Sunday, 19 September 2021

[STUFF] Morthimion: The Crypt Level

[Spoiler-free, player-safe section]

Two years have passed since the last update on Morthimion, a dungeon we have been exploring as a side-show to other, larger campaigns. For those who are not blog regulars, or do not want to read up on this stuff, Morthimion came about as an experiment to play Original D&D (reasonably) by the book, three booklets only. Most OD&D games use the followup supplements, or at least Greyhawk, which gives you a slightly rougher, lower-powered proto-AD&D. LBB-only OD&D is not yet that game. It lacks many of the monsters, spells, and classes we would associate with D&D; hit dice and weapon damage are universally 1d6; monster XP is much more generous than it would be later; and ability scores barely do anything. Level advancement can be very quick at the start, but gets quite slow later. Beyond the sheer oddity and archaic charm of it, OD&D hangs together surprisingly well if taken seriously and played by the book. It is not a fantasy novel simulation, it is a verbal tunnel exploration and puzzle-solving game that has simple but effective mechanics for looting labyrinthine subterranean complexes.

Here is where Morthimion stood in August 2019:

“I have also completed Level 3, The Crypts, progressed with the wilderness section, and written brief encounter ideas for some of the sub-levels the characters have discovered in the last two games. These will be explored in the next post, after we have a few more sessions under our belt! Until then… Fight On!”

Well, the games progressed decently until late 2019, when two things happened: the bat plague put our face-to-face games on hold, and after completing another sublevel (The Court), I felt burned out on the dungeons. The campaign was on hiatus, with only one session in 2020. After a long break, I feel like the creative block may be lifting, and Morthimion can return to rotation. Level 4, The Mines, has been drafted and the first draft of the key written; we also held another game yesterday with some quite interesting results.

This post shall summarise what has been going on in Morthimior (Ryth Chronicles-style), and allow me to clear my head by releasing two more levels of the dungeon – which will be found at the end of the post. To protect the innocent (my players surely are), this later section will be spoilered.

* * *

Domains of the Faerie Princes

Older Expeditions

Here are the main events of the Morthimion campaign:

On October 27, 2019, a wilderness expedition was conducted to the northern highlands of the Domains of the Faerie Princes. Not even far from King Donald’s Wall, the company already had to leave behind two horses to distract 5 griffins going for their company. A ruined village in the swamps yielded good bounty – old wine barrels with valuable vintage. Fatalgor the Footpad (the campaign’s only Thief – transferred from another game, and thus valid) was only saved from spider venom with an antidote. After selling off the barrels at Lodobar’s Tavern, a forest hangout of knaves and miscreants (where Szaniszlo, a light footman, snuck away to seek adventures elsewhere), the group headed for the highlands proper, and right into the nest of two green dragons. Surprised in the dense forest. Renato the horseman, Rudolf the light footman, Owl (Fighting Man 1), El Caballo the torchbearer, Zsazsa the bowman and Fero the heavy footman perished by dragon breath. Turning to flee in bind panic, the others rolled on the Table of Terror. Axbjard Bjardax (Dwarf 2), Hijo de Emirikul (Magic-User 2), Xingar (Fighting Man 2), and Fatalgor (Thief 2) all rolled hilariously badly, and were devoured by the dragons. Tumak the Shaman (Cleric 2) would be the sole survivor, but he would be missing for several weeks, out of the game.

A new company from experienced and newly recruited adventurers was established for a safer dungeon expedition. Premier brought Tycho the Ascetic (Cleric 2 of Law) and Weirlord (Magic-User 1), as well as Chort the torchbearer, Ale the porter, and Montgomery the footman. Narmor took Önund the Mystical (Magic-User 2), joined by Ulf Jr., a footman. Bendoin took Derek (Fighting Man 1), followed by his domineering aunt Dahlia Derekovna (a porter), and his uncle, the bowman Derekov; as well as Alyssa (Elf 1). Gajzi took Bandar (Cleric 3 of Risus, God of Uncontrollable Growth).

Shortly after leaving Lodobar’s Tavern, Derekov was caught and eaten in the forest by a giant frog. Pressing on to Morthimion and descending to Level 1, the company was checking out a set of stairs leading upwards, but triggered a slide trap that dumped them down into Level 3! The way was sealed and the mission changed immediately: escape alive! This section of the level (The Juggernaut Tomb) consisted of looping passages, and rumbling noises soon turned out to be enormous rolling juggernauts, one of which caught Dahlia Derekovna under its wheels, squashing her flat. Passages to the west led to a corridor patrolled by a hydra (wisely avoided), while a northern passage revealed an exit from the juggernauts’ path. Passing by stairs down to Level 4 (not an attractive prospect), the explorers discovered the The Arena of Death, where a group of werewolves appeared out of thin air to fight the challenging PCs. Lacking effective magic, they had to flee back where they came – Montgomery was left dead in one of the rooms after he burned himself to death with his own flaming oil.

The horror, the horror...
Level 3 is discovered!

Back in the Juggernaut Tomb, secret doors in the middle lead to a strange talking enigma calling itself “the Sphere of Infinity”, which demanded a hefty sum for information about finding a way out of the level. Meanwhile, Ulf Jr., exploring a nearby room, was drained and killed by a spectre lurking in a stone statue. and eventually, the southern way opened into a less dangerous dungeon section. An old man demanding 200 gp per character “or suffer the Curse of the Third Depth” was paid by most PCs, except Alyssa and Bandar, who had neither the money nor the intention to pay. Following the words of the Sphere of Infinity, they passed through a network of ghoul-haunted catacombs, and finally found a staircase back to Level 1! To their horror, Alyssa and Bandar now learned the true meaning of the “Curse of the Third Depth”: they could not leave this dungeon level, no matter how they tried! These two adventurers disappeared down in the dungeon, and were never seen again – the others, earning meagre loot but at least keeping their lives, headed upstairs to return to the surface...

On November 30, 2019, a different company probed Morthimion’s depths. Returning to the party came Derek (Fighting Man 1) and his henchman Dolmio the bowman, with Dr. D. (Magic-User 1) and his henchman, Demon (heavy footman); Tycho the Ascetic (Cleric 2 of Law) and Weirlord (now a Magic-User 2) with Ale (porter), Chort (torchbearer), and Rommel (heavy foot). They were joined by two Morthimion veterans, Brother Tivold, Cockroach of the Light (Cleric 3 of Chaos) with his henchman Mario the Peg-Leg, Xang (Fighting Man 2), and Xodak (Hobbit 1). Helmet Buddy (Dwarf 2) also joined the group.

This company opted for a wilderness expedition in the lower parts of the valley. They were soon attacked in the forest by giant frogs, and Mario the Peg-Leg was devoured. Meeting a Gypsy caravan shortly afterwards, they consulted with their leader, Offryn the Outlaw, for a crystal ball reading. This brought to their attention a mysterious stone arch they had already seen near a forest cemetery, somehow connected to “the Prince of Roses”. Unfortunately, seeking out the arch brought no enlightenment, and they instead plundered some of the crypts in the cemetery, recovering modest but not too difficult plunder to a total value of 5900 gp.

Level 2 explorations...

A second expedition led down to Level 2 of the dungeons. Exploring the eastern side of the level, Dr. D. fell into a wandering pit moving along a corridor, and died instantly. Crawlways inhabited by giant weasels were purged and a little treasure recovered. They avoided a mysterious fire temple, and found stairs up to Level 1. Finally, they came to a corridor with arrow slits and a metal door with a small peephole. A panel slid aside, and a pale, dishevelled creature (a morlock) asked about the party’s business. He finally acquiesced to letting them see their king after a bribe. However, instead of opening the door, a pit trap opened underfoot, dumping all in the corridor into a sub-level enclosure. Weirlord narrowly avoided getting killed, while Chort the torchbearer perished with a broken leg. Noises of angry, armed morlocks were approaching from behind a portcullis with long spears and flaming oil, and the only other way was a 20’ wide shaft down.’ Quickly rappelling down, they were again in the Level 3 catacombs. This was at least familiar territory. Backtracking to Level 1, resources were running low, and the company ended up bribing a group of randomly encountered bandits to serve as their escort to the surface. This expedition covered some ground on Level 2, but the pickings were very slim, a mere 305 gp.

On 29 November 2020 (almost exactly one year later!), we reconvened, this time virtually on Roll20. Önund the Mystical (Magic-User 2) and his heavy footmen Jörg and Tade were joined by Mime the Grumbler (Dwarf 1). Tycho the Ascetic (now a Cleric 3 of Law) came with Weirlord (Magic-User 2), who kept Rommel (heavy foot) and Ale the porter. Two new dungeoneers joined the gang: Seogarr (Fighting Man 1) and Astanir (Cleric 1 of Law), who brought the porter Willem and the bowman Marruk.

Travelling through a less trod path of the forest, the company came upon the statue of a bat holding a fist-sized crystal worth 4000 gp! Astanir instructed Willem to fetch the prize, but it soon turned out that the crystal, a cursed chunk of ice, would freeze its thief into an icy statue, and also melt into worthless water in turn.

A new section beyond the Torture Chamber...

Since the company was relatively weak, the expedition was conducted on Level 1. The company soon encountered a company of armoured adventurers, led by Ellominet the Benevolent. Parting on amicable terms, northern passages brought the party to a stone knight guarding an intersection, who demanded five rounds of single combat for passage. Mime the Grumbler rose to the challenge, and defeated the stone hero. To the north, a room complex with a teleporting chest puzzle yielded nice treasure, including a 5000 gp amulet! The company returned to the area close to the entrance. A crumbling wall in the Torture Chamber drew Mime’s attention, and this section proved to be of new construction! An entirely new part of the level was revealed, with meandering passages leading to dead end pits, and powerful quantum ogres that would appear if the party was backed into the corner. To his bad luck, the wounded Mime the Grumbler – this section’s discoverer – perished in one of the pit traps.

The ogres had decent gold, and the search also yielded an old bronze door leading to a mortuary with scattered treasure… but also 12 ghouls. Deciding to leave them be rather than risk a fight after a successful turn attempt, the door was instead spiked shut for a later expedition. The company now headed for the surface, where they soon made an unpleasant discovery: Jörg the heavy footman proved to be a thief looking for a good score, lifting a good deal of valuables from the resting company. Marruk the bowman also called it quits, retiring with his well-earned wages. And so the game stood for ten more months.

* * *

Jewels of the Gnoll King

On 17 September, 2021, we had a guest coming over from the States (Necromancer Games forums regular Kenmckinney, from way back in 2002!). After sightseeing and a lunch, we sat down for an impromptu game of OD&D with the gang.

The party descended into the dungeons of Morthimion, trying to lay siege to the ghoul mortuary. Ken got two second-level characters, Otto (Dwarf 2) and Wulfram (Cleric 2 of Fire, Lawful), with Sven the halberdier. Nubin (Dwarf 3) came all the way from a LBB-only Xyntillan game back in 2019, and he was accompanied by Brother Gaspard (Cleric 1 of Law), as well as a whole troop of four bowmen: Nock, Aim, Draw, and Shoot. Tycho the Ascetic (Cleric 3 of Law) and Weirlord (now a Magic-User 3) returned with more recruits: the halberdiers Bill and Hook. Brother Tivold, Cockroach of the Light (Cleric 3 of Chaos) came alone, for he was so mighty.

The company quickly returned to the Torture Chamber, and set out to construct an elaborate ghoul trap using spikes, rope, and lots of oil. However, as they were hammering the spikes into the wall, the noise attracted a band of ten gnolls, who attacked the party from the rear (in OD&D, these are not yet the later hyena-men, but gnome/troll hybrids – the Morthimion document refers to them as “tromes”). A furious melee developed, and the gnolls (sturdy 2 HD critters) put up a darn good fight, making all their morale rolls and fighting to the last. Sven, the halberdier, went down fighting in the melee.

The canonical OD&D gnoll

Now the gnolls were just a random encounter far from their lair, but I gave a 30% probability of them carrying a level one treasure (that's 100% of 1d6×100 silver pieces, 50% of 1d6×10 gold pieces, 5% each of gemstones or jewellery, and 5% of one magic item – trash loot, basically, because in OD&D, 100 gp is chump change).

So the gnolls had 300 sp among them... 10 gold pieces... but then I rolled that 5% for the jewellery, and they were carrying four of them! Jewels are completely random, and they are the most valuable treasure type, much much much more valuable than anything else that’s not a magic item, and small enough to transport easily. I rolled everything in the open, and got a 5000 gp necklace, a 10,000 gp crown, a pair of 1300 gp boots, and a 8000 gp sceptre! The characters had found the guard escorting the crown jewels of the Gnoll King! They basically immediately turned around and left the dungeon, because they could just jump a level each after dividing their 24,300 gp haul, even though it was among seven characters. Two henchmen, Shoot and Bill decided to cash out their wages and retire.

The second expedition was with a more powerful band: Otto, Wulfram and Brother Gaspard were now level 3, Nubin was a Level 4 Hero, and Brother Tivold became an Anti-Vicar. To round out the lineup, Trident the halberdier joined Weirlord, while two more halberdiers, Walther and Siegfried joined Otto. Draco (Fighting Man 2 with a Charisma of 3, a regular Quasimodo!) joined the company slightly later.

The trap was finished: three ropes fastened at ankle height over pools of oil, characters feigning escape to lure in the ghouls, and ready torchmen to set the oil puddles ablaze at the first opportunity. The followers were left to hang back, since this was solely a trick for the hardier PCs. The ghouls were ready to fight (they had heard all the hammering outside their lair), and rushed out more suddenly than expected. They were worn down and burned by the oil-and-rope traps, although characters were severely wounded, and Otto, Nubin, Brother Tivold, as well as Draco were paralysed (in OD&D, there is no time limit: I ruled it would last until the end of the expedition). The ghoul band was finally destroyed by turning them into a blazing pool of oil behind them, a dirty trick which was so clever I didn’t even grant a save vs. dragon breath. The mortuary was looted… 1200 gp and a shield +1… no! Examining one of the rotting tapestries on the wall, it was discovered that the back was also embroidered with a treasure map showing a lake in the wilderness, demarcated by forests, a road, and mountains. This would be Silver Lake, a body of water in the Domains which they had passed by numerous times!

With four characters suffering from paralysis, they again headed outside (this short session went without much in the way of exploring new territory)… to run into six very angry gnolls, apparently searching for the jewel thieves! This time, the gnolls were taken out with a sleep spell, except a sole survivor who turned and fled into the darkness, even carrying off a magic arrow Draw had shot at it.

The session ended with a brief wilderness trip to recover the treasure. Riding on horses, the company entered the forests… to immediately run into ten more gnolls, preparing an ambush! This time, Weirlord was ready, and used phantasmal forces to create the illusion of several more horsemen thundering behind them, and the gnolls failed their morale check, disappearing in the woods. The way to Silver Lake was clear, but where was the treasure? Tycho the Ascetic’s speak with animals spell used on 11 friendly giant toads just minding their business among the reeds (the result of a high reaction roll) pinpointed the exact location of one half of a submerged boat, carrying in its hold some 40,000 silver pieces. Thus ended the expedition for The Jewels of the Gnoll King and The Treasure of Silver Lake.

[Here ends the spoiler-free section]


[Players wishing to adventure in Castle Morthimion: 


The Crypt Level / The Court Level

These two levels were both written back in 2019. Of the two, The Crypt Level is a dangerous place, the first one in this dungeon to use the second-level random encounter table from The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures. This ups the threat level considerably, since it goes up to the second highest monster encounter chart, which begins with Trolls and Superheroes, and ends with Hydrae (6-8 heads) and Medusae. Crypts are easy to write, since you can make up any sort of weird puzzle/trap encounter trap and justify it as a “crypt”. So there is a lot of this, as well as a set of ghoul catacombs, the killer Juggernaut Tomb, The Arena of Death, and some encounters which are just dungeony staff to avoid over-theming. I am not entirely satisfied with this level. You be the judge, but I may want to alter the maps slightly to add more horizontal connections crossing the place, which may be as simple as a short secret corridor around 21/d. It is also slightly overkeyed, with not enough breathing room between encounters (I noticed this during the ill-fated escape expedition – the company was constantly running from the frying pan into the fire). This may be harder to fix without compromising the existing layout of the level. Things to ponder.

Then, you have The Court Level, the lair of the wizard Wörramos. You have your standard throne room/reception hall, and you have stairs up from Level 1 for brave souls who want to mess with a powerful and insane magic-user and his critters. This small thing is mapped and keyed as a “special” dungeon, following OD&D ideas about real spaces: it is not realistic, but vaguely reminiscent of someone’s ruined palace quarters. I like the random Wizard determination chart. You can notice there is a southern half to the Grounds. The secret Lycanthrope Level has a handwritten key but no typed version yet, so the next release will probably contain this one – hopefully not two years from now.

And level 4 is taking shape: here is a page of the super-rough notes, written on a long train ride (a good place to design adventures).

The Dwarven Mines: The Very Rough Cut

Download:Castle Morthimion - Levels 1-2-S-3-C (10 MB PDF)


  1. What a treat for the weekend, thanks!

    When you say about unkeyed parts of the map, it is really interesting. Before getting into OSR, I'd never thought of that. And I believe that a lot of people don't as well. In the other day, for example I was reading a conversation where some dude was complaining that unkeyed rooms was "laziness" from the author. I had to intervene and explain just what you said, that we need it for the party to 'breath' between encounters. Obviously the person was talking how it is lame to play dungeoncrawl altogether, while talking about his experiences with 5e.

  2. I don't believe in henchmen... they die like lemmings and end up breaking your heart. (Btw isn't Tivold a cockroach, erm, cleric of Law?)

  3. I have definite use for this, although my players are already 6th level. Thank you!

  4. Ahhh, I have a special affection for Morthimion. For I myself have trodden it's mazes and hallways.

  5. Ken here, thanks so much for showing me around Budapest and allowing me to join in the latest expedition to Morthimion!