Saturday, 31 December 2016

Dragora's Dungeon

DCC #82.5: Dragora's Dungeon is a 1st level adventure written by Harley Stroh. The cover is by Clyde Caldwell. Interior art is by Jeff Easley, Doug Kovacs, Stefan Poag, and Michael Wilson. The publisher is Goodman Games.

Disclosure: I converted this adventure to Dungeon Crawl Classics.

This is the first of the "Master Dungeon" Series modules for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons that I converted to Dungeon Crawl Classics for Goodman Games. (The second was The Curse of the Kingspire, also by Harley Stroh).

I am not by any means a fan of 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, but Harley Stroh comes close to making me want to give that system another try. This adventure is extremely Appendix N, in my opinion, making it a joy to convert.

There were a few things that needed alteration, however. Tiamat was too tied to Dungeons & Dragons, so I created the dragon-god Baphotet Kor to take her place. The scrolls on page 19 required some work to make them fit into Dungeon Crawl Classics, as did some other magic items, but there was far less creative work needed than one might think, considering the differences between the two systems. This is, I think, more a testament to Harley Stroh's strength as a writer than anything else.

Paring down the enormous 4th Edition statblocks to the essential build of the monsters involved does require work. Certainly more work than converting 3rd Edition or 1st Edition monsters.

As far as I know, this is the first official Goodman Games adventure to feature a dragon, and I rebuilt the dragon to conform to Dungeon Crawl Classics expectations. There is a good chance that PCs who do not know when to cut and run will experience a TPK at the climax of this adventure...but that was also true when Harley Stroh first wrote it.

(As far as I know, the first dragon in a Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure appears in The Tainted Forest Near Thorum by Yves Larochelle in Crawl! #4.)

Another issue with converting 4th Edition adventures arises from the skill challenge mechanic. In previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons, as in Dungeon Crawl Classics, the same types of actions would be resolved via a combination of role-playing, negotiation, and, in some cases, one or more die rolls. Not having to roll the dice would, in fact, be the preferred outcome for the players. Let's call this "accomplishment by description".

I have little doubt that, by formalizing non-combat challenges, the authors of 4th Edition reminded (or taught) many Game Masters of the importance of non-combat events to the narrative flow of role-playing game adventures. The difficulty, of course, is that the formalized system can both reduce creativity (because, ultimately, it is the rolls that count) and seem arbitrary (because the focus is on rolling a check with X, rather than having a role-playing decision result in a roll with X).

In the case of Harley Stroh's writing, skill challenges seem both flavorful and meaningful, so it was important to keep the sense of them while eliminating much of the formal mechanics. I hope, in some small part, that I succeeded in this. To my mind, Stroh's 4e modules are a clearer predecessor to the tone and feel of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG than many of the Goodman Games 3rd Edition modules were.

Finally, when the Dungeon Crawl Classics version of this adventure was released, there was a bit of controversy about the cover on G+ and Facebook. I don't know if the same was true when the adventure was released for 4th Edition.

While I personally have no real difficulty with the cover - and it is a definite homage to the earlier days of Dungeons & Dragons - I can understand why some would find the clear "cheesecake" factor off-putting. It would definitely be cool to see a Doug Kovacs or Stefan Poag alternative cover at some point.

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