Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Renewed Interest in the Realms and a look at the Haunted Halls

The big maps
Lately I have picked up a serious thing for the Forgotten Realms. I don't know what started it but I have been going back through my older material, stuff I haven't read in years, and reading or skimming quite a bit of it. I think it has something to do with the maps. There are a lot of nice big maps for the Realms and I've decided to decorate the gameroom walls with some of them.

My fever has mainly been concerned with the heart of the 1st & 2nd Edition material.

A lot of stuff on the Sword Coast, Cormyr, the wilderness in between, and the Moonsea.

Even then I can't ignore Waterdeep and Neverwinter, two other core areas

Some of it may have been spurred by some party nervousness over recent events in the Impiltur campaign that had them asking "if we all die what's the plan to restart" - well, I clearly needed to put some thought into it if they were concerned enough to ask. The answer right now is "there are many options". We could do the city/dungeon campaign in Waterdeep, the ruined city & surrounding area campaign in Neverwinter, we could return to Phlan and the Moonsea, we could go early 4E and use the Gray Vale as our starting point, and I am also looking at Eveningstar where some of the original Realms campaigning began. There are tons of choices, all of which I like.

I've also realized and accepted that probably all of my 4E campaigning is going to take place in the Realms and I am OK with that. I didn't run much in it before 4th edition, though I played in it a ton, so maybe it was time. I like having the players feel that connection to other Realms players, and there is quite a bit of supporting material out there on the web too.

So I still don't know exactly what bit me but I'm going to ride it for a while and see where it leads. This kind of mania usually works out well for me by the time it has run its course. This week I have been reading the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar.

This was a 2E product and for those unfamiliar with it think "Village of Hommlet" for the Forgotten Realms. It describes a nice little village in northern Cormyr, including a map of the village, maps of a temple and inn, and several NPC's. There is also the requisite local dungeon, the Haunted Halls.

The village is well done with lots of local flavor, some politics, law, and economics - this is stuff you don't see much in modern RPG adventures. I liked this part and would call it comparable to Hommlet though it does not detail every house and villager in the village.

The biggest section of the book describes the Haunted Halls, the main exploration destination for adventuring. Several other danger zones are mentioned with a paragraph or so of ideas but only the Halls are described in detail. Recommended level is 1-5.

The dungeon itself has a lot of flavor and some very vivid imagery, but is mostly traps, green slime, and solitary low level monsters (one stirge? one skeleton?) interspersed with the occasional overpowered creature like a 7HD mimic and a 6HD Mummy - it's a really weird mix of monsters and I think most low-level adventuring parties at the time would be annoyed at the lack of monsters to fight and then possibly killed by the tougher stuff.

An additional concern is that only one level is detailed here - there are supposed to be an additional upper and several lower levels (it's built into the side of a cliff) and there are brief descriptions of what might be there but it's pretty much a "figure the rest out yourself" approach. The size of the single dungeon is comparable to the Moathouse from T1 as far as number of rooms and while there is a lot of interesting stuff in the place it feels rather empty in comparison. If the Moathouse is a secret forward base for an evil power, the Halls are pretty much an abandoned ruin. You can learn some things about what has gone on here but I don't see any epic tales coming out of it as written.

Given the potential I see here, its status as the origin point for the original Knights of Myth Drannor in Ed Greenwood's campaign, and the way I felt after reading it, I have to say this was a disappointment. I think the village is fine, but the dungeon is really just a starter kit with no payoff.

So how would I fix it?

Well the other areas mentioned should be developed:

  • The Caverns of the Claws is supposed to be a "notorious troll-hold" - that sounds like fun for a party at the higher end of the level range
  • The Crypt of Shadows is exactly what it sounds like - lots of undead
  • Ironguard is some wizard's lair from an old issue of Dungeon. Look that up, instant adventure site!
  • The Warriors' Crypt is supposed to be a battle grave full of undead warriors possibly held by a demon
  • Beyond these you could also drop in some other things in the region. Given the number of ruined wizard towers in the area DCC #3 the Mysterious Tower would fit right in.
Flesh those out and we have a decent little sandbox area for a new party to explore for quite a while. Of course we need to detail out the rest of the main dungeon to make it interesting for more than one expedition. There's probably more information out there in other FR products that could yield ideas but I haven't researched that far yet. I do have some ideas though:
  • If we wanted to make the lower levels as extensive as they probably should be to support the amount of adventuring they are supposed to have seen, then I would consider using the maps from Undermountain - they're ready to go, just needing a population to make them interesting. the players will never know the difference.
  • Temple of Elemental Evil - use the included Halls level, add a staircase down leading to the ruined chapel level and the subsequent levels for the rest, or replace the ruined keep on top of the cliff with the Temple and mix in some alternate history for the region
  • Replace the described (sparsely described) keep with the haunted keep from Moldvay Basic. There was an expansion of it over on Dragonsfoot that would work quite well.
  • Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth - pretty much as-is
  • Have the side passage that leads to the Owlbear lead to the entrance to S3 - fun fun fun!
I think it's certainly salvageable as a beginning area with some extra effort by the DM. It would also place the campaign firmly in Cormyr which is one of the more well-described areas of the Realms - if that's a plus in your eyes. You could sprinkle in some politics if the party gets interested, add some interference from the Zhentarim, or you could just leave it as a pure sandbox, expanding into the Stonelands area to the north. If I ever kick off another Realms campaign (maybe Next?) this will be one of the areas under consideration, regardless of edition or style.

1 comment:

Scrivener of Doom said...

One of the other things you can also do from Eveningstar is start a Kingmaker-like campaign focussed on the Stonelands. There is a long-standing hook in FR lore of the "Baron of the Stonelands" - repeated in the most recent 4E DDi article about Cormyr - whereby the Crown guarantees a baronial title to anyone able to build a keep and pacify an area in the Stonelands for one year (IIRC).

Anyway, if you do decide to run a Cormyr campaign, make sure you have a look at Mike Schley's map for 4e. It notes quite a few locations that can inspire other adventure ideas.

As for the Haunted Halls adventure, Ed Greenwood has commented numerous times that it is a really cut down version of the adventure that he submitted for publication.