Preview: The Lost Kingdom of the Dwarves

Copyright Robert Defendi for Final Redoubt Press, Art by Kevin Wasden © 2007

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

"So when running an adventure, design it as a series of set pieces, linked with pieces of narration"

The following text is a preview of the third Echoes of Heaven product from Final Redoubt Press. Called The Lost Kingdom of the Dwarves, it covers the nation of Uzarāg, as well as Dwarves and Orcs in general. This preview deals with handling adventures in a setting the size of an underground kingdom.

Uzarāg in Game Play

For most games, Uzarāg will serve as an adventure site. This section outlines the most important elements for practically running an adventure in Uzarāg.

Narration and Set Pieces

Any adventure that covers much ground probably contains a combination of narration and set pieces. In this model the GM narrates the character's travel through tedious sections, zooming into normal game time for specific encounters. It's a careful combination of showing and telling.

Narration

They tell writers to "show don't tell." This is good advice for GMs as well, but for both undertakings, telling is necessary. No one wants to experience every step of a thousand mile journey. Even in realtime, we zone that out.

So like an overland adventure, a GM will want to narrate their way though the weeks or months of travel that characters might undertake in Uzarāg. Even in a city, it's impractical to describe and map every tunnel and alcove in the place.

So when running an Uzarāg adventure, design it as a series of set pieces, linked with pieces of narration. In narration, you cover all the times when nothing special happens, describing overland travel, the paths through twisting halls, even long periods of waiting. In their right places, narration can even cover encounters that could become boring if belabored.

For instance, in one adventure a group of characters might have to sneak into a Dwarven city past Orcish guards. Unfortunately, they alert the guards and a series of patrols set out searching for the characters. The characters then undertake a ten-hour game of cat and mouse with the Orcs. Even though every moment of this deadly hide-and-seek is likely highly charged, the GM would still narrate the longer patches, concentrating the adventure into a series of specific encounters and moments of suspense linked by periods of narration that advance the time line and describe the character's travel through the halls of the city.

Set Pieces

In this context, a set piece is a literary term. It refers to a significant scene or series of scenes. The highway chase in the second Matrix movie was a set piece, as was the long final duel in Highlander or the Death Star battle in the original Star Wars movie.

Look at the accompanying adventure On Corrupted Ground. In it, the set pieces include things like the storm and the ice cliff. One could say the fortress was a series of linked set pieces, but one could also say the entire fortress was a set piece.

For the most part, GMs need to craft their set pieces. However the elements below are arranged in random charts, allowing a GM to randomize elements of a set piece in a pinch.

To create a set piece, decide on a location and the encounter type. Then decide the nature of the opponent and the difficulty of the encounter. Finally, the encounter needs a goal, and there's no backup chart for this. Usually, the goal will be obvious from context or decided by the characters themselves.

Set pieces should be as interesting as possible. They shouldn't all be hard or easy or even the perfect level of challenge. One needs a mixture of encounters to make a good adventure.

Dwarf Road Scene

Locations

Locating a set piece is important. It sets the tactical realities of the set piece and often dictates the mood. If possible, map out the location ahead of time. You can roll on the chart below or use it for inspiration. This list is by no means complete.

01 Access Way: This is a narrow corridor, sometimes even a crawl way. It is used to reach difficult places or sometimes to connect to locations for maintenance purposes.

02 Armory: Here the Orcs store their weapons and armor. The Dwarves likely used it for the same purpose.

03 Audience Hall: This is a large hall where a noble of some sort holds court. The Orcs use it much the same way.

04 Breeding Caves: This large area houses Orcish females and children in a communal living space.

05 Bridge: This is a bridge spanning a chasm or shaft.

06 Cavern: This is a large natural cavern.

07 Cavern Village: This is a large cavern. Inside, the Orcs have built a village, as they would aboveground. Sometimes old Dwarven villages remain.

08 Chasm: This is a deep natural chasm. There is no bridge at this location.

09 Chute: This is a vertical chute. Sometimes a ladder grants access. It's meant for construction and maintenance purposes.

10 Cistern: This is a large, underground water storage. It collects rainwater from the surface and stores it for drinking and bathing.

11 Clan Hall: This is a large hall once used for clan meetings. Now the Orcs use it for tribal meetings and succession battles.

12 Craft Room: This room was once used to display Dwarven crafts. The stone shelves remain, but the Orcs have converted it to another purpose.

13 Crypt: This is a simple Dwarven crypt. Common crypts have shelves for Dwarven bodies. The fancier crypts consist of a series of large family tombs.

14 Dead End: This is a dead end corridor. Battles here trap one side or another without hope of fleeing.

15 Defensive Area: This is a defensive fortification, such as arrow slits or a battlement. Sometimes there are murder holes.

16 Dungeon: This was used to store Dwarven prisoners. The Orcs use it for the same reason.

17 Forge: This is a forge for working metal.

18 Fountain: This is a beautiful underground fountain, crafted by the finest Dwarven artisans.

19 Gambling Hall: The original purpose of the hall is unknown. The Orcs use it for communal gambling.

20 Garderobes: These are the castle version of the privy.

21 Gate: This large gate is a defensive fortification, used to separate lower and higher security areas.

22 Geothermal Vents: Here violent steam geysers from cracks in the earth.

23 Grand Shaft: This is a huge shaft. Stairs usually surround it and it joins multiple levels of a Dwarven delving.

24 Great Hall: The great hall is the communal space of a Dwarven or Orcish settlement. Here minor nobles and Chieftains hold court and the common Orc eats.

25 Guard Post: Here Orcish guards likely stand watch. Some old Dwarven guard posts are long empty.

26 Lesser Hall: Here the Goblin slaves prepare food. The Dwarves used them for much the same reason. A lesser hall typically has an adjoining buttery and pantry.

27 Library: Here Dwarven tomes were stored. Orcs might use this for the same purpose, especially if controlled by a literate and ancient outsider, like intelligent Undead.

28 Lift: This is a muscle-powered lift. It's used to move freight from one level to another.

29 Light Shaft: Combine this with another feature. Here shafts connect to the surface, letting in natural light. Orcs don't like these areas, so a character undetected could hide here in relative safety.

30 Market: This large open area is filled with Orcish peddlers.

31 Military Barracks: The Dwarves used this large room as a barracks. The Orcs do too.

32 Mine Access: This is an access tunnel meant solely for connecting mines.

33 Mines: This is a mine. About 90 percent of mines are Dwarven construction. The rest are newer Orcish shafts.

34 Mushroom Hall: This is a large cavernous hall, probably a natural cavern. Mushrooms grow inside like trees.

35 Natural Wonder: This is a natural wonder. It might be a massive geode or a huge stalactite or a waterfall, whether real or petrified. It's a place of great beauty.

36 Palace: This is one of the ancient Dwarven palaces. These sprawling rooms and lavish luxury have survived the Orcish occupation, at least in form.

37 Pit: This is a deep pit, probably dangerous. Some pits are used for blood sports by the Orcs.

38 Poison Gas: The Dwarves were carefully aware of pockets of poison gas and took care of them as soon as they appeared. The Orcs aren't so careful.

39 Pole Chute: This is an access chute. There's a pole down the center for sliding from one level to the next.

40 Pool: This is a small, natural pool. Larger bodies of water are called Underground Lakes.

41 Quarry: This is a large underground quarry. There are many different quarries in the Dwarven kingdom, some granite, some marble, etc.

42 Ramp: This is a smooth access ramp. It allows carts of freight to move from one level to the next.

43 Relief Room: This was the Dwarven equivalent of a hospital. The Orcs have likely given it a new use, but the stone beds are still here.

44 Remembrance Hall: This is a hall of art, usually sculptures. It depicts great personalities and moments in Dwarven history. Dwarves guarded these areas with protective runes.

45 Rune Chamber: This room is covered in runes. The Dwarves once used it for some magical end (perhaps enchantment or rune carving or the like.) The runes still hum with power. Occasionally, an Orcish shaman tries to harness this power.

46 Sitting Room: This is a comfortable room the Dwarves used to gather socially. High-ranking Orcs likely use it for the same purposes.

47 Smelter: This huge room contains the furnaces necessary to smelt metals.

48 Solar: A solar is a noble's chambers, named because they are usually closer to the sun than other rooms. Ladies' solars usually have light shafts to allow them to sew in natural light.

49 Square: This is a public square. At least two avenues join here.

50 Stairwell: This is a stair that connects one level to another.

51 Store Room: This is a storeroom. While some storerooms are large, this isn't a warehouse.

52 Tavern: Here Dwarves gathered to drink. Orcs use the room for the same purposes.

53 Temple: This could be an ancient Dwarven temple. The Orcs have done what they could to defile it, but they are too superstitious to use it for the same purposes. Alternately, this could be another type of room the Orcs have converted to their Demon cults.

54 Treasury: This was a Dwarven treasury. The Orcs use it for the same purposes, maintaining any defenses if possible.

55 Underground Grotto: This is a grotto of mushrooms and natural cave formations. It's beautiful.

56 Underground River: Here an underground river carves its way through the deep rock.

57 Underground Lake: Here a vast underground lake holds fresh water. Once a safe resource to the Dwarves, a thousand years of Ulcer have likely brought . . . things . . . to live inside.

58 Unnatural Wonder: This is a feature of the Ulcer itself. It might be a portal or a place of spontaneous magic. It might have the images of every Dwarf that died on a certain spot or it might drive interlopers mad. The possibilities are endless.

59 Warehouse: This is a large warehouse. The Orcs use it for the same purposes as the Dwarves.

60 Well: This is a deep well. The water inside is probably still good. The Orcs need to maintain their wells just like the Dwarves.

61-64 Avenue: This is a large, wide city street. Not to be confused with an underground road, it's still dangerous for adventurers. Best to dart across it and pray to elude the Howling.

65-73 Residence: These were Dwarven living chambers. Now they are empty.

74-75 Shop: This is an old Dwarven shop. Since Orcs tend to work as peddlers, it's likely been converted to a home.

76-100 Damaged Feature*: Roll again. The resulting location is damaged in some significant way. If you roll this result again, increase the level of damage. Keep rolling until you get a real location.

Continued in The Lost Kingdom of the Dwarves.