Archive for September 2011

Annotated A2: Secret of the Slaver’s Stockade

TITLE

A2 – Secret of the Slaver’s Stockade

AUTHORS

Harold Johnson with Tom Moldvay

SYNOPSIS

After defeating the slavers in Highport (A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity), the adventurers discover a map of the slave route. The trail leads to a stockade where the adventurers uncover an extensive hidden slave operation within a ruined hilltop fort.

PLOT

Head of the Snake – Some organization is causing problems for the locals. The players must track the bad guys back to the source and eliminate the threat.

SETTING

A ruined hill fort and the dungeon complex below.

MONSTERS

The fort is primarily populated by hobgoblins. The dungeon level tips the monster count scale toward goblins.

hobgoblin (208), goblin (143), caveling (62), giant rat (29), gnoll (28), horse (25), orc (25), dog (20), worg (18), wolf (17), bugbear (12), kobold (10), boar (9), stag (8), ogre (7), ape (7), boggle (6), ghoul (6), oxen (6), half-orc (5), werewolf (5), bear (4), wereboar (4), ogre mage (4), giant centipede (4), hill giant (3), griffon (3), wight (3), viper (3), elf (3), haunt (2), giant spider (2), owlbear (2), cave spider (2), anhkheg (1), madman (1), cloaker (1), halfling (1), badger (1), medusa (1), cave beetle (1), cave lizard (1), minotaur (1)

NOTABLE NPCS

This module features a fair number of NPCs. The most important characters are listed first, followed by a few less significant characters that I thought were entertaining.

Markessa (p 27), “a small female elf with ivory white skin, golden hair and an evil slant to her amber eyes.” Markessa is the leader of the Slave Lord’s operation in this area. She carries out vile experiments on slaves in her mad quest to create the “perfect slave.”

Gulyet (p 21), a goblin witchdoctor and apprentice to Markessa. Gulyet wears a special whistle that can be used to sound an alarm or summon a large white wolf.

Blackthorn (p 30), the captain of the guard and treasurer. Blackthorn outwardly appears as a tall, gaunt human, but is actually a polymorphed ogre mage. Blackthorn detests Markessa and her cruel experiments, but needs a good excuse to remove her as leader of the profitable slaving operation. Blackthorn will work with the players if he can convince them to do his dirty work, but will betray them as soon as they adventurers have dealt with Markessa.

Icar (p 19), the fort commander, second in command to Markessa. Icar is a 7 foot tall, black human adorned in black platemail and a helm with no eye holes. Blind from birth, Icar learned at a monastery to use his others senses to compensate. Icar’s chosen blade is a two-handed sword called “Death’s Master”.

Executioner (p 18), an ogre second in command to Icar the fort commander. The ogre is dressed in black chainmail and wears and black executioner’s hood. Executioner wields a special bastard sword with curved hooks at the cross guard which he uses to disarm his opponents.

Estelrath Tancred (p 18), a slave merchant waiting on a shipment. Markessa created his caveling guards, Cari and Filch. The pair were once elves, but bear little resemblance to their old forms. Cari has large hands and a tail with a stinger. Filch has a prehensile tail and likes to attack by jumping on a victim’s back, wrapping its legs around it and stabbing with two daggers; one gripped in its hands and one in its tail.

Lady Morwin Elissar (p 5), escaped slave. She pretends to be a “lady of quality”, but is actually low born. “She tends to be hysterical when threatened (50% chance of crying out and perhaps fainting), which will alert guards to the party’s whereabouts.” Stupid women always fainting and stuff. I think it has something to do with their baby-making parts.

Mouth (p 31), a dull-witted caveling that is the result of Markessa’s experimentation. Mouth got his nickname because “he remembers the tongue of the outside world.” Mouth has no legs, but has learned to walk swiftly on his hands. Mouth warns the other cavelings when intruders are around by making hooting sounds.

NOTES

• The detail of every room is exquisite, especially on the upper fort level. The level of detail would not be useful on the fly while running a game, but I found the details memorable enough that the read-alone text reminded me of the information I had read earlier.

• The fort level has an interesting map layout. After passing the front wall, the second section is broken in a east and west wing. The third section winds unnaturally forcing the players into a strange, spiraling linear path.

• The sounds of crickets are referred to repeatedly in the opening. It adds great color. I liked how the crickets stop chirping when the anhkheg is about to strike. I need to use something like this in one of my adventures.

• There so much alarm sounding that its often not clear who is alerted by an alarm or why after the first time an alarm is sounded that the entire complex isn’t called to arms. I think for this sort of stealth-based style of play, there needs to be specifically alert areas defined. If an alarm is sounded, creatures from these rooms answer the call.

• Several maps can be found that lead the players to the next adventure (A3: Assault of the Aerie of the Slave Lords) ensuring the players get a clue before they complete the adventure.

1c. Gatehouse Inner Room (p 6) – The cat knocks a crate onto the floor alerting a guard. God damn, cats! They’re all the same.

2e. East Guard Post (p 7) – The opening takes a trippy turn pretty quickly when the “song of the crickets take on the din of a distant battle”. Pretty cool – albeit bizarre – idea.

9a. Gatehouse Wall Walks (p 10) – Boggles are chained to the gatehouse wall as watch dogs. They can see invisible creatures and will wail if they see any intruders. A few pages later a hobgoblin guard has boggle on a leash. This created vivid imagery for me. Like! +1

15. The Empty Room (p 10) – In the long history of empty rooms, this is one of the best. When the players enter the room, the see a ghostly figure and hear moaning. The ghost is actually a billowy curtain and the moans are the wind in the chimney.

16. Madman’s Lair (p 12-13) – An escaped slave, tortured to the point of madness by the slavers, has taken over this area of the fort. The madman has driven off the hobgoblins with traps and gimmicks that have convinced the hobgoblins the area is haunted. The entire madman section is amazing. He’s the John Rambo of squatters. His weapon of choice is the noose which he drops down on the neck’s of the unsuspecting. This is a perfect sub-plot.

25. Room of Slaves (p 16) – A roomful of slaves being made docile by a cloaker. The original cloaker has some interesting powers. It can disguise itself as a normal cloak. It has multiple eyes on its back and a mace tail. It emits different subsonic moans that can cause fear and incapacitate. It can also manipulate shadows to throw in an enemies face and create mirror images of itself. The cloaker is also known as a “Tenebra Complexor” which means something like “shadow embracer” in Latin.

33. Servant’s Quarters (p 18) – Goblins and kobolds are drinking beer and betting on a match between fight between a halfling armed with a table leg and a badger. I hope it’s not a honey badger because honey badger don’t give a shit.

36. Cook’s Quarters (p 19) – The bedroom is a mess but apparently empty. The half-orc cook is hiding under the bed with a dagger waiting to stab anyone who looks under the bed. This is completely true. My cousin’s friend told me last year at the Winter Festival, a half-orc was hiding under wagons and cutting people’s ankles and stealing their presents. All I’m saying is LOOK under your wagon before you get in.

2. Entry Hall (p 21) Giant magnet trap pulls metal weapons and armor against the wall.

5. Storeroom (p 22) – Another brilliant empty room. Faint hissing sounds turn out to be 2 inch long cockroaches.

13. Alchemist’s secret storeroom (p 25) – A gas trap causes everyone to hallucinate that the person who triggered the trap is an efreet wielding a flaming sword. The effects wears off after about as many rounds as it takes for the party to grind their former teammate into hamburger meat. Lulz.

16. Beehives (p 25-26) Bee keeping… in a dungeon. Scoff! Indeed.

The Caves (p 31-32) – “The Caves” section is a great side trek. The caves are home to a society of escaped caveling, the mutated byproducts of Markessa’s experiments. Every caveling is afflicted with a madness that determines their place in society. For example. homicidal maniacs move to the Hunter’s camp. If the players are non-threatening, the caveling may befriend them, then soon after attempt to surgically alter them into caveling. Communicating with caveling is difficult since they are all insane and speak only in grunts and shrieks.

28s. Slave Cells (p 33) – “Three men and a woman. The woman is desperate to survive and return home and is prepared to do whatever is necessary to reach that goal.” I’m starting to think Harold Johnson was just Moldvay’s joke pen name. Harry Johnson? Nevermind.

30a. Markessa’s Double’s Chambers (p 33) – Markessa has created a brain-washed body double through magical experimentation. There is a chance the double will resist her programming which is to lead the adventurers into a trap.

31. Bodyguard’s Exercise Room (p 33-34)- The elf bodyguard is the product of another of Markessa’s experiments. She reshaped a puny, ugly elf into a svelt fighting machine and trained it to love her. Unfortunately, the bodyguard fell in love with Markessa’s double instead. No expense has been spared in outfitting the bodyguard with the training equipment he needs, including “a goose down matress for exercise sessions with Markessa.” Sadly, the bodyguard can only stare wistfully into the middle distance thinking of Markessa’s exact duplicate while banging the gorgeous slave lord. The heart wants what the heart wants.

Please add your own comments on the module below. Memorable moment’s from actual games would be great too. Hopefully, these annotations will become a resource for future game designers’ study.

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Annotated A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity

TITLE

A1 – Slave Pits of the Undercity

AUTHORS

David Cook

SYNOPSIS

Sea-faring slavers are ravaging coastal towns and villages. The slavers are using Highport as a base of operations. The adventurers must stop them.
An escaped slave has given information on a ruined temple entrance on the outskirts of the city.

PLOT

Head of the Snake – Some organization is causing problems for the locals. The players must track the bad guys back to the source and eliminate the threat.

SETTING

A ruined temple compound and the sewers beneath it.

MONSTERS

The predominant monster in this module is the orc. The number of encounters involving dopplegangers borders on the ridiculous; to the point that I was surprised one of the dopplegangers wasn’t actually a doppleganger in disguise.

orc (159), giant ant (38), half-orc (34), aspis (22), ghoul (21), stirge (20), giant rat (20), human (16), zombie (12), skeleton (12), harpy (8), giant weasel (7), doppleganger (6), crocodile (6), ogre (5), basilisk (4), wight (1), sundew (1), green slime (1), gray ooze (1), troll (1)

NOTABLE NPCS

This is a tournament module so the adventure is pretty straight-forward: Kick in the door; Kill everything or avoid the trap; Repeat. Other than a freed slave that may join your team, there is not much non-player characterization.

NOTES

• Random encounter tables include the maximum number of a creature. Unless the party leaves the area, the monsters do not replenish their ranks. For example, on the Wall Encounter Table, a roll of 8 indicates 1-4 harpies. Say you encounter 3 harpies in a random encounter and later you encounter the harpies again. There can only be 1 harpy because the maximum is 4.(pg 2-3).

• As noted above, there is a comically high number of dopplegangers.

• The Temple Chamber encounter (pg 10) is interesting. A evil cleric and her half-orc guards stand before a gigantic statue of a one-eyed orc lofting a a sword above its head. A troll “made tiny by a potion of diminution” is hidden inside a poorbox and springs out after battle ensues. I love these sorts of non-sequiturs in an encounter (as long as they aren’t over done.) They usually make a fight memorable. “And then a miniature troll leaps out of the poorbox, grows to full size in mid-air and claws your back!” “Uh! Ooo-kay.”

• The False Drum (pg 14) is a unique dungeon feature designed apparently to waylay the misophonic and obsessive compulsive. A giant overturned cask makes a a repetitive sound resonate through the sewer whenever a water drop strikes it. If the cask is moved, the sounds stops which alerts intelligent creatures that someone is in the area.

• The Slave Lord’s Den (pg 18) paints a very quirky scene. The Slave Lord decided to situate his office right next to a moat of raw sewage. When intruders arrive, he orders his five trained giant weasels to leap over the sewage moat and attack while his ten orc guards pepper you with crossbow bolts. The Slave Lord then runs behind a crate and drinks a potion of invisibility so he can get in position to back stab. The crates of rations and supplies are for a slave caravan… stored next to an open pit of raw sewage. “Hey Thrask! Does this jerky smell funny to you?”

• Giant weasels and floaters aside, the ending is a let down. Among the Slave Lord’s supplies you discover a map of the slave caravan route that leads you to the next adventure, A2: Secret of the Slaver’s Stockade. Alas, your princess is in another castle.

Please add your own comments on the module below. Memorable moment’s from actual games would be great too. Hopefully, these annotations will become a resource for future game designer’s study.

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Annotating Every 1st Edition D&D Adventure

A while ago I had a great idea for a new campaign I was planning on. All the players would start out as hardened criminals incarcerated in a maximum security prison mine deep inside a mountain. The adventure started with a prison break. The characters would start out practically naked with no weapons in a hostile environment. Giant spiders and other hideous creatures could leap on them at any moment as they were pursued by guards. I thought my idea was so original and was jabbering away to one of my DM buddies. He said, “Cool idea. Sounds just like In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords.” I had to admit I had no idea what he was talking about. The cruelest cut? I have had A4 sitting unread in my gaming bookshelf for years.

I decided right then I would have to go back and become familiar with every classic adventure I could. I love designing monsters and writing adventures. I really need a better understanding of the classic adventures that have been written over the years.

I started out trying to cheat. I pulled a list of all the 1st edition D&D adventures that TSR released from Dragonsfoot and read the wikipedia pages to get an overview of the plot, but that was ultimately unfulfilling. I really wanted the details of the characters and the encounters in the story. I just wasn’t finding it.

I decided finally I just had to bite the bullet and read all the adventures for myself. I’m starting out with the entire 1st edition TSR catalog of D&D adventures. My goal is to create an annotation for every adventure and share it on my blog. Each post will be a cliff notes version of the module including plot summary, major NPCs and memorable encounters. I’m sure I’m not the only adventure designer out there that would find this information useful. Assuming I can beg, borrow or steal a copy of each adventure, I’ll post a annotation. I’ll keep the list on this post updated with links.

A SERIES

A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity
A2: Secret of the Slavers Stockade
A3: Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords
A4: In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords

C SERIES

C1: Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan (Greyhawk)
C2: Ghost Tower of Inverness (Greyhawk)
C3: Lost Island of Castanamir
C4: To Find a King
C5: Bane of Llywelyn
C6: Official RPGA Tournament Handbook

CB SERIES (Conan)

CB1: Conan Unchained (Conan the Barbarian)
CB2: Conan Against Darkness (Conan the Barbarian)

GDQ SERIES

G1: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief
G2: Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl
G3: Hall of the Fire Giant King
D1: Descent into the Depths of the Earth
D2: Shrine of the Kuo-Tua
D3: Vault of the Drow
Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits

EX SERIES

EX1: Dungeonland (Wonderland)
EX2: Land Beyond the Magic Mirror (Wonderland)

H SERIES

H1: Bloodstone Pass (Forgotten Realms)
H2: Mines of Bloodstone (Forgotten Realms)
H3: Bloodstone Wars (Forgotten Realms)
H4: Throne of Bloodstone (Forgotten Realms)

I SERIES

I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City (Greyhawk)
I2: Tomb of the Lizard King
I3: Pharaoh (Forgotten Realms)
I4: Oasis of the White Palm (Forgotten Realms)
I5: Lost Tomb of Martek (Forgotten Realms)
I6: Ravenloft (Ravenloft)
I7: Baltron’s Beacon
I8: Ravager of Time
I9: Day of Al’Akbar
I10: Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill (Ravenloft)
I11: Needle
I12: Egg of the Phoenix
I13: Adventure Pack I
I14: Swords of the Iron Legion (Forgotten Realms)

L SERIES

L1: The Secret of Bone Hill (Greyhawk)
L2: The Assassin’s Knot (Greyhawk)

N SERIES

N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God (Greyhawk)
N2: Forest Oracle
N3: Destiny of Kings
N4: Treasure Hunt (Forgotten Realms)
N5: Under Illefarn (Forgotten Realms)

R SERIES

R1: To the Aid of Falx
R2: Investigation of Hydell
R3: Egg of the Phoenix
R4: Doc’s Island

S SERIES

S1: Tomb of Horrors (Greyhawk)
S2: White Plume Mountain (Greyhawk)
S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks (Greyhawk)
S4: Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (Greyhawk)

T SERIES

T1: Village of Hommlet
T1-4: Temple of Elemental Evil

UK SERIES

UK1: Beyond the Crystal Cave
UK2: Sentinel (Greyhawk)
UK3: Gauntlet (Greyhawk)
UK4: When a Star Falls
UK5: Eye of the Serpent
UK6: All that Glitters…
UK7: Dark Clouds Gather

U SERIES

U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh
U2: Danger at Dunwater
U3: The Final Enemy

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DM Challenge Visual Aids

My First PAX

From the moment I entered the convention center, I felt immersed in a massive chaotic swell of gaming culture–unreleased video games, photos with cosplayers, shiny new board games, walls of slick videos, back to back panels with gaming legends, creative indie games, marketers trying to shove useless crap in your hand every ten steps and everywhere you look, throngs of unapologetic gamers. Trying to soak it all up was like drinking from a firehose with a sippy straw.

PAX DM Challenge

The high point for me was finally getting to complete in the DM Challenge. Ultimately, I didn’t win the Challenge, but I had a ton of fun running the game for five unsuspecting victims.. um.. I mean players; contact me if you were one of my players and give me some feedback please. If you haven’t played in one of my games, I like to use video projectors, speakers, lighting and props. Boiling that down to something portable is difficult. I settled on mini usb speakers, a video projector on a tripod, a PS3Eye video camera and my laptop. I almost had to bow out at the last minute. During the pre-flight check in the office, my laptop video card decided to stop working. The main display kept turning off and all my windows would show up on the projector display. Not good. Luckily, I was able to transfer my tools to my desktop computer, but that meant I had to add a desktop computer, keyboard, power strip, power cables and a monitor to my “portable” rig. Even worse, the camera drivers refused to work on my desktop machine. I had to disable all the camera calls in my code at the last minute.

My presentation seemed to go over well. I created a short introductory video in After Effects for my adventure entitled “Secret of Neverneath.” Check it out at the top of the post. I tracked combat initiative with a tool I created to reformat the web browser display of 4E Combat Tracker. I’m including all the materials here if people want to hack the visuals for their own games. I have to warn you though; you should probably be already familiar with a programming language or willing to spend a little time learning one. The code is not enduser friendly. If you still haven’t been scared off, download NWVisuals.zip and follow the instructions in README.txt. An example encounter file for 4E Combat Manager is included: “Encounter – Gnolls.xml”.

Tips for hacking the code

The display code is written in a language called processing. Processing runs on OSX, Windows and Linux. Combat Manager only runs on windows; however you can connect to the Combat Manager webserver over a network. Non-windows users aren’t out of luck. You could run the display on another machine connected to a projector or TV and run Combat Manager in a VM on your laptop. The camera code is still included but disabled with the ENABLE_CAM flag. If you have a camera and want to experiment, set the flag to true. On Windows, the use of the camera code requires you to install quicktime, camera drivers(for PS3Eye, I use the CL Eye Platform driver) and WinVDIG.

Changing character portraits

Changing character portraits is actually pretty easy. For each monster or player in your encounter list, you can create a PNG file sized 305×278, set the name of the file to it’s name in the encounter list without spaces–for example “Deathjump Spider” becomes “DeathjumpSpider.png”, then place the file in the data folder under the NWVisuals folder. Players can additionally have a PlayerName-Dead.png image if you want to show a funny picture of a dead player.

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