Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Retrospective, Review and Refit: M3 Twilight Calling (BECMI)

If there is an "Alpha and Omega" to my D&D games with my kids then the title could be held by Gary Gygax, but most likely the titleholder would really be Tom Moldvay.

It has been his adventures that my family have enjoyed the most.

X1 Isle of Dread (w/ David Cook)

His Basic set rules are what really got me deep into D&D, maybe even more so than Holmes. 

So it is really not such a surprise that when I began to look for a "Big Finale" sort of adventure my attention would turn to the Master Series.  

While I initially thought that Bruce Heard's M1 Into the Maelstrom would be my choice (and it is still a fine choice, for something else I have in mind) it was quickly replaced when I discovered Tom Moldvay's M3 Twilight Calling

Twilight Calling is actually rather perfect.  It is a high-level adventure that feels like a high-level adventure. The main focus of the adventure is around a rising power among the Immortals, Alphaks the Dark.  He wants to release the ancient Carnifex race (more on them in a bit) who are sealed away in an extra-planar pocket dimension.  He can't do this himself, only Lawful creatures can enter the realms protecting it and thus break the seals.  The adventure begins all the way back in the "Broken Lands" of the D&D Expert Set (both B/X and BECMI) but soon the characters go on an extra planar romp through the "Seven Realms" to the final location, Carnifex Castle.

The Carnifex
Carnifex are an evil species akin to both lizards and dinosaurs.  We get a good insight to Moldvay's Pulp sensibilities here where evil lizard men with alien brains and cold-blooded evil are the bad guys.  For me, it works. Works much better than orcs or even drow.   They are described as lizard-like humanoids.
Not much more than that.  So given the adventures I had been taking the kids through a thought occurred to me.  What if the Carnifex are the progenitors of all the reptilian races of the D&D?  Lizardmen, troglodytes, Yuan-Ti, and others.  We learn very, very little about them in this adventure.
We know that Carnifex means "butcher" in Latin. It also translates also into executioner, hangman, tormenter, murderer, scoundrel, and villain. So yeah, these are not supposed to be nice guys. 
This all made me think about the Silurians from Doctor Who. An ancient race related to the dinosaurs.  This also made me think of the "Dinosauroid" or the "Dino Sapiens" that scientists have imagined as a humanoid descendent of the Troodon.


If you are thinking of a Sleestak you are not alone. 

This is fantastic really.  But for my Dragonslayers' game has no context for Alphaks the Dark.  And the Carnifex really could be anything.  So.  How do I take this adventure and make it work for my group?

Enter The Dragon. Well The Dragon #38 to be exact.

Dawn & Twilight: Dragon 38 (1980) and M3 Twilight Calling

Dragon 38, still called The Dragon then, was one of those issues that are just full of great ideas.  I had a copy on my Dragon Magazine CD-ROM, but I knew about it beforehand for the famous Gygax From the Sorcerer's Scroll article "Good Isn't Stupid, Paladins & Rangers."  I played a lot of Paladins back then so this was a must read.  BUT that article pales in comparison to what the rest of the issue gave me.
In the same article it is mentioned that dwarf women have beards.  Great. But I said dwarf witches do not. In fact that is the surest way to be called a witch in dwarven culture, if you can't grow a beard.
There is a story from Gardner Fox, a comic by Darlene that is better looking than most of the comics in Dragon before or since. But three articles in particular grabbed my attention.

Tesseracts by Allen Wells gave me some wonderful ideas for when I ran Baba Yaga's Hut and other crazy adventures.  It gave me the frame of reference of how I wanted to run M3.

Leomund’s Tiny Hut: The mighty dragon by Len Lakofka gave me the hook I was looking for, though not in the way I am sure he thought it would.  Len's article is a great one and it gives us out very first look at the Yellow, Orange, and Brown dragons.  Brown dragons, of course, would later appear in the Mater Rules as the Chaotic counterpart to the Gold Dragon.  I did a version of my own Orange dragon (really more of a Pumpkin Dragon) in my Pumpkin Spice Witch book.   The Yellow Dragon then was a new one. And it fit perfectly into a hole I had.  In M3 there are different color realms that all correspond to the color of a chromatic dragon; Green, Red, Black, Blue, White, and then Yellow.  But no Yellow dragon.  Until Len gave me one. He also has updated stats for Tiamat and Bahamut.
This got me thinking.  What if Aphaks was not just some rogue would-be immortal?  What if he/she were a third Dragon god?  The Master's set has four dragon rulers. The Forgotten Realms has more than two as well (IIRC). Or how about even a better idea.  What if Aphaks was Apsu, Tiamat's "dead" consort? The Carnifex could have been his creations.  The ancient evil enemy of the Dragonborn?

The Seven Magical Planets by Tom Moldvay can read a proto version of M3.  This article leans more on the alchemical aspects of the seven planets, the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. They do not line up as well with the M3 sequence, so I might change them a bit.  If I go with Babylonian/Summerian ideas then I would rename the planets to their Summerian names. Mercury with Nabu (Nebo), Venus with the goddess Ishtar, Mars with Nergal, Jupiter with Marduk, Saturn with Ninurta (Ninib), for the classical planets (and suggested by Moldvay in the article) and Sin/Nanna for the Moon and Utu/Shamash for the Sun.
I am not sure if the alchemical correspondences still line up. In the end it might not matter all the much as long as the feel is right.  This is a D&D game, not a Hermetic study on Alchemical principles. 

So where does this leave me?

Well, long ago Tiamat reigned.  She battled with the gods over her creations, the dragons.  Her blood was spilled and from that the Dragonborn were created including their god Marduk. Gilgamesh in this world view was the first Dragonborn King.  Enkidu was "like an animal" or human.

When the Dragonborn came into this world they encountered the evil Carnifex. They had been old even when the Dragonborn where new. They harkened back to a deep time of the world when it was a hotter place and populated by reptilian beasts and eldritch horrors. Their wars were long and bloody and they could only defeat them by sealing them up in a demi-plane of imprisonment.   I posted about this in my Dragonborn in Oerth

I have an evil, or at least corrupt, god, Apsu, who is murdered by his own children.  His former consort, Tiamat then gives birth to dragons to fight the gods that killed Apsu.  But maybe he is not dead in the same sense that humans consider.  Maybe he is now in the realm of death (like Aphaks the Dark). This helps explain the undead encountered in M3 (and there is a lot) and why he would want the Carnifex loose.  Destroy the world your children made by letting their ancient enemy out.  It's a good plan really. 

I might need to find a copy of Dragon #38 just to have really.  I'll have to check my FLGS.


4 comments:

Dick McGee said...

"a comic by Darlene that is better looking than most of the comics in Dragon before or since" Jasmine, I'm guessing? Great strip, that, up there with Wormy and What's New and more serious than either. I used to own the card game, which featured more of her wonderful art.

Cross Planes said...

A story by Gardner Fox? Wow.

It all sounds like a grand plan. I have a fondness for Serpent Men myself, I blame Marvel Comics and Conan. I think Bahamut and Tiamat are great to play with and look forward to seeing how you use their family.

Mike David Jr. said...

Tom Moldvay is my favorite D&D. He has a pulp sensibility that I adore. Tom’s Lords of Creation RPG was my introduction to gonzo setting design that has stuck with me for over 30 years. Have you read his multiple articles on various undead in Halloween issues of Dragon? Great inspiration!

Timothy S. Brannan said...

Read his articles on Undead in Halloween Dragon?? I have them committed to memory!

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