Review: Hall of Judgment by The Blind Mapmaker

The Blind Mapmaker takes time to review Hall of Judgment. As he notes, he backed at the Thegn of your Own level and contributed a character to the samples. Nonetheless, he calls out what he likes, and is firm about what he doesn’t.

The Blind Mapmaker’s reviews are quite thorough, divided into Meat, Cheese, Sauce, and General Nutritional Value.

Bite-sized Review Hall of Judgment – Powered by DFRPG

I’m going to quote the summary here:

Summary (No Spoilers!)

Douglas H. Cole delivers an outstanding product that is proud addition to the Dungeon Fantasyline and makes one hope for more from this licensee. The adventure is pretty linear, but atmospheric and puts the characters against foes supernatural and natural without neglecting the realities of mountain travel.

It is a satisfying read and a good way to introduce new players and GMs to GURPS without having them lament the quality or the lack of the illustrations. Thanks to both the author and SJGames for making this possible!

Total score: 8.05 (third place of all time)
Total score is composed of a weighted average of Meat (32.5%), Cheese (32.5%), Sauce (20%) and Generic Nutritional Substance (15%). This is a balanced meaty-cheesy book.

Value score: 9.025 (PDF, best value ever!), 8.025 (softcover), 7.525 (bundle); getting the bundle is advised if you want to run the game online and offline!
Value Score is composed of the average of Total and Price.

Commentary

There are a few things – a very few things – that I want to say about some of the notes in the review, but let me start by saying I find it quite fair, even the thing he didn’t like as much. To arms, then:

The town section is not quite as detailed as in DF Setting – Caverntown

Hrm. Caverntown was my template for this one, so I’m glad he caught the similarities. The more that I think on this, the less it bothers me, though, since “Town” is deliberately lower-key in The Dungeon Fantasy RPG than in the main-line Dungeon Fantasy games. So “not quite as detailed” is both accurate and deliberate. I wanted Town to be more than just “the place where we buy and sell our stuff,” but it needed to be that and more. 

Make sure to mention the ruins beforehand, because they can be easily missed depending on which path the players choose.

The ruins, as well as the goblin warrens and several other areas of the adventure, are designed to be able to be missed. There’s cool stuff there, and not cleaning out the ruins bodes dire things for the region. (Which I’d love to detail in future supplements, licensing permitting). The approach to the Hall itself was my attempt – mostly successful, I think – to make the adventure far less linear. The original adventure – Lost Hall of Tyr –  was a convention romp. It was designed to be run in two hours, show off the grappling system from Dungeon Grappling, and be a drop-in and drop-by to play kind of thing. It featured “Quantum Encounters” that moved to find the players and three pathways to the Hall – which you teleported to instead of a month-long overland journey – that all dumped you in the same place.

But the ruins themselves are optional. That being said, as Captain Joy reports in this After-Action Report, the ruins can be run in a few hours as an independent encounter by themselves. Or encountered in a separate sortie, perhaps even after the Hall is found and perhaps cleared.

…but getting lost on the way to the hall is not very easy if the GM hands out the player map of the area (included in the PDF version).

The PDF map is layered in the downloads so that you can hand out the map without the key GM information! At least I think it is. It definitely has layers.

Edit: In the comments, Mapmaker reminds me of a design decision at the core of the “hard to get lost” thing. Originally, seeing the Hall at all required the tiwstakn. That was the entire point of the thing, a ring that would show you what was hidden. Effective a See Invisible spell that worked against the illusions Tyr had placed concealing the place. As revision progressed, I decided that the worst possible thing that could happen would be to arrive at the mountain containing the hall (Hollfjall? Logifjall?) and not be able to find it because the players didn’t take a tiwstakn with them. So the entrance was made obvious. That’s a good reminder of how the thing evolved from its original incarnation.

The Hall itself is also represented by battle maps, but again it is a very simple matter and was a little disappointing after all the build-up.

Regrettably fair. The original Lost Hall suffered in the art and maps department due to my entirely missing the size of the market. I’d figured that since my first KS had about 300 backers, that my second, which had better exposure and with Dungeon Grappling as an existence proof that I could deliver, would be at least as good, with 300-500 backers likely. I also had cause to think that there might be some folks crossing over due to interest in vikings and shields and some fantasy artwork by a noted HEMA teacher. Alas, this was not to be, and my plans to go all-out on art and whatnot on the Hall itself were curtailed at the time.

Hall of Judgment was my best KS to date in terms of backer count, but when doing a product based on “I will do Lost Hall, but better, with existing assets to minimize risk!” there’s only so much deviation I was willing to undertake. So as I noted: regrettably fair.

The demon boss for the adventure is something of a rarity in GURPS as it is a singular creature

The team and I worked very, very hard to make sure that the boss monster would be a legit challenge for a group of delvers. Anyone familiar with GURPS (and fighting in general) knows that in a many-on-one encounter, it takes a lot of work for things to go well for the one. I’m very pleased at how the boss turned out, but fair warning: we designed this creature to kill the hasty or unprepared. If you rush in where angels fear to tread, you’ll get curb-stomped.

…the adventure is quite linear…

I think any adventure where the point is “go to this fixed place, and do a fixed thing” will feel linear. There are options to vary it up, and multiple pathways to journey to the Hall are provided. It’s true, though, once you get to the Hall, the choices winnow down quite a bit, both a legacy of the origin as a limited convention scenario, but also because all roads end at the Vault of Law.

Maybe Logiheimli has to be located for a vital clue first and the whole twistakn (token of Tyr) thing might be explored some more. 

Heh. The tiwstakn was a key bit of magical lore and had great import in the original. Too much so, I thought, so the tiwstakn diminished in importance, and then on a reread of the near-final version, I realized that the entire thing might be better off without any sort of mystical signpost that would turn the entire darn thing into a really linear progression. So I “killed my darlings” and hid the bodies a bit.

Playing up the tiwstakn would be easy to do, and import and utility can be grafted on to it as needed. The ruins of Logiheimli do contain something very valuable, though: a rare magical weapon that comes in rather handy for the final encounter. Want to push the players there (making it ironically more linear, rather than less)? Don’t give the delvers the Oathblade that Geirolf Tyrthegn recovered from the prelude!

I’m in two minds about cutting out the name Tyr and all that implies. Sure it makes things more generic, but it’s always easy to cut something as the GM and the tips in the OGL version were more than enough to make this a bit more accessible.

Trust me, it would have been my overall desire to keep it pretty Norsified, but the de-Norsing was one of the things that was in the sales pitch. The Dungeon Fantasy RPG, and to a lesser extent, Dungeon Fantasy as a subline, is generic. Very much so. The work the GM needs to do to call the Law God “Tyr” and the Lord of Storms “Thor” (or in Dragon Heresy, the parent setting origin, Ziu and Donnar) is just about the same as de-Norsing it. Too much firm setting and I think I’d have lost more than I gained, and if the entire premise revolves around a fixed cosmology, that makes it less portable.

Don’t worry: Lost Hall of Tyr (2nd Edition) is in the works. It’ll re-Norse the entire thing, and if things go well enough, I’ll be able to do a few upgrades along the way (maps and printing, perhaps).

The random encounters are all well thought out too, but take a little preparation to pull off. Some are a bit deadly, but it helps to have players who do not simply attack everything and everyone. It might be useful to predetermine some of the most atmospheric bits like (the starving Jarl’s ghost, circling ravens, drinking companion of Thor etc.)

I agree with this in a most profound manner. Some of the encounters are designed to be evaluated and avoided unless a tactical advantage can be brought to bear; very little “gee, is this encounter balanced?” was considered. Only if it would be fun. If you have two delvers (as did Captain Joy’s group in the Logiheimli mini-game linked above), then the Bandit Camp will either have to be avoided or taken down one or two bandits at a time. Numbers matter in GURPS. The Faerie Noble will turn even a well-equipped and experienced party of delvers into pink mist, and quickly. She’s a force of nature – think Leanansidhe from Dresden Files powerful.

The fact that the real reward here is the knowledge recorded in the hall is nice, but it’s spoiled by the Lady of the Harvest appearing and handing out magic weapons and golden hairs that turn into artefacts. 

Originally, and in the Lost Hall adventure itself, the reward is the knowledge, full stop. I got a lot of pushback from playtesters that there wasn’t enough reward in the book. Also, there’s a not-revealed (I think) reason why it’s the Lady of the Harvest (Sif) who shows up and not the Law God (Tyr) himself, so while meeting Tyr at the end would have been cool, that’s not what wound up happening.

Still: Divine Smoochies are a reward in and of themselves.

The Kickstarter had all these available as high-resolution graphics files for use with virtual tabletop software and I assume they are included in the PDF version too.

They are. They’re big downloads, but they’re available. I’m not sure if you get them at Warehouse 23 or not; if not, ping me and I’ll ensure you have them.

Parting Shot

This is a very thorough and very positive review, and (obviously) I’m very pleased. The number of such reviews of Hall of Judgment has been somewhat limited. I’ve tried to collect them:

Hall of Judgment – Collected Comments and Reviews

Even so, the bulk of the commentary shows I hit my mark. I’m especially pleased that so many are responding well to Isfjall – that’s my intent with future supplements to ensure that each “Town” provided has the same sort of character and tangibility that Isfjall does – and that Logiheimli, a new addition unique to Hall of Judgment, is getting good play at the table.

So thanks for the review, Mapmaker. I hope in the future there’s more for you to look at!

Hall of Judgment is available in both hardcopy and PDF at the Gaming Ballistic Webstore, as well as Warehouse 23!

3 thoughts on “Review: Hall of Judgment by The Blind Mapmaker

  1. Thanks for the link and the review of review ^^
    Interesting comments on your work process too.

    Only one thing to add: The player map to the valley still includes the drawn entrance to the Hall itself. The GM markers are gone, but with the bridge, the ridge path and the entrance marked, I think it’s very easy for the players to know where to go. Unless your players are over-thinking everything and see traps everywhere. A minor point, but the map is so nice, I really want to use it.

    1. Right! I’d forgotten about that. Originally, seeing the Hall at all required the tiwstakn. That was the entire point of the thing, a ring that would show you what was hidden. Effective a See Invisible spell that worked against the illusions Tyr had placed concealing the place. As revision progressed, I decided that the worst possible thing that could happen would be to arrive at the mountain containing the hall (Hollfjall? Logifjall?) and not be able to find it because the players didn’t take a tiwstakn with them. So the entrance was made obvious. That’s a good reminder of how the thing evolved from its original incarnation.

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