Monday, May 25, 2009

Night Below conversion, part 1

As you might have seen me mention on Twitter, today I started running the classic (1995) 2nd Edition AD&D superadventure Night Below for a party of three 3rd-level PCs, consisting of my wife's paladin, my bard, and a character my son made, of a class we've been working on designing for fun. So it's a little weird to be adapting it for only 3 PCs, when the original adventure is intended for four to eight ("the higher number is better").

I started this project because gaming with my son, ever since I brought home Dungeon Delve, has consisted of a string of 3-encounter "delves" with very little plot or story, and I'm getting a little tired of that experience. To be clear, gaming with my son is in addition to five regular campaigns that have a lot more plot, story, and character stuff going on, so it's not like I'm starving for it in general. I just wanted this experience that we share as a family to be little richer, and get him more accustomed to a more traditional style of play.

On the other hand, I didn't want to have to do a lot of work to create another campaign of my own. I'm running my Greenbrier campaign (the one I write about for my Dungeoncraft column) on Fridays at lunch, and that's about all that I have time to prep for. Especially if I start writing another novel any time soon. So I really wanted to pull a superadventure off the shelf, do some tweaking as necessary, and play the heck out of it. I thought Night Below was a pretty strong candidate for that. It might still be, if I can get past this one hump.

One of the things I really like about Night Below is the way it interacts with 4th Edition's quest rules. Just in the little bit we played today, I handed my players three Post-It notes with quests on them:
  • Major Quest: Deliver Gordrenn's chest of arcane ritual components to Tauster in Thurmaster. Level 3 (450 XP). Tauster arranges to pay the PCs 110 gp (treasure parcel 9 for 3rd-level PCs).
  • Major Quest: Find Jelenneth. I haven't actually set a level for this one yet, because the PCs won't complete it until Book 3 of the adventure, when they'll probably be in the paragon tier. Tauster has promised them 150 gp, which by that time will be pocket change.
  • Minor Quest: Deliver Tauster's letter to Kuiper. Level 3 (150 XP). Tauster pays them 30 gp for this easy little delivery job, which I'll shave from another parcel.
The adventure as written has a lot of little quest hooks like this, which should eventually lead to a situation where the players have a bunch of things they could pursue, and they get to decide which quest to work on next.

The problem is that the quest to find Jelenneth seems urgent, which makes the players not interested in other matters. Kuiper suggests that they look for Jelenneth along Hog Creek—but the scene in the inn made it seem like she left abruptly. She didn't tell her sweetie that she was leaving and heading back to Thurmaster. Tauster clearly didn't instruct her to gather herbs along Hog Creek. Why would anyone accept Kuiper's suggestion of searching for her there?

I think this is a surmountable problem. I think the next time we play, I'll have Kuiper sit down with the characters and say, "Look. You're probably right that Jelenneth was abducted—especially given what happened to you guys on your way into the area. Let's have a look around Hog Creek, if only because whoever took her might have come that way, especially if they're hiding out in the forest somewhere."

Then they can run into Oleanna, who has an urgent problem of her own to deal with. With enough urgent problems on their quest log (as it were), perhaps it won't seem so terrible that they have no leads on finding Jelenneth. After all, they've got a werebear to help, orcs to deal with, and more of these kidnapping bandits.

The first encounter in the adventure, "Capture Them Alive!" was easy to put together:
Encounter Level 4 (XP 524)
4 human rabble (level 2 minion, MM 162)
2 human bandits, armed with bows (1d10 damage, instead of 1d4+3 for the dagger) (level 2 skirmisher, MM 162)
Carlanis, human guard (level 3 soldier, MM 162)

If they had captured a prisoner, I was prepared to give them another minor quest to bring him to justice in Milborne.

My son was getting antsy after all the talk in Milborne, so I threw a "random" encounter at them between Milborne and Thurmaster (despite the adventure's instructions, "The PCs should not have any random hostile encounters during their trip to Thurmaster.") It was another simple encounter:
Level 3 Encounter (XP 450)
6 goblin cutters (level 1 minion, MM 136)
Goblin blackblade (level 1 lurker, MM 136)
Bugbear warrior (level 5 brute, MM 135)

I've started to sketch out a campaign arc, based on the tables of contents in the three books of the adventure. Here's what it looks like so far:
Capture Them Alive! PCs are attacked by bandits on their way to Thurmaster. Level 3.
Milborne and Beyond Learn of disappeared apprentice. Goblin attack on the way to Thurmaster.
Lured Into Darkness Four mini-adventures:
—Creeping Along Hog Brook: Kuiper and Oleanne help the PCs to fight orcs and capture the werebear. I've built Kuiper and Oleanne as simple supporting characters using some new rules coming out this fall, so I'll plan these encounters as if we had 5 PCs. I think that means the orc encounter is 10 orc drudges (level 4 minion) and one orc berserker (level 4 brute), which is not quite a level 3 encounter for 5 PCs. Oleanne leaves before the werebear fight, which I think will just be a cave bear (level 6 elite brute).
— Mystery of the New Mire: The PCs investigate the New Mire and deal with the Goblins of the Ring. There's a lot of goblins in there, but I want to try to encourage a diplomatic solution. I'm guessing the PCs will hit 4th level around this time.
— Peril on the River: Carry cargo on the river to Thurmaster, fight bandits. Tough encounter. Ranchefus will be a priest of Torog.
— A Kidnapping on the Moors: Search for missing pilgrims on Howler’s Moor. I might use a couple of shadow hounds (level 6 skirmisher) in place of the pack of death dogs in the original adventure, or I might stat up death dogs, depending on how creative I feel at the time.
Gazetteer of Haranshire Side adventures TBD. My goal here will be to fill out the PCs' quest log, so that after the werebear incident the characters just have a ton of leads to pursue and quests to fulfill.
Ruins in the Thornwood PCs fight the kidnappers at Broken Spire Keep. I think I'll be aiming to have the PCs at 5th level by this time. (The original adventure wanted them at 3rd by now.)
Evil Below the Mines PCs fight more kidnappers at Garlstone Mines. We'll be aiming for 6th level here (the original says they should be 4th).
The Orcs Below the World PCs fight orcs at the gateway to the Underdark. Aim for level 7 for meaty orc encounters.
Into the Deep Dark Talk to deep gnomes. Another thing I like about this adventure: "Do not play these deep gnomes as jokey figures of fun. They are emphatically not 'tinker gnomes' or the more frivolous kind generally."
The Gnome Lands The PCs have the opportunity to kill some trolls (level 9 brute), so it'd be good if they're level 8 by now. As written, these caves have 4 to 8 trolls each! 4e encounter design should make this interesting. There are also some troglodytes, which happily occupy a similar level range (6 to 8).
Perils of the Long Path Three mini-dungeons:
—Grell Nest: Grells are level 7 and 11 in the MM, which lets me build level 8 or 9 encounters using both.
—Monsters at War: This area pits quaggoths against hook horrors (level 13). I know someone at the office has written up quaggoths, so I'll look into what they did and what level they're pegged at. There's a rakshasa in charge of the hook horrors, which might be a level 15 warrior—otherwise I'll have to craft a lower-level rakshasa than the ones in the MM.
—The Smooth Caverns: Ropers (level 14 elite), xorn (level 9 or 16 skirmisher), and crystal oozes (not done in 4e yet). This is getting pretty high-level, and I might need to skip this section.
—Caves of the Slime Lord: Home of the weird, weird monsters, from piercers and lurkers to invisible stalkers and crystal oozes. Some assembly required.
Scales Before the Rockseers Two cavern areas:
—Caverns of the Reptiles: Home to a behir (in MM2 at levels 8, 14, and 24) and a shadow dragon (in adventure P3 at levels 8, 14, and 20, and in Draconomicon at 24). Looks like these two are evenly matched whatever level the PCs have reached by this time.
—The Halls of the Rockseers: Rather than introduce a new subrace of subterranean elves, I'm going to make the rockseers a distinct fey race that's elf-like without being elves. At least, that's the current plan. I guess I could just make them ordinary elves who happen to live deep underground (which is also my plan for the deep gnomes), but I'd be a little sad to lose their ability to meld into stone. Fun skill challenge material here.
The Derro at War I haven't decided yet whether to reinvent derro for 4e or just use the duergar from MM2, which include a number of examples at levels 11–14. There's a purple worm, a level 16 solo, which will be tough for 3 PCs.
The City of the Glass Pool The home of the kuo-toa (level 12 to 16).
The Deepest Darkness The PCs regroup, consult with various allies, and make ready to descend to the Sunless Sea.
Exploring the Great Cavern More derro. Fire giants (level 18). A group of demons led by a marilith (level 24 elite)—oh, that's going to need some work, since alu-fiends aren't in the game and succubi are devils now. Renegade illithids (level 14–18) and fomorians (level 16–22).
Isles in the Sunless Sea More little mini-dungeons, with a human wizard, a bunch of undead, the pyramid of the ixzan, and some miscellaneous beasties. Some monster design required here.
Great Shaboath City of the aboleth! Aboleths are level 17–18, so that's our target for the end of the campaign.

I have just suddenly run out of steam. More later.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


GenCon 2002: A bunch of friends sit down to play some D&D. We make up some hasty, 9th-level characters and then play. I don't remember who DMed—maybe Steve Schubert? I only remember some of the players. But I have the character, because for some reason I entered it into the character storage CGI script I wrote for my old website. Inspired by the T-shirt distributed with the announcement of 3rd Edition, I decided to make a half-orc barbarian/sorcerer. Because the shirt said I could.

Thuk II was a chaotic good half-orc barbarian 3/sorcerer 6. Str 16, Dex 12, Con 14, Int 6, Wis 10, Cha 16. He had 54 hp, AC 21, Fort +7, Ref +4, and Will +6. He wielded a +2 greataxe, wore a +2 mithral shirt, +2 ring of protection, +2 amulet of natural armor, and +2 cloak of Charisma. Raging (once per day) gave him Str 20, Con 18, Will +8, AC 19. His skills were Intimidate +9, Listen +6, and Concentration +8, and he had Weapon Focus (greataxe), Power Attack, Blind-Fight, and Combat Casting as feats. His personality I summed up in a quotation: "Thuk smash!"

His spells per day: 6 level 0, 7 level 1, 6 level 2, and 4 level 3. He knew (1st level) true strike, shocking grasp, burning hands, magic missile; (2nd level) blur, bull's strength; and (3rd level) haste.

Thuk I, who died early in the adventure, was a barbarian 2/sorcerer 7. I changed the distribution of levels so that I could get a second attack each round.

That's perhaps the weirdest irony—I wanted Thuk to be a melee guy who ran up and smashed monsters, enhancing his ability to do so with his sorcerer spells. That's why I chose the spells I did. But the system encouraged me to give him more sorcerer levels than barbarian levels, because I got more bang out of those bucks (more spells). Even in his revised form, Thuk was not a particularly strong character. I was fighting upstream to get a high Charisma (my save DCs started at 13), and my Strength was lower than it would have been as a straight barbarian. 

Now, I've been thinking for a long time, and particularly since we were intently working on Player's Handbook 2, that a half-orc barbarian/sorcerer in 4th Edition would be pretty awesome. So the other night, for kicks, I revisited Thuk.

The new Thuk is a good half-orc barbarian 9 with the Arcane Prodigy (sorcerer multiclass) feat. Str 18, Con 12, Dex 16, Int 8, Wis 11, Cha 18. He has 75 hp, AC 23, Fort 22, Ref 20, and Will 20. He wields a +2 berserker greataxe, wears +2 bloodcut hide armor, and a +2 amulet of health. His trained skills are Athletics +13, Intimidate +15, and Perception +9, and he has Weapon Focus (axes), Power Attack, Arcane Prodigy, Novice Power, and Acolyte Power as feats. His personality can still be summed up as "Thuk smash!"

Here's his powers: (at-will) howling strike, pressing strike, (encounter) furious assault, roar of triumph, vault the fallen, flame spiral, curtain of steel, (daily) rage strike, macetail's rage, vengeful storm rage, white tiger rage, (utility) combat sprint, swift escape. His weapon attacks are +12 and deal a base 1d12+6, while his sorcerer attack is +8, with a +4 damage bonus.

When he hits 10th level, he'll take Adept Power and swap out one of his barbarian rages for a sorcerer daily. 

He doesn't have as much overt magic going on, but there's a lot more happening in his barbarian powers than just his basic attacks. His one sorcerer attack (flame spiral) is a close burst, so I don't need to worry about opportunity attacks—I just burninate the guys next to me. No Charisma penalty means my ability scores are better (even without the cloak of Charisma), and the barbarian has some good uses for that high Charisma score as well. 

This is a character I might actually like to play...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My life, post-trilogy

So it's been just over two months since I sent Dragon War off to my editor for the last time. How is my life different, now that I have all this extra time?

The sad answer is that, mostly, I'm sleeping more. I guess that's actually not so sad, probably good for my health and mood. But instead of setting my alarm for 6:10 every morning, I set it for 7:10. For a while I thought I'd soon start getting up early again and do something productive with that time—go into work earlier, exercise, something. That hasn't happened.

Since the early morning was my primary writing time, that's about all that's really different. Except now I read on the bus in the morning, instead of continuing my writing. So I've read a fair amount in those two months:
  • Practical Demonkeeping, by Christopher Moore
  • The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov
  • The Glass Books of the Dream-Eaters, by Gordon Dahlquist
  • The Emperor of Ocean Park, by Stephen L. Carter
  • The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem, by Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan
  • Perdido Street Station, by China MiĆ©ville
That's been fun.

Then last week, two months to the day after I finished Dragon War, I woke up and started thinking about a new novel idea. I'm not going to talk about it at all, but it's still percolating in my brain. Work is getting really busy, so it might be a while before I have a lot of time to think more about it. But I think I have a good year or so to get the book written.

In other news, apparently you should follow me on Twitter. At least, that's the message I gleaned from this post on I come right after Steve Wozniak. How cool is that?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I've been searching for this word for a long time, and I finally found it. It's the opposite of onomotopoeia—it's a word that sounds nothing at all like what it means. My textbook example is "pulchritude." I think "gibbous" might also go on the list, as tonight's moon is what got me thinking about it again.

Unlike many fancy Latin-bred words that I learned from the writing of the late Gary Gygax, I know pulchritude because of the unusual choice of Gian Carlo Menotti to replace the credo in his mass with a verse from Augustine's Confessions, making it the Missa "O Pulchritudo". It's a lovely piece, performed with pulchritude by the William Ferris Chorale in the only digital recording I'm aware of. William Ferris Chorale - Menotti & Vierne