Tuesday, 19 September 2023

Conversion Crawl Classes 18: MERP: Moria

Moria is not the earliest example of a megadungeon in Appendix N literature. It is not even the earliest example in J.R.R. Tolkien’s work – the goblin tunnels in the Misty Mountains certainly qualifies, and the dwarven hold beneath the Lonely Mountain arguably does as well, both from The Hobbit. Nevertheless, Moria is probably the best known. When gamers think of megadungeons, the Fellowship’s days-long check through the fastness of Moria probably comes to mind.

Because good depictions of demihuman strongholds are rare, the discerning judge may well wish to use this product to reproduce the dwarven kingdom of Khazad-Dûm before its fall. However, I am going to assume that the judge is interested in Moria in its later state, ruined and deserted by dwarves…and ripe for adventure. I have already talked about converting MERP in this post, so I am going to shift focus here. As with Palace of the Silver Princess, I am going to provide a number of creature statblocks, but I am also going to look at some of the other materials which have gone into this product.

Things That Heal and Harm

In The Lord of the Rings, much is made of athelas, and with it the healing power of herbs and herb-lore in general. The writers of MERP clearly took that to heart, and expanded on it considerably. On page 8 of Moria, there is a section on growing things that might either heal or poison you to be found in the vicinity.  Since your PCs might actually have “herbalist” or “dwarven mushroom farmer” as an occupation, it might be useful to convert some of this material.

For the first example, we will look at “lothfelag”, which has both a healing and a toxic effect. Name, form/prep, and cost require little adjustment. In the case of prep, you may wish to assign a DC based on Intelligence, remembering that those with unrelated occupations roll 1d10 instead of 1d20. Failure by 5 or more indicates that the ingredients are ruined.

Looking at “Codes” we see that lothfelag is “t-U-7W”.  So, the flowers are found in temperate underground regions and is extremely hard to find (-30%). Lothfelag is found on the western part of the continent, if that matters to the judge (for example, if you are using ICE’s version of Middle Earth as a setting rather than filing the serial numbers off and presenting Moria under a different name). Because we don’t want to look anything up in the rulebook, we need to set a period for the search (say, over the course of 1 day) and a DC. If we assume a base DC of 10, we could set this at DC 16 (30 divided by 5 + base 10). The judge could also place the herb in specific locations.

Effects-wise, we have this as an herb:

Cave-flowers will preserve and protect a wounded Dwarf for up to seven months in a “Lifekept” state and will give life (as “Lifegiving”) to a Dwarf who has died within the preceding seven hours. Others who eat the enchanted flowers will immediately be relieved from any effects from concussion hits or stunning blows. Proper preparation requires removal of toxic resin (see Poisons below).

And the toxic effects are:

(Lvl 1) Victims failing by 01-50 fall into fall into an unwaking sleep for 1-10 hours. RR failure of 51+ results in a coma for 1-7 months.

Putting this together in DCC terms, we can say:

Lothfelag (Int DC 16/day to find 1d5 doses; Int DC 16 plus successful Handle Poison check to properly brew; Handle Poison check to prepare as poison); 1d20+10 rounds preparation): When a properly prepared dose I administered to a dwarf, this brew prevents ongoing damage for 1d7 months, although the dwarf has a -2 penalty to Initiative during this time. Administered to a dwarf who has died within the last seven hours allows another chance to recover the body, even if the dwarf is 0-level. All recipients (including dwarves) gain 1 HD of healing, up to ½ damage taken.

As a toxin, Fort DC 10 or fall into asleep for 1d10 hours (cannot be wakened without magic). Failure by 5 or more results in a coma for 1d7 months.

This isn’t exactly the same as the MERP version, but it is playable in DCC terms and doesn’t require looking at the MERP core rules to do the conversion.

Special Minerals

Dwarves mine, and Moria was famous for its mithral deposits. On page 34, Moria offers a table for game effects related to various substances mined here. I would largely ignore this, giving some weapons instead the ability to avoid breaking from fumbles or crits if they are made from special metals. Likewise, a sword made from tin might have a -2d penalty to attack rolls and damage, breaking on any natural “1” or “20”.


Pages 46-47 describe traps that can be found in the ruins of the dwarven city. Luckily, the DCC core rulebook offers some help in converting these traps, because the thief skills include sample DCs.

Detection Difficulty: Using the Find Trap skill, “Medium” difficulty is DC 10. “Hard” is DC 15. “Very Hard” is DC 20. “Ext. Hard” is DC 25.

Disarming Difficulty: Using the Disable Trap skill, with the same DCs. “Light” is DC 5. Remember that a natural “1” triggers the trap.

Avoidance Difficulty: This helps determine the DC for any save to avoid the effects of a trap. In the case of “Dart Traps”, it is better to make these act as attack rolls. Seven darts with +10 to hit (+75 in the text would be +15 if you are feeling cruel).

Effect: To convert these effects, you need to apply common sense. In DCC, falls do 1d6 damage per 10’ fallen, with each “6” indicating a broken bone. If there are spikes in a pit, the judge could offer a save to avoid falling on (say) 1d7-1 spikes, each of which causes 1d4 or 1d6 damage. Spike traps, as described in the text, might cause 3d6 damage with a save for half. Steam traps could cause an additional 1d6 damage, plus 1d6 per round until the PC escapes. Wheel traps can be set at 5d10 damage with a successful DC 20 Fort save, or death on a failure.

Some Statistics

I am not providing statistics for giant bats, orcs, goblins, or other creatures which could easily be extrapolated or taken directly from the DCC core rulebook. I will strongly suggest that, unless the judge’s goal is to set play in Middle Earth, they follow the advice to Make Monsters Mysterious.

Chamber Bird Swarm: Init +5; Atk swarming bite +3 melee (1d4); AC 12; HD 4d12; MV fly 40’; Act special; SP Attack all creatures in 20’ x 20’ area, swarm (½ damage from non-area attacks), echolocation; SV Fort +2, Ref +10, Will -2; AL N; Crit M/1d8. For additional thoughts on crits from swarms, see this post.

Cave Bear: Init +3; Atk claw +5 melee (1d4+5) or bite +3 melee (1d6+5); AC 18; HD 8d8+16; MV 40’; Act 2d20; SP Maul (if both claws hit the same opponent, free bite attack); SV Fort +8, Ref +2, Will +5; AL N; Crit M/1d4.

Death Shrew: Init +2; Atk bite +4 melee (disease); AC 24; HD 1 hp; MV 20’; Act 1d16; SP Disease (Blue Hand, Fort DC 10 or 1d3-1 Agility damage per day, blue skin discoloration, boils, bleeding ears and nose); SV Fort -4, Ref +10, Will +0; AL N; Crit n/a. Blue Hand doesn’t result in death, but can lead to permanent paralysis. Agility damage heals normally, but if the disease isn’t removed natural healing can only delay, not overcome, the long-term effects.

Red Jaw: Init +3; Atk bite +1 melee (1d4); AC 16; HD 2d6; MV swim 50’; Act 1d20; SP Light-producing organs make surprise virtually impossible; SV Fort +0, Ref +3, Will -2; AL C; Crit M/1d8.

The Balrog

I suppose we cannot take out leave of Moria without encountering the balrog. The Fellowship of the Ring certainly could not. And here we have to accept that MERP and DCC are very different beasts. Within the context of DCC, the balrog can be seen as a Type VI demon, which will certainly color our conversion.

Init: MERP stats include Ag: 99, which I think translates to a 17 Agility (+2 bonus). A random Type 6 demon I created at Purple Sorcerer has a +12 bonus to Initiative. Nothing in the text of The Lord of the Rings suggests to me that the balrog was superfast, so I am willing to give it a mere +8 bonus to Initiative.

Atk: The balrog attacks with a sword and a whip. MERP adds a spear and a thrown rock, but I don’t think that this is necessary. We will definitely add a claw attack if the creature is disarmed. The random stats were +21 to hit with 1d6+6 damage. I am going to raise the sword to 1d10+6 damage (in line with a two-handed sword, which the balrog uses one-handed). Claw damage can be 1d6+6, but we can reduce the attack bonus to +18 to make disarming the thing meaningful.

AC: DB 60 is presumably a Defensive Bonus equivalent to +12. Our random demon is AC 24. I will make the creature AC 24.

HD: Our random demon has 15d12 hp, which seems adequate to me, but the MERP version has 420 hits. I am therefore tempted to raise my balrog to 18d12 hit points. After all, this is a creature which strikes absolute terror into those who encounter it.

MV: The balrog is huge, and our random demon has a move of 40’, so we can use that. The balrog can also fly (we will say 60’), but has special rules to this movement which we will convert from MERP.

Act: Our random demon has 4d20, but the balrog in the novel and MERP should probably have 2d20 (one for his sword and one for his whip).

SP: In addition to standard traits for a Type VI demon, we want to include some special abilities taken from MERP’s version of the balrog:

Clumsy Flight: The balrog can only move 10’ on his first round of flight, 20’ on his second, 30’ on the third, and only reaches full flight speed on the fourth round.

Immolation: The balrog can sheath himself and his weapons in fire at will, doing +1d6 damage per attack, and doing an automatic 1d6 damage per round to any creature engaged in melee with him. Complete submersion ends and prevents further use of this ability for 3d6 hours.

Presence: Upon sighting the balrog, all creatures must succeed in a DC 20 Will save or lose their next action. If they fail by 5 or more, they are unable to act for 1d6 rounds.

We are also going to add:

Entwine: When he hits with his whip, the balrog may entwine the lashes around a foe, pulling him up to 10’ each round unless they succeed in an opposed Strength check vs. +6. An opponent may escape with a DC 20 Agility check (requiring an action) or a Mighty Deed of 6+.

In The Lord of the Rings, we never see the balrog cast a spell, but it does oppose Gandalf when he is trying to hold a door shut magically (casting ward portal in DCC terms). So we can add another power:

Counterspell: The balrog can engage in spell duels with a +15 bonus to his spell check, but is limited to casting dispel magic for this purpose, which has no effect other than cancelling an opposing spell.

We are also going to want to remove the standard projection power. Although we are using a Type VI Demon as a basis, this power makes no sense for the balrog.

SV: We can just take this from our sample demon: SV Fort +16, Ref +14, Will +17.

AL: Creatures of Morgoth, including the balrog, are Chaotic.

Crit: Following the table on page 385 of the core rulebook, we get a result of DN/1d20.

Put altogether, our balrog becomes:

Balrog (Type VI Demon of Morgoth): Init +8; Atk two-handed sword +21 melee (1d10+6) or whip +21 melee (1d6+6 plus entwine), or claw +18 melee (1d6+6); AC 24; HD 15d12; MV 40’ or fly 60’ (special); Act 2d20; SP Demon traits, entwine, presence, immolation, counterspell, clumsy flight; SV Fort +16, Ref +14, Will +17; AL C; Crit DN/1d20.

Demon Traits: Telepathy, infravision, cast darkness (+20 to spell check). Immunities (weapons of less than +4 enchantment,natural attacks from creatures of 9 HD or less, fire, cold, electricity, gas, and acid), crit range 16-20.

Entwine: When he hits with his whip, the balrog may entwine the lashes around a foe, pulling him up to 10’ each round unless they succeed in an opposed Strength check vs. +6. An opponent may escape with a DC 20 Agility check (requiring an action) or a Mighty Deed of 6+.

Presence: Upon sighting the balrog, all creatures must succeed in a DC 20 Will save or lose their next action. If they fail by 5 or more, they are unable to act for 1d6 rounds.

Immolation: The balrog can sheath himself and his weapons in fire at will, doing +1d6 damage per attack, and doing an automatic 1d6 damage per round to any creature engaged in melee with him. Complete submersion ends and prevents further use of this ability for 3d6 hours.

Counterspell: The balrog can engage in spell duels with a +15 bonus to his spell check, but is limited to casting dispel magic for this purpose, which has no effect other than cancelling an opposing spell.

Clumsy Flight: The balrog can only move 10’ on his first round of flight, 20’ on his second, 30’ on the third, and only reaches full flight speed on the fourth round.

Conclusion (With Apologies to Laura Branigan)


You really don't remember

Do we just turn left or right?

Wandering in in eternal night, Moria

Moria, now Gandalf's fallen

If the balrog wants you

At least the orcs are stalling

You don't have to fight them

Gandalf said to fly fools fly

Oh-oh, down in Moria


Moria (Moria)

I think your wizard's spent now (Moria)

I think those orcs are coming (Moria)

And you they have your scent now (Moria)

You really don't remember

Do we just turn left or right?

Wandering where it's always night, Moria


Next: MERP: The One Ring: Tales From Wilderland

Saturday, 9 September 2023

Conversion Crawl Classes 17: MERP: Bree and the Barrow Downs

One of the really nice things about Dungeon Crawl Classics is that it really takes the vibe of Appendix N to heart. It’s therefore pretty natural that judges may wish to use materials designed to emulate stories contained therein. MERP – Middle Earth Role-Playing – was an early game which attempted to bring the creatures and setting of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and others) to the gaming table. Because of the prevalence of TSR-era Dungeons & Dragons at the time, Bree and the Barrow Downs contain a section in converting the material to d20-based games.

At this point, there are three main objectives the would-be converter may have, and they are not always going to align.

First, fidelity to the thing being converted. It is a fact that the more of the module you change, the more work you have to do to both institute those changes and to look out for unexpected consequences for those changes. We only want to make changes to the material because those changes align to one of our other two goals.

The second objective is fidelity to the original literary work. If you absolutely hate how something from the original source material is portrayed in the module, you can and should make changes to better match your vision of the literary source. For instance, my reading of Professor Tolkien’s work is that magic is, on one hand, rare, and on the other all around us. Clearly magic items don’t come up nearly as often as items which make you wonder whether they are magical or not. By contrast, this module fairly drips with enchanted treasures.

The final – and in my opinion, principle – objective is to ensure that the final conversion is both playable and fun as a DCC adventure.


Most of the text describing Bree, Archet, Combe, and Staddle is background which doesn’t take system into account. There is a price list which should be adjusted to the norms for DCC, although there is nothing wrong with allowing some goods to be locally cheaper (or more expensive, for that matter). A good benchmark for items which have no DCC equivalent is to multiply the listed price by 4 (to avoid having to deal with ¼ cp) and then assume the usual 100 cp = 10 sp = 1 gp from DCC.

Cormac the Northman is a local bandit, who according to the text usually has 10-25 archers on hand. You might want to mark this down as 1d16+9 to make things easier for you, and be thankful that DCC uses funky dice!

When we look at the statistics for Cormac and his bandits, we can immediately see that they are inflated beyond the DCC norm. Worse, they all seem to have shields, which would make archery a bit difficult. I would suggest  using the Bandit entry on pages 432-433 of the core rulebook instead. Reduce all archer’s AC by 1 (no shield) and arm them with short sword and short bow to better match the setting. Cormac is a bandit captain, while Eowic is a bandit hero.

For the normal humans and hobbits (halflings) of Breeland that is really the best way to go. Use basic statistics from the core rulebook, and then modify them as required. If a character is important to the location, such as the worthy host of the Prancing Pony, feel free to grant them two, or even three, Hit Dice.

Barrow Wights

For our conversion example, we are going to use the barrow wights of the Barrow Downs.  There are three types of Wight, in descending order from the most powerful to the least: Major Wights, Lesser Wights, and Minor Wights. When we look at their MERP statistics, we can see that they are entirely out of keeping with what we want, so in considering what that might look like in DCC terms we have to keep this in mind.

We are going to start by statting out the Major Wight, and then use that statblock to create its lesser kindred.

Init: We have no idea from MERP how fast these creatures are, but I am thinking that an Init bonus is appropriate for at least the more powerful wights. For the Major Wight, I am choosing +4. This number is really pulled from thin air, but it allows a +2 bonus for Lesser Wights, and a +0 bonus for Minor Wights, and that appeals to me.

Atk: A Major Wight attacks with an evil longsword, and has a +30 bonus. The conversion guide in the module suggests that this is +6, and I have no problem with that. So our creature has an attack of “longsword +6 melee (1d8 plus sleep and paralysis)”. The text also has them casting feat in a 60’ radius, but we can probably include that as a special ability. To make them more in line with DCC, and to match my personal feelings about The Fellowship of the Ring, we will grant them spellcasting ability.

AC: DB 30 is presumably a Defensive Bonus which the conversion information suggests is equivalent to +6. We will make the Major Wights AC 16.

HD: A Major Wight is described as having 170-220 Hits and being a 25th to 30th level creature. This is obviously much too high, even if reduced by half. 8d12 feels right to me. We will give them a +8 bonus to spell checks to reflect this. Remember that 10th level is as high as DCC goes, and, while we can make creatures with higher Hit Dice, there usually should be some good reason to do so. Certainly, nothing in the novel would suggest that the wights be so powerful.

MV: We have no guidance here, so we choose the standard 30’ for a human-like creature.

Act: Again, there is no guidance, so we choose 1d20 as the simplest option.

SP: Right off the bat, the wights are un-dead. Sleep and paralysis also needs a mechanic: (Fort DC 10 + damage done or fall into a deep sleep for 3d6 turns. Upon waking, target is paralyzed until they succeed in a DC 10 Will save [1 attempt per round]). They have a fear aura (60’ radius, Will DC 12 or unable to take any action for 1d5 rounds [once per encounter]). Major Wights also reform in 36 rounds in the text, which we can modify to 3d3 turns. Finally, since we have allowed them spellcasting, we need to choose what spells are appropriate. Based on Fog on the Barrow Downs, I am going to suggest chill touch, sleep, ventriloquism, and weather control.

SV: An 8 th level wizard has Fort +2, Ref +3, Will +5. We modify this to Fort +4, Ref +3, Will +7.

AL: That wights are Chaotic should be fairly obvious.

Crit: Following the table on page 385 of the core rulebook, we get a result of U/1d12.

Put altogether, our DCC Major Wight statblock looks like this:

Major Wight: Init +4; Atk longsword +6 melee (1d8 plus sleep and paralysis) or spell; AC 16; HD 8d12; MV 30’; Act 1d20; SP Un-dead, sleep and paralysis (Fort DC 10 + damage done or fall into a deep sleep for 3d6 turns; upon waking, target is paralyzed until they succeed in a DC 10 Will save [1 attempt per round]), fear aura (60’ radius, Will DC 12 or unable to take any action for 1d5 rounds [once per encounter]), reform in 3d3 turns unless banished or otherwise dispelled, spellcasting (+8 bonus to spell check: chill touch, sleep, ventriloquism, and weather control); SV Fort +4, Ref +3, Will +7; AL C; Crit U/1d14.

We can then extrapolate downward for the other wights:

Lesser Wight: Init +2; Atk longsword +4 melee (1d8 plus sleep and paralysis); AC 16; HD 6d12; MV 30’; Act 1d20; SP Un-dead, sleep and paralysis (Fort DC 5 + damage done or fall into a deep sleep for 3d6 turns; upon waking, target is paralyzed until they succeed in a DC 5 Will save [1 attempt per round]), fear aura (30’ radius, Will DC 8 or unable to take any action for 1d3 rounds [once per encounter]); SV Fort +3, Ref +2, Will +5; AL C; Crit U/1d12.

Minor Wight: Init +0; Atk longsword +3 melee (1d8 plus paralysis); AC 16; HD 4d12; MV 30’; Act 1d20; SP Un-dead, paralysis (Fort DC = damage done or paralyzed 1d3 rounds), fear aura (15’ radius, Will DC 6 or unable to take any action for 1d3 rounds [once per encounter]); SV Fort +2, Ref +0, Will +3; AL C; Crit U/1d10.

Example Barrow

In my opinion, there is way too much treasure in these barrows, and way too much of it is magical. For my example, I am going to look at the Mendacil barrow (6.32) in detail. The same level of work needs to be done for every barrow described herein to bring them in line with the DCC aesthetic.

Since they were richer than the Eldanar family, the Mendacil family built a large and elaborate barrow, excavating into the side of the hill, and upon it built a decorative mound. Instead of many small chambers, this barrow contains several spacious rooms to hold the thirty-nine people interred within. It is shorter than the Eldanar barrow, but its layout is more complex and less practical than the other barrow. One major wight haunts the tomb.

Major Wights, as we have described them, are no joke in DCC. I don’t think you necessarily need more monsters here.

A. Entrance. The door of this barrow is made of wood reinforced with steel; the door is a medium (0) maneuver roll to pick. The key rests with the Mendacil family in Fornost.

Pick Lock DC 10 to open; Strength DC 20 to force.

B. Passageway. Eight feet wide and eighteen feet long, the passageway is lined in smooth grey stone. The roof, likse all those found in the passages here, is eight feet high.

C. Steel gate. The lock of this gate is a hard (-10) one to pick. Failure will result in a four foot thick block of stone dropping from the ceiling and blocking the passage. Since it falls quickly, those beneath it will likely be wounded or crushed.

Pick Locks DC 15. Find Trap DC 15; Disable Trap DC 20. Falling block 4d6 damage; Reflex DC 10 for half, no damage on 16+. Can be forced with a DC 30 Strength check, but this sets off the trap, potentially trapping PCs in the barrow.

When we get to area E, the treasure begins. In this area, we can make all items non-magical, with only a 1 in 3 chance of still being usable, except the “sheath that keeps weapons rust-free”, which holds one of the (obviously usable) longswords. The 125 gp worth of jewelry is okay, but as the treasure keeps compounding, you may wish to reduce this to 25 gp worth of jewelry, with an additional 70 gp worth of combined precious objects, jewelry, and toiletries in the chest.

Area F contains two bodies and three chests. The ring is interesting enough to keep; all the other magical items should become mundane, and the value of jewelry can be reduced to 10% of listed. In fact, that is going to be advice from hereon in: Magic items become mundane unless you really like them, there is only a 1 in 3 chance that mundane items are still in usable condition, and the value of gems and jewelry is reduced to 10% of what is listed.

You may allow some items to be superior examples of their kind (-1d to Fumble Die, +1d to damage, etc.) without being magical, and some items have no clear mundane counterparts and can simply be omitted. The MERP magic system doesn’t exactly scream “Tolkien!” or “DCC!” so don’t be afraid to prune this area ruthlessly. Magical dried dog food may be a neat idea to stick in your back pocket for a different setting, but does it really belong on the Barrow Downs?

Bones and rags: the bones are from a dragon and can be ground to produce medicines (10 doses which double one's hits and prevent bone, muscle or cartilage damage for 10 minutes); the rags are actually three Spell Storing cloths which each can hold three spells, but only once.

This was a really need idea, and you could say that there is a Intelligence check (DC 15) for compounding 1d16 doses from these bones, with occupations like Herbalist, Healer, or Alchemist being trained. In DCC terms, the medicine grants 2d12 temporary hp for 1 turn, with all damage coming from the temporary hp first.

The rags can be treated as single-spell scrolls that release their magic when burned (probably for a predetermined spell check result).

Ring of Ringholding: eighth level; allows user 2x power points if Mage; capable of instantly controlling any one ring within 100’ if target fails to resist; can immobilize target or use its powers.

Thematically appropriate for Tolkien’s work, even if not 100% appropriate for a Lesser Ring in that work. In DCC terms, this ring allows a +2 bonus to a spell check three times per day. In addition, the wearer can control any one ring being worn within 100’. The second ring’s wearer gains an opposed Will save to resist. The wearer of the ring of ringholding can either paralyze the other ringwearer for 1d6 rounds or use that ring’s powers for 1d6 rounds. The wearer of the ring of ringholding takes a -2 penalty to Luck while the ring is worn. 

Next: MERP: Moria

Sunday, 3 September 2023

Conversion Crawl Classes 16: D&D 4th Edition: Keep on the Shadowfell (4): The Keep Itself

And, at long last, we move on to the titular keep in Keep on the Shadowfell. For the purposes of this exercise, I am only going to look at level 1 of Shadowfell Keep. For one thing, 4th Edition is fairly verbose. With 11 encounter areas requiring 2 pages each, this section alone is longer than the entirety of The Keep on the Borderlands.  Consider also how long the statblocks are, as was discussed in Part 1 of the conversion guide to this module. Because we are still looking at low power levels, few of the statblocks in this section are a quarter page, but that is far too long for my tastes.


Starting off with conversion, we first want to go through the adventure’s treasure. The general rule for D&D is to reduce treasure to 10% of the listed values, but in this case the monetary value of many of the treasure hoards listed can either be left unreduced or reduced to a lesser extent. Personally, I wouldn’t bother too much here, and even looking at the magic items present I find myself pleasantly surprised. These items need to be adapted a bit to DCC, but the adventure doesn’t seem overly stocked with them.

As an example at the low end of complexity, we can look at the +1 magic wand found in Area 4:

+1 Magic Wand: This wand (value 360 gp) provides its user with a +1 bonus on attack rolls and damage rolls when using arcane powers with the Implement keyword.

That’s kind of boring, and is really not dissimilar to the +1 swords scattered through old adventures just to make sure that your PCs found at least one before they faced the inevitable creature only harmed by magic weapons, but it isn’t as though there are several of these items to be found. To liven this up, and at least make it interesting, we can do something like this:

Graveyard Wand: In those days before the Keep was brought low, the wizard Lobshade created this wand of twisted iron to aid him in casting necromantic wizard spells. A wizard utilizing this wand can weave a prayer to Ahriman into any spell involving necromancy or negative energy, and this acts as though the wizard had spellburned 3 points in the casting without having to spellburn (this qualifies as mandatory spellburn when a spell requires it). The caster must know the secret name of the demon bound to the wand, which is written in the language of Chaos along the wand’s length.

Each time the caster rolls a “1” while utilizing the wand, the amount of spellburn provided is permanently reduced by 1 point. Should the value of the wand ever be reduced to 0, it implodes in a cascade of necromantic energy – the caster takes 1d3 damage each to Strength, Agility, and Stamina and must succeed in three DC 15 saves to prevent permanent damage as follows: Should the caster fail a DC 15 Fort save, 1 point of Stamina damage is permanent; a DC 15 Reflex save or 1 Agility is permanent; and a DC 15 Will save of 1 point of Strength damage is permanent.

On the slightly more complex side, Area 6 includes:

+1 Blackiron Scale Armor: This suit of magic armor (value 840 gp) provides its wearer with a +1 bonus to AC and Resist 5 (fire, necrotic).

In DCC terms, we might say:

Honor: A suit of human-sized scale mail made of blackened iron, this item offers a +1 bonus to AC and negates the first 5 points of damage from any necromantic or fire-based attack. Note that, while this does not negate damage from an un-dead creature’s physical attacks, it may help against special abilities (per judge). Chaotic characters who wear this armor for even a minute are plagued by nightmares in which their sins catch up to them with horrible results, and gain no benefits from rest that night.

In short, you should have surprisingly few problems adjusting these items to fit DCC gameplay. Even the magic sword in Area 8 is named, and should not be too hard to put into DCC terms. The largest question you will have is, “How do I convert gaining one free healing surge when DCC has no healing surges?” and the easiest way to deal with this is to simply grant 1 HD of healing.

Back in Part 2, we determined that our goblins are the rather primitive “twilight people” and that they are “fascinated with jewels, metal weapons, helmets, leatherworking, shoes, etc”, so we could also adjust treasure and gear to reflect that.

Traps and Such

This is a bit more work, but honestly not that much more. Pit traps in Keep on the Shadowfell do 1d10 damage. This should be reduced to 1d6, with every “6” indicating a broken bone, as per the standard DCC rules.

Things like the terror runes in Area 5 require that you do a bit more work to bring them into line with DCC. The original reads:

Terror Runes: Several runes are inscribed into the floor of this chamber, as shown on the tactical map. A DC 20 Arcana or Religion check allows a PC to realize that the designs are charged with an effect triggered by contact. A terror rune is triggered whenever a PC enters a square that contains part of a design. When that happens, the rune releases a ghostly scream. The noise draws the zombies, plus it is a fear effect that strikes terror into the heart of the individual who triggered it.

When a PC triggers a rune, have the trap make a +7 attack vs. Will against that character and each other character within 10 squares. On a success, the sound deals 1d4+1 necrotic damage and overwhelms affected characters with terror, causing them to immediately take a move action to run toward Area 7 (move speed +2 squares). A PC can be affected by any single rune only once per day. A character can jump over a rune with a DC 21 Athletics check (DC 11 if a character moves at least 2 squares before jumping).

The runes do not affect any of Kalarel’s allies (including the undead and the goblins).

This is simple enough to put into DCC terms, and I do so as follows. Note that, because DCC does not have the hit point bloat of 4e, I have removed the damaging aspect of the terror runes. Yes, clerical healing is potentially unlimited, but in practice I find that “potentially” is the key word here, and that disapproval can rapidly spiral out of the players’ control. The main goals I have preserved here are drawing the zombies to the PCs, and the initial loss of actions when affected PCs flee.

Terror Runes (Find Trap DC 15; Disable Trap DC 20):  Several runes are inscribed into the floor of this chamber, as shown on the tactical map. When a PC touches or crosses a rune, it releases a ghostly scream which draws the zombies. All PCs within 100’ must also succeed in a DC 15 Will save or use their next round moving toward Area 7 (using both move and action dice). A PC can be affected by any given rune only once per day.

A wizard, cleric, or elf can note the existence of a given rune with a DC 10 Intelligence check, and disable it with a DC 12 spell check. A spell check result of 7 or lower sets off the rune. A character can also attempt to leap over a rune with a DC 10 Strength check (DC 5 with a running start); armor check penalties apply.

The runes do not affect any of Kalarel’s allies (including the un-dead and the goblins).

The judge should also alter D&Disms to taste. There is no reason to include Orcus or Bahamut in your adventure, unless you really want to. When I converted Dragora’s Dungeon for Goodman Games, for instance, references to Tiamat became instead references to the primordial dragon-god Baphotet Kor, who I later brought back for Through the Dragonwall. I talked a little bit about the conversion process here.

Take a Good Look at the Map

Remembering that I am only looking at the first level here, we have a map that initially seems complicated, offering a lot of potential options for movement and exploration. Compared to something like Barrow of the Forgotten King, this is definitely true, but examination shows that the map is divided into three parts, and each of those parts ultimately has a single point of connection with the first section. There is the upper (western) section where PCs enter the level, an eastern section, and a lower western section where the PCs find the stairs leading to the next level.

At first, it appears that a secret passage allows a second connection to the eastern portion, but the passage enters the eastern portion at (effectively) the same location the non-hidden way does. Finding the secret passage prevents a degree of backtracking through the upper (western) section only. Preventing backtracking is a real reward, and should not be entirely dismissed, but it doesn’t change the nature of the map overall.

It should be remembered that the leveling expectations for 4e and DCC are quite different. There are regular “Level Up” notes in Keep on the Shadowfell where PCs are expected to level. Dungeon Crawl Classics has no such expectations. One consequence of a steep power curve and expected leveling during an adventure is that the order of encounters is important to avoid encounters that are either too challenging or not challenging enough.

There is nothing objectively wrong with designing an adventure where elements are divided, or intended to be encountered in a given order, but we should avoid doing this too often. We should also have a care that the divisions make sense to us within a narrative context. X gives you the way to Y, which in turn provides the way to Z is fine, so long as there is no narrative reason why X should go directly to Z. In a game like DCC, finding that you’re in over your head is sometimes part of the fun. And, because combats are so quickly resolved, so too are those moments when it turns out you’re a total badass against whatever foes you are facing.

I would strongly recommend drawing in some additional connections on these maps. Nor do I think it is necessary to restrict oneself to just one level. Perhaps there is a way from the Maze of Caves (Area 10) to the 2nd level of the complex.

Monsters, Monsters Everywhere!

As already mentioned, in Part 2 we determined that we have primitive green goblins, appearing rather like humanish cave people which glow with a gentle green aura. We therefore want to make sure that our opponents here are also armed with slings and clubs predominantly. For fun, let’s say that when they are wounded in the Keep, the walls also pulse briefly with a gentle green glow. This has no effect, but it should be fun, and will keep the players guessing. And keeping the players guessing is the point of Making Monsters Mysterious!

The hobgoblin in Area 2 can be treated as a larger twilight person (our goblins), using stats from the core rulebook as a base.

The skeleton warriors in Area 7 can be treated as 3 Hit Die skeletons armed with longswords, while the decrepit skeletons are normal skeletons (albeit armed with longswords and short bows).

I examined the 4e statblock in Part 1, and I don’t propose to do so again today, but I will provide the gentle reader with four example converted statblocks to help them along their way. These correspond to the ochre jelly in Area 9, and the three stages of kruthik in Area 10. The ochre jelly is built from the primeval slime on pages 423-424 of the core rulebook.

Ochre jelly: Init (always last); Atk pseudopod +4 melee (1d4 plus 1d4 acid); AC 10; HD 4d8; hp 20; MV 5’, climb 5’; Act 4d20; SP acid (1d4, Fort DC 15 for half), division, half damage from slicing and piercing weapons; SV Fort +6, Ref -8, Will -6; AL N; Crit M/1d10.

Division: The first time an attack hits the ochre jelly, it takes no damage, but instead splits into two, with each half having half the total jelly’s hit points and action dice. Left alone, the two halves eventually converge into a single creature once more.

Kruthik hatchling: Init +3; Atk claw +1 melee (1d4) or bite -2 melee (1d3); AC 14; HD 1d4; hp 1 each; MV 20’ or climb 20’ or burrow 5’; Act 1d20; SP gnashing horde (free bite attack with +2 bonus against adjacent opponent at the end of each round); SV Fort +1, Ref +3, Will +0; AL N; Crit M/1d6.

Kruthik young: Init +4; Atk claw +3 melee (1d6) or bite +0 melee (1d4); AC 15; HD 3d6; hp 10 each; MV 20’ or climb 20’ or burrow 5’; Act 1d20; SP gnashing horde (free bite attack with +2 bonus against adjacent opponent at the end of each round); SV Fort +2, Ref +4, Will +1; AL N; Crit M/1d8.

Kruthik adult: Init +6; Atk claw +5 melee (1d8) or bite +2 melee (1d6) or toxic spike +3 ranged (1d6 plus toxin); AC 19; HD 5d6; hp 22; MV 30’ or climb 30’ or burrow 10’; Act 2d20; SP gnashing horde (free bite attack with +2 bonus against adjacent opponent at the end of each round), toxin (1d3 damage plus Fort DC 13 or 1d3 Agility damage); SV Fort +5, Ref +6, Will +4; AL N; Crit M/1d10.

An adult kruthik has 2d5 toxic spikes available, which can be released at targets up to 30’ away. They can regrow used spikes at a rate of 1d3 per day, to a maximum of 10 spikes. Examination of a dead kruthik shows that whatever spikes were not available are in various stages of growth. A thief can extract the toxin from unused available spikes with a Handle Poison check for each spike. Each successful check yields one dose.

Next Steps 

I realize that D&D 5e would be the next logic thing to progress to, but at this point doing so will lead to a lot of repetition of points already made with other flavors of WotC-D&D. I am going to jump ahead and look at some games which attempted to emulate Appendix N material directly. I can always circle around to more D&D examples later if tide and time take me in that direction!

Next: MERP: Bree and the Barrow Downs!

Thursday, 24 August 2023

Half-Levels Revisited: An Example

I was asked to provide an example of how this system works. As I am nothing if not obliging, here you are:

Steve gets through the funnel, and his only surviving 0-level PC is an elven barrister. He really wants to play a thief, so he decides to take a half-level in thief. His PC is considered to be 1st level, retains the 0-level elven qualities (good and bad), and gains the bonuses for a half-level thief: a d2 Luck Die, 1d5 on Table II for critical hits, a +1 bonus to Reflex saves, and thief skills at half their listed bonus (rounded down). Although the character is considered to be 1st level, and gains a full 1d6 hp as a thief, they are not yet a 1st level thief, and do not learn Thief’s Cant. The PC can cast spells from scrolls using 1d10.

At 50 XP, Steve chooses to make the PC a full Elf as well. Because an elf never has to take a half-level in Elf, Steve’s PC is a 2 nd level character with ½ level in Thief and 1 level in Elf. As an Elf, the PC gains 1d6 additional hit points, now rolls 1d6 on Table II for crits, can cast spells, and gains a +1 bonus to Fort and Will saves. The +1 bonus for Reflex saves is the same for both classes at this point, so doesn’t change.

At 110 XP, Steve decides to finish off the Thief level. The character is now 3rd level, and a 1st level Thief and a 1 st level Elf. They gain 1d6 hp, their Luck Die increases to 1d3, their Crit Die increases to 1d10 on Table II, and their thief skills gain the full Level 1 bonus. The character also now understands Thief’s Cant.

At 190 XP, Steve is entitled to select (a) a full level as an Elf, (b) a full level as a Thief, or (c) a half-level in another class (such as Warrior). A warrior half-level would grant 1d12 hit points, a 1d2 Deed Die, and better criticals (1d8 on Table III). At 290 XP, Steve could then choose another Elf level, another Thief level, to become a 1st level Warrior (with full Deed Die, extended crit range, and better critical hits), or choose a half-level in yet another class. If he were to choose the Warrior class, the PC would be 5th level overall, and 1st level as an Elf, Thief, and Warrior.

At this point, the character has the following hit dice: 1d4 (0-level), 3d6 (twice as a Thief and once as an elf) and 2d12 (as a Warrior). The character has not gained more than a +1 bonus to each saving throw because they are taking the best option from each class. They don’t have the skills of a 5 th level Elf, Thief, or Warrior, but they have a broad range of abilities to draw from.

Note that the same PC could have become a 5th level Elf, 4th level Thief, or 4th level Warrior at this point had different choices been made.


This differs from the Big Damn Heroes method of multi-classing because each system is designed to offer something different.

Half-levels are designed to offer an interesting choice: versatility versus the depth that comes from specialization. Because there is a cost involved, no choice is clearly "the best", but you can end up with interesting ideas for PCs.

Big Damn Heroes is intended as an initial power boost to make PCs work better in a game with fewer players.

There is no reason you cannot use both in the same game: Your Big Damn Heroes dwarven wizard could, for example, pick up a half-level of Thief.


I was asked specifically about action dice. so here goes.

A 5th level Elf has 1d20 + 1d14 action dice, but Steve's character is not a 5th level Elf. A 1st level Thief, Warrior, and Elf all have 1d20 action dice, so Steve's PC also has 1d20 for their action dice. They can use that action die to cast spells, attack, or make a skill check (the benefits of each class carry to all action dice).

By the time Steve has amassed 890 XP, he has used all of the additional XP to increase his Warrior level to 5. The PC is now a 9th level character, a 1st level Thief, a 1st level Elf, and a 5th level Warrior. As a 5th level Warrior, they gain 1d20 + 1d14 action dice. This is better than 1d20, so that's what they get. They most emphatically do not get a 1d20 for being a Thief, a 1d20 as an Elf, and 1d20 + 1d14 as a Warrior. These are not cumulative. Multi-classing does not turn you into the Flash.

Tuesday, 22 August 2023

Stat This Up! Un-dead Euryale

Un-dead Euryale: Init +4; Atk bite +4 melee (1d4 plus serpent bites) or serpent bites +2 melee (2d4 plus venom) or claw +7 melee (1d3); AC 14; HD 5d12; MV 30’; Act 2d20; SP un-dead traits, serpent bites, venom (1d3 Agility damage plus Fort DC 15 or additional 1d3 Agility damage), infravision 120’; SV Fort +6, Ref +4, Will +8; AL C; Crit U/1d10.

The animated remains of a gorgon-like creature, the un-dead Euryale is a free-willed un-dead creature of horrible aspect. It hates men, and attacks them by preference. Only when all male opponents have been defeated does it turn toward female opponents. In each case, it attacks the highest Personality target of the specified gender first, if at all possible.

When an un-dead Euryale succeeds in making a bite attack, it gains an automatic free attack with its serpent bites. The skeletal serpents which form the un-dead Euryale’s “hair” are envenomed with a magical toxin causing 1d3 Agility damage, and requiring a DC 15 Fort save to avoid an additional 1d3 Agility damage. If a character’s Agility reaches 0 as a result, they are petrified. Otherwise, Agility damage heals as normal.


Tuesday, 15 August 2023

Conversion Crawl Classes 15: D&D 4th Edition: Keep on the Shadowfell (3): Skill Challenges

“But…wait,” you say. “There is no skill challenge in Keep on the Shadowfell!”

True, but I don’t feel like examining multiple 4th Edition adventure, and, if I am going to offer some guidance about converting 4e to DCC, skill challenges have to be addressed. At their most basic, skill challenges are an attempt to codify complex skill uses with consequences for failure. To take it away from fantasy games for a moment, in The End of the World, the second episode of the Doctor Who revival, the Doctor attempts to open a door, and the computer controlling the door “fights back”.

This is a perfect example of how a skill challenge should be built: There is an advantage gained from the initial success, the initial success is not sufficient for clear reasons, and the challenge itself can be solved through bypassing the challenge and trying something else. If you know the episode, the method the Doctor uses to solve the problem could also be written as a skill challenge.

The point I am trying to make is that codifying a challenge is not in itself a bad thing. In a way, that is exactly what a monster statblock does. Nor is it entirely antithetical to the fictional narrative that is being woven, as one could easily argue that some of the events in various Sword & Sorcery stories could be modeled as skill challenges. In DCC, a similar structure is used in The Imperishable Sorceress (where three successes must be made on a Will save, with each failure reducing Personality, before Personality is reduced to 0 and disaster befalls the PC in question).

Okay, So How Does This Skill Challenge Thing Work?

Remembering that our goal here is not to have to reference the actual book, we want to glean what we can from the skill challenge statblock itself. The most important thing is the flavor text, because that tells us what the skill challenge is trying to simulate and what we, in turn, must simulate in our conversion. The basic idea is that you must gain X successful skill checks before 3 failures. There are some skills that work better than others. Both success and failure result in their own consequences.

In some ways, a skill challenge is analogous to combat, but in combat each roll has the potential of changing the nature of the remaining challenge, and that is unfortunately not true with poorly written skill challenges. That it takes three missed checks to fail is also a problem with the system, although I suppose it makes things easier to systematize. Setting up more dynamic fail conditions is more interesting. For instance, in The Imperishable Sorceress, the first adventure I wrote for Goodman Games, there is a situation where a PC has to make three Will saves to succeed, and each failure temporarily reduces their Personality score, making future saves more likely to fail. The similarity to a skill challenge is obvious. Equally obvious is the difference: each roll has a potential consequence on the next, and the number of failures before all is lost remains unknown. There is, in my opinion, more meaning to the rolls, and more tension this way.

In our example from Doctor Who, the Doctor is trying to keep a sun shield from rising, which would result in his companion, Rose, being cooked to death. It is easy to see that, in the 4e model, three failures means the sun shield has risen, and Rose is cooked. How much more interesting, more tense, and more true to what is seen in the program if three successes lock the fully lowered sun shield in place while each success or failure moves the sun shield either down one step or up. One could then include potential consequence for each step the sun shield rises to ramp up tension.

The chase sequence in The Fence’s Fortuitous Folly is, again, resolved by a series of rolls, but each roll has potential consequences and the rolls are broken up by encounter points in which one or more players have the opportunity to make interesting choices. This is ultimately the key toward any successful mini-game within the game: Each roll should be potentially meaningful, and if the mini-game lasts more than a minute or two there has to be an opportunity for interesting choices with consequences that matter.

Choosing an Example for Conversion

I am going to use a skill challenge from Kingdom of the Ghouls as my example. This adventure was designed for 24th to 26th level characters. I will assume that I am converting the adventure for 3rd level DCC characters.


You sit in the stone chair and see a smoky form begin to coalesce before you. After a few moments, the shape takes the guise of a spectral reaper clutching a scythe. Its eyes burn with a red, unholy light, and its skeletal body is mostly concealed by a tattered, hooded robe. In a dusty voice, the reaper whispers, “Show your worth to death’s true master, and pass.”

Level: 23 (XP 5,100).

Complexity: 1 (requires 4 successes before 3 failures).

Primary Skills: Bluff. Diplomacy, Religion.

Bluff (DC 24, standard action): The character tells a tall tale of the adventurers’ exploits that is untrue but nonetheless impresses the reaper. This skill can be used to gain 1 successes in this challenge.

Diplomacy (DC 24, standard action): The character explains that, despite their many exploits, the adventurers are humbled to be in the presence of a servant of “death’s true master.” This skill can be used to gain 2 successes in this challenge.

Religion (DC 29, standard action): The character describes how the party's actions have been worthy of death’s true master by citing religious texts and obscure prophecies. This skill can be used to gain 1 success in this challenge.

Secondary Skill: Insight.

Insight (DC 29, minor action): The reference to “death’s true master” is a clue that the reaper serves Orcus. If the character realizes this connection, it is easier to prove the adventurers’ worthiness to the reaper. A success on this check provides a +2 bonus to all subsequent skill checks during this challenge.

Success: The reaper disables all four pillar traps and unlocks the curtains.

Failure: The reaper takes a toll in life force for the time it has spent in negotiation. All characters who have taken part in the skill challenge lose a healing surge. The reaper then unlocks the curtains but does not disable the pillar traps.

You can see, I hope, that this would lead to game play were the player says “I roll diplomacy!” and the DM then tells the player what their character does. In my opinion, humble or not, this is the opposite of how game play should proceed. Of course, the DM could have the players in question say what they wish to do, and then determine what skill this is closest to; there is nothing in the system preventing that. While 4e is far from my favorite edition, and the one I have the least play time with, it has been my experience that the skill challenge system encourages deciding what skill to use over deciding what your character actually does.

(Arguably, the same is true for combat, which is one of the reasons that the Mighty Deed system in DCC is so wonderful…it encourages you to think about what your PC is actually doing! DCC also encourages judges to include monsters which require engaging in the fiction to defeat, rather than simply relying on rolls, as in The Emerald Enchanter.)

On the other hand, earlier editions of D&D tend to focus on combat and traps, because that is where the quantifiable interesting choices lie in those systems. You wouldn’t tend to see something like Negotiating With the Reaper in earlier D&D, because those games weren’t built for that kind of challenge. It isn’t that people weren’t interested – see the interaction with the guards of at the gate of The Keep on the Borderlands – but that the game wasn’t designed to quantify those interactions.

A DCC Conversion

The goal of this conversion is to focus on player choices within the game milieu, rather than what skills might be most likely to succeed on a character sheet. DCC players don’t tend to roll for what their characters think; that is determined by the player. Because there is no Insight skill, the players need some way to reason out that “death’s true master” refers to Orcus, through a past encounter, inscription, legend, etc. The clue need not be found in the current adventure – one of the greatest rewards in old school play is that past adventures allow the players a better understanding of the world their characters inhabit. That Orcus is “death’s true master” could be a clue from a funnel adventure, with a payoff now which rewards players who paid attention to, and retained, that information.

My version would look like this:

Negotiating With the Reaper

As you sit in the stone chair, a smoky form coalesces before you. After a few moments, the shape becomes clear – it is a wraith-like reaper clutching a scythe. Its eyes burn with an unholy red light, and its skeletal body is mostly concealed by a tattered, hooded robe made of charnel ash and grey cobwebs. In a dusty voice, the reaper whispers, “Show your worth to death’s true master, and pass.”

Characters may attempt anything they wish, but the spectral reaper is immune to all mundane attacks and most magic. Effects that would charm or otherwise delude it into thinking the PCs are friendly to the worship of Ahriman may work, but the spell check for these magics must be made at a -1d shift and the reaper saves with a +8 bonus. Clerics or patrons of Ahriman who swear their devotion to the god of death and disease likewise sway the reaper. Otherwise, depending upon the PC’s tactics, a Personality check is in order.

Attempts to tell some tale of the adventurers’ exploits, whether true or otherwise, may impress the reaper, especially if they highlight the death and destruction the party has caused (DC 15).  Citing religious texts and obscure prophecies to show that the party is chosen to walk this path may also work (DC 20). Characters with appropriate occupations or classes roll using 1d20; others must use 1d10. Two things may modify what die the PC rolls on: (1) demonstrating humility before a servant of “death’s true master” allows a +1d bonus on the roll, and (2) recognizing that Ahriman is “death’s true master” allows a +1d bonus on the roll.

Players may come up with other tactics, which the judge must set a DC for, but unless particularly brilliant, such tactics should have DCs of 30 or higher. Note that it is not necessary to impress the reaper for the PCs to move forward; doing so just makes moving forward easier.

PCs may attempt to diverse tactics so long as one remains seated on the stone chair. However, each failed roll (whether a spell check that fails to affect the reaper through failure or a successful save, or a failed Personality check) causes the PC 1d3 Stamina damage, with death resulting at 0 Stamina (recovering the body is still possible).

If the reaper is impressed, it magically disables all four pillar traps and unlocks the curtains. If the reaper remains unimpressed (including if the PC simply rises from the seat without engaging it), it unlocks the curtains but does not disable the pillar traps. In either case, as it fades away, it intones “Go forward then, to the doom which awaits you.”

That really is about all there is to it. If you want further examples, I converted both Dragora’s Dungeon and Curse of the Kingspire from 4e to DCC for Goodman Games. And note that, while I snipped the explanatory image of a skill challenge from an online 4e SRD, conversion didn’t require opening a single 4e rulebook. A simple, intuitive conversion is often the best conversion!

Next: D&D 4th Edition: Keep on the Shadowfell (4): The Keep Itself

Sunday, 23 July 2023

Conversion Crawl Classes 14: D&D 4th Edition: Keep on the Shadowfell (2): Winterhaven

It is no secret at all that 4th Edition is my least favorite version of Dungeons & Dragons, but I have to admit that Winterhaven is fairly well done for a “starting base” community. There is some conversion work that needs to be done to bring it in line with the DCC aesthetic – Winterhaven is properly tied into the needs and expectations of its ruleset – but these are fairly simple to do. As none of the NPCs are given statistics, we can just use the ones in the Men and Magicians section (pages 432-434) of the core rulebook, modified slightly to taste.

First Things First: What Are Your Needs?

Whether a village, town, city, or farm, a civilized point in a fantasy role-play game has a few requirements. One is an answer to the question: Where can the PCs sleep? This could be an inn, possible apartments or villas for rent, or even the loft in the barn. The judge needs to know what it costs, as well as any security risks or knock-on effects that relate to staying there. For instance, a villa may come with servants, but one or more of those servants may be spies, and not necessarily for the same master. An innkeeper might sell some guests to a cannibal cult while keeping their goods (Shadows in Zamboula) or might not be a real inn at all (The Face in the Frost). In some cases, staying in the right house may increase the PC’s prestige, offer them social opportunities they would not otherwise have, or even provide a unique adventure hook.

PCs require a place to purchase new equipment, sell loot, and to seek out advice, rumors, and answers to questions that have arisen in game play. Not every community will have all of these things, nor should they. You might be able to pick up a hoe staying at a farm, but few farmsteads have spare weapons or suits of armor laying about. In general, the larger the community, the more it will offer in terms of goods and the opportunity to sell treasure. A small village may have a local sage or hedge wizard who can help identify found items through their lore (or by magic), but, then again it may not.

Prices and reliability of goods may vary depending upon where they are purchased. A renowned dwarven smith’s armor costs more than that of ordinary armorers, for the prestige alone. For an even higher price, the smith may be able to increase AC bonus, or decrease weight and/or Fumble Die. Equipment does not have to be magical to provide bonuses or be cool. Similarly, a slipshod weaponsmith’s work might automatically shatter (in addition to other effects) on any critical hit and/or fumble.

Even a hermit knows something of the lands about them, and may be able to provide interesting rumors and leads. Not everyone loves to talk, but enough do that a little coin spent directly or on food and drink can often profit a would-be adventurer. The judge can have pre-written rumors, know the area well enough to make some up on the fly, or fly by the seat of their pants. Most judges in my experience do some mixture of all three.

One thing you might not realize that you need is a unified feeling to a community, even if that feeling is one of great diversity. For instance, Winterhaven sounds very North American or British. It is located in the Cairngorm Mountains, which are Scottish (I have driven through them). The ruler is Lord Padraig, which is Irish. The other names throughout the text are a similar hodge-podge, and there is no reason given why the area should be so diverse. Exotic names only sound out of place when they contrast to a naming convention, and we notice this subconsciously even if we are not aware of it. You may not realize how careful J. R.R. Tolkien was with naming people and places in Middle Earth, but his notes for translation to other languages show just how consistent he was being. There is no expectation that you or I need be as careful, but making a few naming changes to Winterhaven’s population would make the setting better.

For more on NPCs in general, see Care and Feeding of NPCs Part I and Part II. I talk a bit about naming in Part II.

Let’s look at some specific areas.

Wrafton’s Inn

This spacious inn and tavern serves as the public house for the region. Like alehouses everywhere, Wrafton’s Inn offers beer, wine, and, on occasion, spirits. Meals are served for those with the coin, and beds for travelers are available. A crowd of villagers gathers each night to drink, gossip, sing, and play games of chance.

In addition to village residents, any travelers passing through Winterhaven are found here.

Anyone in Wrafton’s knows the general history of the village and the nearby ruined keep. Only Valthrun knows that the ruined keep was built to contain a rift into the Shadowfell.

Salvana Wrafton: Wrafton’s owner and proprietor is a female human named Salvana Wrafton. She employs several waiters, waitresses, and cooks. Salvana is friendly and open, quick with a smile and a warm welcome.

Eilian the Old: This old farmer is a regular customer at Wrafton’s. Every night, Eilian takes a seat at a table in the corner. He has a farm down in the valley along the Old King’s Road. Eilian has an interest in Winterhaven’s history. He is a good source for local information, and he loves to talk.

Valthrun the Prescient: Valthrun is a sage and scholar who lives in a tower within Winterhaven’s walls. On occasion he shows up in Wrafton’s to socialize. Valthrun is knowledgeable about the area, though he knows nothing of death cult activity in the vicinity. He does know about the sealed rift beneath the ruins of the old keep, but he doesn’t discuss such things with just any adventurer, and he never talks about it with the villagers since he doesn’t want to cause a panic. Valthrun is a good listener, asking just enough questions to keep whomever he speaks with talking.

Lord Padraig: From time to time, the town’s lord (level 3 human warlord) visits Wrafton’s. All those present doff their hats and call him Lord, after which he retreats to a corner table and sips beer. He is amenable to speaking with adventurers who approach him. He initially assumes they are dignitaries from another village or possibly merchants scouting new trade routes. Regardless, if he believes they are merely treasure hunters, his respect diminishes unless they prove their worth.

Ninaran: A quiet elf hunter who usually drinks alone, Ninaran is not interested in conversation. Stiff and bitter in demeanor, she is Kalarel’s agent in Winterhaven and reports back to him about happenings in the village.

This is good stuff, and most of what you need to know to run visits to the inn successfully. There are also some specific questions and answers given in the adventure, designed for each of the people the PCs are likely to ask, and this is also useful. 4e assumes that the PCs are “heroes” while DCC does not, so you might need statistics for NPCs beyond what is given here. You can assume most NPCs are AC 9 or 10, with 2 hp. Important NPCs might have 6 hp. Truly important NPCs (Lord Padraig, Valthrun the Prescient, and Ninaran) should probably be given full statblocks. I would suggest building them from King, Magician, and Assassin respectively.

My proposed statblock for Ninaran is:

Ninaran, Elven Spy: Init +4; Atk bronze dagger +9 melee (1d4 or 1d10) or shortbow +12 ranged (1d6); AC 14; HD 3d6; hp 12; MV 30’; Act 2d20; SP infravision 60’, thief skills 75% (disguise, move silently, climb, pick locks, hide in shadows), iron vulnerability; SV Fort +3, Ref +8, Will +4; AL C.

If you compare that with the Assassin statblock on page 432 of the core rules, you will see that I made very few changes – changed weapons, removed the poison, and added infravision and iron vulnerability because the character is an elf.

Market Square

Every other day or so, carts and wagons gather in the square and offer goods to the people of Winterhaven. Once each week, the official Market Day acts as a siren’s song, calling most of the villagers to shop and socialize in the square. Farmers sell produce, hunters hawk smoked meats, villagers sell crafts, and sometimes a trader from the east sells implements or costly goods.

On any given day, there is a 50% chance that items from the adventuring gear list in the Player’s Handbook are available for sale here. Adventurers will almost never find armor, weapons, implements, or magic items in the market square, however.

Delphina Moongem: Delphina turned away from the forest of her elven roots to live an urban existence, if Winterhaven can truly be called such. Delphina can be found in the square on Market Day selling wildflowers from her cart. She is happy to tell visitors about Winterhaven. She collects wildflowers north of the village, and she has seen goblins around the ruined keep visible in the foothills to the north.

We already decided that the kobolds were instead “ratlings”. Now we need to decide what to do about the goblins. Page 380 of the core rulebook is once more handy to help make our monsters mysterious! A roll of 12 on Table 9-1 tells us our goblins are green – nothing unusual there! A 5 on Table 9-2 arms them with slings and clubs predominantly. While we still don’t have a hook, a 14 on Table 9-3 tells us that our goblins have a glowing aura. Finally, a 7 on Table 9-4 reveals that our goblins are “fascinated with jewels, metal weapons, helmets, leatherworking, shoes, etc”, indicating (with their weaponry) a rather primitive group of humanoids. Let us call them “twilight people”, appearing rather like humanish cavemen who glow with a gentle green aura. Like other goblins, they are predominantly nocturnal, and Delphina (from Latin) has only seen them at dusk.


A dwarf named Thair Coalstriker owns the village smithy. PCs can purchase a variety of mundane wares here, including spikes, weapons, heavy armor, and so on. Simple weapons are readily available, but military weapons require one day to complete, and superior weapons require a week of work.

My rewrite for DCC:

A dwarf named Thair Coalstriker (AC 10, 4 hp) owns the village smithy. PCs can purchase a variety of mundane wares here, including spikes, simple weapons (dagger, short sword, spear), light armor, and so on. More complex weapons require at least one day to complete (roll 1d5), and superior weapons can be purchased for 1d3+1 times the normal cost. These do +1d damage, and are only broken on a critical hit or fumble that would break or damage a normal weapon if the wielder fails a Luck check. Such weapons require at least 1d3 weeks to create, and the judge should increase this time for larger or more complex weapons. Medium armor can be created in 1d3 weeks +1 week per point of AC bonus, but heavy armor is beyond Coalstriker’s skill to produce.

Valthrun’s Tower

This five-story structure is the highest building in Winterhaven. The tower is rumored to be over 300 years old, and Valthrun the Prescient is its most recent resident.

Valthrun doesn’t use much of the tower; he inhabits the top two levels. The bottom three levels are locked and empty except for the stairway connecting them to Valthrun’s quarters. Valthrun is described briefly above in the section on Wrafton’s Inn. The sage and scholar has a small selection of 1st and 2nd level rituals that he is willing to sell once he determines the worth and merit of an adventurer. Refer to the Player’s Handbook for a list of rituals.

One of the goals in this method of conversion is that you have to neither own nor consult the rules you are converting from. Therefore, we will assume that Valthrun uses the basic statistics of a Magician, from pages 433-434 of the core rulebook.

Under Monsters Don’t Play By the Rules on page 383 of the core rulebook, it says “Spellcasters in particular, whether human or monstrous in nature, should have powers that are unavailable to the players. This does not mean fully defined spells of the same sort learned by the characters. This means a unique power of some kind that would provide a plot hook, leading the player characters to seek out the wizard character and attempt to enlist his services, either as a an ally, hireling, or hostage.” It is, therefore, perfectly fair to give Valthrun whatever unique powers you wish. These can be rituals from the 4th Edition Player’s Handbook if you own it, or they can be as simple as the ability to identify magic items with a degree of accuracy chosen by the judge.

Bairwin’s Grand Shoppe

Bairwin Wildarson traveled the world, or so he claims, before setting up shop in Winterhaven ten years ago. He has a variety of items available for sale, including anything off the list of adventuring gear shown in the Player’s Handbook. He occasionally has a few 1st-level magic items for sale, and he sometimes has a couple of potions of healing available in the shop.

In DCC, you should be very careful about having magic items available for sale, and even in 4e you will note that availability is left up to the DM. I would caution you also against having any normal item available, unless you want your PCs to patronize Bairwin’s exclusively. The Grand Shoppe is, however, an excellent place to sell loot, and could have an occasional occult trinket.

If you have access to DCC Lankhmar #2: The Fence’s Fortuitous Folly, the opening bit is a good model for this kind of shop – a lot of junk that might be occult, and might not be, but being treated as though it were.

Sometimes having healing potions isn’t a terrible thing. Choose a chance of having them, and a period you need to wait before checking again (for instance, a 1 in 10 chance of having 1d3 healing potions every 1d5 weeks), as well as some details about the potions (25 gp, Luck check to heal 1d3 hp when consumed, sour taste, created by the Sisterhood of Mending in the Temple of Dian Cecht some 25 miles away).

Warrior Guild

Winterhaven villagers can join the Warrior Guild and train, once per week, in basic sword and shield skills. The guild trains in Market Square on days when the market is not open. Some citizens earn militia pay (a few silver pieces per year) by training at least once per month and being on call for emergencies. Rond Kelfem, captain of the Winterhaven Regulars, also oversees the Warrior Guild. He can be found here, in the barracks, or on guard duty, depending on the time of day.

This is a bit of flavor in 4e, and probably in your DCC game too. However, under Weapon Training on page 24 of the core rulebook, it notes that “Generally, using a weapon without training imposes an attack penalty” and this penalty is further clarified on Table 4-1: Attack Roll Modifiers on page 78 as being -1d. The Warrior Guild offers a perfect “Quest For It” opportunity, should the players see it. After every 1d5 weeks training with the guild, the character may make a check to become trained in the use of a longsword. I would add other weapons – short bow, short sword, and spear – as additional weapons one could potentially become trained in. We can set the DC for the check at 15, and make it a Strength check for melee weapons and an Agility check for ranged weapons. You can keep training until you get it right. There is no fee, but the village can call upon you for its defense in times of need.


The large tenement structure features apartments for the village residents who don’t own farms or who work in the businesses within the walls. Several families also live in the homes (buildings labeled H) on the west side of the village. Most of the villagers who live outside the walls are farmers and crafters who bring their wares to the Market Square to sell or trade.

You may as well set a rental fee, monthly and/or annually, for residence here. Sooner or later, your players are likely to ask.


This large stone structure is the village temple. Of the several deities worshiped by locals, Avandra, goddess of luck and change, is the most prominent.

The temple priest, Sister Linora, runs services in the temple three times per week, but otherwise she is not often present. She prefers to travel among the homes outside the walls, dispensing care to villagers and animals and helping with various farm projects. Although Linora is not a cleric, she is a non-heroic priest of Avandra. She doesn’t have access to cleric powers, but she does know the following rituals: gentle repose, cure disease, and raise dead.

Graveyard: Winterhaven has a graveyard for which Sister Linora serves as caretaker. The graveyard is located  a short distance south of the walled town.

While you could shift Avandra two one of the Gods of the Eternal Struggle from the core rulebook, I rather like the idea of a goddess of luck and change, which meshes well with DCC. Sister Linora (apparently Australian) can be treated as a Friar from page 433 of the core rulebook, but what to do about her rituals?

Gentle repose just makes sure the dead are quiet in their graves – or at least, that is what the name implies – so we don’t have to do anything. Properly buried, the dead do not usually become un-dead. Sister Linora is the caretaker of the graveyard. She knows how to properly inter the dead. Easy-peasy.

Cure disease is equally simple. A friar can heal 2/day. We will just allow Sister Linora to choose to cure a disease instead of heal hit points. Alternatively, we can just say that each day under her care allows an additional save to end a disease. Also easy-peasy, and the goal really is to avoid complications that don’t make game play any better.

Raise dead, however, is a game changer, and an ability not normally available in DCC. My first instinct is to simply remove the ability, but…well, remember that bit about NPC spellcasters having abilities no available to the PCs? What if we let Sister Linora keep her ability to raise dead, but introduced some cost to the procedure? Here is my version:

Sister Linora has the ability to restore life to the dead by transferring life from the living. In a ritual taking 3 hours, and which must include at least one close associate of the deceased, Sister Linora permanently transfers some of the associate(s)’ energy to the deceased, restoring them to life. The body of the deceased must be reasonably intact (per judge), or the ritual fails.

Roll 1d3 for each day (or partial day) that the deceased has been dead. This is the number of ability score points which are permanently lost from the associates to fuel the magic. Lost points are evenly, and randomly, distributed, with each point coming randomly from (roll 1d5): (1) Strength, (2) Agility, (3) Stamina, (4) Intelligence, or (5) Personality. These points are lost even if the ritual fails.

 When the ritual is completed, the deceased rerolls their Luck on 3d6, and then makes a Luck check. If the check succeeds, they are restored to life with 1 hp, and their Luck is now whatever score they rolled. At the judge’s discretion, a raised character may be haunted by vague memories of an afterlife, good or bad, and these memories may serve as a conduit of information or hooks to potential adventures.

Final Words

Under “Next Steps”, this adventure says “Regardless of what the player characters decide to investigate next, kobold bandits descend upon them the next time they leave town, seeking revenge for their fallen comrades.”

This is an attempt to make the PCs more interested in the kobold lair than whatever else they might have decided to do, and it is not something you should do in your own game. How do the kobold bandits know when the PCs plan to leave town? If they are not careful, and talk about their plans were Ninaran can hear, and wait long enough for her to report and the kobolds to prepare, fine. Otherwise, this is seriously problematic. “No matter what choices the players make, the consequences are the same” should not be part of your adventure design.

Next: D&D 4th Edition: Keep on the Shadowfell (3): Skill Challenges