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5E TftYP - Running Sunless Citadel

OB1

Jedi Master
Hi all - I'm running Sunless Citadel for 4 players this weekend (Barbarian, Rouge, Bard and Warlock) and would love any general thoughts, advice, tips and tricks for running it. 3 players have been part of my home brew campaign since the playtest while the 4th is brand new to 5e (has some 2e and 3.5 experience from 10+ years ago). Each player will also have a backup character ready to wander into the adventure should their first one meet an unfortunate end. I don't know what these characters will be, the only rule is they can't be the same class or race as their first choice.

I'll be running in full "adversarial DM" style at the request of the players, so any good tricks for getting the most out of the monsters is fully appreciated.

Also just curious as to how long most groups take to complete this module.

Thanks in advance!
 

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Balfore

Explorer
Yawning Portal was dropped on me last weekend...so, I too am running Sunless Citadel.
I would love any and all input on how everyone plans on running this. :)

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Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
I'm currently running Sunless Citadel for two groups. They are two and three sessions in, respectively. We've had a number of near-death experiences, and three character deaths so far.

In my opinion, you absolutely MUST use variant rules to bring this dungeon to life. This adventure was written for 3rd Edition, and the default 5th Edition rules are way too forgiving. If you want to recapture the terror and peril of AD&D and 3E, then you need to use the following variants:
  • Roll for Ability Scores
  • Variant: More Difficult Identification (DMG, p. 136).
  • Variant: Encumbrance (PHB, p. 176).
  • Variant: Training to Gain Levels (DMG, p. 131).
  • Variant: Wands Don't Recharge (DMG, p. 141).
  • Variant: Slow Natural Recovery (DMG, p. 267).
Slow Natural Recovery is the most important of these, but even compared to 3rd Edition, it's very forgiving. If your players are down with it, then I recommend dropping Hit Dice altogether and simply having a long rest heal 1 hit point. Here's a thread I made, with more in-depth discussion.

Also, the default passive Perception rules are TERRIBLE for classic dungeon crawling. Do not use them. Most of the DC's in Sunless Citadel are 15. One of my groups has a passive Perception 12; the other 16. So by the default rules, one group would miss every single trap and secret door, and the other would detect every single trap and secret door. That's too predictable and boring.

Instead, I've adopted a method that I learned here (which I believe was part of the D&D Next playtest at some point). For every trap or secret door, take the DC to detect it and subtract by 9 (DC 15 - 9 = 6). The resulting number becomes a modifier for a 1d20 roll (1d20+6). If the result is lower than anyone's passive Perception score, then the trap or secret door is detected.

There was a long discussion about this method, and where the 9 comes from, but I believe it was lost in the Great Forum Disaster of 2016.

One other tip: Make full use of Nimble Escape. Goblins are sneaky, and they should be Disengaging or Hiding as much as possible. Just don't have them Hide mid-combat unless you want your players to employ the same tactic; instead, have them drop behind barricades or around corners, giving them total cover.
 

OB1

Jedi Master
Instead, I've adopted a method that I learned here (which I believe was part of the D&D Next playtest at some point). For every trap or secret door, take the DC to detect it and subtract by 9 (DC 15 - 9 = 6). The resulting number becomes a modifier for a 1d20 roll (1d20+6). If the result is lower than anyone's passive Perception score, then the trap or secret door is detected.

One other tip: Make full use of Nimble Escape. Goblins are sneaky, and they should be Disengaging or Hiding as much as possible. Just don't have them Hide mid-combat unless you want your players to employ the same tactic; instead, have them drop behind barricades or around corners, giving them total cover.
Thanks Prakriti! Will use the above two suggestions for sure. I love that variant on passive perception checks.

As for resting, I was going to use a combination of a time pressure constraint and enemy reinforcements to combat long rests. Is the 1 or 2 Hit Die they could roll on a short rest really enough in your opinion to make the module to easy as written?
 



Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
As for resting, I was going to use a combination of a time pressure constraint and enemy reinforcements to combat long rests.
This is certainly a possibility, but one of the things I missed about AD&D was the long stretches of recovery time. This gives the dungeon denizens time to prepare new traps and ambushes. Is the party tearing through encounters with tactic A? Well, the goblins have had 10 days to come up with counter-tactic B.

Is the 1 or 2 Hit Die they could roll on a short rest really enough in your opinion to make the module to easy as written?
Slow Natural Recovery didn't have as big of an impact as I was expecting. It's definitely a lot funner than the default rules, but you can still expect the party to be at full or nearly-full health after a long rest. Yes, the party will be resting a little more frequently, but it's not like AD&D where they had to hole up for several days at a time.

That said, there's no perfect way to remove Hit Dice from the game without introducing new problems. For example, the fighter (with Second Wind) will laugh at your attempts to reduce his healing capabilities. Sure, you can make Second Wind a once-a-day ability, but I have a strong aversion to house-rules. Slow Natural Recovery has the benefit of being an official variant, and it doesn't introduce new problems, so I like it.

So, you (the DM) roll on all the Perception checks?
Yes. Here's an example:

The party has a Ranger with 14 passive Perception. They are walking toward a pit trap. The adventure text says: "It takes a successful DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check to detect the trapdoor's presence."

You, the DM, roll a 1d20. Take the original DC, subtract 9 from it (15 - 9 = 6), and add the result to the d20 roll (1d20 + 6). This is the trapdoor's new DC.

Example: You roll 1d20 + 6 and get (4 + 6 =) 10.

Since the result is equal to or lower than the Ranger's passive Perception score of 14, the Ranger detects the trapdoor.

If you had rolled 1d20 + 6 and gotten (13 + 6 =) 19, then the Ranger would not have detected it.

This method has its basis in AD&D. For example, in 1st Edition, an elf had a 2 in 6 chance to automatically detect a secret door. So if the party came near a secret door, the DM would secretly roll a 1d6, and on a 1 or 2, the elf would detect it.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Don't make Meepo cute. That's obviously more of an aesthetic thing - I don't like cute monsters. My Meepo was bloodthirsty and disgusting.

On the subject of passive Perception, do the following and you won't have to roll randomly: (1) Telegraph the existence of hidden things when describing the environment. (2) Ask your players which general task they are having their characters perform in the dungeon at the cost of not doing some other thing. (3) Establish marching order so you know who can detect what depending on the location of the hidden thing. (4) Resolve according to standard rules for passive checks.
 

Mistwell

Legend
As a player going through this now (I may not be able to respond to this thread later as I fear spoilers) I will say we're finding this more deadly than we're used to with 5e (and liking that). First encounter with rats nearly diseased the entire party and sent us back to town. FIRST encounter. And we wouldn't have the cash for a cure disease, so we'd have been sitting it out in an Inn, with actions to aid each other to try and make our saves, for days I think. The only thing that saved us was our party healer critting his medicine check (which I think was a house rule).

Second or third encounter (I don't recall which) my character nearly died to a room full of skeletons - as I opened their secret door (having heard nothing behind it) and none of the rest of the party were nearby to help out that first round. Thwap thwap thwap on my poor fighter's head, and he was unconscious. DM could have probably killed me next round while I was bleeding on the ground, but decided the skeletons would probably react to the new guys trying to break them than the non-moving guy on the ground slowly bleeding.

So yeah, so far pretty darn deadly, and we're only at the front door and first room. :)
 
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OB1

Jedi Master
[MENTION=6855149]Prakriti[/MENTION] - Don't have my DMG nearby, does Slow Natural Healing preclude the use of Hit Die healing during a short rest? I'm actually worried that taking that away might be too much, though I do like the concept of using Hit Die for long rest healing. Might go with my own variant where you have to roll your Hit Die when short resting or long resting outdoors but get the max on your Hit Die if long resting in a safe, comfortable location.
[MENTION=2525]Mistwell[/MENTION] - So it sounds like it may be plenty deadly enough without to much effort on my part! That's exactly why I'm having everyone come with back-up characters.
 


JeffB

Legend
Don't make Meepo cute. That's obviously more of an aesthetic thing - I don't like cute monsters. My Meepo was bloodthirsty and disgusting.
Amen.

So sick of all the "awww...meepo" love from BITD of 3.0

I made the whole Goblin vs. Kobold conflict play out pretty nasty.
 


Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
Don't have my DMG nearby, does Slow Natural Healing preclude the use of Hit Die healing during a short rest?
Nope. Slow Natural Recovery just removes the total-health-refill after a long rest. So players can spend hit dice after either a short or long rest.

On the subject of passive Perception, do the following and you won't have to roll randomly: (1) Telegraph the existence of hidden things when describing the environment.
This is what I call the OD&D method. It's good if you have a knack for mechanical description. You also need to come up with unique telegraphs for each trap or secret door, otherwise you're announcing their presence to the world.

For example, there are two identical traps in the Sunless Citadel. As soon as I used similar language to telegraph the second one, the players said, "Ah-hah," and knew exactly what was up. So relying on description requires extra work and a lot of creativity.

(2) Ask your players which general task they are having their characters perform in the dungeon at the cost of not doing some other thing. (3) Establish marching order so you know who can detect what depending on the location of the hidden thing. (4) Resolve according to standard rules for passive checks.
This is very important, especially if your players are mostly familiar with the heroic-fantasy bent of most 5E adventures. Dungeon-crawling is a whole 'nother game, and it involves more protocol.

As soon as the party enters the dungeon, go through this check-list:
- What is the marching order?
- What are the light-sources?
- What task is everyone engaged in? (Mapping, keeping an eye out for danger, etc.)

Also, ask the party to describe their general routine. How fast are they moving? Are they listening at every door? Are they searching as they go along? Generally, I don't allow a character to contribute their passive Perception to trap detection unless they're in the front rank. And if they are listening at every door, just use passive Perception instead of rolling at every door.

Also, keep accurate track of time. If the party is moving slowly, searching as they go along, and listening at doors, then assume that 10 minutes is spent for every room and corridor they traverse (in AD&D, this was called a turn). Dungeon-crawling is a slow and cautious activity.

Lastly, I strongly encourage every party to elect a Caller. This is the description I give to my players:

The Caller’s job is to say where the party is going next, i.e. “We go down the east passage” or “We open the door.” Once the party arrives at the next destination, then play resumes as normal, and the other players can declare actions (“I search the wardrobe,” “I cautiously approach the statue,” etc.). This speeds up play.

As the Caller, you should never query the party for help making a decision unless you’re completely stumped. In other words, don’t ask, “Where should we go next?” Just make a decision and go with it. Asking for input slows down play and turns every decision into a group discussion.

This arrangement means that it’s the party’s responsibility to jump in when they have suggestions or want to declare actions. If the party is silent, then the Caller can and should assume that the group is done exploring and ready to move on. As the Caller, you shouldn’t spend too much time waiting for the other party members to declare actions. If it feels like the action has slowed down or you’ve hit a dead end, simply move on to the next room. (Note: A prompt like “Ready to move on?” is fine. Just don’t wait too long for an answer.)

Note: A Caller is not the same as a party leader. A Caller has no more authority than the other players. Nor is the Caller necessarily the “Face” of the group, i.e. the character who represents the party in negotiations. The Caller is simply the player who directs the party’s movements from room to room. They might be a low-Charisma wizard who never talks to NPCs, for example, or even a mute Kenku. As such, the Caller should never be assumed to “lead” the party in any way, unless it’s appropriate for the Caller's character to do so. They have no more or less authority than everyone else.


Just make sure you're mixing it up every now and then. Try to elect a different Caller each session or, if you have long sessions, after each break.
 
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OB1

Jedi Master
Thanks again Prakriti. It's been nearly 30 years since I DM'd a straight up 2e dungeon crawl and these are great suggestions. The homebrew I've been running for 3 years is more Mission Impossible meets the Avengers in Final Fantasy VII, and taking a break from that cinematic, high fantasy style is part of the reason we're doing some TftYP modules this summer in between homebrew sessions (where they are half way through Tier 3).
 

Balfore

Explorer
I think I will 'make death mean something'.
Too many times, players will rush in not think.
Since dropping to zero HP, they figure they could easily get healed up.
So, I've decided that if they drop below zero, and they are making death saves, I will impose a cumulative -1 (to a max of -4) on their attacks, saves and skill checks.
A long rest will remove one of the negatives, as will any higher Heal spell.
That means, if a player has a -4, and they die again, they have a -4 on their death saves.

Another house rule will be, if they take a long rest, they can only recover up to half of their HP loss. Example:
100 hp, and you're down 50, you can only sleep off 25. The rest can only be recovered through magic, potions, and hit dice.

Also, if there is a need for a rez, the DC will start at 10, and will require skill checks from other players to help lower the DC.
So, if players continue to have a need for a rez, it will become more difficult as they move through life.
So their next rez will be a DC11 then DC12...etc...every time they need a rez
Matt Mercer' article was pretty neat.

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woonga

First Post
I know this is hugely subjective and dependent on the group, but would anyone be able to give a rough estimate on # hours (not # sessions) it's taken your groups to get through Sunless Citadel, or any of the other Yawning Portal adventures? I've been thinking about running Sunless Citadel on an upcoming weekend trip, but wasn't sure what other groups have experienced in terms of length. I've only skimmed the book so far, but the TftYP adventures seem to be more dungeon-crawly than my current campaign has ended up being, so I'm not sure how to gauge the length of adventures like these.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I know this is hugely subjective and dependent on the group, but would anyone be able to give a rough estimate on # hours (not # sessions) it's taken your groups to get through Sunless Citadel, or any of the other Yawning Portal adventures? I've been thinking about running Sunless Citadel on an upcoming weekend trip, but wasn't sure what other groups have experienced in terms of length. I've only skimmed the book so far, but the TftYP adventures seem to be more dungeon-crawly than my current campaign has ended up being, so I'm not sure how to gauge the length of adventures like these.
Trying to think back to when I ran SC... I think it was about four 4 hour sessions. I run mine with full-on tactical map via Roll20 though. With strictly theater of the mind play, you could probably get it done a little faster.
 

Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
I know this is hugely subjective and dependent on the group, but would anyone be able to give a rough estimate on # hours (not # sessions) it's taken your groups to get through Sunless Citadel
I'm running two Sunless Citadel groups concurrently; sessions are 4 hours long. One group is 3 sessions in, and they JUST reached the entrance to the Grove Level at the end of the third session. I'm sure they can finish up in 4 sessions, but more likely it will be 5. That's 16-20 hours altogether.

The second group is on a similar pace.
 

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