Based in Southern Oregon, Fiddleback is a blog and portfolio by Brian Casey. His posts explore tabletop gaming and other topics through examination of RPGs, boardgames, and more. He is a freelance tabletop game editor and writer, and podcaster.

Fiddleback vs. The Forge of Fury, Part 1

Fiddleback vs. The Forge of Fury, Part 1

This is the first part of the Forge of Fury series. The Forge of Fury is the second adventure included in Wizards of the Coast’s Tales From the Yawning Portal book. It is meant to follow on from the previous adventure, Sunless Citadel, and PCs should be level 3 or better before heading in.

The Forge of Fury series will require a different approach than Sunless Citadel did, both in GMing it and in this series of articles.

No longer are players expected to be totally new to Dungeons and Dragons and inexperienced with either the system or the adventures. Although, having said that, it is significantly different from its predecessor adventure; the differences are distinct enough to warrant some attention when they crop up. The form, structure, and presentation of The Forge of Fury all differ significantly as well and so this entire series shall be dealt with differently.

Surprisingly, perhaps, Forge of Fury does very well on its own explaining how to run itself. Therefore, I will put less emphasis on thinking through the encounters with an eye towards running them for the new DM. Instead, I’ll point out particular encounters that seem interesting or instructive and try to explain why they are and what aspiring DMs can learn from them where possible. This will be less of a room by room breakdown as a result and more of a guide to examining adventures so the DM can learn what makes them good and compelling and how to do those things in their own, homebrewed, adventures.

Part 1 will cover the introduction to The Forge of Fury through to the end of The Mountain Door map and room 14.

Adventure Synopsis and Character Hooks– Page 33, 34

There is but one adventure hook this time: You want weapons and armor.

Which is fine for those PCs who want swords. Not everyone does, though. Fortunately, there is an entirely different set of adventure hooks masquerading as Character Hooks.

Characters who favor exploration and discovery or who might have kept the small scroll case and note found in Sunless Citadel (remember that?) will probably be most interested in the Follow the Map hook. Perhaps their research on that note lead them to discover more and now they’ve found the map they need to lead them to a great pile of “treasure,” which will look a lot like weapons and armor.

Characters who like mapping, and getting rewarded for it, or enjoy a bit of social climbing or perhaps even like to recover potential artifacts, say weapons and armor, will probably be most interested in Track the Broken Blade. The monetary reward sweetens the deal for those PCs more ‘value’ oriented.

PCs who enjoy fighting and killing, or wish to play the hero’s hero and rescue or protect people, will respond most favorably to the Vanquish the Orc Raiders Character Hook. Undoubtedly, in addition to the fine bounty they are sure to collect, there will also be unattended treasure (certainly after all the killing it will be unattended, which is semantically nearly the same thing) lying around for the taking. Equally undoubtedly, it will include weapons and armor.

Different, but the same. More or less.

Approaching Khundrukar—Page 34

This is a pretty good bit of beginning box text that sets the scene, delivers the required information succinctly, and then sets the PCs on the path with no mess and no fuss.

Except, let’s stop and gear up first.

The Stone Tooth – Page 35

Dungeon crawls – adventures with the main purpose of going into and clearing out a dungeon room by room – often get accused of restricting PC and player choice. After all, there is one way in and one way out (often the same entrance) and you have to do more or less every room inside in order to come out victorious with the prize in hand. There isn’t inherently anything wrong with that approach to adventure, provided it’s the sort of game your players want to play. However, poorly constructed dungeons enhance this criticism by only having one path through, so that PCs are pretty much forced to experience all the rooms the GM has so carefully laid out for his or her pleasure and not so much for the player’s.

Forge of Fury, once past all the intro stuff, fixes this problem right at the start. Not only are PCs encouraged to wander freely around the area of the Stone Tooth, they are rewarded for doing so with alternate ways inside Khundrukar.

Notice that the read-aloud text for The Stone Tooth contains three significant features — things meant to catch the listeners attention. They aren’t forced on the PCs, just laid out there for them to spot. These are the “prominent bare knob of rock”, the “thin spire of smoke”, and the “steep, narrow road or track”. Each of these leads to something the PCs can do from here and the choice of what they do is up to them.

Notice, also, that nothing says all the choices have to necessarily advance the plot. While going to the smoke or descending to the road lead somewhere where more plot happens. The knob of rock is just The Stone Tooth’s summit with nothing particularly interesting happening. The PCs don’t get a magical plot advance for going here. So why include it if nothing happens? Because, from the summit, they can get the lay of the land and notice other, more interesting, things from here. Things that do advance the plot if they are investigated. They’ll definitely be able to zero in on the smoke and chimney at B, may get a decent look at the Mountain Door or at least see where the road ends at A, and the Dark Mere will stand out to the East like a sore thumb. If the PCs spot the mere from here and decide to go there, it’s a better than even chance they’ll stumble into the area of C and notice the Orc Tunnel.

An equally valid choice is to do nothing and wait, and that is accounted for in the Wait and Watch option. Even then something interesting happens eventually, arguably something very useful depending how the PCs take advantage of it.

So, what you have in this one description is a bunch of options leading to a bunch of interesting things no matter what the PCs choose to do. This lets the PCs feel as if they have made a choice that matters and has an effect on the way this adventure plays. Groups that attempt to go in at A will have a markedly different experience than those that choose B or C. This keeps things from feeling railroady —without meaningful choices.

And heaven help the party that manages to make an entrance at E. Their experience of Forge of Fury may be particularly short.

The Mountain Door – Page 36

The map is just small enough to obscure the secret door indicators. Black on black. Six in total. See if you can spot them all.

As I said earlier, Forge of Fury does a good job of explaining itself and how it works, so let’s get right to the point. One mistake here by the PCs, one bad roll, one misstep, and this whole area turns into a massive failure point for them, designed to either prevent their further progress or outright kill them. There is a way through it with minimal risk, but it clearly involves not coming in through the front door. Not unless they are full of hit points and very, very sure of themselves. Or very careful.

The reason? Keith Baker (the writer of this adventure) took the time to carefully consider how everything in The Mountain Door would react to a threat, and then outlined it and wrote it down for GMs to use. It’s a powerfully bad idea for the PCs to keep trying to press forward if the alarm has been raised. Retreating out of the Mountain Door is little better if they try to enter this way again later, aside from the fact they might save their own skins by leaving.

But—

If the PCs are very fast…

If the PCs are very lucky…

If the PCs are very smart…

…or preferably all three…

…they could survive setting off the defense protocol and then have a very easy time getting to the next level. The problem is, only the DM knows it is possible.

If the PCs can survive to round three of combat and the Dwarf-Door is closed on them, they can then move through the Northern secret door into area 4, deal with the archers there and then make it through the two additional secret doors from there into 14, but not before round 9 to 11 of combat (otherwise they run the risk of running into either Yarrack or Ulfe). Then, all they have to do is sneak quietly through 13 (with the trap) down the hall to 8, move the crates and sacks quietly, pick the lock, go through the rusted gate there and into area 10, fend off any stirges they might have attracted and they’re home free. Or at least into The Glitterhame. Because, all the Orcs that should have been in those areas will be in 5 thanks to the defense protocol by round 12 (a little over a minute after the first alarm is raised). Good luck to them.

OR…

As soon as the alarm is raised, if the PCs sprint for the doors up to the bridge, cross the bridge past the orcs on the other side as quickly as they can, blitz the orcs in 5 if they are there, head into 8 at speed, take up a defensive position in front of the blockage, remove it quickly, and wait while someone works on opening the gate, they could make it into Glitterhame by round 12 or 13 or so, just beating the gathering of defenders in area 5 and the certain pursuit that would occur. But they have to know exactly where they are going. Seems unlikely.

OR…

They could use the chimney at B on the Stone Tooth map, climb carefully down to 7, stroll cautiously and quietly across 8, and leisurely remove the barrier and open the gate at 10 with no one the wiser. All that’s needed here to be successful is to pick the right hallway to go down from 7 and 8.

It’s like Run Lola, Run. Which would you do?

The lesson? When designing your own adventures, give the PCs multiple ways to succeed or at least move forward. It’s okay if some of those ways are more difficult than others and some might seem impossible (as any experienced GM will tell you, PCs do impossible things nine times out of ten), but good design makes them available. Having the choice is what matters.

3 The Rift Hall – Page 38

If the PCs weren’t stopped by closing The Dwarf-Door they almost certainly will be in big trouble by the time they get here. Unlike the orcs at 2, these orcs are alert and ready for action. The PCs will be slow moving targets with restricted freedom of motion on the bridge. Javelins will, of course, almost certainly miss. After that it’s bridge cutting time. It’s hard to see how PCs on the bridge could fight back without taking some sort of penalty due to the nature of the bridge they are crossing, but characters who stay on the far side to shoot at the bridge guards might stand a chance. This is a solid encounter that forces the PCs to make choices in dire circumstances and in a hurry. You begin to see how this adventure got its reputation for being deadly and the PCs are barely inside yet.

6 Prisoner Cave – Page 39

More choices, although potentially under slightly more relaxed circumstances. Depending on what path the PCs took to get here and how hard a time they had doing it, debating whether to escort the prisoners safely out, leave them in the cage, or free them and then leave them to their fates might be possible. It seems unlikely the PCs will have time for that and a decision must be made. An excellent opportunity for the PCs to play to, or away from, their alignments, but, ultimately, the question is: Do we press on with whatever advantage we have, or do we leave and let the orcs regroup?

Moral quandaries are all well and good, but if there are no consequences to one choice or the other, they don’t make any real difference. Here, leaving gives the orcs a chance to organize a better defense, gives up any progress the party made, and may mean the PCs can’t get in this way again. Pressing on means that they abandon the prisoners to a gruesome end at the hands of any surviving orcs and that may not sit well with all members of the party.

Of course, one solution would be to leave the prisoners locked up for now while the party cleans the entire level of orcs, then send them on their way and cross your fingers they don’t meet any scouting parties.

But that’s not for the GM to decide. You just present the situation and watch the characters squirm.

9 Shaman’s Lair – Page 40

It’s just interesting to note how this particular encounter ramps up as Burdug gets more desperate. First, it’s a couple of orcs and a command spell, then some buffing, then an additional combatant with the spiritual weapon, then Burdug joins the battle herself, then the stirges from 10 and some alchemical fire, and if that doesn’t work she runs for help. You have to admire her willingness and resolve to try solving this herself. The encounter just gets more and more dangerous the longer the fight takes.

Worth noting, this is an alternate route into 10 and down to Glitterhame. If the PCs are lost or desperate, this isn’t the best route, but might get them slightly ahead of pursuers if they can take Burdug and company down quickly.

10 The Grand Stair – Page 41

A couple things to note here.

First, (and this applies to 13 as well) grumpy looking carvings of dwarves or statues of same seem to be the indicator for a trap somewhere nearby. Smart PCs will make a mental note of this. Once they’ve connected a trap to a particular theme or signal or design feature, you can use that connection to set up a variety of traps however and whenever you like. As long as the grumpy dwarf is around somewhere, that is all the signaling or hint the PCs should need to know that something is up and they should be careful.

Second, because it is possible to miss the trap at 13 entirely if the PCs never go that way or haven’t gone there yet and thus never make the grumpy dwarf connection, this trap, nasty as it is, has a secondary signal, the orc skeletons. The PCs know something killed them and their placement suggests where that something may be or was. Examining the skeletons will give some hint of the danger, which should be enough to put the party on alert and get any rogues looking around cautiously. It is important to leave some sort of small hint, especially for particularly deadly traps, for the PCs to find so they have a fair chance of survival. No one likes a ‘gotcha’ trap (the sort of trap a GM will put down just to jump up and down screaming “I finally got you, you >%^#! Take that!), especially if it kills a PC out of nowhere. Players like to know that they could have prevented such things. Nothing says they will notice the clues or understand them or even know what to do about them, but they do have to be there to potentially be found, understood, and interpreted.

Presuming a successful escape from The Mountain Door area, and that’s no sure thing, it’s time to go on to The Glitterhame.

Summary

The Mountain Door section of The Forge of Fury can be a fast moving, intense area that will challenge low-level PCs. It is written and paced in such a way that the action moves forward at all times, even if the PCs themselves don’t. They can be quickly eclipsed by events if they take too long making decisions, have difficulty negotiating its many obstacles, or just fumble their way around.

I like the way it is written. Every bit of read-aloud text is urgent in its presentation, gives the situation, and then asks the essential question of RPGs quite clearly, what do you do? Even as a DM you feel the speed it wants to run at and the seriousness of its challenges. Added to its clear explanations, precise instructions, and overall sense of purpose, this may be one of the finest pieces of dungeon writing out there. GMs who want to create adventures of their own for their home grous would do well to study it and take notes.

It is meant to be difficult and even deadly if PCs take the most obvious route in and proceed in the most obvious way. PCs that attempt a frontal assault are going to pay dearly for it and it still may not be successful. The orcs are quite serious about keeping people out, and DMs should be too when they run it. Run as intended, it can be as much fun for the DM foiling the PCs attempts to enter as it will be for the PCs to make those attempts.

Fortunately, The Mountain Door is designed in such a way that a frontal assault is not necessary if PCs can notice and exploit the other ways in or through. It allows for other avenues of approach for different types of groups beyond just a modification or fudging of the adventure itself. Options are built-in and well exemplified and it is the wise party that takes advantage of them. If the going gets too tough, it’s easy enough for the PCs to back out, regroup, and try again. Hopefully having learned something the first time.

All in all, The Mountain Door area of The Forge of Fury is a well-made, tense series of encounters and events that will produce numerous fond memories if played to its full potential. That some of those memories may not all apply to the same PCs that started it is just a bonus.

The next article in this series will cover The Forge of Fury’s Glitterhame and Sinkhole areas.

Fiddleback vs. The Forge of Fury, Part 2

Fiddleback vs. The Forge of Fury, Part 2

Fiddleback vs. The Sunless Citadel, Part 2

Fiddleback vs. The Sunless Citadel, Part 2