Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Twenty-Eight Adventures, Part 10: Forge of Fury

Sorry for the late post this week—yesterday I partook of my twice-a-year pilgrimage down to Portland to sample the finest brewpubs to be found. I make the trip with a whole gang of engineers from a major aerospace manufacturer that shall remain nameless, and I’ve been doing it for something like three or four years now. Anyway, I was out of the house all day on Tuesday, so I didn’t get the blog posted.

Speaking of Portland and beer, the discovery of the day for me was The Commons Brewery, which I had never visited before. I had the Walnut (an excellent dark ale) and the Biere de Garde (a “French farmhouse ale,” also excellent). If you’re in Portland sometime, I’d heartily recommend the place. I’ll even post their website to be a thoughtful guy:

Okay, now to carry on with my tour of RPG adventures I’ve worked on during my career. This week, we’re almost at the halfway point!

#14: Forge of Fury
I’ve never had the chance to investigate the actual sales numbers, but I am pretty sure that Forge of Fury is far and away the best-selling of all the adventures I have worked on. As the second adventure to be published for the wildly successful 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons game, Forge of Fury was purchased and played by a vast audience compared to some of my 2e or 4e adventures. It’s one of those adventures that it seems *everybody* has a story about. I’m happy to have played some small part in setting the scene for those tales of adventure!

Forge of Fury was the second entry in a series of eight adventures that came to be called “the adventure path.” Early on in the series, we didn’t have any strong mandate to establish common elements between the adventures—they were a “path” only in the sense that the level progression would support playing them in order, and they were not remotely intended to contribute to some kind of overarching narrative. (This is in direct contrast to the approach Paizo uses with its Pathfinder adventure paths.) So, I very consciously avoided ties back to the Sunless Citadel.

As far as the adventure itself, I approached Forge of Fury with the determination to build a good, old-fashioned dungeon crawl. If you’ve been following along with this series of blog posts, you know that I worked on a number of story-based adventures toward the back end of 2nd Edition D&D. Well, part of our whole plan with 3e was “back to the dungeon,” so I set out to write something that would be an interesting and challenging place to explore without much in the way of story overhead for the DM to worry about. Plus, 3e was new enough that I didn’t want to try anything too fancy—I wanted to present a meat-and-potatoes dungeon, not a gourmet adventure. Forge of Fury is what it is; the world will neither know nor care if your PCs take one look at Khundrukar and decide to go do something else.

(Easter egg: I used the name again in my novel City of Ravens for a macguffin called the Orb of Khundrukar. Jack Ravenwild hears the name only once, so he garbles it into the Orb of Kundugar when he tries to name it later.)

I seem to recall that I suggested the title, which is something I didn't get to do very often. (Might be wrong about that, it's been a while.) I picked the title to fit the basic premise the D&D team had settled on: A dungeon crawl highlighting "dwarf settings" in some way. Moria was out—hey, it’s only 32 pages!—but I was reminded of the secret stronghold of Mîm the dwarf from Tolkien’s Silmarillion (it’s in the story of Túrin Turambar), so I took a little inspiration from Amon Rûdh. When I sat down to plan out the dungeon, I decided that I wanted to feature a lot of verticality, and create a maze where navigating from level to level really meant something.  The cross-section map in the adventure is there because I went and begged Ed Stark (D&D team leader at the time) for an extra quarter-page map to help the DM grokk how these levels stacked on top of each other.

I started off by working out the XP and treasure budgets for the adventure. This was fairly new tech in 3e, and it took quite a lot of planning to figure out just how many monsters needed to be in the adventure to provide a good expectation of leveling to 4th and 5th during the adventure. The treasure budget was also problematic because I had a hard time fitting magical weapons into the adventure, and the basic concept for the Forge suggested that there ought to be a good number of them present. I eventually cobbled together a workaround in which I assigned a “get chance” to some of the more well-hidden treasures. My thinking was that most parties would miss a treasure or two. So, it’s not really over-treasured, unless the DM is really going out of his way to make sure the players don’t miss anything.

I’m sorry about the roper. We decided that it was important for the early adventures in the Adventure Path to teach people how to be good D&D players, and one of the lessons I was asked to impart was “you don’t have to fight every monster”—sometimes you can just run away. So, I looked for a monster that would be too strong for a low-level party but *slow*, so that the PCs could get away when the time came to flee. The roper seemed like a good answer for that . . . but, of course, a roper grabs you and *prevents* you from running away. I should’ve seen that coming. (If you happened to get washed down the underground river to die a terrible death in icy, lightless water a few hundred yards downstream, you may find it interesting to know that I was thinking of the Whirlpool Death from the old arcade game Dragon’s Lair when I wrote that part.)

Idalla the succubus isn’t actually my design. My editor, Miranda Horner, observed that the adventure was full of things to fight, and not a whole lot that might decide to talk to you or trick you instead of killing you. So, she removed the encounter I’d written for that room, and replaced it with the succubus. (A vestige of my original encounter remains as the note about the wizard who died in that room.) I think she was right about the need for a change of pace somewhere in the dungeon, although I wish we’d done more to “fit” the succubus into the rest of the dungeon ecology.

Nightscale the dragon is in the adventure because I was given the marching orders right up front: There *had* to be a dragon in the adventure. In all the stories I’ve heard about Forge of Fury over the years, Nightscale is responsible for a truly impressive number of character deaths. She might be the single most effective monster (in terms of total kills scored) of any monster I’ve ever put in any dungeon. We had a great playtest group in the office going through the adventure, and I distinctly remember Curt Gould’s gnome sorcerer using levitate to get up out of reach, then riddling the dragon with magic missiles. Well, Nightscale got tired of that real fast, so she burst out of the lake and flew up to maul the gnome in mid-air . . . where he slowly bled out to –10, bobbing unconscious 30 feet up in the air where the cleric had no chance to reach him. Good times, good times!

All in all, Forge of Fury seems to have been well received by a lot of folks. I’m proud of the interesting map and sheer density of adventure crammed into that 32-page booklet. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Next Week: A long-delayed return to Dungeon Magazine, “Rana Mor.”


  1. 3rd Edition is my preferred version of D&D, and I've stuck with it, but I've never really figured out what to do with the generic stuff of 3e.

    Some stuff seems to be Greyhawk, and I've seen it called "Greyhawk lite", but other stuff seems to not be part of Greyhawk.

    Is Forge of Fury and the other stuff from "the adventure path" supposed to fit into Greyhawk, or did you design the area as something that might have turned into 3e's answer to Nentir Vale?

    1. Forge of Fury was definitely intended to be setting-less, a generic locale you could drop into any campaign. The mandate to explicitly feature Greyhawk as the default world came along later, so a lot of the flavor text I wrote for the various "splat" books started featuring Greyhawk organizations or lore.