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 improv 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.
There are two things we need to do in order to rewrite Logiheimli
For the sake of not massively stepping on copyright, I'm only going to include the read-aloud text from the scenes, and leave the rest of the conversion as an exercise for the reader. Let's get started!
Sitting against the first significant line of hills on the western border of Nordlond, 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. The area is sparsely forested, but low shrubs and other wild growth have covered what was once one of the principal holy sites in Nordlond...and is now a wasted ruin. Northwest of the fortress proper looks to be an intact barrow. Additionally, the fortress has a dug out yet empty moat, as well as the crumbled remains of what would have been a bridge and a gate in better times.
You approach a barrow - a mound of earth with a cut-out downward approach leading to heavy wooden doors. The heavy wooden doors are still largely intact, and bound with iron. The barrow continues to descend to the West, and to the East is the Logiheimli Fortress. You notice that though the barrow doors are intact, they are not attached to the hinges: the doors have been ripped off the entryway to the barrow. Heavy foot traffic has worn recent paths into the earth by the entryway.
The damp, dark tunnel meandering west into the tomb is lined with torch-holders, but the torches have long since rotted away. The decrepit remains of the holders are placed every three or four paces. Further down the passage is a intersection of another tunnel running north-to-south; the main passage continues to the west before ending in a sturdy looking door. Standing in the middle of the intersection is a vertical stone marker chiseled with ancient runes. A pale green light glows from the both the northern and southern passage.
The damp tunnel continues northward, before forking into a maze of passages and alcoves, all dead ends. South leads back to the intersection. Marking the beginning of all of these passages and alcoves is an obelisk emitting a pale, sickly green light, covered in some sort of script. The alcoves individually just large enough to fit a body, spaced like shelves. Not all of the alcoves are filled, but many are. With armored, armed, skeletons.
The damp tunnel continues southward, before forking into a maze of passages and alcoves, all dead ends. North leads back to the intersection. Marking the beginning of all of these passages and alcoves is an obelisk emitting a pale, sickly green light, covered in some sort of script. The alcoves individually just large enough to fit a body, spaced like shelves. Importantly, the area is filled with skeletons milling about, sadly. They seem to shy from your presence.
The westernmost fork of the passage terminates at a set of still-whole double doors. The intersection lies back to the East. The doors are are well preserved, bound with iron, and the iron bands are etched in runes.
You enter a chamber that appears to have been converted to a war room. The Barrow Tunnel lies to the East, and more rooms stretch to the east. A makeshift table has been constructed out of a barrel and shield, and a hastily drawn map of Logiheimli with some sort of battle plan is scrawled on top. Importantly, six ghostly figures decked out in bejeweled heavy mail hauberks, carrying battle shields, and various ornate weaponry.
I was having trouble conceptualizing the history of this part of the barrow. The areas for the Questors and Villagers are there to inter the bodies of the questors and villagers respectively. What was the Inner Chamber rooms beyond used for? It's a barrow, so bodies. We can say that Inner Chamber is for centuries of Logiheimli warden's personal Huskarls, and that there are further rooms rooms for the generations of Wardens and the generations of High Priestesses. Narratively, this Warden and High Priestess were married, and so I wanted their ghosts to be together. I redid the dungeon slightly to combine both rooms. Now, there's just one room for wardens and high priestesses.
You proceed into an ornately decorated chamber, the air dry and dusty. The walls are lined with evenly spaced alcoves, slightly larger than the size of a human body. On one side of the room, the skeletons are all armed for war, clad in heavy plates or brigandine and bearing arms of the finest make. On the other side of the room, the skeletons wear simple white dresses in different styles, somehow preserved against time. To the East lies the Inner Chamber.
Awaiting your arrival are two spectral figures standing side by side. One of them is wearing gleaming heavy mail armor and has a pattern-forged broadsword strapped to his hip. Their visage is grandfatherly, but firm. The other figure stands serene in her old age, with perfect posture despite her sagging skin.
Welcome to our final resting place, Questors. He motions to the woman. This if my wife, Andrea Sigursdottir, and I am Brimir Baeronsson, the Last Warden of this place. Andrea speaks up in a clear, smooth voice. It has been a very long time since we've had guests, Questors, though perhaps none were able to get through the door, or were judged worthy by our dutiful huskarls. Why have you come here? Please. Rest - where are my manners?
You enter into the ruin of fortress about 200 yards long by 150 yards wide. Time has not been kind to this place. To the North is cluster of broken-down Longhouses. The Northeast holds the remains of a Smithy and more ruined Longhouses. In the Southeast lies what's left of a Livestock Enclosure; only the fence posts and animal skeletons remain. In the Northwest is another cluster of broken-down Longhouses, nearly identical to the ones in the North. Center of it all is an oddly still-intact temple constructed from hardwood on a stone foundation, with a rectangular hall, gable roof, and semi-circular apse.
A mix of stone, sod, and timber that once formed Longhouses have long since eroded into the barest remnants of structure. The rest of the Fortress lies to the South. The glint of metal buried beneath the ruined floorboards catches your eye.
This set of buildings is marked by the remains of what clearly was a smithy. The building had a stone foundation and walls. The rest of the fortress lies to the Southwest. The remains of the anvil are still present. A set of pristine bones, short of stature but wide of frame rest against the stone walls. A blacksmith hammer still rests in their skeletal hand.
You see an "enclosure" marked only by stone posts, some collapsed, some still present. Whatever fencing or roofing that used to protect the animals of Logiheimli have long since disintegrated. The rest of the Logiheimli Fortress is to the Northwest. While no structures still stand, the remnants of the livestock itself, in the form of skeletal remains, can be seen.
In the center of the fortress sits the former temple of Tyr. The stone foundations are still present, as are the timbers that should have long since rotted away. The medium-sized worship room is dimly lit by gaps in the walls and ceiling. The floor is strewn with broken, rotten pews. The main exit to the Fortress is to the south, and there appears to be trapdoor to a cellar in the northeast corner. There is a fountain with stagnant, black, murky water in the northwest of the room, and great stone altar in the northern part of the room.
You see a large, subterranean basement with a low ceiling. In the center of the room stands a large, black obelisk, carved with unfamiliar runes. It emanates an intense, sickly green light.
Here's something I'll get out right away with, since folks will probably disagree with me. HoJ:33 writes
Skeletons will rise and attack any who draw near the buildings. There were 10-20 people in each of the longhouses.
Then on HoJ:32
There are twelve ghouls in the temple itself, and they will attack in groups of three from different places within the ruin.
I asked the folks in the GamingBallistic discord why there was a range of skeletons in the houses, whether all of the skeletons intended to attack at the same time, and whether the ghouls in the three different places in the were intended to attack at the same time like a pincer maneuver.
The responses I got back all followed the same sort of pattern: that there's a range there so that you can make it easier to harder based on how much anti-undead capability the party has. The party is under-powered and isn't prepared for the undead? Throw 10 skeletons at them at a time and only have one house activate at once. The party has a cleric with turning and everyone is well-optimized for fighting? Maybe there's 20 skeletons in each house and they all attack at once.
There's a similar concept in DFD, page 11:
Before exploring, however, the delvers must battle a guardian peshkali armed with six scimitars. This is a powerful foe with Supernatural Durability... but if the delvers are very capable, or go right for its fatal flaw (lopping off arms), the GM can have The Devil send more to help out!
This smells like design rot to me, and makes the player's choices less meaningful. A party that doesn't buy Turning will have spent those points somewhere else. Do we make those challenges more difficult? A party that is well-optimized for combat will be less-well-optimized for exploration or social interactions. Should we make combat more threatening and exploration and social interactions easier?
What is the purpose of building a well-rounded party or optimizing our characters if the game world itself is going to warp around the characters to provide rubber-banded difficulty? I propose, instead, that a party that is unprepared for the undead should have a hard time dealing with the undead. That a party over-optimized for combat should breeze through most combat encounters (that's what they chose to be good at), but probably should struggle in exploration settings and social interactions. Your campaign should include a mixture of all three.
Not only that, the difficulty of your challenges should be independent of the characters attempting to overcome them. It's the player's job to build characters capable of overcoming your challenges. It's the GM's job to build challenges that are theoretically capable of being overcome.
That means sometimes there will be an overwhelming amount of undead. They'll either wish they had turning, be thankful they did, have to think of something clever. Sometimes there will be 20 yard gaps. They'll really wish they had walk, levitation, flight, etc, or be thankful that they invested in these things. Should we give the party that decided to bring two knights, two barbarians, and a scout nothing but gaps they're capable of leaping over? No! They get just as many 20 yard gaps as a well-rounded party. They need a way to solve 20 yard gaps. Maybe that means they've been smashing dungeons until they get to a 20 yard gap and think "oh goodness what do we do about these". Maybe they hire a wizard hireling who knows walk on air, or maybe they just carry around a bunch of scrolls. They need something.
With that out of the way, here are my suggested changes:
In Rewriting Isfjall, we mentioned that the reason that there was a recent surge of undead was because on September 14th, 965 FN, Hringur Likklaedsins bolstered the curse. We ought to have some sort of player-facing evidence of this. My solution here is for Hringur Likklaedsins to extend the evil runes empowering the three obelisks, and for that to be noticeable on inspection (you notice that a fresh set of runes extend much older ones). This change applies to The Honored Questors, Villager's Rest, and Temple Basement.
The Sturdy Door mentions:
The door was locked with Magelock at skill 20; if a spellcaster has a tiwstakn, the resistance drops to Magelock-10.
But there's only one tiwstakn. What happens if the spellcaster isn't carrying it? I think this is a translation error from the original Hall of Tyr to Hall of Judgment. In the original Hall of Tyr, the artifact recovered contained multiple tiwstakn, and so it was reasonable to assume that everyone in the party would get one. In the Hall of Judgment, the artifact is the tiwstakn. To fix this, we need to make it clear that the tiwstakn resonates somehow with the door. Have it grow noticeably warm and slightly glow when brought within the door's protection radius (halfway down the hall). If anyone brandishes the tiwstakn, the resistance drops to Magelock-10.
In Rewriting Travel, we talked about how the historical scraps found in the longhouses are mechanically awkward, and how the depiction of the Hall in the Temple Basement granting a Navigation bonus if you don't know where the Hall is (one of the primary reasons to visit the hall) is frustrating.
We make the historical scraps obsolete by making it so that Geirolf is able to tell the party exactly where the Hall is, and is able to show them how to find it should they get lost. We make the polished stone slab in the Temple Basement open up as a magic portal to a nearby cave (a few miles to the west) that quickly exits into a shortcut through the mountains, cutting time off the trip.
The skeletons in Logiheimli somehow interact with sunlight:
The skeletons return to their resting place daily, and they remain there from sunup to sundown, unless the sun is hidden behind the clouds, or there is an eclipse, or a mysterious supernatural fog that appears seemingly out of nowhere. Small chance of that, but you never know. -HoJ:35
and, referring to the skeletal warhorses
The skeletons will rise instantly (treat as if standing from prone) when the first living character passes the enclosure if the sun is not in the sky (it is overcast, or from dusk to dawn). They will not rise if the sun is shining, and are susceptible to sunlight, the Sunlight spell, and Sunbolt.
What does "susceptible" mean? Which days are "overcast"? Does this just apply to the skeletal warhorses and questors, or does it apply to all the skeletons? Unclear.
We already know that for October, sunrise to sunset is 8am to 7pm. We could decide that some days are overcast and some aren't, but what does the at-the-table experience look like for that? Either your players are totally fine killing all the skeletons and don't care about it being overcast (then the sun mechanic didn't serve a purpose), or your players do care, and just wait around until they have a non-overcast day, which is painfully boring.
My solution is to make each 10-minute increments (a turn in OSE) have a chance to be overcast. If you're following Charles Saeger's Dungeoncrawl Procedures, which I can't recommend enough, this is already done for you. Every 10 minutes, roll 2d. It'll be overcast, and skeletons will wander over and attack the party from the nearest skeleton nest on a result of 3 or less. At night, the same thing can happen. Have the skeletons rise up from the longhouses, the smithy, the livestock enclosure, or come back early from the barrows.
To generate a wandering monster from a lair, divide the lair size by 16.5 to get the number of 6-sided dice to roll, roll that, and use that many creatures. So for a lair of 80 skeletons (like the longhouses), roll 5d. If you roll 17, the lair only has 63 left.
This solves a few of problems at once.
As for the bit about "susceptible to sunlight, the Sunlight spell and Sunbolt spell", we can look to the Vaettr on HoJ:96, who has "Dread (Sunlight)". This resolves as:
Monster has a supernatural aversion to sunlight, and must keep out of it. If the object of dread is brought closer, the creature will sense it and must take Move maneuvers to get into darkness. If it can’t flee, it’s compelled to Do Nothing.
In order to make this coherent with the skeletal horses that have been baking in the sun for hundreds of years, we say that if they're activated during the day, they shriek, and seek darkness. They return to their resting place at sunset. Further, we can model Sunbolt as very temporary sunlight. If they get hit by a bolt, they need to spend their next action fleeing in the opposite direction.
There are two main ways to reconcile the above:
Of the two above options, I greatly prefer the second. It turns Logiheimli into a puzzle, and turns the skeletons into problems-to-be-solved rather than yet-another-hack-and-slash encounter. We can make sure that generic parties are capable of running away by setting the skeleton's Move to 4 instead of 8 in overcast light. If the party is brazen enough to explore the Logiheimli Fortress at night, they meet Move 8 skeletons.
Someone is maintaining one level of Haste on everyone below 5 move at all times (free with 15 skill), right? Otherwise, folks might end up having to learn a hard lesson dropping weapons or backpacks, but they can leave with their lives.
The barrow entrance read-aloud includes the interactable "Heavy foot traffic has worn recent paths into the earth by the entryway." If they interact with that (secret tracking or per modified by light), they can determine the order of events. If they inspect during night "newer footfalls leading out of the barrow overlay older ones leading from it". If they inspect during day "newer footfalls leading into the barrow overlay older ones leading out of it."
Finally, we need to disambiguate a few more things:
For the Villager's Rest, let's say there are 30 unarmed skeletons. They're in 2 groups of 15 (one for each set of east-to-west set of alcoves). There's a 3-in-6 chance that each group becomes hostile when encountered. Otherwise, they shy away from the party, but do not allow their alcoves to be looted.
The skeletons in the longhouses work as follows: each group of longhouses - the living quarters, the visitors quarters, and the smithy are lairs and contain 80, 80 and 60 skeletons respectively. If the players are in the area during the night or when the sky goes overcast, not all of the skeletons rise. Instead, divide the number of remaining skeletons in the lair by 8 and roll that many d6. That's the number of skeletons missing. For example, if the players are exploring the living quarters, roll 10d to determine the number of skeletons that don't rise. Say it was 32. That means 48 skeletons rise to attack the players from the 4 houses.
This should be drawn out and dramatic. Ready actions to gather the bones, change posture to stand up, ready actions to pick up weapons, and then the assault begins. Plenty of time to get out of dodge.
If the players are well-prepared for the undead, this also means there are 32 skeletons left behind to draw wandering monsters from later, which is important.
We settle on 12 ghouls that attack at the same time. The ghouls in the Temple have Stealth, so they should attempt Backstabbing (DFE57), which means 6 of the ghouls need to present themselves as distractions, and the other 3 ghouls can be hiding near the doors, and the other 3 can be hiding in the rafters, which satisfies the "3 locations" description.
Logiheimli is a really cool idea that suffers from awkward specification. I strongly believe that the adventure was really awesome originally when Douglas Cole their friends ran it and refined it, both at their tables and at conventions. I also believe that the adventure in the book isn't that adventure. The adventure in the book is a lossy encoding of the original experience. My understanding of the adventure is a lossy decoding of the book. I'm sure there are things I've missed or misunderstood.
I think there's an expectation that GMs read the material and then are inspired by it, rather than taking it wholesale. That if we're given wilderness encounters or dungeon rooms, those are sources of inspiration rather than something to be taken literally. That's certainly what I see other GMs do whenever I watch or read playthroughs of published material.
For the module author, this means either being less specific, and making sure the GM knows that they should be filling in the details, and not providing new gaming systems, OR being more specific, providing more details, and making sure that the text provided works for a GM who runs it completely as written. I've endeavored to transform the adventure into the second and document the process here.