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The Idea File
Dungeoncraft
by James Wyatt

It has taken me a lot longer to actually start running the Greenbrier campaign than I ever expected, largely because it's taking me much longer to finish the last novel in my Eberron trilogy than anyone would have hoped. So this month I'm going to take a bit of a break from developing that campaign and talk about the things in my idea file -- all the other campaigns I want to run, the games I'd be running if I lived in an alternate universe where I had nothing but time. In the course of looking at these ideas, we'll see why keeping a file of them is such a good idea -- because there's no such thing as a wasted idea.

Eberron

It might not be fair to call this one part of the idea file, because it's part of my day job -- I have been working (off and on) on the Eberron products due for release in 2009. But my last major campaign was an Eberron game, which started with the adventure that appeared in this magazine as "The Queen with Burning Eyes" and turned into a series of quests searching for the Regalia of Good and the Regalia of Evil, powerful artifacts dating from the ancient war between dragons and fiends.

Working on Eberron has, I think, also prompted David Noonan to start reminding me, occasionally, that his character from that campaign is still trapped under a glacier near the Frostfell -- the campaign ended a little precipitously, and Dave missed the last session.

I don't really have much interest in reviving that campaign. But it does have me thinking about a couple of interesting things I might be able to incorporate into the Greenbrier campaign:

Gatekeepers: I'm already planning to use something like the Gatekeeper druids of Eberron in the Greenbrier campaign, and now that the Campaign Guide is in development, I have some concrete information I can use for Gatekeepers that appear in my game or for PCs who want to join their illustrious ranks.

Villains as Monsters: One of the less obvious beauties of 4th Edition is that it treats humans that aren't PCs as monsters by default. That means that when we wanted to define, say, the Ashbound druidic sect as a villainous organization in Eberron, we could provide the DM with statistics blocks for members of the Ashbound sect that are constructed as monsters and have unique powers to fit their Ashbound flavor. In 3rd Edition, we designed Ashbound feats and gave them to NPC druids so they could work just like PCs who join the Ashbound. Now PCs and NPCs use different rules, and we can build a monster that says Ashbound from the ground up.

The point of that is that I can do the same thing for villainous organizations in my Greenbrier campaign -- which, now that I think about it, are sort of missing from the little setting I've created. I talked about anti-aberration organizations drawn from the 3rd Edition Lords of Madness sourcebook but no real villainous groups, no Society for the Promotion of Aberrant Monstrosities. I should add such a group, something like Eberron's Cults of the Dragon Below that worship aberrant beings and all too often get turned into something no longer human.

When I do that, I'll be able to create interesting and unique stat blocks for them, just like we did for the Ashbound.

Aberrant Beasties: The time that I and others have spent lately with the Eberron books also gave me some low-level aberrant monsters I can use to populate Greenbrier Chasm -- dolgrims and dolgaunts, which appear in the Eberron conversion for adventure H1: Keep on the Shadowfell.

The Prophecy: One of the themes we decided to emphasize a little more in the 4th Edition incarnation of Eberron is the Draconic Prophecy. I like the idea of grounding the characters in a prophecy that might point them toward their epic destinies even at 1st level. Perhaps I'll incorporate that into my PCs' first foray into Greenbrier Chasm.

Swords & Sorcery

I recently read a collection of J. Gregory Keyes' Fool Wolf stories, most of which originally appeared in the pages of Dragon magazine. (It's called The Hounds of Ash and Other Tales, and I recommend it highly.) These stories have a very old-school, pulp, swords-and-sorcery feel to them -- Fool Wolf is a barbarian scoundrel with a certain family resemblance to Conan or Fafhrd. There's an ancient Near Eastern feel to the world, and it employs the old-school fantasy tropes of evil sorcerers and powerful demons, misguided paladins, and heroic if not particularly virtuous barbarians.

So that got me thinking about how easy it would be to run a 4th Edition campaign where all the characters used the martial power source. Two fighters, a rogue, a ranger, and a warlord don't cover all the party roles, but they're lacking only a controller, which is not an insurmountable obstacle. Such a party -- perhaps even made up entirely of humans -- could face off against evil wizards, cultic priests of serpent gods, and the horrible monsters the villains knowingly or unwittingly unleash upon the world, and never themselves cast a spell or employ a ritual.

Rituals: An additional wrinkle, which is where this gets useful for Greenbrier, is that the ritual system in 4th Edition is perfect for modeling the kind of magic you see in Robert E. Howard's Conan stories or H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu tales. Characters in this campaign might run across ritual scrolls that offer significant power -- at a horrible cost.

Here I would draw on the Call of Cthulhu game for inspiration, but this kind of campaign appeals to me much more than Call of Cthulhu. Lovecraft and Howard had a lot in common, but where the horror of Lovecraft is fundamentally bleak (and Call of Cthulhu seems to end, inevitably, with the party of investigators either dead or insane), Howard's fantasy is optimistic and heroic. Conan faces horrible monster-gods and emerges triumphant. That's what I want for my game.

Perhaps the cult of aberration worshipers makes use of these forbidden rituals, which the PCs might be tempted by. Certainly when the characters prepare for their final confrontation with the fiery being that escaped from Greenbrier Chasm, they should feel very much like they're confronting a dark god right out of the pages of Lovecraft or Howard.

World of Warcraft

As Blizzard Entertainment gears up for the release of the next expansion to World of Warcraft, they have caught the attention of one lapsed player in my household: my 11-year-old son.

A couple of weeks ago, he started suggesting that we renew our WoW subscriptions and start playing again. (We played together for about a year, then drifted away -- mostly into D&D, where he could customize his character however he wanted, design his own powers, and so on.) We finally did so the other night, but in the interim we played D&D with World of Warcraft characters and monsters.

He made a draenei death knight (loosely based on the paladin class, with dragonborn ability score adjustments and a racial power a lot like the Tide of Melora feat), while my character was a night elf priest (the Devoted Cleric build pretty much straight, using elf statistics but with a stealthy racial power instead of Elven Accuracy).

I am not immersed in Warcraft lore, but I enjoy the world and think it could be a really fun setting for a tabletop roleplaying campaign. Mostly, I think, I like the monsters. So when it came time to put our characters through a couple of encounters, I had a lot of fun adapting D&D monsters to fit in WoW monster skins. I was trying to move quickly, so most of what I did was find monsters in the Monster Manual that were the right level and role for what I wanted to make and filed off the serial numbers.

I'm not sure how relevant this is to my Greenbrier campaign, but there's at least some chance that characters will encounter murlocs and nagas at some point in the course of the campaign. In fact, it's not entirely outside the realm of possibility to steal blatantly from WoW and use nagas and satyrs within Greenbrier Chasm as corrupted versions of the elves who used to live in the forest above and around it. I'm not sure I'll go that far, but the monsters are cool enough to make me seriously consider it.

Gamma World

Another idiosyncracy of my son's gaming habits: He loves the mutation rules from the d20 Future book (part of the d20 Modern game line), which ultimately trace their ancestry back to the Gamma World game. He got me thinking about mutations one day, and I sat down with a pad of paper and sketched out how I could build a Gamma World game within the 4th Edition structure of character powers. The answer was actually pretty elegant. Within a week, I had committed to run a sort of playtest of the system at a local gaming event that took place at the beginning of September.

I dug out my old Gamma World boxed sets (I have the original from 1978 and the second edition from 1983) and referenced the Alternity setting version of Gamma World (published in 2000) for a more modern perspective. I based the adventure I ran on the sample adventure, "Rite of Passage," from the 1983 boxed set. I ended up using Dreamblade miniatures for all the characters and monsters, which meant that the monsters in particular paid very little homage to Gamma Worlds past. The characters did include a dabber (a mutated raccoon), though -- the Twilight Scout figure from Dreamblade set 1.

When we started playing, one of the players commented that the life leech mutation had never been balanced in six editions of Gamma World. Well, when the life leech mutation actually consists of the at-will power localized leech field (which is the warlock's at-will dire radiance but with necrotic damage), the encounter power vampiric embrace (warlock 1), and a daily power based on beacon of hope (cleric 1), it turns out to be a pretty balanced mutation.

Wacky Characters: As I think about what I can take from my Gamma World ideas to enrich and inform my Greenbrier campaign, the one thing that sticks in my head is the character with no face. Using Dreamblade miniatures meant I had to stretch to find figures that looked reasonably human without looking too 21st-century. That's why the character with the life leech mutation was the Greenlife Dryad, and the psychic character was the Faceless Stalker. When I wrote up the Faceless Stalker's character sheet, I noted that she could see normally, thanks to her psychic mutations. I didn't say anything about how she ate or spoke, and it only came up in passing during the game.

We DMs shouldn't be afraid to let characters be pretty out there in appearance or capabilities. By definition, player characters are special, and the story of the game can be a lot richer if they're clearly marked as special for all too see. Imagine a wizard character who always wore a hooded robe because she had no face -- or a face that was clearly inhuman (despite the human entry in the race blank on her character sheet). You can say that arcane power gives her the capability to see as well as other characters do. She could spend a feat on Skill Training (Perception) or Skill Focus (Perception) to reflect that her arcane sight is actually better than normal human sight. She might take Blind-Fighting as her first paragon feat. Suddenly this is a character who really comes vividly to life -- on the character sheet as well as at the table.

More Wacky Monsters: Can you identify the monsters from the Monster Manual that provided the basis for these monster statistics blocks?

Ardent Zungar
Level 2 Brute
Medium mutated plant
XP 125
Initiative +4; Senses Perception +1; low-light vision
Toxic Spores aura 1; an enemy that ends its turn in the aura takes 2 poison damage.
HP 43; Bloodied 21
AC 15; Fortitude 13, Reflex 14, Will 11
Speed 8
Melee Club (standard; at-will) Weapon
+5 vs. AC; 1d8 +2 damage.
Str 15 (+3)
Dex 16 (+4)
Wis 10 (+1)
Con 13 (+2)
Int 4 (-2)
Cha 6 (-1)
Ardent Zungar

Zungar Standardbearer
Level 4 Brute (Leader)
Medium mutated plant
XP 175
Initiative +6; Senses Perception +4; low-light vision
Toxic Spores aura 1; an enemy that ends its turn in the aura takes 2 poison damage.
HP 67; Bloodied 33
AC 17; Fortitude 14, Reflex 15, Will 13
Speed 6
Melee Sword (standard; at-will) Weapon
+8 vs. AC; 1d10 +3 damage.
Close Burst Spore Burst (standard; recharge 56) Poison
Close burst 3; +5 vs. Fort; 1d8 +4 poison damage, and the target takes ongoing 5 poison damage and is slowed (save ends both). Allies in the burst heal 5 hit points.
Str 17 (+5)
Dex 18 (+6)
Wis 12 (+4)
Con 17 (+5)
Int 4 (-1)
Cha 8 (+1)
Zungar Standardbearer

Drakesnail
Level 3 Elite Lurker
Medium mutated animal
XP 300
Initiative +8; Senses Perception +8; low-light vision
HP 80; Bloodied 40
AC 19; Fortitude 17, Reflex 15, Will 15
Speed 4
Melee Bite (standard; at-will)
Reach 2; +7 vs. AC; 1d6 +1 damage.
Melee Twin Bite (standard; recharge when the drakesnail uses shell game)
The drakesnail makes two bite attacks. If both attacks hit the same creature, the target takes ongoing 5 damage (save ends).
Threatening Reach
The drakesnail can make opportunity attacks against any creature within its reach.
Shell Game (standard; at-will)
The drakesnail retreats into its shell and gains resist 15 to all damage, regeneration 2, and tremorsense 10. It loses all other senses and can take no actions in its shell other than emerge (as a minor action).
Str 18 (+5)
Dex 16 (+4)
Wis 14 (+3)
Con 16 (+4)
Int 4 (-2)
Cha 8 (+0)
Drakesnail

The ardent zungar is a kruthik young. All I did was change its size and type, remove its tremorsense and special movement modes, added poison to its aura damage, and change its claw to a club.

The zungar standardbearer is a kruthik adult with the same changes. I made it a leader (after all, it's carrying a standard) by adding a healing ability to the kruthik's toxic spikes.

The drakesnail was actually a little more complicated. I started with the imp's statistics but made it elite. Instead of the imp's invisibility, I gave it an ability akin to the gargoyle's stone form. I gave it threatening reach to help make it act like an elite monster.

I threw these monsters together quickly for a wacky Gamma World game, but they will fit nicely into the environment of Greenbrier Chasm, where the aberrant corruption known as the Depravation warps plants and animals into mockeries of nature. And when I put a Dreamblade miniature down on the table, my players won't know what to make of it!

There you have it, a detailed look inside my Idea File. I know I'm lucky: Even though I don't have time to run a campaign right now, I play a lot of D&D, and I have the opportunity to flesh out these ideas into something that will become useful down the line.

Even if all your effort right now is dedicated to building your campaign, keep notes on your other ideas! When your creative well runs dry, you'll be surprised what can turn out to be useful from your idea stockpile.

About the Author

James Wyatt is the Lead Story Designer for D&D and one of the lead designers of D&D 4th Edition. In over seven years at Wizards of the Coast, he has authored or co-authored award-winning adventures and settings including the Eberron Campaign Setting, City of the Spider Queen, and Oriental Adventures. His more recent works include Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, Cormyr: The Tearing of the Weave, and The Forge of War. Most recently, he was the author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide.