Rewriting Isfjall

October 11, 2022 See All Posts


I've been game mastering since D&D in middle school circa the year 2000, starting with 3.5e. Throughout my GM career, I've made a lot of bad adventures, and run a lot of published modules. I think, especially when learning a new system, that it's good to understand how the veterans of that system use it to design adventures before going off and doing your own thing.

One of the things that kept me from trying out GURPS was the lack of lengthy published adventures and brimming bestiaries. Paizo, for instance, routinely publishes adventure paths that take players from the beginning of the game to max level, and they take most groups over a year to get through (if they ever do). Yet, you still need random encounters and wandering monsters and improvise for when things get off the rails, and for that you need some sort of bestiary. As far as I could tell about GURPS, it didn't have either of those things.

Then I found saw an advert for the nordlond bestiary which, at a higher pledge level, included a whole slew of adventures, in the setting. Gaming Ballistic was stepping up and providing both answers to my fundamental problem. Sold.

My group picked up DFRPG, I tried to absorb the rules, and then ran I Smell a Rat, the included dungeon as a tutorial to the system. In the background, I began preparing Hall of Judgment, which is the adventure geared toward fresh 250-point characters.

The rest of the post will detail the prep that I did, and list out pain points I had in parsing the text. I provide this so that others can copy my work, and potentially know that you aren't alone in your confusion.

Note: I think it is of the utmost importance to point out that I highly respect Douglas Cole and the whole Gaming Ballistic crew. I've asked a ton of questions about the adventure and the setting and the kind folks over there have limitless patience. None of what follows is meant to be in any way insulting or a complaint.

A Note About Details

Much about what follows will be me taking the text given and then fleshing it out. I make comment that my job as a GM would have been easier, and thus the book would have been more valuable if these details were provided. It should be noted that this is only true of me, and folks like me.

There's a whole other camp of reasonable folks whose experience would have been worse if read-aloud text was thrust upon them. Folks who already know exactly what their Isfjall Inn ought to be like, what season it is, what will happen in town, and all about the shops and their keepers.

I know this because I've had this exact conversation with Douglas Cole before. We've talked about how tough it is to please both camps of folks. How if you flesh out a book to the degree that I do below, it becomes too thick; too expensive.

I think there's a few good options:

I really like the second solution here. It makes it so the folks that don't care don't have to pay for the extra pages.

Isfjall and Finding A Quest

The book gives us a ton of info about Isfjall: it's history (former dragon thralls ran away after the dragon empire fell and founded isfjall), it's climate (cold), the types of folks who live there (permanent residents, snowbirds, traders, visitors), info about laws, customs, religion, trade, and guilds. Flipping through though, there's very little on specifics. If the party wants to get some ale, what's the name of the inn? The innkeeper? If they want to buy/sell weapons (they will), acquire delving goods (they will), where do they go and what's the name/description of the person who sells it to them?

Fresh out of absorbing the DFRPG rulebooks, GMs should have internalized a structure that's reinforced by I Smell A Rat: DFE14: Finding A Quest. In I Smell A Rat, the Carousing roll is at +4, and the quest you get is from Lee. HoJ says:

The search for the Lost Hall likely begins when rumors around town lead to Geirolf Tyrthegn, a cleric of the God of Law who is convinced, against all counterargument, that the artifact and sword recently returned from the slain holy warrior Gyrid portend dire consequences and events in the Frostharrow, and perhaps in all of Nordlond.

Woah, lots to unpack here, and a lot to rewind in order to have a coherent campaign. Say that you're just like me, and this is the first Nordlond (first gurps adventure at all, really) adventure you're running. What are all of these nouns, events, and plot points? As a GM, I would really appreciate having the book restructured so that none of this is mysterious.

Taking a step back. The point of a adventure module is to take a world and adventure that lives in an author's head, encode it into a book, then have a GM decode it into their brain. We want to write it in a way to make this decoding process as painless as possible. Then, the GM, who knows all the mysteries, secrets, and hidden things, feeds mystery and adventure to the players.

The other job of an adventure module is to provide guidance to (potentially fledgling) GMs on how to run the adventure. How to pace it, how to make it dramatic, advice on what to say.

The time they can do this the best is before anything has the chance to get off the rails: Session 1. The adventure module can provide a GM with all of the context they need for their first session. That all starts with the opening speech, which we'll craft.

Here's an example from Caravan to Ein Arris:

The air is buzzing in the market of Khedris – the great market that stretches from the fishmongers on the shore to Caravan Square. Halmaro the Red – master of the powerful Merchants’ Guild, second in power in Khedris only to the emperor of Lantara himself – is organizing a caravan! And this is no ordinary caravan; it will carry goods and gifts for the wedding of Halmaro’s daughter Kira to Prince Eiru of Mashanda.

It goes on 5 more paragraphs! Really cool writing.

Here's the intro from Abomination Vaults

When the fog is creeping
And the moon is low
When the town is sleeping
Gauntlight starts to glow!

That’s when she arises
For her midnight lunch.
Naughty kids are prizes
For her teeth to crunch.

But if you obey me,
And obey the rules;
You’re safe from Belcorra;
She just eats the fools!

So warns a popular nursery rhyme among the parents in the town of Otari, as they often sing the melodious but unsettling poem to their children at night to encourage good behavior. As a result, everyone who grows up in Otari has a healthy mix of fear, respect, and curiosity for the old ruins out in Fogfen and the strange lighthouse that stands at the swamp’s heart. As they grow older, townsfolk learn what’s more often accepted as truth: that the heroic founders of Otari had slain the wicked sorcerer Belcorra many years ago. For a time, thrill-seekers explored the ruins around the lighthouse called Gauntlight, but today, common knowledge holds that the place has become a haven for pests—no longer a source of active danger or significant treasure after being completely picked over. Nearly 500 years has passed since Belcorra’s defeat after all, and in that time, she has only posed a menace to Otari through sinister rhymes.

So you as the GM probably ought to give some sort of speech to set the scene. There's a whole bunch of guidance about the various festivals on HoJ:9-12, and this allows us to make another important decision: what's the date?

The book makes no recommendation, the campaign is fresh and I don't have a preference. There are two holidays a month, and there is fully specified climate chart for each month on HoJ29. So, I asked Douglas Cole himself, and he recommended October. It's warm enough that delvers feel comfortable going out, but if they dally... winter is coming.

So, let's go with October 1st. What year is it?

This is actually difficult too. HoJ doesn't mention anything about the Nordlond calendar, but Forest's End gives us the following timeline.

Year Event
-6812 Creation of the Elfard
-4812 The Shattering / Ravym Born
-2112 Vaesukir's Death
-796 Dwarf-King Barakthel Dies
-310 Audreyn's Wall Completed
0 Nordlond Founded
962 Skogurenda Founded
965 Present Day

It makes sense to me, then, that the people of Nordlond would date their calendar "FN" for "Founding of Nordlond", and that the year is 965 FN. Other races use a different calendar based on the Shattering (when a group of the faerie broke the leyferds (leylines), disrupting magic in general, and especially the magic that united/empowered the dragons). The civilizations would date their calendars "PS" for "Post-Shattering", and all of the dates would be increased by 4812:

Year Event
-2000 Creation of the Elfard
0 The Shattering / Ravym Born
2700 Vaesukir's Death
4016 Dwarf-King Barakthel Dies
4502 Audreyn's Wall Completed
4812 Nordlond Founded
5774 Skogurenda Founded
5777 Present Day

So, today's date is October 1st, 965 FN, 5777 PS (depending on calendar). A good day for adventuring.

Okay! We have a date, and that date allows us to figure out the festival. That festival allows us to describe the opening scene (since the scene would drastically change depending on which festival the town was currently throwing).

What all do we need for a coherent first session? There's an article about creating a script of a session, and using that script to structure your prep that I find very useful. So, here's my script of the opening session for "Hall of Judgment".

I'll read a really dramatic and cool opening speech that sets the scene of Isfjall during Remembrance Day (HOJ:11), then ask the players what they want to do. They'll probably want to find a place to sleep, send someone to look for work (DFE14), and other folks will try to score extra cash (DFE14). While they're doing this, I'll bombard them with town encounters to keep things spicy and make the town feel alive. They'll eventually get approached by Geirolf Tyrthegn who gives them a quest to find the hall, and then they'll probably want to gear up for the trip. They might try to find a sponsor.

Converting that into an itemized TODO list:

It would be really nice if this was what the pages of Isfjall related materials was written about. I would have loved an opening speech, town encounters and shops with merchants; that would have saved me a ton of prep. Fortunately for you dear reader, I did the prep, and so you can copy. Fortunately for me, I have heaps of tables!

The Opening Speech

Here's what we know:

So how about:

It is October 1st, 965 years after the foundation of Nordlond, and it's cold. It's damn cold. That's the second thing you notice as your Ana Rottur rowboat effortlessly glides over the waters of Lake Odin. The first thing was Einmannafjall. You'd heard tale of "The Lonely Mountain" before; of it's height; it's majesty. Seeing it in person is a different thing all together.

As your boat crosses into the Lake proper, you feel, you really feel that it's alive. Not just that it contains life. It does. Or that it sustains it. It does that too. But that the lake itself is alive and wants you to know it. That maybe if you started sinking, that well... maybe you'd never stop.

A boat bumps into yours; disrupting your thoughts. It seems like what you heard of the Isfjall folk was right; not all of them are crazy enough to spend the winter somewhere this cold. There's a lot of boats around you, passing you, going the other way.

But you guys are made of sturdy stuff, and maybe you're a little bit crazy. You are delvers after all. You arrive at Isfjall's impressive docks, eager to stretch your legs. You find a town in the midst of a festival! Wandering from the docks to the market square, you see adults and children in costume, dressed up in the guise of monsters and spirits.

Your stomach groans and you remember your priorities. You'll need to find somewhere to eat and sleep, and you need a job; which for you means some godforsaken place to delve into, loot, and haul it all back. What do you do?

A Week's Worth of Town Encounters

The HoJ makes vague reference to town encounters: "Not more than one step (HOJ:8)" talks about how folks really like testing other folks that aren't carrying weapons via insult/shoulder check and try to entice them into a wrestling match. "Unlicensed Commerce (HOJ:7)" talks about how folks who participate in unlicensed trade twice will be "cornered in a dark alley and beaten within an inch of their life". "Crime, Weregild, and Judicial Combat" talks about how victims of a crime sell their right to extract vengeance.


3 down, 4 to go! Charles Saeger recommends Midkemia's Cities for random town encounter tables. Here's a preview. We also need a way to generate NPC names. I use this. Also, because I keep my notes digitally and can't search for characters like þ or ð, I use a pretty simple conversion that I homebrewed. I use the same for the bestiary. þ => th, ð => d. All accented characters get their accent dropped. Easier for my USA english-only brain. That means a name like "Þjóðann Kaldason" is "Thjodann Kaldason", and the holiday "Alþingi" is "Althingi".

Using that, we get:

These are intentionally left more vague to be filled out based on the party. For instance, if you have a wizard in the party, perhaps the Jarl (Una Jorvadottir) is connected to the local wizard's guild and can get your party's wizard a foot in the door.

Also important to note: these are problems, not quests. The players can handle (or not handle) these however they want.

Inns and Shops

The excellent d30 Sandbox Companion has great tables for NPCs, shops, and Inns. Let's roll!

The Raving Bow (Inn)

Name: The Raving Bow
Age: new
Type: 2-story, brick
Rooms & Bedding: poor - cots in the main room
Features: furniture - very old, but well-crafted
Reputation: food - small portions
Featured Main Dishes: venison ribs in wine

You're directed to a newly constructed two-story brick building with a wooden sign depicting a sentient bow yelling at an annoyed scout. The inn declares itself to be "The Raving Bow". It seems this section of town built up not out. Even with two stories, the cots are in the cozy main room. The smell of venison ribs in some sort of wine marinade floats in from the very nearby kitchen.


Name: Tinna Aradottir
Body: wide
Skin: chestnut
Face: chin, cleft
Eye Color: green, light
Hair: matted, to collar, light golden brown
Motivation: goal, for other
Personal Inspiration: covenant/promise made
Personality: mysterious
Quirky Behavior: obsessive-compulsive
Bad Habit: prying; extreme
Burden: guilt, unfulfilled promise; constant
Parent(s): tax collector
Additional Family Information: parent(s) killed by (fill in monster)
Personal Life: knows many clerics
Eccentricities: lecherous
Talents: rowing

Ram's Armory & Emporium

Name: Ram's Armory & Emporium
Interior Description: ostentatious
Shopkeeper Attitude: poker-faced, 0
Depth of Stock: thin
Common Item Appearance: 1-in-6
Uncommon Item Appearance: 1-in-6 then 1-in-6
Rare Item Appearance: 1-in-6 then 1-in-6 then 2-in-6
Price: 125%
Bartering Floor: 120%


Name: Ram Dagthorsson
Body: pear-shaped
Skin: cocoa, dark
Face: cheeks, chubby
Eye Color: amethyst
Hair: wavy, over ears, golden blonde
Facial Hair: poor (stubby/long) mutton chops
Motivation: knowledge, general
Personal Inspiration: relative, close - prev. generation**
Personality: moody
Quirky Behavior: suicidal
Bad Habit: pride; extreme
Burden: nightmares; constant
Parent(s): farmer
Additional Family Information: parents were actually spies (50% chance character knows)
Personal Life: severely in debt
Eccentricities: mumbles
Talents: storytelling

Let's make Ram a Gullinalmur (boar-folk) for flavor, and say that his stock is thin because it was bought out recently due to all the huskarls being sent to the dragongrounds. Let's also say that the reason he's suicidal and has constant nightmares is that he's haunted by a Matrod (bestiary:140). He'll die within the week if left alone. Maybe the Matrod moves on to their next favorite shopkeeper.

10ft To The Pole (Delving Equipment)

Name: 10ft To The Pole
Interior Description: dark
Shopkeeper Attitude: humble, 0
Depth of Stock: below average
Common Item Appearance: 3-in-6
Uncommon Item Appearance: 1-in-6
Rare Item Appearance: 1-in-6 then 1-in-6 then 4-in-6
Price: 125%
Bartering Floor: 100%


Name: Glo Siguroladottir
Body: strapping
Skin: golden, dark
Face: fresh-faced
Eye Color: aqua, bright
Hair: wild, cropped, mix: wine/dk. brown
Motivation: thrill seeking
Personal Inspiration: event witnessed - adolescence
Personality: glum
Quirky Behavior: know-it-all
Bad Habit: pride; mild
Burden: heartbreak; occasional
Parent(s): mason
Additional Family Information: entire family in hiding, being stalked out of revenge
Personal Life: speaks many languages
Eccentricities: lecherous
Talents: letter writing

Niflbud (Magic Shop)

Name: Niflbud (nifl-shop, as in the shop from niflheim, the realm of elemental forces)
Interior Description: tacky
Shopkeeper Attitude: relentless, +3
Depth of Stock: above average
Common Item Appearance: 5-in-6
Uncommon Item Appearance: 2-in-6
Rare Item Appearance: 1-in-6
Price: 100%
Bartering Floor: 85%


Name: Konny Manadottir
Body: brawny
Skin: golden, dark
Face: lips, thick
Eye Color: honey, light
Hair: straight, cropped, bright copper brown
Motivation: knowledge, specific
Personal Inspiration: covenant/promise made
Personality: fanciful
Quirky Behavior: know-it-all
Bad Habit: bad manners; extreme
Burden: sense of detachment; occasional
Parent(s): weaver
Additional Family Information: sold into slavery as a child, escaped, grew up by own wits
Personal Life: walks with limp
Eccentricities: speaks gibberish
Talents: flower arranging

The Scene with Geirolf Tyrthegn

Here, we can lean into our town encounters. If the party decided to help Jarl Una Jorvadottir not be assassinated, Kristianna Astmarsdottir not get stolen from, Elmar Sandsson not get beat up, etc, then they can introduce the party to Geirolf and it feels like a nice callback.

Otherwise, the party member attempting Find a Quest hears word that Geirolf Tyrthegn, a priest of Tyr, is funding a trip to find the lost Hall of Judgment. He's paying upfront, but you have to swear an oath.

They're given directions to Geirolf's office in Tyr's Temple.

Here's where things get tricky. The text says

The search for the Lost Hall likely begins when rumors around town lead to Geirolf Tyrthegn, a cleric of the God of Law who is convinced, against all counterargument, that the artifact and sword recently returned from the slain holy warrior Gyrid portend dire consequences and events in the Frostharrow, and perhaps in all of Nordlond.

Geirolf is in possession of both sword and relic (which he calls a tiwstakn); he is also in possession of the stolen manuscripts and maps from the Isfjall archives. He is actively looking for another group of thegns to rediscover the Lost Hall.

Isfjall and its surrounds are hard-pressed. This is always the case: the town is prosperous but the life is hard, and its location near the Hunted Lands (Veiddarlönd) as well as the Frostharrow pose a constant threat. The Veiddarlönd has been particularly active of late, and if that’s not bad enough, reports of a surge in the dead rising have reached the hajarl. If there is manpower to be spared, Vidir Stefansson wants it applied to preserving his jarldom, and none blame him.

Nonetheless, Geirolf is looking for a few good thegns. He is at odds with the other priests and wardens of the Law God: they believe that while the Hall of Judgment is a powerful legend whose rediscovery would be valuable, now is not the time. Geirolf feels that the uprising, demon-cult activity and the finding of the relic are connected. The last meeting of the Althingi was somewhat boisterous.
Geirolf is convinced that the time is ripe to rediscover the Hall, and that the Hall, the activity of faerie in the frostharrow, the surge of demonic cult activity, and the growing instability of the magic of Lake Odin are connected. Pro tip: He’s right.

Now we need to unpack this.

What Artifact?

The text says that the artifact is called a "Tiwstakn". As written, it:

As written, there would be very little chance Rules-As-Written of the party just so happening to use the map+tiwstakn ritual correctly. You must have two people: one person recites the oath to seek the Hall of Judgment while the other person simultaneously casts Pathfinder specifically while both of them hold the map.

The text provides no guidance on how the players would figure out that this is the appropriate ritual. Instead, it suggests that "If the players can't find the hall, there are other clues in Logiheimli, and Geirolf knows it was important to questors (folks who used to seek the hall) in the past, so he can send them there."


Of these options, the third is the most coherent. Geirolf knows that these objects are important and probably magical. He would have brought them to a Wizard and had them analyzed if that's possible. The party wizard being the first person to be like "oh wow, these are both magical, let me analyze them... all we have to do is x" is cool, but then the players (my players at least), start asking questions like "how come no one else did this?". Dang reasonable questions.

What Sword?

The text says that the sword is Gyrid's blessed blade, a rare two-handed blade forged in Vopnferd (what/where is Vopnferd? a city famous for craftsmanship about 400 miles south-east by river) of pattern-welded steel.

How was Gyrid slain? How did the artifact/sword make their way back to Geirolf?

This is the one that got me the hardest. I didn't think to prep this before we actually played and so my players were incredibly suspicious of Geirolf after the nonsense I improvised. They wanted to magically verify his story my improvisation was so garbage. I still don't think they trust him, poor guy.

The original text offers only an extremely vague hint on HoJ:41:

The faerie lords and ladies—and one faerie sorceress in particular—wish to possess the hall to enhance their status among the Winterfae nobility. The sorceress can’t interact with mortals herself, for reasons having to do with how the tiwstakn relic and the holy sword came to Geirolf in Isfjall. Instead...

The Faerie Noble entry on HoJ:75 has another blurb:

This particular faerie lady’s name is Elunad. She’s been active in the Norðlond for some time now, and is obsessed with finding and possessing the Hall of Judgment. She was recently bested in a riddle contest by a Holy Warrior of the Law God, which lost her possession of a tiwstakn—she’s likely to hold a grudge about that for a very long time. Forever, in fact.

Okay, it's coming together. Gyrid bested Elunad the faerie noble in a riddle contest that somehow lead to the tiwstakn being protected and the sorceress being unable to interact with mortals (maybe just tiwstakn-bearing mortals?). Then somehow Gyrid is slain anyway, and somehow the tiwstakn and Gyrid's sword ends up in Isfjall with Geirolf.

I was confused enough about this that I contacted the GamingBallistic folks again. As it turns out, the original Hall of Tyr had a longer backstory that fleshes this out totally. It's worth taking it wholesale, that way if you have curious players, you don't have to improvise and your world has richer history.

Originally, Gyrid and her band of 8 other Tyr-devotees ventured into the Greniheim Forest (part of the hunted lands) to take care of a roving band of Storalfs. Along the way they met Una (Elunad in disguise) who tricked them into finding and retrieving a tiwstakn from an enchanted pool. Elunad betrayed the band and killed most of them. Before she could seize the tiwstakn, Gyrid claimed it in the name of Tyr, and wagering it on a riddle battle. If Gyrid should win, the key would remain in the human world and the party would be allowed to depart unmolested.

Gyrid won, but Elunad claimed that safe passage belonged only to the party, not to Gyrid. Gyrid charged the two remaining companions to deliver the key to the high priest of Tyr in Isfjall. In a cold and splendid flash of light Gyrid’s sword and the key fell to the ground unmolested, as Elunad disappeared to Svartalfheim, taking Gyrid with her.

This gives us two more NPCs (Gyrid's two surviving companions) that need names. Let's go with Steinthor Gunnolason (Knight) and Einara Nerosdottir (Wizard). They're the ones who brought back tiwstakn and sword and delivered them to Geirolf. The scene is potentially more powerful if one of these NPCs shows up, or is available to be interviewed.

So now we have Elunad (our first real antagonist), who is up to no good and is probably looking for other Tiwstakn, and Gyrid in Svartalfheim that can be potentially saved.

This also tells us how the Faerie activity in the Frostharrow is connected to the appearance of the tiwstakn and sword. It is incoherent that anyone doubts this is the case; they can simply cast Truthsayer on either Steinthor or Einara to verify the story. Seems pretty important.

Why does this portend dire consequences for Nordlond?

This is relatively buried. The text says on HoJ:50

Somewhere between where the Sacrifice Gate intersects with the spiral staircase and the opening to the upper chambers, the staircase actually shifts from being inside the the realm of the gods themselves. It is for this reason the demons and faerie both wished to possess the Hall: The God of Law did not come to Norðlond to treat with his people...they came to him.

So, a tiwstakn falling into the wrong hands means that a potential entrance to Asguard falls into the wrong hands. Presumably the faerie and demons want to get into Asguard, and the people want to keep the faeries and the demons out of Asguard, given that the people worship the Asguardians. Having them corrupted or tricked and whatnot would be real bad news.

Why does it's location near the Hunted Lands pose a threat?

As it turns out, Isfjall is right on the Hunted Lands. This was a case of having to dig through some other books, but the hunted lands are everything north of Odin River, connecting to the end of Audreyn's Wall via "The Palisade". The idea is that Audreyn's wall keeps everything out, and Nordlond safe, but that's mostly for the northeast side. The northern side isn't protected, and thus the lands aren't as settled, and are "hunted" by Faerie, dragonkin, and giants. Hence, "The Hunted Lands".

Why is there a recent surge in the dead rising?

I think this is an oversight or something similar. Let me explain!

The only reference we have to undead in the area is Logiheimli, which is crawling with the dang things, and it fits the bill by being quest-related and nearby. Unfortunately, Logiheimli was cursed 400+ years ago, so "recent surge" of undead doesn't make sense.

Relevant passages:

Sitting against the first significant line of hills on the western border of Norðlond, at the very edge of the Vsturham range, lies the ruins of a village and fortress. Hundreds of years of erosion, weathering, and neglect have reduced the once sturdy settlement into a shadow of its former self. A shadow haunted by the walking dead. The area is sparsely forested, but low shrubs and other wild growth have covered what was once one of the principal holy sites in Norðlond...and is now a wasted ruin. -HoJ:31

The fortress of Logiheimli was once an important waypoint for questors seeking the Hall of Judgment. The forces of demonkind dispatched a heavily armed and trained cult to pose as questors. In the night, while the warden was away, they entered the temple, desecrated it, and breathed life into an obelisk that caused the dead to rise each night. -HoJ:32

The bones of a dwarven smith lay where he was killed, but he’s been dead more than 400 years. He will tell how the wardens of the fort retreated to the barrows to attempt to free the land from evil influence. Eventually they were forced to seal themselves inside; their bones (and spirits) are still present inside. -HoJ:33

So, we can assume that Logiheimli was cursed 400+ years ago. There should definitely be a record of it for someone with Research to unearth, if they choose to do so, and now that we have our swanky calendar, we can give that record an actual date. It isn't important for players to have precise timelines, but it is important for GMs. Let's say that it was cursed 437 years ago (March 8th, 528 FN).

The curse (as written), doesn't spawn skeletons or rejuvenate skeletons. The entry for skeleton on HoJ:91 even specifically has Unhealing (total). The wandering skeletons that players are supposed to encounter as a wilderness encounter (HoJ:25) are the risen questors from the barrows.

There are 24 burial areas, and each has room for 4 bodies, though not all were filled. -HoJ:35

So if there were only ever 96 max skeletons that wander, and they've been questing out at night for the last 437 years, how could they possibly still be any left? If one skeleton per year was accidentally destroyed by annoyed roving hobgoblins, adventuring parties, pissed citizens, traveling merchants, etc, there would be none left in 100 years, and it's been 400. That's just at 1 skeleton per year.

So the questors wandering every night (as written) for the last 437 years is incoherent. How do we fix it? Three main options:

The third option is out; we need the surge of undead to be recent. The first option is attractive, but doesn't make a lot of sense narratively. We'd have to rewrite everything about the warden and the dwarven smith, since the cult would instead be cursing an unused graveyard rather than an actively occupied pilgrimage waypoint.

That leaves the second option. Logiheimli has always been cursed, and everything the dwarven smith and warden say stands. However! Recently the questors have begun to wander rather meandering around Logiheimli.

Options to make this happen:

Of these two options, I prefer the second. The first would be easy to tie in: we know that the Tyr worked with Helya to preserve the Warden and his Huskarls until Logiheimli was cleansed. We could also say that Tyr suppressed the wandering effect, but that the blessing has faded with time.

Yet, the second allows us to tie in another antagonist. A demon-cult heard about the good work that the original cult did cursing the place and wondered if they couldn't spruce it up.

This introduction of a new demon cult allows us to "make it all connected" later!

Why is the Hall of Judgement a lost legend?

The way I see it, things are only lost legends if there was originally knowledge of them (check), and then all of the folks who had that knowledge died and the knowledge wasn't well transmitted or recorded. So instead, you get legends.

We know that folks used to go to the Hall of Judgement to seek an audience with Tyr or to read the book in the Vault of Law. Knowledge of how to get to the hall; it's location wasn't Hidden Lore, and then something changed. As the warden says:

The Hall is not just lost; it is closed to farsight. Something is wrong at the Hall that might threaten the Gods themselves. The cultists that ruined the village were part of some grander plan; the demons have been scheming for centuries. -HoJ:37

That's the only info we get on the demon-plan thing. But! We do know why the hall is closed to farsight: there's a heckin Krabbari in there and Tyr doesn't want to let it into Asguard! When it breached the inner hall and started to go up the stairs, he sealed it off and closed everything down.

Putting this together, we can write that the reason the Hall is lost is because of the Krabbari. That means the Krabbari has been in there for long enough that the Hall itself became a legend. Playing a little bit of connect-the-dots, let's say that the cult that originally cursed Logiheimli is the cult that summoned the Krabbari. The Krabbari went north to the Hall (and got stuck) and the cultists went south to curse Logiheimli. Then, the surviving cultists went about their lives, eagerly awaiting contact/reward from their Krabbari master. It never came. Generations went by and eventually the cult died out.

How is everything connected?

Timeline time.

On March 6th, 528 FN a cult named Skuggaborinn (shadowsworn) performed a horrible ritual to summon a Krabbari from Muspelheim to Midgard.

On March 8th, 528 FN, Skuggaborinn cursed Logiheimli. The Krabbari breaches the Hall of Judgement but gets trapped. The Hall is closed off from normal farsight. It slowly fades into legend over hundreds of years.

On August 1st, 965 FN, a cult named Hringur Likklaedsins (the ring of the shroud) dedicated to a fearsome Istyrann are informed that their master's ally (the Krabbari) needs to be broken out of his jail. They're to bolster the curse on Logiheimli as a distraction (it worked last time), and track down a Tiwstakn in an enchanted lake.

On September 14th, 965 FN, Hringur Likklaedsins bolsters the curse at Logiheimli. They begin to set off for the enchanted lake. They're intercepted by Elunad.

On September 15th, 965 FN, Elunad joins Gyrid's party.

On September 20th, 965 FN, Elunad betrays Gyrid's party at the enchanted lake, but loses the tiwstakn. Steinthor and Einara journey back to Isfjall.

On September 24th, 965 FN, Steinthor and Einara make it back to Isfjall and deliver the tiwstakn and Gyrid's sword to Geirolf. Geirolf finds the map.

On October 1st, 965 FN, the PCs arrive in Isfjall.

Now we have a coherent timeline. There's a surge of undead because Hringur Likklaedsins have been fiddlin' with the curse. There's an uptick in fae activity because Elunad noticed. That leads to the tiwstakn which eventually got back to Geirolf. We're given absolutely no info on what's going on with Lake Odin, but we can save that for another quest. Easy enough to blame it on Elunad/faerie or Hringur Likklaedsins. Geirolf would have no idea how it's all connected but he's not wrong.

The Hall of Judgment is lost and closed to farsight, but that's nothing new. What is new is that both Hringur Likklaedsins and Elunad are looking for another tiwstakn to get in.

Back to the scene with Geirolf

Now that we have our history established, we need to figure out what Geirolf knows. He would know what Steinthor and Einara have told him; that Elunad seeks the hall. He wouldn't know any of the other information, but I think it tracks for him to be receiving Omens from Tyr. He could have a sense that the demon-cult activity and the surge of undead are related, but not have any concrete evidence to back that up. If pressed, he could perform a divination ritual for the players.

Before we actually write the scene, we need a description of Geirolf Tyrthegn himself. The book doesn't provide one - we can guess at their gender (probably male), we're given their profession (cleric of Tyr), and we have a list of their recent and upcoming actions:

So let's roll up (thanks d30 Sandbox Companion) a profile for Geirolf Tyrthegn.

Name: Geirolf Tyrthegn
Body: thickset
Skin: ruddy
Face: nose, hook
Eye Color: periwinkle
Hair: bushy, over ears, dark auburn
Facial Hair: poor (stubby/long) goatee
Motivation: wanderer
Personal Inspiration: event witnessed - childhood
Personality: prim/proper
Quirky Behavior: packrat
Bad Habit: prying; mild
Burden: sense of alienation; occasional
Parent(s): military officer
Additional Family Information: was left on parents’ doorstep and raised as their own
Personal Life: is being stalked
Eccentricities: crossdresser
Talents: tobacco connoisseur

As a mild reminder - we don't have to take all of a randomly rolled NPC's statblock wholesale; we can pick-and-choose, substituting whatever we'd think would be more appropriate. We also don't have to work every element into every scene. It's perfectly fine for Geirolf to secretly be a crossdresser and for the PCs to potentially never find out. Or, at the very least, for the clues to to be very non-obvious.

With the pieces in place, we can write the scene:

You are lead into the cluttered office of a thickset, ruddy-skinned, middle-aged man. Their eyes are periwinkle, and their hair is a messy bush of dark auburn that envelops over their ears. They've chosen to sculpt a stubby goatee.

The man waits until everyone is settled in, and the guide has departed before beginning: "Thank you for coming. I am Geirolf Tyrthegn, Cleric of Tyr. A week ago, Steinthor Gunnolason and Einara Nerosdottir, members of my order, left town in a group of nine to deal with troublesome Storalfs, and only they returned, bearing a tale of betrayal from a powerful faerie noble, and (motions) this artifact... and (motions again) their companion's blessed sword. The artifact, a tiwstakn, along with (motions) this holy map I pillaged from the archives allowed us to finally locate the Hall of Judgment after it having been lost to Nordlonders for centuries. I'm looking for Thegns, powerful and brave, to Swear an Oath to seek the Hall of Judgment and rediscover it once more. I sense that the recent demon-cult activity, the uptick in the rising dead, and the activity of the fae in the frostharrow are all connected. With this many adversaries converging, it can only spell disaster for us Nordlonders, and so the Hall must be found; answers must be sought."

At this point, the party will probably have a lot of questions:

Geirolf also has two main questions for the party:

Asking the first question allows the characters to talk about their adventuring backstory (which you should tell them they should have, or be ready to improvise). DFRPG starting adventurers are hecking strong, absurdly stronger than townsfolk. In D&D terms, they'd already be level 7 or so, I'd hazard. They means they'd already have a lot of adventuring under their belt, and should be ready to talk about the cool stuff they've done before now. Try to also get them to play up the teamwork aspect - what niche do they fill in the team dynamic?

Asking the second question is mechanically important. The tiwstakn only works if you swear to seek the hall. We can tie this in with gurps disadvantages and give everyone Vow (Seek the Hall of Judgment) [-10]. See Broken Promises (DFA58) for if they accept and then don't want to/cant do it anymore.

With everyone satisfied and the heroes sworn to seek the Hall, Geirolf gives them payment in advance:

The pack pony's stats are weird - it says they have a carry capacity of 175 lbs on HoJ:14 which is "medium encumbrance", and that's 2xBL. None of this agrees with how encumbrance or speed is calculated per DFA11.

Normally, medium encumbrance is up to 3x BL, and puts you at 0.6x move. At a move of 7, that would be 4. Working backwards, that puts our pony at 17 total lifting ST. Oddly, the stat-block for pack ponies on HoJ:70 gives 18 ST, 21 lifting ST, 7 Move, but still that same base 175 carry capacity. At 21 ST, light encumbrance is 176 lbs (so I can see where 175 came from), but now the move speed is 5. So, we either have 17 effective ST ponies or 21 effective ST ponies. Let's go with 17; it's in line with the work from the Nordlond Bestiary.

The cash is a substitute for the vatnvikur from the original text. Dungeon Fantasy 16: Wilderness Adventures says on page 43 about water:

Since it is not fun to keep track of every drop of water the party has, assume that each meal carried or found comes with sufficient water to meet survival needs. Thus, stopping to for- age finds extra water in proportion to meals; e.g., if the group forages 40 meals, or about 13 man-days of food, they also stockpile 13 man-days of water.

I totally agree. We're traveling through places with ample freshwater, and ample snow to be melted; we don't need to lug (extremely heavy) water from town to dungeon like this is a desert. Feel free to tell your wizards and clerics they don't need Create Water if they took it. Just not worth worrying about in my opinion.

Geirolf does not hand over the sword. (More about this later).

A Sponsor

Okay! Now that the party knows that they'll be doing - trekking far to the northwest to find the lost Hall of Judgment, they might want extra gear for the journey. That means Finding a Sponsor (DFE14).

Let's reuse Ram Dagthorsson here (from Ram's Armory & Emporium) and tie in Logiheimli and The Law Giver. This further allows us to tie in a Rumor (more below).

Here's the idea: Ram has caught wind that there's a storied weapon in the ruin of Logiheimli and he wants it for his collection. He's willing to front the party 5 gold, but they need to either bring him back 15 gold or that weapon.

This gives us a great way to give the party a temporary buff to deal with the Krabbari, introduce a cool character, and then cycle out the weapon.

Meanwhile, Ram is dealing with his own problems. He's being haunted by the Matrod, and will survive just long enough for the PCs to visit him, but he'll be on death's doorstep. Helping (or not) Ram can be another quest!

Tavern Tales and Moldy Books

HoJ:16-17 provides a list of rumors, which is excellent for our purposes. We can give our party ~4 of them.

These are chosen specifically to mildly reinforce Geirolf's story, but also provide useful context and foreshadow what's to come. Now, the party should be thinking about Gyrid's sword. Now if they think to go back and ask Geirolf for the sword, explaining that some demons can only be injured or killed by magical weapons, he'll capitulate. This rewards the investigation and makes the players feel involved.

The players should be able to learn this information from NPCs they've met before: the inkeepers, shopkeepers, and town encounters we developed.

Then we need Research.

Fortunately for us, Research just happens at the library, so no need for a NPC or a scene. We can just narrate a day of hard work skimming through ancient texts in a dusty library, read the above, and then ask the player how he relays that to the group!

Wrapping Up

That was a lot. My main takeaway from this is that the book structure matters a lot. My first read-through of Hall of Judgment was very confusing; I remember reading all of the Isfjall sections and thinking "Wow, what a cool town, this is awesome!", and then the book skipped directly to "The Lost Hall of Judgment" and wrote out the skeleton of a scene and motivation.

My stomach sunk thinking "where are the things players care about?" What does this guy look like? Where are the NPCs they'll interact with? What are these problems and places that they're referencing - did I miss something? How do I actually start the game? There's this great post that Charles Saeger links to called twenty quick questions for your campaign setting and I think rewriting Isfjall so that these answers are bolded, front and center would have been awesome.

Next, I would have really appreciated a GM-side timeline of the events relevant to the quest. I would have loved to know what year it is. As the GM, I need to know the full, detailed context of what happened before I can understand the adventure the players are about to go on, or how to run the NPCs or world. Extracting that from NPC dialog, bestiary entries, and scattered across a bunch of chapters should be the player's job, not the GMs.

But! This is the best TTRPG community I've ever had the pleasure to be a part of. The ideas are top notch, and being able to actually talk to the authors and other GMs is an experience like no other.

Hopefully this helps. Hopefully it helps both GMs looking to run Hall of Judgment, as well as folks looking to write their own modules trying to understand how it looks from the side of someone trying to absorb your writing.

This was just the opening sessions in Isfjall. Follow-up posts will cover rewriting Logiheimli and travel.