I started running a new group through H1, but two of my players had played H1 before. One of whom had DMd the previous adventure so was very intimate with the material. I didn't want to change modules, as three of the players were brand new to 4E and I feel H1 does a good/modest job of introducing 4E and DnD in general, but I wanted to twist things for these two players a bit so they felt it was a new adventure instead of a repeat of the previous game. I found these conversions and used them for inspiration as we played. Instead of a simple thank you, I thought I would share my adventure in DMing using the core and conversion as background inspiration.
On to the adventure:
Cast of Characters
Yuri (human bard, RIP) played by Jo
Wrain (human bard) played by Jo
Zakitra (shardmind avenger) played by Megan
Jhanti (elven ranger) played by Jen
Riven (human sorcerer) played by Courtney
Xtengrim (dragonborn swordmage) played by Eddie and occasionally Jo
Tarkus (dragonborn fighter, RIP) played by Noberto
Aoshi (human rogue) played by Noberto
Quickstart, everyone introduced themselves (original lineup Yuri, Zakitra, Jhanti, Riven, and Tarkus) and I introduced the adventure using the map making hook from the original module to bring everyone together in Shadowfell, hired by an unnamed mapmaker in Fallcrest, briefly describing Nentir Vale, Fallcrest, and Winterhaven, letting each player decide how much of that information their characters would know based on their background.
Encounter 1 - Kobold Brigands
Kobold ambush was over quickly, mostly letting everyone learn their powers and getting into the groove of their new characters. The party quickly searched the bodies, finding a few coins, and continued on their way to Winterhaven only a little tired from the encounter.
Interlude 1 - The characters meet Bairwin and purchase a few items they need, drooling over the minor magic items he has in stock. They are also welcomed to town by a ballad of Sir Keegan sung by a dwarven bard, in the tavern, completely ignoring the elf (Ninarin) watching them in an obvious way from the corner. They are directed to Lord Padraig who commisions the party to seek out the kobold tribe that has been harrassing travellers on the road and convince them to cease. (See ballad at end of post)
Encounter A1 - Kobold Ambush
Similar to Encounter 1, but for some reason the kobolds quickly gained the upperhand, making for a short but brutal battle, knocking half of the parties healing surges out. I changed the necklace to an obsidian skull instead of a dragon to foreshadow the Orcus cult's influence throughout the area. Fortunately they had a plan and the plan had already included observing the front of the camp from the top of the waterfall throughout the day to see what kind of numbers they were dealing with which counted as an extended rest.
Encounter A2 - Kobold Lair, Outside
Ran pretty much by the book, including the slinger shrieking "Irontooth must be warned!" and running through the waterfall into the cave beyond. I played the kobolds as sneaky and being confronted in their home turf and not with the element of surprise they quickly flee when it is obvious they are going to lose, so when the dragonshield is killed the rest of the kobolds fled in the most direct escape route, including 2 into the cave behind the waterfall which turned out to be very bad for the heroes.
Encounter A3 - Kobold Lair, Inside
The first major change to the module, and it caught my players off guard. First, the slinger, the skirmisher, and one of the minions had fled inside. Since the PCs took a short rest, it meant the slinger and skirmisher got to use a healing surge also, which put them both back to full health. The Tactics I used were also much different. Irontooth I kept as a goblin, but he had the bloodreaver symbol on his chain shirt (foreshadowing the events in the keep later) and used the stats directly from the original module. When half the PCs had entered, the kobolds got to move. The minions formed 3 walls, 5 just inside the waterfall getting concealment from those still outside, 3 at the opening toward Irontooth's corner and the other 3 at the opposite corner. They grouped their attacks in three parts and due to bad rolls on the attackers part they survived longer than they should have whittling the hp down at an alarming rate. The skirmishers formed 2 teams, providing each other flanking and "Twinstriking!" (including a high-pitched "Twinstrike" screech each time they attacked). The dragonshields were completely ineffective due to bad rolls, and went down without causing much trouble, and the wyrmpriest never got touched, standing in the back and shooting an energy orb at Yuri (the only healer) each round. As for Irontooth... round 1 he yelled out "Youses keeps it down out there, Irontooth is countings his golds!". Round 2 Irontooth yelled again, more emphatically, "If youses do not be quiet, Irontooth will be angry!". Round 3 Yuri decided to play a rousing beat on his drums to encourage his allies on to greater heroics, which pissed off Irontooth who charged from the back, getting a critical on his charge, Yuri is now bloodied. Irontooth then used his action point, "I tolds youses to be quiet!", hitting Yuri again, not a critical but high enough damage on the roll anyway to knock Yuri unconcious. Irontooth then went on a rampage, knocking another 2 characters out and demanding the remaining 2 "Leaves quietly or Irontooth killses you". Yuri failed his third saving throw and stopped breathing, convincing the remaining characters to take Irontooth up on his offer to allow them to stabilize their dying companions and leave quietly. Once calmed down, Irontooth is quite talkative. Upset that his kobolds are dead, he plans to return to Thunderspire and "Get a better gig. Kobolds are too sneaky sneaky. Irontooth likes quiet, but the lizardses are too too quiet." Irontooth won't allow them to take any gold, Yuri's body, or anything other than the letter from Kalarel (the only item of evidence he will part with since it has no value to him).
Interlude 2 - Shadow of the Keep
Jo's new character Riven is introduced as a young human boy with aspirations of being a famous bard one day. He is nervous when he hears what happened to the last bard, but his always jovial spirit keeps him ready for adventure anyway. Lord Padraig and Valthrun both ask the PCs to figure out what is going on up at the Keep, and figure out who this Kalarel is from the letter. Valthrun provides yet another clue about Ninarin (a young elf lass was asking around about you, where you had gone, I believe she is in the tavern if you wish to meet her). The hook is ignored again so the PCs never found the mirror or met Ninarin face-to-face.
Area 1 - Goblin Guard Room
Ran as in the module, one of the sharpshooters hid in the barrels and snuck into the excavation site, alerting the goblins there of intruders. The PCs saw him make the final run, but due to high stealth rolls they didn't see him before then. The rest of the encounter was a cakewalk for the PCs and they decide to check out the west hallway (away from the fleeing goblin) first.
Area 2 - Torture Chamber
Ran as in the module, short encounter except I put the warrior on the other side of the iron maiden to bait the first melee PC to run in, and it worked, allowing Flag (the torturer) to bullrush Jhanti into the iron maiden and the warrior slammed it shut. It won't work every time, but it was a groan moment around the table when the players realized they had fallen for the goblins' trap.
Note on Splug: He started out on the table being tortured instead of in a cell. He isn't a goblin at all but a minor devil who is shapeshifted to appear as a goblin on Kalarel's order. He is on the material plane, sent by Orcus, to assist Paldemar, who in turn sends Splug (Esplugia) with Kalarel to Shadowfell Keep. The deceit runs even deeper, as he was originally sent to Orcus' court by the Raven Queen who is concerned about the prophecy and afraid the time of the Raven is coming to an end if she doesn't do something. All of this information comes out slowly over the remainder of the adventure.
Area 4 - Chieftain's Lair
This battle was so short I don't even remember the order of events, but the aftermath is notable as a sidenote. Balgron was last in initiative, still at full health at the end of round 3, and no other goblin was alive. He happened to be hidden in the back room, so used the secret exit to escape to Area 3.
Area 3 - Excavation Room
Riven who was closest to the secret tunnel, ran through after Balgron, and Xtengrim, next in line closed the door in the tunnel with Riven on the other side. Riven, fortunately, had succeeded on her stealth check and wasn't blasted by the already alert sharpshooters, but she was still pissed. What resulted next was a PvP the like of which I have never seen, with Riven convincing Xtengrim that the room was full of gold (the players used Bluff versus Insight rolls to determine whether Xtengrim would believe her, which Riven conquered by a difference of 20+), Xtengrim flung open the door, yelled "GOLD!" as he ran into the room, a split second later he was lying on his back with 4 crossbow bolts sticking out of his chest (3 sharpshooters + Balgron, no criticals but all the +1d6 combat advantage damage added up and knocked him out). Riven meanwhile is laughing hysterically which alerts Wrain that something is up and demands Riven tell him where Xtengrim was, which Riven responded to "swimming in gold" and started laughing again. Wrain risks being shot himself to drag Xtengrim back around the corner and into the secret entrance. While the PCs are short resting Riven and Xtengrim continue to argue, and since Xtengrim didn't see the goblins that knocked him out he is convinced there are dozens in the room and wants to rally an army to bring back (which I was hoping the rest of the group would have agreed to do, as it would have been funny to rally an army to defeat 4 goblins). Also as they rested the goblins had snuck back into Area 1, grabbing empty crates to stack up around the raised area of the excavation to provide more cover (the only real reprecussion I as a DM gave the group for the PvP distraction as I was too entertained by it and both players were really getting into their respective roles). As the party enters, hesitantly, the goblins all make outstanding stealth rolls from behind their barriers and the party is unsure where they are. The goblins forego their surprise round and I start the initiative (both are aware the other are present and hostile toward each other, even if neither is entirely sure the exact strenth or location of the other group). Jhanti, Tarkus, Zakitra, and Riven all enter the room, while from the back Wrain and Xtengrim are still arguing over whether there are dozens of goblins in that room or if it is full of murderous piles of gold. None of the PCs have seen the goblins, but Jhanti overhears one of them say, "no, don't shoot yet. Wait for the dragon, he is the leader!" Of course she is in the middle of the room and doesn't want to yell this back to the entrance, so Xtengrim's turn comes up, he enters the room, and 2 crossbows hit, knocking him below half health again. From there it is a full out charge as the PCs realize they outnumber the goblins and can overwhelm them with sheer numbers. It's over in 3 rounds as each goblin falls... Balgron did make a heroic (cowardly) effort to make a run for it at the very end, but Zakitra and Jhanti chased him down with their superior speeds, catching up to him at the top of the stairs leading outside.
I completely removed areas 9: Maze of Caves and 10: Kruthix Lair. Area 10 added nothing to the story and didn't fit the flavor or the rest of the keep. Area 10... I have other plans for the Kruthix in my H2 conversion so I omitted this encounter as well. So the stairs in area 3 led straight into area 11, after a 60 foot descent.
Area 11: The water cave
Splug mentioned that one of his friends from Thunderspire was drug down those stairs and never came back. He was present when Ta'ak's bodyguard Garek approached Kalarel in the Cathedral of Shadow and Splug was the one who killed Garek and the other hobgoblin. Splug, as a servant of the Raven Queen, can not go against his lawful nature and tell the PCs what Kalarel is doing, but by providing them with the letter and shield on the remaind of Garek at the bottom of the cistern he hopes it will help them understand what they are up against. None of the group needed the shield (which has the same symbol as Irontooth's chain shirt) so they unwittingly gave it to Splug to carry around, despite that he told them from the moment he was rescued, "Splug can help! Splug will carry stuff, and cook stuff, and throw stuff at the bad goblins! But do not trust Splug with gold or magic. Splug is a thief and will not give back the gold or magic!"
Area 5 – I removed this area as the general creepy feelings (and visions of a pyramid calling to them) being described did more than a mundane zombie encounter would have, instead I described the feeling of being watched, spiders on the neck, flickering at the edge of the sunrod light, etc, and called for dungeoneering and history checks to recognize the pattern of the defensive maze the caves were dug as. I didn’t actually pay attention to the rolls, leading them to the Hidden Armory (empty at this point except for long rusted and rotted equipment) then to Area 7: Skeletal Legion
Area 7 – Skeletal Legion
This encounter fell on November 1, so I wanted to keep the spookiness of the last session before Halloween, starting the session by reading the Shadow Dreams as the first PC reached for the doors leading into Area 7 from the maze, rewriting it to be the narrative of Sir Keegan’s last moments in the room just beyond. Area 7 I modified slightly, removing the non-minion skeletons completely, but replacing half the destroyed minion skeletons each round from random sarcophagi, and each time a sarcophagi spills out a skeleton it emits a close burst 1 attack, attack: +7 vs Fortitude, hit: 5 poison damage and ongoing 5 poison damage (save ends). The trap lasts 10 rounds, then takes 5 minutes to reset, and the trap can be disabled for 24 hours by praying to Bahamut in the domed vestibule to the east. It took 8 rounds and 5 religion/arcana checks until the players figured out the puzzle (the last clue was “The image on the walls behind the altar is the focal point of the deactivation of the trap, and the deactivation switch is vocal”. They finally realized that uttering the word Bahamut while kneeling was the requirement. It seemed so simple from the description, but I realize that reading it and hearing it are quite different and plan on writing down descriptions for puzzle traps from now on.
Area 8 – Sir Keegan’s Tomb
I played as suggested in the Orcus Conversion, including warning of the impending battle with undead in Winterhaven. “But first, return hence to the hidden armory, and seek out aid from those that came before.”
Area 6 – Hidden Armory
Used Sir Davin from the Orcus Conversion guide’s DM’s Roleplaying Advice, giving Sir Davin an English accent, ala John Cleese of Monty Python fame (favorite quote “So! Hopefully I am winning now!&rdquo Thumbs up to Jacktannery for the original concept, very fun scene and well written guide/script! At the end of this “encounter” each character received a magic item up to level 6. Each item is an artifact or legacy item of the original group that led the expedition to close the Shadowfell gate (each artifact awakens and provides additional benefits to the player when they finish a short 2 or 3 paragraph story about the original wielder/wearer of the item; except for one player, Courtney who plays Riven, chose a luck charm which has not awoken as the Rod of Ruin has chosen Riven and so far Riven has chosen to keep the Rod in her possession. If she disposes of the rod in the future then the charm will awaken.)
Interlude 3 – The Dead Walk
Changes: Added Bairwin to the battle as the leader of the cult of Orcus in Winterhaven, with Ninarin as an underling. As neither lead had been followed, the PCs weren’t invested in either NPC, so ambushing them with 2 supposedly mundane NPCs introduced the threat of betrayal behind every friendly face. Of course no NPC has betrayed them since this battle, but they still make sure to mention their insight scores when they meet a new NPC. As to the battle itself, the players couldn’t make a decent Arcana roll to, literally, save their lives, so the battle was a grind that I ended when Bairwin was killed, I should note with the help of turncoat Ninarin that betrayed Bairwin when the battle turned against them… I wonder how to bring Ninarin back, perhaps allied with Irontooth in Thunderspire! On Bairwin’s remains they find the letter (originally Ninarin’s), with the incorrect pass phrase. Splug offhandedly remarks, “That isn’t right, I wonder why Kalarel would put the wrong phrase.” This of course results in a “How do you know that’s not the correct phrase” “Because I know the correct phrase” “how do you know the correct phrase” “because it is knowledge I possess” longwinded conversation that results in the players learning only that Splug knows the correct phrase and was taught the correct phrase by a goblin whose name he does not know.
When the PCs returned to town for a rest they are urged to return to the Keep as soon as possible to uncover the extent of the cult’s influence. Valthrun recognizes the symbol on “Splug’s” shield as the symbol of the Bloodreavers, “A rough group of slavers, run by a clan of hobgoblins. They operate throughout the Vale to the detriment of civilization.” Splug refuses to hand the shield over, but is quite willing to allow Valthrun to examine the symbol and shield, even turning it over so he can examine the reverse side. In the meantime, the town “militia” are sent to investigate Bairwin’s shop for any other evidence indicating the cult’s influence.
Second Level – I increased the Bloodreaver presence, never indicating exactly how many, but describing constant noise from the Area 13 and the presence of at least a dozen hobgoblins in area 12 when the PCs first enter to indicate an overwhelming force. If battle had broken out I planned to downgrade most of the hobgoblins to minions except for Ta’ak and his immediate bodyguards, but combat never occurred between the PCs and Bloodreavers.
Area 12, 14, and 16 – Using the correct passphrase the PCs demanded to speak with Kalarel. The hobgoblins kept a careful eye, and modest distance from, Splug. Splug seemed not to notice the care they took around him, spending most of his time lovingly stroking the magic shield. The PCs are led to Area 16, noting a door that had been barred to the west just north of the statue room. Entering the statue room they are told to touch the large statue to summon Kalarel. The players quickly change their mind and ask to speak with the leader of the Bloodreavers and are instead escorted to Area 14 to meet with Lieutenant Ta’ak. A complex social interaction skill challenge ensues that the PCs succeed well at and make a possible new ally of Ta’ak. They don’t ask for help taking down Kalarel, but are informed of a way to bypass the scary statues, but Ta’ak warns them that he lost 3 hobgoblins in the tunnels and stopped sending his soldiers in there.
Area 15 – Corridor of the Cube
An interesting battle, ran as the original module except with a crack between the sarcophagi leading to the small room in Area 17. As I recall no character ever got knocked unconscious, but they were engulfed multiple times before a good round of focused fire on the cube finally defeated it.
Area 17 – Ghoul Warren
Modifications: the undead are kept fed and under control by the ghoul and will not attack unless attacked themselves or directed to by the ghoul. The ghoul stands at the top of the stairs and has strict orders: immediately attack anything coming in through the north door unless otherwise instructed by Kalarel himself. After the hobgoblins were able to enter the inner sanctum without authorization using the western tunnel, Kalarel added “Unless you want to be a pile of dust, do not allow any living creature to descend these stairs again!” After much hesitation the PCs finally leave the small tunnel and enter the room with the zombies who mill about, ignoring the flesh meat in their midst. Wrain politely asks the ghoul if he may pass and descend the stairs. The ghoul nods then claws at Wrain, screeching loudly which signals the zombies to attack. The clay scout fled at the beginning of battle to warn Kalarel. The battle is short, and the PCs descend the stairs.
Area 18 – Cathedral of Shadow
Modifications: I played this area similar to Jacktannery’s Area 16 modification, except having the apparition of Kalarel appear as the PCs entered area 18. I placed 10 figures for the priests of Orcus chanting around 3 bodies hanging from the ceiling, slowly bleeding out. Kalarel waves his wand over the chanting priests, and suddenly they are suspended upside down in midair by some unseen force. Another wave of the wand and the skin is ripped from the bodies to land in a pile beneath them. Cuts and gouges appear, and the blood flows freely from the now mutilated corpses. Kalarel, anger in his eyes, shouts, “You have no chance to stop the ritual now! The sacrifice of the faithful followers of the Blood Lord will accelerate the final steps and your meddling efforts will be wasted! Servants of Orcus, lay waste to these infidels! Feed on their corpses!” The group is attacked by 1 Dark Creeper and 4 vampires (same stats as the vampire spawn fleshripper minions but with 47 hp and 1d6+6 necrotic damage). Splug refused to enter the Cathedral, as he had been commanded by Kalarel not to return until after the ritual is completed. He did however stand at the top of the stairs, and Wrain used a bard power to push the vampires up the stairs into the now devilish Splug’s waiting claws (nom nom nom!). After the battle an apparition of the Raven Queen appeared as in Jacktannery’s advice section. After the poem was recited she provided a boon that gave resist 5 necrotic for the remainder of the encounter. She then called to “Esplugia” (aka Splug), and commanded he kneel before her. Esplugia growled that he would like to remain and assist his friends, but she only smiled at him, told him to set the shield on the ground, then she and Esplugia vanished. (I counted the entire scene with the Raven Queen as 8 rounds of combat, even though it technically would have taken much longer).
Area 19 – The Shadow Rift
As Orcus Conversion guide with the following modifications:
Kalarel’s Unlife to Life Encounter Power works as the Shallowgrave Wights Reanimate Power for all undead minions in a close burst 5.
Kalarel must spend 20 (2 minutes) total standard actions from time combat begins in Area 18 to trigger the final step of the ritual and activate The Thing In The Portal trap. The PCs had 3 rounds remaining when they entered Area 19. Once he completes the final step he can speed up the final 10 rounds before the portal opens with a standard action each round, reducing it to a minimum of 5 rounds.
The Thing in the Portal Trap – The thing in the portal is an ancient shadow dragon named Sjach’hjuarach-Bjuivia
The DC 14 Arcana or Religion check also reveals how many rounds are remaining.
The DC 21 Arcana or Religion check also reveals that with a DC 15 heal check a healing surge can be expended while standing in the pool of blood to pause the process for 1 round.
Trigger: The trap rolls initiative upon completion of the ritual. The ritual requires 20 rounds from the beginning of initiative in Area 18. “Kalarel utters the final syllable of the ritual, a glowing green beam of energy extending from his rod to the pool of blood in the center of the Fane. Blood rises from the pool like serpents, in a dance above the rippling fluid of its birth before striking out toward the portal, providing the final component to breach the veil between worlds.” A previous success on a DC 14 Arcana or Religion check reveals there are 10 rounds before the veil is split. See DC 21 above.
Countermeasures: Same as normal except add 10 round countdown, a DC 15 Heal check expends a healing surge and prevents the blood from feeding the portal until the beginning of the PCs next turn. An additional Heal check can’t be used in this manner until the beginning of the PCs next turn. Kalarel can still use a standard action to accelerate the process by 1 round if he is adjacent to the altar on the dais.
This battle was of epic proportions, lasting 3 hours and 27 rounds, and the PCs coming down to the last player in the last round, with no healing surges remaining, and the last PC being assisted on their arcana check to complete the unbinding of the ritual. On round 26, with Tarkus lying dead in front of the portal, and all of the other heroes bloodied and without healing surges, Kalarel is finally struck down. On the final round Wrain stepped in front of Jhanti who had just miraculously recovered from unconsciousness by rolling a natural 20 on her death saving throw, putting himself directly in front of the portal, defiantly staring into the darkness. The shadow dragon, instead of attacking, escaped through the weakened veil, hovering over the battlefield, scaring the wits out of the heroes (but otherwise not attacking, concentrating instead on mentally seeking out the life force of her children throughout the material plane). With no healing surges remaining to prevent the portal from completely opening, Zakitra and Riven are working on closing the portal using the ritual book, already having used all options except Arcana with 7 successes and 2 failures, one assists the other and the final roll hits the table, the result of which will determine whether an army of undead washes over Wrain and Jhanti or the portal falls silent, and the die lands on a successful roll. The players breath a sigh of relief, and chapter 1 of our new campaign is complete.
The Ballad of Sir Keegan (Written by Johnny Lynch aka Wrain)
Sit ye on down and grab ye some ale,
Open yer ears and I'll tell ye a tell,
One o' bone-curdling loss and betrayal...
O' how our valiant hero, 'e fell.
Bad Sir Keegan,
Mad Sir Keegan,
Why did ye slaughter ‘em all?
They say were the bottle,
When ye’d walk ye would waddle!
What maaade ye take the great fall.
A man o’ renown,
Respected by all!
Till one fateful night,
Yer sword made the call.
Ye stabbed and ye sliced
And ye killed and ye stabbed.
Till surrounded ye were
And yer own throat was jabbed.
Well bad Sir Keegan,
Mad Sir Keegan,
Why did ye slaughter ‘em all?
They say were a caretaker,
In yer wife’s underwayer!
What maaade ye take the great fall.
First was yer wife
Run through like a hog.
Second yer son,
Who slept like a log.
Then went yer very best,
The fish in its bowl
Content was fourth...
Then ye ran out
And slayed ye the horse!
O Bad Sir Keegan,
Mad Sir Keegan,
Why did ye slaughter ‘em all?
They say were yer littl’un,
Yer patience he be wittlin’!
What maaade ye take the great fall.
Ye went through two score
O’ yer closest advisors and soldiers
Before through yer throat went the blade.
To stop all the mess
Yer body laid to rest
After yer duty ye betrayed.
Some say, ‘owever,
Brave and mighty Sir Cleaver,
Ye’re still keepin’ guard to this day.
Yer duty ye be keepin’
While their spirits be weepin’
But not a word will they say.
Bad Sir Keegan,
Mad Sir Keegan,
Why did ye slaughter ‘em all?
They say were a demon,
In yer ear ‘e be breathin’,
What maaade ye take the great fall.