X4 - Master of the Desert Nomads Notes

Background

I have recently DM'd this module with my regular group, which has definitely brought out this module's good and bad points. I pre-generated a number of characters specifically for this game, with the appropriate levels.

Annotations

Cover

This is a nice picture of the Wood Juggernaut, which the players may encounter on Page 17.

Page 1

This is a picture of the Scorpion Man from Page 14.

Page 2

Part 1: Introduction

Background

Page 3

This looks as if it is designed to be read to the players, although it isn't boxed. The first paragraph is the historical background. It is lacking a lot of useful information about the new lands. It talks about the "Great Waste to the West of the Republic" being the home for nomad raiders. That's ok - I assume that they are referring to the Republic of Darokin from X1 - The Isle of Dread. But then there are vague terms about "surrounding settlements", "local lords" and "farthest flung towns". Looking at the map on page 7, there is no indication of any kind of settlements at all. It can only be presumed that despite not being part of the Republic, the lands they are talking about are a series of frontier states with some kind of vague allegiance to the Republic of Darokin. The map suggests that the only inhabitable land i.e. surrounding Pramayama is nearly 300 miles away from the main caravan routes. Since this is where the reserve army has been sent to, this suggests that the main army marched south from the Caravan routes, and then west from Pramayama.

The second paragraph gives some flavour to the party, to basically say that there are with the army's C team. The third paragraph shows that the threat is real. Note, however, that it doesn't say that this village is Pramayama, as I always have assumed was the case before actually playing this.

An interesting point is made about how the characters "may advance in level as play progresses". In this version of D&D, it is not 100% obvious when experience should be given out. In a dungeon-bashing scenario, you can give experience each time surviving players return "home". Personally, I will only give out experience at the end of the module. But how do Magic Users and Elves get their new spells? That's not so obvious.

Page 3

Try as I might, it isn't possible to directly join the map from X1 to the right of the X4 map. The hexes are of different sizes, the symbols are slightly different, and there appears to be a half hex gap between the two!

Part 2: Key to the Settled Areas

General Information

This adds a little more detail to the "Settled Areas", describing the Settled Lands as being a "Western outpost of the Republic". The suggestion is that the only reason why there is no other settlement on the map, or any form of society is because it has all been destroyed by the Nomad army.

The module mentions that the character "arrive with the reserve forces" in the Settled Areas (not Pramayama). It also says "If the players tell the DM they want to do something heroic or adventurous on the journey, the DM can inform them that they are too late. There is really nothing in this area to do.". There is also a "Settled Lands Encounter Table" in this part. This all suggests that the characters are supposed to journey through the settled lands, and the DM should roll on the encounter table every day. In my original reading, I assumed that the party start at Pramayama.

Instead of reading the background, I decided to actually flesh it out so that the players actually met for the first time in Akesoli (the main town in the Republic of Darokin). I role-played the entire journey from Akesoli to Pramayama. I was going to base the encounters on the interesting flavour text in the previous background, and have the characters be with the reserves. But unfortunately, after telling them the destination, the whole group rode off, leaving the rest of the reserves to walk the rest of the way. Perhaps I should have forced the issue, either by having a commanding officers order them to ride at a walking pace, or have the reserves have transport. But in any case, the characters still saw the devastation in the "Settled Lands", even if there were no specific encounters.

In this "prologue" I played out, I had the PCs come across at least one destroyed village on the way. Perhaps I should have had a few destroyed towns, to show how dangerous the Nomads are. Pramayama is one village in which the main army had a battle against the nomads. The main army has gone on ahead, presumably to fight the Nomads in the desert to the west.

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Rumors

This table should be used with the encounter table on Page 3, and any people they meet in Pramayama. I add my own take on the rumour and the party who knows it:

  1. The desert raiders took no slaves. They killed my brother, a strong warrior! (True)
    • This implies that the raiders used to take slaves, but now with the Master in charge, they are just killing. This would most likely come from a Peasant, but could also come from a Veteran who joined up with the Army to avenge his brother's death.
  2. Flying things darkened the sky when the attackers came to my village. (True)
    • I assume that this could the Wyverns and Tabi - the only flying creatures the Master seems to have in this module.
  3. The Republican Field Army has been destroyed. (True)
    • Only use this rumour once the party have left Pramayama. It's best coming the Veterans in the Settled Lands Encounter Table.
  4. We saw a small band of men fleeing across the desert, pursued by a black, flying shape. (True)
    • As in 3, this could be a Wyvern or Tabi.
  5. The raiders must be guided by some ungodly force. (True).
    • This is most likely to refer to the Master, or the supernatural forces behind the Master (which are touched on in X5 - The Temple of Death).
  6. Some caravans, carrying rare chemicals, and unknown goods, are able to cross the desert unharmed. A scout told me so. (True)
    • This one is a bit of a mystery. The only caravan the party will meet is on Page 10, but their goods are mentioned as being "dried fruits, grains, and cloth". It is possible it is just referring to the fact that some caravans are infiltrated by the Master's spies, such as Ahmed Khel. So as a result, those caravans are left alone. Note that the "scout" may have been from the original Republican Army.
  7. A foul stench precedes the coming of the raiders. It terrified all the men. (Partially True)
    • The Tabi, described in the New Monsters section seems to fit this bill. This seems to suggest that the Master is using Tabis as agents more generally than the encounter on Pages 12 to 13 would suggest. But then again, the "Partially" bit might mean that this is an exaggeration, and this was a one-off meeting with Abatu's Tabi that is being exaggerated. When talking about "the men", it seems to suggest that the talker is a Veteran.
  8. Scouts sent against the might of the evil army have never returned. We find their skulls on stakes. (True)
    • Again, this really only makes sense when coming from Veterans.
  9. The source of their power is a great chariot beyond the snowy peaks. This I saw in a vision. (True)
    • This is the first mention of the "great chariot", which is how the Temple of Death is described in the next module. It being "beyond the snowy peaks" seems to suggest that the designer meant that the Temple of Death was going to be immediately on the other side of the Black Mountains (as with the map). I like the use of visions and madness in this module!
  10. I used to adventure, and I saw their army. It wasn't much - only a mangy lot of desert men with some orcs and foul beast men. (Partially True).
    • This may be describing the Desert Nomads as they used to be, before the Master started organising them.
  11. They are ruled by the Master. Beware for his eyes are everywhere! Trust no one! Trust nothing! (True)
    • The character who is saying this seems to know way too much. I just can't see a normal Peasant or Veteran saying anything like this, It would have to come from somebody who has had a vision, gone mad, or both.

The Village of Pramayama

The fact that the first paragraph says "The adventure for the characters begins in the small village of Pramayama" made me think that the module started here. However, maybe the designer meant that the excitement begins here?

I found it hard to make my players understand that Pramayama is destitute. Unlike all the villages they have ever gone to, there are no shops. There's only two villagers (and one of those is mad); everyone else is a soldier. I had a bit of fun role-playing the soldiers.

1. Commander's House

I have to admit that I made an initial mistake and conflated the Commander of the village with Sarras, his first officer. And remember that in theory, these people are the ones the players marched with. Except my group, of course.

Page 5
2. House of the Mad Hermit

The Mad Hermit can give a bit of flavour, and some useful information:

3. The Guide

Pormas is a character who can provide a limited amount of help. His main use is supposedly to guide the party up the river and across the swamp. I would have thought that the party would be able to pole a raft, so I guess that his special knowledge might come in useful. Maybe he could give the names of destroyed villages that the party go past on the river. If the PCs don't employ him, they might keep getting stuck on sandbanks, or come to some other disadvantage.

Confusingly, the text says that "If the player characters do not hire him, he will give them no information about the desert or the location of the Great Pass.". Well, considering he is a river guide, there is no reason why he should know anything about these topics! But it goes on: "If the party hires him, he will insist that the provide him with proper equipment, including a camel.". It makes no sense in him wanting a camel, unless for some reason, he was intending to join the party. I had to provide an explanation that this was a backup plan, in case the boat got destroyed, to save him from walking back. Actually, the camel is a bit of a pain in the arse, since there is no place to buy camels. I had to add an encounter with some merchants at Pramayama just for the party to be able to buy him one.

Settled Land Encounters

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1. The Mysterious Man

This boxed text is the first official player background text. I expanded on this heavily, and had the characters actually have to go out and ... scout. This gave the players a chance to get to learn a lot of the background via contacts with other characters, and fight some of the Master's minions whilst still based in the village. It also indirectly provided a reason for them to meet the Mad Hermit (Building 2.), who screams at night, every night, but can provides the information above. It wasn't actually until the second session that the first encounter was actually started. Sadly, the Soul Eater, whilst being a cool and distinctive monster, was very easily defeated. The fact it can only be hit by magical weapons is really not a problem for the PCs at this level. In my game, it never got to use its special Wisdom draining power on the characters at all.

The map which seems so important is not useful until the next adventure, X5 - The Temple of Death, and even then the information given in the module is not very helpful. It talks about the "Highlands" beyond the Great Pass. This seems to suggest that the designer was going to place the Temple of Death just on the other side of the pass. As it happens, in X5 there is a whole other wilderness map to traverse to get there from the pass. It is probably a good idea to create a player aid based on the X5 wilderness map at this point with small amounts of territory: mountains, plain, wood and a lake.

At this point, there seem to be a few holes in background and logic. First of all, what actually happened to Guilliame? I had always assumed that he was part of the Republican Army sent to spy on the Master's armies. Supporting evidence for this is that in Encounter 2 "The Evil Patrol", it says, "If Guilliame is still alive, he will not be able to add any more information except that his scouting party was attacked by horrible beasts and only he escaped alive.". We don't know how far he got. Even he doesn't seem to know what he did (maybe the trauma blotted out those memories?). Maybe he got through the Great Pass and found the Temple of Death, and thus he drew the map himself? When he was discovered, the Master sent a Soul Eater to kill him.
However, note that he could have taken the map with him to the Temple of Death. The text on the map, "O Gods, guide me to destroy this temple of death..." suggests that his was a divinely inspired mission. In this module and the next, it says that higher powers have taken an interest in the party's quest, and the Unknown Benefactor can help the party out, if needed. Maybe the Unknown Benefactor arranged for Guilliame to look for the temple, and after he failed, transferred his interest to the party? In which case, maybe the "bad" higher powers found out, and told the Master to send the Soul Eater. Supporting the "holy quest" theory is that the journey to the Temple of Death is easily around four months from the Settled Lands, so this journey would have started some time ago, even if he didn't get all the way there. Surely the army hasn't been in the field for that long!

Secondly, was Guilliame specifically heading to Pramayama? It would seem more obvious for him to head back to The Republic, not a minor village in a backwater like the Settled Lands. Or did he get lost in the desert, hit the Asanda river, and then just followed it down until he reached the village?

Thirdly, Sarras must be particularly perceptive to send the PCs to the Temple of Death. All he knows is Guilliame was important enough that he had a supernatural force sent to kill him. There is no connection with the Master of the Desert Nomads and the war, yet Sarras thinks that the two are connected. Maybe he had heard rumour 15 ("The source of their power is a great chariot beyond the snowy peaks"), and put two and two together?

Fourthly, the players are supposed to go to the desert to find the army. The suggested route is to take a boat north up the Asanda river, through the Salt Swamp, to meet a caravan at the other end. Yet the reservists are going to meet the army, and they are "marching into the desert" (presumably to the west)! Why don't the PCs accompany the reservists instead, with whom they would be safer?

Fifthly, it is seems odd that scouts have reported of the caravan "west of the town, beyond the Salt Swamp". What town? The only sense I made of this is that "the town" is actually in the Republic, and the scouts have galloped non-stop from that town to pass this information onto the Commander of the reserve forces. Considering that the raft only does 12 miles a day, this requires the biggest coincidence in the world for the players to meet the caravan in time. Which, of course, must happen for the plot to work. Well, maybe there is more than one caravan.

Recap

After this encounter, the players should know:

Note that they don't know at this point that the Master or the Nomads are necessarily connected with "The Temple of Death".

The Master knows:

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2. The Evil Patrol

Whilst waiting for preparations, it might be quite useful to give the players a nudge and let them learn about the other two villagers, Portas and the madman, if they haven't already.

It might be a good idea to read the description of the raft on page 8., and give the players a plan of the raft. I can't quite work out, however, why the description suggests that it takes hours to load stuff onto it ("The sun hangs low over the river, making it shine like red glass."). The description is nice and atmospheric, and the encounter needs it to be late to work, so with the raft loaded by the end of the day. Therefore, it is probably a good idea to find things for the party to do (finding and maybe fixing up the raft would be a good idea).

Note that this encounter is called "The Evil Patrol". This suggests that the Master didn't direct his minions here. Instead, maybe they came by chance, maybe looking for the Reservists. Not finding them there, the Magic-User decided to defeat the small group he came across and torture the survivors for information, not realising that they were actually seasoned adventurers. However, since the Magic-User has an Amulet of Finding, the Master would now be aware of the party's existence. Somehow, he connects the defeat of the Soul Eater with the party. One way to do explain this would be for Guilliame, assuming he is alive, to be in the village after the Reservists leave (which would make sense - he is in a bad state, and needs rest). Or maybe Guilliame was returning to Darokin by horse, and was waylaid by the patrol, tortured for information, and he then informed the Magic-User of the Party?

I should make two clarifications to the rules here. Firstly, the reason why the magic-user can't cast his own spells whilst on his mount, is in the 1st Edition Expert Rulebook (X25): the mount isn't stable enough. Secondly, the ring of spell storing can only contain Haste and Lightning Bolt (X49) - and this can easily be used on a mount. I ruled that the ring acts quicker than casting a spell, so its effects are resolved during the Missile File phase of combat.

Incidentally, I might interject here about the D&D rules on magic item identification. The magic-user has an Amulet of Finding, which potentially could mess up encounters with the Master's minions. If the PCs have an Identify spell (as in AD&D 2nd Ed onwards), this possibility is removed. The rules in the 2nd Edition D&D Basic Rulebook (B47) specifically say that the PCs have to work out what a magic item does by observation and experimentation. Sensibly, my group were immediately suspicious of this amulet, and put it in a Bag of Holding until they worked out what it was.

Recap

After this encounter, the players should know:

The Master knows:

The Master will guess that these adventurers have something to do with death of the Soul Eater, and they now might know something of him and his plans. He'd rather that this knowledge doesn't get out, and put the alert out for his forces to look for the adventurers.

Page 7

As said previously, this map isn't 100% compatible with the map in The Isle of Dread. And it doesn't have many any adventure locations marked on it except for the village of Pramayama, On the other hand, it is prime for expansion possibilities.

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Part 3: Key to the Asanda River

The Asanda River

It's quite painful how slow this method of travel is (12 miles/day, according to X63). The players could quite happily take their mounts along the river up to the Salt Swamp, and then skirt around it. But that would mean missing at least some the encounters in this section, and that would never do.

On the other hand, being on the raft allows the PCs to kick back and catch up on a few issues of Adventurer's Quarterly whilst their guide poles them upstream.The main benefits to using the raft is that the players can quite happily ignore 70% of the encounters with humans or humanoids and 100% of the non-flying monsters. The players can use their spells and missile weapons with little comeback. You might want Sarras to mention this, if your players don't fancy this mode of transport.

It might be a good idea to mention that there are burnt-out villages on the river, since this is supposed to be the (formerly) Settled Lands. This did also encourage my players to get off the raft, so they could be attacked by monsters from the Settled Lands Encounter Table. After I did this a couple of times, they soon learnt not to do this again.

1. Monster From Below

This is a nice little encounter which can provide a bit of "raft in peril" action for the unwary.

2. The Watchers of the River

The title of this encounter seems to suggest that the Master knows of the party's plans, and has actively sent these soldiers to prevent them from continuing their quest. This is definitely the case if they are wearing the Amulet of Finding. Exactly why the Master should care so much is not obvious.

I interpreted this encounter as being at a ford (the water is probably waist high). In the text, it mentions that the horn that the human commander has will, when sounded, bring reinforcements from the opposite bank. Despite the large numbers of monsters in this encounter my party made short work of them using Haste and Fireball spells. They also took advantage of the fact that they had longbows, while only some of the monsters have shortbows.

Recap

After this encounter, the players should know:

The Master knows:

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3. The Malakaz

This is one of my favourite encounters in this module. It has a great "feel" to it, even as written. However, it is essentially a puzzle. My group has three problem solver types; they loved it. However, the other two non-engineers didn't enjoy it as much.

This whole encounter is very detailed as to what the PCs can and can't do. Essentially, the "fix" is to cast Dispel Evil on the hut. The only thing I can add is to mention that one of my players tried to use Fly spell to go as high as possible. Whilst Fly is one of the forms of travel mentioned that won't allow PCs to escape, the text doesn't quite explain what the flying PC will see when he or she flies upwards. My take on this was that as the PC gets higher than the surrounding vegetation, the PC starts to see a kaleidoscope of copies of the 100' radius from the hut branching out as far as the eye can see. The higher the PC is, the more copies can be seen.

This is also the only encounter where the "Unknown Benefactor" might help.

Recap

After this encounter, the players should know:

The Master knows:

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Part 4: Key to the Caravan Track

The Caravan

This is possibly the caravan that was mentioned by the scouts from Pramayama, not that it matters. Interestingly, as indicates the vaguely Indian flavour to the names in this adventure, the name of the Captain of the Guards (and spy for the Master), Ahmed Khel, is actually a town in Afghanistan. Maybe this may be a clue that he comes from the mountains (maybe Hule?).

Surna Lamshar isn't so obvious. "Lamshar" is a form of "Lamsar", which is a Persian surname common in the area around Iran and India (which used to be ruled by the Persian Mogul dynasty). "Surnay" refers to a Persian instrument (also called a Zurna).

The caravan is a nice way to add a bit of flavour. My players tried to find out about the Master and the Nomads from the guards and merchants. I decided that some of the guards might be from the desert, and know something of the area, but not the mountains, and particularly not Hule. I decided that the merchants are definitely from Slagovitch, which is a city marked on the X6 map, and are very nervous about being attacked. Both groups have noticed that they have been very lucky not to have been attacked by the Nomads, unlike most of the caravans they have heard of. This was a subtle hint that there might be somebody working for the Nomads on the caravan. As it happened, this didn't matter because my players were very suspicious of everyone, and cast ESP to read everyone's thoughts.

1. Bandits on the Way

This is a fun encounter in which 100 bandits try to raid the caravan. I have to admit that I didn't read this too well in advance of the game, and got a bit unstuck in play. I had problems with the boxed text:

... Riding out 300 yards ahead of the main group, you group notices signs of the passing of a large group of men ...
... Then, as you pass the base of a steep bluff, you see a cloud of dust in the distance. It appears to be moving your way.

The issue here is that presumably the characters are going ahead, but only after they pass the base of the steep bluff, which suggests that the bluff is to the left or right of them, do they see the bandits - in the distance. And then, the text says that only if they "act quickly" will they be able to warn the caravan. I would have thought that 300 yards is not that far, compared to the bandits "in the distance", which I would guess would be more like a mile. Remember that the bandits have enough time to circle the caravan and approach from all sides. Even if the PCs sauntered back, you would have thought that the PCs would be the first people to meet the Desert Nomads, not the caravan, unless they were being deliberately ignored. I can only guess that the writer assumed that the players would not be mounted, but the fact that the PCs' animals are mentioned in the initial description of the raft on page 8 shows that this cannot be the case. Don't forcibly dispose of their mounts - they are essential to speed up the adventure!

What would make more sense in these circumstance would be if the party were passing the top of the bluff, and from this vantage point, they saw the bandits coming from 150 degrees of the PCs movement. This is assuming that the PCs occasionally look around them when scouting. This means that it is less likely that the PCs would meet the bandits before they attack the caravan, and makes the encounter more urgent.

In practise, this encounter finished very quickly for my group. With Haste and Fireball, they annihilated the enemy in precisely the way that was expected. In fact, after defeating all of the bandits at their position in one round, my group decided to split up into three positions, and they still won overwhelmingly!

Recap

After this encounter, the players should know:

Page 11 to 13
2. The Lost Oasis

The beginning of this encounter is purely for flavour, and to give the PCs a reason to be ill in the night. I took the advantage to describe the meal in all its gross detail. This is one place where losing a saving throw will benefit the PCs - being ill might lead them to catching the Tabi (winged monkey!) as it tries to steal their map. As is said earlier, the Master must somehow know by this point that the PCs have a map which might lead them to him.

The Buried Temple part of this encounter is a nice flavoursome micro-dungeon. There is a lot of detail in the writing and pictures which can be picked up on if the party are interested enough. There are enough clues to ensure that the players can avoid the nasty trap on the stairs. This also has the effect of not giving Abatu the Nagpa a chance to notice and attack the party before they get to his secret room.

By reading the text on the wall, they eventually figured out that this was the "the lost gate that scorpions guard" described by the madman. But they were very unsure as to the intentions of the scorpion man, and nearly didn't pull out the pin due to excess caution.

Since my players were careful, the Nagpa and Tabi encounter ended up as a bit of a damp squib. In any case, perhaps this encounter could be beefed up a little, before the inevitable Haste and Fireball combo leads to the monsters' rapid death. Abatu just managed to cast "corruption" before being annihilated.

The Master encounter at this point is pretty nice. It gives the Master opportunity to appear as a civilised man, and also get a good look at the PCs. My players at this point decided they wanted the mirror. Since it doesn't really say how large it is, and whether it is fixed to the room, I let them take it with them on their mounts. It definitely came in handy later on.

Recap

After this encounter, the players should have had found out lots of important things, including:

The Master knows:

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3. Friend or Foe?

This encounter is designed to show some potentially friendly Desert Nomads - in this case, dervishes. Assuming they don't attack the dervishes, and are Lawful, or will allow themselves to convert, they will meet their leader, Talel el Hareidhin.

It is likely that this name comes from T. E. Lawrence's account of his time in the Middle East, "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom", in which Talall El-Hareidhin was a leader in Lawrence's army.

More importantly, this encounter ties up the first part of the players' mission, to find the main Republican army in the desert. Unfortunately it is too late. However, they still can get help to find the Great Pass.

Talall has somehow manages to have learned the following things:

He is obviously getting this information from a special source. He can't be using his Commune spell, since that only allows him to ask questions with yes/no answers. Maybe he is getting the information from dreams sent from his immortal patron, or maybe the Unknown Benefactor is sending him these dreams.

Recap

After this encounter, the players should know:

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Part 5: Key to the Sind Desert

This is a slightly badly named section, because the PCs have already been in the Sind Desert for the previous section. Perhaps, "Key to the Plain of Fire and Desert Hills"? In any case, the adventure goes back to the random and fixed encounter style of Part 3. I know that there are people who decry the fixed encounters as "railroading". But let's face it - wandering around hexes desperately trying to find the next keyed hex needed to get to the next place would be exceptionally dull. So good for you, Mr. David Cook!

On the other hand, it would have been nice if the "Desert Hills" could have been marked on the map on page 7. Without any other description, I have made the assumption that any hex which is three or less hexes away from the "hill" hexes are part of the "Desert Hills".

The random encounters for this section are particularly juicy, particularly the Enemy Patrols. I like the idea that the PCs can use the pass from the Master to essentially get taken to the Evil Abbey unmolested. I assume that this still allows random encounters to occur, but the patrols will sort out the danger on the PCs' behalf's.

Just one more note - there are no stat blocks for the monsters in this table, other than the patrols. These are below:

Name No. App AC HD hp #AT D MV Save ML AL
Basilisks d4 4 6+1** 33,29,38,22 Bite + Gaze 1d10 Petrify + Petrify 20' F6 9 N
Blue Dragon 1 0 9** 42 (2 Claw + Bite) or Breath (2 (d6+1) + 3d10) or {hp} 30' or Fly 80' F9 9 N
Efreeti 1 3 10* 44 Fists 2d6 30' or Fly 80' F15 12 C
{Create Objects or Create Illusions or Invisible} x 3 + {Wall of Fire} x 3 + {Pillar of Flame: d8 + conflagration: 3 rounds}
Flame Salamander d2 2 8* 32,43 2 Claw + Bite + Heat(20') 2 (d4) + d8 + d8 40' F8 8 N
Giant Scorpion d4 2 4* 19,22,16,25 2 Claw + Sting 2 (d10) + (d4 poison) 50' F2 11 C
Cockatrice d4 6 5** 21,19,24,30 Beak d6 + Petrify 30' or Fly 60' F5 7 N
Cyclops 1 5 13* 55 Club or Rock(200') or (Curse 5%,1/week) 3d10 or 3d6 or special 30' F13 9 C
-2 To Hit
Hill Giant d4+1 4 8 39,43,31,46,30 Club 2d8 40' F8 8 C
Gorgon d3 2 8* 39,41,31 Gore or Breath(60'x10') 2d6 or Petrify 40' F8 8 C
Wyvern d3 3 7* 31,34,27 Bite + Sting 2d8 + (d6 Poison) 30' or Fly 80' F4 9 C
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Encounters in the Sind Desert

1. The Hibernating Monster

This is my one of my favourite encounters, and the most memorable. Nobody in my group every expected a Sand Hydra.

Recap

After this encounter, the players should know:

However, what is not obvious is why this map is here. And why the map shows how to get to that encounter from this specific spot. It is so convoluted, that the only explanation is that since higher beings gave clues to this encounter, the very same higher beings have deliberately left the map to put the PCs back on the track to the Great Pass, Likewise, the DM is blatantly putting the players back on track. Yes, railroading.

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2. The Enemy on the March

This is a great encounter. It doesn't really add anything to the plot, but it shows that the overall stakes of the adventure are really high. It is nice and open-ended: the PCs can make as much or as little of this encounter as they want.

The scale is really nice. My players were really shocked when they realised that there was no way that they were going to avoid the army. But once they holed up in the cave, they realised that they could probably get away with a lot, and try to find out about the Master's army to boot. The thief got particularly sneaky and backstabby at this point. And one guard relieving himself at the top of the gully got ceremoniously pushed in, breaking his neck.

Since you can follow the army's path back to the start of the Great Pass, it seems that the army has come from Hule. For certain, X5 - The Temple of Death describes Hule as being host to a number of different non-human groups, so the Goblins, Bugbears, Giant and Gargoyles have definitely come from there. But what about the Nomads the PCs encounter at the entrance to the gully? They have tribal markings on their face. Maybe they were sent to Hule for training, and are now returning as loyal soldiers to the Master?

I would assume that the officers and fighters in encounters 5 and 6 are probably from Hule. X5 doesn't mention language, so I just assumed that they spoke an accented Common. As for the Guards in encounters 2, I suppose they could be Huleans or Nomads.

Recap

After this encounter, the players might know:

The may have also worked out from rumours:

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Part 6: Key to the Gates of the Pass

I assume that as soon as you reach the hexes which are shown as hills, these are the foothills. If the PCs are following the trail of the army from the last encounter, we must assume that they are following some sort of trail. An army of the size previously shown must have travelled on a reasonably marked path. In any case, it would make sense that there would be an obvious route from the only pass across the Black Mountains!

Encounters for the Gates of the Pass

1. The Guardians of the Pass

I had a problem visualising how you got to this encounter, if you are supposedly following a trail to the Great Pass, I can't see how you would then start going cross-country as seems to be the case in the description for this encounter. My explanation for this was that the flash flood in The Hibernating Monster encounter washed away the trail which the PCs were following, forcing the PCs to make a detour across a hill. In any case, if the PCs have the map from that encounter, it leads them a slightly different route, anyway.

The encounter with (the second!) madman is really only just a bit of fun. Unfortunately for the PCs, the only obvious information they can get is a reference to the Evil Abbey, and possibly a hint that the monks are not what they appear. And also a reference to signs to the Great Pass. All the other things that the Madman says are so cryptic to almost defy analysis. To be quite honest, it is slightly annoying that the module goes out and tells us that the players should be railroaded to the next encounter, particularly since there is nothing in this module which says why it is essential that the players go there. Even more annoying, it talks about "providing directions", when neither this encounter or the next are actually marked anywhere on the map!

Recap

After this encounter, the players should know:

And the players might just be able to work out that:

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2. The Evil Abbey

Finally we get to the climax of the module. As I say previously, it is not obvious exactly where this is supposed to be placed. However, I guess that this should be in the hill hex sandwiched between three mountain hexes, right in front of the Great Pass symbol.

And as I said previously, there appears to be next to no explanation as to *why* the PCs need to go to the Abbey, other than that it is there. The players could just walk past the base of the Abbey's hill, and on to X5. As it happened, my players were immediately suspicious. Even when surreptitiously casting Know Alignment, they were still convinced that the "monks" were up to no good. But they went along with the plans, all the same, even if it meant stabling their mounts in the Guesthouse, and keeping watch all night,

Having said that, this is a fun encounter. I kept the players frustrated that they *knew* something was wrong, but they couldn't quite justify a pre-emptive strike.

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B6. Instructional Chamber

The phrase "The mysteries of our faith may only be discovered by contemplation and insight. When you have done this, you will be initiated." was very useful for a number of social encounters with the Bhuts.

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E. The Well

My players got very frustrated with the well. They were convinced that this led down into a dungeon below the Abbey.

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G. Blacksmith's Shed

This is another place where my players got frustrated trying to find a non-existent dungeon. They ended up excavating all the coals from the fire pit.

H1. Main Bath

Remember that the colour of the water hides the jelly, which can move at 10'.

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K3. Abandoned Shrine

My players guessed that cleaning the altar might get a good effect for them. Perhaps you should change the effect this if you have experienced players.

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K4. Temple Foyer

The amnesia trap here is pretty nasty, particular if your players are into role playing the confusion of forgetting who they are. I ended up with half the PCs amnesiac, since they came in through here, and didn't know any way out other than this. The only way that the players could avoid this trap is by following a Bhut. It would be a good idea to allow any invisible or thief character who is sneaking around the temple to eventually see a Bhut walking through here, assuming that they stick around long enough.

Also, take into account that if Bhuts from K5 run in here due to the floor noise trap, they will have to say "I come to thee, my Master" - there is nothing saying that this is a one-way magical trap.

K5. The Main Temple

The PCs can find a map of the Great Pass in the base of the dais. However, there is absolutely no guidance as to what this means. I assumed that it would have all three symbols on it.

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K8. Abbot's Shrine

I loved this bit. True to form, my players smashed the Chaotic idol, and then goodbye room!

L4. Main Library

Aaargh! This was torture. You won't believe the number of times I rolled on that table, having to make up invented history of the Abbey on the fly. It might be a good idea to prepare something in advance.

I also got bored on how many times they found the same geographic text about the Great Pass.

The heretical religion described must be the Chaotic Huleans religion. Although the text says this is about theological differences of opinion, and as such not interesting, this might be a good idea to describe the basics, as outlined in X5. See my notes on this on X5, page 10 - 11. Note that it describes "the chariot beyond the clouds". I still haven't quite understood the relevance of the "beyond the clouds" bit, which is also described by the Madman. Maybe it just means "beyond the pass", although the pass is more underground that above clouds. As I have suggested before, maybe the original design was to have the Temple of Death on the other side of the Black Mountains.

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L5. The Secret Archives

Ok. This bit is dumb. It definitely is not secret, and so can give away the Bhut's identities immediately, which is no fun at all Since the Bhuts don't just prevent the PCs from using the library, but actually suggest they look there, this seems very silly. It might be a good idea to block of this room and its ante-room, and add a secret door to make it, like, secret.

N. The Abbot's House

This is a great idea, only flawed by the fact that it doesn't quite tie-up properly with X5. In X4, it suggests that the rooms are actually in the Temple of Death. The descriptions of the views through the windows seem to match up with that concept. However, in X5, it suggests that rooms are in some extra-dimensional space inside the Master's House of Zebulon. The best explanation why the players can look out of the windows and see the environs of the temple is that the Master placed the House of Zebulon at the top of his tower.

Take note from the map that whilst some of the House of Zebulon's windows line up with the Abbot's House windows, not all of them even have real counterparts.

Reading the description of the House of Zebulon from X5, it says that once a week, the door to the house of Zebulon can be projected to any location known by the user. This suggests that the door is probably transient, and so when the Master so wants it so, the Abbot's House will go back to normal. This, of course, doesn't explain why the PCs can't look through the windows from the outside. But X4 has a second door on the upstairs which leads outside. This suggests that there is a missing room in the House of Zebulon. Maybe internal doors of the House of Zebulon can be configured to map to other outside doors. Or maybe there is some special affinity between the two houses?

N1. Guard Chamber

Three wights? Seriously?

N2. Meeting Room

This bit is where the PCs can easily make the most useful difference in the war effort. If only they work out how to use the Mirror of Sending and send the documents they find here to the Republic. Or failing that, find a friendly character to take them.

After this encounter, the players might know:

N4. Holdiong Cell

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THE CATACOMBS
1. Crypts

In B. apparently you find a map of the Great Pass with the "proper" route through. I assume that this would be the shortest route through the Great Pass in X5. This is not mentioned in that module.

2. Secret Altar

What is it with Magic Mouth? It's a spell not in this version of Dungeons and Dragons, and just keeps on appearing anyway!

Recap

After this encounter, the players will know:

After this encounter, the players might know:

After this encounter, the Master will know: