February 16, 2011

The Red Hand of Doom – Session #1 (January 18th 2011)

I run two different D&D campaigns; one game is weekly, one game is bi-weekly. My bi-weekly game (on Tuesday nights) is currently going through my 4E conversion of The Red Hand of Doom. At my request, we are utilizing all Essentials character classes, partly because I am dying to see how these new mechanics play out, and partly because I wanted to grab a little more of that classic D&D feel that Essentials aims to provide.
The characters in our group of heroes are: Desmo (Human Evoker Mage), Asterion (Minotaur Knight), Father Hagerty (Half-elf Warpriest), Magnus (Dragonborn Slayer), and Ashgrim (Halfling Fey Pact Hexblade).
Our first session starts with an ending, the ending of Kalarel (whom I renamed Karax), to be exact. Wrapping up H1: Keep on the Shadowfell, we began with the final battle of that adventure, using the version of Karax that rips your still beating heart out of your chest. Staring down into the gaping hole leading to the lowest level of the Keep, the group saw blood trickling down an elaborate chained pulley system from a creaking, ancient Dwarven lift system. In the darkness below, the chanting of Karax could be heard as he performed the ritual to open a portal to Thanatos and conquer the world with an army of the living dead. The group got into the rusted steel lift, and began descending into the darkness. As the machine worked to bring the heroes down, Karax turned his attention to the heroes and began casting his dark spells as zombies began shambling out of the black gate. Desmo, ever cautious, stayed on the relative safety of the lift while the rest of the party slid down the blood-slick chains to join the fray. The villain was killed, slain on the very altar of the Demon-Prince Orcus, and the portal to that dark netherworld sealed once again. Afterwards, Karax’s spellbook and chest of gold were recovered. Desmo claimed the dreaded Rod of Ruin, an artifact of great power and great evil, confident in his ability to harness its power for good. Last amongst their findings was a curious map of “Vraath Keep”. What was Karax planning here?
The heroes returned to Winterhaven to a joyous welcome. The festivities were limited, however, as many of the townsfolk were still missing, placed into slavery by the machinations of the Bloodreaver Clan of Hobgoblins. After talking to the sage, Valthrun the Prescient, it was discovered that Vraath Keep was an old bastion of Nerath, now long-abandoned, that once held back a force of giants in the Witchwood outside the village of Drellin’s Ferry. After taking a well-deserved rest, the heroes sought out the Dwarves of the Wyvernwatch Mountains. (This all happened a few weeks ago, so I’m a little shaky on some of the details here. I believe the players associated Dwarves with mining, and then mining with slaves. The train of logic kind of eluded me, but I just rolled with it.)
After many days travel, the adventurer’s came through the cities of the Elsir Vale, including bustling Brindol, and upon The Sanctuary of the Sacred Stone, a Dwarven monastery noted for its hospitality and kindness towards travelling strangers. The stone building was set into the side of the mountain, amongst the snowy pass and cold, bitter winds of the high altitudes. Upon the north face of the building, however, no light shone from its stained-glass windows. No smoke rose from its chimney. The stout wooden entryway door had been nearly ripped off its hinges. The peaceful Dwarves lay scattered about the central prayer-room; decapitated, disemboweled, and burned to death. A grisly scene if there ever were one. Clearly, someone had been here before, and with ill-intentions. Gathering their belongings, the heroes proceeded onto the second leg of their quest, to Drellin’s Ferry and Vraath Keep.
DM’s Notes
+ We usually play for a little over 3 hours, starting at 7:00pm and ending sometime after 10:00pm. Despite this, we end up with (at most!) two combat encounters per night. The combat encounters go pretty quick, many of them of small distractions way below the level of the party. The issue here is that a). this group likes to fart around and get off-subject a lot, an b). we do quite a bit of exploration and roleplaying. There’s a lot of talking to the locales and other non-dice activities that puts me personally out of my usual comfort zone. It’s been really awesome, by the way, relaxed when it needs to be, and accentuates the tension of the more uncommon hard fights.
+ Going to the southern mountains this early in the adventure threw me for a loop! I did originally plan on integrating my opus of an adventure into the story of The Red Hand of Doom, so I wasn’t completely unprepared, but there was a lot of adlibbing during this part. Keeping me on my toes! I also gave the PCs a few more days time before the events start really moving on the calendar, since  the original adventure doesn’t account for a trip to the Dwarves and I didn’t want to punish the group for going out there. It will add quite a bit of verisimilitude to the story when they piece things together.
+ No one has figured out (yet) that they need to really hustle their asses in this adventure. I’ve been making a point of tracking how much time everything takes and handed out a campaign calendar. I’ve been breaking the days up into 6 hour intervals, which fits well with the 6 hour typical Extended Rest. I feel like the rule stating that there is only one Extended Rest per 24 hour period is going to come into play as well. Desmo’s player decided to get his character a horse pretty early on, but I think that was more to accentuate his character’s pimpin’ style.
+ Catch Phrase of the Night: “Work smarter, not harder”.


  1. So I have recently been asked to DM a 4E game for my friends, most of whom have never played D&D before; I was also planning to adapt Red Hand of Doom, so this whole blog series has been tremendously useful.

    I did have a question - since you're running this up to Heroic Tier (as am I), have you given any thought to what to carry it into for Paragon and even Epic tiers?

  2. hey hey!

    Firstly, thanks for reading the blog! I'm glad you enjoy it and find it helpful. If only one person out there finds this stuff useful for their game, then my quest is complete.

    That's excellent that you're giving RHoD a whirl in 4E! Obviously, there's a ton of notes that I have for my game that I don't feel comfortable publishing on a public space like this. Send me an email (click on my info to the right) and I can send you my full notes, if you like.

    As for continuing the game past Heroic Tier, I haven't planned anything specifically, but I would suggest looking into the what is provided by the original adventure. If the heroes are indeed successful in saving the Vale, they have really only shown the agents of Tiamat that they are a force to be taken seriously. Going into the Paragon Tier, it would only be appropriate to begin introducing some plane-hopping adventures as the Lord of Greed chases down those meddling adventurers who stopped its plans for the Red Hand Hobgoblins.

    I would also suggest you take a look at some of the adventures in WotC's Scales of War, too, as it was originally envisioned to be a sort of sequel to RHoD.

  3. Hi Steven -- I read your lost crown of tesh-naga module and I have to say it is awesome. I've got two questions -- first, how much information should the players have about the PCs before they choose who they want to be? Do they just get the brief titles (e.g., "the mysterious stranger"), or do they get to know class and/or race? Or should I assign them randomly? Second, there are 7 pre-generated PCs... is the module designed for 7 PCs? If I have less that 7 players, should I eliminate any of the options and, if so, who should go first?

  4. Hi! I'm really glad to hear that you like 'Tesh-Naga. It's one of my favorites that I've done, and has seen great replay value amongst my circle of gamer friends. It's an old favorite.

    The module can handle any number of players from 3 to 7. Although if you do only 3 players, you want to pick and choose the characters to ensure a good mix of conflicting personalities. The true danger and challenge of the adventure is the other players. The creatures and traps present are merely anecdotal. They're window dressing. If you have 7 PCs, yeah, they will steamroll over the monsters. And that is totally OK, because when that Crown is spotted, all hell will break loose.

    I generally like to describe the characters only by their one-word descriptions. I feel like it adds a sense of mystery and discovery to things, and doesn't tip your hand early on as to what everyone's got and what is really going on. That said, the adventure runs absolutely fine if you describe each character to whatever leevl of detail you want. You could even randomly assign characters. Just make sure you don't show anyone the background sheets where is tells them who hates whom. That would spoil the surpirse and intrigue.

    Let me know how that works for you!

  5. How many times have you run this? Who has won?

    Also, how large should the rooms be? I'm trying to create a maptool version of the module, with everything pre-made with all the appropriate macros and all the maps set up in advance.

  6. How many times have you run it? and which character has won?

    Did you use any specific dungeon tiles?

    I'm creating a maptool version of the module with all the maps set up and everything necessary built into macros. I'll send it to you when I finish.

  7. Wow, that sounds awesome! Hit me up on email at caseysross at yahoo dot com and we can chat more.

    In general, I kind of wing it with the maps. The all tend to be in the 8x8 range of size, and depend on what Dungeon Tiles I have available. Except for the forge room, I use a map from one of the epic-tier Scales of War adventures (that had something similar) for that one.

    I've run this game about half a dozen times, and a few friends of mine have run it for other groups. In general, Kulimvorith wins occasionally, Black Lotus wins a lot (because h's so fast, can grab the crown easily, and most players write him off in their minds as not a threat) and Drum-Haak the silver-tongued liar wins often because he tends to attract players who are good at manipulating others. Grimlock repeatedly gets abused in every game, and never comes close to winning. I've only heard of one time that he's ever even touched the crown.

    Also, I contuinually update the builds of the characters for my own use, so the one's on Sarah Darkmagic are pretty out of date, errata-wise.

  8. Hi man, I'm currently DMing Keep on the Shadowfell for my group and I would really like to run RHoD next, as background for Scales of War. Your notes are just awesome and very helpful! If you have the time I would love to check the extra notes you wrote in your sessions. Greetings from a first-time DM ^^