B5: Horror on the Hill

Ages ago I posted a review here in the Forums of the module B5: Horror on the Hill (from the B-series of BECMI adventures put out by TSR (primarily) for Mentzer D&D) with an eye towards using it to kick off an ACKS campaign.While I think it's a reasonable module to use for this purpose, it is also, strictly speaking, structurally inferior to B2: Keep on the Borderlands. Moreover, there are many problems with the module, both from a general adventure perspective, as well as from an ACKS point of view. With this all in mind, I'd like to look at some of the work I did in advance of running the module for my current ACKS campaign...



Guido's Fort

FIrst off, as a starting location, the module offers pitifully little detail on the players' home base, Guido's Fort. Aside from moving the location (if it's at the end of the Trader's Road, there's no one there to trade with...), I wanted to know more about the fort itself, and who ran it. I decided it would be a Stronghold in ACKS terms, a border fort founded by an Explorer named - wait for it - Guido, and therefore located either in inhabited Wilderness (per the Explorer Class's Stronghold requirements, which didn't jive with my regional map), or in the Borderlands (even if the area had become more civilized since the Stronghold was founded). Going with the latter, and looking at population limits (ACKS Core, Limits to Growth, pg. 129), I saw that the maximum number of Families possible for the Hex containing Guido's Fort to still be Borderlands was 250 families per 6-mile Hex. Working backwards, with under 250 families as Guido's entire realm, the Revenue by Realm Type table (ACKS Core, Developing the Realms, pg. 230) suggested the Realm Population would be between 160 to 200 Families, the Stronghold value would be 22,500gp (not coincidentally the minimum cost to secure a Borderlands Hex, ACKS Core, Minimum Stronghold Value table, pg. 127), and, of particular note, the Urban Income would be 0gp.

That last part initially seemed like a bit of a problem, as Guido's Fort is obviously a Settlement where the party can purchase supplies. However, the module notes difficulties sercuring items on the basic equipment list in the Basic Player's book, with prices 150% of standard, and a 1-in-4 chance that any specific purchase is unavailable. In ACKS, Settlements under 75 Families are "Hamlets," and provide a Class VI Market, but only at the Domain's Stronghold (ACKS Core, Villages, Towns, and Cities table, pg. 134), in this case, Guido's Fort. Perfect! And if I wanted to go so far as working out how and why equipment was expensive, I could select a poor Domain Land Revenue (ACKS Core, Securing the Domain, pg. 125), and hence apply a number of (mostly) negative Demand Modifiers (ACKS Core, Apply Domain-specific Adjustments, pg. 233). In the end, I decided that was too much trouble at this stage, and planned on using the flat 150% markup (along with standard Class VI Market Henchman and Equipment availability), but simply forgot about the price-gouging once we got to actual play. In the event, the Class VI Market limitations were more than enough inconvenience to make the point about how small Guido's Fort was.

The only other things I wanted to know were: What Level was Guido the Explorer (and hence, the likely level of any of his Henchmen)? How much money might he have on hand (if and when the party decided to sell something expensive)? And what did his Garrison look like?

For Guido's Level, I checked the Minimum Ruler Level (ACKS Core, Starting Cities table, pg. 237) for a Hamlet of less than 75 Families, and got 2 (6), with the parenthetical value being for a Settlement as part of a much larger Realm (the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, in this case). That made Guido a 6th Level Explorer. I decided he would also have at least one Hench(wo)man, who could comfortably be a 4th Level Fighter, acting as his Steward or Reeve, and with whom the party would have any official dealings.

For how much money Guido might have lying around, I assumed his realm had 200 Families, and came up with ~750gp/month (ACKS Core, Revenue by Realm Type table, pg. 230). I figured he had this much lying around in liquid form (mostly coins with some gems and jewellry), with perhaps that much again in goods of the sort found on the tables under Special Treasures (ACKS Core, pg. 209).

For a Garrison, I assumed something just over the minimum Garrison size (3gp/month/family, ACKS Core, Garrison, pg. 130), or ~600gp/month. I divided this into 30 Heavy Infantry (Heavy Infantry A, D@W: Campaigns, Human Troops table, pg. 27), 20 Archers (Bowmen, D@W: Campaigns, Human Troops table, pg. 27), and an Armorer (D@W: Campaigns, Military Specialists, pg.), but could have just as easily used the Mercenary troops from the core rulebook (ACKS Core, Mercenary Troops table, pg. 52). The total Garrison cost was 615gp/month.

The above seems pretty complicated when all spelled out, but the truth of the matter is that it took me less than 10 minutes to come up with all of this based on the information and tables in the ACKS Core rulebook. The beauty of it is that it is also internally consistent in every direction. The only real problem was matching my initial description of Guido's Fort with its cost of more than 20,000gp. Regardless, the end result was:

Guido's Fort

Realm Population: 200 Families

Realm Size: 1 6-mile Hex

Domain Alignment: Lawful

Domain Ruler: Guido the Explorer, Explorer 6, L

Domain Income: 750gp

Stronghold Value: 22,500gp

Settlement Investment Value: 0gp

Market Class: VI (at Stronghold)

Garrison: 30 Heavy Infantry, 20 Bowmen

The first thing to point out is the Level suggestions for the module. These are:

This module is designed for a group of five to ten player characters of levels 1, 2, or 3. The lower the level of the characters, the larger the number of characters recommended for the adventure (i.e., if all of the characters are 1st level, nine or ten should be involved; but if they are all 3rd level, five might be enough).

ACKS characters are more potent than their B/X or BECMI counterparts. This is somewhat true at 1st Level, but the divergence increases as characters level up. By 3rd Level, an ACKS party significantly outclasses a similarly-levelled party from the earlier editions of Basic D&D. While this works out fine at 1st Level, it may become an issue if the party has gained a few Levels before they push through the module's dungeons, particularly if they have a large complement of Henchmen in tow. Henchmen are likely going to be a bit limited based on the fact that Guido's Fort is likely Market Class VI, at best, but this is complicated by the fact that a small party (i.e. 2 or 3 PCs) may really need Henchman backup (depending on Class composition), while placement of the module within reasonable travel-time to a larger Market (I placed it a safe two-day trip away from a Class IV Market) can create the opposite problem of too many Henchmen. Discussing the ramifications of this could be a series of posts unto themselves, but for now I'll just point out that I also have some specific suggestions related to this that I'll cover as I discuss monsters, later.


Next up is the (primary) opposition the party will face: the Monsters!

For the most part, Monsters in Basic D&D type (e.g. B/X, BECMI, Challenger, S&W, LL, BFRPG, etc.) modules require very little conversion of Monster stats, and can be used with on-the-fly conversion of Armor Class and Morale values as needed. This is definitely the case for B5.

Having said that, the majority of the Monsters in Horror on the Hill can be found in the ACKS Core rulebook, and when I ran it I simply referred to ACKS Core for Monster stats, which eliminated any minor discrepancies. Moreover, I used the ACKS encounter organization entries (Dungeon and Wilderness Encounters) for opposition numbers in the few cases where those entries differed from the number appearing in the module. I also added Champions and Sub-chieftains to the groups of humanoids (Goblins, Hobgoblins, and Kobolds) in both fixed encounters and Wandering Monster encounters. These last two went a long way towards helping to compensate for the increased power of ACKS PCs, and prevented every humanoid encounter in the module from being completely trivial.

For the humanoid tribes on the Hill, I also generated total numbers for all three based on ACKS Dungeon Lairs. This gave me a sense of just how many of each tribe were around, and how many replacements there were after the PCs cut through the various module encounter locations, as well as Wandering Monster "patrols." I allowed this to shape my restocking and responses of the setting to the PCs' intrusions.

A small handful of Monsters in B5 are either new monsters, or named differently than their ACKS equivalent. Those that are simple named differently are as follows:

Driver Ants Ant, Giant
Killer Bees Bee, Giant Killer
Robber Flies Fly, Giant Carniverous
Thoul Throghrin

The new monsters (Piranha Bird, Steam Weavil, and Lava Lizard) could, in theory, be used "as-is." (My party has only, as of yet, encountered Steam Weavils.) The trouble with this is that there are a series of errors in the entries; I believe what has happened is that the stat blocks for the Piranha Bird and Steam Weavil in the New Monsters section have been switched...but there are also errors in some of the encounter and Wandering Monster entries, specifically for the Steam Weavils' damage, alternately listing it as 1-4 or 1; these are incorrect, and Steam Weavil swarms should all read: #AT 1 burn, D 4.

The last important aspect of the Monsters in B5: Horror on the Hill is the conversion of the Dragon. There are significant differences between ACKS Dragons and those in BECMI (the edition of B5), such that, while you could use the module entry, it would provide a fairly different experience. The question is: if you're going to convert the dragon to ACKS, what does that conversion look like?

In the module, the notable characteristics of the Dragon (in ACKS terms, anyway) are that it is almost certainly awake, it can speak, and it can cast spells as a 5th Level Mage. In ACKS, casting as a 5th Level Mage requires an Adult Dragon, a 10 HD monster! Still, while the B/X or BECMI version in the module is listed with 7 HD, it has better AC (AC 10 ACKS equivalent!), and better Damage than the ACKS' Adult version; nevertheless, I felt the ACKS version was more lethal based on the differences in how Breath Weapons are handled between ACKS and BECMI (number-of-HD D6 damage, i.e. 10D6 or an average of 35 damage in ACKS, versus fixed damage equal to hp, i.e. 22 damage in BECMI) and Cleave. In the end, I decided to go with an ACKS Adult Red Dragon. While this meant a dragon that was perhaps slightly more lethal, I knew that I had no intention of either trapping the party with only the dragon lair as a means of egress, or forcing the dragon to attack the party after a few rounds (I intended to roleplay and Reaction Roll my way through any encounter). This choice also meant the Dragon had 1 Special Ability, and I chose Clutching Claws, as it likely would not come in to play (unless the creature was later encountered outside).

With that, I was comfortable with how I would handle all the Monsters present on the Hill...


Existing Monsters: Use ACKS Core stats, add Champions to any "Beastmen" encounters

New Monsters: Use module stats, converting AC and Morale on the fly

Dragon: Use ACKS Adult Red Dragon stats with Clutching Claws Special Ability


Better late than never, here's my conversion of treasure for the module.

As I pointed out in my review of this module (see here: http://www.autarch.co/forums/reviews-conversions/product-reviews/b5-horror-hill), there is a distinct lack of treasure on the surface of the titular Hill. While not exactly "wrong," in my opinion it presents a real problem for a campaign-opening old-school module, where treasure is the primary inducement to adventure, and method of advancement. One can argue that this means the outdoor encounters are to be avoided, but as I also mention in that review, why have them all so the party can completely avoid them? At any rate, my solution to this was simply to add some additional treasure to these encounters. I've listed them by their reference number in the module, below:

4.) Killer Beehive

Went with ACKS Core entry for Killer Bees, which meant 1d4 doses of 1/2-strength healing potion from the hive's honey (BECMI provided 1).

5.) Driver Anthill

Added treasure based on ACKS monster entry, i.e. Type I, and came up with 2,000sp in coin in a slit backpack out of which they spill when it's lifted, and six +1 arrows scattered around it.

7.) Ancient Statue

Two 100gp amethyst gems set in the eyesockets of the statue. The beastmen (i.e. goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears) haven't removed them for fear of angering the evil Immortal the statue represents (Orcus in my campaign) or his earthly servant beneath the monastery (Moray Vaco). Why haven't other adventurers? Because they didn't survive to this point (okay, it's a sop to low level parties!).

8.) Cavern of the Bats

A heavy wrought silver chain necklace worth 500gp, buried under mounds of bat guano in room 8D.

12.) Hobgoblin Camp Clearing

Added treasure based on ACKS monster entry, i.e. Type E per Warband (1 Warband in the clearing, the primary reason adventurers don't come back from the Hill), and came up with 10,000 cp (100 gp), 1 Barrel of preserved fish (5 gp, 8 stone), 2/10ths of a cord of oak (5 gp ea., 8 stone ea.), 3 barrels of beer (10 gp ea., 8 stone ea.), and 3 rugs (5 gp ea., 8 stone ea.). This is in addition to the coins they are mentioned carrying the actual module entry. These goods were spread between the leader's three huts.

13.) Clearing of the Mysterious Cottage

Forget the module's precept that the treasue in the cottage disintegrates when removed; show it to your players and let 'em make their own decisions. I added the following [square brackets denotes coins swapped for Special Treasure](parentheses denotes actual value and weight), perhaps based on two 6th Level NPCs, not that I can remember, but I wanted it to be showy to match the module description: [1,000sp] 3 pots of royal purple dye (50gp ea.); full place setting of terra cotta pottery for 8 (300gp), [3,000ep] 3 crates of armor and weapons (225gp ea., 10 stone ea.), 4 barrels of fine wine, 2 red & 2 white (200gp ea., 16 stone ea.), [4,000gp] 6 monster carcasses (1d10HD x 1d10x10gp/HD, 1 stone per HD), 8 gems: Obsidian (10gp), Quartz (10gp), Carnelian (75gp), Garnet (250gp), 2x Topaz (500gp), Star Ruby (750gp), 3x Sardonyx (50gp), 5 jewelry: Heavy wrought gold neck chain (700gp), detailed 6" ivory statuette of Halav wielding sword (400gp), Large perfectly smooth wooden burl bowl with carved "celtic" tracery (500gp), wrought silver tea service for 4 (800gp), silver oil lamp studded with moonstones and engraved lunar images (3,000gp), 2 potions: Treasure Finding, Plant Control, 1 scroll: Treasure Map to (1d6 gems and 2d10 jewellry) in Ancient Traladaran. Amazingly, my players were so terrified of these two NPCs that this massive haul went completely untouched! These items are in addition to the items the two witches have for trade and use with the PCs.

14.) Cavern of the Ogres

There are four gems in a padlocked chest, for which only three values are listed. I changed them to: 1 pearl (300 gp), 1 garnet (200 gp), and 2 moonstones (50 gp).

18.) Graveyard

Added treasure based on ACKS monster entry, i.e. Type D, and came up with 4,000 sp spread between the various graves.

24.) Tangled Garden

Added treasure based on ACKS monster entry, i.e. Type E per warband, and came up with 15,000 cp, 5x Tiger Eye (25 gp ea.), and 6 Tapestries (5 gp each, 7 stone ea.), all of which the party destroyed when they burned down the garden to root out the goblins from their lair.

37.) Ancient Pagan Altar

To maintain consistency with my statue on the Hill that still had gems for eyes, I added two 100gp amethyst gems set in the eyesockets of the statue.