Halbert’s Mordan

By Shamus Posted Thursday May 1, 2008

Filed under: Tabletop Games 17 comments

Anyone who read my Mordan D&D Campaign here should find this interesting: Mr. Halbert ran the same campaign for his players, based on my notes. It’s a long read, but well worth it if you’re familiar with the original tale.

He made a few classic blunders (too much uber loot, by his own reckoning) and his players were a little more hack-n-slash than mine, but in the end our two versions of the story are still strikingly similar. I crafted the story with my players in mind. Having played with them through two previous campaigns, I had a pretty good idea of how they would react to circumstances. Halbert didn’t have that benefit, and the campaign wasn’t crafted for his players, but they still managed to very closely follow the thread of of our version. I don’t know if this was due to chance or if the campaign is more deterministic than it seemed.

This might sound odd, but he stuck to the source material more than I would have.

Some comments, having read the whole thing:

At one point one of his players says, “I go to the Corellon temple.” This is one of my pet peeves about the standard D&D settings, which often leaks into other settings because (in my opinion) too much of the D&D pantheon is built into the core rulebooks and character system. I never wanted to drag that ungainly thing along with me into my own settings, but there is often an assumption among players that there is always a temple to god X in any given town. It always seemed to me that temples of varying types should be more regional and cultural, not stacked next to each other in towns like competing fast food franchises. The expectation seems to be that no matter who you follow, you should be able to roll into a village of mud huts and find a temple dedicated to, and filled with followers of, your particular god.

Later Halbert needed to take one of the players into custody. This is one of the most difficult things to do in a roleplaying game. So difficult that videogames handle it via fiat in a cutscene. Players do not want their character to sit in a prison cell. It splits the party (unless they all go to prison) deprives them of freedom, and puts them at the mercy of NPCs. In real life, resisting arrest is a big deal, a move which escalates danger and has little chance of success. In a tabletop game, even supposedly “good” characters will resort to bloodshed rather than allow themselves to be taken in for questioning, even if they have done nothing wrong. Part of this is meta-game thinking: They know they’re players in a story, and so they don’t expect that a trip to the guard house is going to be just, easy, fair, or short. They suspect railroading and injustice, false accusations, losing their hard-won gear, and annoying sidequests to clear one’s name. You can talk a player into robbing a dragon’s hoard, but they won’t sit still for a trip to the keep. I’m really impressed Halbert pulled it off.

Halbert’s players stood around after freeing the Lich. I was afraid my players might do this as well: I didn’t want them to hang around and keep looting after taking the orb. I had the earth shake and the chains fall from the coffins, which was more than enough to get my players running. They knew it was a trap of some sort, and their plan was to grab the loot and run out like Indiana Jones. This made it all the more satisfying once they realized the loot was the trap.

Halbert’s players went to Sar Diga, a place my players skipped. Halbert came up with some really interesting stuff there, and in fact it was the most entertaining part of the account. It’s certainly better than what I had planned for the town: The town had huge stone a dam built by dwarves. (The dam is what forms the nearby lake you see on the map.) I had planned to – and I admit this is stupid – have a dungeon inside the dam. Like, the place was filled with tunnels? For some reason? I never developed the idea, obviously. Which is for the best, I think.

It was a great read. Thanks to Halbert for typing it up. I’m glad he was able to use our story and make it his own. I hope they had fun with it.


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17 thoughts on “Halbert’s Mordan

  1. Skeeve the Impossible says:

    Indeed Halbert, I hope you had lots of fun playing through the game. I think our group has as much attachment to the campaign setting as Shamus does. I the Impossible Wizard of Wonder and Wisdom known only as Skeeve wish you well in your further adventures. I can only hope that myself and my rampant band of Droogs can be of further inspiration to you and all who hear our wondrous tales of whim and woe.

    Always Impossible

  2. Arkmagius says:

    Your Mordan campaign was actually the first thing I read here, I’m glad for any excuse to go read it again. It’s better than most fantasy that’s been released in the past several years. :)

    A dam-dungeon would have been interesting, if not practical. Imagine casting a fireball in THAT. *cackles*

    As to Halbert’s campaign, I only have one thing to say:

    Ah, vorpal blades. So many potentially epic battles turn into huge anticlimaxes because of a lucky roll. Although wouldn’t a dragon’s neck be far thicker than the blade is long? (of course, since this was only supposed to be a ‘challenging’ fight, I can easily see it being a young specimen)

  3. Miako says:

    Err… we always went to the keep. When one of the guys was being led away (for doing something bad), and my druid realized that she had forgotten to apply the fire necessary to keep his leg from falling off, she went running up to him (who was guarded and ahorse) waving a firebrand. Big Misunderstanding. She went to trial too, but was fairly summarily shooed away. Healer did stupid thing. Still trying to heal. Go ‘way, stupid healer.

  4. Lonster says:

    A dungeon in a dam isn’t all that implausible. Ever been to Hoover Dam? If you go, make sure you take the dam tour…maybe even buy yourself a dam t-shirt. The loot would all be dam good!

    Ok, I’m done now. About dam time, too.

  5. Doug Sundseth says:

    Having toured the inside of dams more than once, I don’t think a dam dungeon is inherently unreasonable. I might have to try that some time.

  6. GamerCow says:

    I’m notorious about being stingy with treasure, and to read that a vorpal sword was given out so freely shocked me. I’ve had nations war over a single vorpal sword, but I understand what happened to Halbert, its a very common first time DM mistake. you want your players to be happy, and you want them to have fun and get toys. However, it often makes them WAY too powerful, and you end up sending dragons at 3rd level characters. There are very few GMs that balance their campaign well, I know I have my issues.

  7. GamerCow says:

    Me smart, me doublepost.

  8. Hal says:

    Once again, I must thank Shamus for the traffic. Always appreciated.

    I toyed with the idea of a homebrewed religious system, but it just seemed easier to work with what was in the D&D books. I did manage to make something interesting come of it, though: At the end of the campaign, with the quest lifted from the elves of the island, the elven cleric decided to remain behind and rebuild the church on the island. I guess if the players ever decide to return to those characters, it should give them something interesting to play with.

    As for that vorpal blade . . . I just didn’t think it was going to be an issue. I figured I’d be running the NPCs during combat and could fudge their rolls appropriately. When battles became big and ungainly, I handed the NPCs off to the players, with the inevitable consequences.

  9. Tuck says:

    I’ve just started the Mordan campaign with a few of my mates down here in Tasmania. They’re a band of level 8 halflings, so I have to come up with suitable level enemies and treasure (now I know to avoid vorpal swords) as I go, but it promises to be great fun. It’s certainly a great setting to play in. :)

  10. Joshua says:

    I tend to be very stingy with magic. I never liked the idea of having magic capable of overcoming the super extra ultra mega cool technology of today, so I always make my magic big and flashy, and so rare that many people go through their entire lives without seeing it. I occasionally give minor magical items to my players. Such as an elven bow(not magic, but elven!), a sword that increases ally morale. Kingdoms would be toppled over a 2 longsword.

    You can read an ongoing novel-style log over here. Be sure to venture elsewhere around there also and maybe even join the community.

  11. Squire James says:

    I guess I don’t have to tell you “never give your NPC’s, friendly or otherwise, an item you don’t mind being in the hands of a PC”. Funny how those items end up on a PC’s character sheet, right?

    You know, for some reason I’m not so stingy when it comes to XP. Somehow, the idea of a level 4/10 Fighter/Warlord of Doom* PC rampaging the countryside with a +2 keen bastard sword doesn’t bother me as much as a level 3 Fighter doing the same thing! My main problem is explaining why these two characters are about one year apart in age…

    * This prestige class, though cool-sounding, is purely fictional.

  12. Viktor says:

    The problem is, D&D is unbalanced if you don’t give out magic correctly. The fighter /needs/ those magic items to compete with a CR appropriate challenge, while the Wizard is fine with or without. Look at Vow of Poverty in the Book of Exalted Deeds. If your players don’t have benefits /at least/ that good at each level from magic items(ignoring the feats), then certain classes will be overpowered. Not that certain classes aren’t automatically overpowered (compare a Druid with no items to a full-wealth Monk), but items are at least somewhat of a balancing factor.

  13. Corsair says:

    I think the issue is not the presence of magical items but the fact that every time they were going to have a major encounter, he took his vorpal sword in hand, and one two, one two, and through and through, the vorpal sword went snicker snack, and they leave it dead, and with it’s head they galumph back.

  14. Hal says:

    Yeah, it really was just horrible, horrible coincidence.

    Incidentally, if I’d given Beck a vorpal blade, he’d have more kills to his name than the rest of the party combined. It was weird.

  15. Viktor says:

    True, but that is the vorpal enhancement being useless 95% of the time, and ungodly the other 5%. It’s poorly designed, and serves no purpose in the hands of an NPC. I chalk it up to the “WotC couldn’t make a good game to save their life” syndrome and put that enhancement in the same bin as Incantrix, Diplomacy, and the CWar Samurai.

    Also, Hal, I want your die and a vorpal shiv for my Paladin to use. That would make him even more awesome than he is already.

  16. Hal says:

    The funny thing is, everyone who played Beck during combat had a high frequency of crits when they rolled for him. It was so bizarre. My players kept complaining that I’d only given him a puny d6 rapier.

    He also had a tendency to roll 1’s for damage when he critted. It happened often enough that it became a running gag as to how successfully pitiful he was in combat.

  17. Dan Hemmens says:

    I don't know if this was due to chance or if the campaign is more deterministic than it seemed.

    Any “prewritten” campaign – be it one you bought from a publisher, one you got from some guy on the internet, or one you lovingly planned out in advance, is going to be deterministic. If you’ve got a Big Bad who the players are going to defeat in the climax, along with a bunch of ways the players can get the stuff they need to defeat the big bad, the campaign is always going to basically boil down to the players getting the stuff and defeating the guy. The rest is all just detail.

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