Tegel Manor

by Gabor Lux

“Designed by generations of mad wizards and insane geniuses, Tegel Manor, a great manor-fortress on a windswept and desolate seacoast, is rumored to be left over from ancient days when a charm was placed over it, protecting its stone walls and timbers from the ravages of time and human occupation. The hereditary owners, whose family name is Rump, have been amiss in their traditional duty of providing protection for the market village to the west. Some say that this failing and their bizarre eccentricities have lead to their eventual corruption. Many have found the manor and area to be a dangerous place to visit!”

“Tegel Manor is a challenging adventure module suited for four to six player characters ranging from 4th to 7th level. It is recommended that the party have at least one cleric and two or three fighter types. Good PCs will have an easier time than neutral or evil ones; however, the latter are by no means unsuited to adventure in or about the haunted mansion.

Unofficial cover concept by Windjammer

Unofficial cover concept by Windjammer

The adventure begins as the player characters arrive at Tegel village, a coastal market settlement plagued by undead, bandits and bloodthirsty demon worshippers, and gradually explore the surrounding countryside and the nearby haunted mansion. Unlike many other modules, Tegel Manor is largely open-ended in that there are no set goals to follow and no hidden plot to uncover. Instead, it is the PCs, who, by exploring and interacting with their environment, realize their own purpose whether it be monetary gain, the recovery of magical treasures or clearing the manor of its undead residents.

Of course, there are other groups with their own agendas, such as the cultists of the demon lord Tsathoggus, the pirates living on the seacoast or various powerful members of the fallen Rump family, living and undead. Some of them may become valuable allies; others, merciless enemies, depending on how the party approaches them. Yet others are best encountered with a ready blade and a drawn holy symbol!

It is our desire that you and your group enjoy this classic Judges Guild module as much as those who have trod the haunted halls since its creation in 1977. We likewise hope that people who had encountered it previously will not be disappointed in this updated form.”

Description and contents: An updated and greatly expanded 3.5 version of the Judges Guild classic. In late December 2004, Bill Webb of Necromancer Games sent me an e-mail that was both short and to the point: “Want to be the lead author on Tegel Manor?” You can bet I did. In addition to considering Bob Bledsaw perhaps the most significant formative influence on my games and liking early Judges Guild’s product philosophy, my history with Tegel Manor goes back a while to the first, and for a long time last issue of Dragon magazine I ever purchased. In an editorial titled “An extraordinarily ordinary hero”, editor Roger E. Moore recounted his old party’s exploits in that infamous haunted house, and how a fighting woman named Thora became its hero against all odds and pretty unlucky ability scores. That piece was an early inspiration, although at that time, I had no chance to purchase the actual module. And now, I didn’t just have an excuse to get into the adventure, but I was offered to bring it to the world in a new edition.

What followed was half a year of work. I spent maybe a month studying the text and maps, and thinking about what made Tegel work well as an adventure, and what might be improved or expanded upon. Later on, many of those thoughts went into an expansive design document I am reproducing with some minor edits below. A 144 page 1st draft was completed by July 2005 (this would maybe make a 120 page book in layout); later, feeling some of the text a bit florid and cumbersome and encouraged by Bill’s note that there would be time for it, I produced a second one by mid January 2006 that cut the word count a bit – were I to redo it today, I would be even more radical. The new or almost new material largely concerns Tegel Village, the wilderness with a number of mini-dungeons and the dungeon levels below the manor, which were originally almost entirely blank with only monster listings for most rooms. Otherwise, the revision worked by expanding on original content to make the environment more complex and interactive (which is a slight problem of the original, the majority of which is purely for show). New appendices and expanded originals were added, including new ghostly abilities, some extra characterisation in the family portraits, and a random alchemical experiments table.

Letter from Ruang the Rump

Letter from Ruang the Rump

So what happened to it: Playtest was not a problem-free occasion, since my party at the time was adverse to dungeon adventuring and more cowardly than Sir Runic the Rump. Attempts to draw them to the manor without severe railroading ended up in failure; although fun was had in wilderness, village politics and huge tactical battles with the frog cultists and the pirates of Tegel, I could only test the manor with another group, and rely on KenMcKinney’s group, who also adventured in the place. Nonetheless, the document was basically ready for editing. Necro’s plans for the set became lavish: Clark started to think about a huge vinyl player mat for Tegel, which would make it into a sought-after premium product, although I am uncertain how far that work, or cartography went.

In any event, the project was hit by one delay after another. Necromancer Games changed the company that produced its books around that time; after some twists and turns, they ended up in a partnership with Paizo, who by that time had established themselves as the most well-regarded d20 company with their adventure paths (Clark Peterson himself was very enthusiastic about the concept, although I was sceptical if the format would work well with Necromancer’s deadlier and more freeform gaming philosophy). By the time the partnership moved into place, Wizards of the Coast had announced a new project: the fourth edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Plans of publication ground to a halt, as sales of 3.5 material plummeted to near nothing. Promises of the new publishing agreement – the Game System License – were enthusiastically awaited by 3rd party publishers, including Necromancer. Regrettably, the GSL was a mess: delayed and very restrictive, it proved a hard tool to work with, and Necromancer’s bubbly enthusiasm for supporting the new edition was replaced with burnout. Unfortunately, this was also followed by much worse news: Bob Bledsaw’s death in April 2008. And after all those delays, the project was as good as dead. Judges Guild, reformed under the lead of Bob Jr., is planning a Tegel Manor sequel of its own creation, for which I wish them the best.

In conclusion, there is no one to blame for the eventual failure: everyone had the best intentions, but in the end, Tegel was lost in development hell. I slightly wonder how it would have fared in the market. Those who had expressed their interest in it online were mostly players of old school systems; and meanwhile, mainstream game culture had changed into something more concerned with encounter balance, appropriate rewards for appropriate challenges and a certain interpretation of fair play. Tegel, in whatever form, was an atavism, something from another era. My thoughts on balance were even captured in a section titled “Undead Ate my Cleric! – Notes on Old School Game Design”, which is reproduced here under the design notes. Could it have been successful? Would it have been singled out as an example of horrible design we were better off without? I don’t know those answers.

[Note: footnotes in the following text have been converted into quotes under their respective paragraphs]

Tegel Manor design notes

General issues

Main design goals and methods: Tegel Manor is a legendary module, a historical artifact as well as a game product. A revision has to be respectful of that. At the same time, it has to be enjoyable for gamers today, and it must do this by showcasing a fun play experience comparable to the way people experienced the original version. It should be sold on its own merits.

This means Tegel Manor must be a modern product in presentation (although I sometimes say to myself I was producing it in OTUSVision™ – among current artists, I think Stefan Poag is the guy who could do its feel justice), but the content should come from an evolution of 1970s design principles, just like Rappan Athuk builds on mono era 1e and the Wilderlands boxed set builds on the original JG setting. When writing my stuff, I tried to find out what made the original tick, and how these features can be emphasized and expanded today. In any case, the module is for people who would accept the premise of a 1970s style dungeon crawl and the d20 rules. If they aren’t in that group, they won’t like Tegel any way we do it. :)

In writing, I didn’t use anything from the Gamescience version, except for one encounter in the first draft which was deleted in the second. I wasn’t even sure this would be legal – I assumed not. Plus although I like Niels Erikson’s take (and it also shows that he is a “real” writer – there’s some good imagery in his text), I wanted a different style and a different adventure. So the baseline is JG’s booklet/pamphlet product, and the only way I used Erikson’s was to see how he approached various questions. But the decisions I made were mine.

The methods I used in the revision were preservation, expansion and interpretation. Meaning: Tegel’s specific feel and content should be preserved, including, if possible, the original text, but also the assumptions inherited from OD&D.[1] I tried to keep Bob’s prose, thought hard about replicating the OD&D experience in the framework where a 3.5 campaign would operate, and so on. Where the original didn’t give enough footing or felt too light, I expanded it with compatible material, ideally from hints in the text and maps, or absent that, in keeping with their spirit. Since Judges Guild’s Tegel is a very sparse work, this became my primary tool. More on this in the next section. Third, a lot of the weird stuff was interpreted to be sensible in the context of a dungeon filled with weird stuff. That is a bit circular, but let’s see an example.

A13 30’x25’x30’ H Wand of Cold (10 charges) behind picture on wall. Female voice faintly chants, Mottled worm 15 HD, 56 HTK, AC 6, 2-24/bite nesting under bed.

[1] An example would be where the text mentions a „Hero”: in OD&D, that’s a 4th level Fighting Man. Where doubtful, I went back to the OD&D books to clear up possible mistakes. It is there, for example, that I found out that the Vampire Vine growing on the Gazebo has a 8 AC instead of -8 (Bob was probably confused by GDDH, mistaking AC – 8 for AC -8). :) That’s of course just a minor issue, but I did dedicate time to ensure the end result would be kosher from and OD&D standpoint. That’s because I wanted to do an OD&D-style revision, not really Gygaxian 1e.

Room A13. is the classic case of the “how the fuck did it get in here?” problem – you have a mottled (purple) worm in a 30’x25’ space (and what’s worse, it is nesting under a bed). The text also mentions a picture on the wall concealing a niche with a wand of cold and the female chanting. Here is what I did with the encounter:
- I preserved almost everything that was present in the original description. The purple worm is still there (although since the terminology is defunct, it is no longer distinguished as “mottled”), the wand of cold is still behind the picture as a miniature staff of frost, and the chanting of the woman is also there.
- I interpreted the presence of the worm as being summoned by the chanting of the woman, and assumed the chanting came from the picture. Regrettably, the bed had to go, but I am still proud I could keep the worm in the module. And you know what, the players loved it, although two of them were eaten in the encounter. :)
- I expanded the encounter with some flavour text (see below) and added a magical mirror from which the worm could emerge. Finally, I worked in a way through which the PCs could win the encounter without killing a high-HD opponent or running.
Here is the drafted text:

A13. Scullery Maid (EL 12) (30’x25’x10’H)
In stark contrast to the simple but orderly bed, the rough wood table, whitewashed walls and the single iron basin on the floor, two items seem as if they didn’t belong here. One of them, an oil painting, depicts a noble lady in her early forties, sable hair streaming down her elegant neck, a pleasant, warm smile sitting on her lips. Ten small candles burn on a dresser in front of the portrait. The second item, opposite the painting, is a large 10’ tall oval mirror with a silver frame. The surface of the mirror is dark and doesn’t reflect anything, but seems to absorb light directed at it. The frame is intricate, adorned by complicated geometric patterns. A deep female voce faintly chants.

One minute after entering the room, the mirror erupts with radiant rainbow-lights, casting an eldritch glow on the contents of the room. The head of a monstrous purple worm emerges from whatever netherworld the mirror leads to. It is too large to exit the room, but it can attack anyone inside (plus its roars may attract monsters… up to the Judge, heh heh). Fortunately, there isn’t enough room to use its stinger. Destroying the mirror requires a break enchantment or holy word spell, although a dismissal also sends the purple worm back where it came from. The same end may be accomplished by destroying the portrait. It is immune to spells but may be damaged by slashing and piercing weapons. It has 26 hp. Every wound appears as a gruesome cut on the face of the alluring lady… and the player character, who suffers the same damage he has inflicted.

A niche behind the portrait (Search DC 24) hides an enchanted wand made of the darkest ebony and tipped with silver. This item is equivalent to a staff of frost and possesses 10 charges.

Purple Worm: CR 12; hp 168; see the MM.

This encounter can be considered a logical extrapolation of the original situation. It also presents multiple tactical dilemmas. There are challenges which the players may decide to tackle, avoid, circumvent (by fighting the worm, fleeing or attempting to destroy either the picture or the mirror, respectively) or even prevent if quick enough; a red herring in the form of the mirror (it is a convenient target, but likely beyond the ability of a mid-level group to harm) and a reward that may be easily earned with a little bit of thinking but one which isn’t worth multiple PCs (judging by a one-shot game I ran, purple worms are very efficient even without using the poison stinger!).

[Note: here are three more examples that are sorta neat.]

H11. Stateroom (EL 5) (30’x30’x20’H)
Originally reserved for accommodating notable dignitaries, the wormeaten, thronelike chairs, enameled metal shields and tattered banners of the Stateroom have seen better days. A curious sight greets the intruders. Four zombies are bowing to a fat giant white rat seated on one of the thrones, wearing a pink cape and a red plumed hat. This rat is highly intelligent and somewhat ominous, introducing himself as Rodento Ratsputin, Supreme Lord of all Rodentkind. He threatens unruly PCs with the wrath of his many minions unless they show him deference. Ratsputin is only bluffing, but his pouchful of dust of disappearance grants him a good escape route if melee develops. If he is really hard pressed, he can offer the party a (fake) gold ring for his life.

Zombies (4): CR 1/2; hp 11, 6, 12, 12; see the MM.

Rodento Ratsputin, Lord of all Rodentkind, Giant Rat: CR 3; SZ S Animal; HD 3d8+9; hp 25; Init +3; Spd 40 ft.; AC 15 (+3 Dex, +1 size, +1 natural); Atk +5 melee (1d6 plus disease, bite) or +5 ranged (1d4 plus poison, throwing dagger); SA Disease; SQ Low-light vision, scent; AL LE; SV Fort +7, Ref +6, Will +5; Str 10, Dex 17, Con 16, Int 18, Wis 15, Cha 16.
Possessions: dust of disappearance (3 doses), fake gold ring (appears to be valued at 400 gp), plumed hat, pink cape, mastwerwork dagger with deathblade poison (Fort DC 20; 1d6 Con/2d6 Con).

I1. Bedroom (EL 4) (30’x15’x20’H)
The heavy smoke of incense in this room is so thick that eyes start to water immediately, and blindness results as they completely burn away in 2d6 minutes (Oh, ye Gods! It burns! How it burns!). The smoke doesn’t come from anywhere in particular, and returns in an hour even if cleared away somehow.

Partially concealed by the haze are the canopied bed, the dresser and a tapestry on the east wall depicting a huge black cat. The emberlike glowing eyes of this beast flare up as the first PC enters, it hisses vehemently and jumps to the floor, disappearing entirely. The luxurious black fur covering the bed is worth 440 gp if the smoky smell is gotten rid off. However, it also bring bad luck as per bestow curse – -4 to all attack rolls, saves, skill and ability checks. Destroying the fur breaks the curse with a loud meow!

E12. Bedroom (EL 1) (30’x40’x20’H)
Constantly wet, black clammy walls shed tears in the humid atmosphere of this bedroom next to the bath. All furniture has turned into fetid piles of putrescence that exude an unpleasant, nauseating smell. Even the beams above hang with beardlike growths of blackened moss (there is a 40% chance that any kind of vibration sends one of these down on the PCs’ necks – DC 12 Reflex save avoids). The blackness is a form of fungus that is poisonous on touch: Fortitude save DC 18, damage 4d4 hp + illness/4d4 hp + illness. Illness lasts 1d10 days and decreases all rolls by 2.
The series of closets to the east are full of increasingly more and more of the moss veils (and thus the black fungus as well). A stone pedestal stands in the final one, upon which rests a black skull filled with a sentient colony of the spongy fungus. The skull can „communicate” via limited telepathy, but due to its low intelligence, it only broadcasts simple and mostly random thoughts such as „Grow… grow and consume… grow…”

Expansions: Obviously, Tegel is a sparse product by today’s standards. The original “Guidelines” pamphlet is a tiny little thing, maybe as big as G2. It is super-compressed. What I did with it was to give a more modern presentation, but also include a lot of additional content. With flavour text, I tried to give about as much as customary in Necro products. Rereading my draft, I should have been less flowery and limited flavour to a few expressive adjectives. Hopefully editing trimmed the purple prose a bit (I haven’t seen its results or Bill’s additions, so I am only working from my own writing here).

With additional content, I had two goals in mind. First, fill the gaps of the pamphlet – like the entire wilderness, the village, the dungeon levels which are mostly just monster listings, etc. Second, as much as I like the original, it has one issue I am uncomfortable with. The dungeon is basically a mapping and combat scenario with too little interactivity. You move through the rooms, and most details are just descriptive. They don’t do anything to your PCs, and you can’t do much with them. There are no real puzzles and enigmas.

My solution was to make the environment more complex, and provide opportunities for the players to get more engaged with it. In the revision, there are reworked encounters where the haunting effects and strange items are meaningful and usable. There are a few core areas where there are several things to manipulate, like the laboratories (A21., E9., L6.). This is not typical, but the majority of rooms now have something you can play with. And where there is nothing like that, the players will still imagine some hidden meaning because they expect it. :) There is also a bit more spelled out NPC interaction – characters the party may befriend or combat (here, my favourite is probably Rodento Ratsputin in H11.) In theory, there is nothing preventing a party from making a sort of alliance with some of the Rumps. In my campaign, I introduced subtle hints that Ridwik may become a valuable patron, but the players, who were almost as cowardly as Sir Runic the Rump, regrettably didn’t bite. If I were in their place, I would have done it (we did this a lot in our early campaigns).

To sum up, Tegel is intended to be a large, complex sandbox where some possibilities are “programmed” and several others are “emergent” in that they are unplanned by the designer and happen because the players (+Judge) correlate independent bits of information. Also very old school.

On using the rules: This is a part of my overall design philosophy, but especially relevant for Tegel. When designing an adventure, I strive for conceptual simplicity; that is, I try to use the straightest line between a problem and a solution. The more conservative I am with crunch, the better. If a single-classed NPC does the job, it should be used instead of a multi-classed one. If an untemplated monster works, I don’t add the template just to look cool. I believe a lot of the crunch juggling you see in WotC products is the result of confusing the means with the ends, and using rules because they are there. Usually, the players don’t even see 80% of the work the DM or designer puts into the stat block.

In Tegel, conceptual simplicity is also important because it reinforces the OD&D feel. OD&D didn’t get into funky class combinations and monster modification, although it is not antithetical to minor tweaking. Accordingly, most of the monsters I used are straight from the MM. Where I needed a variant, I usually added appropriate abilities and qualities, and didn’t use the “heavier” tools. For example, animated objects could have a lot of interesting variations with minor changes, like a boiling pot hurling hot water at you (A5.), plates which shatter a lot on their own in combat (A10.) or toy soldiers which are more cute than dangerous (B20. – Playroom). Animated object stats were also used to simulate a lot of the weird stuff that tries to kill you in Tegel: suits of armour (A6., B15., etc.), a giant bowling ball (A22.), a chain coil in a torture chamber (G3.) and a lot more. Of course, where advanced/templated monsters or NPCs were appropriate, I used them, but they are always there because they had to be used. They are suitably rare and are reserved for special cases (coincidentally, completely in keeping with the original intentions of the 3.0 design team!).

Anti-Rump treatise

Anti-Rump treatise

There are two cases where I fudged a bit more. The first is monsters which have changed significantly since OD&D, and have a completely different effect on 3.* play, like Type VI. Demons. That’s why Tegel has stats for a “lesser” balor: a regular one would eat even well-prepared parties for lunch. Although that isn’t completely inappropriate (since there is nothing stopping the group from running or negotiation, and hell, we already have a minor deity and two powerful liches), it seemed better to stay with the concept of the original encounter – give the PCs something they can defeat if they are mid-level, well-prepared and lucky. Maybe I should have done the same with the Type III. in H10.

The second is using modified monsters instead of regular ones to stay closer to the feel of JG’s Tegel. There are two major groups here: giant rats, who come in several different flavours from lowly 1 HD weaklings to 4 HD killing machines, and ghosts, who were essentially recreated with a bit of backwards extrapolation. They may seem a bit unusual on first sight (not to mention heretical by “messing with” a core monster), but there are some definite advantages to using them. First, they are generic enough to be appropriate for every ghostly NPC in the module. Second, the modular ability list makes it easy to customize them, which is a good tool to differentiate the various Rumps running around. Third, they have simple and intuitive stat blocks. In any case, they performed well in actual play (although technically, the 3.* form only appeared in a one-shot – I ran a C&C-derived campaign, a 3.0 one-shot and an OD&D one-shot).

Individual monster hit points were extrapolated from the original Tegel HTK – multiplied by 1.25 and supplemented by Con bonus if of equal HD. Additional HD were rolled randomly.

NPCs were mostly done straightforwardly. I tried to avoid NPC classes. The only exception to this is humans who have or should have HD instead of class in OD&D – grunt soldiers, basically. All the rest are like they used to be; if the players don’t like 3rd level Fighter merchants, they shouldn’t fight them.

Tone: In tone, I consciously tried to use a distinct style that’s not entirely my usual personal one, but which I thought appropriate for Tegel’s feel. Tegel is an action-fantasy module that mixes weird fantasy in the Clark Ashton Smith tradition (especially Averoigne) with D&Disms and a good amount of humour. Play in it should be moderately deadly, very chaotic, weird, but definitely not “grim and gritty”. Unlike the Wilderlands and City State, it is not a sword&sorcery product, and unlike the content would suggest, it is not any recognisable kind of horror. A sort of light-hearted irreverence is most appropriate for it, and the text aims to encourage/reflect this aspect. The ten-dollar words and elaborate decriptions are CAS-isms (although as I wrote, this may also be achieved with more economical word use), while alliterations are Bledsawian, and therefore used often throughout the text (e.g. “doomed decadence”, “eldritch experiments”, “within the vaults”).

Family secrets from the Library

Family secrets from the Library

Humour is a tricky issue. I tried to steer clear of turning Tegel into a joke module. Those are always cheap and never really satisfactory. I also used little “gamer humour”, since that tends to be more embarrassing than funny or appropriate. There is still some (note the names of the pirate leaders and the two imprisoned fighters at DL2I., #2-3.), but only in the background where they are non-intrusive. Instead, I usually used understatements, irony and contrasts. An advantage to this approach is that a game group can choose to bite or not. If they want to play Tegel humorously, there is help for that. If they don’t, the DM doesn’t need to force it.

Game balance and ecology: are for little girls and biology professors, respectively. Just to make sure the readers are on the same page, I included the intro’s “Undead ate my Cleric!” section, which definitely has to stay in the final product. :) Moving on…

Specific content

The village: Frankly, I don’t know if I got this part right. I don’t really like generic fantasy villages, and don’t use them in my games. They make me bored and sometimes irritated. The Village of Hommlet is one of the most boring products Gary Gygax has written. Now Keep on the Borderlands is fun, but villages don’t do anything for me. However, Tegel village had to be a generic fantasy village for the module to work well. My solution was to add adventure hooks and interesting things to buy, but even so, I don’t know if the end result is good… although the players liked it enough to spend a lot of time on intrigue, deposing Ternelmor and on domain management stuff – even too much for my tastes. Maybe it worked too well by distracting them.

Wilderness and mini-dungeons: The wilderness was designed to allow for a change of pace in between longer dungeon-delving expeditions, but preferably without overshadowing the Manor. It was mostly obvious which locations to develop into separate encounters, although some aren’t apparent on a simple glance (like the clearing at 2618 or the caves around 3607, if they are indeed caves – let’s assume this is the case). I think the only thing I missed are the sea-caves (?) to the far north at 4703, but they could be “up to the Judge” or written up as a small web enhancement.

You wrote about the scale of the temple and monastery. That’s right, they are a bit small; I made them fill about half a session each, and specifically to avoid stealing the Manor’s thunder. If you are thinking about physical size, that’s right too – maybe a 10’ scale with a few additional rooms could be appropriate? I don’t know if that’s a suitable idea at this stage, however, plus I still don’t know what Bill added and what he (and others?) edited in and out. I know he had ideas of his own he wanted to incorporate.

Regarding the mini-dungeons, both are variations on the theme; the Temple is of course Smithian weird fantasy and the Monastery is survival horror. Both performed pretty well in play, and challenged a party made up of 4th to 5th level characters with a 8th level leader (there were multiple casualties in the Temple because of bad luck and unsound tactics).

(A note about Sarthoggus&Co.: their removal/modification in the Gamescience version is a change I found stupid and a bit puzzling – like if the cultists worship “Nivatopredi”, why do they lair in the Temple of Harmakhis? Plus what’s wrong with **Giant Frogs** anyway? It is much more sensible to go with the cult in the wilderness temple and keep the batrachian worship, esp. since this way, there is a good supply of them from Derfingel Marsh. To make things a bit more complicated, I added Sarthoggus’s search for the Cauldron of Keridwen found at E10. – that’s also something a DM and a party could do something with it if they wish to. Another note, the elixir of all-seeing doom is absolutely cool, and I wish I could routinely come up with things like it. :))

Pirates. I made an error of judgement with them by sticking too close to the original text. In play, it appears that they work much better if the grunts are 2nd level Warriors with an unit (10 men) of 3rd level veterans plus a few archers.[2] That way, and by adding a stockade missing in the JG version, they become enough of a threat to make a frontal assault suicidal, but hit-and-run missions, negotiation or deceit potentially lucrative. I think these changes should definitely be made.

[2]My personal guideline for NPC levels is this: newbies are 1st level, average Joes are 2nd level, veterans are 3rd level and elites are 4th level. I start PCs on 3rd level in most campaigns.

Warlord’s Island (DD.) is just an enigma without an explanation – although I did release a short, free dungeon where the PCs explore the labyrinthine burial mound of Strabonus last summer.

The correspondence of Mr. Rump

The correspondence of Mr. Rump

The Manor: Obviously, I could write pages upon pages of what I did with various rooms and why. I am not going to do that, and will only focus on a few interesting/notable ones, in part based on play experience, and in part on guesswork. The expanded room numbering is self-explanatory, as is placing the portraits which remained unkeyed in JG’s version (61 and up). I tried to select locations where their placement was logical (like the Throne Room, D1. and the Dining Room, A4.) and the rest more or less randomly.

Since wandering family members are usually solitary, I made them immune to clerical destruction and control, although not turning or rebuking so the mid-tier types could pose a fair challenge. There are several potential explanations for this feature, likely doing with family history. But we don’t have to write it down.

A. areas: these are larger than others, and therefore usually have a bit more stuff. They were also written first since I progressed sequentially through the module. Here, the rooms to the northwest form a harder to access but fun place – there is just a lot to do in A20.-21. and of course Brother’s Tower is usually entered this way (the playtesters never did, though, since they incorrectly thought that if Ridwik was in the Wizard’s Tower, his brother, Rasping Rashuak would obviously be in the Brother’s Tower. Emergent gameplay in action.)

B. areas: while at a corner of the manor, this section is very easy to access and navigate, since multiple “feeding” routes converge in it and the layout is very straightforward. Usually living rooms, where I also placed Ruang the Ripper’s room at B12. (a good place as he has access to a secret door out of the manor, a lab where he can brew poison, and even a second escape route through the fireplace). B10. is obviously overwritten in the draft, and has to be cut back. B18. is an interesting encounter I’d have loved to run (black pudding plus a polymorphed efreet) but never did. But running Tegel was a lot like that – not enough exploration to see all the fun stuff. :) B19. is a great example of a well-designed OD&D encounter, showcasing what OD&D had instead of “ecology” – thematic appropriateness. If you are in a Playroom, you encounter a teddy bear with teeth, toy soldiers guarding a cache of marbles which are emeralds+rubies and a demon doll… deadly, nefarious, D&Dish and completely fitting the theme of a haunted playroom.[3]

[3]As a completely off-topic note, Clark, did you see Rob Kuntz’s Original Living Room? It is a very low production values product, but absolutely top-notch in ideas and likely gameplay. If I had had it when running Tegel, it would have been unofficially located somewhere in the dungeon.

C. areas: there is little to say about these places, as they are mostly bedrooms with little else to link them. It saw almost no play for a reason – players usually moved along the wider corridors and didn’t check out the room complexes. The magic sword Rimefang at C4. is an interesting magic items (as are others – I tried to make most of them weird and non-standard to reflect the eccentricity of the Rumps), which may be useful if mastered but annoying if not. C14. can be very deadly if the players fall for the obvious trick. Darwinism 101 material. :)

D. areas: for something so central, there sure are a lot of powerful NPCs who may be encountered (the vampires in D2.-5.). There is also a fun bedroom-chapel duo I like (D9.-10.) and an empty treasure vault (D8.).[4]

[4]It is interesting that Tegel has very little loot for OD&D where most of the XP came from gp value. For more recent editions, there is still not too much, but this is compensated for by relatively generous magic item allocation.

E. and F. areas: these two regions make up most of the southern part of the Manor, and are relatively “far” from the frequently travelled areas. There are also a lot of twisting corridors flowing into rooms flowing in turn into more corridors – a “dense” texture if you will. It is really quite devious, and very easy to get lost in. There is also a room (E5.) which is normally totally impossible to get into by any means except tunnelling.

The centrepiece is the laboratory at E9. I left the psionic brain there for statting out by a more able rulesmith – as I wrote, it has to be psionic, but immediately usable by a DM who doesn’t own the PsiHB. It is also a very dangerous encounter, because the opponent is well entrenched and has superior offenses – although a resourceful group could exploit its immobility or destroy its “supplies”. A straight suicide run may also work, but likely result in casualties or other nastiness as PCs pull the forcefield levers. It’s just hard to dispatch the monster without destroying most of the lab equipment as well. To protect hapless groups from randomly wandering in, I added a locked and trapped door. (Addendum: although I added no explicite high tech in Tegel, this place has things which may be interpreted as such, like the lab itself or the metal pyramids at E8.)

Although not stated in the text, I put one of the “rapid rot” traps right south of the Chapel of Mitra (E11.) in my campaign, making for an interesting contrast and enigma (undiscovered, oh well). E12. is a strange little side encounter with a fungoid intelligence (development Up to the Judge™). E3., F3., F2., E15. and F7. are a bit hard to find, but not very dangerous, unless the party uses the skeleton room-revolving door combo at F6. A mirror of life trapping, a mirror of opposition, an illusionary flesh golem and a souped-up skeleton fighter are very dangerous for your average low-to-mid-level group.

G. areas: this area is kinda “close to the surface”, since the most obvious entry point immediately offers a chance to go in its direction. However, in practice, players tend to draw the conclusion from the torture chamber/prison aspect that it is a “high danger area”. Unfortunately for them, the opposite direction, which looks a lot more innocent, is significiantly more deadly. :) Here, the worst fixed encounter they can face is the sword trap in G8. – it would be harder to get to the illusionary lesser balor sitting at G4. thanks to the fear trap in the preceding room.

H. areas: more dangerous than G., but 90% of that is because of the Type III. Demon in H10., which, as I wrote, will “fucking massacre a party under standard d20 rules”. It comes completely out of left field, and with the way 3.5 treated demons, it is an almost guaranteed TPK. I don’t know, but it may not be a bad idea to go with the relative power scale of OD&D and include a somewhat weaker variant here, or at least cut its hit points in half. But your call. In this sections, there are also two rooms (H16. and H17.) which were left out from JG’s key. I filled them with my own creations.

I. areas: I1. is a bit unclear about what happens to player characters who linger too much (“incense smoke burns eyes 2-12 r”). I opted for the nastier, literalist interpretation. :) And I love the last sentence about the cursed cat fur. At I4., I bumped up the claw damage for the giant crab a bit to be in line with OD&D and AD&D, where these guys can deal out a metric fuckton of damage. Change it back if you really want to. I also added a way to get into the East Wing via the secret passage, which originally didn’t go anywhere interesting.

J. areas: this is where the mapping challenges get turned up to 11. J. is very compartmental, and except for J1.-3., not available for the casual explorer. J4. has to be entered through a rat hole, and as far as I know, 5.-7. is either through the fireplace or not at all. The best way to find these places would theoretically be to map around them and then systematically look for ways in. Unfortunately, these efforts aren’t really worth it, since the best treasure you gain is a low-gp bauble. Maybe we should add a bit more treasure or a magic item or two to these rooms?

K. areas: like the East Wing, the PCs explored almost all of these rooms… they are easy to arrive at if you come through the Carriage House, and not very dangerous with one exception. At K1., it would be cool if you added monks’ hooded robes to the ghouls – I didn’t think of it in design, but came up with this idea a bit later. K9. is just so OD&D that it has to stay in the module (but as a Judge, I wouldn’t use the encounter to get a TPK). You wander around a dungeon and find an old gnome who is a god in disguise. No modern designer could… or would dare to think up anything like this. They just don’t make them like they used to. :)

Handout - East Wing

Handout – East Wing

L. areas: things start out easy but the Laboratory is just remorseless. I added the prismatic missile traps to make it obvious for wandering parties that Ridwik means business (of course, it is also kind of obvious that the tall, ominous tower will be hard). After that come the acid pits (or the guillotine trap) and the fireproof mummy, with a handful of friends from P1. There is also a cache of very good magic items, though — the mirror of mental prowess is a whopping 175,000 gp in 3.5e! (And that’s why it is described as “quite fragile”.)

Here, I added a new spell, Lankwiler’s Prismatic Missile, which I have been using for a long, long time (as a 5th level Illusionist spell). Please make it completely OGC, since I’d like to use it in the future.

M. areas: another of the strongly isolated sections. There are a lot of ways in, but only the Spectral Staircase is intuitive of them – that, however, is behind a secret door far from where it would logically be. It is also a special place because the foes form a cohesive unit if the DM wants them to, maybe supplemented with the arch-wizard Pandemule (one of the most dangerous NPCs in the dungeon except for the liches). And there is a second room which originally had absolutely no entrance, M6., but here I had to add one, albeit indirect.
In the Greater Library (M12.), the cartographer should maybe draw in a labyrinth made up of the bookshelves (in my game, I made it subject to distance distortion so it would be larger than the physical dimensions allowed by Bob’s map. How about that?)

East Wing (keyed as “N.”): probably the easiest of the towers. Completely explored, but not completely cleaned by the PCs. There is a chance for an undead-hunting quest at N11.

Brother’s Tower (keyed as “O.”): of moderate difficulty, only hard to get into unless you go outside and simply climb up through the balcony. I added a nice assortment of climbing-related environmental challenges/puzzles. There is the Zoo at (O3.), which makes absolutely no sense but is very cool nevertheless, or precisely because of this. I love it.

Wizard’s Tower (keyed as “P.”): first things first, the tower looks deceptively simple, but it is actually not completely easy to navigate because there are stairs which bypass floors, stairs which dead-end in others, plus trapdoors and levitation shafts. It is obviously a dangerous place, too. It saw no play whatsoever as the players made sure to give it a wide berth. I decided to make the huge 17,985 gp bell Ridwik the Relic’s phylactery, since it would make a cool and hard “end objective” for a group who feels they are up to the challenge. There is only one straight hint about the bell in the module (K6., the centaur who was turned into a crocodile), but its true nature may be found out through research or experimentation. There is no need to make it easier – after all, Ridwik is a genius (18) Int undead who could be assumed to devise a good way to protect his existence.

Courtyards and miscellaneous outdoors (keyed as “Q.”): all completely obvious. I am also convinced Tegel Manor’s was the source of the similarly archaic gazebo anecdote. I added a few touches to reflect that. The vampire vine comes from the module, of course, but I changed its AC for the reasons outlined under footnote 1.

Dungeons: unlike the rest of Tegel, the dungeons roughly follow the deeper = more dangerous guideline. This especially goes for level 4. The encounters on levels 3. and 4. had to be designed from the ground up, since all I had to work from was monster allocation and very vague hints. Random encounters are less common to reflect the separation from the main manor, but undead gain TR+1 to reflect that it is an even more evil place (although not because of the cheesy “source of all evil” cop-out in the Gamescience revision – what were they thinking?!).

Nobody during playtest descended into the dungeons or rat holes.

DL1. has a problem/tactical challenge that may easily come up in actual play: the rat tunnels are very cramped, only allowing two PCs to reach action. They are subject to attacks by all rats, have lower defenses, and the rest of the group gets no or little action. I find it likely that few groups will spend much time exploring here under these conditions, even if the treasure hoards I assigned to the king rats are pretty generous. DL2. has multiple interesting features. A prison area for picking up replacement PCs or henchmen, a goblins’ area (I made all the goblins here elites with the Toughness feat to reflect their association with Ridwik) with a hidden tomb, and Ridwik’s well-hidden spellbooks. On DL3., there is nothing really special (although note DL3D.), but on DL4., I placed multiple nasty surprises. First the semi-abandoned temple of Tsathoggus. This site offers a very good explanation for the Rumps’ downfall and their “bizarre eccentricities”. Involving the giant hogs wasn’t easy, but I did it and am very satisfied with the results. :) You also have an entombed vampire, and Rasping Rashuak’s quarters. His phylactery is both easier and harder to get than Ridwik’s – here, the challenge is finding it or guessing it is at the correct place.

Appendices

Handout - Brother's Tower sidecut

Handout – Brother’s Tower

Rump Family Tree: the objective with this was to give the DM/players something more than a collection of identical monsters. Many of the encounters were given slightly different abilities or outwards features. Some of the really relevant and powerful ones – liches, vampires and humans who may be interacted with – got short descriptions and roleplaying notes. I didn’t want all encounters to be automatically hostile. Even Rasping Rashuak (#39.) may be avoided if the PCs don’t rush him. Others may even become “friendly” if approached correctly.

New Monsters are self-explanatory. Common monsters were listed to avoid constantly referencing the MM. Ghosts are a separate category, and as already noted, sort of a special case.

Startling Statues: the original chart was retained, but I added another random table to generate statue features. Now here is something controversial. In JG’s Tegel, all of the statues identified as magical are completely random. I changed the majority of them to a fixed type – usually randomly generated, and than modified a bit. The results aren’t bad in my opinion, but I am a bit unsure whether fans, especially veterans will like this. What do you say?

Terrible Traps: unlike statues, I left most traps unkeyed. Types include the usual suspects but also a few of my own make (9 and up). Few of the traps are lethal, but you won’t find anything like “greenblood oil poison, lose 1d2 points of temporary Constitution” like in the DMG (what are those good for? Aggressive gnats?).

Eldritch Experiments: since there are so many places where PCs with or without the Alchemy skill can try their hands at mixing dangerous substances, I included a short two-page guideline on it. None of my players were brave enough to let me use it, though.

Finally, Rudimentary Resurrections is of course out – I doubt people even used it in 1977, and they will definitely not be doing it today.

Web enhancement stuff

Handout - Wizard's Tower

Handout – Wizard’s Tower

Right now, I am thinking of the following:
- Castles & Crusades conversion document. When word got out of Tegel, a fair number on Dragonsfoot and elsewhere expressed interest in a C&C version – in fact, the fans posting about Tegel d20 are almost all C&C people. Now I know you publish d20. Fair enough. But since I have already done the gruntwork of conversion for my own campaign, it makes sense to release a free, password-protected document with monster stats and whatnot. Good for Necro, good for the fans and good for TLG. Win-win.
- Players’ map: I have a hunch cost issues will make including this in the print version impossible. But a players’ map is very important for playing in Tegel. So either an “empty” version of the new map or a scan of the old will do. If needed, I can supply the latter in whatever resolution you need.
- Handouts. I have attached a few of the ones I made – sidecuts of the towers (found in the Lesser Library, but could be anywhere else), a letter from Ruang Rump to overconfident PCs, and a page from a chronicle. I could submit these (well, translated, of course), or how about a land deed to Tegel the players can receive at the start?

Undead Ate my Cleric! – Notes on Old School Game Design

Unlike more modern adventure modules – and not a few old ones – Tegel Manor’s encounter areas aren’t neatly separated into levels of increasing difficulty. There are more-or-less clearly identified areas that are more perilous than others, such as the Wizard’s Tower or the lower dungeons, but for the most part, it is very easy to waltz into a room that just proves to be too much for an inexperienced group. There is nothing stopping the PCs from entering the Wizard’s Tower on their first expedition, or disturbing the lair of a vampire. Random encounters are another danger, as, unlike elsewhere, they can be more – much more! – dangerous than regular rooms. They are not a minor harrasment, they are positively deadly, even if the PCs are well equipped and of a high level.

Some of these unfortunate encounters are due to simple bad luck. Accidents happen and characters die, often in great numbers. That is a natural part of the game, too, and makes for a good war story later on (and the playtesters have quite a few to tell!). But many more deaths can be attributed to insufficient caution or foolhardy exploration techniques. The primary cause of death, as demonstrated during playtest sessions, is attrition: PCs who just have to enter “one more room”, despite depleted spells and low hit points. The second is the stubborn refusal to run, even when faced with clearly superior opposition. As an old adventurer proverb says: “He who flees and runs away, lives to flee another day” – or, as we might add, return, probably reinforced by a few magic items or simple forethought the next time. Avoiding these two pitfalls are the keys to success. Even low level characters can hope to survive and obtain generous treasure and experience if they aren’t foolhardy or rash, plan their moves and turn tails when the going gets tough.

With this bit of advice out of the way, get rolling!

13 Responses to “Tegel Manor”

  1. gleepwurp:

    Hello and thanks for this… sorry I don’t know any Hungarian so I have to use English. It’s really too bad that your re-imagining of Tegel Manor did not see the light of day, but, as you say, perhaps since contemporary interests have ‘moved elsewhere,’ it would have only been of interest to a small subset of “oldschool” players (many of whom are not well inclined towards the d20 designated products anyway).
    “Undead ate my Cleric!” ought to be required reading for any younger player who is interested in how D&D was done back in the day.

  2. elGabor:

    Hi gleepwurp! No problem; this part of my site is specifically for an English-speaking audience, basically to share the anecdotes, ideas and concerns that went into material I’ve written. I like it when other people do it, so why not return the favour? Granted, the pace of posting is pretty glacial, and the only reason this post was written now was because the subject came up on TheRPGSite.

    WRT the module and its possible audience, it is interesting. I believe there once was a cross-section of “modern edition fans” and “old school fans”, but that cross-section has gradually narrowed. It is still there (even on the Hungarian forums who are hosting me, actually), but there is an unquestionable cultural divergence taking place, and an equitable compromise is less and less possible. I have long been fascinated by this changing zeitgeist, and reflected on it various posts and comments (including the infamous Tyranny of Fun essays, which were in hindsight needlessly caustic). It would have been curious to see how Tegel would have fared in that period when the schism was underway. I think it would have been polarising; today, if released for 4e, definitely a flop.

  3. Garnfellow:

    Fascinating writeup, and a great shame that this conversion never saw the light of day. It sounds like we share similar aesthetics — I used many of the same principles described above in my conversions of various White Dwarf adventures. I had been very much looking forward to your take on Tegel before reading these notes, and now I’m convinced it would have been great.

    I really mourn the dwindling of the “new edition rules, old school feel” community. I really don’t want to have to choose one or the other, but it seems that like minded folks are becoming rarer and rarer.

  4. Urban:

    This is the best thing I ever have seen from you. Just imagine what does this mean. :) I wanna playtest immediately!

  5. Sir Wulf:

    Some months ago, I had begun work on my own conversion of Tegel Manor: It’s interesting to see where we agreed and where we went in different directions.

    One design factor I had noticed was the scenario’s tendency to place particularly challenging rooms behind secret doors or other obstacles, decreasing the chance that low-level adventurers would stumble into them by chance. I had planned to use this to my advantage, making the most deadly rooms almost impossible to find without using magic or high-level characters searching.

    Because my players like solving mysteries, I began linking the mansion’s hauntings together into backstories they could discover. Random manifestations were reworked into clues to hidden tales of betrayal and corruption.

  6. Sir Wulf:

    Since my last message, I’ve run a monthly group through Tegel (using Pathfinder). Predictably, they made a beeline for the areas I had developed least, so my improvisational skills have gotten plenty of practice.

  7. elgabor:

    Cool! Fortunately, the entries in Tegel give themselves well to improvisation – it is not hard to take the basic concep, twist it and turn it a bit, and get something eminently useable. The only problem with Pathfinder may be the stats, unless you are willing to step outside the formal rules a bit. How did you handle that aspect?

  8. Sir Wulf:

    Before each session, I pregenerate some random encounters, keeping this roster of NPCs and monsters handy. I review the map, locating the traps most likely to be encountered and detailing them ahead of time. I’ve also drafted up several prominent NPCs from the manor and its environs, so I can pop them in as needed. It also helps that I know the rules well enough that I can “rough out” NPC stats in just a couple of minutes.

    There are several other resources I’ve drawn upon:
    * The wonderful Liz Courts (“Lilith” on the Paizo Boards) maintains a website filled with helpful NPCs: http://www.DMTools.org These can easily be modified to serve as allies or antagonists.
    * Paizo’s [b]Gamemastery Guide[/b] has a selection of NPC statblocks suited for various common opponents. So far, these have served as Skandik raiders, village militia, and desperate highwaymen.
    * Paizo’s [b]Pathfinder Chronicles: NPC Guide[/b] and [b]Classic Horrors Revisited[/b] have also been helpful, with useful stat blocks and ways to “tweak” undead to make them more unique.
    * I have some draft NPCs from an upcoming Werecabbages project that I was fortunate enough to assist with.

  9. elgabor:

    I see – that makes perfect sense. Back when I was still running 3.0, I was using DrSkull’s NPC cards, which were created by an ENWorld poster back in 2001 or something. They were perfect for generic NPCs, and could be tailored to fit. I had an entire spiral-bound book filled with these, with variable spell repertoires for offensive/defensive/utility-focused casters etc.

    It is not impossible to improvise stats either, but only if you are running a relatively vanilla game where you aren’t expected to supply strange NPC builds.

  10. Sir Wulf:

    One of the advantages of Pathfinder vs. 3.5 is its emphasis on keeping the core builds competitive. Prestige classes and odd builds are applied more for thematic emphasis than tactical superiority. That lets me build a straight fighter (perhaps adding an archetype) who holds his own against weird, mutted-out builds. If I need a more complicated NPC, I pregenerate him or hit my “library”.

    I’ve also found Pathfinder’s “haunts” to be a good system for simulating some ghostly manifestations. The players enjoy figuring out how to lay these threats to rest.

    Some of the Manor’s traps encountered so far:
    * A largely-empty strongroom was lined with stone shelves that once held journals and documents considered sensitive by the Rumps. A complex conjuration focus was carved into the far wall. Anyone attempting to steal documents from the room summoned an air elemental. Tasked with preventing theft, the frustrated elemental attempted to kill anyone in the area.
    * An amateurish booby-trap set in one doorway attempted to strike those passing through with an alchemical silver axe. This one was actually set by one of Sir Runic’s men in hopes of slaying one of the mansion’s undead.
    * A hall’s floor was thickly covered with dirt, with a pit dug in the center. 40 feet down, a lone ghast patiently dug, periodically carrying baskets of earth to the top by climbing a knotted rope hanging from the pit’s side. Unfortunately, the hole was none too stable: Those standing at the edge needed to save (Reflex DC 13) or fall as the floor under them collapsed into the pit. The ghast had little patience for those who knocked dirt and debris into his pit.
    * A jumble of decrepit body parts lay heaped in one chamber, dumped out of their coffins. Their angry owners manifested as a haunt, forming a choking cloud of dust and bone fragments. To lay them to rest, the parts had to be resorted into their respective sarcophagi.

  11. ynas_midgard:

    After playing at Véletlen Találkozások III., I am most certain that this could have been one of the best modules published for d20, including Rappan Athuk and the Wilderlands stuff. I would so believe in fairy tales and hope…

  12. Mad Dr Mark:

    Dear Gabor Lux,

    First of all, I wanted to thank you for all the work you have done in the past decade for keeping the spirit of the old JG games alive. Sadly, Necromancer Games seems to have lost interest in pursuing the line, and with Mr. Bledsaw gone, I worry that JG will pass into the happy memories of us older gamers. I regret that your work on the Tegel Manor conversion never saw light of day. Is there any way I could see your notes (for personal enjoyment only)? Or, better still, might there be some way to secure a license from the current holders to publish them as an e-book?

    Many thanks,
    Mad Dr Mark

  13. elgabor:

    Dear Mark,

    thank you for writing, and your kind comment! I believe Judges Guild is still set to release their planned supplements, such as The City State of Tula and Night of the Living Rumps, a sequel to Tegel Manor. As for me, I have a plan to publish my part of the manuscript in a different form (i.e. significantly rewritten and made entirely independent of Tegel). Actually, a good deal of the content I wrote for this project has been published in this way in the recent hardcover edition of Rappan Athuk by Frog God Games (as Cloister of the Frog God). I wish to release the Manor part in a similar way, and have an outline to work with, but it will need a fair amount of time to finish.

    Please contact me at gabor dot lux at gmail, though, we may just arrange something…

    Best,
    Gabor