Wednesday 22 March 2023

Conversion Crawl Classes 2: Basic D&D: The Keep on the Borderlands (2)

Adventures Outside the Keep

In the first part of this series, we looked at the Keep itself. In this part, we look at the wilderness around the Keep. If you own a copy of this adventure, you should probably take a moment to examine the wilderness map. Although drawn using a square (as opposed to hexagonal) grid, this map has an incredible sense of actual geography and place. It is, in my opinion, one of the best scale outdoor maps produced for the game.

The outdoor area includes four encounter areas, the “Caves of the Unknown”, and a potentially friendly talking magpie to help guide the PCs. Because this is such a well-beloved and iconic module, there are already materials you can use which pay homage to these encounters. Although they are now hard to find, Brave Halfling put out The Treacherous Cobtraps which maps to the spider encounter, The Vile Worm which maps to the hermit, and The Ruins of Ramat which kind-of sort-of maps to the mound of the lizard men. The DCC version of Into the Demon Idol and the Anaconda-Man mound in Jungle Tomb of the Mummy Bride (part of Dread Orchid, starting on page 92) may also help flesh out the lizard men if you do not want to do the work yourself. As far as I know, no DCC adventure currently maps directly to the bandit camp.

If you wanted to use prewritten DCC stats, there are stats for lizardmen in the core rulebook, and the DCC Annual Vol 1 can help you create giant spider statistics. Giant spiders of various types have also appeared in many DCC adventures, so there is a real range you could choose from. Bandits appear in the core rulebook as well, so statting the bandit camp in DCC terms should be simple enough.

The DCC core rulebook does offer tables for variety in humanoids (on p. 380), and using these offers a simple way to make “normal” lizardmen seem strange and unpredictable. For instance, I rolled a 7 on Table 9-1, making these lizardmen navy blue. Table 9-2 yields an 8, arming these lizardmen with two-handed swords and battleaxes. Since they are primitive, I will assume wooden swords set with teeth and stone axes. Table 9-3 comes up 10, indicating that these lizardmen have three eyes. Table 9-4 is again a 10, so they are scared of the dark (or light). Their coloration indicates nocturnal camouflage, so I will make them afraid to venture out during daylight hours.

It is hardly necessary to roll on each of these tables, and the judge should feel very much encouraged to come up with their own unique traits, but one can hopefully see how much additional flavor can be added in this way.

I rather like the idea of the friendly magpie, which has a sort of fairy tale quality to it. In the original module, the magpie existed to provide context for players trying to locate the Caves of Chaos, and to keep PCs in the frame of the original work. The Keep on the Borderlands was intended to start new DMs with a mini-sandbox setting, and the magpie (or similar) served to warn players when they were crossing the boundaries of that sandbox. Of course, as the DM was expected to add to the world as their experience grew, so too is the DCC judge advised that expanding the borders – rather than forcing players to stay within the lines – is the better option.

In our case, we will ignore the border-warning function of the friendly magpie and concentrate on the direction-giving aspect. It is advisable to make patrons active in the campaign setting, so perhaps our magpie is an agent of some power which opposes the evil temple in the Caves of Chaos. Going with the fairy tale theme, we again turn to Angels, Daemons, & Beings Between Vol 2: Elfland Edition and make the magpie an agent of Sintar, the Knower. This ties very well with the advisor in part 1, to whom we can now add eventual knowledge of any interactions the party has with the friendly magpies of the forest.

The Cave of the Unknown was intended for the DM to expand, and there is nothing there to convert. The judge may place a pre-written adventure there if desired, or create something new. The first OAR book from Goodman Games places module B1: In Search of the Unknown in this location. This is a conversion to 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, though it may be a useful reference for a judge comfortable with converting material from that system.

For a closer look at conversion, I am going to focus on the encounter with the mad hermit. First off, while the mound of the lizard men might be inspired by the horibs in Edgar Rice BurroughsPellucidar, and the spiders might be inspired by the spiders of Mirkwood in The Hobbit, I am not aware of any potential literary source for the mad hermit (although there may be one).

The treasure possessed by the hermit is also worth looking at when considering conversion. In the module, he has 31 gp, 164 sp, a potion of invisibility, a dagger +1, and a ring of protection +1. All in all, I am inclined to leave most of this intact. The ring of protection I would remove, and the dagger +1 would get a full DCC write-up. Rather than determine the statistics for the dagger randomly, I would give it a special purpose of “drink the blood of the innocent”, and a power to grant an animal companion of up to 4 Hit Dice. The needs of the dagger to drink blood forced the hermit away from human society, when he initially sought to contest the weapon’s will, and possession of the frustrated dagger subsequently drove him mad. This creates an interesting choice for the players if their characters defeat the hermit – use the dagger or not? And, if not, what do they do with it?

Mad Hermit: Init +2; Atk +1 dagger +4 melee (1d4+3) or backstab +8 melee (1d10+3 plus automatic crit); AC 12; HD 3d6; hp 15; MV 30'; Act 1d20; SP +6 sneak silently, +4 hide in shadows, backstab; SV Fort +3, Ref +3, Will +4, AL C; Crit III/1d8.

The hermit’s animal companion is a mountain lion. This gives a good opportunity to look at conversion from Basic D&D to DCC. This post talks about statblocks for DCC and gives us some reference for conversion. The mountain lion is described in the module thus:

Mountain Lion: AC 6, HD 3 + 2, hp 15, #AT 3, D I-3 / 1-3 / 1-6, MV (50’) Save F 2, ML 8. (This creature will always attack first in each round. If it leaps down upon an opponent, it gains +2 to hit on each of its attacks that combat round. Usually it will first attack by jumping, and then it will stay on the ground and fight normally. If it is not engaged in combat during any round, however, it will take the opportunity to leap into a tree and then spring down on the next round.)

Breaking down the creature into a DCC statblock:

Init: The mountain lion is probably faster than a normal human, so I would tend to consider a +3 or +4 bonus here. Let’s say +4.

Atk: The mountain lion attacks with claws and bite. Claws do less damage, but are more likely to hit. Damage is already reasonable, so let’s say +2 to hit with the bite and +3 to hit with the claws.

AC: Basic D&D uses descending AC, and DCC uses ascending. The easiest conversion is 20 subtract the given AC, which grants an AC of 14. This seems fine to me, but in some cases it is worth adjusting an easy conversion up or down to better meet your vision of a creature.

HD: The listed HD is 3 + 2, which is indicated 3d8+2 in Basic D&D. This seems a little low to me, so I am going to give it two bonus hit points per die, or 3d8+6 hp. Our mountain lion will have slightly more hit points than its Basic D&D counterpart, but by not increasing its Hit Dice we keep its crit range to 1d8 on Table M rather than 1d10.

Hp: The original creature had 15 hp. We increased that by +4 (due to the Hit Die change), so our converted mountain lion has 19 hp.

MV: The original 50’ is fine, but if this thing is going to climb trees, we might as well add a 20’ climb speed.

Act: The original had three attacks, so 3d20 seems appropriate. However, we could choose to give the creature 2d20 and add a special ability to grant a third attack. This gives the judge an interesting choice: Use the higher-damage bite attack, or hope to hit with both claws and gain a free attack? That both the players and judge may have different tactics round-to-round helps bring combats alive, so I will choose the second option.

SP: Special abilities for our mountain lion include +10 stealth (to grant it a surprise round when first encountered, but to take into account that PCs will be watching for it if it and/or the hermit survive the encounter), +2 to attack rolls when leaping from above, and a free bite attack if both claws hit.

SV: A 2nd-level warrior has +1 to Fort and Ref, but this seems a bit low for our creature. The +0 to Will seems about right, though, given that the Basic D&D version has a Morale of 8 (in Basic D&D, a Morale check is made by rolling 2d6, and if the number is greater than the creature’s Morale score, it either flees or surrenders; in DCC this is a DC 10 Will save). Our mountain lion is also thrall to the +1 dagger, and so probably doesn’t have the highest Will save in the world anyway. Putting this together we will say Fort +3 (+1, with an additional +2 for Stamina, following our decision on Hit Dice), Ref +5 (+1, with an additional +4 for Agility, following our decision on Initiative), Will +0.

AL: As a normal animal without any strong pack tendencies, the mountain lion is N.

Crit: Following the table on page 385 of the core rulebook, we get a result of M/1d8.

Put altogether, our DCC mountain lion statblock looks like this:

Mountain Lion: Init +4; Atk claw +3 melee (1d3) or bite +2 melee (1d6), AC 14; HD 3d8+6; hp 19; MV 50’ or climb 20’; Act 2d20; SP +10 stealth, +2 to attack rolls when leaping from above, free bite attack if both claws hit; SV Fort +3, Ref +5, Will +0; AL N; Crit M/1d8.

Next: The Keep on the Borderlands (3): The Caves of Chaos

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