T1 Moathouse adapted to Torchbearer

pemerton

Legend
Following a conversation with someone who is playing through the 5e D&D conversion of Temple of Elemental Evil, I had the bright idea of adapting the Moathouse from T1 to Torchbearer 2nd ed.

One of the PCs in my ongoing game is from a Forgotten Temple Complex in the eastern Theocracy of the Pale, which has not had any background fleshed out - but does involve (perhaps among others) a divine sponsor of explosions and explosives. So the Temple lore would be connected to that. The swamp would be some part of the Troll Fens.

The conversion is attached. It presumes access to the maps, and is deliberately vague about the nearby Remote Village. (It also borrows Burne to be the name of the Wizard of the Wizard's Tower - an important settlement in our campaign, but with the Wizard as-yet unnamed.)
 

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Interesting. I don’t know torchbearer that well but curious how you feel the switch to that system impacts the how the adventure runs. Also how easy was the conversion?
 

pemerton

Legend
Interesting. I don’t know torchbearer that well but curious how you feel the switch to that system impacts the how the adventure runs.
I've never used T1 or the Moathouse. I do have some thoughts about the contrast between the D&D version and the Torchbearer adaption, that I'll explain below.

Also how easy was the conversion?
It took several hours - probably single digit, but more than just a few. Some of that was typing; some of that was thinking.

To explain the thinking, I'm going to borrow a contentious phrase once used by Thor (the Torchbearer lead designer) to describe some of these old D&D modules. This was in the old Burning THACO pdf, which I think is no longer available but used to be hosted on the Burning Wheel website and discussed how to adapt old D&D modules to BW. I guess it's not there anymore because it's been superseded by Torchbearer.

Anyway, in that document Thor said that some of those old modules have "the structural integrity of mushy peas". What he meant by this, from the Burning Wheel perspective, is that they have no innate narrative trajectory - they have obstacles and challenges, but these just sort of "sit there" with little innate dynamism to them. In the context of the moathouse, I would put the following things into that category: the killer frogs, the giant lizard, the giant snake, and at least to an extent the undead in the dungeon.

For me, the key thing in the conversion was to impose the sort of structure that is central to Torchbearer. TB isn't BW - it has site-based adventuring at its core. But it uses some of the same core "procedures" or "tech" as BW: no retries (BW calls that "let it ride", TB calls that "fun once"); and when a check fails, things happen in response (ie "fail forward"): in BW this is done via "intent and task"; in TB, a failed check either means that the player (and PC) achieve their intent but the PC suffers a condition, or else there is a "twist" which is a new obstacle that has to be confronted.

So in doing the conversion, I tried to pick up elements of the moathouse but reframe them through this lens of obstacles and twists. This is how I've dealt with the killer frogs, with the rotten drawbridge, with the brigands having (in the original) a 50% chance to be on watch as the PCs approach the entryway, with the giant tick in the kitchen, with the very-hard-to-find-in-the-original secret door in the torture room, and with the two secret doors in the dungeon that gate access to the "inner" area including Lareth's chambers. I've also used this to try and make the rubble in front of the storerooms more interesting - rereading that, as much as an aptrgangr attack it could be a Gnoll ambush that makes for a good twist there.

There are parts of the Moathouse that I think do have structural integrity (in Thor's sense) in the original, and that I've tried to preserve and build on in my conversion: the brigands setting an ambush if they spot the PCs; the bats that can extinguish light sources; the green slime (creeping ooze) at the bottom of the stairs to the dungeon; the politics with the Gnolls; and the possible negotiations with Lareth.

I hope that what I've described above helps show how the conversion is not just from one set of stats to another, but from one set of procedures of play (unstructured or semi-structured exploration) to a different set of procedures - the Torchbearer ones, which as I've tried to explain place a greater emphasis on "narrative" dynamism.

Another aspect of converting, that was more technical, is to have halved most numbers appearing; to turn the giant snake into a giant lizard and drop the lizard from where it appears (the loose rubble in that room seems enough to me); to drop the giant crayfish in the dungeon pool (the challenge for getting the loot seemed enough, and for me the giant crayfish strained credulity); and to move the Gnolls into the Ogre's room, which then allows me to put most of the Bugbears into what was the Gnolls' room while having their shaman on his own in the stranger area that the module originally has all of them in.

I also had to convert treasure - which I did by having an eye on the TB rules for loot drops, and thus mostly cutting down or in some cases getting rid of altogether the rather generous Gygaxian loot; and I had to make up a few new monster stat blocks: for killer frogs, the giant lizard and the giant tick.

That's a long answer but hopefully gives a sense of how I went about it.
 

I've never used T1 or the Moathouse. I do have some thoughts about the contrast between the D&D version and the Torchbearer adaption, that I'll explain below.


It took several hours - probably single digit, but more than just a few. Some of that was typing; some of that was thinking.

To explain the thinking, I'm going to borrow a contentious phrase once used by Thor (the Torchbearer lead designer) to describe some of these old D&D modules. This was in the old Burning THACO pdf, which I think is no longer available but used to be hosted on the Burning Wheel website and discussed how to adapt old D&D modules to BW. I guess it's not there anymore because it's been superseded by Torchbearer.

Anyway, in that document Thor said that some of those old modules have "the structural integrity of mushy peas". What he meant by this, from the Burning Wheel perspective, is that they have no innate narrative trajectory - they have obstacles and challenges, but these just sort of "sit there" with little innate dynamism to them. In the context of the moathouse, I would put the following things into that category: the killer frogs, the giant lizard, the giant snake, and at least to an extent the undead in the dungeon.

For me, the key thing in the conversion was to impose the sort of structure that is central to Torchbearer. TB isn't BW - it has site-based adventuring at its core. But it uses some of the same core "procedures" or "tech" as BW: no retries (BW calls that "let it ride", TB calls that "fun once"); and when a check fails, things happen in response (ie "fail forward"): in BW this is done via "intent and task"; in TB, a failed check either means that the player (and PC) achieve their intent but the PC suffers a condition, or else there is a "twist" which is a new obstacle that has to be confronted.

So in doing the conversion, I tried to pick up elements of the moathouse but reframe them through this lens of obstacles and twists. This is how I've dealt with the killer frogs, with the rotten drawbridge, with the brigands having (in the original) a 50% chance to be on watch as the PCs approach the entryway, with the giant tick in the kitchen, with the very-hard-to-find-in-the-original secret door in the torture room, and with the two secret doors in the dungeon that gate access to the "inner" area including Lareth's chambers. I've also used this to try and make the rubble in front of the storerooms more interesting - rereading that, as much as an aptrgangr attack it could be a Gnoll ambush that makes for a good twist there.

There are parts of the Moathouse that I think do have structural integrity (in Thor's sense) in the original, and that I've tried to preserve and build on in my conversion: the brigands setting an ambush if they spot the PCs; the bats that can extinguish light sources; the green slime (creeping ooze) at the bottom of the stairs to the dungeon; the politics with the Gnolls; and the possible negotiations with Lareth.

I hope that what I've described above helps show how the conversion is not just from one set of stats to another, but from one set of procedures of play (unstructured or semi-structured exploration) to a different set of procedures - the Torchbearer ones, which as I've tried to explain place a greater emphasis on "narrative" dynamism.

Another aspect of converting, that was more technical, is to have halved most numbers appearing; to turn the giant snake into a giant lizard and drop the lizard from where it appears (the loose rubble in that room seems enough to me); to drop the giant crayfish in the dungeon pool (the challenge for getting the loot seemed enough, and for me the giant crayfish strained credulity); and to move the Gnolls into the Ogre's room, which then allows me to put most of the Bugbears into what was the Gnolls' room while having their shaman on his own in the stranger area that the module originally has all of them in.

I also had to convert treasure - which I did by having an eye on the TB rules for loot drops, and thus mostly cutting down or in some cases getting rid of altogether the rather generous Gygaxian loot; and I had to make up a few new monster stat blocks: for killer frogs, the giant lizard and the giant tick.

That's a long answer but hopefully gives a sense of how I went about it.

This is a perfect encapsulation of the narrative momentum/thematic coherency layer of both TB Adventure design and Town Twist/procedure handling.

There are four components to TB Adventure design as I see it. These aren't in order of importance (they're all equally important), but rather, the order in which I think on/derive these things:

1) Proximity to Town and Journey Attrition (Toll if you're using the TB2 Loremaster Manual Toll procedures rather than TB1) - This adds to the overall difficulty and attrition model of the expedition. Consideration for (2) and (3) will flow from this so I like to think on this first. The further from town, the more legs of the journey (rather than a simple Pathfinder test) so this will extend the number of Problem Areas for the whole Adventure. Toll handles this in TB2's Loremaster rules. If its a Wilderness Expedition rather than a Delve, this won't be a consideration. In this case I'll proceed directly to (2).

2) Expedition/Delve Geography and Challenge Types - Sorting out what is there, their spatial relationships, and ensuring a nice mix of challenge types (which is cribbed directly from Mouse Guard Mission design...which is no surprise given that TB is Mouse Guard reskinned with more bells and whistles to ramp up the difficulty and complexity of players' decision-space). I handle this by making a point crawl map with Problem Areas as my points, a key-worded/short-hand key for each point, and a few (almost always at least 2, but a stray 1 here and there) points of ingress and egress to each area...often trying to include verticality if I can). Mouse Guard Challenge Types are Weather, Wilderness, Animals, and Mice. Torchbearer already has direct analogues for these in Weather and Wilderness and reskinned analogues in Monsters and Brigands/Mice in Need/Parleys. But Torchbearer extends the Challenge Types to Riddles/Puzzles, Traps, Arcana, Spiritual/Religious, and a wider array of social questions and prospective answers than the heroic trappings of Mice in Need/Parleys in Mouse Guard. Both games feature PC Goals, Relationships, and Beliefs (with TB extending this with Creed) so Challenge Type should have a consideration for these in there somewhere though Twists can sometimes better leverage these.

3) Problem Areas/Obstacles, Rest/Camp Areas, & Twists - The number of these, the list of Twists, and their difficulty/danger is encoded in Adventure Design. As mentioned above, Twists are often the best place to attack PCs "personally" (Beliefs, Creed, and Relationships).

4) Dramatic Needs of the Ecosystem & Loot - This is kindred with a lot of Story Now games. Dog in the Vineyard Town design (with NPCs and Sin and driving play towards conflict) and AW Threats (with their Instincts, Threat Moves, what its doing and where its going and what is at stake) are functionally the same thing. The place itself is "alive" (including its denizens) and each constituent part wants something (which necessarily almost always includes to crush the PCs' underfoot!).




I've never done any kind of conversion/adaptation. My process for this stuff is very particular (or peculiar one might say!) and it seems to me that, for myself, converting/adapting would be more difficult than just original creation based on existing play + PC build + my own imaginings. Did you consider this conversion/adaptation more/less difficult than the alternative? Of the four components listed above, what was the most difficult aspect during your considerations/conversion process?
 

pemerton

Legend
I've never done any kind of conversion/adaptation.

<snip>

it seems to me that, for myself, converting/adapting would be more difficult than just original creation based on existing play + PC build + my own imaginings
Over my RPGing life I've done a lot of conversion:

* I've converted a lot of D&D material (especially AD&D, but also 3E) to Rolemaster. This is mostly technical stuff around stats and expert knowledge of mechanical systems for the games in question.

* I've converted other bits and pieces to RM also: some Palladium, some Bushido, probably others I'm forgetting. The same is true of this - it's basically an exercise in technical expertise.

* I've converted both Moldvay Basic material (ie bits of B2) and 3E material (ie the module Maiden Voyage) to Burning Wheel. This is not just technical, although that is relevant in (say) converting a monster or NPC. It has a lot of what I described in my post just upthread, about thinking how a situation that is either presented statically (classic D&D) or a bit railroad-y (3E) can be adapted to BW's player-driven system. In the case of Maiden Voyage, for instance, this meant combining what the module presents as two appearances of the ghost ship into one single crescendo.

* The most recent Torchbearer adventure I ran - the Shadow Caves beneath Megloss's house - included elements I adapted from the old MERP (so, more-or-less, RM) supplement Southern Mirkwood, which includes Dol Guldur. This was mostly technical, because I wasn't really trying to maintain any of the overall structure/framing of the material, but already knew how I wanted to incorporate it into my adventure.​

Of course, Torchbearer already has ample conversions built in - Bugbears and Gnolls and creeping oozes, for instance, which figure in the moathouse; and stirges (relabelled stryxes) which I included in my first self-authored Torchbearer adventure.

As to why convert: mostly because I like a map, or a situation, or a character. Or some combination of these (eg ICE's Dol Guldur had a cool "seeing throne", which I adapted for the Shadow Caves and which did indeed prove to be cool). This can also be linked to nostalgia or shared experience: in Burning Wheel, most of my players recognised the Keep on the Borderlands when I described their PCs' arrival at it.

It can be harder than creating from scratch, or easier. In the case of the moathouse, I don't think I would have been able to write such a lengthy and in some ways complex dungeon myself, without inspiration or model, in the same amount of time as the conversion took me.

There are four components to TB Adventure design as I see it. These aren't in order of importance (they're all equally important), but rather, the order in which I think on/derive these things:

1) Proximity to Town and Journey Attrition (Toll if you're using the TB2 Loremaster Manual Toll procedures rather than TB1)

<snip>

2) Expedition/Delve Geography and Challenge Types - Sorting out what is there, their spatial relationships, and ensuring a nice mix of challenge types

<snip>

3) Problem Areas/Obstacles, Rest/Camp Areas, & Twists - The number of these, the list of Twists, and their difficulty/danger is encoded in Adventure Design.

<snip>

4) Dramatic Needs of the Ecosystem & Loot - <snippage> The place itself is "alive" (including its denizens) and each constituent part wants something (which necessarily almost always includes to crush the PCs' underfoot!).

<snip>

Of the four components listed above, what was the most difficult aspect during your considerations/conversion process?
In my conversion process, (1) and (4) were closely related, and I think (or at least hope) that the conversion reveals that.

The conversion locates the moathouse geographically in relation to the (ruined) Temple and to a (unspecified) Remote Village. Of course, and as per the OP of this post, the Temple in question is the Forgotten Temple Complex where the Dwarf PC Golin in my game is from. And the way Lareth is described establishes his oppositional relationship to this place, where Golin's mentor resides, and also to the Wizard's Tower which is where one of the other PCs, Fea-bella, is from and which for the moment is the PCs' main "home base" (because Fea-bella can stay with her mum, and Golin with his alchemist friend who lives there). A third PC, the skald Korvin, has as his enemy Nob H the Bandit Lord, and so the moathouse with its brigands and raiding is also naturally connected in that way too.

As we haven't yet had any play in the vicinity of the Forgotten Temple Complex, the details of geography (and things like Toll for travel to the moathouse) haven't been worked out yet, but I have pretty faithfully preserved the narration of the original module and would use that to place it on a map - luckily the relevant part of the map has an evil swamp (the Troll Fens) and so that shouldn't be hard to do if/when the time comes.

Doing these (1) and (4) bits wasn't that hard - I had them in mind in being motivated to do the conversion, and I think I have reasonably good instincts for doing the sort of work that (4) asks of a GM.

(3) wasn't too hard in intellectual terms, because I didn't have to think about this too much - it follows from the module that I'm adapting, including its map and key and its wandering monster tables. But it is probably the bulk of actual writing-up time. In converting monsters, I tried to first locate them within the D&D milieu in relation to a creature that already exists in TB (Dire Wolves and War Wasps carried a bit of weight here!) and then write them up with an appropriate Nature and Might, adapting special abilities and special weapons from other, appropriately similar, creatures already in the TB materials. I don't think my creature write-ups break any sort of new ground!

For obstacles, I took the approach of working out the odds in the D&D version; then next converting this to TB assuming a two to four dice pool as seemed appropriate to the likely context, and setting a difficulty on that basis; then finally checking this obstacle against my list of obstacles taken from the rulebooks and Cartographer's Companion to check that my fiction and my obstacles are consistent, and tweaking if necessary. (But I didn't have to do much of this tweaking.)

You'll have seen some of my suggested twists in the write-up, and mostly these follow pretty organically from the D&D write-up. (This is why I think of TB as doing classic D&D better than classic D&D does!) Rest/camp areas also emerged pretty naturally, and I don't think this is a coincidence given what I'm converting. The thing I'm least happy with is the preserved rations in the rubble-concealed storerooms in the dungeon entry. For Gygax maybe these serve a need for verisimilitude? But in TB I think it is a possible break-point, and I need to think about tweaking that before actually running this. The Shadow Caves has a source of potable water in it, which the players have exploited for camping, and so I'll have a bit more of that experience to draw on to help me think about how to do the provisions before I need to make a final decision. (I don't think the essentially endless supply of polearms is apt to be an issue in the same way.)

(2) is something that I had an eye on, and you'll see some notes that reflect this especially around the ghouls, the Gnolls and Lareth. It is certainly not a fighting-free scenario, but I think there is scope for a wide variety of approaches. And these will interact with camp danger levels in good ways, I think (eg driving off the lizard compared to killing it; or the more complex range of possibilities with the brigands, Gnolls, Bugbears etc).

What is missing from the scenario, and relevant to my PCs, is a chance to use Scholar in the adventure itself. (Lore Master feeds into Trickery and I think there is ample opportunity for that.) I think this is a legacy of it being a D&D adventure. But I think the chance to use Scholar and/or Circles to gather information in the Forgotten Temple Complex probably opens up enough space in this respect that I don't feel too worried about it.

Hopefully the above answers your questions to some extent!
 

The thing I'm least happy with is the preserved rations in the rubble-concealed storerooms in the dungeon entry. For Gygax maybe these serve a need for verisimilitude? But in TB I think it is a possible break-point, and I need to think about tweaking that before actually running this.

Alright, quoting this from your adventure conversion:

• Northern storeroom: 50 spears, 16 polearms, 3 battle axes, 2 barrels of salted meat (carried 4 or pack 8 and 18 portions each), a crate of 120 arrows (pack 16), a crate of 200 crossbow bolts (pack 16), 70 black capes with a yellow eye of fire sewn on them;

• Southern storeroom: 12 suits of leather armour, 30 shields, 3 barrels of salted meet (carried 4 or pack 8 and 18 portions each), and hidden behind them two casks of brandy (carried 2 or pack 4 and 8 draughts each: does not cure hungry/thirsty but grants +1D to recover from angry or afraid – each is worth 1D).

So I think there is an answer to this that yields both (a) an interesting decision-point for players and (b) an opportunity to use accumulated knowledge skills (though not Scholar); Cook/Alchemy.

Telegraph that the salted meat, while mostly preserved, has a slightly odd smell and mild gray tinge to it. Cooking Ob2 or Alchemy Ob3 reveals that the salting wasn't perfectly performed. As a result, each portion consumed as Ration requires Health Ob2 or gain Exhausted (if its any higher Ob or if its Sick condition then the risk profile is skewed too far toward "nope...not interested"). That does several things:

1) Creates a tempting/difficult Inventory Loadout decision.

2) Waves the prospect of an enticing Health test for advancement in front of the players with the specter of Exhausted looming.

3) The aforementioned (b) above.
 



@Manbearcat

That's a good idea. I think I'd change it to make it not a failure of the salting, but subsequent exposure to something-or-other that has begun to "corrupt" it despite being preserved. This alludes to the presence of aptrgangrs, ghouls and creeping oozes in the neighbourhood.

Now you've got a Loremaster Ob2 (or Theologian) rather than Cooking in play. Doesn't get you to the Scholar test you were thinking on, but its a step in that direction. You could get there if perhaps someone came upon the rations > ate one (so there is 17) > survived (so no skeletal remains nearby to forecast a grizzly fate) > yet suffered a low-grade bout of food poisoning with it fairly quickly > scrawled something incomprehensible (that must be sussed out with a skillful text analysis) in their discomfort on the wall as a warning to others.

You mentioned elsewhere you were concerned about the potential stale opening framing of an ambush with Killer Frogs. I don't recall Fea-bella, Golun, et al's Beliefs, but if there is tension between any two PC's Goal for the Adventure and their Belief or another PC's Belief (or tension between two Beliefs), that initial framing would be a good time to leverage that tension with the situation framing. Satisfy Belief but another player must forfeit theirs (or struggle with it). Same goes to Goal vs Belief. That or the framing indicates there is something important to someone's Hometown here, and taking the expeditious way in would obviate the possibility of engaging with that.
 

pemerton

Legend
@Manbearcat

I did think about the Loremaster/Theologian options for making sense of identified corruption. I haven't written them into this version, for reasons of space. But I attach an update which changes page 7 to reflect the conversation in this thread. In less exciting news it also corrects the Nature of the giant tick from 3 to 4. (Which fits the hit point totals in its stat block.)
 

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