The Black Isle

Last Saturday was Ouro’s birthday, so for a birthday present, Sian and I decided that we would treat him to a series of gaming sessions, as there’s not much else we can do in these lockdown times. As it turned out, we ended up with four sessions, the first two of which involved the four remaining party members – Darkblade, Peregrine, Sunblayze, and Thordar – cleansing the Black Isle.

The adventure started with the kidnapping of Elder Pane’s daughter, Kera. According to the elder, she had been kidnapped during the night, and a thorough search of the village was ordered. Later that afternoon, a snagged piece of white fabric was found in the brambles blocking the covered bridge to the feared Black Isle. Thus, the adventurers are called to go and explore the Black Isle and rescue Kera.

Crossing to the Black Isle

The adventurers were hesitant to explore the supposedly haunted Black Isle so late in the day, but there was no guarantee that the Elder’s daughter would be alive the following morning. So the party steeled themselves, and pushed their way into the brambles practically choking the bridge leading to the island.

The light was dim within the wooden covered bridge, and the party almost stumbled into thick webs stretched across it in the darkness. Although they avoided the sticky snare, they didn’t avoid the three giant spiders to which it belonged, and a tight fight within the narrow confines of the bridge ensued.

Upon defeating the spiders, the party managed to emerge from the covered bridge, and discovered that the forest-covered island wasn’t much lighter. The island had grown wild, and the trees merged together to form a sort of dungeon made of foliage. The sunlight of the late afternoon shines weakly through the canopy – bright enough to light their way, but also low enough that the party quickly realises that they only have about two hour before sunset.

The Tower

Exploring the island, the party finds an ancient tower pushing through the trees. The roof has fallen in, exposing part of the top floor of the three-storey tower. The tower itself lacks any windows, and the door is locked, although this is no problem for makeshift thief, Thordar, who opens the lock with a  deft click. Within the tower is empty apart from a spiral staircase heading upwards.

The first floor of the tower is filled with junk, which inconveniently hides a lurking Grey Ooze. Before the party knows it, combat with this deadly menace ensues. The creature is capable of dissolving metal on contact, and the largely plate-mail clad party realise that they could quickly end up unarmed and unarmoured if they don’t take care when fighting it. When the fight is over, the creature is dispatched, but not because it has dissolved Thordar’s greataxe, and severely damaged Peregrine’s magical broadsword, weakening it’s power.

The party are about to call it quits in the tower, before they hear a muffled banging on the top floor. Heading upwards, the party finds two coffins. The banging comes from within one, and the party fears the worst – they may be facing a powerful vampire. They cautiously open the coffin to discover Kera Pane bound within one, and the other appears to be empty.

Kera tells the party that the creature that kidnapped her said that he would return for her at sundown, which is now about an hour away. The party decides to set a trap for the creature. Peregrine will hide in the coffin Kera was in, and Darkblade will hide in the other. Meanwhile, Thordar and Sunblayze will protect Kera on the floor below, ready to engage the creature from behind if neccessary. With a definite plan agreed, we ended the session for the evening.

The Beast Arrives

On Friday, we commenced as the sun set on the Black Isle and the party waiting for the creature to attempt to retrieve Kera. They didn’t have to wait long, as about fifteen minutes later, Peregrine heard a thud as something landed outside the coffin. Grasping his dagger, Peregrine decided to try and surprise the creature by attack it when it opened the coffin.

Unfortunately for Peregrine, things didn’t quite go as planned. Although the creature was surprised that the coffin contained a plate mailed paladin rather than a young maiden, Peregrine’s dagger attack missed as the creature stepped back in shock. Darkblade also clumsily emerged from his hiding place, and was unable to strike the creature.

The creature, who was called Restad, offered to let the party leave unharmed, if they gave him the girl. Peregrine answered for the party, engaging with the creature instead. The fight was on, and despite a shaky start, the party quickly gained the advantage over Restad. But the vampire wasn’t so easily bested, and instead of being killed, Restad turned to mist and fled the tower. The party saw the mist head towards another abandoned building on the isle and disappear within.

The Legend of Verminslayer

With little choice, the party decided to pursue the vampire to it’s lair. They couldn’t let it live, and quickly headed to the ruined building. It was an old temple, once dedicated to the Holy Defender. As they approached, they heard scrabbling nearby, and before they knew it, zombies lurched out of the darkness, having dug themselves out of the ground.

The zombies were tough, but the party was tougher, and soon the undead were dispatched. Yet, upon entering the ruins, the party discovered that it too was occupied, but not with undead. Instead, they disturbed a nest of bats, and whilst most eventually fled, a host of giant bats stayed to fight. Sunblayze attempted to work her way around the creatures, but was soon cut off. Thordar valiantly carved his way through to save her, and was quickly awarded the dubious epithet of “Batslayer.”

Thordar proved himself not only adept at killing bats though, as the party headed downstairs into the temple cellar, where they were set on by a swarm of giant rats. Thordar proved his worth once again, slaying these as well, for which his nickname was upgraded to “Verminslayer.”

The Beast Defeated

The party were concerned – besides the rats, the cellar was empty, with no sign of where Restad could have gone. But as the party slew his minions, the vampire soon emerged through a secret door from his lair to attack the party. The final showdown was upon them, and the party knew what to do. They focused everything they had on the vampire, and eventually Restad was no more. This time, the vampire didn’t turn to mist, but crumbled into a pile of ash before their eyes. Turns out the beast wasn’t a true vampire after all, but was still powerful enough to give the party a good fight.

Exhausted, Darkblade, Peregrine, Sunblayze, and Thordar emerged from the Black Isle with Kera alongside. Her rescue greatly delighted Elder Pane. The Patriarch was also pleased, as within the temple ruins, the party had recovered a metal coffer that still contained 100 gold pieces. The party had decided that since the coffer was marked with the Holy Defender, they would return it with the gold, and the Patriarch gratefully decided that the coffer was worth more than the gold, and let the party keep it as a reward.

Of course, this wouldn’t prevent the wily Patriarch from getting it back, as the party were reminded of tithes, and the cost of identifying items they had found, as well as restoring the magic within Peregrine’s damaged broadsword. With a sigh, the party rolled their eyes – Easy come, easy go…

Out on the Town

Although the Vale was created for the Silver Anniversary Fast Play products Wrath of the Minotaur and Eye of the Wyvern, this wouldn’t be the only time the Vale would be used in a product. Alongside these these products, the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Game was released, as a slightly more complete introduction to AD&D.

This product would return to the Vale for three further adventures set in and around Haven. This town would continue to serve as the home base for the PCs, where they rest between their adventures, as well as get services and training.

With the extra space in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Game, Haven actually gets some love in the setting, as the town is mapped and described, allowing the PCs to finally interact with the inhabitants of the town.

Whilst the adventures are still quite simple, with the first having the players start at the entrance to the dungeon, rather than requiring the party to make the journey there, the new town map allows the first two adventures to be related to the town itself. It easy to see the PCs explore the tunnels underneath the Watchtower and exploring the Black Isle, when you can see these places on the map.

What this means is that there’s now a map of the town of Haven, and this will come in useful as we explore the Vale, not just in these adventures, but also in later ones from the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Game released for 3rd edition.

For now though, I am just going to share the map of the village of Haven here, so that everyone can see the home base for our PCs.


Pacing in the Wilderness

Eye of the Wyvern is a wilderness adventure, and I thought that I would talk about the differences in pacing when running a wilderness adventure.

The Plot-Driven Adventure

Firstly, it should be noted that there are several different types of wilderness adventure. Eye of the Wyvern is an event-driven adventure, where the party moves from one encounter to another by the decisions they make. It’s a rather simple linear adventure, as most of the encounters are sequential. In between such encounters, you have routine tasks like setting up camp and keeping watch.

In such adventures, the pacing is often one significant encounter each day, with the party at nearly full strength, allowing them to be slightly tougher than you might find in a dungeon environment. This significant encounter might not just be during the day though, as night time encounters, and planned campsite ambushes might also be possibilities. Alternatively, there might be fewer, weaker encounters, which the PCs can be expected to overcome whilst travelling in the wilderness.

The Road Trip

Similar to the plot-driven adventure, you might have the journey or road trip. Typically, these adventures don’t necessarily focus on the wilderness, instead having the PCs move between sites of interest such as settlements and adventure locations. In such adventures, the party might have random encounters in the wilderness on their journey, but the chances of this vary, and sometimes GMs will skip these encounters entirely, especially if the journey is part of an adventure.

For example, Wrath of the Minotaur had the party move through the wilderness to the Tomb of Alaxus, but there were no encounters along the route. The journey was covered by a cut-scene, and the adventure focused more on exploring the tomb.

The Cut Scene Journey

The GM might also use this approach when moving the party between adventures, such as from their starting town to another settlement that serves as the start for their next adventure. Once again, the journey may be handled by a cut-scene rather than worrying about random encounters.

When PCs do have random encounters in the wilderness, these are often stronger than when in the dungeon, as it is often assumed that the random encounter will be the significant encounter for the day. It should also be noted that quite often, the GM will use a “status quo” approach to wilderness encounters, where the encounters are not necessarily scaled to party level, and that the party will be able to run from any overpowering encounters. This often makes wilderness encounters much more dangerous than dungeon encounters.

The Hex Crawl

A final type of wilderness adventure is the exploration, often referred to as a “hex crawl” adventure. In these adventures, the party is exploring the wilderness much like they would a dungeon. However, where as a dungeon often confines the party to specific routes, wilderness exploration typically allows the party the freedom to explore in any direction, barring any natural features that the party either cannot or will find difficult to overcome.

For example, in an adventure where the party has to explore the wilderness, they will sometimes find the area they get to explore confined by land-based obstacles like cliffs and mountains, or water-based obstacles like rivers and seas. Such obstacles may be crossed with preparation, however, like getting a ship to explore the ocean, but these can often be an adventure in itself.

In terms of encounters when exploring, besides possible random encounters as above, the party will typically comes across sites of interest. These sites could be simple encounters, or may be settlements or dungeons that the party can explore and replenish supplies. These sites will often become the significant encounter of the day, otherwise an empty hex might have a random encounter.

Hex Crawl in The Vale

We haven’t currently had a “hex crawl” adventure in the campaign, especially as the players have tackled adventures throughout The Vale already. As such, the Vale is pretty much explored and mapped, although the could easily be other sites of interest hidden within.

It should be noted that the exploration adventure has fallen out of favour over the past decade or so, as it can be tedious and repetitive to explore any wilderness hex by hex. Plus, such adventures often only take place on the fringes of settled lands, and quite often campaigns focus on more populated areas, especially if they focus on intrigue and politics, rather than exploration. It can take a LOT of work to prepare a wilderness exploration adventure, and even more work to justify it within the context of a campaign. Instead, the plot-driven or road trip adventure types are often used instead, as they are easier and quicker to apply and justify within a campaign.

Wilderness Pacing

Ultimately though, whatever type of wilderness adventure you are having, it’s often the case that the party will have only one significant encounter per day, and this typically translates to only one or two significant encounters per session.

On the Level

After several months of gaming and character changes, my players have finally gained a new level of experience with their party. Although we will be switching to a new party consisting of the other four PCs for our next adventure, I decided to let my players have the pleasure of leveling up their current party before ending the session.

You might be asking why I did this. The answer is simple: leveling up the characters is a promise that we will be returning to these characters in the near future. I still intend to let the players choose which characters go on which adventures, so it might not be in the following adventure based on what the players decide, but it will be within the next few adventures.

I didn’t let the players level up the party of Zanthar Rex, simply because I don’t know if these characters will ever be used again. They make great backup characters should there be any fatalities or a Total Party Kill, but I have no real plans of future adventures for them at this point.

As for the Escapees from Zanzer’s Dungeon, I do intent to have the players return to this party, and to explore Stonekeep. However, this will be long in the future, as both myself and my players will have gotten more experience in the campaign, and with D&D itself.

It’s fairly easy to justify this long, extended break – the party were ordinary townsfolk before being kidnapped, and it was through their ordeals in Zanzer’s Dungeon that they learnt whether they can fight, whether they could cast spells, or whether they had an aptitude for stealthiness and thievery. Their faith was tested, as they made do with what they could readily learn and practice. They found some of the tools they needed, but they hadn’t completed the training that other adventurers received, and thus whilst it’s safe to assume that they will remain adventurers for a while, they aren’t necessarily prepared to explore Stonekeep at this time.

Classes and Leveling

So, what does gaining a level actually mean? Well, for now, the main benefits of gaining a level is that they get tougher, and more able to survive their adventures. This means they gain more hit points, and their saving throw bonuses increase. All adventurers gain these benefits, although how they improve their saves and how many extra hitpoints they gain is determined by their class.

In all cases, on becoming 2nd Level, the saving throw bonuses they get increase by +1, for a total of +3. This means that Elanna and Thordar, as fighters, increased their Fortitude saving throws by +1, whilst Michifer and Thaddeus, as a Cleric and Mage, both increased their Will saving throws by +1.

Likewise, upon becoming 2nd Level, each character gains another hit die worth of hit points to their maximum. The fighters both got +1d10 extra hit points, whilst Michifer got +1d8 hp, and Thaddeus got +1d4 hp. They also got to add their Constitution modifiers to hit points, and with all characters having positive modifiers for Constitution, the player were guaranteed a reasonable amount of extra hp. This would be the first time the players rolled for hit points, as their characters were all given pregenerated hit points at first level.

Finally, classes often get bonuses to their abilities at 2nd level. This caused a number of issues as class abilities have not been fully developed at this point, largely because of the significant difference between 3rd edition and previous editions. In Third Edition D&D, the D20 system was the result of a major overhaul, meaning that most classes and abilities were essentially rewritten, and version 3.5 resulted in yet more, albeit less drastic, changes to classes and their abilities.

Leveling Fighters

Fighters have always been bottom of the barrel when it comes to abilities, simply because they focus on doing something every class can do, but doing it very, very well – fight. In 3rd edition, Fighters would be able to specialise in various styles, so they might be strong melee damage dealers, agile archers, or highly defensive protectors of the rest of the party. But the core of the character is simple – they hit things, and they do it well.

Thus, Fighters get a +1 bonus to attacks in combat. The idea of Base Attack Bonus hasn’t been covered yet. Prior to 3rd edition, all characters had a THAC0 of 20, and thus did not get any bonuses to attacks. However, even in Basic D&D, Fighters increased their fighting ability the fastest, so a +1 bonus to attacks is a reasonable ability for now.

Leveling Spellcasters

Spellcasters like Clerics and Mages were defined very much by their spellcasting abilities in every edition of the game. However, it seemed like every version of D&D not only varied how spellcasting worked, but also what characters could cast spells, when they could cast spells, and how they advanced in their spellcasting. However, at 2nd Level, the easiest approach is to say that they to prepare and cast an extra 1st level spell.

For Thaddeus, this was simple, as his spellbook contains two spells – sleep and magic missile. This means that Thaddeus can choose to prepare one of each spell, or to prepare two of either spell. Spell choice is still important for spellcasters, but right now, the focus is on preparing the right spells in balance, as this is a key aspect of any mage character. Just as fighters can specialise in what weapons they use and how they fight, spellcasters get to choose whether they want to be prepared for anything with a general spread of spells, or whether they tailor their spell selections by focusing on preparing certain spells multiple times.

For Michifer, this is a little more complicated. Clerics have to prepare spells, but they have access to every spell provided by their deity, immortal, or philosophy. Given the sheer range of spells in the game, this can be a lot of spells for the cleric to choose from. However, since it’s up to the GM to provide said list of spells, I can choose to limit the spell list to certain spells. In Wrath of the Minotaur, I limited Michifer to cure light wounds spell simply because this is the most critical spell any divine caster can learn, and helps keep the party alive.

However, with an extra spell slot and a potentially wider spell list, 2nd Level Clerics get to start defining how they operate in the party. Will they be battle medics and backup fighters, or will they their magic more extensively to support the party or hinder their enemies?

What About Rogues?

Luckily, with Niles not being in the party, I wouldn’t have to think about the role of rogues and what they get at 2nd level just yet. Over the various editions, theives and rogues have changed their abilities quite extensively, and is still the issue of some debate over the roles they should play in the party. This covers a lot of stuff that I am not quite ready to incorporate into our games just yet…

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 see  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.