• Fantasy
  • Terrain
  • Updates

Running The King Under the Hill Scenario with the Battle Systems Tavern

1st November 2023

Running The King Under the Hill Scenario with the Battle Systems Tavern

This post is part of a series about building terrain for encounters from the D&D Adventurer magazine: you can read our guide to the second encounter: The Forgotten Vault here.

If you’re new to Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), or roleplaying games in general, then the new Adventurer magazine makes getting started a little easier. The first issue gives you the essentials to get playing your first games, from ready-made characters to a full set of dice (probably the first of many going by the dice-buying compulsion shared by most players). Even if D&D isn’t your thing and you prefer other systems, like Savage Worlds or Pathfinder, the cost of the first few issues is low enough that the general tips provided, and freebies like the dice make it tempting to pick up.

The King Under the Hill Adventure

Also included in each issue is a short adventure with all the background, maps, and stats that you need to play. The first of these is the King Under the Hill which combines the tropes of the party meeting in a tavern, with a twist on the classic rats in the basement encounter. It begins with the inn of D&D’s default starter settlement of Phandalin under siege by swarms of the creatures. These rats are acting with more purpose than you’d expect from mere animals and are clearly on the hunt for something more than supper.

With the adventure and the tools in the magazine, you have all you really need. Grab some friends, some pens and paper, and start having fun!

Terrain for the King Under the Hill Adventure

When you’re ready to take your games to the next level you can start to invest in miniatures and terrain to bring your adventures to life. If you do you’ll find that our immersive, modular, durable, and easy-to-store fantasy terrain is a great solution. (It’s also worth watching this space for the launch of our new fantasy miniatures game, Maladum: Dungeons of Enveron, for miniatures and terrain too).

Creating the inn for the King Under the Hill Adventure

The Battle Systems Fantasy Tavern is a great match for the Sword Coast setting, and the adventure can be run easily using it with some minor amendments to the map.

For this scenario, you can place the encounters inside the Battle Systems Tavern terrain in broadly the same areas as shown on the map from the magazine. In this example, we’ve also used an outbuilding that comes with the set to act as the privy where the party can meet the terrified halfling.

The Basement

The Tavern terrain set doesn’t contain a basement, so we recommend lifting out the floor tiles and using them to represent the ale cellar when the players go down there. Just make sure you mark or clearly describe the trapdoor in the bar area that leads down into the cellar so that your players know it is there.

This post is part of a series about building terrain for encounters from the D&D Adventurer magazine: you can read our guide to the second encounter: The Forgotten Vault here.

Tips for running the King Under the Hill adventure

OK, so you’ve set up your terrain and lined up your players for their first game, what next? We’ve summoned Ben, our resident Dungeon Master, to share his tips for running the King Under the Hill:

Running your first games as a Dungeon Master (DM) can be a little intimidating, but here’s the secret: your players are going to have fun even if you muddle up a few rules here and there. Just focus on keeping the game moving forward. The Adventurer magazine has a lot of useful tips, one of the best being to make rulings on the fly if you don’t know the answer. You can then tell your players that you’ll look it up later so it you can do it right next time. This keeps things moving, which keeps things fun and interesting.

In addition to these, there are a few more tips that I’d add to help you get the most out of your session:

1) Start in the middle of the action

The scenario recommends beginning with the Player Characters (PCs) arriving and choosing to go inside the inn, then having a conversation. This comes with the slight risk that they won’t go inside at all, or run off in separate directions!

Firstly, with newer players in particular, I’d recommend having your characters start off being a group that knows each other well already. I’d probably do this before the game so that it’s sorted before you begin. Running a game as a new DM is a bit of a challenge without one party member deciding they aren’t going to work with the others because they don’t like them for some reason!

Secondly I’d start in the middle of the action as it makes for a more exciting launch to your session. I’d begin with your PCs already inside the Common Room, let the players have them interact with each other and the Non-Player Character (NPCs) for a little while – if they are enjoying it -but kick off the action as soon as it starts dragging. Describe the crashing of smashed jugs as the rats pour into the kitchen and the shouts of terror from outside, also show the strange behaviour of the rats as they swarm in. Then jump into the action by asking your players how they want to react…

2) Add flavour

The scenario works well overall, and it is nice and simple, but it lacks a little flavour for my taste. The character that your players can meet are pretty bland as written, so I’d add some more colourful NPCs and details to make the players care more about what is going on. This is meant to be fantasy after all.

It’s up to you how crazy you go, but in my games, the innkeeper is literally a barman, as he was transformed into the bar by a spiteful wizard. He seems to have adjusted over the years and it is supported by his wife who serves the food and drinks. Can you add some entertaining NPCs? Maybe a spectacularly untalented bard is performing? Or two characters are arguing about who can drink the most, whilst quietly getting out drunk by a surprisingly resilient gnome. It’s up to you if you want to do silly voices or not, it’s not something all DMs enjoy or are good at so it’s fine to just describe things.

Little details also help bring the location to life. What does the room smell like, can you hear the rain splattering on the windows, how does the worn old chair feel to sit in after a long day on the road?   What is the food like? Is it delicious or terrible? In my version they are known for their pies at this inn, such as a dubious meat pie, the slightly more expensive named-meat pie, and the extra spicy pie (which you get a refund on if you can finish it).

3) Squishy Characters

Characters are very fragile at first level in D&D. A swarm or rats might not seem like much, but they have a decent pool of hit points, and attacks that do 2d6 damage can be a real danger to level one characters. It can potentially kill a weaker character in one shot and your party probably won’t have many of the tools to fix it at their current level. Even worse, the swarm is resistant to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing – which are the types of damage your players will mostly be inflicting. Make sure your players know this going into the fight, and maybe make it easy to find the healing potion early on.

4) Brightblade

The sword that the players get as a reward is decent. The fact that its attacks count as magical for dealing damage to foes that are otherwise resistant is probably as useful as the +1. However, it’s easy for your players to unimpressed with ‘just a +1 sword’ but owning one should feel cool – I’d have elves that they meet offer more respect to them when they see it, and perhaps an enemy will want to take it off them for the ability it gives to find those hidden cities.

Other Games and Maladum

D&D is the best-known tabletop roleplaying game, but it isn’t to everyone’s taste. Luckily there are lots of other games suitable for a fantasy setting (and many other settings too) that have different approaches. Some focus more on narrative and others more on tighter rules, so you might find one that is closer to your taste if you look around. The scenarios in the Adventurer magazine are obviously designed with the D&D 5th Edition rules in mind, but they can be adapted pretty easily to other rule sets. So, if you love the idea of the scenario, but are less of a fan of the rules you might want to take a look at other systems like Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, or Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

Another option will be our new fantasy miniatures game Maladum: Dungeons of Enveron, which combines the best bits of roleplaying games and board games. The terrain, miniatures, and rules that come with the game could easily be adapted to run this scenario solo or with friends. If that sounds good to you, watch this space for the launch in 2024.