A2 – Secret of the Slaver’s Stockade
Harold Johnson with Tom Moldvay
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.
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.
A ruined hill fort and the dungeon complex below.
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)
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.
• 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.