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Friday, October 21, 2011

Improving the World's Largest Dungeon: Region B Intro

I'm going to be gone for the next several days on a trip to visit NJ's relatives. Before I go I figured I'd leave you with some material for my "Improving the WLD" project, getting started on Region B (also known as "lots and lots of goblins. Also traps." 

Fortunately there's less of the insanely overpowered magical traps that we saw in Region A and by this time the PCs should be about 3rd to 4th level depending on how much of Region A they've explored. 

Backstory
 This region suffers from the opposite problem of Region A. Where A had almost no discernible backstory and thus did not seem to fit in with the rest of the dungeon Region B has lots of backstory...it's just not very good. The whole "gobliniod factions fighting over the region" angle is fairly interesting but there's lots of holes. 

The biggest is the new goblin religion that's swept through the region. Religious fanatics have overthrown the goblin king and have started to brutally subjugate the hobgoblin and bugbear camps that share the region. What inspired this mad devotion to a new god? They found a statue that wasn't there before. This statue is a goblin hunter who was turned to stone by a Cockatrice from Region C (which was apparently capable of opening two secret doors between this room and its own lair). They then took this statue to be new god and began to worship it. 

So let's look at that premise...the goblins (who are just as intelligent as humans keep in mind) are worshiping a statue of another goblin. Not a giant goblin, or a goblin dressed as a conquering warrior, or a statue capable of manifesting any supernatural effects...but a regular-sized goblin with an expression of fear and terror on its face and dressed like it was in life (i.e. regular leathers and probably not very well-kept ones). For the sake of this statue (only notable for its sudden appearance and lifelike design) they split apart their kingdom, overthrew their king and changed their entire way of life. 

Now the one thing that makes this something other than utter nonsense is the fact that the goblin's new king is in fact a doppleganger and thus extremely charismatic by goblin standards. With his social skills and shapechanging ability I could see him pulling off a successful coup...but a new religion based around the worship of a statue? On top of that there are exactly two goblins in this region with divine spellcasting abilities and they both are on the side of the goblin rebels. That means the goblins kicked out the people capable of performing actual miracles (and their only healers) to worship a completely unresponsive statue. 

Even worse is the fact that the goblin kingdom is located in the southwest of Region B. The statue of their new god is located in the northeast. First...how exactly did a goblin hunter end up on the opposite side of the region? And how did his stone body get found by other goblins? In fact, if you trace out of the path from the goblin kingdom to the statue they supposedly worship you find that it passes right through Bugbear territory, through a room called The Passage of Death and another called The Killing Grounds (described as the most dangerous room in the entire region). Topping it all off is the fact that there are least three other statues (B16, B 34 and B45) that are actually impressive and supernatural.

So, no matter how you look at it this makes no damn sense. So let's see if we can fix it. 

Better Backstory

I actually like the goblin civil war. It gives the region a sort of dynamic feel and gives more factions to mix things up. However as it stands it makes no sense.

So instead let's switch some things around. First the contents of rooms B16 (actually marked on the map as B17) and B45. This means that near the goblin kingdom is a statue of a celestial (lets say a Leonal or a Hound Archon, something majestic but semi-beastial). The inscription on the statue is in Celestial and is thus gibberish to all goblins (although it's impressive looking). The statue does not summon guardians but it does inflict a Fear effect on any evil-aligned creatures that approach...which makes it even more impressive to goblins (who're used to fearing their gods and leaders). It does not however summon reinforcements.

The room was normally locked beyond the means of any goblins in the region to open. However Argliss, using his vest of escape, managed to get the room open and (after realizing the potential value) manufactured a key that he wears around his neck. He begin bringing in goblins in various guises, showing them the chamber and impressing them with the fearsome power of this "new god" Eventually he determined that enough goblins were smitten by this new religion and (using his shapechanging ability and some carefully made props) he put on an appearance as the new god (using his necklace of fireballs to create a good entrance) and ousts the goblin king. After suitably impressing his new subjects he retreats to his shrine and announces the arrival of Argliss the new goblin king. Once out of sight he changes shape to a particularly impressive goblin specimen and assumes control. 

Occasionally he will have worship sessions where the goblin king goes alone to commune with the "god" and then the god himself appears to speak to his subjects. These appearances, combined with Argliss's mind-reading abilities (which allows him to easily ferret out subversive goblins) have suitably cowed both the goblins and hobgoblins in the region. Only the bugbears and goblin rebels stick to the old ways. 

Problem #2 Bartleby and The Artifact

This subplot is another aspect of this Region that is riddled with holes. 

First we're told two contradictory stories about the "Artifact" One is that it belonged to Argliss and he somehow lost possession of it during his rise to power (how this happened is never explained). In this scenario Argliss does not consider the artifact essential but does want it back and wants it out of the hands of his enemies. The second story is that it belonged to the goblin king and Argliss' entire coup was done simply to try and take possession of the artifact. However, he still does not seem to know where it is (which is odd considering he's a damn mind-reader. How did the goblin king keep that information from him?). Since the second doesn't make much sense at all, we'll go with the first explanation. 

Now, Argliss has recruited a halfling rogue by the name of Bartleby to find and retrieve this artifact for him. How exactly he and Bartleby ever met and came to this arrangement is unexplained. But it is stated that Bartleby has no intention of actually bringing the artifact back to Argliss. Which makes this whole thing pretty odd when you consider that again Argliss is a mind-reader and has access to a much more numerous and loyal source of aid in the form of his fanatical followers. 

It's also stated that apparently Bartleby knows a way in and out of the dungeon. What? Isn't the entire point that no one gets in and out? How is he the exception? And what's to stop the players from getting that information from him? The character description claims that Bartleby refuses to answer any questions if captured (which doesn't make much sense) but there's a variety of ways to circumvent that available even to good-aligned characters (charm person being the simplest and fastest). The writers seem to think that just by saying he won't cooperate means that they can avoid any problems involved here. 

In fact, Bartleby's whole attitude is odd. He's a halfling rogue with no magical equipment to speak of...why would he ever try to deal with the PCs in a hostile manner? He certainly can't run away (the text claims he thinks he can...but he's a halfing which means a speed of 20 feet and most of this Region is pretty straightforward hallways...he'll be caught easily). He certainly can't fight (even if the PCs were still somehow first level they could easily take on a 5th level halfling rogue in a stand-up fight). The only strategy that would make any sense is to either avoid the PCs entirely or (if caught) act friendly and nice and vanish at the first opportunity (say when they're distracted by a fight). 

The artifact is the second part of the problem. The writers had an opportunity here to come up with something interesting and useful for the PCs (who at this point are probably starved for magic items). Instead they simply tell you to come up with an item of your choice. They do provide a list of a few possible items...but they're all absolutely terrible. The suggestions are:

Golem Manual (clay): A clay golem manual...where is anyone in the dungeon going to get the half-ton of clay needed to create a golem? Or the 1,500 gp in rare ingredients? Even if those materials were somehow available there's only two clerics in the Region, one is third level and the other is 1st...why would anyone be looking for this item? It's useless to absolutely everyone (PCs included). 

Medallion of Thoughts: Argliss can already read thoughts...so why did he ever have this object and why is he looking for it back? 

Necklace of Adaptation: How is this worth all the trouble either Bartleby or Argliss are expending to get it? It mentions that this would be useful for Region L...but that doesn't explain why anyone here in B wants it. 

Pendant of Undead Turning: Again...there are two Clerics in this region. Both are evil and thus cannot turn Undead. Neither Argliss nor Bartleby nor the original goblin king could turn undead...so why is this worth anything to anyone here? 

The only possibly useful device is the Rod of Cancellation but do not use this option. The WLD is already starving your PCs of magic items...don't give them a magic item whose only purpose is to deny them potential loot. 

Solution #2

Now the simplest solution is simply to excise this subplot entirely. It has no real impact on plot for the Region (assuming you ignore the idea that it's the entire reason behind Argliss' rise to power) and ultimately serves no real necessary purpose. Bartleby can be kept as simply a wandering jerk in the dungeon (trapped just like the PCs) or he can be removed easily as well. 

Now if you want to keep it here are my suggestions:

First, Bartleby does not know a way out of the dungeon. He's trapped here just like anyone else. In fact Argliss has (falsely) promised him a map out as part of his reward for acquiring the artifact. This means Bartleby does intend to return it to Argliss (or at least will try and steal the non-existent map before fleeing). He'll also attempt to stealthily hide from any PCs he runs into but if discovered he'll play nice long enough to either flee when they're occupied with a significant fight or steal their valuables before taking off while they sleep. 

As far as the nature of the artifact...the most obvious choice would be a +1 Goblin Bane weapon (best option would be a Heavy Mace or Shortspear since just about everyone can use those). A Goblinoid Bane item in the hands of a skilled warrior could easily shift the balance of power in the region. If the hobgoblins got it maybe they decide they should be the ones calling the shots in their alliance with the goblins, if the bugbears get it they could probably take back most of their lost territory, if it's in the hands of the goblin rebels then the new goblin king could be overthrown. In the hands of Argliss he could crush his enemies. And of course in the hands of the PCs it makes a very potent short-term weapon which in the long term will not be unbalancing. 

Alternatively a good option might be a figurine of wondrous power, a suit of +1 Invulnerability armor (best if it's something light, maybe a chain shirt) or a cloak of charisma (certainly useful to Argliss or goblins attempting to overthrow him). 

As far as where the item is I'd recommend putting it in the hands of Klibb (room B110, sent by the rebel goblins to retrieve it but got lost trying to avoid Holy Empire Goblins and Bartleby) or Rememberer (B105. Has the artifact secretly but is reluctant to hand it over until he can be sure it will be given to someone worthy...also afraid of making the civil war even worse). 


Those two issues are far from the only problems with this region but the rest will wait until I can put together a room-by-room fix


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