Thursday, September 6, 2018

Reavers of Harkenwold - Best of D&D 4e

Reavers of HarkenwoldThe Best of D&D 4th Edition, Part 1


If you skipped D&D 4th Edition for whatever reason, you missed out on some amazing adventure content. Wizards of the Coast was testing out a different adventure designs with a publishing layout format requiring individual encounters within an adventure to fit on two pages only (mini-map included).

This format had its pros and cons, but despite its eventual abandonment, the format appears to have wrestled the creative juices out of the designers at the time (or perhaps in spite of it). The longs and short of it is that some of the adventures written for D&D 4th Edition are some of the best I’ve ever run over the course of many editions (for whatever reasons).

In this multi-part article, I will detail some of the best adventure content to come out of the core product and Dungeon Magazine teams that can be adapted to your D&D 5th edition (or any edition, really) game.

Reavers of Harkenwold (Dungeon Master’s Kit)


For any long-time follower of the blog or my Twitter feed, this probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard me talk about Reavers of Harkenwold. Included in the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Kit (part of the D&D Essentials line), it is one of my favorite adventures of all time alongside the classic T1 - The Village of Hommlet and Troll Lord Game’s A1 - Assault on Blacktooth Ridge. Reavers of Harkenwold was written by well-known designer Rich Baker with additional design contributions from Chris Perkins.

The PCs fight off mercenaries plundering farmsteads.
Harkenwold is a Duchy that has been invaded by an outside army filled with mercenaries (including a few summoned fiends). The Iron Circle are the super-evil-bad guys who have cast down the rightful Duke. A rebel resistance has sprung up and it's up to the PCs to help liberate the Duchy.

What makes RoH so good is how it was written as a mini-sandbox.  The adventure is really a series of non-linear small encounters -- contact the rebellion, upset the supply lines, recruit more rebels, negotiate with the Elves, fight off goblins… etc. There’s a variety of challenges presented and wide latitude given to the DM on how to run the adventure.

Flexibility is the key strength of this module. Not only is it non-linear, but there is room to drop in side-quests or whatever other ideas on might have to fill it out for your group. As written, the Iron Circle are clearly “black hats”, but could just as easily be run as more “gray”. Think of the Roman Legionnaires. They conquered and pillaged, but they also brought technology and civilization along with their conquest. You could play this adventure as more political than strictly “good vs. evil”. Are the Iron Circle really the “bad guys”? Or just the most recent victors in an ongoing political struggle between kingdoms? Perhaps the Duke wasn’t the nicest guy around, so for the peasants, nothing much has changed. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

The adventure was written for levels 2 to 4… but in my own game, I stretched this content out for months on end. There was so much space to work in, that I just kept adding elements until I had a complete low level campaign built up out of what originally was a fairly short adventure. The Duchy of Harkenwold is a rich setting upon which the foundations of a campaign are easily laid.

The battle for Albridge can become an epic tactical combat!

For fans of D&D 5th Edition, this adventure could be easily converted into a low-level campaign. Porting monster abilities from 4th Edition is a little trickier than with other editions, but this adventure has a lot of your basic low-level mooks, like bandit mercenaries, goblins, undead, etc. Even the more challenging creatures to convert, like devil infantry, could be a reskin of other low level demons or devils.

The DM’s Kit is a little pricey on DM’s Guild , especially given that the PDF does not come with the scanned encounter maps. However, this adventure is still worth the $20 if you are willing to wring the most out of it. Several of the maps are available on cartographer Mike Schley’s website, but at an extra cost. If Wizards of the Coast ever adds in the maps to the PDF, it would be well worth the money.

Next: Part 2 - Wizards revisits the Keep on the Borderlands

2 comments:

  1. Google+ comments:
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    September 6, 2018
    Loren Dean

    Repurposing ftw!

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    September 6, 2018
    Kirwyn

    Really there was a shit ton of decent adventures in 4E. They can be repurposed and opened up to accommodate a more free form ruleset pretty easily.

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    September 6, 2018
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Kirwyn I think that's why people were so surprised at the initially slow release schedule for 5e. Everyone was used to have lots of delves, dungeon modules, and all kinds of adventure content.

    I also find it interesting that the focus on published content is longer adventure paths and short form content is left to DM's Guild contributors. Financially it makes perfect sense, but sometimes it's hard to find those nice, short, tightly edited delves like those that came from Dungeon during the 4e era.

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    September 6, 2018
    Kirwyn

    +Marty Walser
    I agree. That hardback 4E dungeon book was game night gold.
    I was a WotC e-format Dungeon subscriber for a while, do you know what happened to that content?

    To be honest 4 or 5 "Slaying Stone" like adventures in print format for 10 bucks each would be freakin awesome.

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    September 6, 2018
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Kirwyn Funny you should ask... I'm putting together my next article on that very subject. Most of the Dungeon content is now available through DMsGuild.com for about $5 an issue. There are a few issues that are still missing from the guild, but most are there. I saved all of them from my days as a D&D Insider subscriber and still use some of them for my 5e game. Issues 200 and 221 together contain a complete index off all Dungeon content ever published.

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    September 6, 2018
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    On a related note, I would also love to see a "Yawning Portal" like publication with several short-form adventures.

    M.T. Black has compiled a group of 5th edition adventures in his "Dungeon Tales" issues. I don't know how good the compilations are, but he has a good reputation among authors.

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    September 6, 2018
    Billy Shatswell

    One of my favorite adventures! I skipped everything after AD&D 2e until 5e, and only found Harkenwold and the rest of Nentir Vale after the fact, partly thanks to your site. Thank you!

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    September 6, 2018
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    Nentir Vale is one of my favorite settings now. I was a big Greyhawk proponent, and will always love the old school giant maps, but somehow Nentir feels a lot like a blank slate that can be made one's own.

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    September 6, 2018
    Tim Baker

    It's nice to see 4e get some love.

    ReplyDelete
  2. September 6, 2018
    john white

    Nice use of paper model buildings and bridges. Those photos make me want to run RoH

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    September 6, 2018
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +john white There are a few more pics from that battle on another post.
    ragingowlbear.blogspot.com - D&D: Add 3D Flair on the Cheap

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    September 6, 2018
    john white

    +Marty Walser great stuff and man, those buildings really make an encounter pop and come to life.

    I bought a fat dragon kit - it took me forever to assemble a few walls.

    I think you get more value for your time with the buildings.

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    September 6, 2018
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +john white The buildings are definitely better... and if I were to build them again (or build more), I would glue the paper onto foam core board instead of doing the print-n-fold. Dollar store foam core with some photo glue and a roller works great for that.

    I've been planning to experiment with foam a bit more with buildings, but I've been making trees and other stuff.

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    September 6, 2018
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +john white Coincidental timing... This is exactly what I have planned soon in my own crafting:
    youtube.com - Multi-Level Buildings with Playable Interiors for D&D (Black Magic Craft Episode 106)

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    September 6, 2018
    john white

    Thanks for the suggestion. His crafting is remarkable.

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    September 6, 2018
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +john white His videos are excellent and his techniques are within the reach of even newbie crafters. I've been working on these with his tree technique:
    https://twitter.com/RagingOwlbear/status/1035563579116793857

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    September 6, 2018
    john white

    Those look really practical.

    I have the Citadel Wood model. The contact points for the patches of leaves and the tree branches are quite small. I put the damn things in a box, and they break.

    The flocking for craft shop mini trees comes off.

    I’m going to check out his video on trees

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    September 6, 2018
    Mike Beacom

    This was the adventure that I used to start a campaign with a group I had never ran for and a group who had never played 4E seriously. And guess what, that group is still playing to this day. We're on a short hiatus from 4E while I recharge my batteries as DM and get some needed play time, but this adventure set us on a path to success as a group and as fans of 4E. Thanks to this adventure going well, I have some new friends for life. I'm very fond of it for this reason. Also, it was a blast to run. Great choice. Can't wait to see the next installments in the series.

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    September 6, 2018
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    RoH is my #2 spot after Village of Hommlet. I hope it gets more attention in the future as a "classic" module in the history of D&D because it is tops in terms of well-written, easy-to-run, entertaining encounters and story.

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    September 6, 2018
    Zeromaru X

    You can even expand RoH with ideas from "the Longest Night" (Dragon 370) and include Cazakk (the red dragon who lives in the Duchy) in the mix. How will a dragon reacts to this invasion? Lots of posibilities!

    ReplyDelete

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