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Niflheim adventureby Ville Lähde
"The Lost Spear"
Dunedhel, the elven servant of Hel, was sent on an errand. He was supposed to fetch a powerful artefact that Hel had commissioned from the Niflungur, the moulder dwarves of Niflheim. The Niflungur, or Niebelungen, are related to the modrigswerg of Mystara - or perhaps they are emigrees from the destroyed modrigswerg dominions that Hel allowed to settle in Nilfheim (which is at least nominally under her rule).
The artefact was a powerful Spear of Giant-Slaying that was crafted to kill the Frost Giant king Båhren who has rebelled against Hel. Båhren is married to a young and temperamental queen who thirsts for power, wealth and glory, and her whispers have strentgthened his ambition. Båhren is so powerful that even an Immortal would fear challenging him - as befits the spirit of the saga worlds of the Norse Immortals. So Hel wanted to have that powerful weapon as a threat so she could bring Båhren back under her rule.
Unfortunately Dunedhel was amushed by Båhren's minions when he was travelling to the abode of the Niflungur. He was captured, and Båhren threw him to the great serpent Niddhogg. Dunedhel lies under the seprent's claw in constant torment.
The Niflungur are still waiting for someone to come and claim the Spear. Båhren is content for the moment, but he wants to gain the spear so that nothing could threaten him. But his giant warriors cannot gain access to the icy mountain of the Niflungur. Hel is wondering whatever happened to Dunedhel.
Another Hel's servant, Witch-Queen Carrah, is searching Mystaran Northern Reaches for heroes who would find her lover Dunedhel.
Theme of the adventure: Logic of Sagas
The world of Niflheim is part of the realms of Norse immortals, which form a whole that only touches Mystara. This whole follows a logic of its own, the Logic of Sagas. The fate of these realms is tied to the ever-repeating cycle of Ragnarök, and every significant person has a predetermined fate. Motivations of the habitants follow the logic of the saga, not the logic of everyday life. Even the elements themselves act according to a story.
That is why, literally, only Dunedhel can get the spear from the Niflungur, why Hel won't send another of her minions to get it, why Båhren can be killed only with the spear... and why Dunedhel lies under Niddhogg's claw, still alive.
But people from Mystara are not part of this cycle. They come from a world without a predetermined fate, so to some extent they are Agents of Freedom. Carrah knows this, so she is looking for such heroes to intervene. Carrah doesn't know what happened exactly, but she knows that something is wrong. And she is right - the Saga is lacking its heroes! (Human agents is a constant theme of sagas.) So even when looking for agents of freedom Carrah is filling her place in a story.
This means that when in Niflheim the PCs are not wholly tied to the Logic of the Saga. Their adventure has to follow a dramatic arc, but its end is not predetermined. For example: it is possible for them to kill Båhren even without the spear, and they can perhaps negotiate a settlement with the Niflungur.
But in order to act succesfully they have to understand the world of Sagas. Whenever they are appealing to the logic of reality, to the technicalities of their skills and spells, they are more likely to fail. But when they strive for dramatic and storylike acts, they are more likely to succeed.
In gaming terms the GM can decide what this might mean. That's a matter of taste. I opted for a highly storytelling-like approach. Some examples of our group's play:
- The PCs were in a blizzard and were in the danger of being frozen. They tried to use their spells to erect wooden barriers and described in minute detail how they were building their camp. But the fire tended to go out, the barrier kept falling, and tent spikes were blown about by the wind. Then they started to get the hang of it, and they decided to take their fur cloaks and lie between them, drinking strong liquor and singing the cold away. That succeeded.
- Food was a problem, as the PCs only had iron rations, which in this world meant dry pieces of bread, hard beef jerky and moldy cheese. One PC wished to hunt. As he decided to go out into the snow, sniffing his prey (the PC has a cat motif), he was likely to find game. Another PC later found a deer by sitting morosely and staring dramatically into the blizzard.
But again, all this is up to the GM and the taste of the group. In our game I rested the adventure on the notion that the possibility of leaning on reality (the rules of OD&D) was a strength of the PCs. They could basically kill anyone, find innovative solutions and survive - as long as their powers sufficed. But too much reliance on this would be a weakness. Their true power was that they could augment their mundane powers with living according to the saga. So: if the PCs had some skills and the players used them dramatically, they could be much more powerful than in Mystara. I used the following rules of thumb:
- Always describe the action, not the result. The Saga won't let you "play" it to your direct advantage. If you act according to it, the results will follow.
- Do not lean on technicalities. Don't say you are casting a spell of create wood, say that you are crafting wood out of thin air and singing it into form. Instead of using the Smash option describe your attack.
- The elements are more dangerous than persons or monsters. The elements (snow, hunger, wind, blizzard, cold, ice...) don't have game statictics, they are obstacles sent to test you - and they can even become personalities. In our game the PCs had to test their wits against "Old Man Blizzard". They came very close to death, until one PC started belittling and ignoring him, making him run out of wind. But he did it with a style according to a story.
- Overanalysing is dangerous.
- The GM is not the judge of a good story. That is why I only had a loose scheme of the situation (persons, places, intrigues, relationships). Any outcome can be made into a saga. As agents of freedome the PCs will choose their path. Don't back down when they do something unexpected. Roll with the punches.
- Everything is bigger, even the giants.
Plot hooks and gaming tips:
- Båhren's court is a court, so there must be intrigue - in sagas there always is. The Queen Venla has an old mother whom Båhren treats with contempt, using her as a servant. The old mother might help the PCs. She knows where Dunedhel is, for example.
- Båhren will of course try to fool the PCs into bringing the spear to him. He will try to make them believe that the Niflungur crafted the spear to him, but he lost it to them in a game of chance.
- The Niflungur will be hostile to anyone who claims to be serving Båhren. But they might be persuaded to part with the spear if the PCs make a good enough story, or of course if they have Dunedhel!
- In "primitive" sagas strange meetings and weird individuals are usual. If the PCs are lost, let them meet an old wise man in a ramschackle hut, engage in a duel of wits and perhaps gain some knowledge. Or whatever.
Our Saga ran like this (this far):
1) The PCs learn that their friend (Ragnar Stout) is in danger. One of them sees repeated nightmares of him lost in a blizzard.
- Background: Ragnar appealed to Carrah for aid against Thyatian invaders. But Carrah trapped him and sent him into Niflheim. Ragnar ended up as a guest in Båhren's castle. Båhren learned from Ragnar of =
his powerful friends and decided to use him as a bait. Ragnar is encased in ice, and Båhren sends his nightmares as a bait.
2) The PCs know that Ragnar was in the Great Marsh and learn of Carrah's legend. They try to contact Carrah but are enchanted by her will-o-wisps and imprisoned. Carrah's ship takes them to Niflheim. Carrah says that she won't take them back until they find Dunedhel.
- They could of course have repelled her charms and negotiated a passage. That way they could have learned important things.
3) In Niflheim the PCs have trouble with the elements and slowly learn where they are.
- As a clue I described how the PC start to look different. They are no longer just adventurers, but each of them becomes an "archetype": the Wise One, the Good Heart, the Devious Lecher...
4) The PCs clash with Old Man Blizzard. From him they learn that Ragnar went to Båhren's castle.
5) In Båhren's castle they miss all the signs and swallow his story about losing the spear in a game of dice. They promise to get "Båhren's spear" back so the king will release Ragnar.
6) They penetrate the icy mound of the Niflungur fighting their Clockwork Men. They try to negotiate but fail, as they are asking for Båhren's spear. The Niflungur know very well that it his not his. In the end they steal the spear.
7) The PCs don't trust Båhren, although they just believe he won't pay the price of "his spear". So they negotiate from a long distance and ask to trade Ragnar for the Spear. They get Ragnar, but as soon as Båhren gets the spear he yells triumphantly "Now nobody can defeat me!" and sends his warriors to kill the PCs.
We've got this far. I was surprised that the PCs missed all the possibilities to learn about the spear. Okay, no trouble. Now this is a Story of Betrayal.
Now the players have made a dangerous choice: they still believe that the Spear is the powerful artefact that makes Båhren invincible (a credible hypothesis), so they decided to send their thief to destroy it with a Rod of Cancellation.
We'll see where this goes... Perhaps the thief will read some warning signs and rethink the situation (Båhren is putting the spear into a chest, the old mother is looming in the background, whatever...). Or perhaps he manages to destroy the spear, and the PCs will have to do the "impossible" - kill Båhren. The old mother would be grateful.