Maps Can Be Art Too!

I am actually writing this article more ahead of time than I normally do. Typically, I write one supplementary planning article and one session recap a week, but as I mentioned previously, the lack of planning needed in many modern multi-session adventures might impact this schedule.

In this case, I actually decided to skip ahead a week and share something that I have been working on. Online Tabletop Roleplaying often requires a lot of map making in advance, as it’s a lot harder to sketch a quick map mid-game when the players decide to do something random (or for that random encounter in the wilderness some adventures like to use). As such, practice drawing maps can often be worthwhile, as it allows you to learn new techniques and experiment with new ideas.

As such, I have spent some time over the past few weeks drawing maps. More specifically, recreating the maps from modules B1 – In Search of the Unknown and B2 – The Keep on the Borderlands.

Both of these modules are classic adventures from basic Dungeons and Dragons, which although initially generic, were later adapted for the D&D Known World in an adventure compilation B1-9 – In Search of Adventure.

Both modules have the priviledge of having been bundled with various editions of Basic D&D – B1 with the BX edition of the Basic D&D Rulebook released in 1981, and B2 with the BECMI edition of the Basic D&D Rulebook released in 1983. These two rulebooks would serve as the foundation of the rulebook released with the New Easy to Master (Black Box) Edition of Revised D&D, released in 1991. The only difference between Basic D&D and Revised D&D would be that Basic D&D covered levels 1 to 3, and Revised D&D covered the levels 1 to 5.

Because of this unique fact, B1 and B2 are probably among the best known modules in D&D history for anyone who has been playing for more than 25 years. B2 was so popular, in fact, that it would seeĀ  a revised version for D&D’s silver anniversary in 1999 with Return to Keep on the Borderlands.

If you don’t know, I am a fan of Inkwell Ideas’ Hexographer and Dungeongrapher software, which are ideal for creating simple maps. It has a great feature to allow you import a map for tracing, and when you are done, you have the option to export the results in PNG format, which makes them suitable for most online tabletops, such as Roll20.

But enough from me, I want to share these maps with you. They aren’t magnificent works of art, but they do have a certain charm, and are ultimately practical rather than artistic.

First, the Caves of Quasqueton – Level 1, from B1 – In Search of the Unknown:

Next, the Caves of Quasqueton – Level 2, also from B1 – In Search of the Unknown:

For comparison, here’s the original map in module B1 that I used to trace for the second level map, as those caverns were an absolute pain to map:

That’s B1 – Search For the Unknown covered, let’s move on to the maps for B2 – Keep on the Borderlands. Firstly, the Keep itself:

Next, the area map for Keep on the Borderlands, followed by the map I used to trace the wilderness:


Finally, we have two maps of the Caves of Chaos. The first is the overground map of the area. Here, I used the letter O to mark cave entrances on the map, although these can be hidden if used in a game:

Next, we have the map of the underground. Here, the yellow lines represent the cave entrances:

And to put the last two maps into context, here’s the original map that I used to trace the Caves of Chaos. In the module, both the overground and underground maps of the Caves of Chaos were combined into a single map:

So there you have it, my version of the maps, and the original version for those maps that I decided to trace for some reason. Those maps I didn’t trace directly, I created by measuring the distances on the original map from the reference material.

More Toys For The Boys

I didn’t really do much that was noteworthy in terms of planning last session, because sometimes, the party just go slower than expected, or the adventure is designed to take place over multiple sessions. It’s quite interesting to see the difference between a one-shot “five-room” dungeon adventure, and a normal multi-session adventure in terms of scale of planning. God forbid that I create a mega-dungeon for my players!

That said, having covered the party’s preparations to explore the Tomb of Alaxus in the previous session, I did spend some time updating the Weapons and Armour tables with prices, so that my players could consider upgrading their equipment between adventures. After all, they might decide that the need something a bit more beefy for their encounters in due course.

Both the Weapons and Armour lists hadn’t been updated since the tutorial part of Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon saw the party of escapees find their first equipment after defeating Jerj. This was just after the players chose the classes of each character, which was needed to define their starting proficiencies, and therefore what weapons and armour they could actually use. This would see Fighters end up as absolute tanks, whilst demonstrating just how weak early Mages were.

It was nice to be able to add some new toys to the mix, although I believe that apart from a few more daggers for Thaddeus, the party were more interested in exploring their new recruits with further adventures. Seeing as I hadn’t done much else this week, I figured that I would show off the updated Armour and Weapons lists, as well as the new Equipment list. Don’t worry so much about the prices, D&D economy evolved over time…

Armour

The full updated Armour list is shown below:

Armour Price Proficiency AC Bonus
Padded Armour 4 gp Light Armour +1
Leather Armour 5 gp Light Armour +2
Ring Mail 100 gp Light Armour +3
Scale Mail 120 gp Medium Armour +4
Chain Mail 75 gp Medium Armour +5
Banded Mail 200 gp Heavy Armour +6
Splint Mail 80 gp Heavy Armour +6
Plate Mail 600 gp Heavy Armour +8
Shield 10 gp Shield +1

The entries that have been shown in italics are the new entries from Wrath of the Minotaur. The adventure added a range of new Armour from AD&D 2nd Edition, some of which didn’t neccessarily make it into 3.x or later editions, but I felt like including it.

Padded Armour is form of armour made from layers of padded clothing, slightly thicker than normal wear. It’s a simple and cheap armour, but has equally poor AC bonus to go with it.

I always thought that Ring Mail was a type of Chain Mail, that was made from rings of metal joined together in a much looser weave than Chain Mail. Turns out, I was wrong. Ring Mail is actually a form of Leather Armour that has rings of metal embedded into it. This makes it a variant form of Studded Leather Armour, so I used the AC for Studded Leather to represent Ring Mail.

Scale Mail is similar to Chainmail, except that rather than chain links woven together for protection, small steel plates are linked together, forming protection like the scales of a fish.

Splint Mail and Banded Mail are both forms of Chain Mail with sheets of plate metal on top, giving it better protection. However, with Banded Mail, the sheets go horizonally around the wearer in bands, whilst in Splint Mail, they go in vertical strips down over the body of the wearer from the shoulders. Unlike Plate Mail, these metal strips do not overlap in any way, so don’t provide the same degree of protection.

There are some anomalies here that I am working on. For example, with Leather Armour only costing 1 gp more than Padded Armour, why would anybody choose, let alone pay for, Padded Armour. Why is Scale Mail less protective than Chain Mail, yet of greater cost. And why would anyone choose Banded Mail over Splint Mail if they both give the same protection? I think a lot of these issues will be answered at a later time when more aspects of the game come into play.

Weapons

The full updated Weapons list is shown below:

Weapon Price Type Proficiency Damage
Knife 5 sp Melee Simple 1d4 Slashing
Dagger 2 gp Melee/Thrown Simple 1d4 Piercing
Club Melee Simple 1d4 Bludgeoning
Mace 8 gp Melee Simple 1d6 Bludgeoning
Quarterstaff Melee Simple 1d6 Bludgeoning
Spear 1 gp Melee Simple 1d6 Piercing
Morningstar 10 gp Melee Simple 1d8 Bludgeoning
Shortsword 10 gp Melee Martial 1d6 Piercing
Handaxe 1 gp Melee/Thrown Martial 1d6 Slashing
Flail 15 gp Melee Martial 1d8 Bludgeoning
Warhammer 2 gp Melee Martial 1d8 Bludgeoning
Battleaxe 5 gp Melee Martial 1d8 Slashing
Broadsword 10 gp Melee Martial 1d8 Slashing
Longsword 15 gp Melee Martial 1d8 Slashing
Halberd 10 gp Melee Martial 1d10 Slashing
Greataxe 20 gp Melee Martial 1d12 Slashing
Greatsword 50 gp Melee Martial 2d6 Slashing
Sling Ranged Simple 1d4 Bludgeoning
Light Crossbow 35 gp Ranged Simple 1d6 Piercing
Shortbow 30 gp Ranged Martial 1d6 Piercing
Longbow 75 gp Ranged Martial 1d8 Piercing

As above, the entries in italics are new entries that have been added or amended from Wrath of the Minotaur. These entries help round out some of the missing gaps from the weapons list, including several from AD&D 2nd Edition which didn’t make it into later editions.

The Knife is a cheap, single-bladed dagger. More of a tool than a weapon, it’s a cheap option for melee. It’s single blade means that it’s not balanced for throwing, and causes slashing, rather than piercing, damage.

The Quarterstaff was available in D&D, but never featured in the adventure Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon, and therefore was omitted from the original list. It’s essentially a long, two-handed stick, which is an improvement over the single-handed Club.

The Morningstar is basically a Mace with a heftier, and spikier, head. It’s still essentially a bashing weapon, but causes greater damage than the Mace.

The Flail is essentially a Mace that has a length of sturdy chain between the head and the haft of the weapon. This allows for greater damage when used, but requires more training than a Mace or a Morningstar does.

In D&D, the Battleaxe is a two-handed axe, that does more damage than the Handaxe. In AD&D 2nd Edition and later editions, the Battleaxe becomes a sturdier one-handed axe that cannot be thrown in combat, unlike the Handaxe. The two-handed axe weapon becomes the Greataxe. This gives those who prefer axes a viable, more powerful, weapon choice that sits between the Handaxe and Greataxe.

The Broadsword is a sword with a wider blade. The removal of the Broadsword in D&D 3.x has been somewhat contentious, as the Broadsword is an iconic weapon in fantasy games. Longswords were often seen as weapons for more agile fighters, with slightly greater reach and parrying ability. From 3.x, the Broadsword was classed as a Longsword, with no differences between the two. As such, I included it again simply because I am a fan of the humble broadsword in my games…

Equipment

Finally, here’s the new Equipment list to examine:

Item Price
Backpack 2 gp
Belt Pouch 1 gp
Blanket 3 sp
Bucket 5 sp
Chain, Light (per foot) 3 gp
Chest, Small 2 gp
Chest, Large 1 gp
Candle 1 cp
Chalk 1 cp
Firewood (per fire) 1 cp
Flint and Steel 5 sp
Glass Bottle 10 gp
Holy Symbol 25 gp
Holy Water (per vial) 25 gp
Ladder (10′) 5 cp
Lantern 12 gp
Map Case 8 cp
Mirror 10 gp
Mule 8 gp
Oil (per flask) 6 cp
Paper (per sheet) 2 gp
Parchment (per sheet) 1 gp
Piton 3 cp
Rations (per week) 3 gp
Rope (per 50 feet) 1 gp
Sack, Large 2 sp
Sack, Small 5 cp
Thieves’ Tools 30 gp
Shovel 5 sp
Wine Skin (per Skin) 2 sp

Not exactly mind-blowing, but this has been the mainstay of adventuring equipment since the first days of D&D. Although the 10-foot Pole got dropped to the wayside in favour of the 10-foot Ladder. Still, if you really need a 10-foot Pole or two, you can always break the Ladder in half. Of course, do it wrong and you will end up with two 5-foot Ladders…

Gaining Experience

There has been some grumbling within my group over the use of several starter sets to create the campaign that we are playing set in the Vale. Mostly this is about the characters – they don’t seem to gain experience and grow, and it doesn’t seem as if their actions have any meaning to the campaign setting.

I can see where my players are coming from, the game has been going on for about a year, and in that time they have played three different sets of 1st level characters, often with the same composition of Fighter, Rogue, Cleric, Mage.

Admittedly, some of this has been because of interruptions in our gaming schedule – including a three month hiatus when Sian and I were unable due to having foreign house guests with us. But even so, I can see why they might be getting a little confused.

The point is that I wanted to combine several starter sets together, because of various reasons. I wanted to use Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon because of the tutorial nature of it’s adventure – ordinary villagers escaping from a wizard’s dungeon. I wanted to use Have and the Vale because it is a simple yet well designed tutorial setting. Finally, I wanted to use the 3rd edition D&D adventure game because I still consider 3.x to be the simplest system, but capable of easy customisation. Not only does this mean three different starter sets, but also meant gaming across three different editions, and that can be quite the challenge for players and GMs in it’s own right.

The problem with starter sets is that they focus on simple, low level play, as they are a teaser often to encourage groups to purchase the full rules and supplements. They typically feature the same four basic classes, as these all provide the basic functions which are deemed neccessary for a decent party for the relevent editions.

A significant issue is that the low-level focus means a low-level limit. The Basic D&D game set provided information for levels 1 to 3. The Easy to Master Revised D&D set provided information for levels 1 to 5. Some starter sets also decide that the pregenerated characters should be higher level, often 2 or 3, as this makes them less fragile and more heroic for newer plays. All of this equates to a small window of growth, within which to squeeze everything.

This doesn’t make it impossible though, especially when you add the fact that many sets often include extra characters. This can make it more confusing than just playing a single party, but it does allow for more adventures, and a better campaign storyline that focuses more on what happens during the adventures, than what happens with the PCs.

This doesn’t mean that the PCs won’t advance. They will, and it’s no secret that I am a big fan of the milestone system, if only because it saves the maths involved in trying to keep track of experience. This puts me in more control of how and when the characters advance.

Now, I know that my players would prefer to have just one (or two) characters that they can level up, because they can get more into the role, but that’s just one way of telling the story.

I do have a plan on how I want the story to progress, and the adventures are simple enough that there’s not a lot of branching to deal with. I will give the players some control – mainly, which PCs to use for which adventures, but with some requirements, because I know that without them, they will want to stick with the same PCs, without even taking into consideration the level window of the campaign.

As an added bonus, there’s plenty of PCs to use as a back up should things go wrong. It can be annoying to lose a favoured character, but with a back up, it’s not so vital that they have to be revived, and even then, restoring a character can become an adventure in it’s own right.

Ultimately, this may not be the type of game that my players are used to in Dungeons and Dragons, telling the type of stories that revolve around a single set of characters. Rather, it’s an ensemble cast telling the story of an area and it’s past. In addition, the game is telling a story of D&D through time, and how it has evolved.

But mostly, it’s me pulling the strings and tying everything together in a way that I hope my players will ultimately enjoy, that isn’t just about characters gaining levels and getting stronger…

Yet Another Starter Set?

When I started this campaign, I did a series of articles explaining my planning and development of the homebrew system I was going to use, as we worked our way through the Dungeons and Dragons Easy to Master Boxed Set, it’s tutorial, and it’s adventure Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon. I posted these shortly after the sessions were played, because that way I could use them both as a campaign record, and share my thinking with any other aspiring GMs out there.

The so-called “Black Box” set of Revised Dungeons and Dragons was unusual in a way, because it showed the GM how to play, and then allowed the GM to explain how to play to their players. In a way, this boxed set was more of a course, featuring a long tutorial adventure as well as the basic rules of the game to get players up to 5th level.

Players were then encouraged to pick up the Rules Cyclopedia if they wanted to continue to advance, or to pick up a number of products in the Revised Basic D&D range to keep playing in the low level range of 1st to 5th level. When players were ready, they could always head on into Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition, with it’s three core rulebooks and mountains of content from TSR.

Looking at what was provided, it’s clear that the “Black Box” was packaged and marketed more as a complete game and learning system, feeding off the fan-base that enjoyed other fantasy board games, such as HeroQuest from Games Workshop. In fact, I believe I received my copy for my birthday shortly after getting the Advanced HeroQuest board game.

Moving on, it’s clear that how teaching players D&D had changed over time. No longer were there long adventures in boxed sets, but smaller, taster adventures that could be printed as an article in the likes of Dragon magazine or run as a quick demo in the store. Here, pre-gens and speed were focused, in a neat package that was relatively cheap to distribute, aimed at encouraging players who enjoyed the adventures to go further, by purchasing either a dedicated introductory box set, or the core rulebooks.

Although the introductory box sets were similar to the “Black Box” set, the majority of them had a few adventures provided, rather than a single tutorial system, and contained very few rules with which you could continue playing from the box sets alone.

What’s interesting is that, around 1999, the silver anniversary of D&D, the tutorial articles were branded as a Fast Play system, and even spawned a small series of products in their own right. There were two of these products, which introduced Haven and the Vale, as well as providing two more, longer, adventures for those players that enjoyed the Fast Play system. The setting of Haven and the Vale would be revisited for the D&D Adventure Game boxed set later on, but would not feature the Fast Play system, and contain three further adventures.

The problem with planning is that because these are all pre-prepared short adventures, none of which have the kind of length that Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon provided, so there’s not all that much to actually plan for, other than how to best sequence the adventures.

Some players might question why I am using so many pre-planned adventures, rather than creating my own, especially when it involves creating new parties and pre-gens alongside them. Well, the “Black Box” was an ideal tutorial scenario, which made it great for play by an absolute newbie like my partner, Sian. It had a simple progression which meant that decisions regarding character generation and equipment, as well as learning the basics of the game, could be drip-fed in a logical manner that was easy to digest.

However, the “Black Box” had one flaw – whilst the adventure Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon was great, it provided a much more bare bones dungeon experience in the form of the lost Dwarven Stronghold, Stonefast as a follow up. This dungeon had a map, a main villain, and some notes, but it was left to the GM to flesh out the adventure, moving on from the five rooms they stocked in Zanzer’s Dungeon.

It’s a bit like just being kicked out of the nest, and there was nothing else provided besides the bare bones of Stonefast. There wasn’t any setting given, as the it was either deemed unnecessary, or the players were expected to pick up other products, such as the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, which contained the rules from the Basic, Expert, Companion, and Masters sets of D&D (4/5th of the BECMI D&D system, missing only the Immortals set). The Rules Cyclopedia introduced the Known World, the default setting for D&D at the time.

Later on, Revised D&D would feature a number of other boxed sets and products, the majority of which were set in the new campaign area of Thunder Rift. Thunder Rift was fairly good as an enclosed setting, but there was a problem with this line. The first boxed set, Dragon’s Den, wasn’t actually set in Thunder Rift at all, but a renamed version of the Duchy of Karameikos from the Known World, that was first introduced in the Expert rules set, and provided in the Rules Cyclopedia.

Although the later boxed sets were set in Thunder Rift, none of the products, including the primer for Thunder Rift, mentioned Zanzer’s Dungeon or Stonefast at all. Whilst this made it easy to place Zanzer’s Dungeon in any campaign world, this did beg the question of whether were any other campaign worlds that might be more suitable.

Step forward Haven and the Vale, which was featured both in the Fast Play system for D&D and the Silver Anniversary D&D Adventure Game boxed set. It’s like Thunder Rift, but simpler, with a number of tutorial products to supplement it. Although we wouldn’t be using the 2nd Edition AD&D system fully, the background and adventures didn’t need a lot of conversion to a 3.x system, just as Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon didn’t.

It’s worth noting at this time that the D&D Adventure Game for 3.x, whilst fun and easy to learn, as well as being the basis of the rules system we were using, didn’t even bother providing a background, so it would be simple to transplant these adventures into any other setting, as desired.

I figured that mashing these three sets of products together, I would have the strong foundation for my homebrew campaign, along with a solid system, and a fairly well filled out stable of characters for my two players. The keys to this was all about how best to arrange the adventures in to a continuing narrative.

Right now, we are on our third starter set/tutorial adventure, with a third new party about to adventure in the Vale. The previous two parties haven’t been retired just yet, just are busy resting or travelling off-camera as we focus on the new party, ready to explore yet another mystery in the region – the Ruined Tower.

What does this mean for my planning articles? Well, it’s unlikely that I will continue them as regularly as I did before, as they only really make sense when I am introducing new features to the game. This will probably be between adventures, so every couple of sessions so.

Right now, I want to secure the narrative of the Vale down as a solid foundation for the campaign. This is a region which is ripe to explore, even if it’s just a few adventures designed to teach the game. By tying everything to this area, I can provide a form of consistency through a shared narrative even when the adventures themselves might seem disparate. Plus, I like having Stonefast is my back pocket for now – as I can use it as a sort of reward for the players, and even tie up any loose ends from the other adventures, before looking at where the campaign will head next.

There’s lots of possibilities in the long term, but for now, I think it’s best that the players stay in Haven and explore the Vale. It’s a big world out there, and who knows what they will find once they leave…

The Next Adventure – Crypt of the Smoke Dragon

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!