Hommlet in 4e: Giant Frogs

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was running The Village of Hommlet in 4e.  I’m running it pretty much straight out of the module, except for locating it in Eberron, and introducing Lareth to the PCs early on in order to avoid what Bryce Lynch calls “Lareth the Beautiful Syndrome” (he was an arrogant noble in the common room in the Inn of the Welcome Wench).

The first session or two I was converting monsters on the fly, but when it looked like it was going to have legs, I started custom building 4e monsters to give them an old school feel.  The ghouls I have already discussed, but I wanted to share a few more monsters and a couple of conversion/play notes.  Starting with the giant frogs. Continue reading “Hommlet in 4e: Giant Frogs”

How Eberron Supports Old School Play

For some time my preferred campaign setting has been Eberron.  Because I guess using 4e mechanics to run games based on 1e procedures and adventure/encounter design principles doesn’t make me enough of a unicorn.

There appears to be a general distain for WotC campaign settings in OSR circles, generally dismissing them as “vanilla” and “high fantasy” (by which they appear to mean “high magic”).  A lot of it may be spillover from the ubiquitous Forgotten Realms setting, but Eberron tends to get viewed with a certain bemusement.  I’m not sure I entirely understand why.  OSR detractors tend to be a bit vague about the “why”, which leads me to suspect it comes more from a general distrust of WotC than from any real understanding of the setting.

Certainly the presentation in published adventures has been less than ideal.  Eberron was created for D&D 3.5, and its adventures reflect the design aesthetics of that period: linear railroads designed to tell the adventure writer’s story, not the players’ story.  The setting itself, however, contains a lot of elements that work well in Old School games, and are worth exploring. Continue reading “How Eberron Supports Old School Play”

Bulky Treasure

I’ve been thinking a lot about treasure lately, specifically treasure where the extraction of the treasure, after dealing with any guardians, or the conversion of said treasure to gold, is an adventure in itself.

This would be the obviously valuable statue that is difficult to move, or the 100 sacks of flour that are collectively valuable but can’t exactly be carried in a purse, or the tapestry that is 12′ long rolled up, or the jewelled cup stamped with the mark of the Evil High Priest you plundered it from or recognizable by agents of the enemy. Continue reading “Bulky Treasure”

Why 4e Ain’t So Different, After All

I was in a discussion in the comments over at The Angry GM, and mentioned that I use 4e to play an older-style game.  And someone asked me whether the system got in the way, to which I answered

I don’t find the system gets in the way. Once I figured out how the system actually worked, as opposed to how the designers kept telling people it worked, I was able to design all sorts of game elements and make them behave consistently.

At which point someone else asked how 4e “actually works”.  Which requires a much more involved answer than I can give in a 2,500 character comment. Continue reading “Why 4e Ain’t So Different, After All”


Well, this has been languishing in my drafts folder for a while.

Peter Dell’Orto at Dungeon fantastic wrote a post a while ago which got me thinking about ghouls.  He pointed out that in AD&D first edition, the ghoul paralysis lasted for 3-12 turns – that is, 30-120 minutes in-game.  Which is a long time after the combat is likely to have ended, even taking into account 1e’s one minute combat rounds. 

This means the terror of encountering ghouls doesn’t stop at the end of the encounter.  If the party is in the middle of a dungeon, they have many nervous wandering monster (hazard die) checks to make with a portion of their party incapacitated and unable to run away.

Continue reading “Ghouls”

I’m Running Hommlet

I no longer get grief on OSR sites when I mention that I play 4e, but I do get comments about how challenging it must be to try to run 4e in an old school manner.  It actually isn’t that hard, provided you are prepared to let go the 4e sacred cow of balancing everything – which is part of what you are going for in you want to play old-school anyway. Continue reading “I’m Running Hommlet”

“Lord Level” Campaigns – Alpha

I have been playing D&D of one sort or another for nearly 40 years.  And in all that time there is a type of campaign that I have always wanted to play, but was never able to.

In 1e, the classes had different names for each level of character.  So a first level fighter was a “veteran”, and a second level fighter was a “warrior”, for example.  At higher levels, usually around 9th or 10th, the level name would be something that indicated a measure of power or nobility, and names would stop changing so fast.  So a high level cleric was an “archpriest”, a high level fighter was a “lord”, high level paladin was a “paladin”, a high level High level ranger was a “ranger lord”, a high level thief was a “master thief”, etc.  We usually referred to this as “lord level” or “name level”.

Around that time, most of the classes gained the ability to construct strongholds (and possibly obtain income from the surrounding lands) and/or attract a body of followers.  So for instance, an 8th level cleric (“matriarch”) could construct a place of worship, in which case she attracted a body of 20-200 fanatically loyal followers, plus some men-at-arms.  And at 9th level (“high priest”) she could build a fortified religious stronghold, and if she cleared the surrounding lands of monsters, she would gain an income from the population that would settle in the area. Continue reading ““Lord Level” Campaigns – Alpha”

Dungeon Exploration Procedures

As The Alexandrian pointed out recently, the 4e DM Guides express no procedures for handling exploration. This is perhaps not surprising from a team whose focus in published adventures was on small, easily navigated lair-assault style dungeons and used skill challenges to represent overland travel. But it means that new DMs and players were given no tools for dealing with exploration of large and/or complex underground environments or actual exploration of the wilderness.

Thumbing through the 5e core books, I can see that the situation hasn’t improved very much.

If you want a experience that treats dungeon exploration as more than finding the transition to the next combat encounter, there are mechanical procedures which were developed at the dawn of D&D, and have evolved and improved in the intervening decades, which are available to help you. Continue reading “Dungeon Exploration Procedures”

Keep on the Borderlands, Fourth Edition

Courtney Campbell over at Hack & Slash appears to be starting a series comparing the original B/X module, Keep on the Borderlands, by Gary Gygax, to the 2e adventure, Return to the Keep on the Borderlands, by John D. Rateliff.  His thesis appears to be that, even when closely following the source material (which Return does), later adventure writers largely missed the point, and created adventures that were missing the magic of the early “Golden Age” period modules.

Well, if he thinks Return misses the mark, he really wouldn’t like the Encounters adventure, Keep on the Borderlands:  A Season of Serpents.  So in keeping with my work on this blog, I thought I riff off of what Courtney is doing and do my own comparison.

The first post in the series covers the introduction and DM advice sections of each module, so I am going to do the same here.  You should probably read Courtney’s blog post for context, because otherwise some of these comparisons won’t make sense.

Continue reading “Keep on the Borderlands, Fourth Edition”