Tag Archives: FHA

20 Questions for the Forest of High Adventure

Jeff Rient’s 20 Questions for campaign settings are somewhat famous and I think most people have probably heard of them at some point. While I was working on a full continent sized setting I didn’t find them particularly helpful, but for building a sandbox and introducing it to the players they are a really useful tool. I went over them again with my Forest of High Adventure sandbox and it’s a good way to flesh out some elements that you didn’t think of before but that might be of interest to the players.

  1. What is the deal with my cleric’s religion?
    All priests (mechanically identical to witches) are shamans. Shamans who are in charge of or are serving at a particular shrine or holy place see themselves as servants of the local guardian spirit that is watching over the surrounding lands. Clan shamans and travelling shamans see themselves as intermediaries between spirits and mortals, serving as messengers and interpreters to reveal the will of the spirits to the people within their domain and delivering requests and performing sacrifices to the local gods.
  2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment?
    If one is of need of weapons, armor, and supplies, it’s usually the best idea to petition the local chief or one of the other great families for assistance. Many of them are inclined to share their resources with those brave enough to dare the ruins in the wilds, but this help always comes with a price. Some are willing to trade for silver and gold, but more often they expect a share of what the brave heroes might find, or even worse, a return favor in the future.
  3. Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?
    To get unusually sized lamellar armor or other unique gear made, the craftsmen in the harbor of Tula are a good first station to try. If one finds no luck there, there is also the skeyn mine in the rocky hills far to the north, whose smiths are the best in the land by far.
  4. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?
    The elder druid of the Tall Trees is regarded by many as the most powerful master of magic in the lands along the two rivers. The shaman of the Blue Bear tribe is also a highly feared witch of terrible power, but if tales are to be believed neither of them would stand much hope to oposse the sorceress of the Demon Castle.
  5. Who is the greatest warrior in the land?
    Of all the warriors in the lands along the two rivers, none are as feared in battle as the chief of the Blue Bear clan. However, aside from his own warriors, very few people would consider him a great man in any other respect.
  6. Who is the richest person in the land?
    The Master of Tula claims a fee from any ships that come to trade in his harbor and that alone would make him a very wealthy man. But his family are also the biggest merchants in the land and control much of the local trade.
  7. Where can we go to get some magical healing?
    Each larger village has a shrine dedicated to the local gods of the land and the shamans who are their keepers often gain powers of healing in return for their services to the spirits. However, they might not always be inclined to share these with outsiders.
  8. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, death, undeath?
    The corruption of sorcery and demons is very hard to remove but should it become necessary, the Druids of the Tall Trees would be the best hope to find help. There are also magical springs said to have healing powers hidden deep within the forests but these tend to be much harder to find. Dealing with undeath is easy. Any blade will do.
  9. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?
    The Druids of the Tall Trees, but they are not a trusting lot and don’t often take outsiders into their ranks.
  10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?
    The main port at Tula is by far the largest settlement within several hundred miles and home to a number of sages and alchemists. The high druid of the Tall Trees knows more about sorcery and how to fight it than anyone else but he is always weary about sharing this knowledge with those who might misuse it. Finally there is a great worm Elrem in the Caverns of the Great Worm, an ancient demigod of great power who has been alive far longer than anyone else in the land and knows much about its forgotten past.
  11. Where can I hire mercenaries?
    The harbor taverns of Tula are always a good place to find armed men looking for silver. Warriors of the Blue Bear clan are also always eager to get into a fight but while they are always fighting bravely they tend to not be very reliable when it comes to following orders.
  12. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?
    Nobody is looking favorably on sorcery or the worship of demons, but the Druids of the Tall Trees have sworn oaths to destroy these blights to the face of the Earth wherever they encounter them.
  13. Which way to the nearest tavern?
    There are a few taverns in the two ports on the southern coasts, but in the villages of the forest drink and gossip are to be found in the great halls of the ruling chiefs.
  14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?
    There is at least one dragon lairing in the Endless Caverns in the mountains to the west. Rumor has it that it died some years ago but so far nobody has made any claims of having found its treasures.
  15. Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?
    The warriors of the Blue Bear clan are always looking for trouble and constantly skirmishing with their kin of the Tree Ghost clan, who went separate ways two generations ago. Savage Kaska from the Witchfens are making regular small scouting raids into the forests to the south and have become increasingly bold in getting closer to the villages of the northwest.
  16. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?
    There are no treasures to be gained, but duels between great warriors are always a great source of fame and respect for the victors.
  17. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?
    They are secret. Keep looking.
  18. What is there to eat around here?
    Aside from a wide range of berries and tough greens, food consists primarily of potatoes and wheat. Goat and rabbit are the main meat in the larger settlements but there are also large numbers of deer to hunt in the forests.
  19. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?
    A group of explorers have claimed to have found an enchanted sword and armor from the Nameless Dungeon the previous year. They went back to get more a few months ago but have not been seen since. Somewhere in the eastern forests is the fabled Grandfather Tree that both the Blue Bear and the Tree Ghost clans are looking for. It is said that the shamans of the ancestors who lived beneath its branches kept many magical relics in hidden chambers of their shrine.
  20. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?
    There is at least one dragon in the Endless Caverns who according to rumors died a few years ago but nobody seems to have found any trace of its treasures. There is also the sorceress of the Demon Keep who is believed to have amassed unimaginable riches and heaps of magical relics and artifacts.

Forest of High Adventure: Putting the parts together

It’s been a while since I presented my first idea for my planned Forest of High Adventure sandbox campaign, during which the barrel of ideas had a good amount of time to ferment. Recently I’ve got several replies of “That sounds great, I’d really like to play in a game like this” and guess what: It’s going to be a West Marches style open online campaign in which everyone can play on and off. If you really want to, you can play in this campaign. (The schedule is planned to be every sunday 6 pm CET/12 pm EST for about 4 hours, hopefully starting before next summer.) This puts me in a position where I don’t want to reveal too much of the actual specifics that players will encounter in the game.

But I already talked about the main sources I am using to build the sandbox and I think most potential players won’t have the first clue about what is happening in Against the Cult of the Reptile God and The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun and wouldn’t be able to tell that they are currently in it until pretty far in. So I am going to keep things somewhat general and won’t go deeply into the specifcs about what the parties will discover in their explorations.

All in all my current plans have not changed a lot since my first concept draft. The four “main attractions” and small megadungeons (kilodungeons?) are still the Endless Caverns, the Nameless Dungeon, the search for Grandfather Tree, and a castle inspired by Hellgate Keep and the Palace of the Vampire Queen.

I will also be including my own interpretations of the Fountains of Memory from the Lost Peaks, the Lonely Tower, Gauntlgrym, Tall Trees, and the Cavern of the Great Worm. The last one wasn’t on my first map draw, but I think an ancient giant reptile that is shaman to a barbarian tribe is just a wonderful NPC who can be a major source of information, but would have a perspective on things that might make him reluctant to simply tell everything that reckless treasure hunters are asking him.

The Dire Woods and Ruins of Decanter won’t make it in becauseI’m not getting any interesting ideas from their descriptions and I still don’t know if I’ll include the Citadel of the Mists. As written the Mistmaster is just this super powerful good wizard who leads the fight against the demons in the forest from his magic castle. Not really what you want in a player driven dungeon crawl game.

Other adventures besides Reptile God and Tharizdun I’ve incorporated in my plans are Escape from Meenlock Prison, Raiders of the Black Ice, Come to Daddy, and the infamous Death Frost Doom. Contrary to common belief it does not have to lead to a total party kill and the destruction of the campaign setting. I think higher level PCs can actually survive the horror they might unleash and fixing up the aftermath, even if it’s with new characters, should be quite fun.

I also got several ideas for refinement of my original plans. Instead of having a large lake between to mountain ranges as the southern border of the sandbox I am going to set it directly at the coast. That will put the Witchfens in the northwest closer to the sea than I originally had in mind when making the Ancient Lands map but given the size of the sandbox that’s still plenty of distance and over the years I’ve been increasingly moving away from the idea of an accurate world map. A loose collection of local maps is entirely sufficient for a barely inhabited Points of Light wilderness. I’ve actually come to see large scale maps as a hindrance to making a world feel like magicalwilderness.

Also, am going to turn the paper of the map to the side to have it be more wide than high. The effect of this is that the large town in the center of the southern edge is now much closer to routes between the western and the eastern parts of the map. I originally had planned to keep the players deep in the wilderness and specifically put the town away from all the interesting locations but then I started getting all kinds of cool ideas for dungeons on the lakeshore or on islands. With the map paper sideways I can have the lake, that now turned into a coast, much closer to the rest of the action without having to completely redo the landscape from scratch.

Another thing I realized that having half-demon elves and fey’ri is redundant in a world that has sidhe. Thinking back, my original concept for these fey in my setting was based directly on the fey’ri in third edition Forgotten Realms. Just make them corrupted by sorcery and done. I can keep demonic influence limited to special occasions and at the same time have setting specific fey as a major part of the campaign. Double win.

I am very happy with how everything is taking shape. I’ve long been very sceptical about megadungeons and hexcrawls, and the Forest of High Adventure really isn’t either. But this is a dungeon crawling sandbox that I am really exited for to run and I feel that this is by far the campaign I am best prepared for yet. I still don’t have any dungeon maps, NPCs, encounters, or puzzles down on paper, but I think once you start to understand sandboxes they really are a way of running games that is pretty easy on the GM but promises a great return for players. The biggest challenge seems to regularly be getting players goingwith exploring and keeping the campaign going, but in that regard my researches have also provided a lot of good ideas that I am currently turning in my head.

Forest of High Adventure sandbox campaign

The Forgotten Realms were my first campaign setting back when I first got into RPGs and while I eventually got put off by its kitchen sink approach I still have some fondness for The North. The North is maybe 5% of the area of Faerûn but can stand as a complete setting on its own. The Sword Coast has become the default region for Forgotten Realms material and I believe the de facto officially supported region in 5th Edition for good reasons. While I don’t have a strong yearning to revisit this setting, I am still very fond of the High Forest in particular. I really got into RPGs when I played on a Neverwinter Nights server set on the eastern edge of the High Forest and eventually became one of the GMs and senior level designers. And my first steps into worldbuilding began with an attempt to take the hinted at past of this region and expand it into a proper playable setting. Eventually I dropped the connection to the Forgotten Realms entirely and now over a decade later it led to the Ancient Lands in its current state. But I always was a bit disappointed that I never got to run a campaign that goes really deep inside the forest and has the players explore its ancient mysteries.

I had planned to start a new Ancient Lands campaign next winter, but by now “next winter” has become “this winter” and its going to be delayed until next spring. And with still a good amount of time ahead, I still have not entirely commited to what I am going to run. Earlier this week I read a great recent post by the Angry GM about making wilderness travel more fun. And though I had last planned to do something simple and episodic, it put the sandbox bug back into my ear. I had written about a workable travel system for pointcrawling in the wilderness a while back which is quite similar, but as usual Angry made a great improvement over it by making it work without prepared precise maps. A pointmap was to be a compromise over a hexmap, but being able to track travel times and random encounters without a highly detailed map is even better. And unlike with a pointmap it’s really easy to handle a party getting lost.

In previous attempts to make a sandbox I found it very efficient to simply grab a bunch of old modules that fit the theme and put them all together on a map. One that came to mind was Hellgate Keep, which is set on the edge of the High Forest. And that got me the idea to use the whole High Forest chapter from The Savage Frontier as the base for my sandbox. It’s the original inspiration for my Ancient Lands setting and as such pretty much everything from it fits perfectly into it. While the North in later publications is a nice place, I think the original version from The Savage Frontier is by far the coolest. It’s classic 80s Jaquays goodness that still has a nice lingering Judges Guild smell. I am not exactly sure why, but the next time the region was described all the best places where destroyed and the most interesting characters dead. And a lot of it is great sandbox material:

    • Hellgate Keep: An old elven fortress city overrun by demons and their half-demon and undead minions. It’s not just a dungeon but a city, and one way too powerful to assault head on. Not really suited for a dungeon crawl but in a sandbox it can get a lot more interesting to visit.
    • Nameless Dungeon: This ruin of an underground stronghold has been closed off and put under heavy guard by elves after adventurers found some magic weapons and armor there. Later books provided an explanation for this odd behavior by making it the long forgotten prison of elven sorcerers who had consorted with demons to usurp the throne of an ancient realm. And now they are waking up and some have already escaped into the forest. I really quite like this one.
    • Blue Bear Tribe: This barbarian tribe has fallen under the control of their evil shaman who is a disguised hag in league with the demons of Hellgate Keep. They were banished from their ancestral shrine by its spirits for their evil ways and are unable to find it again.
    • Tree Ghost Tribe and Grandfather Tree: Some of the Blue Bear tribesmen have split of from their kin and renounced their evil ways. They hope to become worthy again in the eyes of the spirits and rediscover the location of the giant magical tree that they worship.
    • Star Mounts, Endless Caverns, and Stronghold of the Nine: The Star Mounts are a mountain range of incredible hight and somewhere below them are the Endless Caverns that lead into the Underdark and hold the bones of a huge dragon whose treasures have never been found. Not far away is the Stronghold of the Nine, the base of a group of famous heroe who have been turned mad by an evil artifact they discovered and begun to turn the castle into a battlefield fighting each other.
    • Citadel of the Mist: A magic castle that is home to a powerful sorcerer who is one of the main opponents of Hellgate Keep and ally of the treants that live in the nearby forests.
    • Lost Peaks: Mountains that are said to hold the Fountains of Memory that show visions of the past.
    • Dire Woods: A strange part of the forest that is much larger on the inside than the outside and somewhere near its center lies the ancient city Karse, which holds the giant undead heart of a demigod sorcerer.
    • Ruins of Decanter: An old mine that is crawling with monsters created by sorcerers of old and left to their own devices, but recently an illithid known as the Beast Lord is bringing them under his control.

There are also some other places in the Savage Frontier that can easily be transported into the High Forest and fit very well into it.

  • Cave of the Great Worm: This huge cave is home to a tribe of barbarians who are led by an ancient benevolent giant reptile. Would fit well into the Star Mounts.
  • Gauntlgrym: An ancient dwarven city that was famous for its wealth but was lost for unknown reasons. It supposedly can be reached from the Cave of the Great Worm and would be well placed under the Star Mounts so it can be reached through the Endless Caverns as well. I say its mysterious fate is something inspired by the Dead Trenches from Dragon Age and Dead Space!
  • Lonely Tower: A tall tower with no visible doors and windows standing in a huge circular clearing in which no plants grow. It’s the home of a alchemist sorcerer from another world.

That’s a lot of great sandbox material, but to make my work easier I also want to add some classic modules that make for great additions.

  • Against the Cult of the Reptile God: I’ll make it Against the Cult of the Succubus Princess and it should provide a great introduction for the demonic forces of Hellgate Keep.
  • Hellgate Keep: This module describes the keep after its destruction but provides a lot of information on how it looked and what was going on when it was still there. It includes the half-demons Kaanyr Vhok, Aliisza, and Sarya Dlardrageth, who all could be interesting NPCs.
  • The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun: I love this thing. I’ve wanted to run this for a long time and always felt that it would work best if the players have no idea what kind of crazy awaits them beyond the empty gate of this black ziggurat. It’s perfect as a random location that is spotted in the distance as the party is travelling through the wilderness on their way to somewhere.
  • Rahasia: This one lends itself very well to be adapted to tie in with the Nameless Dungeon. Instead of a chaotic priest randomly finding the spirits of three elven witches in a temple, it can be one escaped half-demon from the Nameless Dungeon trying to resurrect his daughters who were killed in the uprising and whose spirits he stored in the basement of his mansion before he was captured and imprisoned. Or he’s a loyal minion who is resurrecting his mistresses who had a somewhat flawed plan to avoid falling into the hands of the attacking elves.
  • Escape from Meenlock Prison: I had so much fun the first time I ran it and meenlocks make for great creepy fey monsters.
  • Sons of Gruumsh: A straightforward but interestingly build dungeon that is occupied by three warlords believed to be blessed by their god. Would make great opponents for the tanarruk of Hellgate Keep.

Additional ideas include making Gauntlgrym inhabited by derro who are descendants of the original inhabitants and making the local orc tribes enemies of Hellgate Keep who want to take revenge for their people being taken to create the demonic tanarruk. Good factions are the key to a great sandbox and there are already a good dozen of them with none of them necessarily attacking the party on sight but all of them having lots of enemies and potential allies.

So much material and I’ve not really lifted a finger yet. This is about four hours of thinking what existing material I can use to make my own sandbox. I am still going to make this an Ancient Lands campaign, but I think most changes will be primarily cosmetic. There are different gods and races aren’t exactly the same, but overall I think it will be still very recognizably the High Forest.