Monday, September 27, 2010

L1 - The Secret of Bone Hill (pt. 3)

In the last installment, I outlined a conversion of the The Secret of Bone Hill into 4th Edition D&D that was really a combination of the most interesting bits from both Bone Hill and L2 The Assassin's Knot. When I got done with it, I was fairly satisfied with the flow of the thing, and even smirked a bit at taking the big set-piece/dungeon of the module (Bone Hill itself) and turning it into a great big red herring that had nothing at all to do with the plot.

Well, I've had a few days at my job to think this over, and decided that this is not the best possible way to go about this. After all, if you've got a module named after a dungeon, you might as well run the climax of said module in that dungeon, or else what's the point? Therefore, a slight revision of the events outlined in my previous entry would need to be done.

The biggest issue is that Bone Hill hasn't got a plot, and therefore Bone Hill (the location) serves no purpose. Like many other dungeons in modules from the editions of yesteryear, it's just kind of there, a hulking menace on the dramatic landscape that never does anything, the very antithesis of Chekov's gun. Yes, even in the odl days, you would eventually get down into it, but there was never any reason to go out and risk life and limb against bugbears and zombie stirges and level-draining undead for what was, at the end of the day, not very much treasure. The big bad guy of the thing, Telvar the Magician, didn't even have a grudge against the town or the adventurers, he's in this place so he can have peace and quiet to do his research.

The addition of the plot elements from Assassin's Knot were my attempt to give some life to the slumbering corpse, and to some extent, I feel that they do add something to what is, really, a not very well planned adventure module. Yes, I know that Bone Hill is well regarded by many old-timers. I have fond memories of it myself. But all of those memories are predicated on a single experience with it, and that experience bears very little resemblance to what is contained in the pages of the adventure-as-written.

But enough of that.

The story of Bone Hill that we're going to explore for 4th Edition goes something like this: The adventures come into town for reasons that are catered directly to them. Before they can even get a room at the inn, they become involved in an attempted kidnapping, a chase scene and a vicious combat against sewer-dwelling wererats. The very next day, they're summoned by a representative of Baron Grellus, and pressed into service patrolling the roads around the town, where they are set upon by half-orc bandits. Defeating the bandits, they recover a chest which was to be delivered to the local church of Pelor, headed by the Abbot Qualton. Qualton takes delivery of the chest, then sends the adventurers off to the Church of the Big Gamble, which resembles the bar in From Dusk 'Til Dawn more than any kind of church they're used to, and eventually figure out that the whole thing is a front for the Cult of Tiamat. This leads to a stand-off, and then a fiery battle while the building burns down around them, and the end of Act One.

Act Two opens with Arrness, mayor of Cold Cliff (I told you I would rename that stupid town!), sending Krak, her half-ogre berserker lieutenant, to raise hell among the humanoid tribes in the area. This has the double benefit of showing the populace that the Baron has no control over his own lands, and drawing the adventurers away from the town so the assassins can slip into place. Only the adventurers are more than a match for a few gnolls and a half-ogre, and easily defeat these villains. On their return to the town, however, they find the place under assault by a large force! The Baron is definitely in trouble, and the adventurers must find a way to reach him, leading them beneath the ruined guard house and through the den of the wererat thieves into the castle to confront the assassin as the Baron lays dying of a fatal wound. Gasping out his final breath, he lays a final command upon the adventurers: He is dead, his wife is dead, only his daughter survives, and Qualton has taken her to Cold Cliff. The curtain falls on the end of Act Two.

Act Three opens with the party in hot pursuit of Qualton and the stolen princess, only the mad cleric isn't heading for Cold Cliff, but the ruins atop Bone Hill. There, he hopes that the might of true power beneath the hill and the blessings of his new patron Orcus will be enough to prevail against the adventurers, and that he will finally come to the culmination of his dreams, marry the Baron's daughter and rule with a iron fist as he was intended to do from the moment of his rebirth. Obviously the party is intent on stopping him, but first they must find a way through the ruins, and into the dungeons levels beneath, where the shade of an ancient evil lurks. The final act concludes with a balls-to-the-wall dungeon bash to save the princess and stop an elder evil from returning from beyond the grave, as every good D&D adventure should.

In the epilogue, the heroes reveal the true culprit behind all of it, as revealed in the secret diaries of Qualton, implicating Arrness and ensuring that should she escape the hangman's noose or the lynch mob's torches, the cliche of the enemy from the past is still alive and kicking. They turn their horses to the road, putting Restenford and its tale of sorrow behind them, setting their sites on the wider world in search of adventure.

Expect a proper version sometime in the next few days with maps, encounters and all the rest.

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