Horror on the Hill!
Posted: November 8, 2012 Filed under: adventures, Dungeons and Dragons, reviews
|Look: It’s in Japanese!
Avast! Spoilers for “Horror on the Hill” lurk below!
I saw that Grognardia wrote about ‘Horror on the Hill’ theother day. I tried to comment there, but he uses some kind of funky comment thing called ‘Disqus’ that won’t let me comment unless I update my browser or something — I don’t know, I haven’t figured it out (“Disqus?” I think that’s what it is — it is supposed to look/sound like ‘discuss’ but it makes me thing of ‘disgust’). But I LIKE “Horror on the Hill” and wanted to say so, so I figured I would make my own comments on my own blog.
I didn’t own a copy of this back in the day. I don’t know when ‘Horror on the Hill’ was published, but I think by the time it came out I had probably thought of myself as having moved ‘beyond’ the basic set… or maybe I had stopped playing D&D altogether (as I did for a long while). I think I finally got a copy years later; the first and only time I ran it was in 2003.
You’ve probably already read James’ description, but, to re-iterate, Horror on the Hill is a low level ‘introductory’ adventure. James compares it to “Keep on the Borderlands.” I think it’s probably better than Gygax’s “Keep on the Borderlands” because it doesn’t feel so thrown together. The adventure starts with players arriving at a small town called “Guido’s Fort.” Here, the players hear rumors of an ancient, ruined monastery across the river at the top of a hill. If the players cross the river and climb the hill (possibly encountering Neanderthals, a hut with witches, etc., on the way), they can explore the monastery (which, as I recall, had some zombies, spiders, etc.). Underneath the monastery are tunnels with goblins and hobgoblins. Underneath THAT is a maze that the players can get trapped in before finally finding another exit( assuming they survive). As written, it is silly-difficult. There are loads of hobgoblins in the upper levels that will likely overwhelm the low level player characters it is intended for, especially if the goblins use any tactics like ambushing or encircling the characters… if they defeat the hobgoblins, they will probably then fall down a one-way pit trap into a maze of tunnels where they are likely to have their numbers further reduced by savage humans and other wandering monsters. The players can’t go back up the way they fell in, so they need to find the other way out. This includes navigating the maze and then fighting their way past a tribe of troglodytes (or are they lizard men? I don’t remember), and, if they survive THAT, then they need to fight their way past a red dragon to get to the exit. If fighting a red dragon were not hard enough when supplies (and probably hit points) are depleted, in order to get to the dragon they need to work their way down a narrow tunnel, single file, that is likely to become a player character incinerator if the dragon is alert and breathes fire at the right moment.
One of the things that is, in my opinion, ‘nice’ about this adventure is that once the players are in the tunnels below the hobgoblin hideout, they can’t leave back the way they came and they need to forge ahead to survive. A somewhat frustrating aspect of low level play in D&D is that it can, at times, take on a surreally slow pace of exploration where players are constantly running back to ‘civilization’ to rest, heal and regain spells every time they get scratched by a kobold’s spear or nipped by a giant rat. So players will enter room 1 of the dungeon, defeat the monster, then run back to town to rest and heal for a week, return, and, assuming some new monster hasn’t occupied room 1, enter room 2, defeat the monster, run back to town to rest, etc., rinse and repeat. At early levels, before access to healing spells, most adventuring parties rarely put in an 8 hour day’s worth of exploring since they are constantly dashing back to town to heal and buy more lamp oil. “Horror on the Hill” short circuits that process by dropping the players down into the maze so they can’t go back the way they got in and need to explore the rest of the place to get out. Although the trap that lands the players in hot water doesn’t make much logical sense (why would the ruler of the goblins want to drop players down into a pit AFTER they have killed him and left his throne room? Wouldn’t even the stupidest goblin king want to drop the players down the pit BEFORE they reach his throne room and slit his throat?), I think the overall effect (it forces the players to go forward) is worth it. The pit-trap makes the adventure into a “railroad” that forces the player characters along a single path with a series of obstacles to overcome, but there is enough logic to it, as well as a series of ‘mini-dungeons’ (the monastery ruins, the goblin caves, the maze, the troglodyte warrens, etc.), that seem to be incidentally hooked together to create a larger dungeon… so even though it IS a railroad, at least it doesn’t feel like one while you are in it (although the forced encounter with the dragon at the end is probably a bit much).
If I recall correctly, I made a few modifications before I ran this adventure. I didn’t use ‘Guido’s Fort,’ but instead put the ruined monastery a few miles from a village in my campaign world. This village was under increasing attacks by goblins (the rationale was that the monastery was a rest/resupply center for the goblins). I made the monastery into a ruined temple/monastery for an evil god and the goblins had some NPC cultists for allies. I replaced all of the hobgoblins with regular goblins. I added several NPCs as prisoners that could join as helpers/replacement characters (these were player characters that had previously been captured by the forces of evil). I got rid of the dragon. According to my notes, I ran this adventure about 9 (!) years ago, but from what I remember, we had a lot of fun… although some of my players tired of the ‘dungeon bashing’ aspect by the end.
PS: Shout out to Kevin S. who based a whole campaign on “Horror on the Hill,” with toilets!