Friday, December 2, 2016

Commentary Two Electric Boogloo - D1-2 Descent into the Depths of the Earth For Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition

If the players have survived up to this point then they're going to be in for some really dangerous encounters coming up. Numerous Drow patrols, weird random encounters, strange sights, & lots of fighting.
If the party has survived D1 then its onto the Shrine of the Kuo-Toa which has some of the most overarching lite Lovecraftian horrors this side of a Deep One. I have special affinity for this module even though it takes the sum of Module D1 which had the Caverns and Warrens of the Troglodytes, and brings it up a notch.

Here the PC's are going to have to think & even though this is a slaughter fest in some places the players have to make alliances, deal with insane NPC's, & think their way through many of the challenges not to mention Blibdoolpoolp, the Sea Mother of the Kuo-Toa.As well as her's temple the center piece of this fish stew of old school weirdness.

The real key here is their alliance with the Deep Gnomes which are some of the most powerful allies the PC's can make & they need it. This  part of the adventure being one of the first appearances in the original  Shrine of the Kuo-Toa of the iconic Umber Hulk and other familiar iconic monsters of AD&D. For many
the original Shrine of the Kuo-Toa is simply a hack & slash fest & in some respects it is. But its also one of the center pieces of D&D where the sum is greater then the parts in the combination of D1-2 Descent into the Depths of the Earth.

There are several reasons why this adventure works on the levels that it does:
  • The environment of the adventure's underworld is compelling & works to get the PC's involved in the action even as it tries to kill them. 
  • This module opens up a secondary completely alien underground world to the PC's where they're actions have some but very little impact on the lives of the factions operating there. 
  • There are lots of heavy hitter NPC's operating there & only a concerted effort on the PC's part is going to get some of the goals set forth in this adventure done. 
  • Even though this is a 'hack & slash' adventure you've got to use your brains as a PC or you might miss opportunities.
There is something absolutely nasty & alien about the Kuo-Toa, maybe its the echoes of Lovecraft with the degenerate humans worshiping things that will feed on them without remorse aspect. But many players over the years have come to hate these beings with a passion. They're rites, god, & spawning temples are the stuff of nightmare for some people. I'm fine with that as a DM.

This is another module where the Drow and Kuo-toa trade with each other openly, but the Kuo-toa hate and fear the Drow; so the enemy of my enemy is my friend who might sacrifice me to their demon god. This is another module where the party walks the razor's edge of diplomacy in the form of a sword point. This is something that would later on be exploited much more extensively in second edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Underdark. This where the Drow as well as the Underdark become a full blown campaign setting. That's where the Underdark & its dwellers lost their alien uniqueness in my opinion.

D1-2 Descent into the Depths of the Earth is unique, dangerous, full of lots of weirdness & its a study in Gary Gygax's passion for balancing his adventure game elements with the full bravado that we'd come to see fully much later on. Here the sum is greater then the pieces of D1 & D2 so that the combination takes the adventure into a solid piece of AD&D high level tournament adventuring & old school dungeon crawling.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Retro- Review Take Two - D1-2: Descent into the Depths of the Earth By Gary Gygax For AD&D 1st Edition

"The final confrontation with the giant, King Snurre, and the entry of mighty adventurers into the cavers under his stronghold discovered that Dark Elves, the Drow, had instigated the giant alliance and its warfare upon mankind and its allied races."
 Let me say that this is a high level adventure for PC's levels Nine through Fourteen for AD&D 1st edition. ""Shrine of the Kuo-Toa," the second adventure in this collection, was used as part of the D&D tournament at GenCon XI (1978). "  D1-2 collected the D1: "Descent into the Depths of the Earth" & 'Shrine of the Kuo-Toa'  into a coherent deadly old school  whole.

Let me say that I spend most of my day driving but this evening I was able to get into a conversation with my buddy Steve about D1 Descent Into The Depths of the Earth by Gary Gygax was always meant as a transition adventure to get the PC's into the real action after G1, 2, & 3 respectively. This is a high level adventure that was meant as a bridge to get the PC's onto the path of the Drow. I've already spoken about adapting Descent into Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. Steve played in this campaign and lost two PC's to the horrors in Underborea. The Wiki  history of Descent Into The Depths gives some very vital clues into adapting this module into your own campaigns;"
Descent Into the Depths of the Earth[2] is an adventure module for the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) fantasy roleplaying game coded D1–2. It was written by Gary Gygax, and combines two previously published modules from 1978, the original Descent into the Depths of the Earth and Shrine of the Kuo-Toa. A sequel to the first two modules, Vault of the Drow, was also published in 1978. All of these D-series modules were produced for use with the 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) rules."

For me this module represented 70's AD&D adventure location design at its finest, that is it gives you the location & its inhabitant monsters. You as the DM have to flesh out the details to fit your own campaign world and setting.
 That being said this module introduces 'the Underdark' as a viable but deadly adventure setting. "The term originates later in the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide (1986). However, the Survival Guide's description of the "strange world of the Underdark, including drow, kuo-toa, svirfneblin, derro, and many more" makes it clear that it's talking about the world of "Descent." "
Over the years I've come to believe that less is more when it comes to creating worlds of adventure; the players will do it for you as dungeon master.

Oh the whole D1 can be seen as a primer for the world of the Drow & even as an introduction to the subterranean machinations of the various factions of 'Descent Into the Depths of the Earth.' One of my favorite quotes about  Seventies gaming philosphy sums up nicely what seems at first to be mere bridge gap adventure;" The plot was what you did, not what you were supposed to do. The setting was what the DM and players said it was, not what was written in a 10 page introduction. If you approach gaming with this sort of flexibility, a big, rambling underground world full of monsters is cool." Thanks to
Descent Into The Depths of the Earth assumes a large party of players. I've run this adventure as a convention set up;  a large party of 7-9 characters are really need. Otherwise smaller parties should enlist the help of local elves.
Basically D1 is the sign post to adventure in a dangerous & parlous underground world of adventure. Gygax was a master of balancing out the elements of the greater scope with the campaign world of Greyhawk. The players and DM created from whole cloth what was and in some respects is needed. Trust me for better or worse they will!

In terms of plot D1  the adventure is quite weak and linear but that's not the point here. This is a bridge gap to get the PC's deep into the depths of the plot of the next series of adventures. It introduces the Drow & keeps the players up to their necks in problems as well as the deadly factions of the underworld that would later become the Underdark. Tomorrow I'll take a look deeper into D2 but do I think you should get this one? In a word yes its a part of a classic series of modules by one of fathers of the hobby we love so very much.

1d10 Random Undead Royalty Wasteland Encounter Table For Your Old School Campaign

They come from across worlds, skittering through cracks in the universe to be a plague upon mankind. They have many names many of which have been forgotten over the eons. These princes of the undead have their very existence cursed & they are nothing more then mockeries of life itself. Across the eons they come sometimes to feed upon life, they devour not only flesh but the very souls of their victims. Often they have retinues of 1d20 minor undead who follow in their wake feeding upon anyone they can. They are often mindless or degenerate undead things of the lowest rank but occasionally they can be 2nd level free willed NPC undead warriors of dangerous aspect. These are in addition to the attendants listed in the entries.

Often these princes & princesses of undead are trying to locate the holdings of their former lives. They might be trying to locate a loved one or lost relative having escaped or crawled from the lowest levels of Hell to escape their fate. There is a 20% chance of these mad damned bastards having some token of Hell or the otherside that a witch or wizard might exploit for some personal gain.

Often these types of encounters end in tears as the wielder of eldritch power is far out classed & the cagey undead royal turns the tables on the fool. These wizards often become fodder demons of the wastelands of Atlantis.

Many of these powerful undead horrors operate during the twilight & darkness months of Accursed Atlantis when they can move across the wastelands with impunity.

1d10 Random Undead Royalty Encounter Table
  1.  Timvor of the House Lithorvor - A ghoul prince & his royal retinue of 1d10 skeleton warriors and attendants is scavenging  the wastelands for relics & artifacts for his Lovecraftian demonic master. He is mounted on a skeletal war horse from Old Earth. 
  2. Devrous The Hungry One - A shadow princess of unusual aspect who moves across the wastelands with her 1d8 ghostly servants upon spectral chariots looking for any souls or treasure to sell at the Great Markets of Death. She is a dangerous wizard of 6th level in her own right. 
  3. Aclus Of The Broken House - A damned soul from the deep Hells whose back to take down the living, he sees himself as a scientist and gentleman torturer of the worst aspect who moves through the wastelands on a hell horse named Asbegor. Aclus takes souls with an enchanted knife that cuts the soul from its still struggling victim. He is dangerous & cruel. 
  4. Hreu of The Blood Hand - A Pict vampire who was a slave in life but has become the leader of a tribe of 1d8 minor reverent undead horrors. He seeks the living for their blood, souls, and valuables. He rides an undead skeleton horse called Nightbleed. He is clever, dangerous, & very greedy. 
  5.  Princess Marhi'ru - A former Atlantis minor royal who was transformed into a wasteland hag by a curse but has come to accept her state of undeath, she is a horror that loves to take the souls of children & the elderly. She uses a combination of magic & tactics to stalk her prey for days taking souls at their most vulnerable. The souls are sold to demons in the Grand Bazaar of the Damned near the ruins of the Lumerian capital. She uses a demonic war mount as her servant.
  6. Thrusi'su The Night One - A wight lord of dark aspect who is served by ten 'faceless ones' who seek pray on the living selling them to a tribe of doppelgangers who use them in vile experiments deep in the wastelands for their demonic lord. The Night One is actually a former mad genius who uses his state to move between planes at will whist serving his dark masters. 
  7. Brus'po The Parts Taker - A former royal of a long forgotten house this ghoul lord takes the best parts and pieces to the Market of Necromancers deep in the wastelands for resale to the 'soul traders'. These necromancer scientists create golems of very dangerous and degenerate aspects. There are 1d10 ghoul warriors of  2nd level working for him that ride alien spectral mounts. 
  8.  Grusi  Princess Of The Forgotten House - A Hyperborean princess who was turned into a ghost by an accident with a teleport device. She has become the head of a house of assassins and holy warriors who use their undead state to take down caravans and other minor merchant houses. She has 1d10 ghostly warriors working for her. 
  9.  Thru's Lu The Desert Walker - A former Atlantis royal turned slave & now undead servant of a demonic horror. This slaver & raider works with thirty intelligent skeleton warriors to take the living for the Market of Necromancers. No flesh or living is spared. He works with 1d20 raiders riding spectral mounts. He is a free willed undead warrior of 5th level with some minor zombie like abilities. 
  10. Thtious The Dark One - An Atlantian royal who uses dark magics to plague caravans & other wasteland travelers for souls, relics, and souls for his council of dark master lichs. He is a 8th level wight wizard whose soul has long vanished from the mortal plane but whose mind seeks the souls of the living. He rides a nightmare of very dangerous aspect called Ashwind.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Review Of Black Pudding #1 From Random Order Creations For Labyrinth Lord & your old school campaigns.

Black Pudding is a dangerous & brand new 'pay what you want' OSR fanzine for Labyrinth Lord & your old school campaigns. Let's take a look at the contents weirdness that includes black knights, catgirls, chainmail chicks, evil temples, & much more!

So whist the OSR continues on its merry way, I've been quietly following the efforts of James V West 's efforts with his gaming & designing over the last couple of years. James is the owner of Random Order Creations the creators of such great OSR adventures such as Howler & Winds of the Ice Forest.
I strongly suggest you pick those up along with Rabbits & Rangers for Labyrinth Lord, which I haven't checked out but I've heard through the grape vine is very good. Now there's been a hole in the OSR with the demise of classic era TSR 's The Dragon magazine. This one of the reasons why we've seen the rise of the OSR fanzine. Because we've had to become 'The Dragon' ourselves, basically the OSR has had to produce its own internal and external gaming material over the years. Then along comes Black Pudding Issue #1

Here's the problem there are only so many hours in the day & I've been bogged down with work lately. Then across my radar slides 'Black Pudding', this is an OSR fanzine with lots of good solid content and some great artwork.
Here's a little something something video of some of the highlights

Sure it looks fantastic but is it actually usable for OSR games? In a word, yes! The material is solidly done because the artist/author actually has a firm grasp of the systems he's talking about. The material in Black Pudding is geared for Labyrinth Lord. Here's a sample of the type of art, layout, & PC races your going to see.

For a pay what you want title it packs a lot into twenty four pages of OSR goodness and there's some solid material here including:

2 character sheets - Some really nicely drawn character sheets.
7 character classes - These are some great optional PC classes to add into the Labyrinth Lord player's options.  These are easily converted to your favorite OSR system.
2 one-page dungeons - To keep things moving for your mini one shot campaigns. Well done and very well balanced.
9 monsters - To challenge even the most experienced players.
1 book of new spells - Some great stuff here to add to the
8 NPCs - These are great to add into that adventure to hook your players into your next adventure featuring the Black Pudding OSR zine.
House rules to cover some of the optional material that one will find in the pages of Black Pudding

As a gamer its very exciting to see this level of enthusiasm on the part of a creator & artist who loves the hobby enough to produce this product of his imagination & then release it to the wild. The material is extremely well done & I hope that others will follow in the publisher's foot steps. There's actually enough material here for a mini Labyrinth Lord campaign and several lead ins for other adventures. The material here is top drawer. This is a must for an OSR dungeon master looking to add some quick & very well done sword & sorcery tool kit. Pick this one at all costs! Since this is a 'pay what you want' title then please throw the author a five or two so we can continue to see more top flight Black Pudding issues.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Reconsidering S3 Expediation To The Barrier Peaks By Gary Gygax As Campaign Fodder

Well last night I was speaking with Steve & we began speaking about our trial by fire through the 'S' series of modules for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. The 'S' series stands for special and these were some of the most memorable of the adventures we played;"other adventures in the S series include S1 Tomb of Horrors, S2 White Plume Mountain, and S4 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth." But it was 'Expedition To The Barrier Peaks' that slaughtered us time in and out back in the Eighties. For those of you who don't know;"Expedition to the Barrier Peaks was first played at the Origins II convention in 1976, where it was used to introduce Dungeons & Dragons players to the science fiction game Metamorphosis Alpha. In 1980, TSR published the adventure, updated for first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules."

I've got a long & storied history with this module; it took our AD&D party over to Gamma World through a matter transporter accident (that was Steve's Gamma World campaign so he added in that element). Plus there were a few forays back again not part of the original folks.

But last night he sent me this video & it brought back some of the distinct memories of this module. So the basic plot of S3 goes something like this;" It takes place on a downed spaceship; the ship's crew has died of an unspecified disease, but functioning robots and strange creatures still inhabit the ship. The player characters fight monsters and robots, and gather the futuristic weapons and colored access cards that are necessary for advancing the story."

"Expedition to the Barrier Peaks's 32-page adventure guide is divided into six sections. These describe the crew's quarters, the lounge area, the gardens and menagerie, and the activity deck. Along the way, the characters find colored access cards and futuristic devices such as blaster rifles and suits of powered armor that they can use to aid their journey. The first two sections involve various monsters, vegepygmys—short humanoid plant creatures—who have commandeered the crew's quarters, and a repair robot that follows instructions before its batteries run out. There is also a medical robot trying in vain to find a cure for the virus that killed the ship's crew. In the lounge area, a "Dining Servo Robot" still works, although the "food" it serves is now moldy poison.
The gardens and menagerie area includes an encounter with a "cute little bunnyoid on the stump".[5]:15 It looks like a horned rabbit on a tree stump, but when approached, the stump develops fangs and its roots become tentacles, which it then uses to attack the characters. The next encounter involves a froghemoth, a large alien frog-like creature with tentacles and three eyes on an eyestalk. In the sixth and final section, the activity deck, the players' characters must contend with various sports robots, including a "boxing and wrestling trainer" and a "karate master".[5]:18 If the characters can communicate with the karate master and tell it that boxing is superior to karate, it will attack the boxing robot until both are destroyed, else they will both attack the characters. The last area of the activity deck is the loading area, where the characters can leave the spaceship."

  The Expedition to the Barrier Peaks takes place around  the Grand Duchy of Geoff  (which seems to be a happening place in EG's home campaign) which is under constant attack by a succession of monsters that have been emerging from a cave in the mountains.
This module can also be used to introduce lots of traditional AD&D elements and bring on the post apocalyptic vibe in spades while turning up the players onto the Metamorphosis Alpha background music.

Adapting S3 To OSR games
So this morning about four A.M. or so, I was on the phone with Steve and we're talking about hashing out details about using S3. Both he & I have been toying around with a conversion of the module for the Adventurer, Conqueror, King rpg. This came about because of the following conversation. I said, 'Its too bad that we don't know who or what caused the plague on board the star ship.'
Steve says to me,'Of course we do! It was the black goo from the movie Prometheus' 'The star gods reappeared with Vulcan near Mercury.' 'An expedition was sent, they collected some biological specimens & the black goo caused a plague on board' 

"The hyperspace engines created a dimensional rift in time & space bring it to Hyperborea. There the ship crashes into a remote kingdom and the trouble begins'
'Here's the catch a group of Hyperborean space god engineers are on their way to claim their prize.'

'So the clock is ticking & they're breathen on Vulcan in their living suits are waiting in Hyperborean space aren't they?'Yeah because it all about claiming their Clark Aston Smith legacy of the star ship & its goodies.'
'I suppose your going to want to have me stick a Dlukus tribesmen in there as well?' 'Well I think we're going to have to get across the dangerous nature of the Hyperboreans.'

Dlukus by Spearhafoc from
'The Immortals of Mercury' By Clark Aston Smith

But Steve wasn't through yet by a long chalk,"So you know how the ship crashed into Greyhawk' 'Yeah?'  'Well what if it crashed into Dark Albion!' 'Imagine this thing coming down like some wormwood comet of doom into Black Forest of Germany!'
'The thing's coming might have been foretold by the various cults of chaos!' Its a joyous event for them!'
'That's going to cause all kinds of chaos in Europe especially during the events of the Rose War.'

'Dark Albion has lots of interesting variations to use with Expedition to the Barrier Peaks & you've used classic AD&D modules with it before.' 'Yeah but the gonzo factor would have to be toned down & there could be a Cults of Chaos connection'
This is an idea that I want to develop further & might mean a much deeper blog entry down the road.

'The best option might actually be Apes Victorious especially given the Star Ships & Spacemen second edition having a much heavier Mutant Future connection'  'Given the connections of the world of Apekind in the game setting the fit is far easier but the PC's would have to have a much heavier hand to succeed in this one.' 'The former upper state of New York might be the ideal location for this!'

'Yeah it fits but it would take some doing!'

Basically S3 is one of the more adaptable of the 'S' series of classic TSR era modules & one of my all time favorites. With a bit of creativity and some willing players it can easily be used as a diverse & deadly module of incredibly epic proporations in your OSR games!