I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Lost Mines of Ravnica, II - Phandelver Resolved

Read part 1 first.

Let us continue to fix what we can from LMoP, by setting it into Ravnica or doing something else.

I won't stick too closely to Gus' article this time, but instead I'll try to describe my own campaign and some of the solutions that I've adopted, which is probably more useful to the reader.

Problem #2 - The silly names (and problem #1 continued)

I have to agree with Gus on this one, the names are very bad. There is little I can add to his post; in my adventure I indeed shortened some of the names, and my PCs couldn't remember "Sildar", let alone "Sildar Hallwinter".

One interesting thing is that I actually used "The Black Spider" (TBS) instead of "Nezznar the Black Spider", because his name was meaningful in-universe; in my version of LMoP, TBS was really the psychic vampire Szadek in disguise (whose guild symbol is a black/blue spider). Yes, in theory a guy as secretive as Szadek shouldn't go by "The Black Spider", but the goal here is to put an image in the PCs head, and use the lack of a proper name as a source of mystery. This was a happy coincidence; of course you could call him "Red Wolf" or something in a different setting.

The tenth guild is only a legend...
In short: give some meanings to the names, or make them shorter and easier. Also, take this idea further: give meanings to everything else. We'll get there by the end of the post.

Problem #3 - Goblins (also, ogres, bugbears, humans, and other monsters)

A goblin ambush, goblin canon fodder, goblins that attack on sight... It has always been done before. The way LMoP treats goblins seems to encourage treating them as little monsters or obstacles, not humanoids.

I don't have a problem with goblins "per se", so I kept them in the game. I don't even have a problem with goblins as canon fodder, but it seems like a poor use for them, specially because LMoP gives you some opportunities for negotiation.

My solution? More goblins.

Canon fodder? More like canon makers!
Goblins are a part of the PCs guild. Goblins are some of the best engineers in the setting. They are not only the aggressors, but often victims of bigger creatures such as humans and minotaurs (unfortunately, the MtG website for Ravnica describes goblins as "test subjects" instead of engineers, etc; that is not how I interpret the cards and novels). Also, since there are no dwarves in Ravnica, they are all goblins now. Hopefully, when the PCs sees a goblin, "kill that pest before it attacks us" is not the first thing that comes to mind.

(Incidentally, the party had a kobold in it; I couldn't convince the player to use a re-skinned goblin instead, and I put player choice over setting details most of the times, but I think this fact made it easier for them to deal with goblins).

As for the goblin ambush, there is no caravan and no road. Instead, the ambush is a social one; someone tries to lure the PCs into the the ambush, but they can avoid it if they are smart enough to be suspicious of what is going on.

Which also makes the first encounter of the module less likely to result in a total party kill.

Also, later on the adventure the PCs had to collaborate with a goblin to find what was wrong with their own guild. Some of the PCs superiors were quick to tell them that they were the true heroes and everyone else was canon foder, but these were the bad guys, and the PCs could only find this out by talking to some goblins.

I applied the same reasoning for most of the monsters in the module, and in the end most of the humanoid enemies (minotaurs, ogres) were either present in the PCs guild or often victims of the some guild's power.

These are the good guys... or are they?
For some of the other monsters, I re-skinned them to Ravnica too. The green dragon became a great worm worshiped by the Gruul, which conveniently exist in Ravnica. Owlbears are replaced by tentacled Simic aberrations gone wild. The Beholder-like creature became a thrall to the Lovecraftian Eldrazi that might end up destroying Ravnica.

I kept some monsters as they are, but told the players their charachters had never seem something like that before. This worked well for the doppelganger, but not quite for the zombies.

Problem #4 - Phandalin, factions and the lack of forests

The town of Phandalin offers various factions, storylines and side-quests. As Gus notices, some of them are quite boring. Ravnica automatically solves this problem with the guilds: they have plenty of conflicting objetives an many shades of grey, so that any player could conceivably make deals with any guilds for various reasons.

One problem of using Ravnica for LMoP is that there are not many wilderness areas in Ravnica, since it is supposed to be one single mega-city. Still, I figured, there must be plenty of uninhabited ruins, slums, big parks, etc.

Everything that looked like wilderness, thus, became Gruul (the wild, barbarian guild) territory.

Conveniently, that made the wilderness not only a source of danger, but also a source of ambiguity: it reminded the players that civilization had destroyed most of the forest and the "chaotic" Gruul clan were one of the few guilds that actually cared about that.


Entering Gruul territory...
Problem #5 - Not enough fantasy

In the end, the lack of "weird" fantasy in the model can be solved by adding weirdness to everything that feels too cliched for you. Some of it is re-skinning, some of it is turning all assumptions on their heads.

Let each encounter tell something about how your setting is different from generic fantasy, by giving every question about it a slightly unexpected answer. The monsters above are one example, but there are many others. The mine has to be kept secret not only because of the gold, but because otherwise the Rakdos (the demon guild) would have the right to claim it, as they are responsible for the underground. The mine are not valuable because of its gold, but because it is filled with radioactive rocks that keeps ghost imprisoned (also a thing in Ravnica). And so on.

Why bother?

At this point, you might be asking yourself why I went through all this trouble instead of just getting an adventure best suited to my tastes.

There are a couple of answers for that. First, I enjoy writing adventures, but I don't care much for creating maps and statblocks. The "plot", if you can call it that, is what entices me. Also, there are no published Ravnica adventures.

But, also, because LMoP is a great adventure. Yes, vanilla is not my favorite flavor, but I like everything else about this adventure. The encounters work well, the traps are fun, there are great opportunities for creative problem solving, and, all in all, it is  a great introduction to 5e, which was exactly what I was looking for at the time.

So, it is worth playing, and it is certainly worth saving if it is not exactly suited to your tastes.

Next: enough with this problems, let us give some solutions already.

(all art belongs to Wizards of the Coast)

2 comments:

  1. I was really waiting for this. I like both Ravnica and LMoP very much and your first post intrigued me. Thanks for continuing this topic!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment, it is my pleasure! I hope to have more Ravnica in the blog soon, and I'm always happy to hear about what the readers like!

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