So, it’s time to move on to new adventures, as the party have finally escaped from Zanzer’s Dungeon after nearly a year of on-off gaming. But what should be next?
Whilst we could stay with the current party that has escaped from Zanzer’s Dungeon, perhaps to pursue Zanzer Tem and/or explore the mysteries of Stonefast, there has been some player dissatisfaction with certain aspects of the basic Dungeons and Dragons game, in particular, the way that combat is organised.
More Basic Dungeons and Dragons?
Both of my players, Ouro the veteran and Sian the newbie, seem to be unable to grasp the more wargame-based routes of combat occurring in phases, and seem to favour the later innovation of individual initiatives where characters can perform all their actions in their own round. This is more boardgame-based, and helps reinforce the idea of the party as individual characters, rather than a loose squad of clones.
Whilst I do want to return to basic D&D, it might be better to look towards shifting the homebrew system towards something more current, as we have already decided to move towards a more d20 based system, as used in Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition.
3rd Edition and the D20 System
We could go on to the D&D Adventure Games released for Dungeons and Dragons 3.0, which is an excellent resource for teaching new players the basics of D&D. However, the focus of this product demonstrates the more gamy aspects of D&D, leaving a lot to be desired in the background provided for the adventures.
In fact, the background of D&D 3.x was relatively bland, as it was assumed that the default set up would be the somewhat defunct setting of Greyhawk, although there was little of no support provided beyond a basic gazetteer refreshing what was primarily a 1st and 2nd edition setting for Dungeons and Dragons.
What About 4th and 5th Edition?
With this in mind, let’s look at some other possibilities. Immediately, 4th Edition was ruled out – the system was a little bit TOO different for the campaign, and wasn’t a very good product in my opinion. In fact, I had switched off for 4th edition, and missed it entirely, so I had a lack of confidence in my ability to run it compared to other systems. I know my feelings were shared by Ouro, the veteran player, so it’s unlikely that anything specifically 4th edition orientated would be appreciated.
The Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Starter Set, which contained the adventure Lost Mine of Phandelver, was pretty good, but had one drawback. It was ostensibly set in the Forgotten Realms, which was now considered the default setting for Dungeons and Dragons. Using this would probably tie us into using the Forgotten Realms setting, and as good as that setting was, the baggage had the potential to derail the campaign, as many players already knew a lot about the setting.
Settling on 2nd Edition
Looking back at 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, TWO different starter sets were created. One was known as First Quest, which was a perfectly functional starter set, but was used to launch a revision of the Known Word of D&D, under the name Mystara. These were accompanied by audio CDs, and would have the possibility of tying us into Mystara and the Known World.
The second starter set looked like the best option. As part of Dungeons and Dragons’ silver anniversary in 1999, Wizards of the Coast, who had acquired TSR, released a number of products. Among these were the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Game and a number of Fast Play products. These were a series of quick adventures that enabled people to get into Dungeons and Dragons quickly, much like the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Game for 3rd edition would.
Haven and The Vale
But it had one advantage – these products included a small, self-contained campaign setting featuring the town of Haven and a setting known as The Vale. It’s simple enough to provide a foundation, without tying us to any specific setting.
This was perfect, as the fast play system focused only on light mechanics, so were relatively easy to convert, and the bare bones setting had enough detail to create a basic campaign without overwhelming the players.
Regular readers might recall that I had already settled on using The Vale when deciding basic details about our first adventure. One of the advantages of Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon was that it was an extensive tutorial of basic D&D, but wasn’t explicitly placed in any particular setting. As such, it was relatively easy to situate both Zanzer’s Dungeon and Stonefast within The Vale. After all, the PCs were kidnapped, so didn’t need to know things about Haven to begin their adventure to escape.
The were two key Fast Play products, Wrath of the Minotaur and Eye of the Wyvern, which provided two different adventures with The Vale. Wrath of the Minotaur was a dungeon-based adventure, whilst Eye of the Wyvern presented a wilderness-based adventure. Both also included a very basic beginning adventure, the Ruined Tower.
The Dungeons and Dragon Adventure Game wasn’t a fast-play product, but was released as part of the Silver Anniversary and set in and around Haven. It featured many of the same characters in the Fast Play game. it contained three adventures, which were ideal to combine with the Fast Play games, and it was fairly easy to combine the two provided maps of The Vale into a bigger campaign.
Crypt of the Smoke Dragon?
There was one other Fast Play game released though – Crypt of the Smoke Dragon. Like the introductory adventure, the Ruined Tower, it was a small adventure designed to teach the game. Unlike the other products, it wasn’t set in The Vale. In fact, it wasn’t set anywhere specifically, and thus was easy to also transplant into the region.
The strangest feature of the Crypt of the Smoke Dragon was that unlike the other Fast Play materials for the setting, it didn’t feature the same characters. The idea of iconics – iconic characters that would represent various class and race combinations within the game – wouldn’t be fully fleshed until 3rd edition in 2000, so it wasn’t unusual for various sets to present new iconic characters and new settings for their beginning products.
With this in mind, the next adventure was set – The Crypt of the Smoke Dragon. I could introduce a simpler party with only four characters, all of which were pregenerated. This adventure, and this party, could be used as a sort of cut away from the aftermath of the Escape from Zanzers Dungeon, as those PCs recovered without needing copious amounts of healing positions and healing magic.
It would also serve to shift the game towards individual initiative, provide the PCs with a break that jumps straight into the adventure, and serve to show that there’s more to The Vale than they see. Perhaps with less need to create characters, my players might find the game easier to get to grips with.
Hopefully, the shortness of this adventure should mean that it doesn’t take so long to complete, and then we can move on to exploring more of The Vale. As a GM, I am looking more towards creating a story about the environment than any specific party, at least until the players have had some experience with what types of characters they want to play.
What about the Escapees of Zanzer’s Dungeon?
But what of the survivors of Zanzer’s Dungeon, and the lingering mystery of Stonefast? Well, I would like to have those in my back pocket, to serve as a hook that rewards the players, as well as the characters. In this way, the Patrician, the party’s patron, can reveal information about Stonefast and eventually provide the key they need to start the adventure into what might otherwise be just another dungeon.
Plus, it also means that I don’t have to worry about stocking the dungeon until much further in the campaign, when I can incorporate a lot of interesting links to the lore behind Haven and The Vale…
Until then, it’s time to look back at the finalised map of the The Vale which will serve as the home base for the players characters for the next little while!