Role-playing design notes

Random notes on the design of Gods & Monsters, and maybe even Men & Supermen if I can remember what I was drinking when I wrote it.

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons

Three ways to skin a module 1: from Chagmat to Dowanthal Peak

Jerry Stratton, April 18, 2015

Sakmat sigil: The sigil of the Sakmat spider-men from beneath the earth.; Highland

Beware the octagon!

I have always enjoyed modifying adventures for cross-genre and cross-campaign use. My second article for Dragon Magazine back in January of 1991 was on reskinning adventures for cross-genre purposes. The basic idea is simple: identify the central characters, names, and items, and replace them with meaningful genre-specific replacements from your own campaign. The same works when using adventures in your own campaign that aren’t cross-genre. Most of the time, you can do this by printing out the PDF and scribbling in the margins (or, if you’re really old-school, by scribbling in the margins of the original).

In our last campaign, I re-used three adventures that were major enough to involve a serious reskinning: Chagmat, The Fell Pass, and The Caverns of Thracia. I re-used these as Dowanthal Peak, The Broken Road, and The Lost City.

Larry DiTillio’s original Chagmat was set in the town of Byr. In Dowanthal Peak (PDF File, 786.1 KB) I replaced Byr with Weaving, to add to the spider-motif. And it is right next to Michael Malone’s The Wandering Trees, which is now set in the weaving wood, also playing on the name.

Because I’m skinning this adventure specifically for my group, it also uses player character names when appropriate—Alvin is the warrior of the group, and the obviously big man.

I’ve converted the language in the original to match the language of the underground in our game. This paid off in spades later, when the mage’s player took the time to decipher the code based on learning a similar language. He recognized that the symbols matched those from a different language, replaced the symbols phonetically, and successfully deduced the trigger words for the Belt of Walking! You can see more of this language in The World of Highland Guidebook.

There are several question marks throughout the reskin. These are things I didn’t need to know right away, either because they pertained more to The Wandering Trees—such as the notes on the Great Ash—or because I didn’t think it worth figuring it out right away. If the question marks are still there, that means I was right. The vision of the ground cracking beneath them, for example, eventually came to light in the mountains to the northwest when they met an ancient oracle.

Because there is no tradition of wandering adventuring bands who can be hired to perform great deeds, I had to come up with a different way to engage the player characters into wanting to save the kidnapped women. That’s what the bar scene is for. And because I found Cosmo a bit too silly, I replaced him with one of the kidnapped girls, making her the daughter of a Celt who was called to be a Druid. The rope in cavern 5 becomes her father’s rope (and the corpse, her father’s corpse). The Sakmat ritual no longer requires a Druid, and they don’t know what she is. I kept a Druid, however, both to keep interesting things where Cosmo’s stuff was to be found and to provide the PCs insight into a relatively unknown culture to the north of their known world.

This also ties into the whole area being near the Celtic lands and influenced by them, thus the foray into Celtic etymology, and renaming Little Boy Mountain to Dowanthal Peak. The Celtic bit was interesting enough that the player characters decided to head north following this adventure and see what was going on in the Celtic communities.

The Great Lizard is up from the underground, perhaps cluing them into the fact that dangers are rising from some great underground lair or cavern. That’s where the Sakmat are from, and the origin of the language they use.

Note that I also make extensive use of the Wandering monster chart assistant to make sure the numbers add up!

  1. <- Lulu, Nisus, and Me
  2. Fell Pass reskin ->