Ruins of Adventure

Episode I: A Tabletop Trip into Phlan

I’ve recently been feeling the love again for Forgotten Realms. Like an old codependent girlfriend, the Realms and I have had an off again/on again thing going pretty much since I started playing D&D in grade school. Sometimes I’m a historical snob and I kick them out of bed to pursue higher class settings with more “historical” flavor like Warhammer Fantasy or Space 1889. Other times I embrace the sheer size, opportunity, and wealth of support the Realms offer and welcome them back into my life for wild make-up sex.

Having recently attended my first PA Renaissance Faire I think I’ve finally worked out a stable relationship. Considered as a whole, the Realms themselves are pretty much a giant Ren Faire, with all the attendant anachronisms and blending of cultures and situations. When you can embrace that “what the heck…just throw in whatever sounds cool” attitude, you can really appreciate the value of Forgotten Realms as a setting. It also helps that I’m coming down after two years of running Iron Kingdoms, a setting that appears to me to have begun taking itself MUCH too seriously given the amount of support that exists for the D20 game.

So…back to the basics! Inspired by my recent rediscovery of the Gold Box series, I snagged the .pdf of the old Ruins of Adventure module and started work converting it over to 3.5. Ruins has a similar design philosophy to Keep on the Borderlands; it’s a bunch of adventure locations with a loose connecting plot. The advantage there is that you don’t have to convert the entire module before you run it. I basically had to roll encounters for the Slums, stick in a couple of twists of my own, and I was ready to go. The real work was in providing 3.5 stats for the encounter tables.

And so on Friday, three mighty adventurers strode forth to take up the cause of urban renewal in Phlan: a Fighter, Cleric of Tempus, and Sorcerer played by Scott, Marc, and Bob respectively.

After visiting the city council and receiving a commission to map and reconnoiter the Slums, the party got off to a shaky start by boldly entering the slums without any means of actually drawing the map. After returning with paper and ink, they started work in earnest, killing some Orcs and rescuing an “independent entrepreneur” (played by my girlfriend Cat) from a fate worse than death. Now equipped with a thief, they fought their way through several buildings infested with undead, haggled their way through a marketplace, and moved ever closer to a burned out shop with a subbasement that the Thief had heard contained a cache of loot. Inside, they faced their toughest challenge yet: a newly hatched Black Dragon whelp. Having dispatched the evil (but cute) monster, they loaded up the gold, some potions, and some potential magic items and headed back to New Phlan . Not bad for a first adventure!

All in all it was a nice break from running Iron Kingdoms with high level PCs for so long. There’s something very visceral about playing at low level, when both monsters and characters have few HP and a single hit can mean death. It was also nice to be able to use some more familiar tropes; Thralls and Farrow are very cool in their own way, but skeletons and orcs are the comfort food of monster-slaying.

Funniest moment: having dispatched a wight and two lesser undead, the party piled them up and burned them within sight of the walls of New Phlan. Understandably alarmed by the sight of smoke rising next to their wooden palisade, Phlan’s city guard turned out and promptly charged the PCs a five gold piece “burning permit” fee. Just another day in the life of a low-level adventuring party…

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