Converting the Night Below

Overall, Night Below is a lot of fun.As I mentioned previously, I just finished a long-term play-through of Night Below: An Underdark Campaign. I started running this in the fall of 2008 using D&D 3.5 edition with some elements of the Pathfinder beta test mixed in. Eventually, I converted the game wholesale into Pathfinder.

While I modified the campaign a lot, there are still a lot of things I learned about this product. Night Below is one of the few classic adventures from the 2nd edition AD&D days, and if you’re planning on converting it to a modern D&D or Pathfinder edition, here’s some things I would suggest keeping in mind:

The first book is the strongest. The first third of the campaign is covered in The Evils of Haranshire, which is the only part of the campaign that actually doesn’t take place almost entirely underground. The first book details the land of Haranshire and provides a gradual introduction to the unfolding aboleth plot. This is extremely successful, as it helps give the setting some local color and also makes the long campaign feel organic. I honestly don’t know why there aren’t more products like this, introducing a small campaign area and then a bunch of adventures in that mini-setting. If you want a shorter campaign, it would be pretty easy to modify the game to end at the culmination of this first book. It would be especially easy to run a heroic-tier only 4th edition D&D game just dealing with the problems around Haranshire.

You can do plenty with just four players, at least early on. The introduction to the game suggests that you should have as many as eight players, and that if the party is under six PCs then they will need a lot of NPC help. This might have been true in the 2nd edition days, but 3rd edition and higher PCs tend to have better survivability at lower levels. I got by the early stuff just fine with two PCs and a pair of henchmen. Later in the game, the group did balloon in size to about eight different characters, so it’s hard for me to say how well you can get by with a smaller group in the late parts of the campaign.

You might need to tweak advancement. In 2nd edition, it took forever to advance at low levels, but you picked up levels more easily at the high end of the game, as monster XP values increased while the XP needed to level remained flat. Later editions reverse this, so you rocket up the first few levels quickly and then slow down. Doing so unfortunately results in missing a lot of the fun mini-adventures in the first book. For Pathfinder players, I would recommend running this campaign using the slow XP track and adding in lots of side-quests. D&D players might need to reduce the amount of XP players receive early on.

The amount of treasure given out is insane. Night Below uses the “treasure for XP” optional rule from AD&D, where every gold piece of treasure collected equaled 1 XP. That means that there is a lot of treasure given out, especially late in the game when the PCs are supposed to be leveling up for the end battle. I wound up reducing the coinage in treasure hoards by 90%, but I also run a pretty low-magic campaign. I would recommend cutting down on the treasure given out, although it can be useful if you want to make magic item crafting a big focus of the game.

The second book is a bit slow. The weakest point of the campaign is probably in Book Two. In that book, the campaign commits what I consider to be a major sin in RPGs: it gives the PCs an end objective (the destruction of the City of the Glass Pool), but then tells them that they need more XP to accomplish it. While the first book did a good job of integrating the story with the level advancement of the PCs, this book gets lazy and just tells the PCs to go hunting for XP. That puts too much emphasis on the game mechanics and makes the setting a bit too transparent for my liking. In 3rd edition games, you might also hit a point where the PCs stop advancing against the enemies they’re facing, since weaker monsters don’t give higher-level characters XP awards. To get around this problem, I cut out some of the more monotonous combat areas and added some quests that took place back in Haranshire. I also beefed up some of the enemies, turning the cavern of grell into a cavern full of gauth beholders (with a full-grown beholder as the boss – who admittedly got plot-killed as a way to introduce the rockseer elves.)

Lots of black puddings make people hungry. There is one cavern in the second book that is filled with black puddings and other slimes. In midgame we had to pause to make some chocolate pudding. It was the grossest and yet most delicious dungeon I’ve ever seen.

Classic Horrors Revisited makes the derro awesome. One of the players in this campaign was a latecomer whose PC had been captured by the derro and who joined the group when she was freed. Coincidentally, I also happened to be reading Classic Horrors Revisited around this time, which has an entry on derro. Using some of the flavor from this book, I managed to have a lot of fun with these little guys. I temporarily drove the PC nuts when she had a flashback of the derro cutting out her eye to see how it manages to see so well in the daylight and then surgically repairing it. Good times.

Paladins may have a tough time. I actually had two paladins in the game, but I also had Pathfinder‘s loosening up of the paladin code to get by. If you’re using 3rd edition D&D, which prevents paladins from allying with evil creatures, you will need to add some non-evil factions somewhere. As it is, possible allies include creatures like mind flayers, derro, and demons, but very few good-aligned creatures.

I really don’t like the very end. The campaign culminates in an attack on Great Shaboath, the stronghold of the aboleth. This is a pretty big badass battle, with all the allies of the PCs pitching in. It also involves some battles that are pretty high above the PCs’ heads, including an 18th-level spellcaster (who isn’t even the last baddie, and who I cut out entirely). But that’s not really the problem. My problem is the way that D&D in general tends to make spellcasters more special than other classes. I’m not talking about power levels, but rather the fact that everything in the D&D world caters to spellcasters. In this case, the PCs have to bring down multiple magical towers by overloading them with spells. That means that non-casters really don’t get to do anything at that point in the game other than watch the spellcasters be awesome. That’s also not to mention the fact that the PCs have to pump a whole lot of spells into the towers. I cut this by allowing the towers to be physically torn down, which still left the spellcasters tossing damage spells at the things while the rest of the group fought off baddies, but at least it gave the rest of the group a chance to handle things if they wanted to (or if the spellcasters got incapacitated or killed).

Overall, Night Below is a really fun campaign and is one of the better D&D adventures I’ve run. It has a lot of fun combat situations combined with some excellent role-playing opportunities. There are a couple of issues here and there, but it’s a fun campaign as a whole. Also, it’s pretty easy to convert into another edition with just a little work.

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5 Responses to “Converting the Night Below”

  1. Nice article. I am currently running the same campaign. It seems like about halfway down the long passage it looses sight of about what xp level the party should be. They lost a few levels fighting the shadow dragon but its a large party of well endowed PCs. 7th to 10th, 7 players. They are beefy so they probably play a level or 2 above their current level. About what should be the party strength heading past the cave of the slime lord? The party leveled up fast so I skipped many of the side adventures in the first book and am now revisiting them but It is hard to find modules to fit. Currently I have them investigating the Rock Dale area on Palferys orders. I have 3 main areas set up in that area they are currently on area 1. It is just a random 1 lvl dungeon set up full of extra planer stuff appropriate to 7th lvl. I have an evil deity after my priest because of a deal she cut with him in an earlier adventure in the Elhold area. (orc temple taken from orcs of Thar Gezateer). I have a Bugbear lair from book of lairs 2 (6th lvl) cake walk. and then a Hill giant stronghold from a 70s module (9th lvl) I was planing on making the Bugbears the slaves of the Giants raiding farms, wood cutting camps and the trade rout between Milbourne and Thurmaster. does it sound like I am on the right track here?

    • Sounds good to me. Book 2 is where I deviated from the plot quite a bit until the characters reached the City of the Glass Pool.

      Given a chance to do it again, I would probably use the Pathfinder slow advancement chart for XP so the PCs could get more opportunities to explore the early adventures around Haranshire.

  2. Would you be willing to share your notes on your conversion? I’m currently thinking about using the night below for a campaign using pathfinder.

    • I’d be happy to answer questions, but I unfortunately don’t have much in the way of notes. I tend to run off the cuff quite a bit and don’t do a lot in terms of preparation.

  3. There are several adventures found in a few issues of Dungeon Magazine that are specifically designed to be used with Night Below. “Shards of the Day” (Issue #60), “Swing Shot!” (Issue #66), “Uzaglu of the Underdark” (Issue #67) and “Kingdom of the Ghouls” (Issue #70, also see the “Ecology of the Ghoul” article in Dragon Magazine #252). The adventures “Boulder Dash” (Issue #70) and “Unexpected Guests” (Issue #78) are also good additions to Night Below.

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