Saturday 25 March 2023

Conversion Crawl Classes 3: Basic D&D: The Keep on the Borderlands (3)

Joseph Goodman once said that great adventures start with great stories, or words to that effect. As we examined and converted the Keep and the wilderness, we began to see themes emerge. Our story so far is of a conflict between Sintar the Knower and the Hidden Lord, what can be known versus the Great Unknown, and even sites like The Caves of the Unknown can fit into this rivalry.

The base line of The Keep on the Borderland is also a story about civilization holding fast against the forces which lurk beyond – monsters, humanoids, and lawless men. We have seen this story both in the Keep itself, and in the wilderness encounters. The bandit camp in the wilderness thus becomes an important thematic component of the adventure, and we might even consider replacing the various humanoids in the Caves of Chaos with groups of tribal barbarians – possibly going so far as to recast the Keep as an occupying force, and the barbarians the land’s original inhabitants! Players in this case are suddenly faced with an interesting choice: Are we on the side of the Keep, or on the side of the indigenous people? Certainly, this change would answer the “monster hotel” criticism that is sometimes levied against the module.

(Please note that “barbarians” is being used here in a Howardian sense, and is certainly not a pejorative! Consider, for instance, the Gaels resisting Roman occupation, or Scotland opposing the British. A judge who wanted a more Hyborean setting could even make the Keep an Aquilonian intrusion into Cimmeria!)

I am going to assume in what follows that we are keeping the humanoids in the Caves of Chaos as their diverse humanoid groups. That doesn’t mean that we cannot raise the specter of colonialism in our conversion – there is no reason whatsoever that humans cannot be the invaders in lands which were historically the dwelling places of orcs, goblins, and the like. The diversity of creatures makes a better example for conversion. Moreover, I think the adventure already has a pretty strong answer to the “monster hotel” criticism built into it.

The Caves of Chaos

Like the wilderness map before it, the map to the Caves of Chaos is a cartographic masterpiece with a great sense of place. Not only that, but the representation of the Caves of Chaos matches up very will with the ravine appearing on the wilderness map. Excellent stuff!

The Caves themselves are divided into eleven main areas, using letter codes. These are A. Kobold Lair, B. Orc Lair, C. Orc Lair, D. Goblin Lair, E. Ogre Cave, F. Hobgoblin Lair, G. Shunned Cavern, H. Bugbear Lair, I. Cave of the Minotaur, J. Gnoll Lair, and K. Shrine of Evil Chaos. Luckily, the core rulebook offers us statistics for kobolds, orcs, goblins, orgres, hobgoblins, bugbears, minotaurs, and gnolls. A large portion of our conversion work is already done for us! Of course, not all of these creatures are chaotic, so what do we do about that?

I have always run this module under the assumption that the disparate monsters were drawn here by the evil clerics in Area K, and I continue to go by that assumption. Intelligent monsters are here because the clerics offer help and advice for overthrowing the Keep. Unintelligent monsters are drawn by the evil power of the altars in Area 58. The humanoids are uneasy allies, as Gary Gygax lets us know on page 14 (Tribal Alliances and Warfare) and by the Bugbear’s offer of “shelter” to all humanoids!

Obviously, I am not going to go through each room of the Caves of Chaos here. We can, however, look at the basic steps we want to take, and then look at some more specific examples. One of the first things we want to do is go through the listed treasure and reduce it to roughly 10% on average. In this way, 40 gp may become either 4 gp or 40 sp. We need to remember when doing this that platinum and electrum are different in DCC to any version of D&D. In Basic D&D, 5 gp = 1 pp and 1 ep = 5 sp. Keep this in mind, or your treasure conversions can get out of hand. 50 pp in Basic D&D reduces to 25 gp in DCC; reducing it to 5 pp instead nets your players 500 gp value, as a DCC pp is worth 100 gp! Likewise, 1 ep in DCC is worth 10 gp, so you should keep in mind the silver or gold value instead.

Magic items are rarer in DCC than in Basic D&D, and DCC assumes non-standard magic items. As you go through the Caves of Chaos, cut uninteresting magic items aggressively. Some might be made fine examples of mundane craftsmanship – a weapon that does +1d damage, for instance, or armor with a reduced Fumble Die. When you do decide to keep a magic item, give it a full DCC write-up. In terms of potions, decide what the exact effects are. If you own a copy of the 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide, pages 221-222 offer considerable help in describing what magical substances look, smell, and taste like.

Scrolls in many games – including Basic D&D – are of the “one use” variety, but that does not need to be true in DCC. I have written or converted a number of adventures (both for Goodman Games and for third party publishers) where scrolls followed different rules. For an easy example of this, imagine that the PCs find a scroll of chill touch. The first time it is used, it gives an automatic spell check result of 18-19. When used again, it gives a result of 12-13. Should the PCs dare to use it a third time, it gives a result of 1 before bursting into cold flames and being consumed. Don’t forget that scrolls can also have unique manifestations, mercurial effects, or anything else the judge can imagine.

Another obvious thing to do is to Make Monsters Mysterious. As we discussed in part 2, the DCC core rulebook provides tables to help differentiate various humanoids from each other. It isn’t necessary to use every table for every humanoid group, but it is nice to provide some variety. This is especially true for the two orc tribes in the cave system – one group is a chalky white color, while the other has bull-like horns…does this second group revere the minotaur?

In order to do a conversion, you will also have to decide the DCs of various locks (to pick), traps (to locate and to disable), secret doors (to find) and saving throws (to make). In the case of saving throws, you may have to determine effects both for a success and a failure (see Appendix P in the core rulebook for example poisons). Here is a post discussing saving throw DCs in DCC. This post may also help. For skill-type checks, the thief skill descriptions on pages 34-36 of the core rulebook and the basic DC 5/10/15/20 baseline on page 66 is also worth reviewing.

You will also have to decide whether or not humans and elves, for instance, wear different sizes of armor in your campaign world. There are two suits of elf-sized chainmail in Area 27, for instance. Can these just be added to number of human-sized suits? Should they be ignored? Are they made of mithral, or does an elf just have to suffer if they wear them? Ultimately, the answers should be based on how you see your milieu working. A suit of mithral chainmail – let alone two – is a tremendous boon to an elf PC, who might not have the Intelligence needed for successful spellcasting.

There are 64 keyed locations in the Caves of Chaos, and looking at them all is beyond the scope of this exercise. For those of you puissant enough to have joined my Patreon, I offered a chance to both indicate what systems/adventures you were interested in exploring (and we shall get to them all!) in the Conversion Crawl Classes series of posts, and which areas of the Caves of Chaos you were particularly interested in looking at. There were no replies to this second query, so I will choose three to look at myself. All of these are in Area K, because that strikes me as the most interesting and/or difficult area to convert.

58. TEMPLE OF EVIL CHAOS: This huge area has an arched ceiling some 30’ or more in height. The floor is of polished black stone which has swirling patterns of red veins through it. The walls behind the draperies, and the ceiling as well, are of dull black rock, while the west wall is of translucent red stone which is seemingly one piece, polished to mirror-like smoothness. A great bell of black iron stands near the entrance point, with a pair of mallets beside its supports. To the south are several long benches or pews. There are three stone altars to the west, the northernmost of pure black, the middle one of streaked red and black, the last of red with black flecks. At the western end of the temple area is a dais of black stone, with four lesser chairs on its lower tier and a great throne above. The chairs are of bone; the ivory throne is set with gold and adorned with gems of red and black (10 black stones each worth 100 gold pieces, 10 red stones each worth 500 gold pieces, and one large red stone worth 1,000 g.p.). The signs and sigils upon these seats are of pure chaos and evil. The other walls are covered by draperies of deep purple with embroidered symbols and evil sayings, done in scarlet and gold and black thread. As soon as the party enters the place, black candles in eight great candelabras on either side of the place will come alight magically, shooting forth a disgusting red radiance. Shapeless forms of purple, yellow and green will dance and sway on the western wall, and if anyone looks at them for more than a moment, they must save versus Spells or be mesmerized into chanting a hymn to chaotic evil. Should three or more voices be so raised, the iron bell will sound automatically by magic, but even one such chant will alert the guards of the head cleric (see below). Zombie guards will enter here in 3 rounds after entry, even if the party is quiet.

First things first, let’s reduce the gem values to 10 black stones with 10 gp each, 10 red stones with 50 gp each, and one large red stone worth 200 gp. This last stone is worth twice as much as our general recommendation (10%), but we can afford to be generous.

All of the strange effects are caused by the three altars, which may or may not relate to the Hidden Lord. Each altar takes 50 hp damage to destroy, and the damage must come from a single attack or it is ineffective. If all three altars are destroyed, the hold of Chaos and Evil upon the caves comes to an end, and unintelligent monsters are no longer drawn here. We could even go so far as to say that all of the un-dead in Area K are immediately destroyed when the last altar is shattered. All lawful characters participating in the events reroll their Luck, and, if the new roll is higher, that becomes their new Luck score.

Let’s say that the saving to avoid being mesmerized into chanting is DC 15, as we want at least one PC to fail the save if we are even halfway lucky. And let’s give a duration for chanting – 1d7 rounds – during which the PC can do nothing else save attack anyone interfering with them using deadly force (as determined by the judge). And, at the end, why not require another save (DC 10 + rounds chanted) to recover. Failure means that the PC is secretly bound (as per patron bond, cast on other, spell result 1d8+10) to a fell patron. The judge can quietly let the player(s) of bonded characters know what has happened when it seems best.

62. THE CRYPT: The door to this room is bolted shut. This long hall is of roughly hewn stone, with a low ceiling. In it are many coffins and large sarcophagi with the remains of servants of the Temple of Chaos. The sixth tomb opened will contain a wight: (AC 5, HD 3*, hp 13, #AT I, D drain one level, MV (30’), Save F 2, ML 12). There is no treasure buried with any of the remains, but there is a secret compartment in the wight’s tomb; this contains a sword +2, a scroll of protection from undead, a helm of alignment change, and a silver dagger worth 800 gold pieces because of the gems set into its pommel.

Page 381 of the core rulebook has two tables to help make un-dead mysterious, and to offer some variety. We already know what evil power our wight has – level drain in Basic D&D – and we are going to select rather than roll for its appearance: perfectly preserved but ice-cold to the touch. And let’s make that silver dagger (reduced to 80 gp value) clutched in its hands rather than in a secret compartment. In DCC terms, our wight might be statted up like this:

Wight: Init +0; Atk cold touch +2 melee (XP drain), AC 15; HD 3d12; hp 19; MV 30’; Act 1d20; SP un-dead, XP drain (Will DC 20 or lose 1d5 XP); SV Fort +5, Ref +0, Will +4; AL C; Crit U/1d8.

XP drain does not result in loss of levels, although any lost XP must be made up before new levels can be gained. If XP is reduced below 0, the victim dies and rises as a wight after 1d5 hours.

Of the magic items in the wight’s tomb, the only one I find interesting is the sword +2, which could be completely rolled up using the tables in the core rulebook or the Purple Sorcerer app. I would then add that anyone who dies while possessing this sword rises 1d5 nights later as a wight, and seeks out the current owner of the sword to slay them. This gives the clerics a motive to bury the sword with the most recent user. Oh, and whatever may otherwise be determined, the sword is obviously +2 and Chaotic.

In fact, with a little help from Purple Sorcerer, we come up with the terrifying Blightbane:

Blightbane, +2 Chaotic Long sword

Intelligence: 9

Communication: Speech

Bane 1: Wizards (Ability score drain; sword inflicts normal damage plus 1d4 points of Intelligence drain per hit.

Bane 2: Dragons (Shattering blow; on a critical hit, sword inflicts an additional 1d10 damage).

Bane 3: Lawful Dragons

  1. Extended critical threat range; attacker scores criticals against bane at 1 more result on the die (e.g., if normally score criticals on 19-20, now score on 18-20).
  2. Unreasoning hatred; sword urges wielder to attack bane at every opportunity (ego check).
  3. Neutralization; after a direct hit, sword prevents bane from using its breath weapon for one full day.

Special Purpose 1: Slay lawful dragons

Special Purpose 2: Destroy the world’s kingdoms, one by one

Special Purpose 3: Reward the ambitious at all costs

Power 1: Eviscerator. When rolling damage, the wielder rolls an additional damage die every time he rolls an 8.

Power 2: Regenerator. When wielding this blade, the wielder’s natural rate of healing is doubled. In addition, the wielder recovers twice as many hit points as usual whenever a cleric lays hands upon him.

Power 3: Spell magnifier. The wielder casts all spells at +1 caster level.

Power 4: Un-dead Curse. Anyone who dies while possessing this sword rises 1d5 nights later as a wight, and seeks out the current owner of the sword to slay them.

Given the power and nature of this weapon, we can say that it is hidden well. A DC 20 Intelligence check locates the secret compartment (remember that an elf has an automatic Intelligence check with a +4 bonus to notice such things).

Note that the door is bolted from the outside. Characters can easily unbolt the door (no roll required!) but incautious PCs who leave living foes behind them and who have no one guarding the door may easily find themselves locked within.

64. CELL: The door is of iron, locked and barred, but a window is set in the door. This is the place where prisoners are kept until tortured to death or sacrificed in the area above. There are several skeletons still chained to the wall, and one scantily clad female – a fair maiden obviously in need of rescuing! As she is partly around a corner, at first only her shapely legs and body up to the shoulders can be seen. Those who enter and approach closer are in for a rude shock! This is actually a medusa recently taken by the evil priest’s zombie guards. (AC 8, HD 4**, hp 20, #AT 1, D l-6 plus poison, MV (30’), Save F 4, ML 8.) An opponent hit by the medusa’s attack has been bitten by the asp-hair and must save vs. Poison or die. Persons looking at the creature – including those fighting her from the front – must save versus being Turned to Stone by the medusa.

Not being above such things, the cleric had plans for removing its snakes, blinding it, and then eventually sacrificing it at a special rite to a demon. The medusa will spare one or two of the adventurers from her gaze, promising them she has magic which will turn their companions back to flesh again, if they will free her from her chains. She does, in fact, have a special elixir, a potion of stone to flesh in a small vial, enough liquid to turn six persons, who have been turned to stone, back to normal, but she does not intend to give it away. If freed she will attempt to “stone” her rescuers.

First off, the “elixir” is probably an oil, as the medusa’s petrified victims won’t be drinking anything! We can give the locked door a basic DC 10 for picking the lock, but should probably note where the key can be found.

This encounter is designed as a “caution should win the day” challenge. First, incautious adventurers may be petrified or slain outright by the medusa. Second, trusting adventurers may discover that she has no intention of honoring her bargains. My conversion for the medusa would look like this:

Medusa: Init +2; Atk biting serpents +6 melee (1d6 plus venom), AC 12; HD 4d8; hp 20; MV 30’; Act 1d16; SP infravision 60’, half damage from non-magical weapons, venom (1d3 Stamina plus Fort DC 15 or die), petrifying gaze (Reflex DC 15 averts; otherwise 1d3 Agility and Will DC 12 or turned to stone, petrified at 0 Agility); SV Fort +1, Ref +3, Will +0; AL C; Crit n/a.

You will note that I gave the medusa 1d16 for her action die, and gave her a high attack bonus to compensate. This is because I just could not see her snaky “hair” causing the kind of critical hits M/1d10 would have provided. I also liked the idea of slow petrifaction if you meet the medusa’s gaze, even if you do save. Note that characters can fight without having to worry about her petrifying gaze by not looking at her (-1d penalty to attack rolls) or by using a reflective surface (-2 penalty to hit).

If you want a closer look at the statblock breakdown for Basic D&D, see Part 2.

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Next: Holmes Dungeons & Dragons: Zenopus’ Tower

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