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 recently had the pleasure of playing a game of Shadow of the Demon Lord with the creator of the game, Robert Schwalb. He is planning on kickstarting that system in March, and we were talking about RPG kickstarters and stretch goals and I mentioned how pleased I was with the box set from Goodman Games. He responded, “Yeah sure, but then it’s shrink-wrapped there on the shelf and everybody wants to know, what’s in the box?”
Well I can do you this service for those curious about the first box from Goodman Games. I still haven’t explored every piece of it to the very last detail, but it is too awesome not to write about. I recently received my DCCRPG Chained Coffin Mini-Campaign setting box set from one of the recent kickstarters. Really there isn’t much “mini” about it. The actual module itself, which would likely serve as the climax of the campaign is a whopping 40 pages! It is filled with awesome content from Michael Curtis, and art from Doug Kovacs, Stefan Poag, and Mike Wilson. Also included is a 2nd level bonus adventure by Steve Bean: The Rat King’s River of Death, which is just 6 pages out of the 40. I was one of the few that ponied up for the blindingly awesome gold-foil cover edition of the module, and I’m glad I did since the regular art for the module is used on the box itself.
The main impetus for launching the Chained Coffin as a kickstarter was to see if there was enough interest to justify the expense of producing a high quality code wheel for one of the final puzzles in the module. The kickstarter really picked up steam, and the stretch goals got more and more elaborate, until finally there was enough material to turn it into a box set campaign setting in which a party could spend months adventuring! The puzzle wheel itself is printed on cardstock, and all three wheels are printed on the same material. The back features the art used on the silver and gold covers. Towards the back of the module, past several awesome full page handout illustrations are 5 alternate uses for the wheel: Multiplanar Amulet, Talisman of Monstrous Summonings, Orrery of Fortuitous Evocation, Construct Activation Code, and Catastrophe Timer. Just the titles alone get my creative juices flowing! Each has a paragraph description with some details about how they can be implemented.
Unlike the Purple Planet stretch goals that were written by a small team of writers, every book in this set is by Michael Curtis. There is an 11 x 17 map of the Shudder Mountains, complete with hex grid and several notable locations. Many of which are detailed by the Almanac, others are left up to the GM’s designs.
The Almanac of the Shudder Mountains weighs in at 12 pages (if you include the cover) but those pages are put to great use. I would suggest reading this first to get the background and feel of the setting. As I make my home in the very region this setting is based upon, it feels very close and accessible, as I can stare out my window and see a ridge of very old mountains. Much like Gary Gygax using the midwest as inspiration for some areas of Greyhawk, this feels like adventuring in my own backyard. The almanac details a brief history of the mountains, as well as an overview of the shudders as they currently are. The next section goes in to places of interest in the mountains. It details various geographical sites and some descriptions and rumors about them, as well as towns and villages, each with their own description and adventure seeds. Finally there are a few secret places and mysterious ruin descriptions. Easily enough to adventure for many sessions. The second part of the almanac is about the people of the Shudders, as well as life in the mountains, customs and superstitions, and the option to either include or exclude the demi-human classes of elf, dwarf, and halfling for the purposes of having a human-only campaign consistent with the source material the setting is based upon.
Next is the Chained Coffin Companion, another 16 pages (including the awesome Kovacs cover), detailing the magic of the Shudders and the awesome magical chaos of Spoils. I won’t go in to too much detail to avoid… err… Spoil-ers, but they exist in locations that may have had some magical importance at one time, but due to cataclysmic events detailed in the almanac, have become twisted. They are also used as a source for brewing witch liqour, which has it’s own awesome table of possible effects. The Companion also gives more background into relgion, curses, and folk magic. It also details some magical songs, and mentions if you allow some flavor of optional bard class, they may be able to learn a song per level. There are few magic items particular to the region: hex signs, snake sticks (with a tie-in to Tower Out of Time), and witch liqour. The last section provides details for a new patron: Modeca, The second of the three (Ol’ Blackcloak), as well as some unique creatures and additional random encounters. Many of the encounters feature the new creatures, but some reference more traditional baddies in the core rule book.
The last two books in the box are adventures! A 0-level funnel Sour Spring Hollow, and a 3rd level adventure The Woeful Caves of Yander Mountain (which sounds like a bluegrass song). Both have Kovacs maps on the back, and cover to cover are only 8 pages long. Once again, these additional books are more quality than quantity, but once you add them all up, you could spend years adventuring in the Shudder Mountains. The funnel involves a wedding, and witch liqour, so you know that is going to be a heck of a way to start a campaign, and the 3rd level adventure would be a typical cave delve, if not for the twisted setting in which the cave exists.
This box set provides all the tools to build an awesome campaign, and creates a vibrant, breathing, almost pulsing setting unlike any other RPG setting I’ve read. Now you know what’s in the box. It starts at $39.99 MSRP. What are you waiting for? My name has been on the dotted line of old Blackcloak’s contract for months! See you in the mountains!
Recently, I finished up an epic campaign, probably the last one of such length I’ll complete in my life. We started playing some iteration of it back in 1997, and finished in March of 2014. I was a lot younger when we started, didn’t have kids but was dating the woman who would become my wife (her tolerance of our gaming shenanigans was an excellent trial by fire). Accordingly, however we gamed at least weekly in the beginning, going to weekly, then monthly, then quarterly before the game finally wrapped. Still, after being separated by about 200 miles, the quarterly journey to common ground was a welcome pilgrimage to see old friends. In many ways, I’m remorseful that we had to call it quits, but we had completed the arc I had redefined in 2004 for the children of the original characters, and the urge to do other things started to make the old game feel like a small burden, which is an excellent sign of it being time for a change.
Point being, how do you wrap up a game that is over a decade in the making? There is perhaps no fully adequate way, so you’ve really got to just hope you can hit as many high points as you can. I’ve never been a fan of exposition or narrative telling you what happened (like at the end of some John Hughes film), but I wanted to indicate where the players were going before we bid them farewell. So after the players believed the final battle was over, I used the tool of the Closing Vignette to give them one more chance to tell their story, and have their old enemy make a final appearance.
[Warning. This is work intensive. To pull this off, I had to make about 36 NPC’s suitable for play by players that had never seen them before, not to mention prepping the usual monsters, plots, dungeons, maps, etc. Fortunately, Paizo’s NPC Codex and Gamemastery Guide were invaluable to making this happen quickly, and the choice use of Lone Wolf’s Herolab saved the day, but it was zero-hour when the printouts came rolling out for the final game.]
The idea behind the closing vignette is similar to the idea we presented several months ago in the Opening Vignettes article. It’s a way to showcase a character, but here we know who they are, just not exactly who they’re going to be. Now, while you or the player could do this on their own and everyone read it and smile and say, “Yep, always knew he’d be the Lord Mayor of Greyhawk” I wanted players to shape it… LIVE.
Just like with Live television, there are lots of opportunities for things to hit the fan, so don’t undertake this lightly. However, with the right planning, you can see that everyone gets their time in the sun. Here’s what you need to do:
1. Identify Major and Minor Plot Issues: This is where you get to attempt to be J. J. Abrams and close all your plot holes, weave together plot threads, and bring in arch rivals, villains, and bit players that delight the characters and players alike. The more you can identify and bring in, the more satisfied your players are going to be with the fullness of the resolutions.
2. Develop Player Expectations: Talk with your players to establish what they want to see happen to their character. This much time invested in a character deserves a consult and some deference. I asked several hypothetical questions to see how the player thought their character would likely react, and built my story and resolutions generally to concur or enhance those plans.
3. Develop Your Story With Subtle Connections: Create a small adventure (estimated 2 hour play time) that is essentially a brief set up, some RP with closure of various issues important to the player and their character, and then an opportunity for the PC to shine – lower level threats stomped into the dirt before a more imposing confrontation with a primary adversary. This isn’t the epic final boss combat, but it’s someone that gives them a visceral reaction, and it should probe their power in a meaningful way. However, somewhere in this story, place a seed that is related to the other vignettes. When each story piece is revealed, the combined stories will lead into and tell the story of the final confrontation.
4. NPC’s NPC’s NPC’s: So here’s the crazy part I mentioned – to focus on each PC individually, I made NPC’s that helped emphasize who each Epic PC was now (or was going to be). NPC’s that were followers, admirers, earned allies or powerful friends (but not as powerful as the PC, of course). These, I doled out at random to the other players. That way the players can participate and be entertained, but aren’t compelled to bring their own PC crashing into the focus character’s.
5. EPIC FINALE: Each thread leads into the final confrontation. Your nemesis awaits. Everyone, playing themselves, plays out the endgame.
In our story, each PC encountered a familiar villain that stood in the way of something they wanted: the now mad hierophant of winter, the political enemies of the party politico, an on arch-enemy demoness seeking to poison the children of the cleric’s orphanage, etc. Each part of that story found a small link (components to a artifact which, if used, could deify the party’s oldest and greatest of enemies, Iuz the Old). They arrive in the nick of time to thwart his plans, but not before the party paladin has to choose to marry the woman he loves or fight his nemesis.
Fun was had by all, and very few stones were left unturned as we wrote everyone’s ‘final page’.
Of course, this isn’t going to work with every campaign. You’re going to run into situations where the final confrontation is it, and then you shut the module and say, what do we play now? But if you have the time to unfold after that and bring a little twist to your conclusion, you can get a very satisfying feeling of closure from the closing vignette. Give it a try next time you wrap a 17 year campaign and let me know what you think.
I will start off by saying that I am not a huge magic-user player and I second guessed myself about backing this book on Kickstarter. I kept eyeing the project page during its funding period and it drew me closer to backing until I finally felt compelled to… Wait! Oh, great. I bet it was those pesky kobolds and their shenanigans. Seriously though, I thought the way the project unfolded was a great way to get a large amount of information in a manageable, condensed time-frame. By having multiple authors design and create a certain theme of spells, this project proved that it could really work. The result was a huge, beautifully illustrated book with so much information that I am surprised that I did not have a brain overload the first night I started reading it.
Let’s break the book down by chapters. The first chapter, New Magic Options, covers new tomes, ley lines and racial magics. It introduces gambling, saint, and other magic that draw their power from unconventional and new sources. New feats and other options are given for each section to complete each theme. Reaver dwarves and their ring magic and the minotaur magic section both look quite interesting and could be fun to experiment with.
The second chapter is all about new spells; 154 pages of spells. With my math skills I have determined that they make up about two fifths of the entire book! Out of those, almost ten percent of them were created by Kickstarter backers. Amazing! There are so many imaginative spells that if you cannot find a spell that suits your needs, it is probably really there but you’ll need an Advanced Search function to help you. I cannot wait for Deep Magic to hit Hero Lab for this exact reason.
Chapters three and four deals with glyphs, runes, ink magic, words and incantations. The symbols for glyphs and runes are illustrated and explained with great examples while words of power are reviewed, and then taken further than Ultimate Magic. Incantations are very interesting since it puts the ritual magic in the hands of any character, not just magic-users. Magic use such as that could really change a campaign in many different ways.
New sorcerer bloodlines and oracle mysteries are detailed in the fifth chapter. The most interesting are the raven-blooded (tengu) and the disgusting ooze. The illustration that goes with the ooze bloodline perfectly describes what that taint involves. Some of the more interesting mysteries for oracles are the clockwork, snake and wine mysteries. Just picture a Greek or Roman blind oracle with the wine mystery lying on a giant pillow, eating grapes, drinking and throwing lavish parties!
The sixth chapter details some very interesting archetypes. Two stand out for the wizard; the clockworker and the iounmancer. The clockwork powers replay throughout the book and the clockworker archetype brings all of that together into a really neat magic-user. The iounmancer looks interesting since ioun stones are so prevalent in Pathfinder and this archetype allows more manipulation of the stones. But the archetype that blew my mind was the Demon Binder for the summoner class. Instead of having an eidolon I can bind demons? Yes please! You mean I can summon AND bind a balor to my will at level 20? Splorch! (head explodes)
Magical constructs make up the seventh chapter with rules detailing the creation of homunculus, leastlings and the undead. The rules for creating the undead are quite detailed and tell exactly what is needed for the desired result; definitely worth the read. There is also a section on clockwork familiars and how to create them using the same forms as normal familiars. This brings to mind Perseus’ Bubo from Clash of the Titans.
Chapter 8 consists of all the high level spellcasters you could hope for. Heroes and villains are presented with full statistics and beautiful illustrations to give you a full feel for each one. Included in this chapter is a certain Rastor Vex, the Undying Hivemind. If its name does not give you an idea of what it looks like, you must see the illustration. Talk about something out of a nightmare!
Overall, this book is a great product. It is overflowing with information and is full of art by very talented individuals. If you are big fan of magic-users and want to play something out of the ordinary or never seen before, this is the book for you. It does not matter if your character is good or evil, there is something for every arcane class. Pick it up, you will not be disappointed.
Our typical gaming night is Wednesday, which last week fell on new years day. With it being a holiday, some people could make it, some couldn’t, so we were looking for a break from the regular campaigns. Luckily, the PDF of the World’s Worst Dungeon Crawl arrived just in time for Christmas.
For the uninitiated, the World’s Worst Dungeon Crawl was a kickstarter by the Dungeon Bastard to create the most trite, played-out RPG tropes and put them all in one adventure, and still make it AWESOME! In short, he succeeded in spades.
Once I started talking it up in our group, attendance went from “I don’t know if I can make it,” to “Make more pre-gens as we will be packed around the table like a can of dice-rolling sardines!” We ended up with 6 players, but I did make a pre-gen Paladin just in case. As it turned out, no one wanted to play the blind cleric/archer with a 95% chance to hit one of your allies on a miss. Wussies. However, in true D&D style no one wanted to play the cleric, so points for that.
We went over the rules for Badass Hack, which is a simplified version of D&D with some excellent additions. My favorite was the introduction of Shame Points. The idea is to have the players do awesome, badass actions on their turn. They are completely arbitrary, and can be awarded anytime at the GMs discretion. Once a shame point is earned, the player has to roll a d20. If they roll under their current shame point total, they are kicked out of the game! To mitigate this somewhat, a player can assume another player’s shame and add it to their shame score, but the player who just got saved owes the other player BIG TIME.
This, along with the comedic awesomeness of the adventure, kept players focused and trying awesome stuff. It also encouraged good gaming habits. Roll a d12 instead of a d20 on an attack? SHAME POINT. Checking your phone when your initiative comes up? SHAME POINT. Negotiate with orcs instead of cutting a bloody swath through them? SHAME POINT. You get the idea.
Also, the GM can award a 1d6 bonus if an action is particularly awesome. This is called GOING EPIC. A half-orc bard with strings attached to his great-axe leaps from a mine cart while rocking a wailing solo on his axe, buries it into the skull of a kobold as his finale? EPIC.
This kind of carrot/stick approach to RPGs was fantastically effective. It lead to players trying to out-do each other, and look at the map to plan their turn, rather than their character sheet. No fiddly grappling rules, no underwater combat, just epic awesomeness! You want to do something, roll a d20. Was it a particularly fantastic plan? Add a d6 or 3.
We all had an uproariously great time, and as Scott said at the end, “It really has about all the rules you need.” If you didn’t get in on the kickstarter (SHAME POINT) I’m not sure what the Bastard’s plans are for general distribution. If enough people bug him, he may release it on some digital platform like rpgnow.com. In the meantime, if you see this game posted on a schedule for a con near you, sign up, and GO EPIC!
With the re-release of so much classic material from Wizards of the Coast like Dungeons of Dread S1-S4 and Against the Slave Lords A0-A4, as well as all the PDFs on DnDclassics.com it has never been easier to try your hand at classic adventures that helped establish the game and the hobby. My one issue with playing the classics is having to deal with all the quirks of 1e AD&D. I’d rather not have to deal with separate saves for Petrification, Spells, Wands, etc., descending AC, THAC0, and the like. It is no secret I’m a big fan of Dungeon Crawl Classics, which I feel combines the best of old school style with the benefit of picking and choosing the best mechanics of all the versions of D&D from the past 40 years.
My current mission is to convert S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth for DCC levels 4-5. I listened to the recent Spellburn Podcast (which you should definitely check out if you like DCC) and they mentioned that roughly 1 DCC level equals about 2 AD&D levels. Thus, with the original adventure for character levels 6-10, I think it should be a good match. My plan is to have the players start at 4th level, then level up to 5th when (if?) they reach the lower caverns. I also plan on having them start out with one +1 and one +2 item. Whether that item is a weapon/staff or armor is up to the player.
I can’t wait to use the very cool magic item creation tables in DCC for both wizard staffs and magic swords. To quote from the DCC RPG book for those unfamiliar, “There is no such thing as a ‘generic’ magic item. All magic items are unique.” When creating a magic item, you roll on a bunch of tables to determine its intelligence, alignment, motivations, banes, and special powers! I’ll also encourage the players to name their weapons and either create or roll back-stories (yes, there is a table for that) as to how they were created and previous owners, etc.
Here is a sample sword: Neutral Long Sword +2, Int 11, Empathic, 3 banes (Serpent – festering wound +1d6 dmg, +1d4 dmg next round, Undead – +1 Crit threat range, Giant – Unerring throw, can be thrown 60′, returns to hand, regular melee dmg) , Special purposes – bring balance to a specific place – Live alone as a warrior-hermit, sheds light 20′ at-will, detects gems within 30′. Now THAT is a magic sword!
I think most monster and save conversion will be fairly easy. For converting descending ACs to ascending, I plan on subtracting 20 from the current AC and making the result positive, i.e. AC 4 becomes AC 16 (4-20= -16). Most saves seem somewhat arbitrary in AD&D (Ah yes, a rockslide. Save vs…..SPELL!?!) So for those I’ll just use what has become common practice in 3.5, Pathfinder, and 4e: Poison vs. Fortitude, Charm/Sleep vs. Will, Lightening/Fire vs. Reflex.
I can’t imagine how this was a tournament module, as the scope just seems daunting to try and accomplish in even an all-day session. For publication, Gary added a very detailed and sprawling wilderness section that was not included at the original Con version, but even still, he does advise this will “likely take several gaming sessions.” It will be a few weeks before we gather our band of treasure seekers and take a delve. Be sure and check back to see how it went!