2020-09-30 The road to Niflheim

As I was working on Anthe, I realised that I needed a lot of random results to name orcs, villages, diseases, and so on. And I opted to use the same format I use for Hex Describe ­– well, a simplified version since I don’t need all the map features. All of that put me in the mood to return to Hex Describe, however.

I decided that I wanted more “encounters in depth”. That is, I want more than just a simple lair of something, but I also don’t want a dungeon with its own map. I was thinking of those more elaborate three to four paragraph setups we have for witches, druits, spider people, and so on. I decided that the places where you can find gates to other realms would make good places to get started. Somehow these come up in my games sooner or later. Such passages are excellent: they start with a lair at the surface, that leads to a gate, which is possibly guarded, a passage, possibly dangerous, and a location “on the other side”, wherever that is.

I started to work on “the road to Niflheim”. Sometimes, you can find one of them as you wander through fir forests, higher up in the mountains. Here’s an example.

It’s colder up here and the 「Moon Grove」 is dominated by junipers. This fir forest is home to a pack of 8 wolves (HD 2+1 AC 7 1d6 F1 MV 18 ML 6 XP 200).

These wolves are blessed by Hel. At night, they sleep in the Cave of Howling Wolves. At the far end of the cave is an iron gate decorated with many icicles. It is guarded by a chimera (HD 6 AC 5 1d6/1d6/1d10/2d10 or fire F6 MV 9 ML 10 XP 600; fire (3×/day): as much as the chimera has hp left, save vs. dragon breath for half; 「chimera blood is worth 5000gp to an alchemist」) for it leads to Niflheim

The tunnel is wide, the walls are black. It winds itself ever further down into the bowls of the earth. There are bigger caverns to cross every now and then. Bats can be heard overhead and their excrement covers the floor. This particular cave, however, also hosts a family of 11 wolf spiders (HD 4 AC 6 1d6 + paralysis F2 MV 15 ML 7 XP 400; climb).

The tunnel walls are made of stone but overgrown and split by gargantuan roots. The power of Yggdrasil is all around you. Finally, you reach a black lake in a giant cavern, the walls covered in green ice. Far above, there’s a round opening and from it descends a long iron chain with a big bucket at it’s end. Anybody entering the bucket is carried up, but there’s no boat to carry anybody out into the cold lake towards the elevator bucket. The bucket itself is operated by 3 trolls led by Boulder (HD 6+1 AC 4 1d6/1d6/1d10 F6 MV 12 ML 10 XP 600; regenerate unless burned or dissolved in acid) living up above, at the behest of Hel.

Icicles hang from giant trees and the cold is piercing. The stunted growth of the Forest of the Peak of Chained Humans around you is covered in snow.

In the south, you can see the Peak of Bound Souls. On it lives the troll-king Famine with his 15 trolls (HD 6+1 AC 4 1d6/1d6/1d10 F6 MV 12 ML 10 XP 600; regenerate unless burned or dissolved in acid), 7 harpies HD 3 AC 7 1d4/1d4/1d6 F6 MV 15 ML 7 XP 300; charm song, and his entourage of harpies, eternally feasting, served and defended by his 20 human slaves (HD 1 AC 8 1d6 F1 MV 12 ML 7 XP 100). 「12000 silver coins. 1000 gold coins.」

Here’s another example:

It’s colder up here and the 「Ghost Wood」 is dominated by junipers. This fir forest is home to a pack of 8 wolves (HD 2+1 AC 7 1d6 F1 MV 18 ML 6 XP 200).

These wolves are blessed by Hel. At night, they sleep in the Maw of Howling Rocks. At the far end of the cave is an iron gate decorated with an endless forests. It is guarded by a chimera (HD 6 AC 5 1d6/1d6/1d10/2d10 or fire F6 MV 9 ML 10 XP 600; fire (3×/day): as much as the chimera has hp left, save vs. dragon breath for half; 「chimera blood is worth 5000gp to an alchemist」) for it leads to Niflheim

The tunnel walls are made of stone but overgrown and split by gargantuan roots. The power of Yggdrasil is all around you. There are bigger caverns to cross every now and then. Bats can be heard overhead and their excrement covers the floor. This particular cave, however, also hosts a family of 8 wolf spiders (HD 4 AC 6 1d6 + paralysis F2 MV 15 ML 7 XP 400; climb).

The tunnel walls drop away into a black void and all you are left with is a stone bridge spanning the emptiness until it comes to apparently endless wall. There, the tunnel continues. Finally, you reach a black lake in a giant cavern, the walls covered in green ice. Far above, there’s a round opening and from it descends a long iron chain with a big bucket at it’s end. Anybody entering the bucket is carried up, but there’s no boat to carry anybody out into the cold lake towards the elevator bucket. The bucket itself is operated by 8 trolls led by Fist (HD 6+1 AC 4 1d6/1d6/1d10 F6 MV 12 ML 10 XP 600; regenerate unless burned or dissolved in acid) living up above, at the behest of Hel.

An acrid stench lies in the air. The outside world is covered in a warm, yellow fog that smells of metal, of burned flesh, of acid rain. A soft wind moves back and forth. This is the breadth of Niđhöggr, the gargantuan dragon sleeping amidst the roots of Yggdrasil somewhere down here in Niflheim, forever poisoning the world tree.

In the west, you can see a fantastic jumble of walls, gates, moat, towers with gallows jutting out over the waters, swinging cages holding the dead and the living near the bridges, ravens on every rooftop. This festering castle is Ejudnir, Hel’s hall in Niflheim, guarded by 500 trolls (HD 6+1 AC 4 1d6/1d6/1d10 F6 MV 12 ML 10 XP 600; regenerate unless burned or dissolved in acid), watched over by 120 harpies (HD 3 AC 7 1d4/1d4/1d6 F6 MV 15 ML 7 XP 300; charm song), and filled with ten thousand despairing souls of cowards and the weak, moaning.

Truly, this is hell.

As you can see, the chances of repeats are real, but at the same time, the entire thing is going to be rare on a map. For now, I can just keep adding to the entries I started, and it’ll be more interesting.

Anyway, it’s a great opportunity to spend a little time writing for role-playing games, immediately useful if you use Hex Describe, it works even for small additions, and the nature of these tables makes the entire system richer if you add to some tables as they can be reused. For example, sometimes nixies in water hexes will tell you that they have a problem with a chimera sighting nearby. Guess what it is guarding? Another road to Niflheim, of course!

I love it.

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