"Haruuc's Tomb" is a D&D encounter for five 7th-8th level characters. It is an adaptation of events from the Eberron novel Word of Traitors. You can run this as a one-shot encounter or weave it into your campaign as part of a longer adventure.
Don Bassingthwaite’s novel, Word of Traitors, tells the story of a group of adventurers on a quest to explore the death of Lhesh Haruuc, Darguun’s goblin king—supposedly assassinated by a warrior sworn to protect him. Yet something darker appears to be at work, as Dharguun’s ancient enemies stoke the flames of a new war following Haruuc’s demise. With this adventure, your heroes can have a little taste of Don’s story.
Haruuc's Tomb: From Book to Game
When Bart Carroll approached me about translating an encounter from Don Bassingwaithe's Word of Traitors into a delve adventure, I approached it as an opportunity to examine—in greater depth—the process I use to "borrow" from other media.
I'm one of those DMs who doesn't run published adventures very often. I prefer to create everything for myself. That said, I'd be lying if I said I create everything in my games from scratch.
I often "borrow" from other sources, as I'm sure many DMs do. TV, movies, books, and comics often influence and inspire me and I love finding ways to incorporate compelling characters, monsters, and situations from other sources into my games. Sometimes these translations are quite literal. Other times they serve as inspirations that I twist and tweak to such an extent that the casual observer would be hard-pressed to identify the original source.
A Note on Spoilers
As with "Haruuc's Tomb: A Novel Adventure", this article mentions some specifics from Word of Traitors. Care has been taken to avoid mentioning important plot points. However, aspects of the novel that some might consider minor spoilers are discussed below. If you are reading (or plan to read) Word of Traitors and wish to avoid even these minor spoilers, don't read any further!
Borrowing from Word of Traitors
Don's novel features several prominent, unique NPCs as well as an engaging scene in which its heroes break into the tomb of a dead goblin king, dealing with these NPCs while doing so.
While many elements could be translated directly, others required some tweaking. After all, something that reads well in a novel might not actually work in-game without some modification.
Examining the Source Material
While reading Word of Traitors, I focused on finding those elements that made the novel unique and engaging, aspects that went above and beyond the typical medieval fantasy story. I wanted to insure that only the most interesting elements of the story would make their way into my adventure so that players would really latch onto the material I was presenting them.
I identified the following story aspects as the ones I wanted to incorporate:
In Word of Traitors, the heroes ultimately engage in the opening of the tomb of a dead goblin king, seeking a specific item that lies within. This is a very important event in the novel and one I could focus on for the adventure. After all, what D&D game doesn't eventually involve tomb raiding as a means to propel the story forward?
Word of Traitors features several well-written, fully fleshed-out goblinoid NPCs intrinsic to the story. I determined that if my adventure was to work, I needed to define these monsters in very complete terms. They needed to be fully integrated into the thrust of the story, but also needed to be well-defined in game terms.
The environs around Haruuc's tomb in Word of Traitors are described in great detail. Additionally, the layout of the tomb is important in the novel. I determined that the maps for my adventure needed to be addressed in some detail, so as to insure that the geography of the events in the story would play a significant role.
The Skill Challenge
In Word of Traitors, the heroes engage in a very specific challenge in breaking open the goblin king's tomb (one of the heroes has a skill set that is setting-specific and is absolutely required for the party to open the tomb). For my adventure, I envisioned a complicated skill challenge (not setting-specific) that would force the characters to examine the tomb doors and engage in a puzzle-like challenge that would, ultimately, allow them to enter the tomb.
Breaking Down the Scenario
In Word of Traitors, the heroes come upon the goblin king's tomb only to discover that their adversaries are already attempting to open the tomb themselves. Ultimately, the heroes undertake a course of action that involves some of their number distracting the monsters at the tomb doors, while other party members attempt to open the tomb itself. This results in a scenario that works fine in a novel, but doesn't really work well in a D&D game. Splitting a D&D party is often a recipe for disaster.
Given this issue, I decided to break up the scenario described in the book into three separate encounters.
Encounter 1: Knocking on the Door
The PCs encounter the hobgoblin Daavn and some of his allies attempting to break into the tomb. Combat (likely) ensues.
Encounter 2: Opening the Door
Presumably having vanquished Daavn, the PCs engage in a skill challenge to open the tomb doors and gain entry to the tomb.
Encounter 3: Beyond the Door
Inside the tomb, the PCs are beset by Daavn's remaining allies, resulting in the culmination of the delve.
This breakdown provides two combat encounters and a skill challenge that encompasses the full breadth of the Word of Traitors scenario I was emulating, but also makes everything work as a series of D&D encounters.
Developing the Monsters
While reading the novel, I quickly determined that the goblinoid NPCs would be the meat of my combat encounters. Don crafts some extremely detailed NPCs in personality, background, and combat ferocity, and I took translating them into game terms as my greatest challenge.
Daavan and his Redcord Guards
First, there's Daavn. In the novel, Daavn is an aide to a more powerful hobgoblin, but I made him my main adversary since he was so well-defined and clearly in charge in his master's absence.
In the novel, Daavn comes across as a skilled warrior who enjoys kicking his foes as much as slashing with his sword. To this end, I made him a soldier. His elite status is a result of him being the leader of the monsters; after all, I wanted him to hang around a bit in combat.
I gave him a basic longsword attack that marks his target, but also provided him with a kick attack that pushes his foes. Relentless pursuit came out of a specific instance in the novel where Daavn attacks one of the heroes, pushing them back and knocking them down, and then follows up with another attack. I made this a recharge power so that he could use it a few times. Finally, I crafted blinding escape so that he'd have a (somewhat cowardly) way to flee the battle and garner reinforcements for the final encounter.
I paired Daavn with some redcord guards. In the novel, these bugbears are simply tomb guards described as wearing a ceremonial redcord armband. I became enamored with the idea of these guys using their picks in one hand and unwrapping their armbands to use in their off-hands as tripping weapons; to this end, I made redcord trip a minor action attack that knocks the target prone but doesn't deal damage. Since they can get their foes on the ground pretty regularly, I crafted strike the fallen to take advantage of this. I gave them skirmish and made sure they could shift easily so that they could fill a skirmisher role, offsetting their capabilities with Daavn's soldier focus.
Pradoor and Maaka
For the combat inside the tomb, I paired up Pradoor and Maaka. This was a no-brainer, since Pradoor (the blind goblin priestess) and Maaka (her hulking bugbear partner) are almost always seen together in the novel.
Maaka is well-defined in Word of Traitors. He's a behemoth of a bugbear who pummels his foes with a massive longsword, caring little for finesse. In other words, an elite soldier with several hard-hitting attacks.
Since he's an elite monster, Maaka needed a way to attack twice in a round. Instead of simply giving him a double attack, I made his basic longsword attack into one that allows him to attack a second time if his first attack is successful, making him a significant threat to any foe he singles out. Additionally, I gave him staggering strike to inflict greater damage on a single hit and sweeping sword to deal with being surrounded.
Challenge of the fury came out of a specific instance in the novel where Maaka "calls out" one of the heroes, causing the hero to feel divine pressure to attack Maaka, and punishing that hero if he doesn't—similar to a paladin's divine challenge. I rounded him out with predatory eye as a means to deal a little extra damage and sense of invulnerability to reflect Maaka's personality.
Finally, there's Pradoor. In the novel, Pradoor is a fairly powerful priestess of the Dark Six, so I made her an elite controller. I gave her a pair of ranged basic attacks which she can mix and match with double attack. Cackle seemed appropriate for a vile goblin priestess, a "vocal" power that deals thunder damage. Her smite of the dark six is a result of her worship of dark forces, dealing necrotic damage.
Plague of locusts has its origin in the novel, as Pradoor summons a swarm of biting locusts to harass the heroes at one point. I created it as a fairly standard zone that deals damage and hinders those within it, reducing their line of sight. I made sure she could sustain it as a minor action. After all, what good is a swarm of locusts if you can't send it to pursue your enemies?
I developed prison of blades to give the egotistical Pradoor a way to make enemies suffer for daring approach her. This is an example of a monster's power being inspired more by a personality trait, and less by specific actions described in the source material.
In Word of Traitors, Pradoor is described as blind, but invested with a divine gift that provides limited "sight" to make up for her infirmity. To emulate this, I gave her blindsight 10. This leaves her open to ranged attacks originating from beyond her blindsight range. Perhaps the most interesting narrative tidbit regarding Pradoor in the novel, however, is how she often rides on Maaka's shoulders and uses him as her eyes. I created ride Maaka as a response to this flavor, giving it the side effect of providing a nice way for Pradoor to combine smite of the dark six with Maaka's challenge of the fury when they are paired up.
Drawing the Maps
In Word of Traitors, the layout around the tomb figures heavily into the heroes' plans when they arrive. Since I was dividing the novel events into multiple encounters, I endeavored to differentiate the two combat areas and provide some variation in challenges for each.
For the first combat, I laid out a map that provided some interesting terrain features, but was otherwise straight-forward. I gave the characters a decent starting point and peppered the exterior of the tomb with trees, shrubs, and other obstacles. Some heavy foliage provided a way for me to hide the goblin archers, assuming that players would be focused on Daavn and the redcord guards at the tomb door.
For the final combat, I took some liberties regarding the tomb environment presented in the novel. In Word of Traitors, Haruuc's tomb is described as being part of a series of underground caverns with tunnels into the main tomb having been blocked by goblin miners. Yet I made my tomb map a self-contained chamber for two reasons.
First, I wanted to reinforce the importance of the tomb door skill challenge. When the characters finally enter the tomb, they realize that there was no other way in, making their victory at the tomb doors a little sweeter since it was the only entry point.
Second, I wanted to put the characters in a "box canyon" for the final combat, since it was intended to be the culmination of a series of events that led them to the tomb. Once Pradoor, Maaka, and their allies arrive, the characters are effectively trapped within the tomb and must fight their way out. (Of course, crafty players will keep an eye on the tomb entry and spot the monsters coming. This gives the players a little in-game bonus directly tied to the map layout. They can prepare for their enemies' arrival in the tomb or even take the fight to them outside.)
For the tomb layout, I added a few things to differentiate it from the rather simple area outside the tomb doors. The piles of treasure provide hazardous terrain. The crude wooden platform over the pit can become a major problem if the platform breaks. The magical runes around Haruuc's throne deal some damage and add complications since creatures might be pushed onto the unstable wooden platform next to it.
Translating the Skill Challenge
The skill challenge revolving around opening the tomb doors presented a unique challenge. If I were running a game set in Eberron, with Eberron-specific characters, I might have simply translated the tomb-door sequence in Word of Traitors directly, using the specifics of the novel to develop my skill challenge.
However, I was charged with developing this delve as a non-world-specific adventure (and avoid spoilers). I had to leave the specific trappings of Eberron behind. In my effort to do this, I found myself examining the tomb-door encounter in Word of Traitors in generic terms and translating the story aspects into my own personal take on this challenge.
Here's how I broke it down.
In Word of Traitors, the heroes undertake a specific series of actions (essentially, skill checks) which must be taken in sequence, that results in them opening the tomb doors.
For my skill challenge, I decided to construct a series of puzzle-like actions that the characters must succeed at in order to open the tomb. But, what should this puzzle be? In the novel, Haruuc, the goblin king, is credited with uniting the goblin tribes that ultimately led to a unified goblin nation.
To emulate this, I imagined a series of achievements that my personal version of Haruuc took to unite the goblin tribes. I then broke these achievements out into a narrative poem. Each of Haruuc's achievements became a single line in this poem, which I described on the tomb doors.
I was then able to associate each of Haruuc's achievements (and a line of the poem) with a skill check. Each action would be taken in order, according to the lines of the poem. Furthermore, each line of the poem would describe what action is needed in terms that the players can decipher with a little thought and some investigation of the carvings on the tomb doors.
While this was something of a deviation from a typical skill challenge (where actions can often be taken in any order), I felt that the poem would provide enough information to help the players take the appropriate actions in the correct order.
So there you go, a complete description of how I translated story aspects from Word of Traitors into a multi-encounter delve adventure. I hope you enjoyed it.
The next time you discover something awesome in a movie, book, TV show, or comic book, take some time to examine it. You might just find something that you can incorporate into your next Dungeons & Dragons session.