There are four series of Expert level modules, the X series, the XL series, and the XSOLO series:
|X series||X1 - The Isle of Dread|
|X2 - Castle Amber|
|X3 - The Curse of Xanathon|
|X4 - The Master of the Desert Nomads|
|X5 - The Temple of Death|
|X6 - Quagmire!|
|X7 - The War Rafts of Kron|
|X8 - Drums on Fire Mountain|
|X9 - The Savage Coast|
|X10 - Red Arrow, Black Shield|
|X11 - The Saga of the Shadowlord|
|X12 - Skarda's Mirror|
|X13 - The Crown of Ancient Glory|
|XL series||XL1 - Quest for the Heartstone|
|XSOLO series||XSOLO - Lathan's Gold|
|XS2 - Thunderdelve Mountain|
|Design||David Cook and Tom Moldvay|
|Development||Paul Reiche III|
Patrick L. Price
Edward G. Sollers
David S. LaForce
David C. Sutherland III
2nd Ed. Timothy Truman
|Cover Artists||1st Ed. David S. LaForce
2nd Ed. Timothy Truman
|Format||32 page book, and 2 pane cover|
|Party||6-10 characters of levels 3-6, with a total 26-34 levels, 30 best.
Should have at least one MU/Elf and a Cleric.
This is D&D's "Special Introductory Wilderness Module", by which I assume "special" means that it was bundled with both versions of the Expert Set. Unfortunately, there is nothing particularly special about this adventure. However, I suppose that at least you gain the beginnings of a campaign world. This is briefly covered by a double pull out page map at the scale 1 hex = 24 miles, and a paragraph each covering each of the countries. Unfortunately, the continent looks very much as if it was designed purely to show every type of terrain on the map, without providing a logical reason for their presence. The most unlikely, the Alasiyan Desert, was given a ret-conned explanation in GAZ 2 - The Emirates of Ylaruam.
This was written in the days when TSR was focused on providing dungeons and wilderness areas purely for adventuring, and civilisation was something that was just relegated to "You are in a town. Oh look! There's a tavern!". After they find some old parchments, you are supposed to manoeuvre the PCs to Specularum, where the adventure starts. Annoyingly, there is absolutely no information on this city other than how to buy a boat. The journey to the Isle of Dread itself supposed to be done entirely by the random charts. My suggestion is to pre-roll the weather and random sea encounters, otherwise the journey is pretty boring e.g. Day 1: you move 1 hex south (roll dice) ... Day 2: you move 1 hex south (roll dice) ... Day 8: you move 1 hex south - (roll dice) oh, and you encounter a monster (spend next 5 minutes rolling up the stats). With a bit of work, this voyage could be fun (you've just got to stick a pirate ship in there!).
Once the PCs actually get to the Isle of Dread, the adventure is very much inspired by King Kong (the native village with the big fence), The Lost World (the dinosaurs and the central plateau), and Treasure Island (yes, more pirate encounters!). Like a lot of early TSR adventures, the style is deliberately freeform. Keyed to the map are a whole load of set-piece encounters, most of which showcase the new monsters, such as the Rakasta and the Phanatons. The players can quite happily wander around the map to their hearts content, without needing a goal. However, there is an actual end to the adventure in the volcanic depths of Taboo Island, alluded to in the parchments the PCs find, but it isn't essential to complete this at all. To stop this ending from being too anti-climactic, it is worth expanding the caves under Taboo Island at the suggested locations. Considering that the plateau was meant to be the hub of an ancient civilisation, there really is little to be shown for it. It would also be a good idea to think of a reason why the supposedly amphibious and heat-loving Kopru have managed to evolve and rule an empire from some hot springs isolated from the main island by impassable (and very cold) mountains.
The nice thing about the Isle of Dread is that it hasn't been ruined by subsequent TSR publications, although it couldn't really be such an unexplored part of the world as the world as suggested by later publications. In fact, the entire Thanegioth Archipelago is completely "free" to be developed in any way you want without being contradicted. In my version, the people of the Archipelago are very much based on the Polynesians, and their offshoots, such as the Maoris from New Zealand. At the end of the main adventure section, there are a number of adventure ideas - you've just got to run "Destroy the Zombie Master" purely for its hokey clichés. Naturally, you have got to flesh out all of these adventure ideas yourself.
This was created for the second edition Expert Set. The differences are mostly cosmetic. Most obviously, it has the new D&D logo. The layout has been changed to confirm with the new house style introduced from X6 onwards. Well, to be fair, now it actually has a proper layout, rather than each piece of text running from one chapter to the next. The maps are now more sensibly arranged, so that all of them can be entirely removed from the module, unlike the first version, where a couple of maps are left in the book. The player map and log extract are now placed on the third panel of the cover, which is meant to be torn off.
One mistake in this version is the omission of the small sketch of the first level of the Taboo Island dungeon. This makes the location of the opening in the centre of the east wall not so obvious.
Strangely, the continent map is different from both the one in the original X1, and the Expert Set. It is like the original continent map, with the trail between Darokin and Selenica removed, but with the locations of Threshold and Kelvin added.
The monster choice is altered, because during its revision, the Expert Set lost so many monster. So sharks become crocodiles, giant squid become water termites, and the sea dragon becomes a sea hydra!
At the time, the map was the Known World!
|Interior Artists||Jim Holloway
Stephen D. Sullivan
|Cover Artist||Erol Otus|
|Format||32 page book, and 2 pane cover|
|Party||6-10 characters of levels 3-6, with a total 26-34 levels, 30 best.
Should have at least one MU/Elf and a Cleric.
This is one of my favourite modules: a creepy, claustrophobic affair, with the PCs trapped in a mansion inhabited by a whole family of mad spell casters. As a nice literate device, the designer decided that the Amber family come from the parallel world of Averoigne, created by the brilliant Weird Fantasy author, Clark Ashton Smith. A contemporary and friend of H.P. Lovecraft, Smith's influence is felt throughout the module. Many of the encounters in the mansion are based on his own short stories. For instance, the bloodied apparition digging herself out of her grave is based on the terrifying story "The Second Internment".
The idea behind the adventure is that the Amber family (who have been supposedly missing from Glantri for years) like to trap people in their house when it makes its occasional earthly visit. Then they watch the visitors' attempts to survive the tricks and traps they have placed for their amusement. It is essentially a dungeon, but its encounters are very atmospheric, and the personalities of the Amber family are great to role-play.
However, the part of the adventure where Smith's influence is most apparent is where the PCs are sent to Averoigne via a magic gate. To return to the mansion, the PCs must go to each of five locations in the land, Each location corresponds to one of his Averoigne stories, and the PCs must survive the encounter with horror, and gather all the plot items together. The land of Averoigne as presented is very sketchy. However all the references to the original stories are in the supplied bibliography. The nice thing about using a previously existing background is that you can add many details from the books which could not be put into a single module. Of course, this does mean some work, especially as none of the separate encounters have any maps.
The only really disappointing part of the adventure is the final dungeon, the tomb of Stephen Amber. This is essentially a couple of rooms of extremely powerful monsters, with none of the quirkiness which distinguishes the rest of the adventure.
Beside the Streel river in the Principalities of Glantri, near to the Broken Lands.
These are quite fun. My favourite are the Gremlins. Not really dangerous, but pretty malignant. The Aranea and Rakasta from X1 are back, for no particular reason. The Death Demon is great - D&D designers manage to put Demons back into the game via the back door!
|Editor||Deborah Campbell Ritchie|
|Interior Artist||Timothy Truman (uncredited)|
|Format||32 page book, and 2 pane cover|
|Party||5-8 characters of levels 5-7, with a total 35-50 levels, 46 best.
Should have at least one MU, two Thieves, one Dwarf, and lots of Fighters.
This is a great detective style module. The Duke of Rhoona has started issuing bizarre proclamations, and people are beginning to think he's gone quite mad. It started with taxes to be paid in beer, then people having to ride their horses backwards. But the one declaring war against the Dwarven nation of Rockhome really took the biscuit. It doesn't help the PCs either; they will constantly have to ensure that any Dwarf characters are kept inconspicuous. As is to be expected, Great EvilTM is actually at work, and this will take only a quest to put things to rights.
As you might expect, the Duke is cursed ... by Xanathon, the priest of the evil god Cretia, patron of the shifty foreign Ethengarians. Not many people know that, other than Draco, the leader of the Duke's guard; and he is expecting to be the next Duke. The PCs start following up the inevitable rumours learnt in taverns, and get contacted by a mysterious figure who dispenses advice, i.e. tells them where to go next, throughout the entire adventure. Clues given by Eric of Forsett (for it is he) lead them to the Ducal Barracks. Clues found in the barracks will lead them to the Xanathon connection.
At first, raiding the temple seems simple. Acolytes and Adepts are slaughtered as the PCs come across them. However, a meeting with Xanathon will be severely scary, because he cannot be killed: this is where the PCs will become unstuck. Many players think that because monsters are there, they expect to have a chance of defeating them. So, when faced with the literally invulnerable Xanathon, it is possible that the players will be throwing everything they've got, only to find themselves being slaughtered like sheep. Instead, the DM should give subtle hints that they just will not be able to defeat him (but first allow them to waste all their magic items!).
After the unusual experience of running away from the big bad guy, the PCs will be wondering what hit them, and what to do. Xanathon, being the classic type of baddy who only has himself to blame for his downfall, has actually given them a clue to defeat him. In any case, they have always got old Eric to rely on. They will have to make their way to the Shrine of Cretia, at the height of the pass leading to the Ethengar Khanates. I would recommend drawing a larger scale map for the purposes of the wilderness adventure, because the trail is not located on these maps. The description given in the module only makes sense when using the map from X1. Unfortunately, it is pretty difficult to reconcile the description with GAZ7 - The Northern Reaches.
Once at the shrine of Cretia, the PCs are in traditional, albeit small, dungeon bashing territory. After a number of encounters, including the new Hypnosnake, they will find the plot amulet that contains Xanathon's lifeforce. All that needs to be done next is to find Xanathon, and fight him whilst the jewel is nearby. With the first hit, he becomes vulnerable to the PCs. After his defeat, they can finally find the remedy for the Duke's madness, and storm the palace to find the Duke and cure him. Naturally, Draco will not be letting the PCs do this without a fight.
All in all, this is a fun adventure. It has an interesting plot, and it has the added bonus of describing a town, which can be reused for further adventures (there are three suggested scenarios at the end of the adventure). Only the main locations are placed on the maps. As the PCs explore the town, you can place details from the hooklet on the map.
Some annoyances: unlike most TSR modules, the maps have not been placed so that they can be removed from the centre of the module as one unit. And the last
(player handout) page wasn't perforated. As a result, my copy is somewhat chopped up.
There are also some mistakes in the map and description for the Ducal Palace. The secret door between rooms 105 and 106 is missing from the map. Room 99 is a bit strange: the map shows both a secret door and a normal door between that room and 106, the Duke's boudoir. But to confuse matters, the 99. description talks about the secret door leading to Draco's room. Since the next sentence talks about the secret door leading onto the Ducal chamber, "Draco" is a mistake. And my guess is that the normal door should be removed, leaving just a secret door.
Located in and around Rhoona, a new town in the Kingdom of Vestland. Amazingly, both GAZ7 - The Northern Reaches and GAZ12 - The Ethengar Khanates refer to Rhoona, although the former's map seems to place the town incorrectly - it is meant to be at the fork in the two fjords, not just to the west of the fork (also see X13.
It is interesting that this adventure is set in Vestland, which is described in X1 as having a culture resembling that of the Vikings. However, apart from the occasionally longboat, there is absolutely nothing that would stop this adventure from being placed in any other part of the Known World. The gods worshipped in Rhoona are Forsetti (Lawful), the Spooming Nooga (Neutral) and Cretia (Chaotic, and foreign to boot). Where's Odin, Freya, Thor, Loki, and all the other Norse Gods? To be fair, X13 does exactly the same thing. (But there is another explanation for this in GAZ7)...
|Interior Artists||Jeff Easley
|Cover Artist||Q ?|
|Format||32 page book, and 2 pane cover|
|Party||6-8 characters of levels 6-9, totalling around 50, cleric of level 8-9, all PCs should have 2-3 magic items|
This module was my favourite until B10 came along. The adventure is epic along the lines of DragonLance. What's good about this is that if played properly, the players will feel that they are taking part in a world shattering storyline, as if they were in a film or novel. The downside is that a lot of the encounters are forced on the PCs. In fact, all the encounters up to pg. 18 are not located on the map, and just "happen" when the DM thinks it is time. However, the reasoning behind the encounters (you must convince yourself of this) is that the eponymous Master is watching the PCs from the first encounter, and he is constantly in contact with evil spirits and minions throughout the adventure.
Actually, it is the map which excited me when I first opened the module. It extends the Known World westwards from the continental map given in X1, is dominated by the gigantic Sind Desert, and is bordered on the northwest by the Black Mountains. Whilst the name "Desert Nomads" might give the impression that this is going to be based on Arabic culture, it turns out to be a mixture. Whilst the caravan and dervishes are obviously Arabic, the names of some of the monsters (Bhut, Juggernaut, Tabi) and the place names (Pramayama, Sind) seem to suggest Indian culture. In fact, it seems that the latter has become the accepted interpretation, judging by the information given in The Champions of Mystara box set, although this contradicts the module in several places. It was a disappointment to me at the time when the module gave little to no information about the "Great Waste" - I mean, who actually lives here? And considering this is meant to be about "Desert Nomads", the only nomads the PCs meet are distinctly not under the control of the Master.
The story starts with the PCs joining the reserve force of the army of "the Republic" in a war against the desert raiders who are attacking caravans and harrying the western border of "the Settled Lands". Obviously, the idea was that the Republic of Darokin extended way beyond the edge of the continental map in X1. But all other publications (including X1 and X10) contradict this statement of facts, so maybe Darokin is merely providing support to the Sindhi kingdoms. Anyhow, whilst stationed in Pramayama, the PCs will be kicking their feet around for a couple of days, doing guard duty and repairing the defences. Luckily their boredom will be alleviated by witnessing an excellent new monster - the Soul Eater - fighting with a half-dead cleric who has just escaped from the desert. This is a particularly atmospheric encounter, and sets the tone for the rest of the module. The cleric holds a map (which you will have to draw yourself, although this is not specifically mentioned, based on the map from X5) which has the location of something called "The Temple of Death". The PCs' commander seems to think this important, so they are ordered to give this map to the general of the army which is currently fighting the Desert Nomads in the desert.
With this task, the PCs are given a raft which they are to row up the Asanda river until they get to the Salt Swamp, where they should meet up with a caravan heading into the desert. In theory, this should be quicker than going directly into the desert. What is annoying is that some players might want to head directly into the desert - in which case, they will miss a whole load of encounters. My favourite is in the Salt Swamp itself, where the PCs meet the Malakaz, an evil entity infusing part of the swamp which prevents the PCs from leaving. This is one encounter that cannot be solved by force. The PCs will be caught there until either all of their minds are drained, or until the correct magic is used. Nasty.
After leaving the swamp, the PCs will enter the desert: a rocky wasteland. They will eventually catch up with a caravan, who will let them travel with them. Whilst on the journey, there is a pretty good encounter, featuring an attack by 100 bandits! There is a diagram showing the various lines of attack, and the PCs can decide a location to defend. The description tells the outcome of the attacks at all the positions, but the PCs can obviously make a great difference to their's. There is a nice simple mass conflict resolution system here, although I suppose that BattleSystem could be used instead, if wanted. Next comes the Lost Oasis, where a winged monkey (otherwise known as a Tabi) tries to steal the players' map. It can be traced to a temple nearby, which is inhabited by a Nagpa, a vulture headed humanoid who is in league with the Master. Not surprisingly, if they haven't been careful, the map is sent to him via a magic mirror. In fact, this is a chance for the PCs to first come into face to face contact with the bad guy. He is actually quite charming, in an evil kind of way. A nice touch, but completely irrelevant to the plot, is the Scorpion Man temple guardian who initially appears as a pile of bones; but if the pin in its skull is removed, it reconstitutes itself, and pulls down the entire temple. It freaked out my players no end.
Next, the party will be waylaid by Dervishes, who will inform them that the army they're looking for was recently destroyed. They will now have to follow the map themselves, and they are shown the way towards the Great Pass. An atmospheric encounter with a desert Hydra, after a flash flood follows. But the most dramatic encounter is where they literally meet the entire Desert Nomad army (who actually seem to be from beyond the Black Mountains ... but never mind). If they are clever, this is an opportunity to find out about what's going on from the enemy itself. Any kind of direct fighting will be, of course, suicidal. The nice thing about this encounter is that whilst it can happen anywhere on the map, it acts as a means to put the PCs back on track, if they have been veering way off course i.e. almost certainly. The party now has a trail leading to the Great Pass through which much of the army passed on the way to the desert.
Eventually, they will reach the foothills of the Black Mountains, where they will meet a madman who speaks through four statues, and who has very useful information. Climbing into the upper reaches of the mountains, they will finally get to the "Evil Abbey". Can you guess this isn't a good place to stay? It is essentially the dungeon section of the adventure, and comprises of the final 14 pages in the booklet, portraying what seems to be a Tibetan Monastery. One part of the abbey is even a gateway to the Temple of Death, not that the PCs will be able to get out of the suite of rooms (but there is an unfortunate contradiction in X5). The main monsters in this encounter are the monks, who are actually evil shape-shifting Bhuts, who only show their evil appearance at night. Once this is cleared out, the players can eventually find the location of the pass. But that is to be continued in X5 - The Temple of Death ...
As you can see, this is a very plot-oriented module, but it is really worth it because of the sheer quality of the encounters in design and the quality of the prose. Whilst there aren't any keyed encounters, the landscape described is very important, because the changing landscape is the only thing to reassure the players that they are on track. One reason why I am not so keen on the later "civilisation" of the landscape in Champions of Mystara is that it takes away from the feeling that the adventurers are all on their own in this ... great waste ... hundreds of miles from home.
I would recommend that when preparing this adventure, a larger scale map be made of the Black Mountains and foothills near the Great Pass, which include the encounters in the "Keys to the Pass" chapter. It should also contain the symbols which guide the party from the Evil Abbey to the pass itself (see X5). The DM should also prepare some handouts for the scroll in L4 (pg. 26) about the Great Pass, and the information found in L5 (pg. 27) about how to get to the Great Pass. The former will require information from X5.
See my personal campaign notes on this module.
|Interior Artists||Timothy Truman|
|Cover Artist||Timothy Truman|
|Format||32 page book, and 2 pane cover|
|Party||6-8 characters of levels 6-10, cleric of level 8-10, all PCs should have 3-4 magic items|
This module is the sequel to X4 - The Master of the Desert Nomads, and retains the style of that adventure. The mission is now to find the Master in his great temple, and bring forth mighty vengeance upon him. This comprises of three stages: finding the Great Pass, travelling through the Great Pass, travelling through the Master's realm of Hule, and finally confronting him in his citadel at the heart of the Dark Wood. Like the first module, the first half comprises of a number of encounters which will happen regardless of what the players do, and the second half is a dungeon. To be fair, the presence of a map of the Great Pass means that quite a few of the encounters may get missed out if the PCs take the right turning at every opportunity. Again, the designer has gone for encounters which are there for atmosphere rather than standard dungeon bashing.
The first thing which I noticed when looking at this module was the uniformly excellent art, particularly the finely penciled interior pictures. Then I marvelled at the beautifully drawn wilderness map (look at the mountains and trees to see what I mean). And then got frustrated because the map from X4 didn't match up correctly. This mismatch is quite apparent in a lot of other material, where continuity with X4 gets lost.
The module supposedly starts where the last left off, but it is somewhat lacking in information about where to go next. The three symbols (snake, fish, monster swallowing the sun) that are supposed to guide the party are mentioned on pg. 3, but there are no maps showing their location. It is a nonsense to say that these can be placed on a 1 hex = 24 miles scale map. There is also a contradiction with X4, pg. 27 (N4), where it says that the party should watch for the sign of the fish "when travelling through the Great Pass". The latter should be changed to "when travelling in the Great Pass". In any case, the signs have to be placed in the 12-24 miles between the abbey and the pass, because the abbey must be placed in the hex immediately adjacent to the Great Pass. The text in the preceding module says that the party are now above the treeline! In my view of things, the abbey is in a plain, surrounded on three sides by the Black Mountains. A path leads northwest, towards the mountains, and enters a maze of gullies after a couple of miles. At various branches, the correct path will have the appropriate symbol, and the incorrect branches will have a different symbol. Incorrect branches will wind on for miles, and end in rockfalls or dead ends; maybe they are infested with monsters. After picking the three correct branches, the entrance to the pass is found.
At this point, I ought to mention that in my copy of X5, there appears to be a typesetting mistake. All the text in the left hand column on pg. 5, from the paragraph preceding the heading "General Description" should actually be at the beginning of pg. 4. But this is a minor fault in a series of great encounters, which will make the adventurers feel increasingly claustrophobic. Because this pass is actually a network of caves and valleys inside the mountains. Unlike the previous adventure, this is actually mapped, and it is quite likely that the players will miss many of the placed encounters. This is a shame, since the sight of a mammoth falling out of the sky in location 2. might be quite disconcerting. As would be the Dusanu, in his palace of fungi (location 4). One small error: I do have a problem with encounter 9. (pg. 9), because the description is incomplete and hard to visualise (how does Focquet get down from a platform cut into the mountainside into an underground passage? My guess is that the Storm Giant's speaking funnel is big enough for the fighter to climb down.).
Once through the Great Pass, the PCs are in the land of Hule, which appears to be a religious police state similar in nature to Iran after the revolution (c.f. X10). Unlike most of the countries on the continental map in X1, it seems to be very, very large, and mostly uninhabited. The PCs will be have to be very careful otherwise their foreign nature will be apparent. Whilst the module mentions the many ways that they might give themselves away, it doesn't mention the obvious one: it is unlikely that the PCs will be speaking the same language! This is assuming, of course, that you are playing with the Gazetteer assumption that the "Common" language is Thyatian. I would probably get around language problems by having a magical translating item. Removing this from the PCs at an inappropriate interval would be one way to make the players sweat.
The first town that they visit is always Magden, which is there purely to provide background information on Hule and the Master, and most importantly: where is the Temple of Death. After following the directions, they will reach the Dark Woods. Whilst in the woods, there are four great "mood" encounters "The Golden Cenotaph", "The Black Altar", "The Hounds" and "The Ship". Eventually, they will find the Temple of Death itself. This is a potentially lethal dungeon, since hundreds of people live there. To enter the temple and find the master, reconnaissance is essential to a successful plan.
There are three sections to the temple, each requiring more authority to enter: "The Court of the Initiates", "The Courts of the Holy Men", and "The Court of the
Master". Not surprisingly, the final section is where the party will want to go. A note here on the map: three locations are missing from the temple
map. A1 should be the wide space in the middle of the western side of the temple, and A7 is in the middle of the A block. A8 is the 10' by 20' chamber in the south
west corner of the A block.
When the Master is eventually found (behind a couple of sets of secret doors), he is a pretty tough opponent, although he can be easily defeated in a non-confrontational way if the PCs have been paying attention. He is a Cleric of level 14, with a number of magical items. One of the more interesting items is the House of Zebulon (a Star Frontiers reference here!), which allows entry to a small house presumably existing in some other plane or dimension. Unfortunately, the description here contradicts that on pg.27 of X4 (area N), where it said that the said house was actually part of the temple. When looking through the windows of the X4 house, supposedly you could see plains with mountains in the difference. At the time of writing X4, it seems that the designer was indicating that the PCs would be seeing the other side of the Black Mountains from the window. But since the Temple is actually in a valley surrounded by a forest, this is unlikely. I suppose that this could be the description of the actual location of the house in real space.
The adventure doesn't actually have a conclusion. Once you have killed the Master - job done. In fact, the PCs don't even have to kill the Master, if they find the battle plans and send them to the commanders of the Republic army. This might explain why the Master is still alive in X10! There is a magic transporter in the temple that could actually send them back home instantly. If they work out the powers of the House of Zebulon, the entrance to the house could be moved to somewhere nearer home. Otherwise, it is going to be a very long walk back home. If the PCs get back to civilisation, it is not entire obvious what the state of the war will be. My guess is that the Master's armies will be approaching Akesoli in the Republic of Darokin. If they give the documents to the Republican army, I assume that the war is won, and the PCs might be entitled to some reward for their considerable efforts.
West of the area called the Great Waste, shown in X4 - Master of the Desert Nomads.
See my (unfinished) personal campaign notes on this module.
|Author||Merle M. Rasmussen|
|Graphic Designer||Ruth Hoyer|
|Interior Artist||Jeffrey Butler|
|Cover Artist||Steve Peregrine|
|Format||32 page book, and 3 pane cover|
|Party||2-8 characters of levels 4-10, cleric of level 6 or more, all PCs should have 3-4 magic items|
After the epic drama of the Desert Nomad series (X4 and X5), this is very much a return to the freeform wilderness adventure of X1 - The Isle of Dread. As in that adventure, the PCs come across a map which propels them to investigate; this time, it is a map in a bottle. Like that adventure, this lead gives them all the information they need to get to the final objective, but the module is mainly involved in wilderness adventure. Again extending the "Known World", the wilderness to be explored is west of the map from X1, and south of the map in X4. Obviously, the village of Pramayama is important enough that it is actually marked on the players' map which shows the new wilderness in relation to the continent. Apart from Quagmire itself, there are only three other settlements marked on the map: Slagovich, Mule Beach, and Sea Camel, and only the former is meant to be of any great size. On the other side of the wilderness map is a virtually feature-free 1 hex = 1 mile scale map of the area around Quagmire, and a slightly more useful side view of the spiral city plan.
This time, the map falls into the PC's possession via the classic mechanism of a message in a bottle. Written on the other side is a plea from the Molariah, ruler of a city known as Quagmire, for someone to help them to escape a blockade. Not the best mechanism for getting help, but I suppose they couldn't think of anything better. And anyway calling your city "Quagmire" doesn't seem destined for it to be a popular destination. But this is just the overall objective of the module, and most of the adventure is designed to be exceptionally freeform. There are three types of encounter: Some are keyed to terrain types on the map, which include random "flavour" encounters, such as finding bottles in the sand, and the PCs ship captain disappearing mysteriously. There are another set of encounters which actually happen at set points on the map. Finally there are short "dungeon" adventures in three identical cities, one of which is Quagmire itself. As well as the half-submerged city, there is also a fully submerged city, and Thanopolis, the city which the inhabitants of Quagmire would like the PCs to discover and help them move to. It saves having to create a new map for each city - if that's what you can call a conch shell shaped tower emerging from the sea. This is supposedly a former trading port True, it was once great, and is now sinking under the waves, but you would have thought that they would have done something before now.
Whilst the PCs move around the wilderness, at various times they will find more messages in bottles, and also escapees from Quagmire and other people who are attempting to save the city. The short wilderness encounters are pretty interesting, and they could easily be used as standalone events in another adventure. There is also a large commercial flavour to the adventure. The trade routes are located on the maps, and at many points, the PCs could get involved in trade, or meet merchants on their voyage. Indeed, there are opportunities for capturing and selling wild horses and camels. The disadvantage with the wilderness feel to this adventure is that the settlements get short shrift. There are barely two paragraphs on Slagovich, and you don't find out why it hasn't been attacked by the Master from the Desert Nomads series.
The individual encounters are good, but the actual plot makes little sense. Supposedly Quagmire is on a major trading route, yet is a merely a tower and can only hold a population of no more than about 50 - those guys must be pretty inbred. There appears to be nobody living on the island of Thanegia or the Serpent Peninsula, and nobody can remember where their other two cities are located. My rationalisation for this was that hundreds of years ago, there were many people living on the land, but continuous outbreaks of disease in the jungles and swamps killed most of the human population, and forced the remnants to move to the island on which Quagmire was formerly located. The spiral "city" was just the ruler's palace, and was surrounded by many more buildings, all of which were abandoned as the waters rose. Most of the remaining population either left for a better life, and a small minority found themselves forced to live in the close confines of the palace. Molariah is probably a minor functionary who is only leader because he refused to leave his home. The other two "spiral cities" should also have some sort of evidence that other buildings existed for consistencies sake. Oh, and whenever the PCs meet any ship-bound merchants, it ought to be explained that they are scared to use the trade routes past Quagmire, because of the Lizard Man blockade.
More than anything else, I like the feel of this adventure. Vast spaces completely devoid of civilisation, mostly inhabited by monsters. This, of course, is completely contradicted by the Champions of Mystara box set. One of the "new" features is that below a certain line of longitude, a different wandering monster table is used to the one in the Expert Rulebook. However, we do get brief mentions of the Kingdom of Ierendi sending out expeditions. The artwork gives a nice mood to the adventure, although the most striking graphics are on the wandering monster tables, whose background is a photograph of swamps - very atmospheric!
Pre-rolled characters come from AC1 - The Shady Dragon Inn - what a swizz!
All of the following turn up in the Companion Rules
|Editor||Anne C. Gray|
|Graphic Designer||Ruth Hoyer|
|Cartographer||Dave "Diesel" LaForce|
|Interior Artist||Jeff Butler|
|Cover Artist||Larry Elmore|
|Format||32 page book, and 3 pane cover|
|Party||4 to 6 characters of levels 9-12, with total levels 40-50 (average 45), with at least 1 MU/Elf or Cleric|
Back to the continent: this time the Minrothad Guilds, not that you learn a vast amount about them. But the PCs have been contacted so that they can rescue a princess who has gone missing in the area south of the Minrothad Guilds, which has become the Known World's version of the Bermuda Triangle. This is ocean adventure, even more so than X6. It is essentially a showcase for all the sea-dwelling monsters in the Expert Rulebook, and a number of new rules and magic items useful for underwater adventuring. It reclaims a number of monsters who were dropped between the first and second editions of the Expert Rules, and adds a few new ones for good measure.
As it turns out, one of them is the previously unknown race called the Tritons, who are behind this mystery, as the PCs find out not too shortly after starting their investigation. Not being a player of AD&D at the time, it wasn't exactly obvious what these creatures looked like. They are described in the New Monsters section as being "... very much like Mermen. The only differences are cultural ...". Well, if this is true, then why does the picture on pgs. 5 and 9 distinctly show them with two legs - in fact looking very much like humans, with fish-tail like ears? Additional clues as to their non-humanity is the picture of their king on pg. 9, where he appears to have fish scales on his legs, although this could simply be armour. I looked in my recently acquired copy of the AD&D 1st edition Monster Manual, and "Triton" appears there. In this book, they appear to have two fish tails which act as legs, which is where I imagine the description of being like Mermen comes from. The former picture doesn't show the Triton's feet, but a curl of fish tail is seen above the edge of the sea chariot. Luckily, PC3 - The Sea Peoples, is far more forthcoming, and reinforces the Monster Manual description. On PC3, pg. 7 it says they can walk on twin tails, but only for short periods.
In an absolutely fantastic initial encounter, the PCs are attacked by Tritons emerging from the sea on sea chariots, pulled by Sea Horses. The Tritons can quickly destroy the PCs ship by sending in their giant termites to gnaw big holes in the wood. Avoiding the temptation to force the PCs into a predestined encounter, they can be captured by the Tritons and taken to Kron, or they can defeat them, in which case a friendly storm giant, Koom can get them up to speed with what's going down in the undersea world.
The next section reveals the reasons for the missing ships. It appears that Hadric, an underwater form of vampire known as a Velya, has charmed Ulobon, one of the staff of King Lopra of Suthus. Hadric needs fresh victims, and Ulobon has arranged for Lopra to be charmed by the Sorcerer of Kron, Morak, who has also charmed his king, One-eye. This nice little arrangement ensures that both settlements profit from the Triton raids, whilst Kron holds the prisoners until they are sent to the Hadric's sunken city of Colhador. The PCs can uncover this whole of this conspiracy by investigating Kron and Suthus: it doesn't matter in which order this is done - in fact, once one of the settlements has been investigated, they could go straight to Colhador.
The city of Suthus is cut into coral, and makes an interesting, and very alien, place to explore. Whilst the PCs could probably have a good stab at attacking everyone in sight, it would be sensible to encourage the players to treat this more as a role-playing encounter. If they don't, they will probably get killed because there are around 50 Tritons, with a minimum Hit Dice of 6, and with spellcasting ability. Their best bet is to discover Uthom, the king's wizard, because he knows about Ulobon, and wants him removed.
Personally, I think that the map of Suthus, and the population, makes this far too small to be a city. I would redefine the map as simply being the palace of Suthus, with a number of other coral habitations surrounding it. If this is done, it should be made easy to distinguish the palace from the other dwellings.
Kron, on the other hand, is a human city built on a number of enormous rafts, all strung together by walkways. It floats with the currents around the Sea of Dread. Like Suthus, it would be a bad idea for the PCs to go in all fireballs blazing, since there is far too much resistance. They should either be sneaky or diplomatic in their attempts to find the princess.
This section is rather nice, since it could easily be used for another adventure. In fact, I would suggest that if playing X1 - The Isle of Dread, you could let the PCs see the raft city on the horizon. Whether they want to visit would be entirely up to them. This should be pre-Hadric, so that it is simply a trading city.
Colhador is supposed to be the final show-down, and takes up the second half of the module. Not surprisingly, it is a dungeon adventure. But underwater. It used to be a human city which sunk under the waves due to an earthquake. Some of the city remains, and a portion of the original palace of Colhador lies on the faultline which destroyed the city. In an interesting twist, you can get into the castle via the dungeons! Since the adventurers have probably already rescued the princess by now, destroying the evil Hadric will just have to be a reward in itself. But this will be the hardest part of all, because the Velya's Charm power is transmitted by hearing, rather than by sight. In theory, the entire party could get charmed before even encountering Hadric, since his song can be heard throughout the entire area. He attacks guerilla style, and also keeps a whole load of tricks and traps around the place. My favourite is the coffin with the zombie which has been transformed to look like him. After supposedly killing him, the players will really be on their guard. But it would be worth being on their guard anyway, since there are also some pretty tough monsters, including the scary HD 30, AC -2 Dragon Turtle.
Whilst on the whole, I like this adventure, it doesn't follow the right format. The plot is not summarised at the beginning of the adventure, but at the start of each section, which means there is a certain amount of duplication, and a lack of the big picture. It also uses a "dungeon" type convention of describing the NPCs in the room description, rather than putting them in a separate section, as more modern adventures do. But what makes it worthwhile is the interesting setting, and the new rules and monsters which will make the players think twice when even trying to do the most mundane of activities.
The Sea of Dread, south of Ierendi. The map in this module is effectively the underwater version of the continental map from X1 - The Isle of Dread.
|Designers||Graeme Morris and Tom Kirby|
|Editing||Jim Bambra, Phil Gallagher|
|Typesetting||Phil Gallagher, Paul Cockburn, Kim Daniel|
|Interior Artists||Brian Williams, Paul Ruiz|
|Cover Artist||Brian Williams|
|Format||32 page book (4 page pull out), and 3 pane cover|
|Party||5 to 8 characters of levels 5-8|
I have just realised that this is the third ocean-connected adventure in a row! And with XSOLO - Lathan's Gold, the fourth one published within a year. Somebody really must have got maritime on the brain in the TSR design department. This time, the adventure is based on one of the three small islands roughly E-S-E from the tip of the big island just south of Thyatis city. The island is called Teki-Nua-Ria, and is very much the kind of south sea island populated by unfriendly natives, zombies, and topped with two enormous volcanoes. The twist to the classic clichéd ideas (not it's particularly wrong: this is D&D!) is that the natives are a variety of Orc called Kara-Kara.
The adventure revolves around the machinations of a Magic User, KalnaKaa. He also happens to be a Devil Swine, a monster which appears to be unique to Dungeons & Dragons. He was fleeing Thyatis with his daughter Maerie, when he found the island. Luckily for him, once the Kara-Kara saw him in his swine form, they worshipped him as a god. Exploring the caverns beneath the island, he discovered the Kal-Muru, a form of air elemental that appears as ocean mist, and bound them to his will. With these two groups under his control, he has been organising a very profitable piracy operation on nearby shipping.
The Thyatian Seafaring Merchant's guild has been hit badly, but they have managed to capture one Kara-Kara. From interrogation, they determine the location of Teki-Nua-Ria, the general layout of the tunnels under the mountain, and the fact that Kara-Kara's annual ceremony will happen soon. The PCs are asked to go as soon as possible, so they can use this cover for them to go in and kill the new leader of the Kara-Kara. The background information is supplied as extracts from a number of books "copied" onto page 2. This nice touch allows us to get into the mood, however the page must be photocopied, since only two of them are for the eyes of the players.
This is essentially a James Bond style raid. The PCs will be transported to the island and dropped ashore by Guild members, and then picked up when they finish. The have 48 hours to complete their mission. The drums of the title will sound for the entire ceremony, a nice hokey touch to give a whole lot atmosphere, as well as telling the PCs that they still have time. Fighting the entire tribe will be very dangerous, since there are hundreds of them. So stealth is essential.
There are a number of encounters keyed to specific areas on the island, as well as a few which happen when certain terrain is entered. There is also a number of chances for the players to be able to avoid some of the more dangerous encounters (such as the Kara-Kara village) by using a large network of secret paths. One set of portals require the PCs to perform a dance. If you are feeling evil, it is worth forcing the players themselves to enact this. If the PCs are careful, they should be able to slip past the Kara-Kara village into the cave system under the volcanoes. After discovering the secrets of the Ancients, they will eventually track down the lair of KalnaKaa. Unfortunately for the PCs, he is a dangerous opponent. He will take advantage of his charmed retainers, his loyal daughter, and his own personal abilities.
The new monsters are excellent. The Kara-Kara are a nice alternative humanoid character (it doesn't seem right to have Orcs and Goblins on a tropical island). The elementals (Fundamental and Kal-Muru) are integral to the plot, and the new Undead (Agarat - a Ghoul/Banshee hybrid, and Topi - fast 3' high zombies) provide a lot of colour to the adventure.
Again, the UK design team come up trumps. One thing they are good at is taking pulp fiction tropes and applying them to Dungeons and Dragons.
If they were writing a book, it would be described as being clichéd. They even have a classic rope bridge over the volcano over which
natives swarm towards the PCs! However, in the context of a role playing adventure, this is a good
thing, since it is a short-hand that the players will be able to make riffs out of, and play along. They did this in
B10 - Night's Dark Terror with Cthulu. Here they do it with every south sea native volcano god story you have
every heard before.
But this isn't everything. The other thing they are good at are producing excellent production design - far better than anything else at the time. The standard of artwork is great, particularly the maps. which have artwork drawn on them by the same person (Paul Ruiz). To summarise: a fantastic package.
Teki-Nua-Ria, one of a group of islands about 200 miles offshore from the Hattian peninsula of the Empire of Thyatis.
Anne C. Gray
|Graphic Designer||Ruth Hoyer|
|Cartographer||Dave "Diesel" LaForce|
|Internal Artist||Mark Nelson|
|Cover Artist||Keith Parkinson|
|Format||32 page book (8 page pull out), and 3 pane cover|
|Party||2 to 8 characters of levels 4-10, including a Cleric of at least 6th level, party should have at least 2-3 magic items|
For some reason, I never found a copy of this module at the time of publication. Until about a year ago, my collection went from X8 to X10. And so I was very excited about finding this one, particularly due to the heavy connection with the "The Voyage of the Princess Ark" series from Dragon, the Champions of Mystara box set, and finally the Savage Coast AD&D setting. With all this material already available, there could only be disappointment. Again, like X1 - The Isle of Dread and X6 - Quagmire!, this is a free-form wilderness exploration adventure, and has even less of a plot than those two previous adventures. If there is said to be a climax to this adventure, then it could be the lost city of Resilvar - which seems to consist of a single step pyramid (very Aztec-like). But ultimately, apart from a pretty good guardian (the Sacrol) and an artifact (that teleports you anywhere), there isn't really that much there.
The adventure starts in ... wait for it ... an Inn. To be precise, the Hogs Head Inn in Slagovitch - the city briefly mentioned in X6 - Quagmire!. They are assumed to have stopped here from another voyage. The nice thing is that it makes X6 and X9 truly modular. Character already in the "Wild Lands" of X6 can easily stop off in Slagovitch, hear the rumours, continue down the Savage Coast, get bored, and finish off back in "The Wild Lands" for the rest of the Quagmire! plot. There are four rumours than can be followed up in the inn, each of which give a reason to investigate the Savage Coast, although there is no imperative for the players to complete any of these four paths, and they can be safely mixed and matched.
The designers manage to mess up the map - again. It would have been nice if it you could line up all the maps from X1, X4, X5, X6, and X9 to make a nice montage, but unfortunately, for the fourth time in a row, the style and size of hexes make this impossible. In this case, it is very difficult to tell exactly where the X5 map ends and the X9 map begins. Worst of all, the main DM's map is on the outside third panel of the cover, making it impossible to fold out the entire cover and not show the map to the players!! The map is not uniformly rectangular. The bottom right corner which normally would be ocean actually is inset with the easternmost 200 miles of coast, which can make mapping confusing. The players' map is similar structured. The landmass is essentially that which is shown in the Savage Coast boxset, minus the section which appears in X5 - The Temple of Death. Bizarrely, the only place where you see the entire Savage Coast in context with X5, with all the locations and place names visible is as a watermark illustration behind the text on pages 2 and 3. They would have been more sensible to replace the continental map (which is in the Companion Rules, anyway) with a two page map showing these details. They could have also placed and named the unknown cities from X5 whilst they were about it. Grrr!
Like Quagmire!, the adventure consists of a number of keyed adventure sites, a few encounters tied to terrain, and random encounters; however, it isn't as well organised as that module, since the terrain based encounters are in between the fixed encounters, meaning you have to pick them out of the body of the module. This is probably because the module reads not unlike a fighting fantasy book i.e. if the players do this, then use this encounter. Whilst there are plenty of incidental encounters, a number of them do actually have relevance to the plot. These usually involve the PCs learning information which when followed up will direct them to the real adventure site.
The unifying theme of this adventure is that of exploration, colonialisation, and rapacious greed. It is reminiscent of the discovery of the New World by the Spanish. The Savage Coast is the centre of a gold rush, and everyone wants to be first to find it. The PCs are sent here via four possible leads, all of which will eventually lead the PCs to the Orc's Head peninsula. This will put the PCs in conflict with the "Lawful Brotherhood", who have recently converted the natives to their religion, and are exploiting them and their mineral wealth, which is being sent back to their order in Slagovitch. For once in a D&D adventure, "Lawful" doesn't mean Good, which is a nice change. On the way to the Orc's Head peninsula, the PCs will meet with the inhabitants of the Savage Coast, both friendly and unfriendly, human and inhuman. There area a number of encounters only found by sailing up-river; the PCs will miss these if they go directly there, which is a shame, because information can be elicited that will be useful later on. Presumably these rivers are wide enough to occupy a sailing ship, so we are talking major Amazon type of rivers. Similarly, there are quite a few encounters which will only occur if the PCs are following the coast. My favourite stop-over is one in which Gargantuan White Apes carry people off, never to be seen again.
There are some pretty good ideas in this adventures, but it is far too short for the scope that it has. I would suggest that you expand on the Lawful Brotherhood's background. What is it in their religion that allows their behaviour in this adventure, for example? It would also be a good idea to add a few more villages around the place, and add some detail to the native populations, otherwise the Savage Coast is going to seem too empty. Currently, there are some annoying space-saving devices: all of the Lawful Brotherhood fortresses use exactly the same floorplans, and the city of Resilvar map is so symmetrical that the same encounters occur on each side of the pyramid! This might be a good place to add more detail. If anybody is expecting anything like the Voyage of the Princess Ark, or the Savage Coast, then they will be sorely disappointed, since there is only the bare hint of the detailed setting that these described. But then again, this makes it perfect setting in which you can place your own adventures without contradiction.
The small scale continental map in the pull-out section is identical to that found in the Player's Companion book in the Companion Rules, but with a new area west of the X6 map, and south of the X5 map.
A large number of these monsters appear in X2 - Castle Amber, for some reason.
|Designer||Michael S. Dobson|
|Editor||Edward G. Sollen|
|Typography||Kim N. Lindau|
|Interior Artist||Colton Mac & others|
|Cover Artist||Jeff Easley|
|Format||48 page book, 3 pane cover,
double sided A3 map,
loads of Battlesystem chits
|Party||4 to 8 characters of levels 10-14, including a Magic-User of at least 12th level, a character with a Charisma of at least 15; party should have at least 2-3 magic items|
This is designed to be a transition module between the Expert and Companion sets. It has a vast scope, with the PCs caught up in a gigantic war which is meant to cover the entire "Expert Game World", a war started by the Master of the Desert Nomads, who has been resurrected after being presumably killed off in X5 - The Temple of Death. Unfortunately, nowhere in the module does it explain how he has come back from the dead, which really annoyed me when I first read it. Indeed, there seem to be very few connections with the two previous adventures (X4, X5), other than cosmetic.
You get a lot of stuff with this module: as well as a 48 page book, there is a large sized fold out map with large hexagons, and loads of counters which are compatible with the ones which were available with the original Battlesystem set. The last three sheets in the module are rosters for all the available armies of the Expert Game world, using War Machine statistics. Foolishly, I cut these out; instead, I should have really photocopied them. Indeed, there is a shortened version of the War Machine rules at the back of the module. This is somewhat of an annoyance, since it is space that could be otherwise used for something else; I think that most people buying this adventure would have bought the Companion Rules. The same could be same of the space used to reprint information about higher level spells and magic items.
But what I do love was the epic scope of this adventure. The PCs are now pretty high level adventurers, and are presumably now famous heroes. During the adventure, the PCs will be visiting a lot of cities. Of course, in 48 pages, there isn't enough space to print out maps of all the cities. To get around this problem, the designer of the module came up with the idea of abstracting movement around a city using a diagram called the Chase Flow Chart. This has 25 circles in a 5x5 grid, with each circle representing a location. Each location is connected by arrows to one or more other locations, showing the distance between them. Unfortunately, on my copy, this innovation is not usable since a whole lot of information appears to be missing, including the letters and numbers mentioned in the text. These aren't so much the problem, since they can be synthesised from the information given; what is missing is the information which allows the DM to say, "you go in this direction or that direction".
The first part of the adventure is "The Invasion of Akesoli", and starts with the PCs in that Darokinian city. Whilst having breakfast at ... you guessed it ... an inn, a dramatic sandstorm appears above the city. Under this cover, the Master's troops are attacking the city. To be dramatic, the DM can bring out the map of the Expert Game world provided, and place the first counter on it. At this point, PCs can literally do anything they want. Many players might want to escape, but with the BATTLESYSTEM (sic) rules, which are essential for this adventure, the PCs could even rally the population and create a fighting force to defend the city. In any case, the city is ultimately doomed. When the PCs meet reinforcements or enter another Darokinian city, you go to the next part, "The Republic of Darokin Wants You!", where the PCs are met by General Winter and the mysterious mage, Laran. He tells the PCs that the mages of Glantri have divined that the only way that the Master can be defeated is by a group of experienced adventurers. Since the PCs are famous as being such, they are recruited to become special ambassadors, who will attempt to bring all of the other countries in the Expert Game world into an alliance with Darokin against the Master.
The next section of the book, "Diplomatic Missions", is pretty freeform, allowing the PCs to do pretty much what they want. Since this is a Campaign Adventure, it gives you a framework in which you can run completely different adventures, although the DM should make it apparent that every second that the PCs delay, the Nomads are conquering more of the world. This section details all of the countries that the PCs might visit. Some countries are more disposed towards alliance with Darokin, such as Alfheim and the Five Shires. Some are more sympathetic to the Master, particularly the Emirates of Ylaruam. This is modelled by a number which generally starts between 5 and 8. This number can change, depending on how the PCs deal with the rulers of that country, and by whether certain other countries have joined the war on one side or another (politics - don'tcha love it?). If the number falls to 4 and below, the country will join the war on the Master's side. If the number rises to 11 or above, the country will join the war on Darokin's side. This is where the previous actions of the PCs may be of great use, or come back to haunt them, because their reputation is a modifier to the alliance number. Of course, at the same time, the Master's emissaries are out there, trying to do exactly the same as the PCs, so the PCs will have to be careful, because they are all very sneaky fellows. Each country has its own culture, and the PCs will find that they will have to find different ways to convince them to join. In many cases, there is a specific quest which is detailed in the appropriate country description, which if successfully completed, the country will automatically ally themselves with the PCs. Some involve rescuing people or killing a dangerous monster; some involve the PCs assisting in mass combat - in the case of Karameikos, this is winning the civil war versus the evil Baron von Hendriks.
Whilst playing through the "Diplomatic Missions" encounters, the PCs will also find out more about their eventual goal. They will learn that they must do things to defeat the master. First, the PCs need their own army. This can be built up by helping to form the alliances, after which the PCs will given a personal unit of their troops. The PCs are encouraged to designate a location for their units to meet up later on, since the units may be more of an encumbrance to the PCs than useful, especially if they are entering non-allied countries. Also, there is the matter of the Crystal Dagger of Cymmorak, which has been broken into three pieces, two of which are hidden in Alfheim and the Five Shires, where the PCs will just happen to find them. This brings us to the first encounter of the next section, "Special Encounters", where Laran teleports to the PCs and tells them that they need the Soul Gem of Light, and the Master's servants have found it. The PCs must catch up with them, and defeat the envoys - who happen to be accompanied by military units.
Other encounters in "Special Encounters" are there to show the PCs the cost of war, and the show that the Master is directly trying to work against the PCs. I particularly like the one where the PCs fight off a bunch of Nomad soldiers who are attacking a farmhouse, only to be given no thanks for their actions.
Once the PCs have done all they can, they should be encouraged to join their personal army. This is detailed in the final adventure section, the War of the Master. The evening the PCs arrived, Laran teleports in, assembles the Dagger of Cymmorak, and starts to tell them how the Master can be defeated with it. Unfortunately, he is just about to get to that bit, when he is disintegrated, presumably by an immortal, since even a Wish won't bring him back. After this setback, the PCs can only do as Laran suggested, and go to the tent city of Sayr Ulan, and defeat the Master. Whilst on the edge of the Great Waste, their army is attacked by the elite Legion of Doom. It looks as if the Master has also been at work, because he has resurrected his former personal Mage, Alrethus (also from X5), and he is leading the attack with the Legion of Doom. Irrespective of the result of the battle, the PCs will get to Sayr Ulan either as victors or prisoners. If the former, then they will have to secretly make their way through the tents to the inner compound of the Master, with a number of encounters on the way. There, the Master will confront them, demonstrating his immortality - he will not even trying to kill the PCs. In fact, the only way of killing him is to destroy the soul-gem of Thanatos, which is in the corner of the tent. There is only one clue to this (the Master says that they will be sacrificed to the soul-gem), and I imagine that many players will assume that they have to attack the Master with the Dagger of Cymmorak. In classic fantasy style, he rapidly ages, and eventually pleads with the "Higher Powers" for more time, before mouldering into dust.
What is a bit tacky was that the Master is drawn as looking like Ayatollah Khomeini. For those who can't remember, this was the great American hate figure of the 80s. If this module had been done released recently, presumably this would be Bin Laden instead. My problem with this was that the Master, as described in the previous two modules, was a suave, refined character; but the illustration makes him look like a raving religious nutcase.
There are far too many coincidental and unexplained occurrences in this module to not think up a reason for them. They include:
Obviously, there is a lot of meddling going on by unnamed immortals during the adventure, but you would have thought the designer could have explained the back-story. The adventure doesn't completely explain what was going on with the Master, and leaves the DM to try and garner clues throughout the module. Of course, there is point of view that says that this is a good thing. But personally, I prefer for the designer to provide an explanation, if only so I can then go and change it!
Overall, despite the errors and missing information, this module gets the thumbs up from me. It provides a big scope, and moreover, it is extremely reusable. Before the Gazeteers, this was the prime source of information about the continent. And despite what the Gazetteers say, it can easily be used in the present day.
The whole of what was once called "The Expert Game World" i.e. the continental map from X1.
Actually, none of these are really new, having originally come from X4 - The Master of the Desert Nomads.
|Editor||Edward G. Sollers|
|Typography||Betty Elmore,Kim Landau|
|Interior Artist||Mark Nelson|
|Cover Artist||Keith Parkinson|
|Format||64 page book, 3 pane cover.|
|Party||4 to 8 characters of levels 5-9, minimum 30 levels|
Maps of Gareth Minar and a summary of monster stats on the inside module cover. Outside cover contains a book of runes. Inner four pages insert containing maps of Wendar and Denagoth. Inner four pages of pregenerated characters - quite interesting Known World backgrounds, and some have previous relationships. The last page contains the player's map of Wendar/Denagoth, and a scroll handout.
This module is divided into two parts. and the first can be played without having to read the second adventure.
The cover of the module shouts "Epic Fantasy", and as such, this module is somewhat narrative based. Wendar is apparently a prosperous realm of
Man and Elves, and is amazingly allied to the Empire of Thyatis, although it is hard to see why, since it is separated by at least three other
countries. The background is fairly clichéd: Gylharen is the good, wise ruler of the sylvan realm of Wendar; magical Elvenstar mysteriously stolen; plague and famine results;
PCs are contracted by Thyatis to help. Denagoth is a bleak country, surrounded by mountains, inhabited by evil monsters, and ruled by the evil Necromancer Landryn Terial, who is your standard
Dark Lord type character. You would never believe it, but he has stolen the Elvenstar from Gylharen, leaving the realm defenseless against Denagoth's massing armies.
Guess what the PCs are going to do?
Like X5, this adventure involves using stealth and cunning to get into Denagoth, work out where Landryn Terial has his lair, and return the Elvenstar. Dressing up in the enemy's uniforms is a good start, and crossing mountains in to Denagoth - the sneaky way is best. The story is very linear. There is a trail to Gareth Minar, and all the encounters are on this trail, with only one divide over the mountains. There is also one (and only) enemy village to infiltrate, as well as the army's encampment. When they get to Gareth Minar, it is basically a four level tower with dungeon - only 22 encounters. However, how easy it is to infiltrate the tower depends on the PCs having actually investigated every house in the village, and then being sneaky.
Landryn Terial stays in his room all day, occasionally using a CCTV-like system of statues which mysteriously have glowy eyes, and pivot on his command. Anyway, the coward manages to escape part one, by use of a Wish spell. He could still win however. In both cases, they can properly defeat him in Part Two.
This time, the PCs have to go to his other estate at Drax Tallen. But what we hadn't been told before was that was living on borrowed time (and flesh). Now he has finally become one of the undead. What a way to go. And now he has all sorts of neat new super-powers. The Elvenstar was a bit of a wash-out, so this time he is looking for the blackstick (it allows you to control the undead).
Bad geography: Plains of Avien and Hills of Kevar are not marked on many maps. Hermitage of Bensarian is marked as "Bengarian Hermitage" on the map. It turns out that Denagoth is not the name of the entire land on the plateau, but just the western part. There is another land called Essuria on the south east of the plateau.
Like any convoluted fantasy story, this has a spoken epilogue from the Sage, Bensarian himself, together with a toast!
All in all, this is a reasonable adventure. Chock-full of clichés, although fairly engaging plot. It is a shame that there is nothing particularly exciting or notable.
This adventure expands the Known World to the North of the continent map of X1. This the first time that the capital city of the Heldann Freeholds, Freiburg is mentioned. The three new countries introduced are Wendar - a forested realm, Denagoth - a realm high in the mountains to the north of Wendar,and the Northern Wildlands, to the west of Denagoth. In writing this review, I have noticed that there is actually a big disconnect between the map here and the maps original shown in the Players' Companion, X1, and CM1.
Originally, CM1 said that you could line up the players' map of Norworld CM1 with the DM's map of the continent in X1. If you do as they say, and compensate for the fact that the hexes on the CM1 map are slightly bigger, and then squint a little, and then say "maybe there is one line of unprinted hexes in the way, you could almost believe CM1. Actually, it does fit better if you use the DM's map in CM1. A comparison shows that the DM's map has two rows missing from the top and bottom of the map, which makes sense when you compare these two with the Players' Companion map. However, it seems that X11 throws a spanner in the works. It adds boundaries for the existing realm (previously only the southernmost bit shown) of the Heldann Freeholds, Wendar, and Norworld. Sadly, whilst it shows about 12 of the northernmost hexes from the continent map of X1, it cannot be reconciled with the map of Norworld in any way.
Ability checks are done using a d20 and rolling equal or under the ability.
|Editor||Karen S. Martin|
|Cartographer||Dave LaForce,Dennis Kauth,David C. Sullivan III|
|Typography||Kim Landau,Betty Elmore|
|Interior Artist||Al Williamson,Jeff Easley|
|Cover Artist||Tim Hildebrandt|
|Format||48 page book (incl. 8 page pullouts), 3 pane cover.|
|Party||4 to 6 characters of levels 5-9|
In this adventure, the PCs are asked to try and find two missing adventurers, Retameron and Halia of Verge, who have gone missing from there house, after finding what they presume is a "Mirror of Life Trapping" (from the Expert Rules). However, the mirror is not found. Instead, the PCs will end up fighting a creature that lives in mirrors, and there is no sight of Skarda all his mirror. In fact the magic mirror was actually a portal used by an evil Wizard called Skarda to enter a pocket dimension made of mirror-stuff, created by an Immortal, and which he uses it as a base for his operations. He has a small army inside this realm! The PCs are later ambushed by Skarda and his henchmen, and will be pulled into the mirror by his men, no question. Obviously, it is made quite easy for them to escape. In the meantime, it is highly suggested by an NPC that they lead a slave revolt, and escape from the mirror. At this point, Skarda is attacking Duke Stephan's country estate from the inside.
This adventure has a heavily plotted story, and so is completely linear. The module even comes with an appendix called "What to do if things go wrong" i.e. what if the PCs have done something that diverges from the plot, and how to bring it back! In fact, way too much space is wasted in the adventure trying to guess what the PCs might do, and how to cope with that. I think that this is a major case of padding. If you are any good as a DM, you should be able to work this out for yourself when prepping the adventure, or even do that thing called "winging it"!
Module was obviously written around the same time as GAZ1 - Grand Duchy of Karameikos. Aaron Alston wrote both, and there is a brief mention of colonisation of the Grand Duchy in the background, and GAZ1 contains references to this adventure. However, he still buggers things up majorly (see below).
Grand Duchy of Karameikos: Starts in (presumably) Specularum, and then to Verge, and finally Duke Stephan's Hunting Lodge which seems to have two locations. Either it is just outside Specularum (see B6 - Veiled Society), or west of the village of Sulescu (see GAZ1). Personally, I preferred the B6 map.
|Cover Artist||Keith Parkinson|
|Interior Artist||Chris Miller|
|Format||64 page book (incl. 8 page pullouts), 3 pane cover.|
|Party||Characters of levels 7-10|
This is a kind of sequel to X3 - Curse of Xanathon, since the plot line with the trouble with the Ethengar Khanate is used here, and the priests of Forsett are used. Whilst it is not a thematic sequel to X11 - Saga of the Shadowlord, the pregenerated characters are from that module, with higher levels, with brief mentions of what happened to the characters in that module, and there is a namecheck of Bensarian the sage. Despite Vestland being a settled land, there are only four settlements marked on the map: Rhoona, Norrvik, the Monastery of Ruthin, an inn, and some standing stones. And apparently one of the Dukes spends all of his time at that inn!
Like X11, this is an epic adventure. This time, it is to find the long lost heir to the throne of Vestland, plus his magic crown, in time to prevent the forces of chaos from prevailing. Again, this is pretty linear, with many hints on how to ensure certain NPCs don't get discovered and/or killed, so the plot goes on in the same way as has been written.
The PCs are asked to go the monastery of Ruthin to talk to the patriarch of the state sponsored order of Ruthin, Annacks. He suggests that a sign may be given to the PCs at the Stones of Sky to find the lost crown and heir. When they get to the stones, there is an Immortal Intervention, and the PCs are given a clue to where the crown is supposed to be found. But there are already dark forces at work, because Duke Vana Cullen who everyone thinks is a great guy, wants the crown for himself. He has also wants the true heir dead. His people will be watching the PCs all the way. Ironically, unknown to the PCs, the true heir is actually the guardian of the Stones of Sky, and is kidnapped whilst they follow up their vision from the stones.
The crown was lost with the former king, whose body just happened to end up washed up in the neighbouring Heldann Freeholds. Just their luck, his body was found by dodgy clerics of Gylagarid (a minotaur god) at Lake Erid, who have used their dark god's magic to turn it into a wight-type revenant. After swimming across the lake, or more sensibly, using a boat, the thee level castle dungeons can be ransacked. Once the PCs have the crown, it literally becomes a plot device, allowing the PCs to ask it where to go next on their quest. At once point, it even gives the directions in hexagons!
After some prompting the PCs will be directed to the SeaForth tower, where the plot can be uncovered. This then directs them across the sea by longboat to the Isle of the Seawitch. She has the heir, but she has cunningly cast Magic Jar on him, and hopes to become the king herself. Sadly for her, she will not get away with it too long, because the Sorona undoes it, assuming that they get the heir back to Ruthin intact for the coronation. Despite the linearity, the end does allow for the heir to die, and quite a few bad guys get away.
There seems no reason why some maps are in the pull-out section, some are in the main body of the book, and some are on the inner screen. I always liked the idea of having the most used maps on the inner cover, and others all as pull-out sections in the centre. What is the point of the "Isle of Erid Overview" map? It only has two numbered encounters, both of which appear on the 1 hex = 8 mile scale map.
I rather enjoyed this adventure, even though it has that annoying habit of making the PCs do things. I am still not sure why this is called an Expert/Companion game adventure, because it is for characters levels 7-10. The only connections are that there are a few Companion Rules magical items, and the PCs may well get a dominion at the end of the adventure. However, the story is fairly interesting, and there are lots of scopes for role-playing. There are also many places where a certain amount of flexibility in the storyline is allowed, unlike X12.
Set in Vestland and a southerly part of the Heldann Freeholds (infested with "barbarians": Freiburg is described as a place of smugglers and thieves.). Contains a map at 1 hex = 8 miles, and which shows Norvik and Rhoona. Yet again, Rhoona is a different position. This time, it is nearer the right hand fjord in the fork. Like X3, there seems to he no logic behind this being set in Vestland, apart from the fact this time, there are plenty of maps to show that they do; at least there seem to be a few characters with names that sound vaguely Nordic. GAZ7 has an explanation for this.
|Author||Michael L. Gray|
|Editorial Assistance||Audria Hayday|
|Graphic Designer||Kitty Thompson|
|Format||32 page book (incl. 8 page pullouts), 3 pane cover.|
|Party||6-8 Characters of levels 5-10, total levels 45-55, with at least two clerics.|
This a really bizarre idea. First create a whole load of action figures aimed at kids, but make them guest-star characters with the cartoon you have targeted at them on TV. Then, just to confuse matters, brand them as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons figures. And finally, when you create a gaming product around them, write a D&D game module. Maybe it made sense at the time.
The pre-rolled character list are all based on the action figures, which explain the horrible, horrible, cheesy names: Warduke™, Strongheart™, Mercion™, Figgen™ - yuk!
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