Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Favorite Published Adventure: A4 In the Dungeons of the Slavelords

The neat thing about this adventure, or so it seemed to me at the time, was starting the players off waking up in a sandy cave, presumably deep in some underground maze, where they had nothing but loincloths--no weapons, armor, equipment, precious magic items or memorized spells. Also, it was pitch dark. There were things scuttling about that would scuttle even faster during the earthquake tremors that would go off at increasing frequency. Did I mention that it was pitch dark?

To get out, they had to be smart about things they found--bones they could use as clubs, tar for improvised torches, etc.--but also needed to put up with a certain, so to speak, grossness level--making friends with fungus people via a disgusting spore ritual, climbing a bridge made of dead giant ant husks, and so on. 

I purchased the module along with the others in the Slavelords series, shortly after it came out. It seemed incredibly cool to me and I couldn't wait until my players were powerful enough to try it. I had to wait a year or so, as I remember.

Looking back, this "tournament" module violated a number of "old school" tenets, or at least it did the way I used it. First off, I had to "railroad" my players into the predicament--indeed more than railroad them, I had to throw a set of antagonist at them that they obviously couldn't defeat or run away from. They actually made a good run at winning against, I think, an 8th level party, so I had to make use of the deus ex machina of sleep gas. As I remember it, one of the players threw me a look as if to say, "That's so obviously unfair. What's your game, anyway?" He found out when he woke up in the dark wearing nothing but a loincloth.

Secondly, the module instructed the DM to make the players think the cavern or (as they would later discover) island would blow up at any time. But of course, if one had railroaded them into the thing in the first place, imposing a volcanic TPK on characters the players had been playing for over a year of real time would have been mean. So that was also sort of fake.

Nevertheless, it was still amazingly fun.

When the party emerged from the caverns onto the beach of the volcanic lake, their patron, Rellian, the 18th level Wizard, was there to meet them with all of their "lost" equipment and magic items. Triumphant, they flew out on the back of a tame Red Dragon, watching the world explode far below...


  1. Loincloths! LOL TSR was really PC at that time.

    In a "You wake-up as a captive" cold open -- which I do quite often -- they would generally wake-up buck-ass naked! LOL Hell, I don't even need to set-up the capture! I would just throw them in some cold dungeon cell, the lower hold of a slave ship, buried up to their necks, tied-up over a cliff, etc., with no memory how they got their, or it just comes back to them once their heads clear. "You got piss-drunk.", "...drugged.", "...shanghaied.", "...arrested.", "...she said she was of consensual age.", etc. They all work.

    I don't see it as a railroading. I see it as a common framing device to get the adventure started. This works best when your are starting with fresh characters, as everyone learns what each character is capable of. One of the best examples of this is Zanzar Tam's Dungeon. (I started with that one.)

    One issue I have this this "tournament" setup, are the prefab characters. I mean, I have no issue with playing a bearded Dwarf chick, but I would like the option to play my own bearded Dwarf chick, or even the option to play a whole other type a character. Like my sexy bearded Elven chick! ;p

    1. I hear you, and I think you're right about first adventures, but since it was recommended for 4th to 7th level characters, it may not be an At Start situation.

      The loincloths could be used as weapons. You take them off, fill them with sand and voila! you have a -2 club (-6 in the dark) that can be used to knock Cave Fishers unconscious.

      The true horror, of course, if you were forced to use the AD&D grappling rules... :)