February 9, 2011

Red Hand of Doom: Introduction


Recently, I've had quite a bit of free time at my office job, and have had the opportunity to take a crack at converting The Red Hand of Doom from it's 3e beginnings into my beloved Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition.

In short, I have had epic success.

The original format of the adventure runs antithetical in many ways to the current D&D philosophy, and so in trying to convert it, I've uncovered and created a few interesting and unique twists in my game. It really forced me to reconsider how I was going about designing encounters, and focused my thoughts on to what about the module made it so fun. How do I bring those elements over into 4E? What parts of 3E did I not like, and how does 4E handle that? How can we make this better? How can I design this for optimized fun? The following will be a chapter by chapter presentation of some of the awesome things I created. If there is any interest, I'll start posting session recaps and notes on actual play (as opposed to this admittedly academic exercise) from the current 4E Red Hand of Doom campaign I'm running.


For those of you whom have never played this adventure, The Red Hand of Doom is a multi-level adventure, at the time dubbed "superadventure", in which a group of heroes gets caught up in an impending massive invasion by a monstrous army devoted to Tiamat, led by dragons and hobgoblins, specifically a "Dragonborn" Hobgoblin. The adventurers plunder forgotten ruins, break the alliances of the horde, smash a dragon hatchery, kill lots of dragons, befriend the Elves, defend a city against a massive siege, and kill Tiamat (or at least her avatar); and almost all of this is done under the excitement of a well thought-out in-game time-crunch. This adventure is sweet, and has received wide praise for many years now. Arguably, the best adventure written by WotC during the 3rd Edition years.

The adventure starts at Level 3 and ends at Level 9. There are many Quests available throughout, which accounts for a significant amount of the XP to be earned.
House Rules, and the Like

In my campaign, I've been adding things into the game to help cover up some proud nails in the 4E system, with the intent of making things more fun.

NPC Allies - Original Post. The heroes pick up various minions throughout the adventure that help the group out in minor ways, while always keeping the spotlight (and the XP distribution) firmly placed on the PCs. I've been

Mounts - Original Post. Mounts play a crucial role in this adventure, as travelling by foot is simply too slow. With the calendar of events in the adventure, a walking group of PCs will be overrun by the horde and the adventurers will lose. Here's a key point that I think makes RHoD stand out; the adventurers primary threat isn't dying, it is losing. Also, the way I handle mounts is similar to how NPC Allies are done. They provide a very limited benefit, and serve to enhance the PCs in some minor way.

Magic Item Distribution - Original Post. My magic items are rare, like one per Level/Chapter. They are rare, and they are special, and they are awesome. Using the inherent enhancement bonuses ala DMG2, I've cut out all of the filler magic items from the original adventure and focused on the really cool stuff, making those items especially badass. Also, with how much less wonky the math in 4E is, it's harder to have random, meaningless death. Hence, I took out the resurrecting Staff of Life entirely.

Rituals - My campaign is all Essentials classes, and so there are no ritual casters in the group. I really enjoy having rituals in the game, so to avoid making a character blow a feat to pick up Ritual Caster, I decided to make scrolls. Scrolls are consumable magic items that replicate a typical ritual. They each require a skill check to use, at a High DC for their indicated skill. A failed check ruins the scroll. The cost of a scroll is equal to the component cost of the ritual. I figured the market prices of the rituals are factored into my half-assed treasure distribution system.

Treasure - I've not been bothered much with the treasure parcel system, especially since this campaign has no means of creating magic items. I've been awarding PCs the treasure indicated in the original adventure, with the exception of simply omitting any reference to platinum coins.

Travel Time

As I mentioned, un-mounted characters in this adventure are going to lose. This is because the adventurers will want to bounce around the campaign map, running to this location and that finishing quests, all the while the Red Hand horde marches through the Vale and burns villages to the ground.
Something this also brings up is the opportunity cost inherent in taking an Extended Rest. There's an in-game penalty to the Extended Rest in this campaign, namely the 6 hours it takes, plus any additional waiting time if they take rests too often (one can only Extended Rest once per 24 hour period). This makes every encounter (in which a Daily power is used or a Healing Surge is lost) really count, no matter how seemingly trivial the fight. The PCs won't die, but they will lose by playing it too safe and running out of time.

I've been using a simple formula to calculate how fast a group can travel:

(Speed of the slowest member of the party) x 4 = Number of miles travelled per day

I then applied this to the given campaign map, creating a quick reference. This table probably looks like utter crap on your web browser, so sorry about that.

.                                                                                                                                               -- Time Required --
                                                                                                Distance              Speed 5                Speed 6                Speed 8                Speed 10                Speed 12             Speed 15
Hammerfast Holds to Drellin's Ferry                               80 miles                4 days                   3 ½ days               2 ½ days               2 days                       1 ¾ days               1 ½ days
Drellin's Ferry to Skull Gorge Bridge                          25 miles                1 ¼ days               1 ¼ days               1 day                     ¾ day                    ¾ day                    ½ day
Drellin's Ferry to Terrelton                                            30 miles                1 ½ days               1 ¼ days               1 day                     ¾ day                    ¾ day                    ½ day
Terrelton to Nimon's Gap                                             20 miles                1 day                     ¾ day                    ¾ day                    ½ day                    ½ day                    ½ day
Nimon's Gap to Talar                                                     25 miles                1 ¼ days               1 ¼ days               1 day                     ¾ day                    ¾ day                    ½ day
Talar to Brindol                                                                 30 miles                1 ½ days               1 ¼ days               1 day                     ¾ day                    ¾ day                    ½ day
Brindol to Elsircross                                                         45 miles                2 ¼ days               2 days                   1 ½ days               1 ¼ days                1 day                     ¾ day
Elsircross to Red Hook                                             25 miles                1 ¼ days               1 ¼ days               1 day                     ¾ day                    ¾ day                    ½ day
Brindol to Marthton                                                       55 miles                2 ¾ days               3 days                   1 ¾ days               1 ½ days                1 ¼ days               1 day
Marthton to Dennovar                                                  30 miles                1 ½ days               1 ¼ days               1 day                     ¾ day                    ¾ day                    ½ day
Hammerfast Holds to Ghostlord's Lair                    150 miles             7 ½ days               6 ¼ days               4 ¾ days               3 ¾ days                3 ¼ days               2 ½ days
Hammerfast Holds to Nimon's Gap/Terrelton     50 miles                2 ½ days               2 ¼ days               1 ¾ days               1 ¼ days                1 ¼ days               1 day
Skull Gorge Bridge to Tiamat's Lair                           90 miles                4 ½ days               3 ¾ days               3 days                   2 ¼ days                2 days                   1 ½ days
Talar to Witchcross                                                         20 miles                1 day                     ¾ days                  ¾ day                    ½ days                  ½ days                  ½ days
Witchcross to Rhest                                                        65 miles                3 ¼ days               2 ¾ days               2 ¼ days               1 ¾ days                1 ½ days               1 ¼ days


  1. Hey, man. Just wanted to say that I'm starting to run Red Hand of Doom in 4th edition too, and I've been using a lot of your ideas as a sort of basis for mine. Sometimes I'm just straight ripping your stuff off, too. XD Just wanted to say thanks, and you rock. :P

    1. Glad to hear you're getting such good use out of it!