[+] Golden Vault/Dragonheist/Dungeon of the Mad Mage conversion to WFRP 4e [Spoilers]


Ryan, Cat, Andrew and Bob Stop Reading Now!!!

So I have been thinking running a mash up of Golden Vault, Dragonheist and Undermountain for a long time… pretty much since each of these books came out. (With a little dash of Paizo's Curse of the Crimson Throne for spice).

I've always loved the idea of Undermountain ever since buying the original TSR boxed set as a teenager. The idea of a 20 level dungeon crawl is anathema to me. Even the coolest idea sours when repeated ad nauseum. Dragonheist is full of great character and interesting plots/locations but is really sketchy in parts. Goldenvault is a full of great ideas and well planned out scenarios but lack something to link them together. So by mashing them up, I get to take the best from all them. A great heist campaign featuring some of the best villains in D&D history, in a WFRP detailed vibrant city setting with forays into the games deepest coolest dungeon.

Unfortunately there is a catch… the rules as described in the book just don’t carry the game far enough for me. I was reading about what happens if a museum guard catches a player during the heist… make a DC 10 intimidate, or persuasion check. Success means they let them go… in the middle of a robbery! DC 10… so basically a 75% chance of solving with one dice roll. Want to make Undermountain scary or dangerous? Good luck doing that with 5e rules.

So I put off the planning for a few months until one day I happened to write up a crib sheet for my new WFRP campaign starting next month. I spotted a skill called Bribery which I hadn’t noticed before. It allows players to bribe NPCs based on their status/rank. A simple skill system that let players know what was a reasonable amount to get a job done. More skills and talents appropriate for heists like Gossip, Research, Secret Identity, Shadow and Schemer and wonderful careers like Spy, Fence, Charlatan and Entertainer.

When I then thought how actually terrifying Undermountain would be if a PC broke their leg halfway through level 7 I decided it was worth giving it a go. I thought I’d share my planning stage/notes. Cubicle 7 is releasing a sourcebook this year called Deft Fingers and Light Steps which will be invaluable so I’ll be looking to start early next year when Age of Worms finishes. That does make 3 out of my 4 long term regular campaigns WFRP but I think I just enjoy the system more.

More to come. Feel free to share thoughts particularly suggestions of things that would work well or areas you think i might come unstuck. It would be great to avoid recommending other systems though I'm just not into that. This is for folks thinking of using or adapting Dragonheist, Dungeon of the Mad Mage and Golden Vault to WFRP or DnD. Not a debate about what system handles this stuff best👍 I'm hoping the adventure structure and ideas will be useful for anyone who wants to try the mash up - not just using WFRP. If no one’s that interested I’ll just use the thread to organize my thoughts and maybe it be useful to folks one day.
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The Premise

A mindflayer colony ship was brought to Undermountain by Halaster, and marooned in the Caverns of Ooze. It’s inhabitants, the remnants of a mind flayers colony from another world made the best of their situation and carved out a settlement in the Sea Deeps of Undermountain, bringing with them knowledge of a dangerous source of power called the Far Realm. In time they learnt of the Runestone, a nexus of power for Undermountain’s magic and a valuable tool for Halaster. Using skills and technology unknown to Faerun the mindflayers transformed the Runestone into a conduit for the far realm. This had multiple effects…

  • It drove Halaster deep into his madness breaking his control of Undermountain and leaving him wandering the halls unpredictable and random.
  • It corrupted the weave for hundreds of miles around the city making magic more unpredictable and in some cases dangerous - particularly for new or inexperienced wizards. Justification for miscasting magic.
  • It awakened various other items and locations linked to the far realm in and around the city leading to various earthquakes, landslides and corruptions.
  • It attracted the attention of both Manshoon - who wants to understand its potential. Xanathar through his Mindflayer envoy Nilhoor, and Laerl who sees it as a threat to the city.

This is all going on in the background but events in the campaign will key off this essential thread running through things.


As this is set in WFRP not DnD the issue of magic needs to be addressed. In this campaign the Far Realm acts as an equivalent of the warp - a realm of dangerous entities antithetical to life and a powerful source of magic.

Instead of the Winds of Magic in WFRP we are sticking with Weave. A net of magical threads that exists through Faerun and is visible to magic users. In this campaign those threads come in 8 different colors of magic - the concentrations of which can be used to create different magical effects. The purple threads of Shyish the colour of death are found tangled more thickly around graveyards and battlefields, whereas Aqshy the colour of fire can be found near magma vents, forest fires and beacons. All the rules in WFRP for the winds of magic apply to the Colours of the Weave in this campaign. Including the very flavourful Magical Sense talent that most spellcasters possess that allows them to perceive the weave.

Normally spellcasters in WFRP are bound to a single lore which comes with a potent lore effect. That is still possible in this campaign with specialists existing (the careers in Winds of Magic) that still get their lore benefits. However most wizards are generalists (the career from the core rulebook) and aren’t restricted - they can cast any spell they know or have access to in a grimoire with the caveat that they don’t get any lore abilities. Everything else (ingredients etc) keys of the color magic of the spell they are casting. The channelling boons from AofE3 are only available to specialists.

In short wizard get more breadth of ability but are slightly less powerful unless they specialize - which the can choose to do at the point their take their Arcane Lore talent. This change is probably the most controversial but it lets me keep magic with the flavour of both game systems. It has a very Witcher vibe I think.
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Key Themes

There are a few key themes that I see coming through this campaign - mostly taken from the various books I’m mashing up.

The Heist Campaign

This campaign will unashamedly be a heist based campaign with players strongly encouraged to create characters that can operate in that world. Status in the city will be a big part, as will the parties reputation and relations with various factions. I fully expect the party to develop their own base of operations and have access to crafting/trading and influence. Luckily WFRP provides all these things in great abundance.

The Xanathar/Zhentarim War

This is lifted straight from Dragonheist and features Manshoon dramatically escalating the black network in Waterdeep from the trading/racketeering/smuggling operations to the kind of overt power games the Zhents were famed for in previous times. The Xanathar has reacted to this by becoming more erratic, more violent and eager to find new power sources no matter how risky.

The Golden Vault

This is a mission impossible style organisation that provides contacts, resources and targets for the PCs via a magical music box. Rumoured to be the work of powerful Gold Dragons. However there is enough going on in Waterdeep’s without having another group. The Golden Vault is therefore a ploy by Jarlaxle to recruit individuals who would otherwise never consider working with him. While the missions will always appear goodly - they will always benefit Jarlaxle in some way. In time the PCs could get to meet an actual gold dragon who can make it clear that the organisation has nothing to do with them. With other clues seeded as various artifacts recovered by the PCs end being instrumental in various Braegan D’aerthe plots. In time the party may decide to take the Golden Vault on themselves once they unmask the ruse

The Far Realm

As the Runestone conduit grows stronger Far Realm will increasingly intrude on Waterdeep. This is largely inspired by the thread in Golden Vault but works well with WFRPs realm of chaos. It helps that aberrations are some of my favourite foes - particularly mind flayers and aboleth. The mirkmire excavation - one of the first heists will come about when an earthquake triggered by the Runestone reveals ancient ruins to the north of Waterdeep. Later heists will also trigger off this. Ultimately the PCs if they chose will be able to take the fight to the Mindflayers and the Runestone cavern itself if they want to resolve this.

Anti-Magic Sentiment

As magic becomes less predictable and a few magical catastrophes occur in the city. Many will argue for a curbing of the wizards rights and powers. This will culminate in a requirement crack down wizard licencing (already a requirement in Waterdeep) and a call for further restrictions. This will be resisted by the Lords - however the Church of Tyr will establish an order of Witch Hunters to track down unlicensed wizards and to deal with magical threats - some the genuine result of far realm influence.

Laerl’s Possession

I always liked the storylines around Myrkul and Laerl - in particular the Crown of Horns. I plan to instroduce this into the campaign - probably as a treasure in Undermountain. Possibly as a heist. Possibly as a ploy by one of the 4 main villains of the campaign. Either way she will come into possession of the throne and begin to act in a more draconian and authoritarian way as the campaign progresses. At some point this will include ceding increasing powers to the witch hunters and making the code legal far stricter. If you’ve read Curse of the Crimson Throne you’ll recognize a lot of similarities. In time the threat posed by the crown may encourage the party to attempt to replace her or deal with her directly.

The Missing Treasury

The dragon heist fortune will still be an active part of the campaign but probably being resolved at a much later point after several heists and forays into Undermountain. The seizure of the fortune would signal the major tension that sets the PCs against Laerl. The stone of Grollor and the various factions vying for the treasure will all be largely unchanged from the core book - with weak areas in the book being replaced with various heists from other sources.

There are several end game goals the parties could achieve - Expelling Manshoon from the City, Breaking the Runestone Conduit, Curing Laerl’s possession etc. As this will largely be a sandbox I will let the party determine what paths they want to follow.

All this is pretty high level stuff though (high level in terms of viewpoint not actual level, WFRP doesn’t use levels, it’s a granular XP system - heavily influenced by achievements and personal objectives). This stuff is going to be revealed to the PCs with events, rumours and through their experiences.

My next post will detail my conversion of the introductory scene and the first heist - the Mirkmire Malevolence.
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Using Foundry

I’ve been practicing with Foundry and must admit I’ve finally got the hang of it. All the hosting issues I experienced when I first bought it seem to be fixed by using the Forge hosting platform. While it’s a bit of a bummer shelling out £50 for the program then another $10 a month for the hosting it’s worth it if I’m using it every week - which I am at the moment.

WFRP 4e is brilliantly supported in Foundry with every module and supplement released in short order. Even experimental or optional rules like group advanrage. This support is invaluable and just doesn’t exist for Roll20. It was fine for early careers but now things have gotten more complicated I’m definitely enjoying the advantages that an integrated system can brings.

The add on modules are also very good.

- Multi-level maps: let’s tokens instantly teleport to another part of the map when a player moves onto stairs. It also allows a token to be cloned so if you have a cutaway (say a balcony second level) you can see tokens on both parts of the map which makes targeting much easier.

- Light transition - you can make a map night time without needing a totally different map because the system automatically tints and shades the background image appropriately.

- Hovering over token images pops up a full size image of the person on the players screen. This is so useful for RP heavy scenes where you want the person you’re representing to be visible to the players clearly without confusing extra windows. It’s a beautiful feature. Particularly when I’m using good quality transparent images. [I’ll add a screenshot later]

- Character creation has a full blown wizard built into character sheets - a bit like the first level of Charactermancer. Very useful for what is a very crunchy system. At which point it’s also worth mentioning that the crunch levels of WFRP are much easier to manage in Foundry where so much stuff is automated.

I’ll keep using Roll20 for 5e because I’ve bought so many products for it and the system is simpler but I’m definitely using Foundry/Forge for this game.

Forge System En world.jpg
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The Opening Scene - Yawning Portal

So here goes. We're going to open the Campaign in a Tavern... a tried and trusted method. Luckily Waterdeep has a tavern that ties together some of the best bits of the Campaign - the Yawning Portal. Built over one of the few well known entrances to Undermountain. I won't labour the point but there is great information about the location in many sourcebooks on Undermountain classically the original TSR boxed set.

The scene will proceed largely unchanged from the opening scene of Dragon Heist. For us it sets up some of the factions operating in the city, illustrates the guild war between the Xanathar and the Zhentarim, shows that something is badly wrong in Undermountain and also gives the PCs opportunity to introduce themselves to each other.

As a battlemap I'll be using the excellent version from the 4e Halls of Undermountain as recommended by the Alexandrian, which you can buy from the Dungeon Master's Guild. This map is definitely the best thing in that book. It has everything I need - private rooms, plenty of space - and of course The Well. As I will most likely be returning here repeatedly its worth fleshing out some of the regulars and the staff. [Note] I won't be posting full maps to protect the publishers but will post where to find them. All will be legitimate.

Yawning portal for EN World.jpg

Note on Creating NPCs

Foundry makes creating NPCs very very easy if you have the WFRP 4e modules. You choose the race and then can randomise statistics, starting skills and talents that are appropriate for that race. You can then add careers one at a time and give the NPC the advances that the career would bestow. Any that seem superfluous can then be discarded. This method provides very detailed NPCs with a plethora of appropriate skills very quickly. The only bit that takes a while is adding trappings (equipment) but thats just one of those things.

Durnan: He's a key character and a relatively powerful PC - I'd probably have him somewhere around Tier 4 as a character. As an ex-adventurer and the head of the Red Sashes I think I will give him the first Tier of Scout (Trapper) and Four Tiers of Bounty Hunter (Bounty Hunter General). I'll make sure he gets Strength boosting Talents and get that around the 55+ mark. Of course he'll also need a few Trade (Bartender) and probably Trade (Brewer). Durnan will be a punchy opponent if the PCs decide to mess with him.

Also key to the fight is Yagra Stonefist: A low level Zhent agent. There is no Half-Orc race in WFRP so for her we'll boost her strength and Toughness and give her two levels of the Protagonist (Protagonist) career to represent her position as a junior enforcer.

The Xanathar Bullies who burst in to start a fight with Yagra need to be pretty easy to take down. So I'm going to keep them at Tier 1. The Rackateer class has Thug as its first Tier so that will do nicely.

A Troll will climb out of The Well near the end of that fight -Driven from Undermountain by the conflict and madness consuming the dungeon. WFRP trolls are a nasty surprise for anyone thinking to just wave a torch and be done with it. It will also give us chance to show just how terrifying a large creature is in WFRP. However the party should outnumber it making the fight easier than otherwise. I'm going to keep the Troll as a fairly weak version of its species - base statline only. Despite that needing to dodge its blows or take a hefty penalty for trying to parry a large creature will even the odds. As will its acid vomit and deathblow ability. It will also demonstrate the psychology rules - with the Fear trait.

Volo will be at the tavern at that point but I'm going to save his quest to find Floon Blagmar until later on. For now the fight will suffice to give them a reputation in the city as able to handle themselves - assuming it goes well. If it goes badly then they may need a helping hand... either way they will all receive an envelope the next day containing a single gold piece and a letter inviting them to meet in the private dining room of the Yawning Portal the next day at noon. Volo will be a bit more complicated but I'm thinking a Tier 1 Wizard (Apprentice) and Tier 2 Scholar (Scholar). I might be doing him a disservice limiting him to Tier 1 Wizard and petty magic only but I've always seen Volo as a comedic character... more Gilderoy Lockhart than warrior mage.

Note on Currancy

Gold in WFRP is worth far more than in D&D. A well made sword would cost 1GC a chain shirt 2GC.
1 GC (Gold Dragon) = 20 silver Shillings (Silver Shards) = 240 Brass Pennies (Brass Taols)
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