January 18, 2017

The Mountains of Ice

The Mountains of Ice are clustered tightly, as if huddling together for warmth.  Their peaks and shoulders are covered in snow.  You can see why the primitive tribesmen who live among them claim that these mountains are alive, and blame the frequent avalanches on their shivering.  Perhaps deep in the granite there do live spirits of the rock, thinking in ways that timeless creatures must; no concept of time or what it must be to hurry.  The trail ahead winds between the peaks and along the mountainsides, navigating it's way though the labyrinthine mountain range.

+500xp for each character who enters the Mountains of Ice for the first time.

Our campaign moves on.  The Dragon Pope has sent the newly revived (and Quest spell induced) Wingard the Wizard on a mission to find a lost artifact of the ancients, Daoud's Wondrous Lanthorn.  He'll have the help of his comrades, and a few paladins that the pope is sending along with them.  There are at least 2 other groups searching for the Lanthorn though.  The Eaters of Wisdom and the nation of Pon are both keen to acquire the artifact, and they both have a head start.  I'm using S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsjocanth as the basis for this quest, and placing this module within The Mountains of Ice on the Minaria map.

I'm imagining that this module is set in the border region between Muetar (yellow) and Pon (blue), probably that blue mountain hex just south of the river and those two adjacent mountain hexes with the river flowing through them.  The center of the module map will be near the vertex where those three hexes meet.

Many of these old D&D modules are new to me.  I've never run, played, or even read through a lot of them before now.  This exercise of filling all the labels on the Minaria map will have the side benefit of forcing me to take a closer look at all of these adventures that I have sitting on my shelves.

S4 seems to have a lot going for it.  I see a lot of imagination and many details that I'm going to use, but there are some other things that I'll cut out completely.  I'll also be making a few changes so that the module is a better fit within my existing setting.  I've got some work to do.

My favorite sentence so far is on page 2.
"As Dungeon Master you should enliven the module with as much creativity as you wish, and then add your personality to interpret the cold lines of print and make them come alive."
It's nice that the designers give explicit permission for this sort of thing.  Important advice for DMs everywhere.  Keep this in mind for every module, every time.

Later on however, the module irritates me a bit by advising me to trick my players and use some underhanded tactics.  I call these "Douchebag DM Tips", and I'm always disappointed when I see them in printed adventures.  Stuff like... when you give the PCs 3 levers to pull, but it doesn't really matter which they choose because it will always be the last lever pulled that opens the door.  I've come to hate that stuff.  I understand that you want to ramp up the tension and whatnot (and I've pulled some of these moves in the past), but it's always just dirty, and false; and just don't.  It's more fun for everyone if you don't.  Promise.

Anyhow, let's focus on the good stuff.  I'm keeping the outdoor area map.  The module map uses 3.5 mile hexes, so the page fits within those big honking Minaria 50 mile hexes pretty snugly.  The river shown on the Minaria map above is unnamed, but conveniently the river shown in the module is named the Velverdyva River so I'll just use that.  The module assumes that the PCs will enter the map from the southwest, but I think it makes more sense in my story for Wingard and company to enter from the northwest (Muetar) to begin their search.  Wingard could potentially use his contacts at Unseen University for a one way teleport straight into the lost caverns, but then they would all have to wander aimlessly to find the way back home.

Besides the titular Lost Caverns there are 2 other detailed locations on the module map and 21 other spots that the DM is told to populate using the 20 listed random wilderness encounters.  In addition to all of these static encounters, the DM is advised to roll a d10 each morning and night to determine if any random encounters occur (10% chance twice per day).  I'll do all of that, but I'm going to be making changes to most of the listed encounters first.  Then, after I randomly place the encounters, I'll add more details and try to link some of them together.  If the PCs come across a border patrol, then they might be able to learn about other encounters nearby.  If a border patrol from Muetar is near a border patrol from Pon, then maybe they've had a recent battle.  If the dragon is near a rock slide or avalanche encounter then maybe the dragon caused those things in order create an ambush site that makes it difficult for prey to flee.  Stuff like that.

Let me run you through the list of encounters and tell you about some of the changes I'm planning.

1. Border Patrols
These patrols are from Muetar and Pon now.  Regular mounted patrols are sent into this disputed region of dangerous rugged mountains.  They watch for smugglers and brigands, prevent raids by tribes of goblinoids, and give advance warning in case of incursion by enemy troops.  Muetaren patrols each have a chaplain with a pair of paladin bodyguards, all sworn to the Church of the Gold Dragon and the Dragon Pope.  Ponese patrols each have a supporting mage and some rangers used as scouts.  Each nation also has a fortress near their respective ends of the mountain trails.

2. Avalanche
I'm not going to take the module's advice and describe some faint cracking sound and then silently count to 10 and make any PCs who haven't moved out of the way by then save vs. death.  That seems like a dick move.  I will happily kill NPCs though, and let PCs risk their lives trying to rescue them.  That sounds more fun.

3. Rockslide
Piles of rock upon the trail that slows movement through the hex.  If people try to rush over the rocks quickly, then there is a chance that the character and/or their horse slip, fall, and plunge to their doom.  It's a keeper.

4. Bears, brown
These are grizzly bears now.  I'll probably also mention that scene from The Revenant.

5. Gnoll Raiding Band
Nah, goblinoids.  Mixed group of orcs and goblins.

6. Eagles, giant
Yes.  Keeping this.

7. Mountain Tribesmen
Ok, so these are cavemen/neanderthals now.  These guys are on my character creation chart as an option if someone rolls up a character with low intelligence, so I want to sprinkle some tribes throughout the wilder places on the map.

8. Snake, giant
The module says that these are giant venomous snakes covered in fur.  Yes please.

9. Goblin band
Same as #5 above.  I have plans for the gobs.  Take a look below at Encounter Area A.

10. Hill Giants
Sure, why not?  Unchanged.

11. Wolf pack (with wolfwere)
Interesting.  It's a keeper.

12. Mountain Dwarf Band
Ah, ok.  These will be dwarves of clan Frorefoot from the nearby Mines of Rosengg.  They probably got dropped off by airship.  They believe that something is stirring up the orcs and goblins and are looking for the source of the problem (Encounter Area A), but will settle for just killing some gobs.

13. Hermit
This guy reminds me of those unkillable questgivers in online rpgs.  I feel like I should change this, but nothing springs to mind.  He is one of the only useful sources of information available to the PCs, so I suppose I'll keep him?

14. Trolls
I'm gonna go full on Texas Chainsaw Massacre here.  Creepy cabin in the mountains.  Masked Sawyer family with regeneration.  Hooks, chains, knives, bear traps.  No chainsaws, but some nice jagged obsidian edged macuahuitl instead.  Good times.

15. Wyverns
Poison filled mini-dragons.  Hell yeah.

16. Hobgoblin War Party
See, now this is just too many faceless mobs of baddies.  Hmm.  The others are "bands" of gobs, so maybe I'll use this one as a literal "party".  Band of goblinoids as #5 above, but these guys are celebrating a victory or successful hunt.  PCs could catch them by surprise or might even be able to sneak past unnoticed.

17. Ogres
Sure, yeah.  Ogres... fine.

18.  Elven Warders Band
Nah, no reason for a big band of elves this far from Neuth.  I'll just increase the chance of human border patrols instead.  Use #1 above.

19.  Dragon
F*** yeah!  That's the name of the game yo!

20. Stone Giants
Module says that they are playing catch with boulders.  They're in a good mood.  PCs could parley with them.  I like it.

Encounter Area A: Gnome Vale
This is an Andorian outpost now.  Blue skin, a pair of tubular antennae on top of their head; you know the type.  Andorians are my stand-in for hobgoblins in Minaria, a race of "others" competing against humanity for territory and resources.  Andorians have old alliances with the goblinoid races, and they pretty much run the nation of Zorn.  (Campaign Secret: They are descendants from the survivors of a crashed spaceship back in the ancient past.)  They've retained a few bits of EMP tech that can nullify arcane magic, but by now they're mostly stuck using bows, polearms, and studded leather.  They are a cautious and suspicious people who prefer to send out the orcs and goblins under their command to do their fighting for them.  They are rather intelligent though, and can certainly be reasoned with.  Diplomacy might be a good option, if you can get close enough to talk to one.  FYI, I totally stole the using Andorians as Hobgoblins idea from Jeff's Gameblog.

This particular outpost is busy gathering the gobinoids in this mountain region and sending them in large groups up to Zorn.  They might also be trying to call down a spaceship that will then get shot down by one of the orbital weapons platforms left by the ancients and crash into the relatively nearby Barriorr Mountains (S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks).  The andorians would be loath to travel there since it is so close to Alzak, home to the dwarves of clan McStabby (descendants of the legendary dwarf hero Knuckles McStabby).  That opens up the possibility of andorians approaching the PCs to investigate the crash site.  Unlikely, but not impossible.

Encounter Area B: The Craggy Dells
I'm going to keep this mostly unchanged except that the group of hippogriff poacher/wranglers are now andorians and goblinoids from the outpost.

Edge of the mountains (northwest): Boltengate Keep
Base of operations for the Meutaren border patrols who roam the mountains.  One patrol group is always left resting here and guarding the keep.  They will go out on patrol again once another group returns.  In addition to the patrol group acting as sentry there are a few stable hands, cooks, cleaning staff, and officers who run the keep.
*General Zusman Rao - Fighter 8th
*Chaplain Leonard Ansgar - Cleric 6th
* 4 Bodyguards sworn to protect the general and chaplain - Paladin 4th

     Muetaren Border Patrol #1
     Captain Florus Wob - Fighter 5th; Str13, Con8
     Chaplain Eudis Favager - Cleric 4th
     Sergent Sheona Mikha'el - Fighter 3rd
     6 Lancers - Fighter 1st
     12 Horse Archers - Fighter 1st

     Muetaren Border Patrol #2
     Captain Gilbert Etxebarria - Fighter 5th; Dex15, Con17
     Chaplain Petar Meyer - Cleric 4th
     Sergent Sunder Harrish - Fighter 3rd
     6 Lancers - Fighter 1st
     12 Horse Archers - Fighter 1st

     Muetaren Border Patrol #3
     Captain Abraham Gael - Fighter 5th; Str14, Con15
     Chaplain Mamadou Gelens - Cleric 4th
     Sergent Jasper Ritter - Fighter 3rd
     6 Lancers - Fighter 1st
     12 Horse Archers - Fighter 1st

Edge of the mountains (southwest): Howler's Hold
Base of operations for the Ponese border patrols who roam the mountains.  One patrol group is always left resting here and guarding the hold.  They will go out on patrol again once another group returns.  In addition to the patrol group acting as sentry there are a few stable hands, cooks, cleaning staff, and officers who run the hold.
*Commander Om Penzak - Fighter 8th
*Magurion Colette Makana - Magic User 5th (Magic Missile, Sleep/Mirror Image, Web/Fireball)
* 4 Sentries who protect the commander and magurion - Fighter 4th

     Ponese Border Patrol #1
     Captain Luvenalis Tyr - Fighter 6th; Str13, Dex14
     Squad Mage Soremoh Bhatair - Magic-User 3rd
     Lieutenant Hubert Benscoter - Fighter 4th
     4 Scouts - Ranger 1st
     12 Horse Archers - Fighter 1st

     Ponese Border Patrol #2
     Captain Vincent Bristlesnort - Dwarf 6th; Con16, Dex8
     Squad Mage Jace Baar - Magic-User 3rd
     Lieutenant Austen Cruyssen - Fighter 4th
     4 Scouts - Ranger 1st
     12 Horse Archers - Fighter 1st

     Ponese Border Patrol #1
     Captain Theresa Zhihao - Fighter 6th; Dex16
     Squad Mage Arntzenius Kiar - Magic-User 3rd
     Lieutenant Jehoshaphat Aishwarya - Fighter 4th
     4 Scouts - Ranger 1st
     12 Horse Archers - Fighter 1st

That's enough for now I think.  I'll be making some changes to the caverns too, but I'll keep those to myself.  Anyhow, I'm short on time and I should go get ready for the game this Thursday.

January 12, 2017

Exploring Minaria

I'm still in awe of this map.  Not only is it beautifully drawn by David A. Tampier, but all the labeled areas are evocative and inspire my imagination.  Honestly, my imagination can use the help.  It's gotten a bit sluggish after years of neglect.  Just having this map out on the table while we are gaming seems to give me occasional flashes of inspiration.

Minaria is pretty big.  At 50 miles per hex it's going to take a few weeks to get from one end to another.  Heck, a 50 mile hex is a lot of hex just on it's own.  I could run a whole campaign in an area that size.  In the past year, the PCs have only left their hex of origin 2 or 3 times.

The PCs don't know it yet, but I think they are about to take a long journey.  Wingard the Wizard died recently (runes with Frost Trap) and his corpscicle was taken to Pennol on the Lake in the hopes that someone from the Church of the Gold Dragon would be willing to revive him.  I rolled reaction rolls as Wingard's petition for revival traveled up the church hierarchy, and everything was going well until the reaction roll for the Dragon Pope came up as "Immediate Attack" (yikes).  I couldn't think of a reason why the pope would want to block Wingard's revival (especially since it had such broad support otherwise), so I interpreted the pope's reaction roll to mean "Use Wingard to Attack Enemies".  Wingard was revived in a huge ceremony open to the public (and it only cost the PCs 3,000gp), but the Dragon Pope cast a quest spell on Wingard immediately afterward in the recuperation room while he was still at 1hp.  So far, Wingard's player is the only who knows about it (unless they read this).  We'll see what happens next at the game later tonight.

Anyhow, this got me thinking about how I want to encourage the group to explore more of the world, but at the same time I'm not going to use Quest spells and the like to railroad them into traveling to specific places (well... not often).  Then I remembered this post on Jeff's Gameblog about eXPloration, and I think it'll be perfect.  I'm going to simplify the hell out of it though.

New House Rule
Each character receives a 500xp bonus for their first encounter in each labeled area.

Nations, cities, anything with a label.  Ideally, I'd give different bonuses to different areas and write up flavor text for each one and switch up the requirements a bit as detailed in Jeff's post.  In reality though, I've got a game tonight and time is a factor.  I still have to figure out which quest the Dragon Pope tasked to Wingard.

Next I want to fill each of these labels with adventures by assigning/adapting the D&D modules I have sitting on my shelves.  I have about 15 or 20 in mind already, but I'm going to need to come up with a lot more.  I'm open to suggestions if anyone feels like helping out, especially free stuff as I am not a wealthy DM.  In the days ahead I'll be posting about each label and hex as I fill them.

Below is a list of all the labels on the map.  First are the nations and their cities.  Then the others are arranged by terrain type.

The Black Hand
*Tower of Zards

*Mines of Rosengg
*The Stone Face
Aws Noir
The Craig
The Gathering
The Shunned Vale
Kazadrad Thurahthume (Fondle Rock)

*Port Lork
Tadafat on the River
Castle Lapspell

Unseen University

*Castle Altarr
Lone Wirzor
The Gap Castle

*The Pits

*Ider Bolis

Addat at Surf’s End
The Shining Isle Boliske
Borak on the Moor

*Pennol on the Lake
Plibba on the Plain
Beolon on the Downs

*Fortress Marzarbol
Crow’s Nest
Heap in the Hills

*The Gulkus
Thores on the Rock
The Sunken City of Parros

*Walled City of Adeese
Zefnar on the Sea

Shards of Lor
Nithmere Mountains
Winter Rest
Ozerg Mountaineers
Choked in Snow Pass
The Mouth Pass
Shaker Mts.
Spires of the Eternal
Split Rock Pass
Mountains of Ice
Dry Mountains
Barriorr Mts.

High Marches
Frosted Downs
Wind Swept Downs
The Breaking
Waterless Downs
Worn Downs

Field of the Laughing Dead
Field of White Bones
The Unknown Army
The Wasted Dead
Lost City of Khos

Bad Axe
Wild Wood
The Cursed Forest
Tangle Root
The Great Forest Neuth
Border Forest
Shadow Wood
The Creeping Forest
Forest of the Lurking
Gorpin Woodsmen

Yando Rivermen
Mires of the Sinking Kind

Scrub Forest
Shrieker’s Scrub
The Scab
Thorn Flats

Wild Reaches
The Banished Lands
Blasted Heath
Waste of Vah-Ka-Ka
The Withering

The Ebbing
Flood Water
Well of Lered*
The River Sullen
The Deep River
Lake Carth*
The Wanderer
Melting Star*
River Rapid

Farnot Seafolk
Serpent Bay
The Sea of Drowning Men
Faces to the Sea
Sea of Zett

Stump Hole
Crater of the Punishing Star
Sacred Stones
The Temple of Kings
Witches’ Kitchen
Huts of the Scum
Isle of Fright
Tombs of Olde
Haunts of the Lepers
Stubstaff Keep
Forbidden Oasis
Spires of the Sun
Altars of Grey Staff

January 11, 2017

Minaria: Time and Movement

The Divine Right rule book says that each hex is 50 miles across (Movement Phase: Zones of Control), so I'll just stick with that.  For overland movement rules I tend to prefer simplicity over accuracy.  I like accuracy.  It's a great goal.  It's just that I have a very limited amount of game time, so I strive to keep operations simple and easy to remember and then speed through them whenever possible.  People don't usually show up for game night just to watch me roll dice and do math.  

Anyhow, this is what I'm currently using to determine travel times.

Days per Hex

Sailing Ship
Dwarven Airship




Mountain Pass

Open Water
Cross a River
Pretty fast
Pretty fast
5 (if pulled)

Double these times if the party is encumbered.
Halve these times if the party is riding fast horses.
War Horses in armor move at normal human speed.
Dwarven Airships move fast in clear open skies, but are easily pushed off course by high winds.