Saturday, 14 November 2015

A Hi-Res Copy of the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide Map

Thanks to Extra Life, this hi-res version of the map from SCAG has been posted online and I thought I might share it here for convenience. While I like the artistry of it, it is disappointing that so few locations are actually labelled. In that respect it does remind me of the 4E campaign map... but you cannot compare Mike Schley's eye for detail and artistry with the smudged baby faeces look of the appalling 4E map.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

And it looks like we're getting a Forgotten Realms movie...

... because <this article> confirms that the lawsuit between Sweetpea - holders of the rights to make D&D movies - and Hasbro has been settled while <this article> adds in some names and confirms it will be a Forgotten Realms movie:
The upcoming Warner Bros motion picture will be based on a script by David Leslie Johnson (Wrath of the Titans) and produced by Roy Lee (The Lego Movie, How To Train Your Dragon) with the involvement of Hasbro chief executive Brian Goldner and chief content officer Stephen Davis. It will take place in the popular D&D campaign setting of the Forgotten Realms.

"We are so excited about bringing the world of Dungeons & Dragons to life on the big screen," said Greg Silverman, president of creative development and worldwide production at Warner Bros Pictures. "This is far and away the most well-known brand in fantasy, which is the genre that drives the most passionate film followings. D&D has endless creative possibilities, giving our filmmakers immense opportunities to delight and thrill both fans and moviegoers new to the property."
And here's a <third article> which makes a very good point that Warner Bros, who will be backing the new movie(s) was also behind both the Harry Potter films and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I suppose that's a nice way of hinting that we may actually see a D&D movie that does not suck.  

I'm really pleased about this news because this has the potential to be a door opener for my plans to introduce D&D to people where I live now who, contrary to the assertions in these articles that D&D is the best known brand in fantasy (um, no, that would be Warcraft), have absolutely no idea what it is.

Let's hope this brings in the next generation of tabletop roleplayers!

Monday, 3 August 2015

The Great Dale: Dungeons of the Demonlands 0 - (Revised) Introduction & Table of Contents

Some months ago, I made a vain effort to put start a new series of posts based on turning the Great Dale into a fairly old school sandbox with several large dungeons just sitting there waiting to be explored. This was largely based on trying to answer the question: "What would happen if you tried to set adventures by Necromancer Games in the Forgotten Realms?"

I also had some other motivations:
  1. My Neverwinter: Year of the Ageless One campaign was (and still is) coming to an end and I wanted to be able to offer my players something less plot-driven and more location-driven, per some of our games of decades ago. (It turns out that's not what they want! :) )
  2. I live in hope of converting some of my wife's family and friends to tabletop gamers. We live in the Philippines where the real unemployment rate is around 60% (the government numbers are wrong) and a lot of people play the World of Warcraft clone/offshoot DotA. You would think those two data point would combine into a pool of players for D&D but it doesn't. I will probably end up bribing some of them to try....
  3. Clearly 5E is very popular and I want to make sure I have something on this blog that 5E fans can use, particularly seeing how (surprisingly) popular my expansion of the Lost Mine of Phandelver turned out to be. So, while I am running 4E, there is nothing here that is going to be 4E-specific: it's all just D&D. (I was hoping to fill the 5E void on this blog by expanding on Princes of the Apocalypse but I just cannot get excited about it.)
So, consider this a revision of <this post> and an attempt to outline a Great Dale-based campaign that is less sandbox but still not quite a railroad.

Warning: This is a long post. In view of my previous botched start to a Great Dale-based series of post, I want to make sure this first post had enough content to help someone get off to a flying start with a Great Dale-based campaign even if I never post on the subject again. So, if Demons & Dragons in the Realms interests you, please keep reading!

Introduction

The Great Dale is described in the 4E Forgotten Realms Player's Guide (from which the map to the left is taken) as follows:
The Great Dale is the vast, windswept vale that divides two enormous forests, the Dunwood to the north and the Forest of Lethyr to the south. The druids and other folk who inhabit the great rocky tor of Yeshelmaar are all that stand between the sparsely settled, wild southern woodlands and the festering evils of the northern forest.

Trade has collapsed along the Great Road, leaving the defenders of Yeshelmaar as the last bastion of civilisation in the Great Dale. Demons that were bound beneath the Dunwood by the long-fallen Empire of Narfell now stalk the northern forest and threaten to overwhelm the wild reaches of the Forest of Lethyr. The southern woods are home to hidden wood elf villages and a handful of human settlements along the border with Thesk.
Three major dungeons are noted on the map: Val-Murthag, Clymph, and Dun-Tharos. These are the three dungeons I am referring to in the campaign's title of Dungeons of the Demonlands. And the order that I have just used to list them is also the order in which I think they are best played. More on that shortly.

The Demonlands

For those unfamiliar with the term "Demonlands" in the context of the Forgotten Realms, these are the lands that were once part of the demon-summoning and -worshipping ancient empire of Narfell. The 4E Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide describes the Demonlands as follows:
This region consists of isolated territories of tough folk, hardened by decades of conflict with demonic beasts and fell magic. It includes Impiltur, Damara, Vaasa, Narfell, and the Great Dale. The region saw a glimmer of hope when King Gareth Dragonsbane united Damara and Vaasa into the unified kingdom of Bloodstone, and when young King Imbrar II of Impiltur dissolved the council of paladins (the Lords of Imphras II) and began ruling unfettered by the dynastic machinations of the past. This prosperity was not to last. The assassination of Dragonsbane’s heir twenty years ago led to civil war throughout Bloodstone, allowing the patient Warlock Knights to seize control of windswept Vaasa. King Imbrar’s death and the retreat of the Inner Sea in the Year of Blue Fire ended Impiltur’s hopes. The kingdom is now firmly in the grip of the Fraternity of Tharos, a fanatical cult of demon-worshipers. Demons freely menace the Dunwood and terrorize the villages of the Great Dale and frigid Narfell.
If I do end up running this campaign and the players which to continue further, I would expect to add adventures in both Narfell and Impiltur possibly with a goal to permanently removing some of the evil which makes the Demonlands such an apt name for these lands.

The Dungeons

While the <3.xE-era map> of the Great Dale shows several other dungeons - including Fortress Narder, the Great Barrow, and Tower Threespires - I'm just going to focus on Val-Murthag, Clymph, and Dun-Tharos, at least for now.

My plan is to give each of the locations a fairly distinctive theme to both aid in shaping my design of the dungeon and also so that the PCs can prepare accordingly. 

(Each of these locations will eventually get their own blog post but I also wanted to make sure this [revised] introductory post had some meat and not just bones.)

Val-Murthag

The FRCG says this about Val-Murthag:
This sprawling city was leveled by the Raumathari long ago. Its cyclopean walls and shattered towers lie in a wild and lonely corner of the Great Dale. Little is left on the surface, but deep vaults filled with imprisoned demons and restless Nar ghosts lie beneath the city’s numerous keeps.
3.xE's Unapproachable East describes it as follows:
North and east of Bezentil lies the wreckage of the old fortress of Val-Murthag, one of the largest Nar ruins not covered by forest. This great castle stood watch over the eastern approaches of the Dale, a formidable rampart in the path of any attack from Raumathar to the east. Val-Murthag was a place of madness and horror, the spiritual center of the demonic cult that dominated the dark empire's final days, and Raumathari battlemages visited untold destruction on the place in the final battle of the two realms. Little of Val-Murthag remains to be seen, except for sprawling old walls of weathered black stone that run for miles across the cold downs and the shattered stumps of watchtowers amid heaps of battered stone.

The ghosts of Nar demonpriests are said to haunt the ruins, and most of the Dalesfolk give the place a wide berth.
My version of Val-Murthag is going to be undead-heavy, consistent with the mention of restless Nar ghosts (4E) and ghosts of Nar demonpriests are said to haunt the ruins (3.xE). I would also expect to see cultists of Orcus here and maybe even an adventure inspired by Keep on the Shadowfell. (While I hate that adventure and consider it to have played a major role in the failure of 3E, the basic idea of a cultist of Orcus trying to open a portal to the Shadowfell would suit this location really well.)
Beyond that, the nature of the ruins suggests a collection of mini-adventures - aka dungeon delves, aka five-room dungeons - with most having an undead and/or Orcus-related theme. There may also be room for gnoll cultists of Doresain the Ghoul-King.

Clymph

While the map simply shows the name Clymph, the FRCG gives this location a longer name: 
Oracle of Fortress Clymph: The rocks and bricks of these ruins glow red with heat, and the crackling of massive flames emanates from a central fortress. The stones of the keep are imbued with powerful protection magic, transforming the perimeter of the building into a massive magic circle. Before the Spellplague, the magic barrier contained a portal that opened to the Abyss. Though that gate has been closed for nearly a hundred years now, and most of the demonic hordes within have succumbed, fiendish presences yet linger here.

In recent years, Clymph has become known as an oracle site. Those brave or desperate enough can approach the fortress’s front gate, knock three times, and wait to be addressed by a booming voice from the earth. The petitioner is allowed one question, but the answer is whispered so quietly that an ear must be laid to the gate to hear the answer. Many supplicants leave unharmed, happy with what they have learned. Others are absorbed through the gate into the fortress’s interior, never to be seen again.
The portal to the Abyss was open during the era in which Unapproachable East was set:
Once a proud, walled keep, Clymph Tower has lain in ruins for as long as anyone can remember. A mighty sorcerer named Clymph built the place nearly five hundred years ago. Clymph is also believed to have constructed Tower Threespires, for the two sites have a similar architecture and were built around the same time. Clymph Tower has remained untouched for decades, though, and the locals believe it is cursed for some transgression of its fabled builder against the gods.

The best story - or at least the one that gets repeated the most - is that Clymph was a powerful demonbinder, a student of the forbidden arts of ancient Narfell. He dreamed of forging a kingdom in the Great Dale with his demonic armies. He constructed this keep as a pen for his foul servants and imbued its very stones with abjurative magic, transforming the perimeter of the building into a massive magic circle. He then created a permanent gate directly into the Abyss. Unfortunately, Clymph was unable to control the demonic hordes he summoned, and his fiendish minions destroyed him. However, he had crafted his demon-trap so well that the fiends could not escape except through one portal leading to Tower Threespires, and that door is sealed. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of demons are still trapped in the fell tower Clymph raised centuries ago.

Today, those few people who dare to approach the ruins report that its stones glow red with heat and that massive fire crackle from the depths. Even the most daring adventurers give the place a wide berth.
I wasn't a fan of the oracle idea on my first reading of the FRCG but it does offer an interesting adventure hook. But I suppose the more obvious adventure hook is to have someone trying to re-open the original portal to the Abyss.

The oracle idea makes me think that Clymph would be a great location to contain an imprisoned aspect of Fraz-Urb'luu, the demon prince of deception, but that doesn't quite match the description of the fiery heat of something in the tower. Of course, the two things don't have to be directly related... and Fraz-Urb'luu is known to have the ability to convince another demon that it has been summoned. What if the aspect summoned a fiery horde from the Abyss - or even a balor? - in an effort to fight off the bindings being placed upon it?

I was also thinking that this might be a good location to host a force of Red Wizards of Thay. At the end of the 3.5E era, Szass Tam slew Nevron the Zulkir of Conjuration who ended up in the Abyss as a mane. What if Nevron's descendants/loyal servants (there is a timeline issue with the latter option) are here to try and free him from the Abyss as part of a larger goal to see Szass Tam's rulership of Thay ended and the Zulkirs restored?

Beyond the Red Wizards, I imagine there are also Nar cultists of Fraz'Urb'luu present at Clymph Tower possibly trying to find a way to free the Prince of Deception.

However, it would make more sense in the context of the history of the Demonlands for Eltab to play a role in at least one of these dungeons and this one is arguably the most likely of the three. In such a case, it is Eltab - or an aspect of Eltab or one of his glabrezu or succubus servants - who provides the oracular services, so to speak. Actually, a succubus thrall of Eltab trapped in a demoncyst beneath the tower makes a lot of sense as the oracle. (And if you don't know what a demoncyst is, I explain it after Dun-Tharos.) 

And I even have a picture of a Red Wizard thrall of Eltab....

Dun-Tharos

The final dungeon arguably offers the most potential and maybe even deserves to be designed as a megadungeon akin to Rappan Athuk considering the role it plays in FR canon. The dumbed down version in the FRCG says this:
This half-buried ancient city sprawls for miles through the pines and bogs at the heart of the Dunwood. It was once the seat of a great and terrible realm of dark keeps and sinister lords. In a war between ancient Raumathar and Narfell, some mighty spell of unspeakable power leveled the entire area. So ended the demon-haunted kingdom of Narfell.
 
Nentyarchs of ages past raised a living fortress of magical trees over the ruins of Dun-Tharos, chasing off explorers lest they awaken the dire forces buried beneath. Treasures of Narfell’s baleful lords lie in deep storehouses and conjuring chambers under the old ruins. The Rotting Man drove out the Nentyarch and the Circle of Leth, disturbing those ancient secrets and, before his fall, unleashing an even worse power. 
Now demons of every shape move through the catacombs of Dun-Tharos and the forest above. Any creature that comes looking for ancient Nar treasuries risks much.
Actually, that's not too bad a description and there is also a sidebar noting the presence of petty demon lords:
Several powerful demons claim territory above and below Dunwood. Two of them are briefly described here.
Eschar: A powerful demon who commands others of its ilk in Dun-Tharos, Eschar is similar in form to a big, scaled ogre. A crown of horns protrudes from its head and glows with fiendish light. Evil pulses from Eschar like a heartbeat ringing up from the depths.
The Queen Abiding: Also claiming power in Dun-Tharos, the Queen Abiding is a blot of darkness a dozen yards across when she expands to her full diameter. The chill of coldest winter enshrouds her.
I could probably use Eschar if I need a big dumb brute and The Queen Abiding might make for an interesting sub-level of the dungeon-proper.

Unapproachable East provided a bit more detail:
Once the capital of the ancient Empire of Narfell, Dun-Tharos sprawls for miles through the pines and hogs at the heart of the Rawlinswood. From this place, the Nentyarchs (as the rulers of ancient Narfell were known) ruled a great and terrible realm of dark keeps and proud, sinister lords. Dun-Tharos was laid waste in the final cataclysmic war between Raumathar and Narfell, the entire city leveled by some mighty spell of unspeakable power. So ended the Nentyarchs and their demon-haunted kingdom.

Centuries passed, and the forest grew over the great black scar in its heart. A group of druids and rangers - the Circle of Leth - undertook the work of healing the wounded land, Their leader took the title of Nentyarch anew to signify that the druids of Leth ruled over the heart of ancient Narfell. In the ruins of Dun-Tharos, the new Nentyarchs raised a fortress to govern the great forest. The black keep of the old demonpriests was reborn as a castle of living trees, woven by druidic magic.

From this forest-castle the Nentyarchs ruled for nearly six hundred years, preserving the Forest of Lethyr and the Rawlinswood from encroachment by human kingdoms on all sides. The ruins of the old Nar capital reminded the druids of humanity's ability to harm nature, and the forest that had swallowed its black stones offered an example of what might be accomplished with patience and strength.

All things come to an end, though. Ten years ago, the Rotting Man, Chosen of Talona, began to gather a circle of dark druids in the western reaches of the Rawlinswood. The Circle of Leth fought against the rising power of the blightlords and contained the Rotting Man in the west, but two years ago the Rotting Man created a terrible new weapon to use against the Nentyarch - the blight of Talona. He corrupted a handful of captured Leth druids, changing them into blightlords who serve him. Through these tortured minions, he ensnared hundreds of volodnis and infected them with Talona's blight. At Midwinter in 1371 DR he hurled his blightspawned army at the Nentyarch's fortress and drove the Circle of Leth out of the Rawlinswood.

Dun-Tharos is still a castle of trees, but they are now dead, animated through the Rotting Man's foul sorcery. Hundreds of his minions lurk in the ruins of Narfell's old capital, ready to surge forth and slay at his command. His blightspawned warriors slaughtered the small community of Denderdale, north of the forest, only two months ago, and bands of evil volodnis harry the clanholds and farmsteads south of his forest. Dun-Tharos has become a place of death and madness once again.
I must admit, I would not have updated that write-up for 4E and I might keep the Rotting Man... but I would make him a dark druid of Demogorgon.

Ahhh, yes, Demogorgon. It seems the Big D is going to be playing a major role in the Rage of Demons storyline for 5E judging from the art that has been commissioned/published, including this 10-second video to the left. Demogorgon seems like a good replacement for Talona as the Rotting Man's patron/sponsor.

In truth, the real reason I want to include Demogorgon is that I have a miniature aspect of Demogorgon that I have never been able to use and I don't want to waste it. (Yes, I am being completely honest.)

The Grand History of the Realms included this timeline entry that ties the drow to Dun-Tharos:
–10400 DR: Dark elves of Clan Sethomiir travel by magic to the Riildath (present-day Rawlinswood and Forest of Lethyr) from Ilythiir, guided by the hand of the balor Wendonai. They construct an underground fortress named Narathmault [–10000], “the Dark Pit,” at the site of present day Dun-Tharos, recognising it as a place of great evil.  
The nature of that "great evil" is not explained but I rather like the tie-in with the drow and with a named balor. I cannot help but think of this piece of art commissioned from the soon-to-be-released Sword Coast Legends CRPG and wonder if I might end up using it to depict a couple of significant NPCs in this campaign:

At the very least, I rather like the idea of including a dungeon level which I will call the Dark Pit of Narathmault where a band of drow wizards and/or sorcerers are seeking to increase their personal power. (And for campaigns where the Demon Weave storyline from 4E's Rise of the Underdark is going to happen, this is probably a logical place for the drow to perform some of the necessary rituals. It also provides an alternative starting location for the Rage of Demons storyline.)

I also really want to include a traditional, old school, fireball-throwing, Demogorgon-created death knight in Dun-Tharos. And if Demogorgon is going to be involved, I should also use troglodytes, some yuan-ti, and maybe some awakened apes (see The Lost Temple of Demogorgon from Dungeon 120 for some ideas relating to awakened apes).

Demoncysts

As I expect that demoncysts are going to play a significant role in the campaign, I thought I better address them in this post rather than later. And to do I will defer to George Krashos over at Candlekeep:
The Narfelli bound demons into magical prisons known as demoncysts. The demoncyst form of trapping demons commonly occurred on the outer fringes of Narfelli lands (i.e. as a type of border security) to be called upon by Demonbinders as needed and was the least sophisticated means of compelling demons to service used by the Narfelli. The demoncyst ritual involved summoning the demon in question to the Prime and then using their own unique variant of the 'Imprisonment' spell to entomb the demon (or 'drith' in the Narfelli tongue) at a particular location.

What the Narfelli realised early on in the process was that the extra-planar nature of drith made a normal 'Imprisonment' spell prone to collapsing over time, which of course led to much devastation and trouble when an unbound demon appeared 'out of no-where' and started to run amok. This led to the Narfelli working on a more demon-oriented variant of that spell which proved much more stable - but not completely so. As such it was common for only relatively minor drith to be bound in this fashion (usually nothing more powerful than a chasme, more often a handful of dretch or rutterkin) and for there to be safeguards put in place to prevent unleashed demons from doing their own things if unleashed incorrectly. Those safeguards usually took the form of spell-trigger magics to banish said unleashed demon(s) or other types of ward magics to prevent their freedom of movement. As with all dealing with extra-planar creatures, the efficacy of such spells varied wildly on circumstances and the unpredictability of the Art.

I note that there were more than a few Demonbinders who refused to 'play by the rules' and used demoncyst magic to build secret sentinels/armies in more populated areas (i.e. in and around Narfelli settlements) and also were lax in placing appropriate safeguards on their demoncysts - so essentially, anything goes in this regard.

Most 'sanctioned' demoncysts needed to be recognisable to Demonbinders - for it was intended that they be an intrinsic aspect of the defence of the realm and so required to be accessible to all 'army personnel as it were - and so the releasing of subject demon(s) was by way of command word and the touching of a particular item (usually a small brass engraved disc) located at the site of the cyst. Most Demonbinders used "permanency" on themselves to give them the power of a lower-level variant "arcane sight" spell that allowed them to see drith summoning magics (specifically for location of demoncysts and wards against demons) and so could readily observe and activate such sites.

With the passing of the centuries, the demoncyst magics have all degraded to a degree. They are far less stable and accordingly, sometimes simply touching the brass disc located at a demoncyst site without uttering the command word is enough to release the demon(s) in question. It must be noted that the demoncyst ritual was keyed specifically to humans, so the touching of a disc by wild animals, elves, dragons, dwarves etc would all (usually) have no effect. Similarly, disturbing the area of ground at or nearby to a demoncyst by digging, ploughing, etc. has been known to unleash the demons entombed there. Most denizens of the Great Dale do no digging at all if it can be avoided - experience having taught them that the simple act of digging a grave can lead to deadly consequences. Customs in the Great Dale are modified accordingly (they cremate their dead rather than bury; they use hammered in stakes with stout ropes to hold wooden dwellings in place rather than digging stone foundations; etc.).

The largest concentration of demoncysts is located on the southern edge of the Great Dale along the northern part of the Forest of Lethyr, around present-day Mistbridge and the Falls of Erech, near the Citadel of Conjurers in Impiltur and in and around the environs of Dun-Tharos. This is despite centuries of "clean up" by the druids of the region.
I also want to make a demoncyst the centrepiece for my introductory adventure for the campaign.

Kront: The Safe Haven

My original plan was to use Uthmere as a fairly logical starting point for a Great Dale-based campaign... but that would make Dun-Tharos the nearest of the three dungeons which doesn't make sense when it's the most dangerous. Kront, however, is the nearest settlement to the first dungeon of Val-Murthag and it's also on a major trade road leading to Narfell and places north and Thesk and places south. Also, Lake Ashane is close by offering easy access to Rashemen. I mention these places because these are all good places from which PCs might come, although the Great Dale itself is a really good origin point.

The FRCG says this about Kront:
Trade Village; Population 400
The first glimmer of civilisation along the Cold Road from N’Jast in Narfell, Kront stands on a crossroads that leads to Two Stars in Thesk. Despite raids from far-roaming Nars, the rough frontier village still stands. No lord higher than the current Lady Chinilvur, of an Impilturan noble line, claims dominion over Kront. The Chinilvurs would have built the town in the Ashanath on Lake Ashane, but that stretch of land is prone to unnaturally regular and severe tornadoes.
Unapproachable East provides (as is to be expected) a bit more information:
Kront is a neutral trading ground for the surrounding lands. The merchants who regularly pass through here appreciate the lack of politics, especially since this translates into no direct taxes or tolls. The people of Kront make their living trading goods and services with travellers. Kront concentrates on providing services to traders, but it's also a key point for folk from hundreds of miles around to purchase tools and other items they cannot fashion on their own. Many merchants who start out thinking of Kront as a rest stop on their way to other points have decided this is a fine place to trade as well. In particular, fisherfolk come here every day to hawk their catches from Lake Ashane, providing fresh fish for those staying in Kront and smoked meat for them to take on their way.
I'm definitely going to have to flesh that out a lot more if I'm going to use it as a home base (unlike Uthmere where there is a lot of canon info, particularly from the 3.5E era).
A Rough Campaign Synopsis

Obviously, this is going to develop further as I do further research and design on the campaign but here's my rough outline for what would be a campaign for the Heroic Tier in 4E covering levels 1-11 or so (and arguably the same in 5E):
Adventure One: Dungeon of the Demoncyst
Levels 1-2 

I cannot write a proper introductory adventure without knowing the characters but the basic idea combines a dungeon with a demoncyst. Essentially, the seals on a demoncyst have been degraded by a combination of time and the rituals of a Nar demonbinder thus freeing some fairly minor demons (manes, dretches etc...) which are now running about near Kront. The PCs are hired to put an end to this threat which involves delving a Narfelli-era dungeon, fighting Nar barbarians, before dealing with a Nar demonbinder and his minor demon "horde".

Adventure Two: Ghosts of Val-Murthag
Levels 2-5

Deciding to explore the ruins of Val-Murthag, the PCs find that Nar cultists of Orcus have disturbed many of the Nar ghosts. A Nar demonpriest of Orcus is trying to raise a great army of undead from the ruins by opening a portal to the Shadowfell in an ancient temple of Orcus and it's up to the PCs to stop him (or her).
Adventure Three: Prisoner of Clymph Tower
Levels 5-8

The Rashemmi PCs in the party have heard that Red Wizards of Thay have occupied Clymph Tower. It's up to them to determine if this poses a risk to Rashemen and to stop the Thayan schemes.

Or not.

After all, they may be trying to bring back the former Zulkir Nevron in an effort to end the rule of Szass Tam.

Adventure Four: Dark Pit of Dun-Tharos
Levels 8-11

The corruption of the Dunwood has been increasing and now Kront and other formerly (relatively) peaceful settlements of the Great Dale are threatened and all the signs point to Dun-Tharos being the origin of these troubles.

With support from the druids of Yeshelmaar, the PCs set out to end the threat only to discover a major Nar cult of Demogorgon that has summoned an aspect of the prince of demons to the Realms with the side-effect of corrupting everything around Dun-Tharos. 

Delving deeper into Dun-Tharos, the PCs eventually come to the great twin altar of Demogorgon and there seek to banish the aspect of Demogorgon from the Realms before its corruption and madness spreads further!

***

I've written the synopses as railroads to save time but, when I come to preparing the posts for each adventure, I will make sure to include a variety of hooks and also to provide better links between the adventures than what is apparent here.
 Table of Contents

Finally, here's the revised table of contents. I will edit in the links to the relevant posts as they are made.

Adventure Locations

From the 4E map:
Clymph Tower
Dun-Tharos
Val-Murthag


From the 3.xE map:
Fortress Narder
Great Barrow
Tower Threespires 

Other Locations & Features

Bezentil
Dunwood
Easting River
Forest of Lethyr
Giantspire Mountains
Great Road
Kront
Lake Ashane
The Mucklestones
Narfell
Tammar
Thesk
Uthmere
Yeshelmaar

Helpful Links

WotC posted the sections on the Great Dale from both the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide and Forgotten Realms Player's Guide <here> and <here> respectively.

All of the information from 3.xE's Unapproachable East - one of the best FR sourcebooks, IMO - can be found in four posts on another site: <overview>, <people>, <cities>, and <history>.

A Final Comment: Necromancer Games

As I have quickly re-read this post I realised that there is arguably enough content here and in the links to allow a DM to quickly put together a campaign set in the Great Dale particularly if he or she owns a few Necromancer Games products.

Start with Wizard's Amulet and Crucible of Freya as an introductory adventure and then segue into Rappan-Athuk but set in Val-Murthag. That's really all you need for a long-running campaign. And whatever bits of Rappan-Athuk aren't used in  Val-Murthag can be used in Clymph and/or Dun-Tharos instead. Slumbering Tsar could also provide source material for the same locations.

Add a bit of FR flavour by including Nar barbarians and demonbinders, Red Wizards of Thay, witches of Rashemen, and swapping out the deities for FR ones and it will still feel like FR but the work will have been done for you. After all, if you've paid for the products, you may as well use them! :)

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Look what's coming in 5E for the Forgotten Realms...

... and, no, it is not a campaign setting but some form of regional guide book.

It's the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide which looks like it's going to follow the example of 4E's Neverwinter Campaign Setting and focus on a smaller area. And I mention the Neverwinter Campaign Setting because that seemed to be almost uniformly praised even by those whose natural reaction is to hate FR products.

But it's also interesting that, as expected, there's no campaign guide for FR. I don't think this is going to win the Candlekeepers (ie, diehard FR fans) back but I suspect it will, like the Neverwinter Campaign Setting, have fairly broad appeal especially if the CRPG Sword Coast Legends turns out to be a good product.

While I am not interested in 5E or the 5E Realms, I will still be grabbing this as the Sword Coast is a big part of why I am a fan of FR.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Stat Blocks - Orcs of the Crags

One of the most enjoyable 4E combats we have had involved a party of four level 10 PCs - half-elf bard, eladrin wizard, human barbarian, and dwarf fighter - leading a small army against a small orc horde. 

The best part, of course, was when the PCs had to fight their way through their section of the battlefield and take out three of the key orc leaders.

I only used three stat blocks which I am posting here. The most basic orc was this one to the left: it's the minion version of my bog-standard orc which is a level 1 brute. (I go back to AD&D and reduce monster levels to match their 1E hit dice. It suits my game better, particularly as we're not going to Epic.)

The critical damage may look high but I "bought" it by trading 1 point of damage from its normal attack and having a 20% chance that a critical would trigger dealing 5 extra damage (20% = 1/5; reciprocal of 1/5 is 5 and 5 x 1 = 5). I like my 4E brutes to have big swings in the damage they can potentially deal and this seemed to be the best way to model that with a minion.

I really liked the stat block in Monster Vault: Threats of the Nentir Vale for a swarm of orcs, albeit referred to as a throng. I stole it and made only a few changes to suit my tastes but this is essentially the Bloodspear savage throng from that book.

I found these swarms to be an interesting complement to the orc minion above, and fairly handy as a damage soak for the orc leaders.

And that's the last of these stat blocks: the orc battlethane. I admit that the choice of weapon - a broadsword - was odd for an orc, but I wanted to use some orc miniatures that I had - orc eye of Gruumsh - so went that rather non-orc-like weapon.  How I wish I had the orc with a double-axe instead....

OK, so battlethane sounds like one of those odd portmanteaus that 4E was famous for - the idea for which, I think, was stolen from Magic: the Gathering (I've never played MtG so I am only guessing) - but I wanted battle rather than war (such as warchief) to reflect the fact that these are not actually the leaders of their clans or tribes. These orcs are here in The Crags near Neverwinter for a reason that is explained in <this post> but they're not the true leaders of the orc horde which is no longer going to be formed thanks to the deeds of the PCs.

So, name aside, I like the way this stat block turned out. I've experimented with mechanics involving marks - one of my favourites is <this one> - but this one worked really well and seemed to reflect the nature of the orcs. The other challenge was to create an appropriate leader power and I thought Thane's Cry for Blood was, again, very orc-flavoured. And with so many monsters on the board, it seems I may have had a chance or two to use it....

Monday, 22 June 2015

Stat Blocks - Dead Rats

I am almost finished writing up my Neverwinter: Year of the Ageless One session report relating to the PCs bearding the Dead Rats in their lair and decapitating their leadership so that one of the PCs - a Dead Rat deserter - could take over the organisation and use it for more "noble purposes".

And these are the Dead Rats they fought their way through....

Dead Rat Basher

These are the common street thugs employed by the Dead Rats. They're a scurvy-ridden bunch of malcontents, traitors, and former pirates with nothing better to do than become bashers for a bunch of wererats.

That also means they can be found beating up little old ladies, tormenting stray cats, taking candy from babies, and similar sorts of things that make players hate them before they have their characters mow them down like wheat before a combine harvester. Ahhh, I love minions that players hate.... 
The stat block began life as a level 1 brute (100 XP) which I boosted to a level 9 minion brute (also 100 XP) once the PCs hit level 6 or so. They can be quite nasty in waves if they get combat advantage and start handing out the dazed condition. Silly me: I should have made a dazed target become stunned if it was dazed again.

Dead Rat Lookout

It made sense for the Dead Rats to have lookouts so I threw this stat block together fairly quickly to meet that need. At the beginning of a campaign, it would be a level 1 artillery but, now that the PCs are level 10, building it as a minion makes more sense.

And, once again, I was amazed at how much of a threat minion artillery creatures really are particularly with respect to their XP cost when building an encounter. 

I had the lookouts placed up high with both cover and concealment and that allowed them to snipe without having to move. And, of course, without having to use their move action to move, they were able to use careful aim to get a boost to their attack rolls. 

Frankly, for those who say that 4E is too easy for players, I would suggest that they reconsider that opinion when a big chunk of an encounter's XP budget is spent on minion artillery.

I also want to point out something I have been doing a lot with weapon-using artillery stat blocks: I turn the ranged weapon into a melee weapon to give the create a melee basic attack. Frankly, if I had my own editable 4E Character Builder, I would probably create a feat to allow PCs to do something similar. After all, we've all seen the Lord of the Rings movies and how effective Legolas is with a bow and arrow in melee combat!

Dead Rat Wererat

The Dead Rats are, at their heart, a guild of wererats. In 1E, a wererat is a 3-hit dice monster. Similarly, there was also level 3 4E stat blocks for the wererat and that's where I started with this. Again, as noted in the two previous stat blocks, I kept the XP value but changed the standard monster into a higher level minion.

Wererats have regeneration in 4E so I modelled that with an ability - lycanthropic regeneration - to return to 1 hit point when slain with a successful saving throw, unless the attack is with a silvered weapon. My players are used to minions that make saving throws... and they also have an item that lets one of them create an aura 5 within which his and his allies attacks with implements or weapons are considered silvered.

Ultimately, these were less of a threat than the Dead Rat lookouts as a result!

Dead Rat Guard Otyugh

You cannot have D&D sewers without otyughs. I believe that is one of the fundamental rules of the game.

I had a fresh look at the otyugh in both 1E and 2E to see what I could discover afresh about them as 4E had reduced them to beasts with an Intelligence of 1. Not so in AD&D were their Intelligence ranged from 5-10 and, in 2E at least, they all possess short-ranged telepathy. Anyway, that should explain those small changed on the stat block.

The normal otyugh in 4E is level 7; I bumped this one up to level 9 which is still within the hit dice range in 1E (although I think it's actually within range for a neo-otyugh but close enough).

I will just comment on the damage on this stat block. A level 9 soldier is expected to deal an average 17 damage. In this case, average damage for tentacle is 12 while average damage for diseased bite is 22 (actually 21.5 but I will round up). The average for the two attacks is 17 damage and, as the attacks work in combination, it seemed fair plus it provides a strong incentive to escape the creature's grab.

I know later 4E stat blocks included an escape DC for monster grab attacks but I actually prefer the original 4E model where the player can choose either Athletics vs Fortitude or Acrobatics vs Reflex.

Rsolk

The leader of the Dead Rats in Neverwinter is Rsolk, a nasty piece of work who has become far too rat-like - with his twitching nose, furtive movements, and squeaky voice - for a human.

He started out as a level 7 elite skirmisher which has the same XP value as a level 11 skirmisher which is what he is now (or was in case you're reading this after I posted the session report). 

In battle he's clearly a skirmisher who also provides a mobility boost to his allies. That said, if I was going to build him again, I would also give him a bonus shift with his melee basic attacks as he needs a bit more mobility. 

Blacklake Sewer Kraken

I'm a bit of a fan of the adventure The Lost Crown of Neverwinter which was season 6 of the D&D Encounters programme. The idea for the Blacklake sewer kraken - and even its tentacles as minions - is shamelessly stolen from that adventure.

This is a spoiler for those who haven't read or played in that adventure - and it's also spoiled in my session report that is not yet posted as at the time this post was written - but there is an encounter with the Dead Rats that results in one of the Dead Rats hitting a lever and essentially flushing the PCs and the remaining Dead Rats into another chamber that was once used by the once-notorious Kraken Society...

... and that's where the battle with the Dead Rats would continue further hampered by the tentacles of a devolved kraken.

I took it a step further and also included the devolved kraken as a monster plus four of its tentacles. And this is where I will insert the link to a description of the battle once I have finished writing it.

The highlight of the battle with the sewer kraken was its used of kraken's bite. Elite creatures are supposed to deal average damage equal to a standard monster of the same level (in this case, that would be 2 x 17 = 34) and sometimes I like to put all of that damage into a single attack which is what I did here.

Also, if you're going to run a similar battle, I recommend watching the most recent Conan film before you do so. The battle with the tentacled creature in that movie is a really good source of inspiration for fighting a kraken-like beast.

Edit: War Dog

One of the many odd things about Gygaxian AD&D was the absolute lethality of household pets relative to the impotence of a lot of characters. When house cats were statted out in the Monster Manual II, IIRC, out group enjoyed mocking the designer who decided to make a house cat far more lethal in melee combat than a lot of 1st-level characters.

Slightly more believable was the war dog which appeared in the first Monster Manual but it was also lethal: a 2-hit dice monster with a bite attack that dealt 2d4 damage. In short, it was better in combat than most 1st-level fighters rolled up according to the 1E rules... and you could buy war dogs! Of course, then the only problem was getting your DM to agree that they were trained and would obey orders etc....

Reminiscences aside, I thought the Dead Rats needed some watch dogs and decided to go with the 1E war dog as inspiration so I started with a level 2 soldier. Bumping it up to a minion made it level 10 and I changed its primary role to controller purely to drop the AC by 2. At some point, I may even stat up a pack as a Huge swarm....


Thursday, 11 June 2015

Dessarin Valley Sandbox 3 - Amphail & Getting a Campaign Started (II)

Princes of the Apocalypse "officially" begins at level 3 in Red Larch so the adventure gives some ideas for mini-adventures to take PCs from levels 1-3 if necessary. These mini-adventures are also centred on Red Larch, as are some of my own ideas mentioned in my <previous post>.

However, looking at the <regional map> some players might be wondering why they are in Red Larch and what route they took to get there. One obvious answer is that they came via Amphail so what happened when they were there?

Turning to 2E's Volo's Guide to the North once again for source material, it seems there are one or two things that might interest PCs en route to Red Larch....

Realmslore

Princes of the Apocalypse

Princes has little to say about Amphail and what it almost exactly the same as what appears in 2E's Volo's Guide to the North and the later 2E product The North boxed set which is also largely reprints from Volo's:

Amphail lies on the Long Road, about three days’ ride north of Waterdeep. The town is named after Amphail the Just, one of Waterdeep’s early warlords, who is said to haunt the surrounding hills in spirit form, frightening away monsters. Horses are bred and trained here, rich Waterdhavians maintain secluded estates in the hills, and farmland is plentiful. Stands of dark duskwood and spruce trees are everywhere.

In one corner of the town square stands the Great Shalarn, a black stone statue of a famous war stallion bred in Amphail long ago. Gelded by a prankster, the rearing horse is often painted bright colours by high-spirited locals. Children are allowed to hurl stones at birds perched on the statue, to keep it free of droppings. The children often climb it themselves and cling precariously to the high, tilted saddle, waving their arms and commanding imaginary armies into battle. Within spitting distance of the statue is the Stag-Horned Flagon, a cozy tavern.

Reason to Visit: Great Shalarn is a popular place to leave cryptic messages, either tucked under the statue’s hind hooves or slid between the sculpted curls of its tail.

There's not a lot to work with there but it would be in the finest tradition of a sandbox-style campaign for the PCs to find a message in the statue of the Great Shalarn and for that message to lead them to an adventure.

On a related note, a DM planning to run Princes largely as written could place a clue to the identity of one or more of the agents of Elemental Evil in Red Larch within a message in this statue. 

Volo's Guide to the North

One of the points of interest called out in Volo's is the horse pond and the tomb reported to lie beneath:

For a local spot of interest, you might try the Horse Pond. It'’s a placid, muddy home to frogs and water-lilies, and it is said to hide the underwater entrance to a tomb.

Local lore tells of the Maiden King, a female human chieftain who ruled here an age ago. According to the tale, she sleeps forever on a stone bed, with a magical two-handed sword on her breast. Adventurers have entered the pool several times looking for her sunken tomb, and at least one band did not return. Some years ago, a number of undead skeletons emerged from the pond and stalked through the village, strangling several folk before the beasts were hacked apart. The truth about what lies in the depths of the pond remains to be revealed. However, it is used daily, without incident, to water dirty, thirsty horses.
The Horse Pond Tomb. That's not a bad name for an adventure and it is definitely the basic sort of old school adventure that is perfect for kicking off a new campaign. Imagine the PCs arriving in Amphail only to discover a small horde of undead skeletons rampaging through the village. They save some of the folk of Amphail and are then hired to put a permanent end to the undead threat. What then follows is some underwater exploration which is particularly freaky when your characters are only level 1 before the PCs uncover the entrance to an ancient barbarian queen's tomb as otherwise described above.

Maybe the problem has been caused by a necromancer or evil cleric taking up residence - what if the Maiden King was a folower of Garagos the Reaver and it is a cleric of Garagos who has come back to fulfil an Arthurian prophecy that the Maiden King will rise again? - and animating some of the dead. Alternatively, maybe a thief broke through some protective wards and eventually awakened the Maiden King who is actually a creature of great evil bound beneath the earth some centuries ago.

In short, there's an extensive set of barrows, some of sort of necromancer or cleric, a trapped thief, and an a horrible unique undead barbarian queen who wants to regain her kingdom. Yep, that would work.


Then there are two more adventure locations that hold some promise:

At the north end of the village stands the burned ruin of the Laughing Bandit Inn. It was destroyed in a wild spell battle three winters ago. 

The battle was between a mysterious masked mage whose skin was ink black (some folk believe he was a drow) and the wizard Thalagh Tarn of Tethyr who was blasted to bloodspray. It'’s not clear if the other mage escaped the inferno of the inn. Many, many bones, cracked by the heat, were found in the ashes.

As the owner died in the conflagration, there is no great interest in rebuilding. Local children love to play in the ruins, where many “jools” of melted, puddled glass can be found. Somewhere under the charred timbers lie the inn’'s cellars, which may still contain some valuables. There’'s no way to get down there without doing a lot of digging that would have to be done in full view of the children and anyone passing on the road.


To the north is a disused temple to Waukeen. It is rapidly becoming overgrown with ivy and creeping vines.
Cellars of the Laughing Bandit Inn. Instead of requiring the PCs to dig into the cellars, perhaps the coming of Spring has caused the soil to subside so that there is now a narrow entrance to these old cellars but the folk of Amphail are too scared because of old legends to explore them for themselves. Instead, the PCs are hired to do so and first discover merely old storage rooms... but then a prison where captives were kept for sale to the drow. 

That then suggests some sort of passage into the Underdark and maybe a great fungus-filled cavern with the remains of a drow outpost. Perhaps there is a drider - with pet hunting spiders - there that survives by hunting myconids with the latter surviving from the rich fungal forest that they tend. 
 
Ruined Temple of Waukeen. I suspect the reason this temple was ruined was because, in the 2E era, Waukeen was a prisoner of Graz'zt and her church went into a period of decline. (In my own campaign set in the 4E era, this is still true but her church is thriving secretly run by a cult of Graz'zt.) What if the ruins are still haunted by minor demons from that era? And what if the church of Waukeen is now wanting to reclaim their former temple and is hiring adventurers to clear out the ruins? That's a fairly simple mini-adventure that could be ad libbed with the right map such as the monastery dungeon that features in the original Dungeon Master's Guide.

Beyond these three adventure ideas, there are several other suggestions in Volo's but they require a bit more work/thought.

Other Published Material

T1 The Village of Hommlet

I hate, loathe, detest, and despise T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil as being one of the most overrated, incomplete, nonsensical, and basically poorly-designed (and randomly-generated in large parts) pieces of crap ever published for D&D... but that's because I have such high regard for The Village of Hommlet and waited so long for Temple of Elemental Evil that a never-actually-finished-but-still-published piece of garbage was never going to satisfy my desire for a worthy sequel.

My rants aside, the Moathouse is a classic adventure location that almost needs to be in any campaign based on Elemental Evil, including Princes of the Apocalypse.

What if Amphail substitutes for Hommlet? The Moathouse can represent a move by an almost renegade faction of the Elder Elemental Eye to move further south toward Waterdeep and, of course, that faction would be headed up by Lareth the Beautiful....

Really, can Princes of the Apocalypse even be considered a successor to Temple of Elemental Evil if it doesn't begin with the Moathouse? :) Seriously, if the PCs need to be level 3 by the time they reach Red Larch, why not start Princes with an update of the Moathouse? And, if you do so, make sure you post about it online so that the Greyhawk purists weep....

Conclusion

I've run a few homebrewed "adventure paths" over the past few years and I have found that they ones that have worked best have begun with something a little bit different so that the players get some variety and don't feel like they're being railroaded from day 1. I think starting in Amphail and then travelling to Red Larch can provide that sort of start, even if the PCs end up taking on Lareth the Beautiful in an adaptation of the Moathouse from T1. But it might be better to run through one or more of the other adventure ideas first just to get the players used to their characters before they begin the process of tackling Elemental Evil....

Dessarin Valley Sandbox 2 - Red Larch & Getting a Campaign Started

Any adventure needs to begin somewhere and Red Larch is the starting location chosen for Princes of the Apocalypse. And, as there is a decent Mike Schley-created map for Red Larch, it's as good a place as any from which to begin a Dessarin Valley sandbox campaign.

There are two basic purposes to this post: 1. to provide some ideas for logical reasons for PCs to be in Red Larch and 2. to suggest some other starting adventures to get the PCs to level 3 for Princes-proper.

Realmslore

Volo's Guide to the North

I believe that the first time Red Larch is described in any FR product is in this one. It introduces Red Larch as follows:
Red Larch is a waystop town of roughly 600 folk. It’s about a seven day ride north of Waterdeep. Red Larch stands atop a long, low ridge that serves as the westernmost edge of a region of monster infested hills. The ridge was crowned by a landmark brilliant red stand of larches, but the trees were felled long ago by the town’'s first settlers.
The same introductory section then goes on to mention:
Three trails intersect the Long Road at Red Larch. One runs southeast through an area of small farms and ranches to Bargewright Inn; a second winds west through the hills to Kheldell, and the third runs east into the hills, to several abandoned, monster-haunted keeps. The keeps used to belong to adventurers and local ranching communities along the Dessarin. Currently, Red Larch is awash in rumours of a sinister force that strikes by night from the nearby hills. Some say it’'s drow reaching the surface.
It's interesting how that foreshadows some of the adventure sites including in Princes of the Apocalypse.  But it's also interesting how Red Larch was set up from the very beginning as an ideal home base from which a party might head off seeking adventure in ...abandoned, monster-haunted keeps... and to investigate ... a sinister force that strikes by night ... drow ...?


(An idea relating to an abandoned keep is provided later in this post.)

What I also found interesting in Volo's Guide was the mystery surrounding The Swinging Sword which is also a location featured in Princes. It's fairly dry in the 5E adventure but Volo's makes these comments about this inn from 100 or so years before the current game year:
The inn is old and dark, and it’'s full of secret passages and storage closets.
and
The co-owners of the Swinging Sword are Jhandlatha and Peieyrie Taskaloath. They’re originally from Luskan, where their father was a wizard and a foe of the Arcane Brotherhood, who killed him. Jhandlatha is an NG hf W9, and Peieyrie (pronounced PEER-ee) is a CG hf W8. They inherited magical items, but Elminster isn'’t sure just what.
and
There are rumours that a gate (or gates) to other, far-off places in the Realms is hidden somewhere in or near the Swinging Sword. Currently, the tales speak of connections with the Moonshaes, the Vast, and the Tashalar, near Chult. Strange folk do certainly seem to show up at the inn, too. (NB: Gates in 2E were renamed portals in 3E and later editions.)
Secret passages, eh? To me that says, "this inn can be an adventuring location", especially when combined with the rumours of portals to elsewhere. Also, what about those special snowflake players who insist on wild and weird race and class combinations that don't make a lot of sense in this geographical location? Portals are a perfect explanation for their presence far from where they would otherwise make sense.

But back to the idea of The Swinging Sword as an adventuring location. I can think of three main ideas:
  1. The newly reformed Arcane Brotherhood of Luskan have scoured their records and discovered that the Taskaloath sisters likely ended up in the possession of certain important magic items that belonged to the Brotherhood. A band of "recovery experts" (ie, rogues) led by a minor mage are despatched from Luskan to Red Larch to thoroughly search The Swinging Sword and even to dig up the sisters' graves. What if the aforementioned secret passages also lead to extradimensional spaces where the Brotherhood's treasure is now hidden?
  2. Secrets passages and a portal to Chult? Can anyone say yuan-ti slavers? What if The Swinging Sword is the centre of a yuan-ti slaving operation that is now expanding in scope? And a short side trip to the jungle via portal can make a nice change of pace to an Elemental Evil-themed campaign.
  3. One or more of the PCs is a descendant of the Taskaloath sisters and has inherited a portal key which, if taken to the correct secret passage in The Swinging Sword, opens a portal that leads to a small dungeon complex (an arcane laboratory) beneath Luskan where some of the Taskaloath treasures are still stored. One small complication: wererats and/or other gangs from Luskan, or even the reformed Arcane Brotherhood, have also discovered the complex and are exploring it at the same time as the PCs. This hook also has the benefit of providing a logical reason for why one or more of the PCs are in Red Larch.
Any or all of these rough ideas could be easily turned into an adventure with a little bit of work and might also make for a good starter adventure for Princes-proper.

Other Published Material


Dungeon 26: The Inheritance

I believe that the 2E adventure The Inheritance published in Dungeon 26 was one of the more popular Dungeon adventure of its era. And I mention it here because its major location is near Red Larch - Red Larch is even mentioned in the introduction - and the idea of an abandoned keep is, as I have already noted, part of the basic description of Red Larch in Volo's.
 
This is a great starter adventure especially for a campaign taking place in and around the Dessarin Valley. In a nutshell, one of the PCs has inherited a keep from a dead uncle that he was forced to abandon after it was besieged and taken over by a force of hobgoblins from the unfortunately named Lostafinga tribe. (I like the adventure and its author is one of my favourite Dungeon authors, but this adventures suffers from a lot of joke names. But don't let that put you off. It is rather good.)

Even for those without Dungeon 26 - or the ability to use Google - putting this adventure together is fairly simple. The maps are provided above and the keep can be placed anywhere on the regional map near Red Larch although I would personally to it on the northeastern edge of the Westwood some 3.5 hexes from Red Larch. Then it's just a matter of filling the keep and its dungeon with various hobgoblins and hobgoblin-related creatures (a couple of bugbear shock troops, goblin scouts, and - for a true, old-school feel - at least one carnivorous ape).

This would make a great starter adventure for any sort of campaign in the Dessarin Valley as it gives the PCs their own home base that they will need to defend from time to time - the hobgoblins will be back, and their green dragon master might also follow - which gives them a break from the adventure path, and the whole thing gives them both a logical reason to start in Red Larch and then stay and see off the threats to the Dessarin Valley.

Conclusion

So, a good two or so months after I planned to start this series I finally made my first real post and I am actually happy with the ideas even if the post could do with a rewrite. Frankly, I really like Red Larch as a starting location just based on the write-up in Volo's and, combined with The Inheritance from Dungeon 26 and the ideas for making The Swinging Sword more magical and sinister, I think I could put together a pretty decent mini-campaign with some nice variety for almost any D&D edition.

I would start with The Inheritance and its hobgoblins, deal with the yuan-ti slavers next (possibly expanding that to be some more like 1E's N1 Cult of the Reptile god, and then find the portal to the arcane laboratory in Luskan to fight wizards and wererats. It would also might for a nice alternate start to Princes of the Apocalypse or a change from Elemental Evil, all the time, once the PCs are on the adventure path railroad....

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

I Miss the Wonder of Exploration (edit) & Weirdness

Bar two sessions of LFR around five or so years ago, I have not actually played D&D since 1985 and have only played it a few times since I first discovered the game in 1981. After a single session of playing to learn how mapping worked, I started DMing immediately and rarely returned to the player's side of the screen.

Half of my regular players have had me DMing them since 1984 and I have largely adapted my DMing style to suit their playing preferences... and I realised I am missing out. As per the post title, I miss the wonder of exploration.

While we play 4E - and have had a few sessions of 5E as well - my long-term players gave on extended adventures, especially dungeon crawls, decades ago before 2E was released. The attention span isn't there so I end up compressing almost everything into one- to two-session mini-adventures simply to hold their attention... and I simply miss the wonder of exploration.

As a DM, there is something really wonderful about creating something weird and/or mysterious and having your players becomes entertained by interacting with it. The other half of my players still like this... but the old timers are the problem and they dominate. (I still remember the Pool of Watery Wonders in Caverns of Thracia - the only adventure I played through to the end - and how some clever play allowed us to scry, summon a water elemental, and then teleport same into the minotaurs we could not have fought on our own. That's still the highlight of my limited time as a player!)

Even though we are in our 40s, there are still new things to explore in D&D and I miss the opportunity to do so under the pressure to deliver the results every session. It's time for some new blood... and a new group to run in parallel with my principal group.

Let's explore!

(Edit) I missed a really important point in my first draft of this post: I also miss "the weird". For those of us who came into this hobby in the early 80s or even earlier, "the weird" was a staple of the modules - as they were called - that we played. X2 Castle Amber was possibly/arguably the best example of this but the magic pools in B1 In Search of the Unknown were my first encounter with such.

As my games are fairly serious and set in "serious" locations, I have missed out on "the weird" and I want it back. I've been prepping an Undermountain-based game for my wife's family on the assumption that I can grab their attention for a few minutes and get them to try something new (considering where I am living, I expect that I will simply bribe them eventually) and Undermountain really is a licence to bring out "the weird".

My Neverwinter: Year of the Ageless One campaign is about to cross into the Abyss and I am seriously racking my brain trying to think of things that should not be that would be appropriate in an excursion to the Abyss. In other words, I want to bring "the weird". Hopefully by doing it right it will bring out a bit more of the explorer mindset in those players... and, no doubt, improve my own DMing.

(Princes of the Apocalypse) Dessarin Valley Sandbox 1 - A Revised Introduction & Table of Contents & Player Friendly Map

I've been a bit busy with real life of late to get this series properly started, plus I have yet to read Princes of the Apocalypse from cover to cover. More importantly, I realised tonight when I saw the map to the left that my strategy for tackling this series was all wrong so, hopefully, this post will be the first step for going forward with the right strategy.

A Revised Introduction

I'm a big fan of the northern parts of the Forgotten Realms and the trilogy of products covering the area shown in this map of the Dessarin Valley - FR5 The Savage Frontier, Volo's Guide to the North, and The North - are some of my favourite products judging by how much I have read and/or used them.

What I now plan to do with this series is ignore the adventure locations covered by Princes of the Apocalypse but focus on the other named locations on this revised map with a view to turning this area into a sandbox of sorts. Hopefully this will give DMs of Princes of the Apocalypse some ideas for adventures outside of PotA for those times when they or their players feel like a break from unrelenting Elemental Evil.

Personally, I have no plans to run Princes in this area as I have some other ideas for Elemental Evil-themed adventures in Aglarond and Underchasm which pre-date PotA by some years.

Some Useful Links

A Revised Table of Contents

Now this list is much more manageable. I will edit in the links as I make each post.
  
Amphail (3)
Bargewright Inn
Beliard
Black Maw Bog
Cairn Road
Conyberry
Dessarin Hills
The Dessarin Road
Evermoor Way
The Forlorn Hills
Gaustar's Creek
Goldenfields
The High Forest
The Horn Stream
The Iron Road
Ironford
Jundar's Pass
Kheldell Path
Kryptgarden Forest
Lance Rock
The Long Road
Red Larch (2)
River Dessarin
River Surbrin
The Stone Bridge
The Stone Trail
Sumber Hills
Sword Mountains
Vale of Dancing Waters
Westbridge
The Westwood
Womford
Yartar

Map Scale

It seems that WotC screwed the pooch on the scale of this map which is marked as 10 miles per hex whereas the regional map with the Neverwinter Campaign Setting and Lost Mine of Phandelver are based on 5 miles per hex... and that the hexes are actually supposed to be 7.5 miles per hex in both cases. Or something. If you look at the comments at the bottom of <this post> you can find where Chris Perkins 'fesses up to the error without offering any sort of solution. Ho hum.

I only bring it up here in the event that your campaign also uses the adjoining map If it does, you should decide what scale the hexes really represent just in case your players notice or you have OCD. I'm just going to call them 5 mile hexes and leave it at that.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Monday, 6 April 2015

The Great Dale Sandbox 0 - Introduction & Table of Contents

My Neverwinter: Year of the Ageless One campaign will conclude in a few more sessions and I need to get another campaign ready. I have a few ideas that I have been toying around with for a while - plus the ones I have mentioned in the past on this blog - but I realised today I needed something simpler: Good vs Evil. Dungeons. Maybe dragons. Very little plot. Fairly old school.

While looking for something else in the 4E Forgotten Realms Player's Guide I noticed this description of the Great Dale:
The Great Dale is the vast, windswept vale that divides two enormous forests, the Dunwood to the north and the Forest of Lethyr to the south. The druids and other folk who inhabit the great rocky tor of Yeshelmaar are all that stand between the sparsely settled, wild southern woodlands and the festering evils of the northern forest.

Trade has collapsed along the Great Road, leaving the defenders of Yeshelmaar as the last bastion of civilisation in the Great Dale. Demons that were bound beneath the Dunwood by the long-fallen Empire of Narfell now stalk the northern forest and threaten to overwhelm the wild reaches of the Forest of Lethyr. The southern woods are home to hidden wood elf villages and a handful of human settlements along the border with Thesk.

And then I looked at the map and realised it already showed a few dungeons which means I would simply show the map to the players and let them choose where to go to find adventure. That's simple. That's fairly old school. And that might be just what my players are looking for after a more plot-intensive campaign.

Further, I continue to hope that I can persuade my wife's extended family to play this game one day so a simpler dungeon-focussed campaign is probably a good thing to have as a standby. So, here comes a series of posts called The Great Dale Sandbox which could otherwise probably be called Dungeons & Demons....

(It also gives me something to blog about while I wait for my copy of Princes of the Apocalypse. Ahhh, the joys of living in a Third World country....)

What About 5E?

Frankly, I think this idea of dungeons-on-a-map would work perfectly with 5E or any of the old school editions/rules. It's also suitable for DMs who don't have a good grasp of FR as, at its heart, it's a fairly generic campaign involving exploring dungeons with a possible BBEG being an aspect of a demon lord (and I think of aspects in the context of the 3.5E Miniatures Handbook where they were CR 12 or so and not Epic threats - I think that would also work well in 5E).

Introduction

(TL;DR: I have come to think of this campaign as something like the answer to this question: What would happen if Necromancer Games set its adventures in the world of the Forgotten Realms?)

The layout of the Great Dale is quite simple. There is the demon-haunted Dunwood on the northern side and the druid-protected Forest of Lethyr on the southern side. Dunwood vs Lethyr, or demon vs druid, is a fairly simple shorthand for describing the conflict in the Great Dale and the source of so many adventuring opportunities.

Beyond that, the Great Dale is a place containing numerous ruins from the demon-worshipping/-binding ancient Empire of Narfell. For my own take on this sandbox-based campaign that I expect/hope to run, I am actually calling it Legacies of Narfell. In due course, I hope to post actual play reports... assuming that is the campaign that we run through next.

The BBEG is going to be an aspect of Demogorgon and this aspect will be the source of much of the corruption of the Great Dale and its forests. That said, I suspect some of the other unique tanar'ri such as Orcus - or at least said tanar'ri's followers and thralls - will make an appearance but it's going to be a campaign that ends in a confrontation with the Big D himself.

And, yes, that means I will be stealing ideas along the way from the Savage Tide adventure path.

Table of Contents

Adventure Locations

From the 4E map:
Clymph Tower
Dun-Tharos
Val-Murthag


From the 3.xE map:
Fortress Narder
Great Barrow
Tower Threespires 

Other Locations & Features

Bezentil
Dunwood
Easting River
Forest of Lethyr
Giantspire Mountains
Great Road
Kront
Lake Ashane
The Mucklestones
Narfell
Tammar
Thesk
Uthmere
Yeshelmaar

Helpful Links

WotC posted the sections on the Great Dale from both the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide and Forgotten Realms Player's Guide <here> and <here> respectively.

All of the information from 3.xE's Unapproachable East - one of the best FR sourcebooks, IMO - can be found in four posts on another site: <overview>, <people>, <cities>, and <history>.