Ah, Bargle. You’re a bad, bad rogue wizard who well deserves your title as “First Wizard killed by every adventuring party”. He’s been the posterboy for what happens when magic-users turn to evil since 1983.
I think it’s time to dust him down and kick his ass one more time, don’t you? Let’s bring Bargle and the iconic Red Box first adventure into the Fourth Edition era for a trip down memory lane one more time. Bargle also featured in Dungeon #150 where his entire lair was detailed in full for Third Edition. For this little post though, I’m going right back to the source.
Thankfully, 90% of the work has already been done for us by this terrific retrospective by Bart Carroll back in October. Not only does it contain the full adventure from the 1983 boxed set all pdf’d up and ready to play, but there’s also full stats for Bargle himself as a 3rd level Controller. It includes the adventure from the 1977 set too as a downloadable pdf, though I’ll leave that one for you to convert.
Convert. Good word that. When it comes to running this adventure (or any designed for a prior edition, for that matter) there’s two choices: Do, or Don’t. Going the “Don’t” route is easiest. Play the adventure as-is replacing the monsters with their 4e equivalents along the way as you play. Need 10 kobolds in a room – just stick a bunch of Minions in there with a couple of Slingers for variety, and you’re done. Where there’s a difference in level between a critter in the original and the Monster Manual version, just use the easy Monster Advancement rules and add salt to taste.
That’s the route we took when I ran my players through The Haunted Keep from the 1981 Moldvay edition, and it’s a great solution when you’re short on time. The alternative is to look at the adventure through Fourth Edition eyes and turn those room-by-room encounters (lower case) into larger, more dynamic 4e Encounters (upper case). Add Quests and Skill Challenges, and….. tell you what, why I don’t I just show you?
A bounty has been placed on Bargle’s head, and your worthy band of adventurers have been sent in to bring him to justice once and for all. Before they set out on their journey, spend a bit of time establishing their main goal (Capture Bargle!) and role-play them through some potential side objectives too. If they achieve those, the party gains Minor Quest XP as well. I like offering conflicting Minor Quests to add a little friction to the adventure, as well as a couple tailored for the individual characters. For example, if one member of the party has suffered directly at the hands of evil and he’s eager for revenge, I might give him the Minor Quest of killing Bargle (the bounty is good if he’s returned dead or alive), while the Paladin wants to ensure he’s brought back alive to face a fair trial. The party’s Wizards wants to find Bargle’s precious spellbook while the Fighter wants to recover his sister’s stolen enchanted cape. The Dwarf on the other hand just wants to delve deeper – finding Bargle is just an excuse for him to explore the underdark further.
With all that in mind, jot down your Major and Minor Quest goals. Something like this:
Major Quest: Capture Bargle, 500XP
Minor Quest: Kill Bargle! 100XP
Minor Quest: Make sure Bargle returns alive, 100XP
Minor Quest: Find Bargle’s spellbook, 100XP
Minor Quest: Recover Quailin’s Enchanted Cape, 100XP
Minor Quest: Find a deeper route into the Underdark, 100XP
From there, it’s a case of grabbing the map and blocking out Encounter Zones. This uses the same technique I used for 4e’ifying the first part of B2 Keep on the Borderlands. Find existing encounters that would work well if grouped together and you’ll find dynamics which bring the whole thing alive.
It’s worth mentioning that this is one trap-heavy level. Perhaps this speaks something of Bargle’s mischievous nature. Either that or the Kobolds are running evening classes. Whichever it is, when it comes to building Level Two I suggest running with it. Make it a trap-filled funhouse where the environment is just as deadly as the monsters it contains.
Here’s what I ended up with for level one after about 30 minutes’ work. I’ve excluded the XP cost for the traps from the encounters as they’re best treated as seperately from the combats. Unless your players manage to trigger them in the midst of battle, of course :D Feel free to come up with mechanics for the traps yourself. Hey, I ain’t doing all the work.
The PC’s movements attract the attention of the Carrior Crawler as they approach the door. One round later half of the kobolds hiding in the shade rush forward to try to close the door, leaving the PCs stuck between two foes. The rest of the kobolds pelt the Heroes from a distance. All of the kobolds keep well away from the carrior crawler – it’s eaten quite enough of their number already – but if the Heroes can push them into it’s reach it is just as likely to attack them as it is the PCs.
2. Rooms 22 and 28
3 Shadowhunter Bats, 450XP
A simple two-room encounter where not one but three bats fly from out form the chimney to harass the Heroes. They will target any PC holding a lightsource first. Drop it, and they’ll target at random.
3. Rooms 24, 26, 34, 35, 36, 37 and 38
Falling Timber Trap, Sneezing Bed Trap, 5 Zombies, 5 Kobold Minions, 750XP
This is looks like one very tough encounter, but it’s spread over a large area and the Kobolds won’t venture beyond Rooms 37 and 38 until the Zombies are defeated. The Sneezing Bed (love that!) in Room 26 grants a free Healing Surge (and cures Yellow Mold fever) to anyone who spends a Short Rest laying on it. If they’re tickled though (yeah, right) the trap triggers.
4. Rooms 25, 30, 31 and 32
Eternal Slumber Trap, 2 Kobold Skirmishers, 1 Kobold Dragonshield, 1 Kobold Minion, False Falling Log Trap, Spinning Statue Trap, 350XP
The Kobolds know about the traps, and the harpies close by. That’s why they carry earplugs. If the Heroes manage to befriend the Kobolds (Skill Challenge!) they’ll warn them about both and even hand over some slightly used earplugs encrusted with Kobold earwax. Ewwwwww.
The Starving Harpies are, well…. starving. Between the Yellow Mold and filth fever from the rats they’re feeling very unwell indeed. The mangy look isn’t good, but it’s the sore throat that’s killing them. I’ve reduced the range and potency of their Alluring Song (which frankly ain’t that alluring right now) and Deadly Cough….. uhhh, Deadly Screech accordingly. If the Heroes could find a way to cure them, they’ll happily depart for pastures new. They’ve had quite enough of this foresaken place.
And that, my people, is how you do it.
Now, it’s your turn for level two, and level three where our heroes finally confront Bargle himself.
And probably kill him. Again.