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!

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