Straight from the beloved Red Box (Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, Player’s Manual and DM’s Rulebook now available at D&D Classics!) comes a short, 3-level dungeon crawl to kill the nefarious villain Bargle, who killed a cleric named Aleena in the included solo choose-your-own-adventure walkthrough of D&D that came in the box, as well. Then, in the final issue of DUNGEON Magazine under Paizo’s watch, issue #150, Jason Bulmahn revisited it by completing the third level (which, in the original, was left up to the DM to create) and providing the somewhat throw away reference to a Red Dragon by the name of Venthavaxus that Bargle may be (tenuously) allied with.
Well, if you plan to run this adventure — or something very much like it — it makes great fodder for a Dungeon World game.
This article’s a simple walkthrough of how you can go about converting the adventure for use with Dungeon World, along with several points where I interject my notes and changes.
Step 1: Come to the Table with Ideas, Not Stories
Start by reading through the adventure and noting stuff that seems cool. Do so without too many prior expectations, and understanding that anything that comes up during Character Creation could change some of this stuff, or at the very least, provide deeper setting information. The backstory of this adventure is rather bland: there’s a wizard guy named Bargle hiding out in a ruined castle with some minions, and he killed a cleric named Aleena who lived in the city of Threshold.
There’s not much setting info to work with, which is great, because that gives the players room to build a lot of stuff.
- Bargle – wizard; wall of fire, fireball, levitate; can summon a Water Elemental from a pool in his room via a scroll
- 3 Dopplegangers
- Charmed Ogres (note “Charmed,” this could bite Bargle in the ass later)
- Venthavaxus – young red dragon; tenuous ally
- Undead minions – zombies, shadows, ghouls
- Constructs – living crystal statues
- Kobolds – guards on level 1 and 2; chieftain plus elite bodyguards on level 2; dozens of soldiers and trapmakers
- Random monsters – harpies, ochre jelly, giant spiders, oil beetles, dire bat, carrion crawler, gelatinous cube
My Notes: All well and good, but I have no context for what Bargle’s up to, how or why he’s chilling with any of these creatures (especially Venthavaxus), or why the random monsters are there.
So, I turned to the chapter in Dungeon World on designing Fronts, and figured a fun adventure would have 2 Fronts (or Dangers; it really doesn’t matter which at this point) that are related but have their own quirks and goals.
There are three things that stand out (particularly in the 3.5e update in DUNGEON 150) as pretty important background questions or framing points for the adventure:
- The first is Bargle himself: why did he kill Aleena, and why’s he sitting in a dungeon waiting to be killed?
- The second was Venthavaxus: what’s this red dragon doing with a nefarious, back-stabbing wizard and his minions?
- And finally, there was mention of Gygar, the original creator of Castle Mistamere, where Bargle was laying low, along with several statues throughout the dungeon that either were trapped or came alive and attacked the players at some point.
Step 2: Develop the Fronts, Loosely
In Dungeon World, you generally don’t want to come to the table with a full story fleshed out, and maybe you don’t even want fully developed Fronts right away. After all, the first session would determine a lot about the game, so you want to save the Fronts for later.
In this case, the threats above are small, and just too good not to develop a little further. Plus, you might feel the need to have a motive for Bargle and Venthavaxus, so you have something to hang the first session on.
My Notes: Looking over the rules for creating Fronts, I figured that I’d determine the major cast of the Fronts, and give some thought to the Impulse of the dangers involved, as well as the Impending Doom, as that would provide a guide for…
- …Why are these guys badguys, and why would the players want to go after them, and,
- …What are these badguys threatening in the first place, and why are they tied to the dungeon in question, as opposed to just abandoning ship as soon as powerful player characters show up and start trouncing their guardians?
So, I came up with two Dangers that might in turn become two Fronts. You don’t have to make a final call on whether to make them separate Fronts until after the first session, as that should hopefully provide more context to how big these separate dangers are. Also, this is meant to be a short adventure/mini-campaign, so you really don’t need a ton of Fronts and Dangers.
Danger/Front 1: Bargle’s Gang
Arcane Enemy, Impulse: To activate Castle Mistamere’s ley line energy.
- Bargle – nefarious Wizard
- Charmed Ogres
- Undead – zombies*
Impending Doom: Tyranny over Threshold via magical power.
Stakes Question: Who will guard the ley line (assuming Bargle’s defeated)?
Danger/Front 2: Venthavaxus’ Horde
Horde; Impulse: Subjugate the realm.
- Venthavaxus – young, petulant Red Dragon
- Kobolds – including kobold shaman
Impending Doom: Destruction of civilized lands.
*I didn’t feel like the undead had a lot of context, but I kept zombies in there so that the Cleric has something to do. My thought is that the zombies are probably split up into little “hordes” of a dozen or so, and though Bargle can command them, they are just as likely to chomp on kobold brains as player character brains, and thus could be a fun liability.
**Similarly, the Lizardfolk are added to Venthavaxus’ group partly because one of the player characters I ran this adventure with requested to play a Lizard Man Druid, which I was cool with, which in turn makes the dragon’s role more prominent, as well as more interesting. He’s got a tribe of Lizardfolk that worship him, and the Kobolds are (willing?) slaves to the Lizardfolk in order to revere and otherwise be close with the young Dragon.
Step 3: The First Session Prep
You’ve got two things left to do:
- Work in that Gygar reference from earlier, if it seems interesting to you.
- Provide a little context to the city of Threshold so the player characters have a place to meet, as well as a safe haven to return to between delves.
Gygar, Castle Mistamere, and the Constructs
In the DUNGEON Magazine version of the adventure, there’s a few hints through various dungeon features that Gygar (obviously a reference to Gary Gygax) created Castle Mistamere a while back, did some experiments, and then left or died. The place fell into ruin, reportedly haunted by monsters and whatnot. That’s cool, but it’s kinda old hat.
However, there’s more than a few instances of statues showing up throughout the dungeon, and in one particular case, two statues of “living crystal” come alive — looking like Bargle — and attack. That’s some cool stuff, but it’s a bit too random (especially because the two crystal statues are described as looking like Bargle).
So, here’s my change:
My Notes: Gygar was a wizard who concentrated on the fusion of magic and clockwork technology. He created Castle Mistamere on a ley line of magical energy — which jives with Bargle’s Impulse, above — and really worked to build constructs and other magically-infused technology.
Bargle figures out how to command some of the constructs, and the kobolds help him reactivate some of the old mechanical traps. Anything constructy that shows up in the adventure will — via description — be old, rusty, and generally clockwork in nature. Any mechanical traps — of which there are a couple in the adventure, like crushing pistons, and whirling, bladed statues — will have similar form and function.
Though I’m not married to it, I also jotted down some notes about how Bargle might go about reactivating the ley line, and it includes getting some gears and levers from Threshold’s water mill in order to re-appropriate them for a large mechanical device in the basement of Castle Mistamere that Gygar might have used to channel ley line energy. If something strikes your fancy at this stage, feel free to do the same, but keep it short, sweet, and vague, so the details can be developed as needed, rather than forcing yourself to write reams of paper about stuff that might change in the telling.
My Notes: That naturally led me to create a list of stuff Bargle might collect in order to carry out his goal, which in turn might provide fodder for first session adventure ideas:
- Aleena’s blood (done!)
- A staff of magical power (perhaps from a PC’s mentor?)
- Ritual ink or chalk (stolen from the Wizard’s Guild or something like that?)
- Gears, levers, wedges, etc. (Water Mill?)
The City of Threshold
You could just rip Threshold straight from The Known World, but that’s boring: you want some blanks for the players to fill in, so they provide their own context for adventuring in this region.
My Notes: I’m willing to use a campaign map (from John Calvin’s developments for the Kill Bargle! adventure) that includes placement of Threshold, Windrush Lake and Castle Mistamere, but I really don’t want to detail anything else at this point. I’ll leave that up to character creation, wherein I can ask a bunch of questions about Threshold and see what the players want to say about it.
That said, I’ll detail an event surrounding Threshold, as opposed to locations and history. This gives me something to start the adventure off en media res during the first session.
Using that list of stuff Bargle needs to open the ley line, and deciding it’d be cool to give the players a taste of what’s to come, I’m going to have Bargle’s big move — the thing that sets all of the PCs, as well as all of Threshold against Bargle — be an all-out attack on Threshold. With that diversion, he’ll steal one of the items on the list of stuff he needs.
It’s so simple, too: You’ve got Venthavaxus and his Lizardfolk and Kobold minions who can create a big diversion by attacking some outlying farmsteads in the dead of night. They’ll simply obliterate some people and homes, tangle with the town’s guard to test their might, and then withdraw. Meanwhile, Bargle’s Dopplegangers (and perhaps Bargle himself), sneak in and steal the staff of magical power from somebody.
To keep the adventure from getting completed in the first five minutes of the first session, we’ll assume that Bargle and/or some of the Dopplegangers have already escaped with the staff of magical power. The PCs will start the very first session in a battle with a remaining Doppleganger — perhaps mistakenly thinking it has the staff and maybe even that it’s Bargle — and a Construct or two.
This way, regardless of what happens, they should be able to figure out Castle Mistamere’s the place to go (because of the Constructs, tell-tale signs of Gygar’s old magic-technology stuff), and they’ll have a sense that there’s a horde of monsters nearby.
Have you played Kill Bargle! in your favorite edition of D&D? What have your experiences been trying to take this villain down?
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