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.


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....


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....


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.


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.
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.
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.


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
Black Maw Bog
Cairn Road
Dessarin Hills
The Dessarin Road
Evermoor Way
The Forlorn Hills
Gaustar's Creek
The High Forest
The Horn Stream
The Iron Road
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
The Westwood

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.