I've settled on the Phlan Option for my great experiment which meant I had some reading to do:
- I've re-read the PHB (focusing on Heroic tier powers and feats and magic items), the DMG, and the MM.
- I picked up the PHB2 from Amazon since it completes the required D&D races and classes in my mind (gnomes and half-orcs, druids and barbarians, plus Goliaths make a nice stand-in for Half-Ogres). Read it, liked the added options
- I already had Adventurer's Vault from last year when I skirmished with 4th edition again. Read it, looked over Heroic tier magic and it all looks pretty good.
- Re-read Ruins of Adventure and made some notes on what lives where and what levels should be good for each section of the city
- Made up some initial campaign notes as far as the goal of the campaign (get to 11th level) and what books will be allowed
- Picked up the 4th edition Forgotten Realms Player's Guide & Campaign Guide and Martial Power in a very nicely priced ebay auction. Those should arrive soon and I will have more reading to do there.
- Started listening to Radio Free Hommlett, a 4th edition podcast, from Episode 1 onward. It's pretty good and gives a nice view of things as the game has developed with each new supplement.
With all of that accomplished I wrote up the encounters for the Slums and Kuto's Well. I am strictly following the guidelines in the DMG and I am using monsters from the MM, no homebrews yet, and it's a pretty straightforward process. D&D4 assumes 10 encounters = 1 level for a 5-man party and sets out an XP budget for each encounter based on the party level, saying "this much XP value of monsters makes a good fight at this level". You can add in some higher level beasties to make it tough (up to 5 levels higher is said to still be beatable without an easy TPK) and you can throw in some lower levels to make it easier (well, once they get past level 1 anyway). I am going to try trusting that these guys tested all this thoroughly and see if it works.
One option in the DMG is to give XP awards for completing "quests". A major quest (something given to the whole party) gives XP equal to 1 encounter while a minor quest (typically something given to a single character) gives XP equal to 1 same-level monster. I like this idea, especially for this adventure, so I am using it. The major quests will be clearing out each section of the city - this lets me leave it at 9 encounters per town section and cuts down on the grind. These will be assigned to the party by the town council - those of you who played Pool of Radiance will be familiar with this. Minor quests will be assigned by individuals and organizations within the civillized section, but not by the council itself, to individual characters. As an example, here are the quests for the Slums:
Major: Clear the Kobolds and any other hostile groups out of the slums. Bring the head of their leader before the council to show this. (This will come from the Council)
Minor: Retrieve the holy gear from the altar of the ruined temple of God x - this may end up being Mystra, I'm waiting until I get the Realms books to see which gods survived to really nail this down. This will come from a temple tied to one of the players and the ruined temple in question will be one encounter area (might expand to two) featuring undead. This will also allow a new-in-town character to show his loyalty to the temple.
Minor: Burn down Nat Wyler's Bell tavern. This will come from the Thieves' Guild to a rogue or some other shady character. Nat Wyler is doing some gambling, running a brothel, and fencing loot from his seedy tavern in the slums and he's doing it without the guild's approval. He's been warned with no result and now he's going to pay. Burn it down and become a respected member of the guild.
Note: There's no reason this couldn't be added to other additions of the game, even if 4th is not your cup of tea. Make majors equal to 10% of a level's worth of XP and minor's equal to say 2 % and it should work just fine. I'm going to use these a lot in this campaign, with 1 major and 1-3 minors per section. One of the complaints about 4th has been the grind of bashing combat encounter after combat encounter and this will alleviate that somewhat. I'm even thinking of expanding it a little more and putting 5 minor quests in each section, to shave off another encounter if all of them are completed (a standard encounter in 4th = 5 monsters of the same level, so 5 minor quests = 1 encounter's worth of XP) but I am afraid it may not be reasonable to have that much going on in 1 section. I do think it can be done spread over 2 sections though.
I have also rethought the campaign length a little bit. Originally I was thinking of getting the party to end up at level 11, entering Paragon Tier. Looking over the adventure though I have more areas than I need for that - 20 to be exact. Even if I make some of them half-level sites or single encounters, that's a lot of room to work with. Plus I want to sandbox it and not force them to go in a set order of things. Many of the outside of town areas - the lizardmen, the hobgoblins, the thri-kreen, etc will be cut down to single encounters. Besides this though, the Castle itself, the final part of the adventure, was pretty tough and to make Tyranthraxus appropriately nasty he needs to be fairly tough, probably in the level 15 solo range like an adult red dragon. So what may happen is to let reclaiming the rest of the city and the surrounding countryside be the initial goal and let the party get to level 11 doing that. Then, their first Paragon - level task is assault the castle and slay the leader behind all of this. I could see a level getting through most of the castle then a level clearing out the boss and his bodyguards, so maybe ending at 13th.
As for after this? This whole thing could take quite a while and I don't want to get ahead of myself, but I may take a look at Revenge of the Giants, a 4th ed adventure that's set up for levels 12-17, so it would tie in nicely with my plans so far.