Old School Dungeons & Dragons: Part 28

It’s been a while since I did some Old School Dungeons & Dragons on Twitter, but I’ve finally gotten myself back into the rhythm! (I am now also posting the threads on Mastodon, given the instability of Twitter.) Hopefully I’ll keep up the routine. So let’s get started…

X10: Red Arrow, Black Shield (1985), by Michael S. Dobson. This is one I wanted to get my hands on some time ago!

This one is somewhat fascinating, as it is a sequel to two earlier adventures: X4: Master of the Desert Nomads, and X5: Temple of Death, by David “Zeb” Cook from 1983.

Those earlier adventures are two of my all-time favorites! They are super-creative and clever adventures where a small party of adventurers must track down the mysterious Master in his homeland before he can send his armies to conquer the known world!

In those earlier adventures, the Master is slain, but in RA, BS the Master is back without explanation, and his armies are finally launching a massive assault on the civilized world. The player characters must not only defeat the Master, but they must lead armies in battle.

For this purpose, RA, BS is designed for use with the Battlesystem set of mass combat rules, or the simpler War Machine set of rules introduced in the D&D Companion Set. The module comes with tokens for depicting the armies.

The story starts with the Master’s armies launching an assault on a city the player characters are staying in. The PCs can lead a defense of the city, or help organize a retreat.

Much of the adventure involves the characters traveling from country to country, mustering up enough allies to oppose the Master’s army. Stats are given for all the potential allies, who must be won over one at a time.

To help in this quest, the adventure comes with a full-color map of the relevant regions of Mystara, quite a nice addition!

Along their quest, the PCs learn of a magical item that can be used to defeat the Master, and they eventually seek it out, and then the Master, for a final battle. This final battle is a bit underwhelming, as it takes place in the Master’s desert tent camp. Overall, I found the adventure not up to the standards of the previous members of the series.

The adventure does have some interesting ideas, though! For movement through the cities, it introduces flow charts to determine the encounters the PCs have, a much more elegant solution than trying to map out an entire city!

Red Arrow, Black Shield is a rather hard to find item, and usually quite expensive. I managed to find a relatively cheap copy in very good condition! It’s not the most exciting adventure, but I’m glad to have it in my collection.

The Unknown Gods (1980), by Bledsaw, Holmer, Jaquays, and Petrowsky. This is another book that I wanted to get my hands on for ages! I finally found an inexpensive copy at Games Plus.

This book, as the back cover states, consists of 83 original deities that can be used for a D&D campaign. This was one of the last Judges Guild products officially approved for D&D before TSR didn’t renew their license.

In hindsight, this was a pretty cool idea at the time: the official TSR Deities and Demigods contained a lot of traditional gods from religion and folklore, but relatively few original creations to give a campaign some flavor.

And the gods presented are delightfully specific and weird, like Shindra, Goddess of Dancing Girls…

… Margonne, God of Evil Plans…

… and Tika-Nahu, God of Campfires, with three arms! There is no information provided about any religions associated with any of these gods, but that is probably for the best: let the players and DM use their imagination to make the details.

My favorite is Xirchiriod, Chaos Unbounded, whose stats and behaviors are chosen randomly for each encounter with a series of dice rolls!

Here’s the entire table of contents, which includes demihuman deities as well. Though not every god in the list is delightfully weird, I really appreciate how very different they are from they gods of myth and religion. A great supplement to spice up a campaign!

Faerie Mound of Dragonkind (1987), by Jean Blashfield and James M. Ward. Here’s another one that is quite unusual and relatively unknown!

This is one of a number of solo adventures designed to solve the problem that plagued D&D: it couldn’t be played alone! TSR addressed with things like actual adventures written in invisible ink, like Maze of the Riddling Minotaur (1983)…

… and Endless Quest books, that allowed the reader to ‘pick a path’ through the story, like Dungeon of Dread (1982).

Faerie Mound lies somewhere between these two approaches. It is a choose-your-own-adventure book, but with simplified dice rules and a choice of characters with stats and equipment.

The quest in this book is to seek out the dust of a long-dead faerie king from his tomb. You enter the mound and find that it is still very occupied by faeries, who can help or hinder you on a whim.

The adventure is based around a number of rooms, some that have monsters, and the items within them that can be investigated, if desired.

Your choices lead you around the book through various entries. I tried a quick playthrough, and found myself going in circles, returning empty-handed to the main hall, to an increasingly exasperated faerie king!

There’s even an interesting wildcard: you can place the elf bookmark at any point in the book. When you encounter that page, you get a random reaction from the capricious elf! In my case, I found him friendly.

There isn’t much info about Faerie Mound online; I suspect it was an effort to combat the threat that computer roleplaying games were starting to become to pen and paper games. TSR and SSI would in the next year join forces to make the first D&D computer game!

The Sea Devils trilogy, by Bruce Cordell (1997). Let’s do a whole trilogy at once, because it doesn’t make sense to look at the modules individually!

Cordell is known for many classic D&D adventures throughout the years, such as the brutal Return to the Tomb of Horrors (1998). The Sea Devils trilogy, curiously, seems to be much less-remembered, which is a shame because it is excellent.

Sea Devils is an aquatic adventure, taking place largely underwater. In the first adventure, Evil Tide, PCs arrive on Angler Island, to find it under constant attack by the sahuagin, a classic evil D&D fish-like race. (2nd edition illustration here.)

After defeating a sahuagin raiding party in the main town Angleburg, the PCs are tasked with seeking out an explanation for these attacks, and can explore the island, which is given some lovely detail.

(Some mild spoilers follow, but I try to keep things largely vague because this is a very playable and runnable adventure today.)

Explorations lead to sea caves under the island, where the party eventually finds an ancient artifact that the sahuagin have been searching for — and using the raids as a cover for the search.

By the end of Evil Tide, the PCs have found the artifact, a large statue. They are then tasked with taking it off the island to the mainland, which doesn’t go well, as Night of the Shark indicates just with its title!

In this second adventure, the PCs ship is attacked by VERY large sharks and sahuagin, who steal the artifact and leave the players adrift in the ocean. The adventure is largely a survival adventure, which eventually involves taking command of a ghost ship to survive!

By the end of the 2nd adventure, the PCs have tracked the artifact to a deep sahuagin city in Sea of Blood. There, they learn that there is an ancient and evil power pulling the strings, and they must stop an ancient ritual from being performed!

The art in all three books is stellar, and the whole series feels like TSR at the top of their game. Great adventures, great art, great maps, great new magical artifacts and monsters.

The encounters are really clever, even brilliant, and often quite deadly. This is definitely an undersea horror adventure, and Cordell explicitly notes that the players should always feel overwhelmed and on the edge of death throughout.

Nevertheless, there is a playful aspect to a lot of the encounter descriptions, including this one which I like because of the “electromagnetism” reference!

Again, I don’t want to spoil the adventure too much, but overall the progression through the series is deeper and deeper into the ocean depths — culminating in a final battle within an undersea abyss like the Marianas Trench!

Graphics are included that sell the story even more, like this warning scratched on a prison cell wall by one of the sahuagin captives.

A lot of thought went into the background of this adventure, which really sets up an entire history of the region into ancient times, and sets up an entirely new race of evil enemies.

One fun shoutout: one of the sahuagin carries a magical trident named “Surge.” I immediately thought of “Wave” from White Plume Mountain, and it turns out that wasn’t a wrong thought!

The Sea Devils trilogy is one of the rare TSR adventures set mostly beneath the waves; the other is the U1-U3 series. Cordell includes extra rules for underwater combat to make it feel real, including combat and visibility limitations.

… and the sahuagin become more deadly underwater. Consider the PCs first encounter with them is in air, this could lull them into a false sense of confidence!

So, overall, the Sea Devils trilogy is just wonderful! Great storytelling, great design, great atmosphere. Recommended if anyone ever feels the urge to adventure in the deep!

****************************

Okay, that’s it for this edition of Old School Dungeons & Dragons! Expect more soon, because I’ve got a pile of books on my nightstand that need to be blogged!

This entry was posted in Entertainment, Fantasy fiction, role-playing games. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Old School Dungeons & Dragons: Part 28

  1. Our Monday night game group encountered Wave in White Plume Mountain. (https://waynesbooks.games/2020/06/30/white-plume-mountain-session-5-xerbo/). The party knew the weapons there were of great power, and quite suspicious of them, so I figured they’d be bagged and ignored.

    Abruptly, the orc ranger decided to possess Wave. At that moment I realized the sentient & devout trident had to follow a deity, and so chose from the Greyhawk pantheon Xerbo, a Suel sea god. Hijinks ensued.

  2. talaraska says:

    Good stuff here. Lots of memories. Did you ever play around with Battlesystem? I owned it but it unfortunately never made its way to the table.

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