2020-10-22 The road to Muspelheim

Every now and then I get back to adding more stuff to my Hex Describe tables. On the one hand, I’m helping Josh Johnston with his Apocalyptic mini-setting, but I’m also still working on my own Alpine mini-setting. One of the things that had me fascinated ever since I learned of Planescape and the planes was planar adventuer. In practice, however, the official Planescape material did not get to see much use. It was more the thought of it that pushed me along the way. Perhaps watching the Thor movies did the rest, who knows. In any case, I decided to use the mythic Norse realms as the planes for my games. In my Halberds and Helmets Referee Guide I talk about the nine realms, all of them connected via the world tree, Yggradsil:

(”The nature of the ninth realm remains unknown.”)

Every now and then, the random tables included gates to these realms: a mountain top with a glacier leading Jötinheim and the frost giants, for example. A few weeks ago I started working the road to Niflheim, and since I felt it was basically “done”, I wanted to pick another realm – and I chose Muspelheim, not least because my players had gone there, in a previous campaign!

My map of Muspelheim

Once I started thinking about Muspelheim, I remembered Ysabala Devildaughter, supposedly one of the two dozen known magic users and elves in my mini-setting. Essentially, I’m inspired by Gygax’s and Vance’s approach to spells: all of the spells are the result of a magic user or elf teaching these spell to their pupils and if I write up the spells for my rule book, then I should also write a tiny bit about the caster that created these spellbooks. Ysabala is the author of the “Book of Pyromancy”, where most of the fire spells in the mini-setting come from.

And now I just put the two ideas together: what if you could visit Ysabala herself on the plane of fire, on Muspelheim? Easy enough to add!

Here’s an example:

2504: On one of the rock faces you can still see the markings of the old dwarf forge Hammer. The ruin is abandoned and dead. If you explore the ruins, you will soon find the balor The Enchanted Planes of Giants who caused its downfall (HD 9+1 AC 4 1d6/2d6 F9 MV 12 ML 11; flying; aura of fire (anybody in melee takes automatic 1d6 fire damage); if the first attack with the flaming whip hits, the second attack with the flaming sword is at +4; only harmed by magic or magic weapons; immune to fire).

The orcs of the Repulsive Rock tribe serve The Enchanted Planes of Giants. 10 orcs led by Maufimbul (HD 3) live here (HD 1 AC 6 1d6 F1 MV 12 ML 8 XP 100). Maufimbul is a famous rune lord having just finished his most celebrated epic, The End of Common Jumper.

The orcs have built their settlement in the main hall, along the walls and overlooking the stone garden and its dwarf statues and the artificial pools. The round huts are protected by 3 boars (HD 3+1 AC 6 1d8 F1 MV 15 ML 9 XP 300). Every little hut looks the lab of a crazy inventor with bits of dwarf junk being disassembled or catalogued.

The Enchanted Planes of Giants guards an iron portal to the realm of eternal fire, to Muspelheim, at the bottom of Hammer.

The passages leading down are small cracks and shafts, barely enough to squeeze through. The rocks are warm and the air is dry and hot. The tunnel leads up to a great iron gate. This is the upper gate of the dwarven forge Moonfather. 24 dwarves live and work here (HD 1 AC 4 1d6 D1 MV 6 ML 8 XP 100) led by Fjóla Newjaw (level 8). A few gobelins cover the walls. 「20000 silver coins. 5 jewelry. The ring of the tengu, summons the tengu Beak of Pain, always willing to talk and offer advice (HD 5+1 AC 6 1d8 F10 MV 15 ML 8; flying); the ring’s magic is lost when the tengu is killed.」 From the lower gate, the tunnel continues towards Muspelheim.

Impossible as it seems, this passage seems to be dug into charred wood, as if bored by huge beetles into Yggdrasil itself. The tunnel ends at a huge iron gate. There’s a hammer on a chain fastened to the gate, a kind of knocker. Using it will summon the ifrit called Furnace of a Thousand Hell Hounds (HD 10 AC 3 2d8 + 1d8 fire F20 MV 24 ML 12 XP 1000; illusion, permanent living flame, invisibility, wall of fire and creation at will; only harmed by magic or magic weapons). He guards this entrance into Ysabala’s Tower and will happily escort polite visitors past the 12 hell hounds (HD 5 AC 4 1d6 F5 MV 12 ML 9 XP 500; 2 in 6 chance that instead of biting, it breathes fire (5d6); see invisible; 「hell hound embers burning inside them are worth 500gp to an alchemist」) to the outside.

The sorceress Ysabala also lives in this tower (hp 22 AC 9 MU10). She’s the author of The Book of Pyromancy by Ysabala Devilsdaughter: 1. fire resistance, ball of fire, flame cloak, 2. flaming blade, firetrap, illusion, 3. feasting, fireball, flame arrows, 4. summoning a lord of fire, wall of fire, wellness, 5. fire proofing, rain of fire. 「A golden diadem +2 dedicated to Odin.」

Just above her quarter lives her best friend, the red dragon Reykja (HD 10 AC -1 1d8/1d8/4d8 F10 MV 24 ML 10 XP 1000; fire (as much as the dragon has hp left, save vs. dragon breath for half)). 「50000 gold coins. 70 gems. 20 jewelry. A suit of elven plate armour +1 with elven runes naming its owner: Feirawi.」

「Long Brook」 starts here.

So, on the one hand – I love it! It’s a cool descent. It’s also linear, but I don’t mind. This is not a traditional dungeon. If you want a dungeon, there are other places to go, there’s the surface map, that’s where your agency is. This is about a transition to the other-world, into another realm, the realm of fire. As such, it works pretty well.

I guess the transition of the gate guarded by the balor needs some work. That’s a bit sudden.

The river name at the very end “Long Brook starts here” is weird, of course: we’ve long left hex 2504, we’re deep into Muspelheim, and suddenly there’s this... I think I need some code to rearrange some of the text being generated for it to make more sense.

The problem with generating the tower of a known person like Ysabala is of course that there can be multiple roads to Muspelheim all leading to Ysabala’s tower. I’d have to see it, however. Do I need special code to suppress this, or is this just fine as it is? After all, I don’t plan to generate a 1:1 map of Muspelheim matching the Midgard map... so perhaps this is OK after all.

Most of all, though, I fear about the length of the entry. All of this is just one hex. This will end up being an unprintable monster, haha!

More info about the realms, if you’re interested, would be in that short podcast episode I did a while back:



I’ve been loving these realm gateways! They’re very evocative and they make great additions to the Hex Describe setting.

I wonder how large a set of Hex Describe tables needs to be to differ enough to be useful for play. Since a lot of the realms are pretty inimical to human life, and the gateways have that mythic underworld feel to them, a smaller set of tables for a realm could be used to generate just a handful of hexes surrounding the gateway, past which the realm would be too dangerous to travel on foot (and so could be left up to the GM to flesh out or declare off limits).

Malcolm 2020-10-23 05:33 UTC

I’d say as small as 3x3 would be good enough? 5x5 would be more than enough. I think in terms of document design, I‘d wonder: is this going to be an insert at the very hex where you encounter the portal, or are we going to add little 5x5 sub-maps at the end of the document, one for each plane that can be reached? It would look elegant but it would require more code: every portal would have to end up on a particular hex of the planar map; the planar map description would have to link back; what sort of tiles would we use for the planar map, and so on.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-10-23 10:08 UTC

I love seeing D&D stuff on here♥

– Sandra Snan 2020-10-23 10:35 UTC

This was a fun read - thanks Alex

starmonkey 2020-11-11 11:09 UTC

Thank you both. 🙂 As far as Ysabala’s tower goes: I added code that makes it possible to have unique items on the map. Thus, only one of the passages to Muspelheim actually goes to her tower.

– 2020-11-11 12:14 UTC

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