Princes of the Apocalypse Review PLUS Converting the Temple of Elemental Evil: T1 – The Village of Hommlet to 5th Edition
First, let’s talk about Princes of the Apocalypse:
I picked up Princes of the Apocalypse a few weeks ago, after we had completed the Hommlet section of Temple of Elemental Evil. In case you weren’t aware, Princes of the Apocalypse is 5th Edition’s campaign for this year, and is not a reboot of the classic module, but derives core ideas and starts a series of entirely new adventures. They’ve done good work in not respawning the old story, but creating a new story with continuity to the old.
The philosophy is that Elemental Evil is something that transcends existence, touching down on various worlds through sheer force of will, infecting different communities with its blight. Ergo, Greyhawk is one of the first places to suffer its wrath, but this time it has found the Forgotten Realms. I can buy that, despite my intense love for Greyhawk .
Fortunately, they have a simple and clever conversion guide showing how to place the new events of the Princes of the Apocalypse in Greyhawk, Eberron, Athas, and other worlds. They translate factions to local entities, making the Harpers equate to the Circle of Eight, the Zhentarim to the Greyhawk Thieves Guild, and so on.
I love the old Temple of Elemental Evil, but as my group stares down the barrel of its 300 room dungeon, I am reminded now that my love is rooted in nostalgia that newer players will likely not appreciate. Accordingly, it is perhaps necessary for a more modern take on game design be applied to a new module. The designers nod to the old module, directing you how to get a copy and advising the ease of conversion (which is somewhat true). I think they have narrowly avoided angering grognards and new players alike by pumping out a spruced up but changed Hommlet and Temple. They’re not imitating the past, they’re building on it, depriving us curmudgeons of an opportunity to bitch about how they messed everything up in the reboot. So, well played, sirs.
Princes of the Apocalypse contains several new regional settings, great maps, and a story that crosses boundaries, suggesting a unifying element to Elemental Evil. The remainder of the book contains items make this a must-have for those converting the old Temple.
First, there are several stat blocks for elemental priests and acolytes. These are kept in a separate section of the book, and are easy to reference. This is going to save you a fair bit of time when going through the various sects, with stats for elemental creatures as well that are completely new, but add nicely to the campaign world. Temple of Elemental Evil suffered from a problem of having somewhat limited options (Monster Manual I) for filling the monster hotel. Choice replacement may spice things up a bit in making your conversion, so I recommend you look at what’s here.
Secondly, Spells, many of which are fairly classic, are found in this book. I did not pick up the Tyranny of the Dragon Queen, and I’m starting to worry that key and classic spells are going to start to appear in the back of numerous $50+ books, pushing players to collect them for just a section of the book. That may be the new way, unless they can be found elsewhere on a legitimate basis. It’s not a good way to collect information, but I anticipate increasing web resources to fill that gap.
Third, Magic items are found in the book with details on several weapons of great power (artifacts) which I am going to place into my game in key places. Other more miscellaneous magic items also exist, fleshing out the DMG’s selection and providing thematically entertaining tools that keep the mystery of magic items alive.
For those reasons, I would recommend checking it out. It’s good in it’s own right, and is a truly epic campaign (taking the players up to 15th level). I think that you’ll want to have it if you’re doing the old Temple, and see what you want to bring to it or change.
CONVERTING T1- THE VILLAGE OF HOMMLET
We’ve just finished this part of the module, so I can place the conversion material here now. NOTE THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD so anyone getting ready to play the old T1: Village of Hommlet should stop reading now. Below are a complete list of monsters found in the Moathouse and their page number in the Monster Manual. Some are quite obvious, but others not so much. I found these to most closely match the original intention and play of the first mod, and the challenge seemed spot-on.
- Brigands p. 343
- Bugbear p. 33
- Crayfish, Giant = (as Giant Scorpion p. 327 but no sting attack)
- Frogs, Giant (Large) = Giant Toad p.329
- Frogs, Giant (Small) = Giant Frogs 325
- Ghouls p.148
- Gnoll p.163
- Green Slime DMG p.105 (it’s a hazard now)
- Guardsman = Guard p.347
- Lareth the Beautiful = See below
- Leader = Berserker p.344
- Lieutenant = Bandit Captain p. 344
- Lizard, Giant = p.326 but add 2 to AC because of magic shield in its belly. Stupid, but true to form.
- Ogre p.237
- Rats, Giant p. 327
- Sergeant = Thug p.350
- Snake, Giant p327
- Spider, Huge p.328
- Tick, Giant = See below
- Zombie p 316
Medium Beast, unaligned
AC 16, HP 22, Speed: 20′ Climb 20′
Str 14 Dex 8 Con 16 Int 2 Wis 8 Cha 6
Senses: Darkvision 60ft , Passive Perception 9
Languages — None
Challenge 1/4 (50XP)
SA: Blood Drain Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft, one reature. Hit: 1d6+2 piercing damage, and attaches to target. While attached, Giant Tick doesn’t attack, each round target loses 1d6+2 for bloodloss.
Giant Tick can detach itself by spending 5 feet of its movement. Drops off after draining 15 hp. DC 14 Str check to remove)
Lareth the Beautiful
Medium Humanoid (Drow Elf)
Level 5 Cleric – Proficiency bonus +3
AC 21 HP 55 Speed: 25′
Senses: Darkvision 120′
Special Abilities – Sunlight Sensitivity, Channel Divinity (Trickery), Divine Spellcasting, Blessing of the Trickster, Invoke Duplicity
Str 18 (Save +4)
Dex 17 (Save +3)
Con 16 (Save +3)
Int 14 (Save +2)
Wis 18 (Save +7)
Chr 18 (Save +7)
Skills: Deception +7, Insight +7, Persuasion +7, Sleight of Hand +6
Abilities: Dancing Lights 1/day; Darkness 1/day
Staff of Striking [DMG p. 203] (+10 to hit, 1d6+7 plus 1d6 per charge expended)
Inventory – Plate Mail +1, Shield, Staff of Striking, Silver Holy Symbol, etc
Spells (DC 15)
Cantrips – Guidance, Resistance, Sacred Flame, Thaumaturgy,
Level 1 –Bane, Charm person, Disguise Self, Healing Word, Inflict Wounds
Level 2 – Blindness, Hold Person, Silence
Level 3 –Animate Dead, Bestow Curse, Mirror Image, Pass without trace
I’ve been kicking around this idea since picking up the Bounty Hunter’s Code 6 months ago, and I’ve decided to start a series of articles about setting up a pick-up game of Edge of the Empire, based on being Guild Bounty Hunters. What day better than May the 4th (be with you) to kick it off! Ideally the GM would have 2-3 scenarios prepped, each focusing on different sets of skills. The higher the bounty, the more difficult the baddies.
The players would bring 2-3 Guild bounty hunter PCs to the table, and choose from their stable the best team of hunters based on who shows up for game day. This would get boring quickly if we restricted the career and specialization to just that of Bounty Hunter (Gadgeteer) Bounty Hunter (Assassin) and Bounty Hunter (Survivalist). All three of course would be welcome on just about any hunt, but there are plenty of careers and specializations outside of the namesake that would make excellent hunters.
As I was re-reading the Bounty Hunter’s Code, the one that immediately jumped to mind is the Marshall, from the Colonist sourcebook. The Guild treats hunting like a very specialized version of law enforcement, and a Marshall (or narratively, ex-Marshall) with a past could make a really awesome vigilante-like hunter. Not only are you great in a fight, the Marshall has some social talents in Good Cop and Bad Cop that could be useful in tracking down leads; one way or the other.
Another fun option from the soucebooks would be Enforcer from the book on Hired Guns. Enforcer would be ideal for a player’s stable of hunters when the party needs to get up close and personal. This specialization blends melee and brawl skills with some talents that combine street smarts and an intimidating presence for those dens of inequity that require a bit of swagger. This blend of skills and talents would make for a strong addition to the party on an urban hunt.
If you don’t have all the awesome sourcebooks out there (which I can understand, but they are SO good), there are plenty of specializations in the core book that could make fine additions to a Guild hunt. An Explorer (Scout) would make a great versatile edition to a team, especially for hunts that require travel to a remote destination or sparsely inhabited world. Survival can be a rare skill, but medicine is the big advantage, as few hunters would have training in that. I would also submit Technician (Slicer), as it never hurts to have a computer expert that can also train in mechanics and stealth.
This is just the beginning. One could make a case for several other “outside-of-the-box” hunter careers and specializations. Who will be available for the next job? What skills will they bring to the hunt to insure success? Next installment (which will likely be in several weeks), sample bounties!
One of the amazing things about Goodman Games and Dungeon Crawl Classics (and there’s quite a few amazing things) is the way they embrace third-party publishers. As Kevin said in his review of the newest DCC module ‘Hole In The Sky’ when he and I went to GaryCon I bought some zines while there. Okay. Some. ALL. All. The. Zines!
All 10 issues of Crawl! …
All 6 issues of Crawling Under A Broken Moon …
All 3 of Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad… and #3 was, I believe LITERALLY fresh off the press …
Jobe Bittman’s Into the Demon Idol module …
Hack! by the Reverend Dak Ultimak (with a great way of using Firearms in DCC) …
And one lonely little module called “The Well of Souls” by Stormlord Publishing.
We returned from GaryCon and a few weeks later our group decided to give Deadlands a play. It’s our “off” week and when we’re not ankle-deep in the moathouse of the Temple of Elemental Evil we switch it up. I always vote for DCC, but was outvoted and figured that Deadlands would be a good break and it’s always fun to try something new.
Little did I know that I could have had both.
When I got back from GaryCon I noticed that Stormlord Publishing was pitching a new product: Black Powder, Black Magic: A Zine of Six-Guns and Sorcery. Having read through and been thoroughly impressed by “Well of Souls”, I quickly sent away for my copy and coincidentally got it back the same day we were to begin playing Deadlands.
It’s fantastic. The end. That’s all you really need to know. If you like DCC. If you like Deadlands. If you like the “Weird West” anything… you need this product. The fact that it is “Volume 1″ and they plan on doing more fills me with glee.
BPBM contains pretty much everything you need to begin a 0-level funnel set in an Old West where magic, demon ore, firearms and cowboys all meet in a town called Brimstone. There’s some great choices available on the new profession tables – who doesn’t want to play a druggist with a big needle and vial of morphine or a housekeeper with some Sundy linens? I can also see an Infantryman with a civilian rifle (which does d12) as the new “farmer with a pitchfork” – and cheers for a good roll. There’s great choices on the new name tables for both men and women – everything from European-sounding names, American Indian names, something for everyone and a great way to instantly add some dimension to your character beyond being a random farmer. As well as a new Mighty Deed for firearms, hints of a patron… this zine has it all. A great addition is the Tokens of the Past table (ticket to the Ford Theater!?) and the Motivations for Heading West table “You are wanted for train robbery.”
Sample character: Benjamin, a paper-hanger with a paper-hanging stick (1d4) and a pot of glue, carrying an ace of spades with a name written on it who has come to Brimstone seeking to unravel the mysteries of the universe. All kinds of great roleplaying opportunities with just a few rolls of some dice!
You could definitely run the funnel as it is presented, and scattered throughout are numerous ‘hooks’ for increasing the world. More patrons, secret organizations, a cursed book, an old miner with strange powers… and more. The writing by Carl Bussler and Eric Hoffman really shines… there’s a four-page story at the end which I hope is setting the tone for Volume 2. The illustrations by Todd McGowan are all spot-on.
I really cannot wait to start exploring Brimstone.
It made me think about the role of resurrection and ‘raise dead‘ in fantasy role playing. Most systems have something of this sort at some level of play, and conquering death is one of the big fantasies we have in reality and fiction. That said, as an element of a gaming setting, it’s a complete game changer. And here’s the thing: It is horrible.
Resurrection ruins games. It ruins good story-telling. It cheapens heroism, belittles triumphs, and obliterates drama. It destroys the impact and gravity of the greatest story telling device there is: Death. Without death, there is no finality, no consequences to any event that can’t be unmade or recycled. Heroes need not live up to a higher standard where they might just prevail by way of a Holy Mulligan. It’s a softening of the game world that detracts from the story, and thereby detracts from the game itself.
We finished up Paizo’s Reign of Winter adventure path this past year. After we hit the midway point of the series, it became apparent that the presence of raise dead and resurrection was quickly arrived at as the easy remedy for character death. A shoulder shrug followed by a quick calculation of how many diamonds it would deplete from the party stores was all the drama that such an event as character death added. It was a failure of the system if not myself, the storyteller. Death had lost its finality, and the threat of death was greatly offset by the players calling my bluff of a TPK, which I theoretically wouldn’t let happen (though I would, with some caveats that I went into last year in my article “The Art of Fail“) . That is a problem.
Outside of a softening of the consequences, it is problematic from a general story telling perspective. How can the loss of life of villagers in a goblin raid remain poignant when someone can walk up and raise the victims? Why stop there? Why not raise random people of historical note? The King murdered? Bring ’em back? It only takes 10 minutes in some of these systems, so he might not even be missed! It cheapens the value of life and the story telling dynamic, and creates numerous plot holes that are hard to work around without clumsy artifice on the part of the GM.
And you shouldn’t do that! Resurrection and Raise Dead should be rare, almost wish-like events that are costly. Costly, painful rituals for a loved friend and companion, like we see in Conan the Barbarian. Some of these costs are built in, but if it’s just money, it’s a pittance (get a character to sacrifice their most powerful magic item and you’ll see them weep openly). Promises should be required to raise the dead. Oaths. Blood sacrifice.
Some of you might have played under old rules in OD&D that indicated that an elf could not be resurrected. We did, back in 1997, and when a elven ranger died at the hands of a certain Troll in the Temple of Elemental Evil, we all realized that he was DEAD DEAD, and it sobered the players that evening. When not long after, a paladin of St. Cuthbert was mostly devoured by rats, the drama of her resurrection was a story in itself; an epic race to the nearest city that had a priest of sufficient level to raise her, a debt undertaken, oaths sworn, and a battle with a cult of Iuzian priests fighting to interrupt the ritual. The resurrection became a story in itself, and carried weight.
It’s a hard choice to ditch resurrection or deny its availability to players. They will hate you for it, so you had better telegraph those decisions early on before it becomes a resource they anticipate. When the playing field is clear before hand, few have reason to complain (especially where the challenges are freely taken and understood). Games that let you know that they plan on killing you can be strangely refreshing, like Paranoia (giving you six clones is a good indicator of the cheapness of human life) or Dungeon Crawl Classics, where the 0-level funnel has you generate 3 to 4 peasants who try to try to survive a normal first level adventure (protip: your most unworthy character will always be the sole survivor). While seemingly depressing, the result is a certain lack of attachment for more lighthearted games, which is surprisingly welcome. Alternately, for more serious games, a grim determination and earnest concern for other characters becomes more pressing.
Perhaps the biggest downside to this approach is when it takes effect, and a favorite character is gone without the realistic possibility of a remedy. Sometimes, this can be a game-ending or campaign-ending event, especially if more than one character bites the bullet. My advice is to play through it and see if you can’t come out on the other side. That said, you know your players. The point, is to have fun (Commandment #10) so as long as folks are having a good time, it’s worth it, but remember you may have missed an opportunity for players and characters to grow a little, which could lead to even better results.
Try it on, or say you’re going to, and see how it changes your player’s play-style. You might just be surprised what the fear of death will do for your next game.