Designing the Dancing Hut
Design & Development
By Craig Campbell
aba Yaga's Dancing Hut is a conversion/re-imagining of an adventure, written by Roger E. Moore, that appeared in issue 83 of Dragon magazine in 1984 for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (first edition).
D&D has evolved a lot since 1984 and translating the original adventure into its 4th Edition equivalent proved quite the challenge. The following is a brief glimpse into the process I used to convert the original adventure to the current edition of the. I hope it will serve long-time DMs as a bit of inspiration on how they might translate their favorite older-edition adventures for their current campaigns.
This article includes some spoilers concerning both the original adventure and my 4th Edition version. You have been warned.
Identifying My Goals
As I read through the original adventure, I wrote up a comprehensive summary of the source material. This was done primarily to familiarize myself with everything and help me commit things to memory, but also to serve as a checklist of important elements so I didn't forget something later on.
As I read, I identified the following key goals and developed how I might work them into my design.
Embrace the 1st Edition "feel" of the hut. Earlier editions of the game have a distinctly different feel from the current edition of the game. While I wanted to craft a decidedly 4th Edition adventure, I sought to build it around the "feel" of 1st Edition. The original adventure is, essentially, a dungeon crawl through a strange, extradimensional dungeon chock full of monsters and treasure. There are elements of story there, but they are mostly left open to interpretation by individual DMs. Embracing the earlier edition, while holding to 4th Edition design precepts, became a driving design goal.
Include all the original NPCs but update them for 4th Edition. This proved to be easy in some cases, but trickier in others. Elena the Fair, Vladimir, and Ivan were easy enough. I simply progressed them through the ages and decided what they had been up to, developing an agenda for each, or, in Vladimir's case, sort of a lack thereof. Since Baba Yaga is much higher in level than the creatures residing in the hut, I designed her simulacrum as a combination guardian/red herring for the adventurers to encounter. Natasha the Dark proved to be the trickiest bit. In D&D canon, Natasha left the hut long ago and became Iggwilv. But, I wanted to make sure Natasha had a presence in the 4th Edition version of this adventure. After determining that Elena had gone mad over the loss of her foster family, I crafted a dream-version of Natasha to inhabit the hut and described how she came to be. I also expanded the bone gate into an NPC of sorts, to introduce some roleplaying early in the adventure. Furthermore, I developed the guardian familiar in the attic and the kobold overseeing the alchemical laboratory as fleshed-out NPCs that the adventurers might interact with and even befriend.
Find ways to surprise long-time gamers who have played the original version. Many of the rooms are just like they were in the original adventure. Others have been tweaked to confound players who remember the original. Changing up monsters a bit, substituting a few things, and adding some completely new concepts/monsters serves to keep old-school gamers on their toes. Deciding what to keep, what to change, and what to jettison proved a challenging task.
Keep vs. Change vs. Jettison
The keep/change/jettison challenge resulted in several new concepts in my version of the dancing hut. On the flip side, it also encouraged me to simply modify some of the information in the original adventure to fall in line with 4th Edition adventure design concepts.
Following is some insight into how I developed some of the more specific aspects of the adventure.
Determining adventure level. Hags and demons of various sorts are a mainstay of the original adventure. Many of the hags and demons described in the original adventure fall in the 12th-17th level range in 4th Edition. This led to the adventure being for 13th-15th level adventurers, since that allowed me to use many of these creatures as published. It also opened up the idea of the adventurers earning Baba Yaga's ire in the paragon tier, leading to the possibility of future adventures in which Baba Yaga sends her more powerful servitors after them for the transgressions they committed in her dancing hut, perhaps leading to a showdown with the archfey herself in the epic tier.
Adventure vs. adventuring location. The current edition of the game embraces story over simple dungeon crawling. My adventure is decidedly still a dungeon crawl, and a DM could simply skip past the NPC agendas and story elements in the adventure to run the hut as a straight-up dungeon crawl. That said, I decided to develop the hut as a sort of microculture unto itself. The important creatures in the hut have personalities and agendas that the DM can use to inject a handful of story-based elements into the adventure.
Translating the hut's special properties. The original adventure included a list of dozens of spells and how they are affected by the strange architecture and qualities of the hut. Many DMs would consider this rather cumbersome, resulting in much page-flipping while running the adventure. Rather than provide such a list, I chose to define several broad qualities for the hut, with a few exceptions thrown in to provide spice. These rules focus on categories of effects, divinations, planar access, and teleportation to provide a bit of a puzzle for characters using various powers and rituals.
Random encounters. Random encounters are a mainstay of earlier editions of D&D. Given that many of the rooms in the hut are, according to their descriptions, uninhabited, I introduced tables for those DMs who want to embrace the old-school feel of random encounters. However, instead of a simple random encounter table that applies across all rooms, I developed a method of determining what creatures might be in a particular (normally uninhabited) room based on the function of the room and what types of creatures might go there.
Baba Yaga's curses. The original adventure features powerful symbols, save-or-die effects, and no-save-just-die situations like spheres of annihilation. Such mechanics aren't part of 4th Edition adventure design, but I wanted to include something to replicate their nastiness. A little brainstorming regarding how Baba Yaga might protect her hut led me to design several curses that the ancient hag has strewn throughout the hut. I created four different curses, each with a distinct flavor and each targeting a different defense, to keep the players guessing.
So there you have it—a glimpse into the design of Baba Yaga's Dancing Hut. I hope you found it interesting and inspiring.
Please pardon me while I prepare to make my players pay for having their characters steal Baba Yaga's dancing hut. It's going to get ugly.
Scott Sutherland, a good friend of the author, crafted this model of Baba Yaga's dancing hut for use during play testing. If you'd like to learn all about how Scott built this model, visit his blog.