Wednesday 27 September 2023

Conversion Crawl Classes 19: The One Ring: Tales From Wilderland (1): Don’t Leave the Path

Continuing our exploration of games based off Appendix N literature, we turn to The One Ring, which is also based off of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. I am going to examine the first two adventures in Tales From Wilderland, each in its own blog post. I have averred throughout this series that any adventure should be convertible, and that access to the game’s base rules should be unnecessary. In this case, I am truly putting my money where my mouth is. I do not own the base rules for The One Ring, have never played the game, and my understanding of it is gleaned by perusing the adventures in question. If you are an aficionado of The One Ring, you will perhaps be able to judge the effectiveness of my methodology by examining these two posts.


The first thing to note is that The One Ring is a far more narrativist game than Dungeon Crawl Classics. The basic terms for statistics, the order of play, and even the nature of play are different. The One Ring seems to focus a great deal on narrative travel, where PCs take various jobs – such as Lookout and Scout – making various rolls to avoid or resolve hazards and/or prevent Fatigue or loss of Hope. At various points, the PCs may have experiences which cause them to fall under the Shadow.

While thematically appropriate for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, this is going to increase the work needed to run these scenarios in Dungeon Crawl Classics. Despite being quieter adventures overall, both adventures contain encounters that would be fun to play out regardless of system.

The first thing to address is how to use the scenarios in the first place.

Do We Change the Game?

The overall answer is No.

At the end of the day, we are trying to make a playable DCC adventure out of the original. When converting material from a very different system, these is always going to be a temptation to port mechanics from the original system into whatever game you are converting it to. After all, any decent adventure takes advantage of its original system’s mechanics, and you are bound to lose something by not using those mechanics.

From my reading, loss of Hope or falling under the Shadow are events which should be generally under the players’ control. Fatigue plays a major part of these journeys, again from my reading, so we could model that with penalties if the characters are not sufficiently rested. The dice chain works admirably in this regard.

I get the sense from reading these adventures that, in The One Ring, the PCs are generally destined to succeed, and the only real question is how much success they have. It also seems to me that player choice is severely limited; the outcomes the GM wants to happen occur regardless of player choices seems to be the expectation. In the second adventure I will be looking at, there is even a sidebar discussing how some GMs might “prefer to let everything be ruled by the whims of the dice, and always give the players a chance to stop their foes from acting. The advantage of this approach is that the players never feel like their fate is out of their hands”. The downside is that if the players are quick and lucky, they might derail the GM’s expectations. That allowing player choices to greatly affect the outcome of an adventure is characterized by “the whims of the dice” is more than a little problematic to me. Of course, if you are playing Dungeon Crawl Classics, you are probably perfectly fine with allowing player choice and the dice to each affect the outcome of the game!

Meaningful Encounters and Color

In my three-part essay on Context, Choice, and Consequence (part 1, part 2, part 3), I argued that the primary job of the GM is to provide context for player choices, and then adjudicate the consequences of those choices, which becomes part of the new context for future choices. If you understand that general idea, then it should be easy to see how meaningful encounters derive from choices which have consequences. In this case, the consequences are the stakes of the encounter.

For example, in many combat encounters, the stakes are character survival. Survival need not be the only stakes, though, and having additional (or different) stakes adds spice to adventures. Harm to an allied NPC, for example, can create additional stakes requiring choices which take those stakes into account. “Win conditions” are the conditions that the PCs must meet to reach a favorable outcome. Meeting the win conditions means that the consequences fall in the PCs’ favor. They obtain or retain the stakes.

Conversely, color encounters are not meaningful. This doesn’t mean that they are useless or uninteresting. They act to help set tone, create verisimilitude, and set context. In fact, color helps to allow the players to understand the stakes when they have meaningful encounters. Color encounters, for example, can establish an NPC as an ally, making threats to that NPC meaningful, and hence the survival of the NPC reasonable stakes.

Color encounters also help to disguise meaningful encounters, so that the players cannot always be certain whether or not they are in a situation with potential dire or wondrous consequences. Maybe that room is really empty. Maybe it contains a secret door, a hidden treasure, an invisible monster, or some form of trap. If everything is meaningful, then no tension exists trying to discover which details are worth paying attention to and which are not.

In addition, encounters can blur the lines between meaning and color. Evidence that a basilisk is in the area might seem like color, but if it informs your choices going forward, including how you tackle the potential encounter with the monster itself, you could easily argue that the information obtained were the stakes, and your ability to understand it was the win conditions. There is no hard-and-fast divider between the two encounter types. Understanding them, though, will be useful when converting adventures from a system like The One Ring.

Part One: Where Rivers Run With Gold

The company rescue Baldor the merchant from three ruffians, and he asks them to serve as his caravan guards on the crossing of Mirkwood.

This part doesn’t require a lot of conversion. The three ruffians in question are former men-at-arms from Esgaroth, so the man-at-arms statblock from page 434 of the DCC core rulebook seems more appropriate to me than bandit stats. Because they are ruffians, shift their alignment to neutral (or even chaotic) and because they are cowardly, change their Will save modifier to -4.

Nothing else really has to be done, but the adventure would become far stronger if it was part of a larger narrative, where the PCs already wanted to cross Mirkwood on some Quest For It motive of their own. This changes the hook from merely being convenient to Baldor and his son to being convenient for the PCs as well.

Another possibility: The PCs require some aid from the Elfking, and are only planning on accompanying Baldor as far as the edges of Mirkwood. Seeing Baldor and his son safely through the forest might be the price of the Elfking’s aid, or even getting an audience. The point is that by linking the PCs’ motives to Baldor’s desire to cross Mirkwood, you have a far better chance that the PCs will not simply return to Laketown and try to loot Smaug’s corpse for its jewels. In fact, you better have a good reason that the PCs not do just that, or that will be exactly what the PCs do.

You shouldn’t need special rules for intimidating the ruffians. The simplest thing to do is make a Personality check modified by circumstance (such as group size, armaments, and reputation) vs. the thug’s Will save. Likewise, you shouldn’t need special rules for Riddle or Courtesy to role-play talking to Baldor and learning some of his history.

Payment offered is two points of treasure each, and we will have to decide what that means in DCC terms. I would recommend that a point of treasure be equivalent to approximately 10 gp, but that treasure is assigned specifics rather than left as an abstract. A silver arm ring might be a point of treasure, or 10 bags of wool. The difference is more than just color – one is far easier to transport than the other!

Part Two – The Edge of the Woodland Realm

Baldor has friends in Thranduil’s court, so the first part of the journey is on board the Elven rafts up the Forest River. The company are escorted to the edge of the forest kingdom and warned not to leave the path.

This part is largely color, until the party reaches the Wood Elves’ Court. At that point, there is a meaningful encounter (in The One Ring system), as follows:

Lindar suggests that as the Elves do not know the company, they should remain here to ‘guard the supplies’. In two days, the Elves will bring the company to the edge of Thranduil’s realm. In the meantime, they can remain here in the caves; Lindar promises to send down some bread and wine.

To win Lindar’s trust, the company need three successful tests of Persuade, Courtesy or Song. If they show they are worthy guests, then they are permitted to stay in better quarters in the upper caves, and may even hear the Elves singing. The combination of soft beds and good company relieves the company of any Fatigue they have accumulated so far.

I am not sure how fatiguing it is, even in The One Ring, to sit on a raft being poled by wood elves for several days, so I am not certain that the stakes in this encounter work in either system. They certainly don’t in Dungeon Crawl Classics, so making the stakes more meaningful is required to salvage the encounter when converting it. I have already suggested giving the PCs reason to want to speak with the Elf King. Another possibility is that better accommodations results in 1 point of Luck for those who can manage it.

The “three successful tests” reminds me of skill challenges, which we looked at here. In this case, I would have the players role-play their attempts to persuade Lindar, setting a base DC of 15 (because persuading him is not easy), and determining what die to roll based on occupation with a modifier ranging from -4 to +4 based on my adjudication of the appropriateness of their attempts. Each failure decreases the chance of success, which can be modeled by raising the DC by +2 (or even +4) per failure, with three successes still being required. Knowing something about the history of Thranduil, I would raise the base DC to 20 if the party contains one or more dwarves and give a +1d bonus to any checks made by elves.

While this encounter is hardly worth spending much time on, the consequences of sneaking out of the caves – both if caught and if not – are something the judge should at least think about. The MERP version of Mirkwood has maps and information about Thranduil’s Halls that the judge may find useful if they are up to more conversion work. Otherwise, a quick sketch map, and probably some details about the dungeon cells, will have to suffice. Remember that Thorin & Co. were not found sneaking about the palace itself in The Hobbit, and this should probably come with some dire consequences.

Part Three – The Long Road

The company set off for the west, braving the perils of the dark wood.

We don’t have to worry about Hope or the Shadow, but it is certainly worthwhile to say that travel through Mirkwood is fatiguing. Instead of Fatigue tests, have the PCs make Fortitude saves while traversing the great forest. The “TN” listed in 16, and we can imagine that this is roughly equivalent to the DC. Failure indicates 1d3 Stamina damage, with total exhaustion and a need for rest occurring at Stamina 0. We don’t have to make this a quality of all travel; we can make this a quality of Mirkwood.

(As a result, we also need Stamina scores for Baldor and his son, Belgo.)

What we want to do here is establish some stakes for upcoming encounters. In DCC, characters can always recover 1 point of Stamina each day, but fatigue can compound, making it difficult for characters to face further challenges. Hunkering in place is also possible – and may even be necessary – but the caravan probably has limited supplies of food and water. Some of the encounters which might otherwise be merely color in DCC can also be described as potentially draining the party’s energy reserves.

The hazards in the game are triggered by a check, but for DCC I would just include a chance of a hazard occurring each day, with a random table to determine what hazard occurs. I would include a chance to roll twice, combining the hazards. Nine hazards are listed, so a 1d10 table would work, with the “10” indicating “roll twice”. Multiple “10”s compound.

DCC doesn’t have characters take set roles like Look-Out, Huntsman, Scout, or Guide, so who gets to roll to resolve an encounter is really up to the judge. Luck might be in play, or marching order. The chase mini-game in The Fence’s Fortuitous Folly has encounters based on where PCs are in the chase, and might offer some guidance to the judge.

Some example hazards, to give the judge ideas, follow.

Spider Webs (Guide - Dangerous Meeting)

The company enter a region of the forest where the trees are covered in spider-webs. None of these webs cross the path, but this is a very dangerous place to make camp.

The company’s Guide must make a Travel test to keep the company moving. If this test is failed, then the company fails to get clear of the spider-haunted region before night falls and they have to make camp. If they camp near the spider-webs, then the company are attacked by Attercops at night (assume two Attercops per companion).

The adventure doesn’t provide statistics for Attercops, but there are plenty of examples in DCC modules, and the DCC Annual Volume 1 provides base statistics and guidance. Because we are looking at random encounters, let’s not assume two per companion. Instead, since we are imagining these spiders are statted up so that two per PC is a reasonable challenge, let’s say 1d8+5. Or even 1d10+5. The party could be in for a difficult battle or an easy one, depending upon the dice.

Now, how do we make trying to escape the spider-infested area interesting? How about this: Everyone must make a DC 10 Fort save or take 1 Stamina damage from fatigue. A random PC then makes a Luck check; success indicates the party has left the infested area. The players may gamble as many attempts as they like, until they have either left the area or every PC has attempted a Luck check and failed. Discount PCs who have already failed when determining who gets to attempt a Luck check next.

Fat Pheasants (Huntsman - Wrong Choices)

The huntsman spots a flock of juicy fat black pheasants on a branch. He is permitted a single Hunting test to bring one down before the rest scatter. If this test succeeds, the company eat well that night. If the test fails, the pheasants vanish, and the company are tormented by the thought of what they might have had if they were luckier. This discontent increases the Target Number of their next Fatigue test by one level.

Choose a PC with a ranged weapon. A hunter, forester, or the like would be a good choice. That character spots the pheasants and gets a single attack roll against AC 12. Success means a joyful meal in which everyone can recover 1 point of Stamina damage. Failure means that the next Fort save to avoid Stamina damage is made with a -2 penalty.

Blanket of Butterflies (Look-Out - Fatigue)

A flock of huge purple butterflies flutter down from the treetops and nest on the sleeping company. These butterflies are like a velvet shroud; if left undisturbed, they smother their victims. The butterflies hum a lullaby as they land. The Look-out must make an Awareness roll to stay awake; if successful, he fends off the unnatural sleepiness and drives the butterflies away. If this roll fails, then the humming of the butterflies puts him to sleep too. The company are saved when one of the insects is inhaled by a sleeping companion, and his choking snorts wake the rest. In that time, though, all the company were partially suffocated and feel drained. Add Fatigue again, or twice if the Look-out failed the test with a roll of an Eye.

Whoever is on watch at the time makes a DC 15 Will save to avoid the unnatural slumber. Failure means that the butterflies drain 1 Stamina from each party member, plus make a DC 10 Fort save or take an additional 1d3 Stamina.

“The company are saved when one of the insects is inhaled by a sleeping companion, and his choking snorts wake the rest”? Hmmm. Everyone make a Luck check. If anyone succeeds, that is indeed what happens. Otherwise rinse and repeat until someone makes their Luck check or everyone reaches 0 Stamina and dies.

Part Four – Castle of the Spiders

As the company make camp, Baldor falls afoul of the enchanted stream that runs through Mirkwood. Temporarily deprived of his memories, he flees into the woods and is trapped by Spiders in a ruined castle.

This should be a fun encounter, although you will again need to provide your own statistics. The encounter calls for a number of tests where the judge should simply supply information. Climbing the wall is a DC 10 Climb Sheer Surfaces or Strength check. Traversing spider webs without alerting the spiders should be tricky – let’s call that a DC 15 Move Silently or Stealth check. Armor check penalties, of course, apply.

Pulling Baldor up requires a DC 10 Strength check. Cutting him free shouldn’t require any kind of check or test unless under attack, and then we can say DC 15 modified by Luck. An edged weapon is required; a dagger offers a +1d bonus. It might take more than one round to cut him free; each round of work reduces the DC of future checks by a cumulative 2 points.

A lot of attention is paid to Belgo’s amulet, but it doesn’t really do much in the adventure itself. I would be tempted to let the amulet act like Bêlit’s ghost in Queen of the Black Coast. Why not let it channel his mother’s spirit, once, to save him from certain doom? At least then you can end the adventure with some sense of closure for Baldor and Belgo.

This encounter brings another thought to mind – how do we describe the waters of Mirkwood in game terms, should some player be so foolish as to have his character drink from them?  A Fort save to prevent sleep and memory loss, followed by a Will save to avoid memory loss if the first save is failed?

Part Five – The Hermit of Mirkwood

The company find shelter with a crazed hermit. Can they convince him to aid them, or is he planning to murder them in their sleep?

Let’s give this hermit the statistics and abilities of a friar. Let’s then ignore all the various tests from the text, and allow the players to gain information from their character’s actions. Let’s role-play interaction with the hermit, and then allow a party member to make a single DC 10 check to see how the hermit reacts, with the group’s role-playing determining what size die they use – noting, of course, that the hermit can demand they leave any time the judge decides that the PCs have gone too far.

Let’s say that sleeping outside in the storm forces everyone to make a DC 15 Fort save or take 1d4 Stamina damage as well as gaining no benefits from rest. This represents their taking ill if they fail; no one gets benefits from rest regardless of the save result. Let’s say the storm hasn’t abated if the PCs are kicked out. Let’s say killing the hermit in his home costs everyone 1 Luck, as he was beloved of the Valar.

Now we have reasonable stakes.

The potential reward is the remains of an axe-head, the fabled Wolfbiter. Apart from the rewards granted if it is returned to Woodland Hall, we have no details of what the axe would be like if reforged and fitted with a proper handle. Let’s use sword magic and some judicious tinkering to find out:

Wolfbiter (+2 Lawful battleaxe): This weapon can communicate by simple urges, and has a 7 Intelligence. It has an additional +2 bonus to attack and damage wolves of all types, and its critical range against these foes is extended by +1 (so that a thief wielding the axe would score a critical hit against a wolf on a roll of 19-20). The axe is cursed so that any who takes it by force must succeed in a DC 15 Fort save whenever it strikes down a non-lupine foe, or be turned to stone permanently. This curse would certainly affect anyone involved in killing the hermit and uncovering his treasure.

Part Six – The Well in the Wood

The last danger of the woods comes from the trees themselves. Their contempt for everything that goes on two legs threatens to turn into a deadly trap.

As the party approaches the well, everyone must make a DC 16 Will save, with the party halting if more than half fail. The encounter otherwise works much as written, save that Belgo calls out “Mother! Mother!” not his mother’s name. Resisting sleeping requires a DC 15 Will save; resisting madness requires a DC 10 Will save. Only characters who failed the initial Will save need to roll to resist madness, but all characters need to roll to resist falling asleep if the PCs stop.

Here we have the chance to let Belgo’s amulet come to the fore, rescuing him from certain death and rekindling his father’s memory. Should father and son both survive, their bond is restored. Leaving this thread hanging just seems wrong to me.

Fighting the Creature: PCs in the well have a -1d penalty to both attack rolls and damage, while the Thing in the Well has a +1d bonus to both attack rolls and damage against them.

The Thing in the Well is an obvious choice for converting to DCC. Looking at the statistics provided, we can see that they are quite different from what Dungeon Crawl Classics uses, but that presents no great difficulty. In some ways, we might even consider it an opportunity as we have little fear of getting it wrong. In fact, if there is any lesson you take from this, please consider that you cannot “get it wrong”. A monster has the stats you give it, and they don’t have to play by the rules!

Init: How fast is the Thing? We don’t really know. But as it relies on illusions and sleep, it is probably not terribly fast. Let’s just say +0.

Atk: The Thing attacks with a lashing tentacle, or attacks with a strangle once it hits. We make strangulation a special ability, so that it attacks with a tentacle lash. The earlier thugs have 2 for their weapon skill, and this creature has 3, so let’s just give it a +3 bonus to hit. Damage is listed as 5, but in DCC terms 1d6 is probably appropriate.

AC: The monster has Parry 4 and 3d Armour. If we assume this indicates an AC of 14 and some form of damage reduction, we are probably not far off.

HD: Endurance 45 is probably the Thing’s hit points, so 6d12 seems appropriate to me.

MV: The creature has Movement 2, which is the same as the thugs in the beginning of the adventure. This would argue a speed of 30’, which I dislike. The creature hides in a well. It doesn’t come out to attack. Let’s give it MV 10’ or climb 10’.

Act: “Every round, the creature may attack up to three different opponents” is a compelling argument to choose 3d20.

SP: Lure, sleep, and illusions are all part of the set-up and may be considered part of the Thing’s powers. Strangulation causes 1d8 automatic damage per round (a successful Mighty Deed, Strength check, or 6+ damage in a single edged attack to escape). Three times per day the Thing may make a single tentacle lash attack that targets all foes within 30’, using all action dice to do so. Damage from non-magical weapons is reduced by 2 points per die.

SV: Fortitude should be good, Reflexes poor for a creature of its Hit Dice, and Will phenomenal. Fort +6, Ref +1, Will +9.

AL: Chaotic.

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

Put altogether, our statblock looks like this:

The Thing in the Well: Init +0; Atk tentacle lash +3 melee (1d6 plus strangulation); AC 14; HD 6d12; hp 45; MV 10’ or climb 10’; Act 3d20; SP Lure (Will DC 16 negates), sleep (Will DC 15 negates), illusions and madness (Will DC 10 negates), strangulation (1d8 automatic damage per round, successful Mighty Deed, Strength check, or 6+ damage in a single edged attack to escape), hateful lash (3/day, uses all action dice to make a single tentacle lash attack that targets all foes within 30’), 2 point damage reduction per die from non-magical weapons; SV Fort +6, Ref +1, Will +9; AL C; Crit M/1d12.

This may not be a perfect rendition, but it gets the job done.

Epilogue - The Forest Gate

Where the company exits Mirkwood, and possibly reaps the benefits of their deeds.

This section falls a bit flat. Instead, Baldor and Belgo urge the party to continue on with them to Woodland Hall, but will pay the PCs if they must. Perhaps at this point the PCs must make another dangerous trek through Mirkwood to visit the court of the Elf King now that they have seen the merchants safely through the forest. Perhaps they have something else to do. Perhaps Baldor, Belgo, or both died. Perhaps they continue on to Woodland Hall.

Watching father and son drift apart through madness and shadow, and then be drawn back together, at least draws events to a conclusion which is a bit more satisfying than merely reaching the end of the forest.


In an earlier blog post, I described the three types of adventures as persistent locations, opportunities, and player-initiated quests.  This adventure is an opportunity which may, or may not, intersect with one or more player-initiated quests. It contains persistent locations, but there is insufficient development to make them persistent in the campaign milieu without additional work by the judge. While adequate as a single session of travel between meatier adventures, the judge would get more out of this by making Baldor and Belgo recurrent characters, and by doing more with Wolfbiter.

Next: The One Ring: Tales From Wilderland (2): Of Leaves & Stewed Hobbit

Tuesday 26 September 2023

Coming Soon: Prisoners of the Secret Overlords

I was recently given the opportunity to take a gander at Prisoners of the Secret Overlords, a 1st to 2nd level adventure by David Matalon, soon to be come to Kickstarter by Dragon Peak Publishing. It is intended as the first installment of Against the Secret Overlords, which has a nice nostalgic echo of the A Series of modules published by TSR for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

The adventure is also clearly inspired by Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, and characters will find a good mix of encounter types with a strong helping of the otherworldly mixed into them. Fans of comic books and Appendix N fiction will find other references which are not overly subtle. I suspect that the adventure will be very fun to play through, although I have not done so yet. There is no clear need to have later modules in the series; this should stand well enough on its own.

I am very aware that I am looking at a pre-launch version of this adventure, with placeholders for some artwork, less-than-finalized maps, etc. Still, I am impressed with the artwork already in place. General layout, artwork, and font choices are reminiscent of Goodman Games modules, which is always a plus in my book.

On the other hand, this adventure requires more work than average for the judge to run. There is a lot of background information, which is a blessing, but which increases prep time. The module would be improved by another editing pass. Because of its complexity, a short recap of elements at the start would be appreciated before diving into the longer background information. This would include word/page count, of course, and the pdf I am looking at is already 56 pages long (including covers). For those unfamiliar with publishing, page counts are always in units of 4, comprised of two front-and-back pages from a folded sheet, so adding a recap isn’t always an easy decision.

Although the module is intended as the first in a series of linked adventures, there is no reason why it cannot be run on its own, without using the later adventures. The adventure also could be easily modified by the judge to shift from one campaign milieu to another. There is more than adequate opportunity to use Prisoners of the Secret Overlords to shift from the Shudder Mountains to DCC Dying Earth or whatever else you want to do. Again, this requires some adjustment, and the basic adventure doesn’t force these kinds of changes on you. I would argue that the adventure would work fairly well in Mutant Crawl Classics with only minor changes to the adventure start, and would be a good way to transplant MCC seekers to a DCC world.

This is a big adventure with strong science-fantasy aspects. PCs get to use strange alien weapons and meet NPCs who've been kidnapped from multiple worlds. For most groups, running the adventure will probably take at least 4 sessions, and there is plenty of material for a creative judge to use in an ongoing campaign. 

I would definitely run this adventure, and I have no doubt that I will get it.

The Kickstarter launches October 3rd. If you are interested, youcan check it out here.

Absolutely check out the work of artist Kiril Tchangov here.

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 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 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: The One Ring: Tales From Wilderland (1): Don't Leave the Path

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!