Thursday, June 18, 2020

Retrospective, Review and Refit: CM2 Death's Ride (BECMI)

Ah.  Death's Ride.  I have such fond memories of this adventure.

CM2 Death's Ride: Retrospective
Death's Ride is one of a few adventures I have had the privilege to both play in and to run. While overtly for the D&D Basic rules, Companion set, it can be run (and we did) under AD&D. Though some of the special features were lost I think.

I bought this module and gave it to my DM to run back in the day and I ran it using the 3.x version of the D&D rules and then again most recently using the 5th Edition rules.

The Barony of Two Lakes Vale gave us ample room to move about and try different things, but then it was the NPCs that captured my attention the most. Ulslime, Wazor, and Korbundar lived on in my games for many more years with both Ulsime and Korbundar even threatening my players in the 3rd Ed. game. One, and I am not sure if he was an NPC in the game or one my DM made up, went on to torture my characters for many more adventures after this.

The Death Portal was an interesting bit of necromantic trickery to get the players something to focus on and the new monsters were a lot of fun (the Death Leech nearly took out my characters back in the 80s.)

But before I wax too much more into nostalgia, let's review this adventure proper.

CM2 Death's Ride: Review
by Garry Spiegle, art by Jeff Easley, 32 pages, color covers, black & white interior art.
I am reviewing both the DriveThruRPG PDF and my original copy from 1984.

Death's Ride is one of our first Companion level adventures.  The code for this series in CM, since C was already taken.  Both CM1 Test of the Warlords (with it's Warduke-like cover) and CM2 Death's Ride were designed to be introductions to Companion level play. Both were supposedly designed to work with each other, both being set in Norwold.  However, they really don't work together other than this thin thread of Norwold.  That does not detract from its enjoyment.

The basic premise is this.

The adventurers, already powerful and famous in their own right, are summoned to the Barony of Twolakes Vale by King Ericall of Norwold (Background on King Ericall is given in Companion adventure CM1.) The local baron, Sir Maltus Fharo, has sent no taxes, caravans, or messages in several months. A small body of troops sent by the king to investigate has not returned. At this time, Ericall doesn't have the resources to send a large body of troops, so he is asking the characters to go to the barony, find out what's wrong, and if possible, restore contact. The king gives the characters a royal warrant and permission to act in his name.

The problem is much worse than the King suspects. A gateway to the “Sphere of Death” has been opened in Two Lakes Vale. It's up to the characters to determine who or what opened the gate. They must also close the gate forever. The characters should not actually enter the Sphere of Death in this adventure; their goal is to close the gate. Twolakes Vale holds only an inflow portal from the sphere. Consider any character who actually reaches the Sphere of Death as killed (or at least removed from the campaign until other characters can launch a formal rescue operation).

Here they will encounter death, destruction and our three main Antagonists. Wazor an "Atlantean Mage", Ulslime a cleric of "Death" and our cover boy Korbundar the huge blue dragon.  No, the skeleton riding him does not appear anywhere in this adventure. Nor does the lake of fire.

By the way. Which one do you think is Wazor and which one is Ulslime?
The adventure proceeds on a location-based adventure.  The characters move from location to location in the Twolakes Vale, which is described well except for where it is exactly in Norwold, finding clues, fighting enemies. Until the final confrontation and destruction of the artifact (the "deathstone") opening the Sphere of Death. Of course, you need another artifact to do that.

The NPCs are very detailed and out trio of bad-guys are so much fun that both Ulslime and Korbundar were made into semi-permanent NPCs of note in my games.    It got to the point where my kids would be like "Is that Korbundar!!" anytime a blue dragon was used in a game.

The other issue with this adventure, and one that was lost on me until recently, is that is doesn't really fully feel like something from the Companion Set.  It has been described, by most notably by Jonathan Becker at B/X Blackrazor, that this adventure really runs like a high-level Expert set adventure.  A wilderness hex with various points within the hex that need to be investigated.
There are some of the new monsters in the adventure, but when I played it and ran through it we substituted the monsters from AD&D/D&D3 as the case required.  There are Wrestling Ratings to the monsters and a chance to raise an army, but nothing about domains or ruling kingdoms.
Of course, this would all come later on in the CM adventures, so I guess that is not too big of a deal.

Calling it a "High-level dungeon crawl" or "High-level Expert Set Adventure" is fair, but it leaves out a lot of what made this particular adventure so much fun. I still have my original copy of this and it holds up well.   So despite the criticisms of it as a "Companion Adventure", it is still a very fun "D&D Adventure" and one that holds up.

CM2 Death's Ride: Refit
I have no idea how much I paid for my copy of Death's Ride when it first came out. How much were modules back then? $5? $8?  Whatever it was I certainly got my money's worth. (the consensus online is $6.)

Back in 1985-5 when I went through as a player we used AD&D 1st Ed rules.  Seemed like the logical thing to do.  We stuck it on the end of this huge campaign that also included H4.



When I would later run it again in college it became part of my big "Ravenloft is From Mystara" deal and I ran it under AD&D 2nd Ed.   It usually became the gateway characters used to leave Ravenloft and come back into their normal world.


Now I am setting up to run it again, this time using the 5th Edition Rules.

For that, I joined the Classic Modules Today group and did the 5th edition conversion.


I had a great time not only converting the adventure and creatures, but getting a chance to re-do Wazor, Ulslime, and Korbundar as 5th edition characters.  It was a struggle I have to admit not to include *my* versions of them and instead play them by the book.

In the conversion guide I mention where I would place the adventure in the Forgotten Realms (something we all did) and how it could connect to others.  For me I saw this as a nice Coda to the Out of the Abyss adventure.



Characters will complete Out of the Abyss at roughly the same level characters would need to be to start Death’s Ride. The adventure can be seen as either as some last-ditch effort by Orcus to open a portal in the Realms in which to invade or as a means of flooding the area with undead.

This flows from both my using Death's Ride as part of an Orcus/Realms take-over (Module H4) and my connections to Ravenloft as a portal.

I might not have know the Companion Set very well, but there is at least one Companion level adventure I do know.

2 comments:

Deep One said...

I seem to recall the "CM" part about the module was about "here's an easy way to map your new domain".

As I only read this, could you kindly give ne a pointer as to how prominently the investigative aspects feature in actual play? - I have this Idea of stringing all the old modules with "detective work" together for a slightly different campaign Setup.

BlackJar72 said...

I always took companion level modules to be defined by the targetted character level. The companion additions to play be an expansion of player options, but specific adventures need to have them. Of course, I could see an argument for a dominion-oriented module versus a traditional adventure.

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