Showing posts with label adventures. Show all posts
Showing posts with label adventures. Show all posts

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Review: The Traveller Adventure (1983)

The Traveller Adventure
The Traveller Adventure is the companion piece to The Traveller Book I reviewed earlier.

I always wanted this book. It would have looked so great next to my Traveller Book. But more importantly it would have given me some more ideas of what to do with Traveller.  At least Traveller was better for me than Star Frontiers, which tended to be D&D in Space.

I did pick this up on DriveThruRPG as a PDF almost as soon as it came out. 

This book (well. the cover) was my first experience with the Vargr.

The Traveller Adventure (1983)

For this review, I am using the PDF from DriveThruRPG.  154 pages, color cover, black and white interior art with red ink accents.

This book is a collection of connected adventures which today would be called an Adventure Path.  See I told you Traveller was ahead of its time. 

The conceit of the adventures is the player characters are all members of the merchant vessel, the March Harrier, where they befriend a Vargr (a fantastic way to introduce an alien species btw) and leads them on a series of adventures.  Additionally, we (or me rather, it could have shown up earlier in another book) were introduced to the Spinward Marches, the frontier of the Imperium.  Even someone only tangentially familiar with Traveller has heard of the Spinward Marches.

So yeah already a lot in this book.

The book begins with all this information as well as background on the Aramis Subsector and some Referee notes.  These notes include details on the overall plot and what all the major NPCs want. There are even some Pre-Gen characters to use.  Seriously. This thing is so much better than I expected it to be.

There are about a dozen and a half or so adventures here of various sizes and types.  Each moves the plot forward in a different way and each can have an effect on the other.  They did not appear to be overtly linear to me, so there is a lot freedom of how these can be used.

There are also deck plans for the March Harrier and a bit on using Vargr as player characters.

There is just so much information here and just so much of value that I am really kicking myself for not getting this back then.  It really would have changed my Traveller experience.

Reading through this now I also really get an appreciation for how deep and rich the Traveller lore is.  

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Review: The Witch-Queen's Lament (OSRIC Adventure)

The Witch-Queen's Lament
A couple of weeks back I noticed a posting in one of the Greyhawk groups on Facebook about a new adventure. It was called The Witch-Queen's Lament so you know it immediately had my attention. The adventure was designed for OSRIC and had an old-school module look and feel to it.  I didn't know much about it to be honest, but I was sure I was going to get it.  I went over the publisher's website, casl Entertainment, and bought a copy of the PDF and perfect bound softcover.  While I was predisposed to like it, getting the PDF made me quite excited for it.

The Witch-Queen’s Lament

An adventure for character levels 6-9 (70,002 total experience points) for OSRIC or compatible games. PDF and softcover available, 95 pages.

This adventure is "compliant" (I think "compatible" is the word they want, it is "compliant" with the OGL) with OSRIC.  This really means it can (read should) be used with AD&D 1st Edition.  It will work with other games too, but more on that.

This adventure is designed for Tournament play. That is why we have the 70,002 XP value on it and there is a tournament scoring sheet.  IF you wish to play this adventure with tournament rules and scoring my advice is do not change anything about it.  I have run a few tournament adventures with scoring and this one feels like it put together well. My concern would only be can you fit it into the four-hour time slot?  I am 100% certain that author Carlos A.S. Lising has and has done so many times.  I am not sure *I* could do it.  That all being said I want to look at this from the point of view of a campaign, and my War of the Witch Queens campaign in particular. 

So let's start back at the beginning.  This adventure was the official Tourneyment adventure for GrogCon 2021.  Looking over their catalog it looks like they have run a few adventures at other old-school cons as well.  This bodes well.  The adventure was written by Carlos A.S. Lising, with cover and interior art by Daniel Govar, and cartography from Glynn Seal.  Carlos A.S. Lising is a huge fan of module S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth which is also one of my favorites. This makes me optimistic for this adventure.

Now when this was announced for sale there was a little bit of wailing from the usual suspects in regard to the module code, G2, on the cover.  With many complaining that this was not really G2.  Sorry but the TSR G2 The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl is over 40 years old now and neither TSR nor Gygax owned the letter G.  I am sure the G, in this case, stood for "GrogCon."  If this bugs you, be like Elsa and let it go.

On to the adventure proper.  We learn right away that the eponymous Witch-Queen is none other than "Natasha the Dark" aka Tasha, aka Tashanna, aka Zyblina, aka Iggwilv herself!  Ok. You now have my undivided attention.  We get a bit of backstory on Natasha the Dark including her becoming a Daughter of Baba Yaga, and her sisters Vasilisa (Elena) the Fair and Anya the Plain.  Anya is going to be our focus here since she has gone missing with Natasha's matryoshka doll. This was no ordinary doll, this nesting doll held a bit of Natasha's soul/life force and has kept her immortal for centuries.  Natasha, it a bit uncharacteristic token of love, gave the newly enchanted doll to Anya for safe-keeping, knowing her sister would love it and cherish it. The side effect has been that as long as Anya has the doll she will also be immortal, just stuck in the form of a 12-year-old girl.

The doll, and Anya, has now been stolen and IggwilvNatasha needs you all to get it back.

As far as adventure hooks goes this one is a good one.  The doll is in the hands of an evil Wizard named Andrei Anazinov who knows it is special and knows Anya has never aged. He trying to discover its secrets.  So get the doll before the wizard figures out Natasha's immortality.  The adventure overtly makes it about saving Natasha's immortality, but as you read it the real reason is also uncovered, the ancient Witch Queen still loves her little sister. Undoing the immortality would be bad for Natasha, but it is also likely she has many safeguards in place.  It would however kill Anya outright.

I don't want to go too much deeper than this in case potential players read this.  It is a MacGuffin search, but a fun one and a chance to interact with one of the more notorious characters in D&D lore.

Comments on the Adventure

A few comments.  I can completely understand why Natasha wants the doll and Anya back.  I even understand why she wants good adventurers to do it.  I am not sure why someone of Natasha's caliber would a. let the adventurers know who she is and b. what the doll is.  It seems to me that good or evil the party might want to hide or destroy the doll to stop an evil witch queen.  When I run this I am going to need another reason.

The maps are great. I am glad I have to PDF to print them out on my own.

There are some cool new monsters (a must in any adventure) and magic items.  There is even a pronunciation guide. 

New Monsters

One nitpick. None of the pages have page numbers on them. Seems a touch odd, but I can deal.

Sixteen pages are given over to the 8 pre-gen characters.  So that is nice.  There are also tournament scoring sheets.

Adapting for War of the Witch Queens

I bought this adventure with idea of adapting it over to my War of the Witch Queen campaign.  This is not the first "Witch Queen" adventure I have bought, nor will it be my last I am sure.   The fact that it includes Natasha/Iggwilv just makes it more perfect to be honest.

War of the Witch Queens

So here are my changes.

I am not running this as a tournament since I am going to be using OSE-Advanced Fantasy for it. There will be some more tweaks for the rules, but I think it is going to work out just fantastic really.

Natasha/Iggwilv is not going to let the adventurers know who she is or why she wants the doll back.  I am going to have her disguise herself as Elena the Fair and "Elena" will be hiring them to rescue her sister Anya. This way she feels she is not lying about her mission.  In the end, Anya will out "Elena" as Iggwilv, but the terms of their agreement will remain.  Maybe Vasilisa the Beautiful will show up to take Anya.  I have Elena and Vasilisa as two separate characters. 

I love the whole Russian feel to all of this, but I am going to take out Andrei Anazinov and replace him with Kelek.  Kelek has had some dealings with Iggwilv already and he is the "big bad" of the War of the Witch Queens.  I need an adventure to get him in front of the PCs instead of making him a behind the shadows guy.  Andrei is a 14th level wizard. I made Kelek a 15th level magic-user/necromancer.  Also in my games Kelek is looking for ways to make himself ever young, he thinks Anya (not the doll) is the answer.  Kelek is a misanthrope, so kidnapping and experimenting on a little kid is kinda on-brand for him So this all fits.  

Plus I have these great minis to use

There might be other little tweaks along the way. More winter wolves and worgs to be sure. I am certainly going to steal ideas from the newer 5e versions of Iggwilv and Kelek and I am also going to steal ideas from the Pathfinder Witch War series.

The Witch Queens at War

There are more adventures on the casl Entertainment website. Including one, C11 - When Comes the Witching Hour, that looks like it could be Iggwilv on the cover.  So I am going to need to check that one out as well.  Just watched this video and yup, looks like it is! I have to go get it now.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

ENnies Voting is now Open

The annual ENnies awards is now open for voting and as usual, there are a lot of great choices to vote for, or at the very least shop for.

I might get into my picks later on (have to see how long voting is) but for today I want to focus on one particular book and maybe convince you to consider voting for it.

Up for Best Adventure and Best Cartography is Halls of the Blood King for Old-School Essentials

Halls of the Blood King

I reviewed Halls of the Blood King last month and frankly, I loved it.  So it is great seeing it get some official recognition.  It would be even great if it wins.

It has some serious competition, in particular from the Alien RPG adventure.  But keep in mind that OSE is still largely a one-man operation of Gavin Norman.  Alien and Free League is a more traditional publisher.  So to say that OSE and Blood King are punching well above their weight class is not hyperbole. 

So, if you can make the time, give HotBK a vote for both Best Adventure and Best Cartography.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Review: Old-School Essentials Adventures

One of my fondest memories of gaming has to be the Summer of 1982 playing this weird-ass hybrid of AD&D first ed and D&D Moldvay/Cook B/X. I think I played every weekend to be honest.

While a lot of games have come really close to this feel, the one that now comes the closest has to be Old-School Essentials Advanced Fantasy

Old-School Essentials Adventures

There are a lot of great clones out there but right now nothing is scratching my old-school itch quite like OSE.  I got my Kickstarter package a bit back and while I was engrossed with the rules of the new books, I utterly failed to give much attention to the two included adventures. That is until I started hearing people talk about them more online.  I went back to them and you know what?  They are really kind of great.

For this review, I am considering both the hardcover copies I got with the Kickstarter and the PDF copies from DriveThru RPG.

Both books are 48-page, full-color books. The maps are printed on the inside covers with encounter areas labeled on the maps.  The books are A5 format (5.8" x 8.3", 148mm x 210mm).

The Incandescent Grottoes
The Incandescent Grottoes
by Gavin Norman

This is an introductory adventure designed for characters level 1-2, written by OSE creator Gavin Norman with art by Nate Treme. 

The adventure could be considered a dungeon crawl along the lines of Keep on the Borderlands, but like so much of OSE it taps into how the games were played rather than written. The dungeons of IG *could be* like the Caves of Chaos, but more accurately they are played like Caves of Chaos were played back then.  What do I mean?  Well, there is a demonic cult here, The Cult of the Faceless Lord. There are factions within the dungeon and how they interact. Plus goals for the various groups of monsters. There are tables of treasures and random occurrences to make exploring this dungeon something players can keep coming back to. 

The rooms and areas a very nicely detailed and the whimsical art really adds to the dream-like qualities of the adventure.  There is even a dragon waiting for the characters at the end!  Ok, it is not a very powerful one, but to 1st and 2nd level characters it is powerful enough.  There are some new monsters (the aforementioned dragon) and lots of great encounters.

While there is no overt meta-plot here, one could easily see this as some sort of introduction to a cult of Juiblex vying for control of the Mythic Underworld. 

A bit about the name.  I can't help but notice that a 1st level adventure into the "Mythic Underground" can be read as "I(n) Can Descen(d)t."  I am sure this is intentional.

Halls of the Blood King
Halls of the Blood King
by Diogo Nogueira

Diogo Nogueira has been racking up an impressive list of RPG publications and getting him to pen an adventure for OSE is quite a score.  And the adventure is pretty much what I hoped it would be like.

This time the artist is Justine Jones. If the art of Incandescent Grottoes is dream-like then the art here is nightmarish.  I mean that in the most positive way. 

The adventure is set up in a manner similar to other OSE adventures. We get maps with major encounter areas, descriptions and relationships of the major factions/NPCs/Monsters.

The adventure itself is a castle of a vampire lord for characters of 3rd to 5th level.  

Detail-wise this adventure lives somewhere between the sparse-ness Palace of the Vampire Queen and the detail rich Ravenloft.  I don't want this to sound like there not a lot of detail here, there is, but there is no over arching epic here.  This is great since it allows you to take this adventure and work it into your world much easier.   For example with a tweak or two here and there I could make this "Halls of the Blood Queen" and add it rather nicely to my War of the Witch Queens campaign.  This would work out well since I am using OSE for that.  The only thing stopping me is I have so many Vampire Queens now!  But still, it would be fun and very, very easy.

The adventure is also rather good and looks like a lot of fun.

If these are examples of how adventures for OSE are going to be written in the future then OSE is going have a nice long shelf life.  While neither adventure is revolutionary in design or concepts they are really good adventures.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Elf Lair Games / NIGHT SHIFT at GaryCon XIII

I will admit it.  I kinda take GaryCon for granted.  It's a fun con and it usually happens around my kid's spring breaks and it is only about an hour-long drive.  We can go there, play some games and sleep in our own beds afterward.

 Well, leave it to this pandemic to let me know what got once it is gone!

This year I, along with the rest of Elf Lair Games, will be running some NIGHT SHIFT games for Ethereal Gary Con XIII

Gary Con

This year I am running NIGHT SHIFT: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars along with Elf Lair Games founder Jason Vey and Derek Stoelting (one of our long-time collaborators from our Eden Studios days).

Registration for badges is ongoing, event registration has begun for some badge holders and will open up next week.

Here are the games we are running.

SPECTOR DETECTORS!

Spector Detectors! is my game.  Here are some details.
You are the SPECTOR DETECTORS! The hottest ghost hunting channel on FaceTube! Or at least you will be, one day. Right now you are busy checking out every reported haunted house in the tri-county area. Your team knows that the ghosts are fake, with a little bit of technological know-how and some good-sounding esoterica. You hope your next assignment, the historic Willow Crest Manor, will be your ticket to internet fame, glory, and plenty of advertising impressions.

Let’s Get Detecting!

This introductory NIGHT SHIFT game is run by RPG co-designer Tim Brannan.

Event Number 1026
Saturday at 2:00 PM (Central Time)
Hosts Timothy S. Brannan (1749)
Room 04 - Fate of the Norns Room
Duration 3 hours
Here are all the other games running as well.

Blood of the new moon

Blood in crescent city

dancing in the ruins

I wish I could play them all, to be honest.  It has been YEARS since Derek, Jason and I have thrown dice together at a Con.  

Elf Lair Games

NIGHT SHIFT should appeal to fans of old-school games and modern supernatural/paranormal fiction fans.   Essentially if you like the work we all have done of previous games (Buffy, AFMBE, Ghosts, AA, and more) then you should enjoy this.

I'll post when the games are ready for registration.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Boxing Day: The World of Mayhem Campaign

A couple of weeks ago I posted about getting my 7th adventure from Mark Taormino's Dark Wizard GamesDread Swamp of the Banshee.  It is a great bit of fun and I can't wait to run it.  

I also know exactly what I want to do with them.


The World of Mayhem Campaign and I am going to run it using B/X rules, likely OSE Advanced Rules

OSE Advanced gives me the B/X rules I adore along with some of the rules from the Advanced era I want AND some additional options that were not available to me in either.   


Organizing the adventures from the lowest level to the highest you get a great spread from levels 1 to 14, perfect B/X and OSE levels.


I have talked about this in the past with the first five adventures, but the newer three only support this plan even more.

Arranged like this:

It makes solid coverage of levels 1 to 14.  If anything an adventure for levels 2 to 5  might be good.

With the addition of their Monsters of Mayhem #1, it makes for a full campaign.

I know the feel of these adventures is very much in the spirit of 1st Edition AD&D as well as the OSRIC rule set.  But for me, my "gonzo" gaming years were with B/X.  The rules of B/X were much looser than Advanced and these adventures really need a lighter hand on the rules.

I am thinking of also adding some material from Pacesetter's B/X RPG rules, in particular some of the classes.  Plus the B/X RPG rules play well with OSE, so that is reason enough to use them.  Plus I enjoy combining Palace of the Vampire Queen: Castle Blood from Pacesetter with Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen for a full saga of the Vampire Queen.


I have now run Vampire Queen for Basic, 1st Edition, and 5th Edition versions of D&D.  I think Basic was my favorite experience. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Mail Call: Dread Swamp of the Banshee

Mark Taormino has done it again (8 times the charm!) and I got my new adventure in the mail today.


Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #7 Dread Swamp of the Banshee came in the mail today.  I have had the PDF for a little bit now and I am really looking forward to running this one!

If you enjoyed the previous adventures in this series, like I have, then you know what to expect here. 



If you love the old-school style modules but want something that is just "a little more" then I highly recommend these.

One day my plan is to run these all with some flavor of B/X since the adventures top out at 14th level.  Though the adventures are very much in the 1st Ed D&D vein and not really "Basic", it's what I want to do with them. 

Maybe when the Advanced books for Old-School Essentials come in I'll revisit this idea.


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Classic Adventures Revisited: S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth

One of my all-time favorite adventures is S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth.

A solid two-level dungeon crawl, filled with new monsters, dangers, and the promise of great treasures. Additionally, there are rumors of an ancient witch/archmage and her battles with demons and even the threat that some of those demons are still around. There is plenty of wilderness area as well. A wide expanse with a gnome community nearby and a raging blue dragon.

With its "Booklet 2" filled with new spells, magic circles, and demons it made me think that a witch class with ritual magic could be something that would work for D&D. 


There is so much great stuff in and around this adventure it is hard to know where to begin.  So let's start with the adventure itself.

S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth

The adventure, S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, was published back in 1982 by TSR. It was written by none other than Gary Gygax himself. It is listed as "S4" and was the last of the labeled "S series" or Special modules.  This includes some of the most popular adventures ever written; S1 Tomb of HorrorsS2 White Plume Mountain, and S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks

The adventure itself is comprised of two 32 page booklets. The first book is the adventure itself, which I will get into detail in a bit.  The second booklet covers all sorts of new magic, monsters, and more. 

Book 1: The Adventure

The adventure is of the classic sort; the rumor of treasure and a vague threat coming from an area of the map known as Iggwilv's Horn.  The adventure is designed for characters level 6 to 10.   I have found over the last 40 years that it can be adapted to a variety of levels, though higher levels are better. Though the original tournament adventure featured slightly lower levels. Likely due to the addition of the wilderness adventure. 

The wilderness adventure is actually well put together and not the older crazy random monster encounters.  The encounters make sense for the area. Among the encounters are the Hermit, and I could not help make this the same hermit from Keep on the Borderlands (also a Gygax creation) and the Blue Dragon.  The Blue Dragon, in particular, became so much a hit the first time I ran this that in future runnings of this I changed the dragon to Korbundar from CM2 Death's Ride to have a reoccurring villain.   A lot of adventure is packed into 12 pages.

The second part of the adventure covers the Lost Caverns themselves, which includes the Lesser and  Greater caverns. This features a large variety of new monsters, some living here, some just wandering around. Even encounters such as "The Garden of One Thousand Earthly Delights" have a good (enough) reason to be there. 

The final encounter is in the center of the Greater Caverns and it is not for Iggwilv's Treasure, but rather against Iggwilv's Treasure; the vampire Drelnza.  She is a bit more powerful than your average vampire and she has magic to help her out.  Eventually, she will succumb to heroes and the treasure will be found including the infamous Demonomicon of Iggwilv, Daoud's Wonderous Lanthorn, and the Prison of Zagig.

Book 2: Monsters and Magic

This second booklet, as I have mentioned, grabbed my attention as much as the first, if not more.  Listed inside were new monsters, only some appeared in the adventure, including new demons and demon lords. There were the mysterious Xag-ya and Xeg-yi, the Derro and the awkwardly named (for the early 80s) Valley Elf. All these creatures would later be reprinted in the Monster Manual II for 1st Edition. This is fitting since the original tournament adventure introduced monsters that would become part of the first Monster Manual.  There are some magic items including some wonderful artifacts mentioned above.  Of these The Demonomicon of Iggwilv capture not just my imagination, but that of hundreds of others. The Demonomicon became a feature in Dragon Magazine and even a 4e book of the same name. Iggwilv went from a "long-dead archmage" to "The Mother of Witches" and the premiere demonologist in D&D.   This little booklet also contains plenty of new spells.  

This was classic AD&D at the end of its 1st Golden Age.

The adventure is extremely playable and I have adapted it over the years for AD&D 2nd ed, D&D 3rd, and 5th Editions as well.

If you want to play it for 5th Edition D&D then the team over at Classic Modules Today has made a 5e conversion

There are also maps you can print out with DM's notes.

And other realistic maps also for printing

The Sequels

The first true sequel to this adventure was WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun (though no WG1-3 were made*). This was published the same year and dealt with a Temple of Tharizdun. It was designed to be played right after S4 and used the same wilderness map.  The adventure fits in well enough. I justified in my games by saying that Iggwilv, like Tsojcanth before her, chose this area due to its arcane and eldritch properties.  The adventure also has a wealth of information on the World of Greyhawk and Tharizdun.  All of these will be explored later in Gary Gygax's novel series about Gord the Rogue

S4 and WG4 would also get a review in White Dwarf #44 and both get 9/10 from Jim Bambra. He calls them the last of the Golden Age adventures.

*The rumor is that WG1 was Village of Hommlet, WG2 Temple of Elemental Evil and WG3 was The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, or Tsojconth in the original.


Another sequel of sorts was The Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga. Published much later in 1995 for 2nd Ed AD&D and written by Lisa Smedman, this adventure was labeled "S5" but it never appears in any of the classic reprints of the S Series adventures.  While the connection is little more than any of the other "S" series, there is the connection of Iggwilv, then Tasha as the adopted daughter of Baba Yaga.  Lisa Smedman would also work on Ravenloft and ShadowRun. Some Ravenloft monsters make their way into this adventure.


Yet again another sequel, this time for 3.5 D&D, was published in 2007.  Iggwilv's Legacy was published in Dungeon Magazine in October 2007 and appeared for free on Wizard's of the Coast website well into the 4e era. Sadly no longer available, it added another level to the caverns to explore, The Hollow of the Horn, the areas left behind by Tsojancth himself with the implication that even Iggwilv was afraid of these areas. The adventure and the additions were converted and updated to 3rd Edition.  I ran this version for my family at their first Gen Con in 2009.  Here we meet the half-demon  archmage Tsojcanth and his vile witch mother Vilhara.


The Reprints

As part of the much-loved S-series, the Lost Caverns of Tsojanth has been reprinted twice.  Both times bundled with the other three S-series adventures.

The first reprint was called Realms of Horror and it was all the S-series adventures combined into a loosely tied together "Super Module" that was all the rage in the late 80s.  All the maps were reprinted in a small booklet and personally, I found them harder to read.

The second reprint was the more faithful reprint from Wizards of the Coast, Dungeons of Dread, in 2013. 


The Original Tournament Adventure

The original tournament adventure, the Lost Caverns of Tsojconth (note the spelling) appeared at the Wintercon V game convention in 1976.  This would have been akin to a playtest version of AD&D.  Also Iggwilv is described as being dead, and male.

While the adventure does not feature the wilderness areas, the caverns seem to have a more mystical bent to them, with the center "nexus" described as the connection point between worlds to help explain all the new and weird monsters in it.  It would make sense, to be honest, and help explain why Tsojcanth and later Iggwilv possessed it. 

Paleologos at the OSR Grimoire talks a lot about the original Lost Caverns of Tsojconth.

The era of 1976-1978 was an interesting time and lead to some interesting styles of play.  We had the Holmes Basic Set and the B1 In Search of the Unknown (1978) adventure out and we had the AD&D Monster Manual.  This Holmes + Monster Manual actually became the game of choice for many.  I would later play this same hybrid of D&D/AD&D in 1979.
Likely as a way to replicate that Demos Sachlas/Paleologos over at the Vaults of Pandius recreated the original tournament adventure, along with some descriptions from the full 1982 S4 adventure and reformated it to fit the style of B1 to give us a "Holmes version of the Lost Caverns of Tsojconth."  This adventure is a tight 16 pages with two more pages for maps.  It feels like a late 70s offering.  Reading through it I do get the feeling that B1 and S4 could be bookends of a classic 70s adventure series.  All it is missing a nice monochrome cover.  I might need to mock one up someday.

Greyhawk Online has a side-by-side comparison of the 1976 Tsojconth and the 1982 Tsojcanth.

If you want to buy your own Noble Knight Games has one on sale for only $7,195.50. If you are worried that is overpriced it does come with the original zip-lock bag. 

Playing in Hyperborea

Normally at this point in my Revisted posts I would talk about using this adventure with other games.  But instead, I think I just want to focus purely on Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.

A while back I posted about HS4 The Lost Caverns of Acheron, a Hyborian Age reskinning of S4 from the Hyborian Age site dedicated to the d20 Conan RPG.  They have a lot of adventures including some reskinned ones on their Adventures in the Hyborian Age page.  But it is S4 that interests me today.

Combining this idea with the Holmes flavored Tsojconth above you could have a perfect game for AS&SH.  The idea came to me while reading Eric Fabiaschi's Swords & Stitchery blog.   He even pointed to me that he had done exactly this. 

The pulp sensibilities of Gygax's adventures comes through in S4 with vampires in lost temples, ancient eldritch forces, and strange creatures from beyond.  Pairing this with AS&SH and the Lost Caverns of Acheron turns it up to 11 as it were. 


With its history of magic, archmages, witch queens, vampires, and demons it is no wonder that this is one of my favorite adventures. Like B1, it is one I like to come back to again and again. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Shadow Week: The Shadows of 4e

It seems not many people like 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons these days.  While not surprising it is a bit disappointing. There was a solid game there and some fantastic lore built.  Creatively the authors were at the top of their design game even if the execution was a little short of the design goals.  Never the less I like to page through my 4e books as use the a lot of the fluff, and even a little bit of the crunch, for my 5e and Basic-era games. 


The following products helped define the Shadowfell, a region in the D&D Universe adjacent or part of the Plane of Shadow and connected to the Prime Material like the Feywild (Land of Faerie) is.  Essentially the Shadowfell would be that part of our world where TV shows like The Twilight Zone or Tales From the Darkside would have occurred.  So as you can imagine I was drawn to it rather quickly.

In every case I am reviewing the PDF and physical copy of the product.

H1 Keep on the Shadowfell & Quick-Start Rules

The Keep on the Shadowfell was the first-ever adventure published for the D&D 4 game.  We are introduced to the game world and the rules via a quick-start set of rules included with the game.  Nearly everything you need to get started with the D&D 4 game is here.  The adventure itself is designed to invoke memories of another keep, the Keep on the Borderlands, but here ante has been raised.  The keep is not near some giant monstrous humanoid condo, but on the veil between the material plane and the mysterious Shadowfell.   There is a lot more going on and it can feel very combat heavy and even a touch predictable.  But that is fine for a 1st adventure.  Everyone is still too busy figuring out moves and markings and surges to worry whether or not rumor X or rumor Y turns out to be true.  

It is here we are introduced to the newest god of the D&D pantheon, the Raven Queen, and this adventure starts an epic quest between the forces of good and the forces of evil in the form of Orcus.  Eventually, in later adventures the players will learn that Orcus is trying to steal the Raven Queen's power and become a God.  So there are also, er...shadows of the Throne of Bloodstone series (1e) here and eventually Dead Gods (2e).  It is also here we are re-introduced to the Shadar-kai, a humanoid race that lives in the Shadowfell and how it has changed them. It changed them a lot actually since in 3e they were elves.  Here they are human.  In 5e they will become elves again.  

I ran this adventure using the 4e rules and then again years later converting it to 5e.  It ran fantastic each time.  I also wrote up a set of conversion for BECMI style D&D Basic. I have run it, but it looks like it should work well with that too.  I start the characters off at 5th level for that. 

If you can find a copy in print it is a fun introduction to the D&D 4 game. The PDF is free at DriveThruRPG so it only costs you a click. 

Player's Option: Heroes of Shadow (4e)

The Shadowfell is now a feature of the D&D 4 landscape and many products have discussed it including many of the adventures and Monster Manuals.  With the Player's Option book we get classes and races based on the shadow realms and how they can be used.

One of D&D4's greatest strengths was it's modularity.  Adding or subtracting material from the game was easier than ever before.  It is a feature that 5e adopted, though not as radically as 4e.  Adding more classes then never felt like a bloat since you could limit the number of classes or races or any other feature.  The Player's Option books were that in execution. Heroes of Shadow introduces the Assassin class, the Blackguard Paladin option, the Vampire class, the Binder option for Warlocks, and additions to other classes such as clerics (death domain),  warlocks (gloom pact for hexblades), and the Necromancy and Nethermancy schools for wizards.  Since classes are so detailed this covers the majority of the book.

The Vampire class should be mentioned since it is different.  The idea behind it is that no matter what a person was before this, they are now a vampire and they can progress in power as a vampire.  Not for everyone, I am sure but there was an elegance to it that can't be denied. It also worked quite well to be honest.

There are some new races of course. The Revenant is back from the dead with the power of the Raven Queen with them. The Shade has traded some of their mortality for Shadow stuff.  This is the best version of the Shade since 1st ed. The Vryloka are living vampires, one of my favorites in 4e, and variations on Dwarves, Elves/Eladrin, Halflings and Humans.

There are new Paragon Paths for many classes and Epic Level Destinies.  A handful of new feats and some new equipment. 

It is a fun set of options that really had the feel of the shadow-soaked 4e world down. 

Plenty of great ideas for a 5e game using the same classes (all have 5e counterparts) or as fluff for other versions of the game. 

The Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond (4e)

Gloomwrought is a large city located in the Shadowfell. This product came in a box with a 128-page Campaign Guide, a 32-page Encounter book, a poster map of Gloomwrought, monster counters, and a 30-card deck of Despair cards.  The Despair cards were a nice feature since they could add to the mood of "gloom, despair, and agony on me."  While the cards had mechanical effects, the vast bulk of this product is fluff.  The crunch amounts to some NPCs and encounters, all easily converted. There are a couple of monsters, but they analogs in every other version of D&D. 

Gloomwrought gets the most ink here and that is fine. The city is something of a crossroads in the Shadowfell and it is likely where characters will end up.  

One of the nice things about the D&D4 Shadowfell line being done is it is now easier to go back and include something like Gloomwrought in the HPE series of adventures that had come out three years prior.  In fact, it is entirely possible to make ALL your D&D 4 experiences live and act within the Shadowfell if one chooses.  I find this personally satisfying since my 2nd Ed AD&D experiences are largely molded by my chosen campaign world of Ravenloft. 

Use with BECMI or 5e

If you look back at my "sunk costs" posts I have been building this idea of running the HPE series with either BECMI or 5e from a 4e conversion.  These books could work rather well with those ideas.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Review: M1 Into the Maelstrom (BECMI)

In some ways, I do wish I had read M1 before I had picked up M3.  I had picked both modules up around 10-13 years ago while looking for a good epic level adventure for my kids then D&D 3.x game.  They were into the epic levels of D&D 3, with the lowest level at 24 and the highest at 29.  They were on this huge campaign against what they thought was the machinations of Tiamat.  M1 was very good choice since I love the idea of flying ships (D&D should be FANTASTIC after all) but the base plot didn't work for the adventure in mind.  M3, along with some other material, worked rather perfectly.  Plus I can't deny that the Carnifex played a huge role.  So M3 went on the table and M1 went back on the shelves.

Until that is Bruce Heard began producing material for Calidar.

M1 Into the Maelstrom is really a fantastic adventure for the D&D Master's Set that realizes that set's potential.  It is also a great lead-in to not just the Immortals Set coming up, but also the future of the Mystara-line and even pre-sages Spelljammer and the adventures of the 90s.   Additionally, and somewhat forgotten, this book introduces us to our first named Immortals and introduces demons to BECMI.  

There is a lot going on here.  Let's get into it.


For this review, I am going to consider my original print module and the PDF from DriveThruRPG.  There is a Print on Demand version as well, but I do not have it.

By Bruce and Beatrice Heard.  32 pages, color covers, black & white interior. Cover art by Jeff Easley, interior art by Valerie Valusek and maps by Dave "Diesel" LaForce.
Into the Maelstrom deals with the machinations of three Immortals, Koryis (Law), Vanya (Neutral) and Alphaks (Chaos), and are featured on the cover.  Alphaks is our focus here.  He is the focus of the next few adventures and is one of the "Big Bads" of the later BECMI and Mystara lines.  He was the ancient Emperor of Alphatia AND he is the first demon we see by the name demon in any BECMI book to my knowledge.  He is a "Roaring Demon" or what 1st Edition calls a Type VI or Balor demon.  We won't learn more about them till the Immortal set, but here they are. Demons in Basic D&D.

Our adventure starts in the Known World. We bring back King Ericall of Norwold and he needs the characters to investigate the source of some poisonous winds coming from the north between Norwold and the Island Empire of Alphatia (to the east).  The poisonous fog/winds are the result of Alphaks trying to reenter the world via a two-way portal from the Sphere of Death (call back to Death's Ride!)

The three immortals are essentially playing a game. Alphaks wants into the world, Koryis doesn't want him in and Vanya is going to side with the winner.  As the adventure progresses each immortal will earn points for the actions, successes and/or failures of the PCs.  The DM keeps track.  The PCs can also gain curses or boons as the adventure continues.

So another new addition is the "Sea Machine" or water-based battles as an addition to the War Machine.  Pretty nice bonus add if you ask me.

The first part of the adventure goes pretty normal. That is until the seagoing vessels encounter the titular maelstrom.  The PCs are sucked into the swirling vortex of death and spit out into a starry void with air they can breathe!  How's that for adventure?

Here this becomes a proto-Spelljamming adventure, there are several locations (Islands) that the PCs can stop at, but each has their own unique set of hazards.  

The PCs must navigate, in all senses of the word, the machinations of these three immortals.  There is even a giant battle with a navy of the dead controlled by Alphaks.

In addition to the new monster stats (the Roaring Demon), there are PC/NPC stats in back for characters to use in the adventure.

So for the first time, we get a BECMI adventure into the other planes.  Here the characters get a chance to travel the outer planes via a flying ship and even dip a toe into the Astral plane.  
Depending on the outcome the characters can also be set on the path to Immortality.

This adventure is "bigger on the inside" as has been described.  There is a lot here that can be expanded on to a near-infinite degree.  With a ship that can transverse the planes a good argument could be made about even returning to the Known World and Norwold.  

Let's also take a moment and talk about Diesel LaForce's maps.




These things are works of art really. I am not sure how as a DM you can look at them and NOT want to run this adventure.  "Dimensional Guide to the Star Kingdoms?" Hell yeah!

Into the Maelstrom, along with the other modules in the M series work not just as a Master's level set of adventures, but also our introduction to plane hopping and dealing with immortals in the D&D game.  Compared to the same treatments in AD&D, such as the H Series, the M series is more subtle in it's approach.  The H series is largely about kicking in doors, killing monsters and taking their stuff.  Only in the H series, the doors are planes, the monsters are gods and demons and their stuff are artifacts.


Going back to the beginning, if I had known more about the arc (let's call it the "Norwold Saga") then all of these adventures do tie into all the others in a nice, dare I say it, Adventure Path.  Maybe that is something that WotC could do to reintroduce Mystara is give us this for 5e rules.

Keep in mind that this "Adventure Path" or even meta plot was alive and well in the mid-80s. Long before the 90s that this sort of gaming is most associated with.  I might have to explore this idea further.

In the meantime, M1 Into the Maelstorm stands out as not only a great adventure, but a groundbreaking one in many ways.

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.


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.