My Friday group has almost wrapped up H1: Keep on the Shadowfell, so I have been spending time making H2: Thunderspire Labyrinth a better place to adventure. Like H1, this adventure is pretty bad; the plot, locations, and monster composition does not make any sense. There are a lot of missed opportunities, (like the whole minotaur culture), false alarms, and a lame payoff at the end.
I really, really do not want to treat the labyrinth as a normal location. I want the characters to feel like they are strangers in a strange place. In the module the labyrinth is woefully underplayed, and players literally walk down a straight shot to get to the Seven-Pillared Hall, which is a wide, open chamber with some buildings strewn about. The Hall is essentially a quest hub, where the players pick up locations of dungeons and then go straight there. With the exception of an ogre and a drow, the rest of the citizens are races taken out of Player's Handbook, offering all of the commodities that one would expect from a typical city (and not, say, a glorified trading post teetering on the edge of the Underdark).
None of this remotely evokes the feel and theme of mazes or minotaurs, especially given that it was allegedly part of a minotaur city.
Originally there are four adventure hooks: investigating the Bloodreavers, rescuing slaves, dropping off an item, or "just because". Investigating the Bloodreavers and slaves goes hand in hand, and in my notes for Keep on the Shadowfell I made it a bigger point to illustrate their activities and consequences, so hopefully it makes these hooks all the more compelling. Since I am trying to make the labyrinth more of a dangerous and mysterious place, the delivery quest does not really fit and I am just going to axe it.
Finally, instead of Valthrun just telling the players that it is a super awesome place and they should totally go, I am going to have him play the role of an aging explorer eager to have one last, great adventure. He has heard rumors and read aging documents about an ancient minotaur city, and wanting to see it for himself, offers to either come with them (if they have other business there) or hire them as an escort.
Given that the labyrinth is inhabited by monsters and the Mages of Saruun are not too keen on making the place a tourist trap, there is no straight shot from the entrance to the Seven-Pillared Hall. Lanterns would just be destroyed, or more cunning denizens like drow would create their own lanterns to intentionally misdirect travelers. With no guiding star and a vast maze of passages to navigate, safely getting in and out requires a map, a guide, and lots of muscle.
Going this route gives me the chance to have the players go through a skill challenge to find their way, as well as throw them random encounters from stuff like oozes, hungry ghouls (travelers that died from hunger), lost ghosts (helping them find their way might be a minor quest), spiders, or most importantly, hobgoblins.
In the adventure right before the characters get to the Hall they overhear the Bloodreavers mugging a halfling named Rendil, and have the option to help a guy out. I changed this so that as the Bloodreavers were returning to the Hall they ran into the halfling, and decided to just take all his shit--including him--and bring it back to the Bloodreaver enclave. As they are going through his stuff, they hear the characters arriving and try to set another ambush, and crazy antics ensue.
Once the players defeat them, they not only save Rendil--who is a goblin, not a halfling--but also end up saving a bunch of would-be slaves who were taken from the region between Winterhaven and Fallcrest. In this way they end up making a friend and saving some people, and potentially learning more about the Bloodreavers if they leave any alive to interrogate (though Rendil could offer up some information as well).
THE SEVEN-PILLARED HALL
I changed the overall layout of the Hall to be more geometric. There are seven pillars, but that is because an earthquake collapsed part of the Hall, destroying one of them and creating a big-ass chasm from which aberrant horrors sometimes slither forth. There are also a lot more buildings, using up most of the space. Most are built like ziggurats, and there are plenty of stairs and bridges spanning structures, giving the city a kind of maze-like appearance (think mini-Sharn from Eberron). Geometric symbols and demonic busts and bas-reliefs cover them, clearly indicating the past culture's history of demonic worship.
Brugg got changed to a minotaur, as they really do not get any representation. He is still in charge of keeping the peace, and hires a variety of races in addition to having the support of the bronze warders (which are situated throughout the city). I also put in a minotaur guide that the players could use as a hireling, partially because I wanna use the hireling rules, but also because my group hates the complexity of companion characters.
The Deepgem Company got changed to a pair of dwarves that operate as much as a pawn shop as anything else, allowing travelers to exchange gems for as little coin as possible, then turn around and sell them to ritualists or other traders at a hefty markup. Whenever they get a sizable stock on hand they risk shipping it out to Fallcrest. I entertained the idea of making them members of a disgraced clan (or just disgraced themselves), but none of my players were dwarves. Even so it might make for an interesting quest hook.
The temple of Erathis I just kind of chucked in favor of Torog, whose temple is a broken ruin located near the chasm. Travelers often chuck an offering into the pit in order to gain his favor. It is maintained by a collection of crippled and/or insane humanoids, giving the players a chance to learn some stuff about Torog that will come in handy when they go to the Chamber of Eyes (including recognizing the symbol on the door).
Bersk gets swapped out for a scarred human that just goes by Scuttle. Scuttle's Den serves as a stable of sorts, selling riding spiders and lizards, as well as wagons. He does not rent, because it is way too easy for someone to just run off with his goods (and all those demihumans look alike). He is assisted by a bugbear, and they also sell poisons, spidersilk rope, and antitoxins under the table.
I got rid of all general stores and replaced it with a bazaar, though the Grimmerzhul outpost and Gendar's are still there. Here players can interact with more unusual creatures like drow, gargoyles, troglodytes, alongside humans, dwarves, goliaths, and minotaurs. Though most of them are a bit more personable than usual, the main reason they are kept in check are the bronze warders (the Mages can control way more than one).
That is it for part 1. I think I covered all the major stuff in the Hall. I changed the plot concerning the Mages and what they are up to, and will get into that in a later update. The next post will be about the Chamber of Eyes.