WHERE HELL COMES TO PREY: Running Nightwick Abbey 03


I have just completed DMing my 10th session of Nightwick Abbey, an OSE megadungeon authored by Miranda Elkins and illustrated by Chris Huth. These posts will be a continuing effort to document this campaign I dubbed Where Hell Comes To Prey. If these horrid halls of Nightwick Abbey call to you, then please join Miranda Elkins' Patreon!


Our Sunday Congregation:
Miriam Cleric 2
Froggie Frogling 1
Shiva Rogue 1
Grog Fighter 1
Hirelings: Hyme (barber)

Session 10 APRIL 28 Highlights: 

A DUEL!: The cleric Miriam was challenged by a fellow seminary student who believed he was wronged in the past. Miriam chose Grog as his second who then proceeded to kill the challenger in one blow.

HARTS WITH HEARTS: Down in the dungeon, a trio of deermen offered, for inexplicable reasons, a bowl of still-beating hearts and encouraged the PCs to eat them like apples. Scattered hearts and scattered deer heads resulted.

A TERRIBLE END IN EITHER DIRECTION: The probing of a dead body causes the irruption of gas which seems to paralyze Grog. As Miriam watches over the fallen fighter, Shiva and Froggie travel south until they stumble into a dining hall. They quickly leave as an impossibly large bulk squeezes itself into the hall. The party travels north and stumbles upon a room whose floor is covered in paper. Froggie leaps in to grab a few pages and also earns wounds as if some terrible invisible claws ranked his leg. 


At session 10, how do I still feel about Nightwick? Love it! A player asked me if I still enjoy DMing it after playing in ~90+ sessions as a PC- (again) love it. It is fun to be on the other side of the screen and to be the master of the maligned forces.

Here is what I think I am doing right:

"100 Minutes of Megadungeon Madness": When I started this series, I discussed how I was going to attempt a 120-minute setup by starting 10 minutes after the hour, run 50 minutes, break 10 minutes, and run a final 50 minutes. Around sessions 7 and 8, I started doubting about this format. I wondered if I was cramming a megadungeon into too short of a time period mainly because the players were not covering much distance in the dungeon. If they had an encounter at the beginning of the session, it was possible to have a chunk of time gone. I mulled over if I needed to change combat or allow all weapons to do average damage or if I should shortcut (undercut) some part of the BX D&D system. 

But in the end, after playing 90+ sessions of Nightwick, I know the BX chassis and the dungeon crawling aspect works. There is no need to change that, but I did wonder if I could change some other aspects of how I run the game. Plus the players were having fun.

Pre-gen PCs/Hirelings: Gotta keep doing this. When I have new players join, rolling up characters takes the most time, especially since there are some delightfully unique takes on the character classes in Nightwick. Plus, pre-gen PCs help players that die due to vampire bats or blood puddings get back into the game quickly.

Treasure Maps: These maps are actually a staple of classic play. As evidenced by the presence of treasure maps in OD&D and under Scrolls in BX D&D (B46). These maps will help enhance exploration but will come at (1) a resource cost and/or (2) require some deciphering either because they will have incomplete information or perhaps some riddles.

Light Variation: Recently, I started to use the light rule found in DURF. In short, basically, the PC roller a pool of light dice, "1"s are removed, and if all dice are removed then an encounter happens in the dark. I like it. It actually touched off a meaningful discussion about light. If the pool is equal to or larger than the number of party members, they win initiative ties in the dungeon.

Here is what I think I can improve on:

Use The 5 Senses: I really need to bring more of these into play in Nightwick. Just to add a little bit more to the world that I'm painting. And often in horror, you know something is wrong before you see "it". Like realizing the yellow rush matts on the floor are woven out of human hair or that the sound of water trickling is accompanied by the smell of blood.

Combat Variety and Objectives: I have written two particularly good posts on how to vary bands of enemies and also on objectives in combat. I need to be better about implementing them in the Abbey. In terms of bands of enemies, variety not only keeps it interesting for me the DM, but also provides a tactical opportunity for the PCs as well. I kinda think back to Darkest Dungeon- it would be fun to have something that vomits on players. Variety can also act as a way to further describe the Abbey instead of skeletons with swords, cultists with...swords, or beastmen with...swor...axes! For instance, deermen could be something like:

  • (1-2 hp) Range x Special Deerman Caller Its piercing shrieks disorient enemies; the initiative die is a d4   
  • (3-5 hp) Range x Dmg Deerman Hunter Uses a bow
  • (6-7 hp) Melee x Dmg Deerman Stalker  Uses a battleaxe
  • (8 hp) Melee x Special Crown-o-Horn Charges into battle with head heavy with a tangle of antlers & tusks    

While the Abbey is murderous, in my mind it's also interested in capture, corruption, and contamination. All these things might require a target to be alive. I'd like to force myself to slow down and give each group of enemies an objective. And actually, since starting this post, I've actually run Session 11 of Nightwick and it worked great- I had horrible rat things go after the nearest NPC and a group of Devilmen demanded the cleric hand over their holy symbol to leave the Abbey. Interesting the cleric wouldn't do that, so the devilmen ended up slaying one NPC and breaking several bones of a PC-- then they handed over the holy symbol.

"Quests": While megadungeons are eternal, my time and my player's time is not so I'd like to avoid the campaign just having to stop dead in its tracks like a tv show that gets canceled mid-season. 

After seeking some advice from other DMs and consulting the blogs, the best solution is just to declare a set period of play. Since my players so far have really dug the little "quests" that organically pop-up, I decided to make some more. 

Nightwick Abbey has a lot of blank space where elements are present but not completely defined. This provides an excellent opportunity for the DM to carve some personalization out of the module. A case in point is the tome the players "decapitated" from its lectern, then spent the next few sessions trying to find a body to reattach it to by the request of Halfdan the Necromancer. Players loved it! And now it earns them rumors.

Again since starting this post, during Session 11, I had a shadowy group approach the group to recover several more pages from a particularly violent area of the Abbey for a reward 100sp per person if at least 3 pages were recovered. A great opportunity for role-play, negotiation, and the PC to get a sense that they could have a first crack at understanding the knowledge.

In all, the players are still really engaged and are enthusiastically plunging head-first into each delve, so that is the best feedback a DM can have!

1 comment:

  1. Good advice and thoughts here!

    I particularly like the combat objectives idea; while I always try to write over-reaching goals for factions, and I always have motives for unique individuals, I'm often guilty of leaving the behaviour motivations of smaller groups to the reaction roll. Just a tiny bit of extra work can add a lot of flavour to encounters. One to keep in mind!