Prepping for The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh

Following Brian’s suggestion I have taken the haunted house from The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh as the basis of my haunted house. We are going to play this on the 16th so it is time to finalise my prep.

You can see, but probably not read my hand writing, that I am doing my usual sprinkling of post-it notes.

The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh
A highlighted page from the module

Noting the Encounters

The top post-it has just enough details for me to run an encounter with the snake(s). The original module had just a single poisonous snake at this point but I have swapped that out and made it a pair of vipers.  The note reads 2x Vipers and then just enough details from Creatures and Treasures, the level, Mv, hits, AT, DB and OB etc. The block handing down below are the details of the poison taken from Character Law about the type and effect of the poison.

In this way I have saved myself two book look ups just by copying the core details onto the page. From a prepping point of view it takes very little time to write out just a single note so I can do a page or two each time I take a tea break.

Keeping track of Experience

The other thing that is popular is the game journal. We play so infrequently that the chances of remembering every step or clue in the game from one session to the next is almost nil. By taking my post-its off the page when they are finished with, the combat done or the NPC encountered. I can move them to where I keep my journal notes. I also use that for experience; so the details of the fight or however the vipers in this case were circumvented goes with the note into the journal.

As I am converting from one system to another there are a lot of changes to make to a bought module such as this but no more than if I was writing an adventure myself. The point is that I cam looking up the rules that will be called into play now rather than at the gaming table.

What to convert?

The sort of things I have noting are:

  • Converting D&D Potions into Rolemaster Herbs where possible.
  • Converting Monsters over to Rolemaster creatures if they exist, if not I am doing a manual conversion.
  • Creating NPCs as RM characters.
  • Checking and inserting the rules for poisons, diseases and traps.
  • Setting difficulty factors for traps, locks and manoeuvres.
  • Converting money from D&D to the Rolemaster decimal system.

Funnily enough it is the conversion of the magical items into RM herbs or into RM spell effects that makes the biggest difference to the feel of the game. D&D just does not have the herb culture and being able to smoothly integrate the herbs into the setting where they did not exist before works well. Conversely Rolemaster does not have a potion culture like D&D so by toning the use of poisons down helps.

In the current adventure there is a ring of protection +1 to be had fairly easily. We all know these from our D&D backgrounds but again they are not a Rolemaster ‘thing’. In the game as it will be played it will be a Ring (Daily III item casting Blur). They are not exactly the same but the trade off is that the ring of protection is a constant effect item that would give +5DB but I am giving away a +10DB but can only be used three times a day for short periods.

It is little tweaks like this that make the module feel like it is native Rolemaster rather than converted D&D.

It is the potted rule lookups on the page where they are needed that save time at the table.

The monster stats on the page with any special rules to run them that helps speed up combat. As I have said before for NPCs I note down the general plan for the first three rounds of combat and if or not they would try to escape and how.

Keeping it Sinister

Finally I have one other type of post-it on these pages. I am using them to remind me to lay on the atmosphere. This is meant to be a haunted house. With all the ideas I have to use from the 100 Creepy things books ( ) I want to lay on the spooky effects. This is not intended to be a dungeon crawl and these little reminders are there to reinforce that point.

Too Much Treasure?

In a recent game I was in the party was walking around with something like 70,000gp in Diamond Notes (the Shadow World solution to mass currency transport). Depending on how you value a Gold Piece* that is the modern equivelant of between £8.3M and £350M ($13M – $539M) in cash. That was the cash surplus after four months of adventuring and treasure hoarding.

The first question is how much money do adventurers actualy need? They could retire quite happily and live out a life of luxury on that sort of money but then they would not be adventurers if they did that sort of thing. As a GM it sometimes becomes necessary to drain money from the players economy. One way is the herbalism method.

Imagine the scene, the party approach the doors of a remote monastry towards the end of their day firsst day in the foot hills. They ask for rest for the night which is given as well as food for their horses. While they are walking the grounds in the evening the players notice that there is an extensive herb garden. Furthermore they notice that the monks are growing some of the rarest herbs. Remembering the golden rule of “What the GM giveth the GM can taketh away” you let the party buy a quantity of otherwise rare herbs. Things like Ul-Naza. It is leaf that you eat and it is a natural antidote to any poison. The book price is 430gp a dose but what the monks charge is up to you. Other useful herbs that are expensive are things like Baalak that repairs shattered bones and Hugburtun that stops all bleeding. One dose of each of those is about 1,000gp. Vulcurax is a life giving herb and costs 1,000gp on its own.

So the party top up on some herbs before setting out to find the mountain pass. The next morning they somehow manage to upset a manticore and take a right kicking but luckily enough they had the means to cure the shattered bones, severed arteries and treat the poison barbs. It is just as well they had those herbs! If the party didn’t want to buy the herbs then of course they are now in deep trouble and may well have to turn back to the monastry to recover at which point you are not ony buying the herbs but also paying for the expertise in applying them.

At the end of the exchange I would always leave the party up on the exchange and having a dose of a life giving herb in the parties supplies is always useful but it also helps drain away some of that excess money. You could of course tell the party that they will be traversing Manticore Pass and the party may well choose to stock up on antidote before they even set out.

I like robust parties that I can give a real kicking to but they survive and win through. Herbs that are only really useful after the fight mean that you can really let rip during the combat knowing that you are not going to ruin the chances of completing the overall quest. When the party do win in the end, defeat the villain, rescue the damsel and so on they know it was because of their planning and ability and not because the GM spoon fed them. I used to play under a GM who would beat you down to 1hp and then suddenly no one could hit you and you would eventually win. It was obvious that the dice rolls were being skewed and it took the fun away from the game so some degree.

You don’t have to leave the party paupers and in fact most will not spend themselves down to the last tin piece but consumeables like herbs are a good way of lightening the purse of some of that excess treasure.


*I read somewhere in one of the RM sourcebooks that a typical peasant has an annual income of about 2gp a year. If you consider the National Minimum wage as ‘peasant income’ then 1gp equal £5000 and dividing down then a 1 Tin Piece is just 50p. On the other hand if you see a peasant income as those people surviving on a dollar a day then one Gold Piece would be worth £118 ($183) and a Tin Piece would be a Penny (nearly 2¢).