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
When I realized the 5th Edition was built with a mind to accommodate classic concepts, I started thinking what I do when any edition of D&D comes out…. TEMPLE OF ELEMENTAL EVIL.
I love this module, LOVE IT. When I was a kid I played it three times, read it cover to cover, and played it a few more times over the intervening years. I ran it for a group in college, and some variation of those characters and that group for 15 years. It, like the other classics of D&D (Slave Lords, Giants, and Demonweb Pits, to name a few) are amazing, iconic stories that are world defining. When I realized that quite a number of our local grognards had somehow missed the opportunity to play this classic, I knew it was time to see what 5th Edition Temple looked like.
Conversion to a new system is always a crap shoot. There is always a temptation to convert straight over from the original, without considering the change in difficulty from older editions of the game to the new. Right now I’m in the early conversion stages (having converted over the Village of Homlett) with a tentative readiness to recalibrate everything after the first TPK. The problem for me is that 5th Edition is so new, and my experience with it so limited (Beginner Box and a couple of Adventurer’s League mods) that am not sure how powerful I can anticipate the players will be. I know that in the Beginner Box, they took on and defeated a monster or two that I would never have thought possible at that level in any other edition. 5th Edition has a way of letting half the party get knocked to negatives in any combat but suddenly be all up and triumphant by the end. It’s really confusing to plan around for a conversion and CR’s seem almost irrelevant. So far, I’m doing a straight conversion to what’s in the monster manual and waiting to see what happens. I anticipate things are going to become unhinged when they walk into their first room full of bugbears, as apparently 5E thinks very highly of bugbears. Very highly. But Temple was tough, and characters died. And that’s something that’s been missing from games for me lately… I’m a little worried death won’t even be a concern in 5th edition, but the Temple always seems to come through in that department, so for now I’m relaxing and seeing what happens.
There are a number of encounters that I look forward to running that genuinely kicked the crap out of my characters every time we went through them, and I’m sure the first encounter most people remember from this series is the most deadly. I remember our cleric casting his two healing spells and limping back to town and sleeping for three days . Strange though it may sound, it’s exactly that kind of experience I want my players to have… Not the hopeless slaughter but the challenge and the peril and the overcoming of incredible obstacles. I want them to never think about a giant tick as being something to sneeze at. I want them to start carving up the bellies of each monster they find in the hope that there is hidden loot inside. I want the citizens of Homlett to come alive and become single name icons for a type of character or personality trait (‘Stop being such an Elmo’). Some of the oddball characters that can rise to the fore in a game like this can be surprising. A few bad guys became good guys in our campaign, and a few good guys became bad guys in others. Some nobodies became demi-gods (Gwyneth Lilburne, the Silver Stitch; Black Jay, the Patron Saint of Gnollish worship of St. Cuthbert….. yeah, that). I want it to breathe for them the way it breathes for me.
The thing about Temple of Elemental Evil is it is largely a sandbox. After playing Paizo’s adventure paths for years, it’s refreshing to play a sandbox game where you can really open up options to the players. I was surprised and amused when one player expressed slight concern that it was ‘too sandboxy’. I was puzzled that it could be a downside, but I think that kind of freedom can be a little daunting when you’re not used to it. I think after getting a taste of it, people are going to wonder why they ever did it any other way.
However, I will say that I have a few fears and reservations. Going back over the module and reading the campy box text about seeking fame and fortune, I noticed that a lot of the memories that were in this mod were placed there by great GM’s and great players. Many towns folk are just named ‘Farmer’ and ‘Wainright’. Much of the rich story has been added in my brain, and the justifications elaborated on to the point where memory greatly surpasses the actual published text. What if you can’t go home again? What if you can’t go back to Homlett? There’s a legitimate fear there, that maybe this module doesn’t stand up to the test of time, that others might not appreciate it for what it is. Maybe my low standards and youthful enthusiasm made up for a lot of shortcomings that my older self won’t enjoy. My feeling is it will prove itself, but there is that fear.
Wizard’s announcement that the Temple of Elemental Evil was going to be a feature of this season’s campaign theme strikes me both as a sign of the merits of this series and also as a maybe an unwelcome travelling companion on this journey. If they redo it, what will it be like? Will it distract from, enhance, mitigate or overdevelop elements of my story, the old module, the known universe? Will it be set in my beloved Greyhawk? What will it do?
Temple has been a known quantity for over 20 years. Changing the mythos tempts fate. Maybe they do it right, maybe not. My understanding is that the new material is different than the Temple itelf Maybe that falls in line… complimenting, not changing.
While this blog post is about the why of starting up Temple, future ones will be the how. Look back for conversion tips from the Village of Homlett under the category Elemental Evil. I’d post more now but Wednesday, we head for the Moathouse!
One of the strengths of the Players Handbook is the amount of options included for both classes and races. Not only are there all the major races that you typically think of when you think about D&D, there are subraces that allow for the different types of those races that have been portrayed over the years and worlds of D&D. One of the most enjoyable long-running campaigns I’ve ever been in was a party of dwarves (and an adopted gnome with a fake beard.) Being from the same dwarven clan was a fantastic reason to have the party adventuring together, and strengthened the bonds between the PCs.
In the spirit of a racially themed party, I’ve created a party of elves that use the standard array of ability scores, and form a complete, diverse party, despite all being elves. Since they do use the standard array they would all be Adventurer’s League ready, if you needed a character fast and didn’t want to use one of the established pregens.
Elves in 5e come in three flavors: High Elf, Wood Elf, and Dark Elf (Drow). I tried to avoid the typical elven archetypes with one exception: the Ranger. You can’t have a party of elves without a Ranger! Being elves, they are all inclined towards magic, and by 3rd level, every one of them can cast spells of some type. I’ve included both the 1st level and 3rd level pregens, as I’ve found most classes don’t really hit their stride in 5e until about 3rd level. (Maybe a sideways homage to Dark Sun?)
I’ve chosen to create a High Elf Eldrich Knight (one of the fighter archetypes), a Dark Elf Fey Knight (or Green Knight, Paladin Oath of the Ancients), a Wood Elf Cleric of Nature (like a druid, but more armor and less shape shifting), a Wood Elf Ranger (Hunter, archer-supreme), a High Elf Rogue (arcane trickster), and a Dark Elf Sorcerer (Wild magic).
It was fantastically fun to use the backgrounds to create personalities, bonds, flaws, and ideals for them. High, Wood, and Dark elves probably have less in common with each other than Mountain and Hill dwarves, but I leave it to you to flesh out any backstories of how they met and began adventuring together.
Without further ado, the Elves:
‘Tactics’ has meant different things over the years in the context of fantasy RPG’s. In first and second edition Dungeons and Dragons, tactics meant techniques and abilities, and were fairly rudimentary, getting a few bumps from various splatbooks and later with the Skills & Powers books. In versions 3.0 to Pathfinder, however, tactics became more closely associated with tactical movement, movement on a grid, and it became fairly critical: flanking, five-foot-steps, attacks of opportunity, and templated spell effect areas could all mean the difference between life and death on the battlefield.
I remember starting to play 3.0 many years ago now and thinking, “Man, this combat is almost like playing an additional game or mini-game” which shows what a break it was from older editions. It was thrilling at the time, but as time has gone on, the pros and cons of the grid weigh on me as a player, but even more so as a GM.
This came into sharper focus recently with our trial run of the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Starter Set. We played with very vague illustrations of the rooms we were in, didn’t count squares, and approximated distances. The game flowed well, played quickly, and we didn’t run into any problems. Players continuously improvised and thought outside of the box, trying to obtain ‘advantage’, where two dice are rolled taking the higher result (a primary 5E mechanic).
By contrast, the following week we returned to our Reign of Winter game where we encountered creatures that could create a cage of bones over the players with a touch attack. The grid lead to accurate depictions of positioning, but as a result, a horrible slog ensued where players couldn’t act effectively due to the specificity with which we were able to chart their positions, many of them being out of reach of their opponents and of other players.
Some of my players hate the grid. Kevin, for instance, and increasingly, Michael, find it frustrating. We’ve played a fair amount of Dungeon Crawl Classics, and reversion to the grid has always been a mistake in that. DCC plays fast and loose, with crazy things happening all the time, and counting squares runs afoul of it’s old school roots and free wheeling ‘sure, try it’ attitude. Accordingly, they don’t recommend it.
Really, any time you’re counting squares (especially Pathfinder’s diagonal movement rules) you’ve stopped the creative flow of the game and the action, and have approached minutia that is probably not enhancing the actual play of the game.
That said, sometimes you want something technical. Sometimes being a few inches outside of that explosive radius is a high-five inducing event. The grid keeps things fair, for both GM and player, and that can be important with the right group (and even more important with the WRONG group).
So I decided to try 5th edition with various gridded and non-gridded play areas to see how the party responded. At the table, we had old and new players, and players that were both for and against gridded combat. The results were interesting.
THEATER OF THE MIND
First, I ran a session with no map. Just words. This is commonly called “Theater of the Mind” and worked well enough. Play was quick, but in the end fairly featureless. For whatever reason, players didn’t seem to put much into the attacks or the environment that brought anything new to the game. I think, in some games, like DCC, you might see Deed Dice rolled that create critical hit scenarios that add flavor, but for the vast majority of games, TOTM combats really reflect the skill and energy of both GM and player. The more player’s or Game Masters drop the ball, the less engaging that combat is going to be.
I wanted to use maps or illustrations in my games to supplement game play, and avoid a lot of repeated questions about positioning. So, for the next encounter, I used a grid in form of Dwarven Forge game tiles.
If you haven’t been fortunately enough to get in on Dwarven Forge’s Kickstarters , you can still pick them up at their company store. They are beautiful. Perhaps their biggest shortcoming in my mind is they have partial squares against the walls, which make spacing a little vague, upon occasion, but that worked for the experiment.
Players were pleased to see the high-detail mapping, but quickly became constrained by the nature of the gridding. Bottlenecks occurred frequently, and play slowed down significantly. Further, players stopped jockeying for advantage and improvising, and fell back into the rather stolid roles of ‘move and attack’. It drained something out of it, despite the verisimilitude of the map dungeon dressing.
Ironically, I should note, that the bottlenecking served to help the party tactically. Tactics sometimes help the character but detract from the player’s experience, which arguably is a lot more important.
PRINTED – NOT TO SCALE
Third, I used a printed map, but not to scale:
I found a few interesting things in this scenario. My map had a grid, but I told the players it was not to scale (being 10 foot squares) and to disregard it. Despite that, players still tried to force themselves to the grid. Combats began to feel tight, despite there being plenty of room, and other distances got confused as players tried to leap over 20 foot chasms before remembering the distances involved.
Perhaps the worst part of this was a final confrontation with a dragon. Players became lazy with positioning their miniatures. When the dragon turned to use its breath weapon, revisionist history began to play a role:
“I wasn’t standing there, I was behind it”
“I would have been around the corner”
“I’m too far away”
I had to play evil GM (the “Dog” as we call it) and explain that based on their descriptions of their actions, these players were within the deadly area of this blast. Some players took it in stride, others grumbled a bit. I appreciated their frustration, as things got murky on this particular battlefield.
QUICK SKETCH ON TACT-TILES
Lastly, combat took place on set of Tact-tiles, with crappy hand drawn maps by me:
These expensive little guys have been in my collection for about a decade, and despite the upfront costs, they’re the best thing going. You’ve just missed the kickstarter, but hopefully they will have fixed their supply issues and be back on the market soon.
Strangely, this hand drawn map did the trick. Noting that everything was only approximately to scale, we quickly worked to move miniatures without counting squares but being fair and mindful of the speed limitations of the character. As GM, I attempted to err on the side that permitted the character to make the most of their turn, within reason, and sometimes adding complications along the way.
5E’s greatest strength will likely prove to be the advantage/disadvantage mechanic replacing a lot of detailed hand-wringing rules that discourage improvisation in the interest of fairness. If the halfling wants to dash over the slick cobblestones to dive into range to throw his dagger, 5E lets that dramatic scene happen, and as GM all I have to do to comb in the complexity of that is to have them roll with disadvantage. It’s a signficant penalty, but not insurmountable, and a hell of a lot better than saying, “No. You double move and that’s it”.
There was enough accountability with my crappy hand drawn map that if there was an area of effect ability in play, the square counting got a lot more precise, with ties going to the player where a close call was concerned. No one had difficulty with the rulings, and the game continued quickly.
Your mileage may vary, but I saw merit in both systems at their appointed times. A lot of this depends on your group: A Good or fair GM might be trusted by his players to do everything in the theater of the mind, with not even so much as a map or sketch to give players an idea of what was going on. This can be excellent in more routine or featureless situations where players don’t need to know ranges, tactics are simple, and game play more fast and loose, but falls short where terrain features a large role in combat, or where positioning and visualization of the flow of combat is highly relevant to the outcome.
Off-scale maps seemed to create more of a problem than they solved. Unless the map is to such a scale that players can’t try to position themselves on it with any relevance, I think it’s to be avoided. Best to show a small scale map and then ‘explode’ the scene into something tactical when necessary.
My vague map seemed to work the best for this group, but I think probably with other groups or more technical situations, this could be problematic as well. If it really comes down to a game of inches, GM and player alike are going to feel either guilty or cheated if a fireball catches the character and roasts them to ashes based on a flimsy or hypothetical map or position.
My solution is this: Map as little as necessary, but with precision for critical combats. Positions where combats are melee only and non spell effects or powers that relate to range are good for loose maps where position isn’t key. You may still run into problems now and again, but the time you save and flexibility you pick up from that fast and dirty map is going to be worth it 9 times out of 10.
If instead you’ve got a boss-fight, a fight where terrain plays an interesting role, or where flanking and areas of effect are going to be repeatedly relevant, draw it to scale and play it to scale. This requires a little foresight, but speed of play is key to keeping people entertained, and precision and tactics become highly relevant and add to the game where the single combat or combatant are the focus and potential endgame.
Future expansions of 5E have been rumored to contain additional tactical combat rules. If so, you’ll be able to choose how that game, at least, gets played. We’d love to hear your thoughts about whether you prefer the grid or not, and why. Let us know, and maybe I’ll try that out with my poor poison-cloud-choked adventuring group in a few weeks.
Just one month until the 3rd Annual Asheville Comic Expo! Once again, the Skyland Games crew is organizing the RPG gaming, and just like the rest of the show, tabletop RPGs will be bigger and more diverse than previous years! We’ve got a warhorn going so you can reserve your spot at the table. This year we’ll have Star Wars Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion, as well as several Dungeon Crawl Classics tables, a 5E starter set table for those eager to try the newest edition of D&D, and of course the ever popular Pathfinder tables.
In addition to the awesome artwork on display in artist alley, a lot of special guests are attending this year. It’s a great opportunity to meet writers and artists from Marvel, Dark Horse, IDW, DC, and some really great indie work!
Of course it wouldn’t be ACE without comics and a lot of awesome cosplay. Get some more use out of that awesome get up you made for DragonCon or GenCon and enter the costume contest! It has been a really impressive showing in previous years.
This year the convention will be upstairs in a larger space! Previous years it was held in what can generally be described as the basement of the Civic Center, but no longer! 2014 we are moving out of the basement! Check out the awesome comics, elaborate costumes, gorgeous art, and play some games! Come out and support this awesome endeavor to make ACE 2014 the best yet! See you there!
Last week, Scott D wrote his ARTICLE about the pleasant surprise he experienced with the D&D 5TH EDITION STARTER SET. Well, I was there! He was the Dungeon Master and I was actually playing; enjoying it all. (Having been unable to consistantly play RPGs for a little while, it was refreshing to be able to play.)
I will say that I purposefully did not partake in the playtest of 5th edition in the last year or so. First off, I was playing other stuff like Pathfinder and Edge of the Empire and Dungeon Crawl Classics. Secondly, I did not want to be one of those guys to be sitting at the table and say, “Oh, that changed from the second revision? Well, that totally screwed up my strategy.” And finally, I just did not know if I believed in Dungeons & Dragons anymore.
While playing the Starter Set I came to the conclusion that I liked the new edition. It fits right in the middle of everything that is out there right now. You do not have to be a calculus professor to crunch the numbers and you do not have to rely on the dice for every single decision that is made about your character. It fits in between all of that, with, from what I could see, the potential to swing in either direction, depending on your group’s play style. It has easy to understand mechanics and more story-telling opportunities over the long term that could easily entice new players to join the fold.
I jumped at the chance to play because it was so new to me. I had only downloaded the BASIC RULES that day to familiarize myself so I would not slow play down and became hooked (Especially when I got to character creation; more on that later.). See when I play Pathfinder and see the problems that so many have with keeping the rules straight from 3.0 to 3.5 to Pathfinder, it is sometimes a turn off. Especially if it takes 10 minutes to find the correct rule. And then there are the arguments about which edition is better. I was not looking for that; I wanted that fresh RPG feeling. And I think I got it.
Honestly, I was not sure that I believed in Dungeons & Dragons any more. My personal RPG journey did not start like most did in Dungeons & Dragons (I actually started with TMNT), so even when I played it, it was always reluctantly. I went through a tiny bit of AD&D, 3.0 quite heavily and then onto 4th Edition. Now do not get me wrong, I enjoyed the vast majority of my experiences with D&D, but I always felt like there was something out there that had to be better and more fulfilling than the current edition. I know I just played one session of 5th Edition, but it has something about it. I just cannot put my finger on it… yet.
Well, enough of all that sappy, critical thinking mumbo-jumbo. Let us get to the fun stuff! I thought the pre-generated characters in the Starter Set were interesting, but they lacked oomph. They lacked complexity. They lacked… my touch. So I took the bare-bones character creation rules in the free rules set (Those are the only rules available right now; payday cannot come quickly enough for the PLAYER’S HANDBOOK.) and turned them upside down. My first creation attempt was lacking until I decided that there just had to be an entire party created.
I only provided blurbs about each character because I wanted you to get a general sense of who they were but not totally define who they are and how they came together. Every DM and every group would play them differently. And that is why I am liking this 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons; definition without definitions.
For your enjoyment:
- Sgt. Carse Youngblood is a young, upstart officer in the king’s army charged with investigating arcane threats to the crown.
- Azure is a somber elf obsessed with exacting revenge on the dark elves; all in the name of Shevarash.
- Bilgar Hilrock is a studious dwarf bent on reviving a university dedicated to dwarven warfare.
- Gilygan Hairyfoot is a tender-hearted Yondalla-loving halfling cobbler who once stood up to a greedy tax collector.
Download their character sheets HERE!