Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Thoughts on RotF and SKT

 Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden is actually a good adventure module to come out of 5e. Leaning into horror and high fantasy tropes, the designers have delivered an adventure dripping with theme, creativity, and identity. Even the low level encounters are unique, such as a sentient plesiosaur in a frozen lake, and the marquee villain of the adventure, Auril the Frostmaiden, is finally engaging on her own. It’s not perfect, and suffers from pacing and railroading problems like every other 5e adventure, but it’s a step up from the others, at least.

Storm King’s Thunder, on the other hand, is one of 5e’s worst adventures, sitting near the bottom with the likes of Hoard of the Dragon Queen. It has grindingly terrible pacing issues and an overall lack of focus in the campaign which results in feeling like the ending comes out of nowhere. And, it requires the DM to basically write half the module himself in order to run it.

And yet, I find myself possessed by a desire to modify, tweak and home brew SKT into something playable and fun, while my interest in RotF remains mostly academic. I think that’s because RotF is good enough on it’s own, and to play it you would have to do little more than run it as written.  There’s also a significant overlap between the two adventures- one of the main quests in SKT revolves around Frost Giants attacking Icewind Dale in search of a magic ring. These giants are also worshippers of Auril and seek to extend an everlasting winter over the North. RotF already prominently features Frost Giants around both Icewind Dale and the abode of Auril herself, so importing SKT’s material into it would be redundant. But going the other way, and importing material from RotF into SKT would flesh out a truncated and ill defined quest line and add more content to a barren section of the map.

Realizing that I could take the story of Auril herself and graft it onto the Frost Giant princess and keep the rest of SKT intact, and in fact improve it by doing so, completely shattered my interest in running RotF. SKT itself is more a tale of high adventure, of confronting dangerous foes and exploring savage lands. When I first bought it, I was on this huge “Barbarians” kick and the appeal still remains. The Savage Frontier is an ideal setting in which to explore those themes and play through some straight tropes, instead of the more atmospheric horror of RotF. I have no problems with double dipping as well and running RotF right after SKT and revisiting the Frozen North storyline twice.

For home brewing SKT, I imagine throwing out the plot as written but keeping mostly the setting info and keeping the conflict itself in broad strokes. The Giant Lords and their plans will remain, but the adventure would be more faction driven as the players could choose which Giants to ally with. As for the infamous third chapter, I see that more as barbarian adventuring against other tribes of men, elves, dwarves and orcs, and I’m looking forward to exploring those tropes. For the Frost Giants, not to give too much away, I would replace the Jarl with his daughter, make her a Chosen of Auril and grant her possession of the Codicil of White, wherein she gains the power to extend the Arctic regions southward. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020


 The ultimate starter module

The Keep from B2 is structurally the same as Hommlet from T1, but without any of the detail. It has the same house of worship, tavern, inn, traders and smiths, and assorted stores. Where none of the NPCs in B2 are detailed, all of the ones in T1 are. T1 also has a small keep in Hommlet, but its under construction and its owners aren't really recognized as the lords of the area. Simply putting all the NPCs from Hommlet into the Keep, or just replacing the Keep wholesale, is basically a straight upgrade. 

B2 is the only one of these modules with a small wilderness region to explore. There is mention of a bandit hideout, lizardmen lairs, and wandering encounters including an old hermit with a pet lion, but these encounters are subject to dice chance and are left to the DM to flesh out. The Moathouse from T1 can easily serve as the bandits' hideout. Simply placing the Moathouse in the marsh in the bandits' "territory" gives them a premade base of operations and a stronger anchor into the campaign. It also comes with Lareth, a Cleric of Chaos, which dovetails nicely with the hidden Temple of Chaos in B2.

 (Also Lareth is apparently implied to be a fallen Paladin)

B1 is assumed to be in the unexplained "Cave of the Unknown" on the B2 wilderness map.  Placing the whole module within in this way grants many more rumors to be given out at the local tavern. And it also creates two more NPC adventurers that "made it", Rohan and Zelligar, along with Rufus and Byrne from T1.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Frozen and the Frostmaiden

 I read the original Hans Christian Andersen story a long time ago, and didn't really understand it.  I guess I was too young to grasp the motivations of the Snow Queen or the moral of the story.

Disney's adaptation was a nice movie and I liked the female empowerment story, but it was wholly unrelated to the source material and didn't really relate to any of the themes or plot. 

Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden finally cracked the code for me. In it, Auril the Frostmaiden stands in for Hans Christian Andersen's Snow Queen, and her inciting action is to attempt to freeze the region of Icewind Dale in everlasting winter.  According to the adventure, Auril is an uncaring goddess who seeks to preserve beautiful things in ice so that they'll never fade. This made a whole lot of sense to me: She cares about superficial beauty and cold, crystalline glamor over warm, true connections.

It was on the strength of this revelation that I wanted to run the whole adventure, and maybe remixing the scenario with Auril so that it's not a by the numbers fight but a quest to convince her to show some humanity.  I was also going to switch her forms around, so that her first form was the humanoid "Brittle Maiden" one, and the second would be the Horned Owl creature, kind of like the fight between Dracula and Richter Belmont in Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night.  Turns out that I only care about the character of Auril, though, and not really the rest of the module.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Small dungeons

I like small dungeons better than large mega dungeons of interconnected corridors. Instead, I envision a “dungeon” like the single family residence of the monster. There would be only a handful of inhabitants and all the rooms they need to live in, such as a place to sleep, a place to eat, and a place to put their stuff. I also like the idea that, should you run into a monster in the dungeon, it is the monster. 

As for dungeon ecology, I consider it more natural to link dungeons across the over world, where monsters would have their own territories and travel networks. It makes much more sense that two feuding races of monsters would be claiming overlapping territories, than living in close proximity with each other, separated only by a few hallways and doors.

Running small dungeons like this means that your map scale would have to be much more precise and smaller in scale than a 6-mile hex. Alternatively, if you use large hexes, then each hex should have multiple chances of finding a lair. Multiple small lairs actually generate more interest in wilderness travel and provide a unique element to it.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Encumbrance in OD&D

 Encumbrance in OD&D is very simple to calculate. You add the weight (in gold coins) of your armor, weapons and shield together to find your base encumbrance. This value will mostly determine your movement rate. All the other small inventory items you might have, such as 50' of rope, iron spikes, torches etc., are all combined together to a flat value of 80 gold piece weight, or 8 pounds total.

  A standard man in OD&D can carry a maximum of 3000 gold piece equivalent weight. Your equipment and inventory is a fraction of that, generally less than half if not less than a third of the total. That means that most of your free carrying capacity will be taken up by the actual gold pieces you are carrying.

  The whole point of OD&D is to carry as many gold pieces as possible out of the dungeon. Every mechanic in the game is either in service to this goal, or is directly affected by it. It is largely the weight of gold coins that will increasingly slow you down as you travel.

  I found this gameplay loop to be quite satisfying. As a result, though, the silver standard is a bad fit for OD&D, and this simplified encumbrance system is a bad fit for AD&D. The reward feedback of AD&D is different, the primary motivator of that game is to level up XP. AD&D has a stricter, more granular encumbrance system, that is more in service to the simulationist nature of that game.

  Honestly, I found that OD&D encumbrance is easier on the DM, but players who are used to later editions of D&D take a while to adapt to it. Its also not as immersive as AD&D's encumbrance system, and it leads to players not really caring what's in their inventory. Which is fine, for a one shot. The sores of AD&D's math heavy encumbrance system are well known, but it forces players to engage more with the game.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

House Rules for 5e

 This is not a typical campaign as I am using a host of variant rules aimed at making this a more engaging and immersive experience. Please read on for details:

Character Creation

Allowed Races: Human, Elf, Dwarf, Gnome, Halfling, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, Dragonborn, and Tiefling

Allowed Classes: Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard

Character stats can be generated by using Standard Array, Point Buy or by rolling 4d6dl ONCE, no rerolls.

You may choose starting gold or background equipment for starting equipment.

The PHB+1 rule is in effect. You may choose all character options from the PHB and 1 other official source from the following books: Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, Volo’s Guide to Monsters, and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. You cannot mix and match options from multiple source books. Races and Classes not listed above are not allowed in this campaign. No Unearthed Arcana allowed, no homebrew.


Please only roll skill checks when I call for them. Any skill rolls that I did not call for will result in an automatic failure. The "knowledge" skills: Arcana, History, Insight, Religion, and Nature are useless, I will never call for a check on them. Persuasion, Deception and Intimidation are not mind-control, they will not function like a Charm Person spell.

XP and Level

XP level advancement This is a wide open campaign with lots of exploration. All players will gain XP and use that to level up. I don't use milestones.

Variant Rules

Variant: Encumbrance We are using variant encumbrance rules. If the total weight you carry is 5 times your strength score, your speed drops by 5 feet. If it is 10 times, your speed drops by 20 feet and you have disadvantage on ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws that use Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution.

Variant: Equipment Sizes when adventurers find armor, clothing, and similar items that are made to be worn, they might need to visit an armorsmith, tailor, leatherworker, or similar expert to make the item wearable.

Rest Variant: A short rest is 1 hour long and a long rest requires a full 24 hours. During a rest period you cannot engage in combat or cast spells (including rituals and maintaining concentration), or travel overland and between cities, or the rest period is interrupted. Characters may engage in downtime activities, including creating magic items and scribing scrolls, during a rest period. During a short rest, a character can spend hit die to recover their current HP. After a long rest, all HP and Hit Die are regained.

Magic Item Variants Drinking one potion while under the effects of another may have unintended effects. Scrolls may fail to activate when read. Wands don't recharge and have a finite amount of uses. To "regain" the charges of a wand, you will have to craft it again.


I prefer role-playing over "roll-playing". This means that I will ask you to describe your character's actions before you attempt to roll the dice. I will ignore any dice rolls that I did not call for. If you have read this far, please include the following phrase in your application: I enjoy immersive and realistic role playing experiences. I generally assume that your character knows as much as you know, so if you have knowledge of the lore and history of a place, item or monster, you can just convey that to the rest of the party, but I try to discourage metagaming where players talk about game mechanics and spell effects to each other while in character. I do not follow the rule of cool.

Death and Recovery

I will play monsters to the hilt. They will be intelligent, coordinated, and out to kill the party. If your character dies, there are a number of ways they may be brought back, or you may transfer its wealth to a new character. That new character will gain 1 point of XP for each GP inherited. I encourage players to make two characters at the start of the game.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Solo OSR is boring

 The AD&D 1e DMG contains everything necessary to play the game solo. It is full of tables that can generate every aspect of the campaign, from the governmental form of a city down to the disposition of an individual NPC. However, it provides the barest guidelines on interacting with all that content, preferring to leave it to the discretion of the DM. A binary question-and-answer oracle could be used to fill in this gap. I find the term "GM emulator" to be a bit misleading, as they don't actually fulfill the function of the GM, which is to play the world in response.

  By the book, there's not a whole to do in OSR games beyond traveling into the unknown, encountering monsters or friendly NPCs, engaging in combat, and recovering loot to level up to recover more loot. They really do rely on the strength of the DM to make the game interesting.

When I play RPGs live, I play from the perspective of my character and focus from personal point of view. When I play solo, I feel more like an omnipresent narrator that watches other characters take action as I roll for them.

Thoughts on RotF and SKT

 Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden is actually a good adventure module to come out of 5e. Leaning into horror and high fantasy tropes, t...