, but when Kern pressed a small gem on the under-spike, and a web shot forth at the poor bunny. Satisifed, he now started wondering how he could keep it from Lomar ...

Before leaving, Kern also gave a rousing speech to put the Stonehell Resistance Army (SRA) into action, and presented his rose hilt magic sword to Barfirth to cement that stuttering fighter's loyalty to the cause (and to himself). He also sent the SRA into town to get horses and supplies (and a new dog, Flipi, for Erijay). With that, Erijay, Kern and Bjorn headed out for the two day journey to the old drwarf hold where Sir Janus and Duncal awaited ...

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... and almost didn't get there. On the first afternoon out, they heard the sound of harness jingling on the trail ahead. Quickly leaving the trail and hiding in a nearby copse of trees, they watched as the Company of Good Cheer rode into view. They watched with bated breath, hoping their trail would not be seen. For numerous reasons, neither wanted to tangle with Lord Merdwyn's tame adventurers at this point. Luckily the Company went on, headed presumably back towards Westmist. But Kern and Erijay both had the uncomfortable feeling that the Company was looking for them. And suddenly realized they may have tracked them to Sir Janus and Duncal! So the trio rode hellbent for leather through the snow, and were relived to find the camp just as they had left it. Speaking with Hafus, they learned to their relief that there had been no visitors. Hafus also let them know that Sir Janus' morale was flagging. And Duncal was being a pain. He had rarely left his tent since the winter cold hit, and had managed to insist on being assigned two man-servants to tend to his needs. With a sigh, Kern and Erijay went to speak the Si Janus, and managed to raise him out of his funk with news of the SRA. They then went to see Duncal. Calling out at his tent, there was no answer. They called again; no answer. Fuming, Erijay thrust aside the flap and marched inside; into a cold, deserted tent. There was no sign of Duncal or the other men, and the fire pit was cold. She tore outside, turning the air blue with curses no elf maid should know. She and Kern circled the tent, and found evidence of a trail leading away from a spot where the tent had been lifted up. The trial was slowly filling in with snow, so with a few more choice words about Duncal, Erijay, Kern and Bjorn saddled up and headed off deeper into the Western War Peaks.

They followed the trail to a point where a spur from the mountain reached down to the edge of the lake, the shore of which they were following. Seeing it partly frozen, they moved out onto to ice and traveled another few miles, coming to a point where a stream flowed out of the lake. Nearby was also a frozen marsh, in the centre of which could be seen a reed boat. Kern approached the boat, and inside found the dessicated remains of a dwarf covered in furs. He reached in to push the furs aside, when suddenly the corpse sat up and lunged for him! Kern called for help as he backed away, and Erijay and Bjorn answered with a barrage of magic missiles. Which ended that threat very quickly, and the corpse disintegrated into dust and rags. Which Kern pushed aside to uncover a find woven reed mat studded with small malachite gems.

That done, the party headed over to the stream. It was shallow and easily forded, but someone had recently pulled a fallen tree across it to use as a bridge. Figuring it must have been Duncal, they crossed over, and climbed into the wooded pass that led to the south-west. After several more hours riding, the sun was setting and the trio began thinking of setting up camp. Ahead they could see a crude collection of huts next to a stream. But before they could investigate, they were interrupted by fierce howls, as a mass of orcs jumped out of ambush beside the trail. The swarmed the three, and with nets and ropes tried to the pin them down. Kern Erijay and Flipi were successful, but Bjorn was pulled off his horse and held down with a knife to his throat. 'Surrender or he dies' croaked the leader. Seeing no other choice, Kern and Erijay put down their weapons and tried to negotiate. They had no luck, until someone mentioned trading their lives for a good meal of dwarf. That got the orcs interested, and they agree to let Erijay and Kern go to get 9 dwarves in trade for their lives, and the lives of the orcs other three prisoners (who Kern and Erijay quickly realized were Duncal and the two men). The orcs gave then 3 days, and kept Bjorn as a hostage.

The orcs left with Bjorn, watching Kern and Erijay to make sure they went on their way. The two did, but set up camp about an hour away to sleep and plan. There was some of talk of actually going to find some dwarves, but in the end they decided on a  sneak attack. Waiting for the next nightfall, they headed back to the orc camp under cover of darkness and invisibility. Erijay set up a blind by casting web between a pair of trees. She then laid a fireball that incinerated half the camp, followed by a pair of sleep spells to drop the remaining orcs as they streamed from their huts. Meanwhile, Ken started firing his crossbow into the confusion, and it was not long before there was nothing left to do but slit some orc throats. Kern also checked out a hut that had guarded, and inside found Bjorn, Duncal, and the two men-at-arms. All naked and hog-tied, covered in some sort of cooking sauce. He unbound Bjorn and the two men, but left Duncal 'as is' while he went to search for treasure. Finding nothing, he returned to Duncal in a foul mood, and threw the trussed-up heir over his horse and berated him all the way back to Sir Janus. The hope was Duncal might actually learn his leason and not wonder off and get captured again ...

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Campaign Pitch #2 - The Fey Border

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It is Christmas, 800 AD. In the holy city of Rome, Pope Leo III has crowned the Frankish king, Charles the Great (Charlemagne), as the first Holy Roman Emperor, in recognition of his success against the heathens. On the eastern borders of what is now his Empire, Charlemagne has finally pacified the heathen lands and pushed the borders of Christendom to the banks of the Elbe.

To the west lay the settled Christian lands of Europe; to the East the darkenss of the fey realm. Between them lay the border, anything but strictly defined and fixed. It fluxes and flows as the power of Christendom and Fey wax and wane. The border region is land where miracles of the church stand against and alongside the darker magic of the fey.  Where the 12 Peers of Charlemagne  carry the cross against the heathen. And where opportunists from the settle West come looking for power and glory.

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This one is a little different; a pseudo-historical campaign set in an alternate northern Europe.  The heathens of this world are not Saxons, Slavs and Danes, but forces of dark fey. Dark elves, witches, goblins, werewolves, etc.  In Christian lands to the west, it's just like historical Europe; no magic, dull, boring, peasants in the mud type of stuff. The Fey lands to the east are essentially some equivalent of Hell. In between, in the Fey Border, the two realms meet. And it's like D&D, but with a Grimm's Fairy Tale twist (the originals, not the Disney versions).

Locations, NPCs, and so on will be lifted straight from the history books. All suitably twisted to fit into a game of D&D of course. Elves, dwarves and halflings will still be playable, just in slightly different forms. There will definitely be a new paladin class, and maybe more to suit to milieu. 

There are basically two ways this could play out. You could take on the role of paladins and crusaders, out to fight the powers of the dark fey. Or vagabonds and desperadoes out to seize wealth and power in a chaotic world. Or a little of both.    

The basic idea I'm stealing wholesale from Poul Anderson's "Three Hearts and Three Lions" [Fun trivia. The D&D troll is stolen directly from this book]. Throw in some old English concepts of the fey and elves, a bunch of Arthurian legends and "The Matter of France", and John Borman's "Excaliber". And whatever histories of Charlemagne and the Saxon campaigns I can read.


Campaign Pitch #5 - Saltbox

Langushur is known as the "Far Shore" for good reason. Isolated from the rest of the civilized world, on the far eastern edge of the eastern continent of Easrae, the city states and towns of the region make a living from and on the sea. But always within sight of land. For as long as the memories of men allow, offshore lay a permanent bank of mist and fog. Ships that entered it never return. Always it lay, just on the horizon, a reminder that there were some places mortal men were not meant to travel.

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Until six months ago, when suddenly one morning, the people of Langushur awoke to find the horizon clear. The crew of one brave ship hoisted sail and headed east. And returned several days later with an unbelievable tale to tell. They told of a previously unknown archipelago of hundreds of islands, stretching across the eastern sea. On some could be seen fantastic ruins of a unknown age and provenance. On others could be seen strange creatures, and tribes of strange men.  Landing on one island, the crew explored some ruins and found it scattered with treasures and curiosities, examples of which they scattered on the docks as proof of their tale.

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As word spread, ships from all over the Wesrae and Easrae began to flood the once backwater of Langushur. All eager to explore new lands, and to wrest from them treasure, wealth and power. On board with the crews who sailed the ships were bands of hardened warriors, desperate cut-throats, questing acolytes and mages in search of lost magics. To these lay the task of landing on the dangerous new shores . . .

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On the surface, this one is a bit like the first pitch, the "Fist of Wotan". Except rather than a big mountain to climb and explore, it's a big archipelago. Characters start out as the hired 'away crew' on board a vessel. Think 'Star Trek', but hopefully with fewer redshirts dying. At first the campaign will be directed by the ship's captain, who decides what and where the PCs explore. With some influence and prodding from the PC's of course. Eventually though, I see the PCs buying a ship and assembling their own crew to go wherever they want. Or stage a mutiny and take over the ship they're on. Whatever.

Again like "Fist of Wotan", most of the action will be away from civilization. I see the ship as the basic home base for rest and supplies. There will also be an island or bay where all the exploring ships tend to gather, and that  can act as a larger town for accessing clerical healing, special services, etc. There is the option to go back to the mainland as well, but that will be limited until the PCs are masters of their own destiny's. You can also expect to discover lost civilizations, crazy tribes, and other fun folks to deal with on various islands.

What kind of game? A mix of everything. Possible intrigue among the ships captains and crews. Dungeons to loot on some islands, overland exploration, interacting with all the new folks you meet. In addition, I'm going to work in some sort of XP for exploration and discovery of new things, to give the game a bit of an "Age of Discovery" feel. I'm also thinking in terms of Late Medieval - Early Middles Ages technology and culture. So break out your cannon and cutlass.

And just to add a little mystery. What was the fog bank? Where did it come from? Where did it go? Will it be back? What happened to all the ships that disappeared over the years?    

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Westmist Session #81 - Stonehell Revisited

With the sudden change in circumstances and location, there was much to keep everyone busy. Kern dove deep into his plan for a Stonehell based insurrection; Bjorn worked furiously copying spells; Gurruk took it upon himself to fill their hosts larder with fresh game; Rylee ministered to their spiritual needs; and Darnorth took the chance to study the mixed stonework through the dungeon.  This left Erijay and Lomar with little to do, as the expedition to recover the "Cerebral Shield" wasn't leaving real soon. So the elf proposed taking Lomar on a little tour of the party's previous haunts in the dungeon, and may find a little treasure and excitement.They were also able to convince a couple of the Stonehell Resistance to join them; Yar the over enthusiastic cleric of Saule, and Guy the moody man-at-arms.  And Fin the dog.

They decided first to visit Lachesis, for both Lomar and Erijay hoped she could direct them to some magical assistance within the dungeon. In particular, Lomar wanted to have his gelatinous arm healed, and Erijay was wondering what could be done about her somewhat surly and standoffish manner. So pilfering some gold from the party chest, off the expedition went. They easily and quickly found Lachesis in her rooms, and after some pleasantries (and disappointment on the spy-mistresses part that Kern was not present), they got down to business. Lachesis could unfortunately offer little direct help. For Erijay, she suggested trying the 'Wheel of Fortune" on the first level and trust to her luck. For Lomar, she directed him to the fifth level, down around the Vrilya, to a protoplasmic "Pool of Wisdom" that may have information on dealing with his affliction. Interview over, Rufus and Tusk directed the party out of the rooms to decide what to do next.

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Erijay recalled the gifts she had purchased for the Gentlemen Ghouls, so she dragged Lomar and the others along to recover them from their hiding spot, and then off to the back door of the ghouls home.  Unfortunately, she had misinterpreted a note on her old map, and they ran into a pair of hellhounds, newly spawned  from the eternal fire that guarded the back door. They party tried to retreat, but the hounds chased them down. In the ensuing fight, Yar was crisped by one hellhounds breath, and once more died in the party's service. They carried his body back to a nearby dwarven funeral room, and Lomar carefully scrunched up the body on one brier and said a few words over his fallen comrade. Looping around the eternal fire this time, they came to the ghouls back door and knocked. After a few minutes, the door was opened by a ghoul Erijay did not recognize. He was very haughty and very upset, as they were interrupting a dinner party. Erijay presented here gifts of fine glassware and new clothes, and tried to sweet talk her way into the dinner party, hoping to pump the ghouls for information. Alas, it did no good, as they were all turned away and told not to come again without first  sending a calling card ahead of their arrival. And please dress more appropriately.

Having hit another information dead end, they decided to head down one level and look for the "Pool of Wisdom". Taking first the main stairs, Erijay slipped on the elven cloak borrowed from Kern,and scouted ahead. At the bottom of the stairs she found the large portcullis shut, and could see with her infravision, figures moving about in the room beyond. Where once the hydras laired, there were now a pair of 10' lizards, and several Vrilya stood on the overlooking balconies. Going back to meet Lomar and Guy, Erijay studies the map again, and they headed north and descended via the elevator located there instead of taking a chance with the Vrilya. From there, they explored new ground, apparently more old mining tunnels like those encountered in the extra-dimensional mine. Cautious Lomar cast detect traps as they explored tunnels and chambers, but found nothing. They did find a small alcove filled with rusty bird cages though, and in each lay the dry mummified remains of a canary. Lomar, filled with the pity of Saule, stepped in the midst of the cages to bless the dead birds. When he did, he noticed one cage which contained a curious clockwork canary. Try as they might, they couldn't get it to activate or do anything, but Lomar was mighty pleased with his find and perched the the cage on top of his pack.

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 Further exploration uncovered rooms filled with old mining equipment and debris. In one direction came a strong animal and urine smell, so they avoided that room and headed the opposite direction. They soon encounter a dead end corridor. There lay a 10' cube, with perfectly smooth sides and no sign tool marks. Curious, the elf and cleric poured over the cube, looking for clues as to it's origin and purpose. Luckily, they weren't too intent, for Lomar noticed that animal/urine smell wafting down the hallway towards them. Turning around, they saw two fierce creatures, with the body of a cave bear and the head of an owl, approaching them. Fin rushed ahead to bite one on the leg, only to be crushed and torn to pieces by the fearsome beak. Lomar blinded one with his light spell, then cast sticks to snakes from his scroll. Meanwhile, Erijay fired a few crossbow bolts, then followed up with magic missiles, while Guy stood his ground with his sword. But Lomar's snakes delivered the coup de grĂ¢ce, poisoning the last of the owl bears.
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Finding nothing of interest on the bodies, Lomar deduced that these might have come from the similarly foul smelling room encountered earlier. Which meant it might now be unguarded, so off they went to investigate. Sneaking in carefully, they surprised two owl bears caught in a moment of animal lust. Which Erijay rudely interrupted with a lightning bolt, and Lomar finished up when he turned his poison snakes on the survivor. Pushing aside the smouldering and frothing corpses, they rooted through the nest. They found 5000ep (of which 1500ep they could carry out), a vial with a bubblegum smelling liquid, and a scroll case clutched in a skeletal hand. In the case was a note:

         `Fredrick, the box with the items we found is buried in the alcove behind the stone cube`

Well, they knew where that was. So they headed back to the cube posthaste, stopping just long enough to grab a couple of old shovels from the mining detritus. Once there, a few minutes of digging uncovered a small metal box, latched but unlocked. Thinking this was a job for Kern, they popped the box in a pack and headed back for their HQ on the second level. 

Guy, impressed by the reward offered by Lomar, offered his services as a henchman to the cleric, grumbling that at least this employer hadn't`t gotten him killed ...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Campaign Pitch #4 - City of Bridges


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When the Imperator Jorax defeated the armies of the Olmen Insurrection and brought the conspirators to bay, he swore by Velas they would not live while they stood foot on the soil of the Imperium. The leaders of the insurrection, however, outwitted the Impiriator. They withdrew to the nearby HighBridge, an impressive span across the deep canyon of the Hquali River, and technically not on the 'soil' of his realm. After consulting the priests of Velas, the furious Imperator had to concede the clever move and leave them unmolested. And so The City of Bridges was born, a haven for those on the run, who no where else to go, and where no questions are asked.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thieves%27_World
Today, 300 years after its founding, the city spans 4 bridges across the river. It is watched over by soldiers of the Despot of Huzail, inheritors of the imperator's charge to isolate the city and keep it's strong minded independence and anarchistic from 'infecting' the lands and peoples around. Any who reach the City of Bridges are given leave to stay, but must stay and never leave. All manners opportunists, cutthroats, runaway slaves, crazed wizards, scheming crime lords, mad monks, twisted half breeds, and still darker beings inhabit the towering, teetering, and labyrinth structures of the four bridges.

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Another campaign set in the Westmist campaign world, at roughly the same time as the current campaign, but at some distance removed from Westmist (on a different continent to be exact).  This one will be quite a bit different than the other options, as it will probably have little 'classic' dungeoneering and monster punching. More skullduggery and sneaking about, trying to claw your ways to the top of the social and wealth heap in an extreme Dickensonian world. And some cool weird stuff (of course) like zip lines to get between bridges, magical zoos, more strange people and 'people' than you can shake a sword at. A good campaign for thieves, thuggish fighters, and malicious magic users.

Inspiration? Fritz Leiber's city of Lankhamar , Robert Asprin's Thieves World. Whatever I can get my hands on about Old London Bridge. And a bunch of other stuff I can't really seem to recall right now.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Campaign Pitch #3 - Crusaders and Sorcery

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When the Third Imperium tumbled into ruin, the chivalric orders who supported the Imperitor were blamed for the fall, and many were forced to flee the lands of the old Imperium and into exile. Some boarded ship and, trusting in the grace of Velas, sailed for the legendary south, to seek atonement and new lands to conquer and rule. And so they did, their fleets landing on the northern shores of the fabled southern continent, Azaria. The cities of the Pearl Coast fell quickly to the crusaders, and the northerners pushed inland over the mountains and across the plateau of Styria. There they stopped, their advance halted at the city of Kel Hazza by a vast sea of sand, the Great Thooz Desert.
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The crusaders settled down to rule their conquered lands and peoples, and more refugees and fortune seekers from the north joined them as rumors spread of their success.  Many ended up in the melting pot of Kel Hazaa, and listened to the wild tales of the desert related by turbaned men in the shadows of bustleing souks. Tales of savage cults who sacrifice humans to their foul beast gods, of ancient civilizations buried in the sands, of mysterious realms across the vast expanse of desert, of dark sorcery and cruel kings, and the siren call of legendary riches beyond the dreams of men.

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This campaign is set in the same world as Westmist, but some 250 years earlier than that campaign. It's part sword and sorcery, and part chivalry and crusade. Think Conan with the Knights Templer bolted on. Outremer meets Hyborian Koth and Zamora [go ahead, Google them. I'll wait]. All players characters start as new arrivals from the north. In keeping with the sword and sorcery feel, the campaign will be demihuman and humanoid light. No orcs, goblins, kobolds, or other 1HD humanoid cannon fodder. Players may take elves, dwarves, and halflings from the north as characters, but there are no 'indiginous' groups of these demihumans in the southern lands. At least not that you know of ...

The campaign starts out in the city of Kel Hazza. This is going to be a “sandbox” type campaign. unlike Westmist/Stonehell there isn't going to be one obvious place to start. You'll have lots of options to go do what you want. I expect it will be typically dungeon or city centered for the first bit, but ultimately I see it becoming more about heading out across the desert and exploring whatever can be found. Want to explore old tombs? Sure. Hire out as caravan guards and see where you end up? You bet. Follow-up on rumors of lost cities in the desert? Lead the way. Take on the local bandit king? More power to you. Become the local bandit king? Fill your boots. Play the lawful good paladin and right the wrongs of the world under the banner of your god in heathen lands? Do it. Wander where you will, and find adventure where you will.

Inspiration? Read a couple of Conan stories (No, don't watch the movies. read Tower of the Elephant or The Slithering Shadow or Red Nails). Anything about the Crusades. The movie Kingdom of Heaven is  decent background; it gives a feel for the the uneasy mix of cultures, and for the visuals.

Campaign Pitch #1 - Fist of Wotan


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The other Skaarling ship-jarls had long thought Othgar the Mad to be ... well, mad. Constant raving about voices in his head, a tendency to slip into a berserk rage, and conversing with old gods long dead; Woten, Thor, Loki. But they were convinced of his madness when, at the beginning of the last raiding season, he announced Wotan had told him to sail west and north rather than the customary (and rewarding) raiding and trading trips to the south and east. Nothing lay to the east but the Spine of the World Serpent, a mountainous peninsula that stretched from the mainland to the utmost north and the Sea of Ice.  A trip there was madness at best, and death for all concerned was the most likely reward.

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They were proved right that the trip could be fatal when Othgar's longship limped into port just ahead of the winter storms, with the jarl raving into the north wind and just a handful of men at the oars. But while a lack of strong arms to to sail her certainly slowed the vessel, it was the treasures piled to the gunnels that was mostly to blame. Once ashore, Thorgild's men told of a mountain higher than any seen before, the summit lost in constant cloud. Dubbed the Fist of Wotan by Othgar, the slopes were littered with ancient ruins and cave entrances.  Guided by the voice of Woten, Lothgar lead them into the depths. Tales are told of mist filled halls that drove men mad, tunnels through ice that held cruel & cold abominations, vast cavernous worlds ruled by giants, strange metal chambers guarded by statues come to life. And gold ... enough gold to sink a ship.

Lothgar could have stayed in the Skaarl Islands and lived a life of luxury with the treasures he had won. But instead, he set sail at the start of this season to place his standard on the shore below the Fist of Wotan, and bade all men and women of courage and honor to join him there under the eyes of the All-Father, Many heeded the call, you among them, to wrest a fortune from the mountain at the call of the All-Father.

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The Skaarl Islands and the Skaarlings are the Scandanaia/Vikings of the campaign world in which Westmist is set (Bjorn's homeland BTW). So if you haven't guessed already, this is going with a Viking theme. Fur clad warrior (with or without horns on their helmets), skalds chanting paeans as they charge into battle, clerics of the Norse gods, etc. I'd like most PC's to have a Viking flavor, but I'm open to scimater wielding Zevestian warriors al la "The Thirteenth Warrior" and other exceptions to that rule.  It will be a low civilization campaign. The only "town" is Lothgar's Trade Town, a seasonal and temporary base at the foot of the mountain. But this is D&D, so there will be somewhere to sell your treasure, heal your wounds, quaff your ale.

Gameplay will be dungeon oriented, but I'm going to try to make it  more 'alive' than Stonehell. More rival adventures (the other crews) in the dungeon, more chance for events in the dungeon to affect relations outside (and vice versa). This won't be a megadungeon like Stonehell so much as a collection of smaller, sometimes interrelated, dungeons. Go further up the mountain and the greater the dangers. There will be the chance to explore the area immediately around the Fist of Wotan, and actual figuring out the best/safest way to get higher up the mountain will be important too. Think of climbing Everest in armor and you get the idea.

Oh, and did I mention the thing about the old gods? Where do you suppose they came from all of a sudden? And why have they drawn you to this god-forsaken land? Could this be the chance to discover the true meaning of the gods?