DM’s resources for Chapter 3: Avernus out now (and a free map!)

Just a quick update to let you know that our DM’s resources for Chapter 3 of Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus have been published on the DM’s Guild! It’s our biggest DM’s resources yet, covering more than 70 pages in the campaign book. The download includes:

  • Running Chapter 3. An overview of Chapter 3, including a thorough look at the chapter’s pacing with advice on how to handle travel, encounters, rests and much more.
  • Fort Knucklebone. Thoughts and ideas that will help you improve the various encounters at Fort Knucklebone and make the party’s stay at Mad Maggie’s even more memorable.
  • Quest for the Sword. A brief look at the Quest for the Sword, including ideas on how you can change the structure to give your players more options and agency, advice on how to handle Haruman’s Hill and the Hellwasp Nest, as well as a new monster: the Hellwasp Queen!
  • Path of Demons and Path of Devils. A complete walkthrough of the two paths to the Bleeding Citadel, offering ideas on how to run, enhance or even remove various encounters to better fit your campaign.
  • Avernus Cheatsheet. A one-page cheetsheet invaluable to any traveler in Avernus, giving you abbreviated rules for traveling in Avernus, as well as lists of devils, warlords and a complete rundown of the Nine Hells and their rulers.
  • Monster Stat Blocks. Monster stat blocks covering every foe in the chapter, neatly arranged together on pages, so you don’t have to flip through several books when running encounters.
  • 7 Encounter Maps. Fully colored and in both DM’s and player versions, these seven maps showing the plains of Avernus, Bel’s Forge, Crypt of the Hellriders, the Bone Brambles, the Hellwasp Nest, a Styx Watchtower and a Wrecked Flying Fortress are primed for digital tabletop.

With the amount of work put into these DM’s resources, we’re happy we can continue to set a low price of just 3.99$ at launch (although we can’t say for sure that the price won’t increase later). But! We know that not everyone has the dollars to spare, so here’s one of the battlemaps (Crypt of the Hellriders in both DM’s and player versions!) from the download for the low cost of FREE! Hope you enjoy – and have fun in hell!

Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus – Review and DM’s Resources

Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus has been out for two weeks, and we’ve had the time to get acquainted with it while working hard to create DM’s resources for Chapter 1: A Tale of Two Cities and Chapter 2: Elturel Has Fallen. Having gone in-depth with both those chapters and read through the rest of the book, it seems like a good time to review the book’s strength and weaknesses to those of you who are still debating whether an excursion to hell would be something for you!

In this review I’ll try to rate different aspects of the book, while also identifying potential issues with the campaign – which we’ll try to go more into depth with in our DM’s resources as we get them published. The review is meant for DMs, so be aware that there are spoilers ahead!

Setting

The campaign’s setting – world, environment, whichever word you prefer – is one of the most important aspects of a campaign. Because if you don’t like the setting, nothing else is likely going to matter to you.

Personally, I’d have to say WotC knocks it out the park on this one. I love the idea of going to another plane – it feels grand, unfamiliar, ambitious and adventurous. As a DM, there’s something freeing about being allowed to convey a setting that is unfamiliar and alien to most players. The content in the book – from Avernus’ warlords to scheming archdevils and infernal warmachines – is fantastically otherworldly but still cohesive, giving you a good sense of how Avernus feels.

The potential downside, of course, is that Avernus might be harder for a new DM to handle than a more traditional setting, where you can draw on classic fantasy such as Lord of the Rings when trying to describe and populate a world. It can be a challenge, but I think that most DMs will find it a fun challenge – even if BG:DiA is your first campaign.

All told, I’m giving BG:DiA’s setting a 5/5.

Story

Descent into Avernus is centered around a story of corruption and redemption – of Baldur’s Gate, of Elturel, of Zariel, the archduke of Avernus, and, potentially, the player characters themselves. The story is compelling and – from Chapter 2 – clearly formulated to the players: save the fallen city of Elturel and escape from Avernus. Along the way, they get to make meaningful choices that can greatly impact the campaign’s ending.

The first chapter, which takes place in Baldur’s Gate, is probably the least compelling, starting with a story that doesn’t really impact the greater plot. It’s clear that Chapter 1 is a prelude more than anything else. There’s nothing wrong with that, but where this campaign really shines is from Chapter 2 and onward.

Another issue with the story is player agency. There’s some issues with the hook – the party’s reason for going along with the adventure – which many DMs will probably find themselves having to adjust. Chapter 1 is also very linear, and while the later chapters open up a bit, there’s still a pretty clearly defined route – or even railroad – leading to the end goal. This is one of the downsides of trying to tell a strong and cohesive story, which BG:DiA does: it can come at the cost of player agency.

This is not to say that there’s only one way to play BG:DiA. In fact, I’ll argue that there’s several. And with some clever rewriting and reskinning, the chapters can quite easily be opened up more – especially Chapter 3, which is the campaign’s book most ‘sandbox’-like chapter. This is something we’ll also explore in later DM’s resources.

To conclude, BG:DiA’s story gets a 3.5/5 rating.

Structure & Pacing

Descent into Avernus is divided into five chapters, which can be neatly separated into three acts:

  1. Beginning – Chapter 1 & 2 – Discovering the fall of Avernus in Baldur’s Gate and getting situated in Elturel.
  2. Middle – Chapter 3 & 4 – Finding the Sword of Zariel.
  3. End – Chapter 5 – The final showdown with Zariel, rescue of Elturel and escape from Avernus.

It’s a neat and classical structure, that should be easy-to-follow for the players, and easy-to-run for the DM.

As for the pacing, there are some issues here. First off, there’s not nearly enough content – or XP – in the main story to bring the characters from 1st to 13th-level. Now, that may or may not be an issue, since most players like to level up fast and learn to do new, cool stuff. Second, even if you disregard the XP, your party might go from 1st to 13th level in as little as a week of in-game time, if we look at the minimum requirements for finishing the campaign. I’ve heard about quick rises to power, but that seems a bit absurd!

There’s two ways to mitigate this: put in more content, or reduce the number of levels spanned by the campaign. The campaign book gives you some help with the first option by including quite a bit of additional, optional content for Avernus, which you can pick-and-choose-from to fill out Chapter 3. As for the second option that’s something we’ll probably touch on in a blog post or DM’s resource at some point.

Combined, BG:DiA’s structure & pacing gets a 3.5/5 rating.

Ease-of-use

On the surface, BG:DiA doesn’t seem like a campaign for a complete beginner. It’s a weird setting, high levels and high stakes. Delving deeper, however, BG:DiA might actually be one of the easier campaigns to run for a first-time DM.

Yes, Avernus is a weird setting, but it’s also a pretty confined setting. It’s a plane you can feasibly read up on and understand completely in a few hours. There’s not a lot of different lore you need to know, because the players won’t come in contact with much else. In that way, the Hells are actually an easy setting, simply because it limits how much you need to know about the world.

WotC have also become really good at informing the DM about the campaign’s structure with handy and easily-digestible flowcharts at the start of each chapter. As you skim through the book, you can easily get a feel for the broad strokes of the campaign from just reading the flowcharts and summaries of each chapter. The linear and somewhat railroady story also makes the campaign easier to handle – unless you expand the campaign yourself, you’ll likely know what to prep and when to prep it.

The campaign book also features creature stat blocks within the text, which is a new – but very welcome – approach. It makes running encounters even easier and also provides you with at-a-glance information about some of the creatures the party meets. The book is also pretty good at troubleshooting various issues that might arise or choices your players might make, which is always helpful.

So, while probably not the easiest campaign to run – the starter sets are awesome for that – BG:DiA is doing a lot to help DMs run it. We give BG:DiA a 4/5 rating for its ease-of-use.

Maps & Art

Dysonlogos is the main cartographer for the campaign book, so most of the maps are in his style: black and white, easy to decipher, light on details. Dysonlogos maps can be pretty divisive – some hate them, some love ’em. If you’re the type of DM that draws your maps on wet-erase-mats, it doesn’t get much better than this. For digital play and virtual tabletops (such as Roll20 or FantasyGrounds), they can sometimes feel a bit too simple. This is something we try to remedy in our DM’s resources.

Elturel Street – an encounter map from our DM’s Resources for Chapter 2: Elturel Has Fallen

As for the quantity of maps, there aren’t a lot of them when you consider that the campaign is supposed to stretch for 13 levels. All in all, there’s 18 encounter maps for 13 levels of gameplay, and some of these show locations the party might never arrive at. It doesn’t feel quite the same as Tomb of Annihilation, for example, where there were a lot of maps – but how much you care about that properly depends upon how you like to play. A note here: the area maps – of Baldur’s Gate, Elturel and Avernus – are awesome, beautiful and really handy as props at the table.

As for the art and style of the rest of the book, I can’t really see anyone disappointed with the artwork, layout and appearance of BG:DiA. It’s a beautiful book – both ordinary and alternate cover – with a tonne of amazing illustrations that really helps you get a feel for the setting, story and creatures of the book.

If you mainly use maps for reference or like to print simple B/W maps, BG:DiA gets a solid 5/5 rating for its maps and art. If you want color, VTT and all that jazz, we’re down to a 3/5 rating, unfortunately. We’ll split the difference and give BG:DiA a 4/5 rating for its maps and art.

Summary and final review

If we sum everything up, we’re left with the following:

  • Setting: 5/5
  • Story: 3.5/5
  • Structure & pacing: 3.5/5
  • Ease-of-use: 4/5
  • Maps & Art: 4/5

Numbers are one thing, but what’s the impression we’re left with? Should you buy Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus and run it for your group?

For me, it’s a resounding yes. As someone who didn’t care much for the megadungeons in Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage, Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus presents itself as the first full-length cohesive campaign I’ve wanted to play since Tomb of Annihilation. Whatever issues I have with it – a too hectic pace, too little player agency and the encounter maps – are something that can be fixed with a little planning and care. The overall product – a well-written and beautiful book, an awesome setting and a compelling story – has great value and will surely entertain many adventuring groups around the world (even if they have go to Hell for it!).

All-in-all, Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus gets a 4/5 rating – a definite buy!

Survey continues – first winner found!

A few weeks ago, we made a quick survey to gather your opinions about our DM’s resources on the DMs Guild. We also promised a prize for a random participant: all our DM’s resources for Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus. That contest has ended now and the winner has been contacted via E-mail!

We’ve received a lot of great responses in the survey. It appears that advice, maps and handouts are especially popular – and that most of you are happy with out layout and design, which is awesome to hear. There’s also some very useful critiques and suggestions, such as making more handouts and maps, which we’ll try to take to heart as we continue publishing DM’s resources.

Because of the many useful answers, we’ve also decided to let the survey go on indefinitely – picking a new winner every month, from those who’ve participated in the survey. We realize some of you might have already purchased several of the DM’s Resources as we go further ahead, so the next winner will have the option of getting all our DM’s resources for Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, or 15$ they can use for anything they want on the DM’s Guild!

So don’t hesitate – spend 5 minutes and take the survey here, if you haven’t already. We really appreciate it! 🙂

Preparing for Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus

TLDR; We want to know what YOU think about our DM’s Resources on the DM’s Guild, as we begin working on resources for Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus. Take the survey here (and gain a chance to win all our future DM’s Resources for Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus)!

With a perilous journey into hell only a few days away, we’re beginning to feel the heat here at Valeur RPG. As we’ve done with Storm King’s Thunder, Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and Ghosts of Saltmarsh, we intend to publish a set of DM’s Resources for WotC’s newest campaign, Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, on the DM’s Guild (alongside the blog posts we’ll be publishing about the campaign right here!).

Over the years, we’ve experimented with and evolved our DM’s Resources to the point where they now usually include many different elements: tips and tricks for enhancing the adventure, advice on how to run tricky scenarios, extra content such as bonus encounters and handouts, DM’s notes and cheatsheets, neatly arranged monster stat blocks and digital encounter maps.

Some of these additions are the result of feedback from our supporters who buy and use the products, while the rest is simply what we ourselves find useful to have when we running the campaign for our own players.

Before we delve into Baldur’s Gate – and, even more nerve-wracking, descent into the First Layer of Hell, Avernus – we’d like to actually hear from those, who’ve bought any of our DM’s Resources. We spend a lot of time and care making the resources, and want to make sure that they’re as good and as helpful to as many people as they can possible be.

So, if you’ve tried any of our DM’s Resources and want to share your thoughts about them, please take our survey and let us know what you think. We’re grateful for the opportunity to assist you on your adventures, and greatly appreciate your aid in creating the best possible products.

If you take the survey and leave your e-mail at the end, you’ll also have the chance to win all our future DM’s Resources for Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus. We’ll pick a winner at random from all respondents by the end of September 2019! 🙂

Ghosts of Saltmarsh in the Forgotten Realms (free maps!)

In our last blogpost, we discussed making WotC’s newest adventure series Ghosts of Saltmarsh into a full campaign. It’s a topic that deserves more attention – and a more detailed look – but before we get further into that, I wanted to take a detour and talk about putting Ghosts of Saltmarsh in the Forgotten Realms.

We’ve just published DM’s Resources for Danger at Dunwater, our second installment of DM’s Resources for Ghosts of Saltmarsh. In it – spoilers ahead! – the players begin exploring the region around Saltmarsh, as they are sent to investigate a lizardfolk lair in the nearby marshes. Since we’ve moved the campaign to the Forgotten Realms, a new map was needed – which also got me thinking about Forgotten Realms in general.

Sword Coast map with Saltmarsh included. Original map by Mike Schley.

Hate it or love it, Forgotten Realms has so far been the primary campaign setting for 5th edition D&D. And while I understand the criticisms that Forgotten Realms is sometimes met with – mostly that it’s a pretty generic, medieval-style setting, inspired heavily by the tropes in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth – I can’t help but love it anyway.

Perhaps it’s because the Avatar-novels was what got me into D&D to begin with – and the fact that I’ve since read nearly all the Forgotten Realms-novels. Or maybe it’s because the setting is generic, allowing me to decide which quirky and unique elements to introduce when I want to give a campaign a particular flavor. It’s probably a combination of both – using a world with a rich and Google-able lore, that is simultaneously easy to understand because it is built on old traditions, seems to be the perfect fit for me.

I can’t say too much about Greyhawk, because I’ve never played a game set in it, but as far as I can tell, it’s a pretty generic setting as well. So for me, it simply becomes a choice between a setting I know and understand, and one that I don’t. That’s an easy enough choice for me – so we’re moving to the Forgotten Realms!

Overall, moving Ghosts of Saltmarsh to the Forgotten Realms is remarkably easy. I’ve gone into more depth with this in our first DM’s Resources for The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, but to quickly summarize, most of the work is done by simply changing the three primary factions.

  • The Traditionalists remain as they are; local people who are wary of outsiders.
  • The Loyalists are instead members of the Lord’s Alliance, called upon by Saltmarsh to protect the town when giants were rampaging the North (during the events of Storm King’s Thunder) and who are now working to make a proper harbor city out of the backwater town (bringing with them unwanted taxes and laws against smuggling).
  • The Scarlet Brotherhood are the Zhentarim, eager to reap the profits of Saltmarsh’ growth, by taking control of the Town Council.

Here and there you’ll have to change some minor stuff (such as replacing the Sea Princes with the pirate-controlled city of Luskan, when they’re mentioned), but simply changing the factions will get you far. But there’s one thing we still need – maps! Luckily, Mike Schley (check out his amazing work here: https://prints.mikeschley.com/) has made some huge maps for the Sword Coast, where we can easily fit Saltmarsh in.

A Mere of Dead Men-map showing Saltmarsh and surrounding adventure locations.

Inspired by redditor /u/murganis, who’s made his own maps, showing Saltmarsh in the Forgotten Realms, and the suggestions given in the Ghosts of Saltmarsh book, I’ve added Saltmarsh to Mike Schley’s maps. These are featured in both a larger Sword Coast-version, as well as a Mere of Dead Men-version, that shows the adventure sites described in chapter 2, 3, and 6. These maps are, off course, completely free, as they are only remakes of maps provided for free to the community by Mike Schley and WotC. You’ll find a full-size gallery with all versions at the bottom of the post.

For maps showing the insides of the adventure locations – the Haunted House and the Sea Ghost, as well as the Lizardfolk Lair – check out our DM’s Resources for The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh and Danger at Dunwater respectively. And stay tuned for the next post, where we’ll talk more about making a proper campaign out of Ghosts of Saltmarsh!

Ghosts of Saltmarsh – a campaign?

The newest official WotC product has landed: Ghosts of Saltmarsh. With seven adventures spread over 200+ pages – and a whole bunch of rules for handling ships, sea travel and much more – you can’t complain about a lack of content. (We’ve even added to that content here at Valeur RPG with our newly published DM’s Resources for The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh and maritime archetypes in Heroes of Saltmarsh I).

Includes advice and suggestions, three full-scale battlemaps, DM’s cheatsheets and neatly arranged creature statblocks.

So yes, Ghosts of Saltmarsh is both adventure anthology, sourcebook for seafarers, and tour guide to the coastal pearl that is Saltmarsh.

But it’s not a campaign.

I’m sure that some – perhaps even most – prefer the bite-sized adventures in anthologies like Ghosts of Saltmarsh and Tales from the Yawning Portal. Personally, however, I prefer long campaigns with a cohesive plot and a red thread flowing from one adventure to the next, stringing each session neatly together. So, while the authors have put some effort into making Ghosts of Saltmarsh more cohesive by centering it around Saltmarsh(p. 27), I think there’s potential to make an even more complete campaign out of it. Below we’ll try to do just that, giving you a short summary of the adventures, our ideas for the campaigns main threat and the overarching structure of the campaign, as well as an example of how that might look in practice.

So, all hands on deck and up anchor – we’re setting sail!

The Adventures – a short summary

First, a quick overview of the adventures featured in Ghosts of Saltmarsh. I won’t bore you with the full details of all seven adventures, but if we boil them down to taglines, we essentially have:

  1. The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh (1st level)  – The party unravels a smuggling ring delivering weapons to a tribe of lizardfolk.
  2. Danger at Dunwater (3rd level) – The party investigates the lizardfolk’s lair and discovers that they’re mustering to fight the evil sahuagin.
  3. Salvage Operation (4th level) – The party recovers a lost treasure from a sunken ship that’s being crushed by an elder octopus.
  4. Isle of the Abbey (5th level)– The party travels to an island to secure an abbey inhabited by evil cultists and recently razed by pirates, so that a merchant guild can establish a base there.
  5. The Final Enemy (7th level) – The party finally deals with the sahuagin threat discovered during Danger at Dunwater, as they investigate – and perhaps even assail – the sahuagin’s fortress.
  6. Tammeraut’s Fate (9th level) – The party discovers the destruction of an island hermitage and must fight with servants of Orcus to stop a tide of undead crashing onto the shores.
  7. The Styes (11th level) – The party investigates a string of murders that lead them to confrontations with dangerous cultists, aboleths and a juvenile kraken, all beholden to Tharizdun.

Adventure 1, 2 and 5 obviously fit well together, even though they’re separated by a few levels, while the remaining four have no obvious relation, beside their aquatic and nautical themes. So, we need something to bind them together, and for that, there’s nothing better than…

A Main Threat

The thing that really binds a campaign together – and what we’re missing here – is a main threat. An evil villain or catastrophic event that is always lurking just beneath the surface (pun intended), and which our heroes must ultimately defeat or prevent.

A quick account of the various ‘threats’ in the adventures gives us this list of foes:

  • Smugglers/pirates
  • Lizardfolk
  • Cultists of Lolth and an elder octopus
  • Cultists who wield necromancy
  • Sahuagin
  • Undead servants of Orcus
  • Aboleths and a juvenile kraken maddened by Tharizdun

Since we don’t want to make too many changes to the adventures, it makes sense choosing our final villain from one of the latter adventures – Tammeraut’s Fate and The Styes – which are also the adventures were we find the ‘heavier’ foes: Orcus and Tharizdun. Both adventures also have an impressive conclusions, that are quite similar: sealing Orcus’ Pit of Hatred and destroying Tharizdun’s Pit of Negative Energy and slaying the juvenile kraken.

Orcus is certainly a worthy foe, and who says he can’t swim?

So, Orcus or Tharizdun? The answer is, it doesn’t really matter. You can pick either – or any other evil deity – and reflavor small parts in the other adventures to make it fit. Regardless of the evil deity, they both seem to have roughly the same goal: kill innocent people to fuel a pit of hatred/negative energy that corrupts and causes evil.

Okay, so we have our main threat: an evil deity who is killing people and causing corruption. Now, how do weave this threat into the other adventures?

First off, we have the whole sahuagin theme in the three Saltmarsh-adventures (The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, Danger at Dunwater, The Final Enemy). The main plot here is that lizardfolk and other aquatic races are mustering a defense against the evil sahuagin, who’ve taken the lizardfolks’ lair and now threaten the coast. We can easily tie this with our greater evil – either the sahuagin are subservient or corrupted by the same evil deity, driving them to assault the coastal region, or they’re being forced from their normal hunting grounds by the minions (drowned ones etc.) of the evil deity. We can plant evidence of this during Danger at Dunwater and The Final Enemy, or even have the sea elf Oceanus inform the party about “a great evil emerging from the deep” as early as The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh.

In Salvage Operation, the ship have been invaded by cultists revering the evil deity, or perhaps the elder octopus is corrupted by the evil deity (it could even be the kraken the party later fight in The Styes, giving them a chance at revenge!). In Isle of the Abbey, the pirates who ransacked the temple are replaced with drowned ones, or other minions of the evil deity. And, as previously mentioned, the deity in either Tammeraut’s Fate or The Styes is simply replaced with the other, depending on which evil deity you choose.

But, a common threat isn’t enough to make a truly cohesive campaign. We also need to make…

An Overarching Structure

Depending on your choices and preferences, there’s a multitude of different ways you could fit the adventures together. Here, we are giving an example based on Orcus being the main threat. We choose Orcus because Tharizdun has already been the main villain in another WotC publication (Princes of the Apocalypse), so we get the chance to introduce our PCs to a new threat. Umberlee – if you’re basing the campaign in the Forgotten Realms – is also a perfectly fine choice for the campaign’s aquatic villain.

We’ll start the campaign with the first adventure – The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh – but we’ll swap the last adventures, so we get a different ending. The Styes is an awesome adventure, but because of its urban and investigative elements, it doesn’t seem like the fitting end-point for a nautical campaign. Instead, we’ll want to end things in Tammeraut’s Fate, with waves of undead assailing the characters, before a final delve into the Pit of Hatred.

Because we start with The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, we’ll want to also use Danger at Dunwater and The Final Enemy. Here I disagree with the book’s assessment of The Final Enemy’s difficulty – it’s been designated as an adventure for characters of 7th level. I’ll argue that the way The Final Enemy is meant to be played – using clever tactics and stealth, and not brute force – it’s perfectly fine for a party of 4th or 5th level adventurers. This allows us to place these three adventures closer to each other.

Additionally, just because we want to end with Tammeraut’s Fate, it doesn’t mean we have to skip The Styes. Because of the many natural breaks in that adventure – ample time to rest and regroup between the various parts – we can reasonably expect a party of 8th level adventurers to handle it (although we might want to take steps to ensure the party doesn’t try to pick a fight with the two aboleths near the end of the adventure).

Salvage Operation and Isle of the Abbey end up being more ‘filler’ adventures, than anything else. They both have strong elements of sea travel – which is nice – and elements we can tie into the overarching campaign. We can have the ship in Salvage Operation carry weapons or information that can aid the player characters against the sahuagin, while the Isle of the Abbey becomes a place the characters must go to start unraveling Orcus’ evil designs. This means moving the adventures around a little, but we should be able to scale foes slightly to make them fit our party’s strength.

Okay, so what does this campaign look like, when we fit it all together?

An example campaign

Act 1 – The Sahuagin Invasion

  • The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh (1st-3rd level) – the party unravels the smuggling ring and discovers that a tribe of lizardfolk are mustering for war.
  • Danger at Dunwater (3rd-4th level)the party confronts the lizardfolk tribe and learns that lizardfolk and other aquatic races are preparing for war against invading sahuagin.
  • Salvage Operation (4th-5th level) – the party are sent to investigate a wrecked ship to find a weapon or information, that’ll aid them against the sahuagin.
  • The Final Enemy (5th-6th level) – the party helps defeat the sahuagin and learn that the sahuagin were driven to the coasts by “a scourge of undead under the waves”.

Act 2 – The Scourge of Orcus

  • Isle of the Abbey (6th-7th level) – the party are sent to an abbey of evil cultists dedicated to Orcus to find out more about the scourge of undead. They learn about the evil rifts, and that yet another group of clerics are behind a string of murders in a nearby coastal city.
  • The Styes (7th-8th level) – the party investigates the murders and find the trail leading to a corrupted aboleth who’s murdering people to unleash an undead kraken (we can reskin the juvenile kraken to a kraken carcass, if we want to) upon the city. They learn that the corruption stems from somewhere near Firewatch Island.
  • Tammeraut’s Fate (8th level) – the party travels to Firewatch Island to find the source of the evil, where they must defeat waves of undead before their final battle with the drowned ones and sealing the rift.

Obviously, the above structure doesn’t address all the minor changes you’d have to make along the way, but they give us a blueprint for stringing the adventures together. The best thing is, that in the whole first act, you don’t really need to worry too much about the second act and how the Scourge of Orcus plays into everything – sure, you can leave subtle clues that something larger is going on (perhaps the cultist in Salvage Operation bear dire portents, or are even cultists of Orcus), but it’s not a requirement.

By splitting the campaign into two acts, we also allow ourselves to end the campaign after the first act, if we find our players tiring of sea travel, or if we’re itching to get started with Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus. If you want the campaign to continue, you can leave clues of a greater evil in the sahuagin’s lair, such as defeated sahuagin pleading the case, that they’re only fleeing from “the horde of the drowned”, or fresh murals showing the unholy union between the sahuagin god Sekolah and Orcus, that has incited the sahuagin’s invasion. But, if you’re ready for the campaign to end, you simply don’t include these portents, and the sahuagin just took the lizardfolk stronghold because they wanted it. As is the nature of evil shark-creatures.

Going forward..

In the DM’s Resources for The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, we briefly cover this idea of a greater threat as a hook for the adventure, but don’t go further into tying The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh to a broader campaign (for the aforementioned reason that you don’t really need to think about it that early). However, we plan to make DM’s Resources for more adventures from the Ghosts of Saltmarsh campaign book, in which we’ll try to elaborate on some of the ideas here (in addition to all the other resources, that will be included), so anyone’s who’s interested will find it a bit easier turning Ghosts of Saltmarsh into a full-scale campaign. But, don’t worry, we’ll make sure to write it here as well, so you don’t miss out even if you’re not throwing down your dollars. If you want to be notified, make sure to sign up for the newsletter in the sidebar, or follow us on Twitter.

As always, we’re interested in hearing what you think. Have we missed anything? How would you go about making Ghosts of Saltmarsh into a full campaign? Is there anything else, you’d like us to cover?

Heisting Xanathar’s Lair

It’s a good day! After endless hours of work, we finally have another product ready for Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. This time it’s the Xanathar’s Lair – and, more specifically, DM’s resources, maps and aid for staging a heist on the mad beholder’s lair! Heisting Xanathar’s Lair is available on the DM’s Guild as a standalone product, but has also been added to our Complete DM’s Bundle for Waterdeep: Dragon Heist.

To celebrate, we have a free, high quality battlemap for you: the Pit of Blood and Fortune in Xanathar’s Lair. The arena is a nice addition to Xanathar’s Lair, and might come in handy if your party signs up for the gladiatorial contest. As always, the battlemap is primed for digital tabletops.

You’ll get a full map of Xanathar’s Lair when you purchase Heisting Xanathar’s Lair (which, at 80×100 inches was a real pain to make, I must say!).

Anyway, enjoy!