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Modifying RPG Adventures for a Sword and Sorcery Feel

October 21, 2013
tags: rpg, games, fiction, s&s

So I'm soon going to be running a campaign in my Sword & Sorcery world of Mur, and I've decided that I want to sprinkle in some pre-written adventures to make my life easier. One small problem with that -- it's difficult to find adventures that 'fit' the feel of Mur or the fiction I'm trying to emulate. But I'm going through them anyways, modifying them a bit to fit, and I thought I'd share a bit of my process.

First up, a small primer on Mur. Mur is a world where the gods are real, but they rather dislike humans -- they're seen as playthings. Mur is a world without the standard fantasy races, just humans populate the known lands. It's a world where magic is dark, powerful, and abhorrent to nature, and whose practicioners pay the ultimate price: their very souls. It's also a world teeming with ruins, ancient evils, and vast hordes of treasure in long forgotten buried cities. It is, in a nutshell, a barbarian's wonderland.

So, the first problem with a lot of pre-written fantasy adventures is the inclusion of non-human characters. That's problematic, but not terribly so -- Mur has a rich history and several powerful civilizations, each with their own national identities and strengths. Substitute westlanders for gnomes, midlanders for elves, etc, and problem solved.

The next major problem is magic. By GM fiat, I am disallowing any of the PCs from using magic, at least to begin with. Additionally, the traditional spell system doesn't fit the milleu I'm aiming at, so magic in this campaign will be handled mostly through narrative, with long, elaborate, and evil rituals taking the place of the fire-and-forget style of magic in high fantasy. As magic draws its power from Mur itself, and the energies of the gods, narrative black magic makes sense -- it's unique, twisted, and unpredictable, and I sincerely doubt I could convey the same sense of the unknown with tables, charts, and spellslots. Additionally, it's reserved for the most evil of evils, not your everyday Joe Schmoe who had a semester at the academy and uses his fireball to help in the kitchen. Magic demands extreme sacrifice that the ordinary man just cannot deign to afford. As a result of this, most magic-using NPCs are simply stripped of their magic abilities, or given a subtle mutation instead... they were at one point too close to some magical corruption.

Next up is a big one -- standard monsters. Monsters in Mur can be vaguely broken down into two categories: the wild and the weird. Wild monsters are your usual creatures: lions, tigers, bears (oh my!), massive serpents, etc. The weird monsters are what fills the niche of greenskins, kobolds, etc. in high fantasy. In Mur, weird monsters are fairly unique -- adventurers will rarely come across the same thing twice... and if they do, it means their creator is back for a second round! Weird creatures are brought into being by all sorts of nasty tricks, mostly involving sorcery, but sometimes as a jest of the gods. They include all manner of nasties, like shadow creatures, iron giants, purple worms, ape-men, etc. The trick here is to find the BBEG of the adventure, work on them first (see above Races and Magic points), and then extrapolate their themed creatures. A necromancer will obviously have all manner of undead as their minions. An undying, but fragile soul who encased himself in magical armor would likely have similarly armored pets. But the key here is to not devolve into a slaughterfest of the weird -- sprinkle them in just enough to keep the players on their toes, but not enough to make their impact diminish.

Lastly, when s&s-ifying an adventure module, one has to account for the scale of the adventure. Most adventures as is rely on the PCs being either good people and willing to do things for their noblemen, or trying to help a poor hamlet somewhere afflicted by a strange malady. This simply would not be enough to tempt a s&s hero to action... no, they need gold, lotuses, and silks! The finer things in life... they work for themselves, any good that comes out of it is purely coincidental. To fix this, make the BBEG protect something extremely valuable, or give the village a semi-forgotten stash of finery and their collective life savings as an offer to sweeten the pot. Or have them enslaved and force them to work for their freedom. Additionally, make the BBEG larger than life... the PCs should feel like they truly accomplished something at the end of it all. Lastly, make sure to take at least half of their earnings away between adventures, due to overzealous revelry upon returning to civilization. Actually, there's a handy generator for that.

Thanks for sticking around to read my rambles. Now, off to work on more adventures!

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