5E TftYP - Running Sunless Citadel

Kalshane

Villager
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.


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.
I personally wouldn't call this a problem. If a room has a very similar setup with an identical trap, I don't have a problem with the players thinking "This room is just like the last one." It means they're paying attention. Plus, if you just encountered a nasty trap and then came across a nearly identical situation a short while later, you're going to make doubly sure there's not another one.
 

Flamestrike

Explorer
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.
No offence but I'm having trouble reconciling those two statements.

I mean youve run 5 sessions (total) and killed 3 characters and from the sounds of it nearly killed several more. That sounds very Fantasy underground Vietnam!
 

Flamestrike

Explorer
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.
Arent the PCs in the dungeon to rescue someone? There was some 'magic fruit appears on day X' thing as well from memory. Im sure you could easily insert one of many time pressures to keep the PCs from resorting to the 5 minute adventuring day.

From memory the NPCS the PCs are sent in to rescue are already dead (and tree zombies) but that alone should be enough to keep them pushing in as long as they can, and not relying on the 5 minute adventuring day.

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.
I use:

Short rest (5 minutes): Allows expenditure of (1/2 level, round up) Hit dice to heal. Roll one at a time, adding Con to each die till you're happy. Restores all short rest abilities. Generally limited to a maximum of 2/ long rest (in special or unusual circumstances the DM might allow more).

Long rest (8 hours): Restores no HP. First you recover 1/2 your level in Hit Dice (round up). Then you can spend 1 or more Hit dice immediately if desired. It also restores all long rest resources to full, with the exception of spell slots and Warlock arcanum. Spell slots recharge at the rate of 1 each of levels 1-5 for each level you have slots available, plus one of levels 6+ (or one arcanum) if you have spell slots of that level. You can choose to restore a lower level slot in the place of a higher level one as long as you have access to slots of that level. Limited to 1/ every 24 hours. If interrupted it only counts as a short rest as as long as you havent had more than two short rests in the past 24 hours, forcing you to start again.

Example:

Harry the 9th level Wizard can short rest twice, for 5 minutes each time, expending a maximum of 5 Hit dice on each rest (to a total of 9 HD during the day). When he long rests for 8 hours, he first recovers 5 Hit dice, and can spend up to 9 Hit dice (if available) if he is still injured to heal.

He also recovers 5 spell slots; 1 x 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 1 x 5th level slot.

I find this keeps day time pacing where I want it (no immersion breaking 1 hour stops in the dungeon), is punitive enough with slot recovery to keep casters from nova striking encounters or constantly seeking to drop high level slots into every problem, and keeps healing fast enough to keep the adventure going without week long breaks in the action, but slow enough to make hit point attrition a thing, and a two or three day adventure requiring 3-4 days for everyone to get back to (full HP, HD and spell slots).

I also use negative HP, and death at (-10 or 1/4 max HP, whichever is better for the character). Its a DC 15 Con check to stabilize (Champion remarkable athlete helps for this yay!).

Each check you fail you lose 1 HP. Each check you pass you remain on the same (negative) HP total. If you fail 3 you gain a level of exhaustion. If you pass three you're stable. Once stable, you come to in 1d4 hours with 1 hit point.

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.
Limit short rests. The game isnt intended for the players to take multiple short rests in a row, doing nothing else. Literally; just say 'you sit around for an hour but you're already as rested as you could possibly be from the short rest you had immediately prior. Your abilities remain expended till you take a long rest'

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.
I like this. A lot. Consider it stolen.
 

Onslaught

Explorer
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.
So one question remain: how long was your "intro"? Or... did the group went straight to the Sidadel, or they interacted with NPCs, went on exploring Oakhurst, etc...


I like this. A lot. Consider it stolen.
That makes two of us :)
 

Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
So one question remain: how long was your "intro"? Or... did the group went straight to the Sidadel, or they interacted with NPCs, went on exploring Oakhurst, etc...
It was about 2 hours of game-time before the first group reached the courtyard of the Citadel and the first door (I always call for a break at the 2-hour mark, and the group had just reached the entrance to the Citadel at that time). There was no Session 0, so some of that time was spent discussing expectations, introducing characters, and getting acquainted. About 40 minutes was spent exploring Oakhurst, shopping, and gathering information on the Citadel and its goblins.

That's the first group. The second group spent very little time in Oakhurst and asked almost no questions before leaving for the Citadel. When I called the first break (2 hours in), they had already met Yusdrayl and were on their way to rescue Calcryx.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
So one question remain: how long was your "intro"? Or... did the group went straight to the Sidadel, or they interacted with NPCs, went on exploring Oakhurst, etc..
For me, I spent zero time in Oakhurst. I generally disdain town stuff, so I just gave the rumors to each of the PCs, did the character intros and started them off at the entrance to the dungeon.
 

OB1

Explorer
For me, I spent zero time in Oakhurst. I generally disdain town stuff, so I just gave the rumors to each of the PCs, did the character intros and started them off at the entrance to the dungeon.
I decided to start my group at the entrance as well. We did a quick session 0 and determined that they are all from Waterdeep, here to acquire the apple (by any means possible) due to a connection with the Zhentarim, who want it.

I'll start it off by letting them know that when they got to Oakhurst, they discovered that the apple didn't arrive as it was supposed to, nor did the 4 adventurers who went to make the trade ever come back, so the group went to investigate as it was made clear that if they did not return with the apple in a week, very bad things would happen to them. This also gives a time pressure as they have to be back on the road to Waterdeep by the day after the start of the adventure. I do plan to allow them to level up during a short rest should they have the xp for it.
 

JeffB

Adventurer
Share, if possible

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It was a long long time ago, details are fuzzy. But essentially the kobolds doublecrossed the PCs and converged on them along with the Goblins. I "misspoke" when I mentioned G vs. K. I meant humanoids vs. PCs.
 
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Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
For me, I spent zero time in Oakhurst. I generally disdain town stuff, so I just gave the rumors to each of the PCs, did the character intros and started them off at the entrance to the dungeon.
I tried to go this route in Sunless Citadel, but it was a little rocky. One group went right for the usual tavern-room shenanigans, so I tried to humor them a little, where-as I flat-out told my veteran group that we weren't going to do any active roleplay in Oakhurst, so they could just say what they were trying to accomplish there and how they were going about it. For example, "I want to find out more about the Sunless Citadel, so I visit the tavern and speak to as many locals as I can, asking them about the Citadel's history and the goblins that dwell there."

For whatever reason, though, a lot of players expect the whole game to be conducted in active roleplay (Critical Role and other streaming shows have probably encouraged this idea). If they want information about the Sunless Citadel, then they think they need to locate specific townspeople and create a scene with each one. First there's the innkeeper, then there's the hooded traveler in the corner, then the farmers at a nearby table, and on and on.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with this, of course, but damn is it boring when there's no dramatic conflict (i.e. in a dungeon-crawl). It also eats up a ton of time, if not whole sessions.

I'm not sure what to do about this, but in the future, I'll probably frame town visits in the past tense. "The party spent a few days recuperating in town. What did you do during that time?"
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
There's nothing necessarily wrong with this, of course, but damn is it boring when there's no dramatic conflict (i.e. in a dungeon-crawl). It also eats up a ton of time, if not whole sessions.

I'm not sure what to do about this, but in the future, I'll probably frame town visits in the past tense. "The party spent a few days recuperating in town. What did you do during that time?"
Agreed. In my current campaign, I've implemented something of a "town stuff" mini-game that I think is working pretty well so far. We basically boiled down the general tasks you can do in town for a given day (or part of a day) to just a few - Carouse, Get Services (includes Recruit), Supply, Gather Information. Players choose which task their characters undertake individually and where to undertake it. (Sometimes they'll team up if they want to Help.) The locations offer trade-offs and usually have a cost, but you get a tangible benefit for your trouble if you succeed in your effort. It keeps things tight and we establish a few details here and there that add up into a fleshed out town pretty quickly. ( [MENTION=6801219]Lanliss[/MENTION] has already seen some of that for his character based on his choices. He's got a bad relationship with the owner of the livery and the local thieves' guild.)
 

Lanliss

Explorer
Agreed. In my current campaign, I've implemented something of a "town stuff" mini-game that I think is working pretty well so far. We basically boiled down the general tasks you can do in town for a given day (or part of a day) to just a few - Carouse, Get Services (includes Recruit), Supply, Gather Information. Players choose which task their characters undertake individually and where to undertake it. (Sometimes they'll team up if they want to Help.) The locations offer trade-offs and usually have a cost, but you get a tangible benefit for your trouble if you succeed in your effort. It keeps things tight and we establish a few details here and there that add up into a fleshed out town pretty quickly. ( [MENTION=6801219]Lanliss[/MENTION] has already seen some of that for his character based on his choices. He's got a bad relationship with the owner of the livery and the local thieves' guild.)
And the town in general for swinging around my "Bad Reputation" Pirate feature to avoid paying for stuff. The thieves guild only dislikes me for telling them to not rob my friends. Good stuff, altogether.
 

Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
Agreed. In my current campaign, I've implemented something of a "town stuff" mini-game that I think is working pretty well so far. We basically boiled down the general tasks you can do in town for a given day (or part of a day) to just a few - Carouse, Get Services (includes Recruit), Supply, Gather Information. Players choose which task their characters undertake individually and where to undertake it.
Funny. That's very similar to something I was considering telling my own players. Most of them had never run a proper dungeon-crawl before, so in trying to prepare them for the experience, I was going to introduce Oakhurst by saying, "Imagine a menu pops up and the only options are SHOP and SLEEP."

But I was afraid they might take it too literally and fail to investigate the Citadel's history. If I had thought of "GATHER INFORMATION," I would have been a lot more comfortable with the idea. But at the time, I was thinking of old computer games and the like, whose menu options were usually limited to 5-6 characters.
 

Onslaught

Explorer
So... one thing I'm curious about Sunless Cidadel in 5e is how deathly are the dungeon's major combats? At which level did the PC's faced those challanges?

* Calcryx the White Wyrmling

* The Quasit

* Gultash the Bloated One

* The Hobgoblin boss in the first level

* The End fight

I'm afraid the dungeon might play like dungeon vietnam, but I'm not found of that way.
 

Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
So... one thing I'm curious about Sunless Cidadel in 5e is how deathly are the dungeon's major combats? At which level did the PC's faced those challanges?
For the most part, none of the encounters are any harder than Klarg in Lost Mine of Phandelver. The most difficult fight is Durnn and the hobgoblins. If the party is heading in that direction at level 1, then drop a few clues that they might not be ready for it yet. The second most difficult fight is Calcryx, because her breath weapon can instantly kill a level 1 character from massive damage. If the party has Meepo with them, then Calcryx should be a much easier fight.
 

OB1

Explorer
So we had our first session with this yesterday. We went five and a half hours and finished after the Hobgoblin boss in the first level. Was a great first session, everyone loved the dungeon and the party had a healthy level of respect for the challenge level. A few thoughts. Note that we ran exclusively in theatre of the mind.

* Started them at the edge of ravine and fed them the info from Oakhurst. Surprised them, but I think ended up saving at least an hour of play time and ultimately allowed us to get to the end of level 1.
* Gave them a 3 day time limit. Backstory is that they all either owe a favor or are looking for a favor from the Zhentarim, and were sent to Oakhurst from Neverwinter to acquire the golden apple by any means necessary. If they do not return with it in a week, they will be considered to have run out on the Zhentarim. In practical terms, this means that they will not be able to use the same characters from this module in future TftYP modules.
* Used the dynamic DC variant for Passive Checks (-9 from the DC and roll 20) and it worked great.
* Party befriend Meepo and the Kobolds, promised to bring Calcryx back, but did not take Meepo with them into Goblin territory.
* Party never followed the southernmost dead end track of the dungeon and decided against going into the rebuke the dead room.
* Caltrop hall fight was the highlight of the session. I had one of the two goblins go and get the other 3 from the archery room next door to reinforce. Party gained enough xp to get to level 2 as a result of that fight. As a DM, I learned a thing or two about cover and the power of dynamic terrain to make a combat more interesting.
* Triggered both dragon fountains, even though they were positive the second was a trap.
* Had no problem with the bloated one
* My genius party had no thief and no one with lock picks, so they were unable to get into Calcryx's room, but had a great conversation with her from the hallway. Calcryx kept baiting them to come in as she could smell the treasure on them. In the end they decided against breaking the door down and fighting her.
* Fight against Durnn the Hobgoblin started off very good for the party and then had a very dramatic turn. First I crit against the Barbarian (who had decided not to rage) and came within 2 HP of killing him outright (thanks to the Martial advantage feature). That was immediately followed up with the goblin criting on the Paladin with Inflict Wounds, killing him outright and leaving only the bard and the warlock. It looked like a potential TPK until the next turn the bard popped off a perfect thunder wave and took out the remaining 4 enemies.
* We finished with the party in the tower near the hole down to the grove level. They are still at 2nd level, and deciding whether to go back for Calcryx now that they have a key. Player who lost the Paladin introduced his back-up, a halfling thief who has been following the party and was also sent by the Zhentarim.

I think the party is going to need a long rest before they push on and I'm thinking that if they leave the Citadel that when they come back the Kobolds will have taken over the top level but Calcryx will have escaped them again and will have gone down to the Grove with her treasure. May have some additional undead roaming the first level as well.

Thanks to everyone who gave their thoughts and advice!
 
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Lidgar

Explorer
Great recap OB1! Many fond memories of this adventure.

Just on the topic of healing/rests, there are two additional variants you can consider if you really want to ramp up difficulty:

1. Healing: Healer's Kit Dependency (DMG p266)
2. Rest Variant: Gritty Realism (DMG p267)

Personally I am not a fan of the first, but the second is closer to 1e/2e. Note the second variant will especially impact Warlocks.
 
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OB1

Explorer
[MENTION=28334]Lidgar[/MENTION] - Decided against using the rest variant for a couple of reasons. One is that I felt like the Sunless Citadel was going to be difficult enough without it, and I preffered to have a ticking clock prevent them from simply long resting after every encounter. I think with the variant rule it would actually encourage that even more. Secondly, my group has just gotten used to the idea as player HP being a measure of stamina in combat, and that 0 HP means that you have let down your guard and are now vulnerable to a killing blow. So in that sense the 5e rules make a lot of sense.

Finally, the dungeon turned out to be plenty challenging without using the variant, and my first rule of home brewing is to not alter the rules unless absolutely necessary.

I touched on it before, but enemies using cover consistently really changed the difficulty level of some of the encounters. The bloated one was a super easy fight for the players, as the rats didn't use cover. Compare that to the fight with the 3 goblin bandits at the top of the map, where tipping over a table to protect themselves from the warlock's eldritch blast and bards hand crossbow meant the paladin and barbarian having to take a couple of hits before victory. Also, the crit that the goblin got with inflict wounds only happened because she ran behind the throne after casting bane in the first round, allowing her to pop out and strike the paladin in the next round. Had she stayed in plain sight, the warlock or bard would have likely taken her out before she had the chance to get the crit.

I'm sure this is not a surprise to many on these boards, but it's been an awakening for me. I think one of the reasons I didn't use much cover before was that we always played on a grid, and didn't have a lot of props to show exactly where cover was, so we just ignored it and most fights ended up being white room slug fests. With TOM, suddenly everyone is trying new things and combat is becoming MORE tactical. The thunder wave the bard got off at the end, for example, came from her using her feline agility combined with her climb speed to go along the tower wall and get in perfect position to nail the four enemies. I'm not sure she would have ever tried that on a grid.
 

Balfore

Explorer
So, what about doing away with Passive Perception all together, and just have them roll for each room...which is what they will do anyways?
Or, as they open the door, they give you 2 rolls for perception (they all will try anyway) and you use the first roll for traps (but don't tell them), the second roll for secret doors?

What's the reason for the randomness of the fluctuating DC? Just to keep it random?

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thethain

Villager
This will probably only work once and the pcs will get wary of it, in the goblin room past the caltrops, have the goblins only fire once, then retreat to the next room, because they can hide as a bonus action (and talk as a free one) they can have the entire next room hide then ready attacks for whoever comes around the corner. That will almost certainly guarantee a player unconscious/dead as he takes 3-5 shots as they round the corner (most with advantage). Also don't forget a 2 foot wall is either 1/2 or 3/4 cover for the goblins, depending on how devious you feel.

The fight with the goblin chief should involve someone being shoved into the pit (they get a save). And the shaman has inflict wounds, which can easily one shot level 1s.

The troll fight can also throw someone in the pit (Grapple, then just walk to the pit) It might be less damage than an attack, but it also removes that player from combat a bit.

The laboratory has a vial of toxin next to the experiment, particularly cruel DM might have a goblin try to force it down a players mouth. (something like a grapple attempt)

Similarly, you can have the players know of the rumors of the healing power of the fruit of the gulthias tree. But they came in winter, they can find the white apple on a goblin along the way. Of course if they take a bite of the white apple its 75 necrotic damage rather than healing... Maybe an OK history check reveals the fruit, but an exceptional one reveals about the white fruit.

You could also adjust the way the patrols work, basically even if they miss being attacked by a patrol during a rest, a patrol is still added to represent scouting parties returning and getting ready to return. (Just put the patrol in a logical place to restock if you don't roll enough to affect the players).

Have several of the twig blights in the last area where the players would be encountering the final encounter, rather than animating and attacking immediately, they first attack when players leave their reach with an opportunity attack (with advantage for being hidden).

Absurdly devious: If the players help the Kobolds, have the leader request them attend an elaborate ceremony granting the title of Dragonguard for the characters, all the characters are told to wear the robes and staves of the Dragonguard for the ceremony. All the kobolds in the lair attend and cheer during the ceremony, at the end they attack to attempt to subdue the characters(who are now wearing cloth armor and only have a quarterstaff as a weapon) to feed them to the dragon.
 

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