Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Sidequest: The Curse of Xanathon Part 1

As I previously mentioned, I was finally able to become a player in a Swords & Wizardry campaign adventure.  These sessions were run by Brian, one of the players in our gaming group that has been going strong since 2009!

Brian ran classic TSR adventure: X-3 Curse of Xanathon!

Like I said, I had a great time playing my thief, McDagger and we all had a lot of laughs with this adventure, as any good group of sessions should have, but the Curse of Xanathon, as an adventure module, has it's 'issues'.

This adventure was written in 1982, around the time adventure modules evolved from a sandbox environment into more of a story-based adventure. Being X-3, you can see the evolution of that through the X series of modules.

X-1, The Isle of Dread (by David Cook and Tom Moldvay) is a crazy open sandbox in a pulp fantasy lost island in the middle of the sea.  It's open ended and the players can determine their own fate by their choices.  There is no real 'plot' or linear story. Just an anything goes fantasy.  It's a classic in it's own right.

X-2, Castle Amber (by Tom Moldvay) was another open ended "fun-house" adventure with a loose plot of the D'Amberville family. It's essentially a classic mega-dungeon crawl.  This one is slightly more rail-roady in that the PCs would be 'trapped' in the castle until they figure out the way to escape.

The Curse of Xanathon (by Douglas Niles) breaks with that free-form openness and railroads the party into 5 plot-points (scenarios) that need to be hit to move the story along. It involves a curse upon the duke of the town of Rhoona and a cult worshiping a chaotic god and an 'invincible' priest and an powerful pirate working in tandem with the priest to control the Duke.  Oh, and a time limit of an invading dwarven army that the Mad Duke pissed off, all this to support the underlying concept of a civil war in the town to weaken it and allow for an invasion from the steeps.  This all sounds like the making of a great fantasy story - and it is, but as an open adventure, it doesn't work very well.

The general problem with 'story' based adventures such as this is always having the critical need for players
to hit the plot-points to move the adventure along. You can't kill the wrong NPC, or stray from the path, or  just blow-up the Duke's castle and be done with it, or what if you don't find the exact key to defeat the evil priest? or just saying, this town is fucked, lets rob the castle and get out of here.  To reveal the 'story' as the author intended, you need to do everything in the way the author needs to you to do it. And for a group that is use to open ended adventures where the stories evolve themselves this was quite rail-roady.  I mean, why should a group of traveling rogues care about this town or this Mad Duke? I guess outlawing ale would do the trick, right?

All that said, we had a good laugh at some of the forced plot points.  Many of the encounters were quite enjoyable and I really loved the dungeon/shrine. This would be a challenging module to run for even veteran DMs but Brian rolled with this adventure with his usual dry humor and twisted charm which leveled this module up from an attempted mysterious drama to a romp that involved fire-balling the barracks.

I guess you can't keep a good party down.

A brief word about the author, Douglas Niles. He was part of the early second group of TSR employees after the initial explosion of the game. He came on board in '82 as a game designer. He ended up writing Top Secret (one of my favorite non-D&D games) and the first three Forgotten Realms novels.  He also wrote the B-5 Horror on the Hill adventure, a less rail-roady adventure which I worked into our campaign way back and was pretty fun. He has some chops but Curse of Xanathon just didn't cut it.  It's obvious he had a story concept in mind that he translated into an adventure module which doesn't quite work as a stand-alone.  I suppose that if you used the town of Rhooma as a starting point for an entire campaign with level 1 characters and then you could slowly build up the story and plot points so that when the characters were powerful enough they could tackle the 'story adventure' organically with the stakes being higher, that probably could work.

More on the actual session recaps coming next.

Another, more thorough, dive into this module over at RetroReview

Friday, May 19, 2017

Adventures in Playing

Yes, your Warlock has been gone for quite a while and it may have seemed that the campaign was on indefinite hold, but lo', it was only an illusion!  We actually continued with Swords & Wizardry but with me, your wonderful warlock, as a player and the DMing duties having been passed on to our long time player Brian.

I needed a break from running sessions and Brian wanted to give DMing a try.  The timing was right for a switch.

When I first got involved in D&D waaaay back in the Holmes Blue Book days, I was the oldest of our group of friends. Being all of 10 years old, 'learning the game' and running things kind of fell to me.  Believe it or not, I rarely was ever a player in a D&D game.  I probably only played a PC no more than three times, only two of which I can truly remember. As we all got a bit older and others could take the reins, we had moved on to other games like Boot Hill, Top Secret, Champions, Traveller, and other board games.  All of that was great fun, but I really never got to experience some good old fantasy role playing.

Even these days, I had played in a very fun play by post game run through the OD&D boards almost 10 years ago now.  That was great as it was classic D&D and my dwarf had some good times. However, it was still a play by post and not a face to face table game.

When I was looking to find a face to face group, I ended up in a D&D 3.5 game.  I really enjoyed being a player but the 'on the track' railroading of the adventure was a real drag, not to mention the two hours + long combat sessions. I longed for the free-form, anything goes old-school style game that I grew up with and wanted to experience as a player.

Getting our current game group together is now history. It is here that I was able to run our classic style campaign.  And with a group of great friends this group has become, we were able to branch off into other RPGs including Savage Worlds, ICONS, White Star (Star Wars), Robotech, all of which I was able to be a player in.  All of that was great but I still never quite had that swords and sorcery fantasy player experience.... until now, when Brian ran his side campaign.

This side campaign, we agreed, was to take place within the current S&W campaign world that we were playing in. Some of the players used their current characters while others created new ones.  All of this was to help build PC to take on the final quest of the main campaign.

Finally being a player was great.  Brain ran a really fun adventure module (which needed a few tweaks, but he did right by those).  I ran a thief named McDagger.  He got himself into plenty of trouble - not at all times by choice!  Brian ran a pretty brutal campaign with a couple near TPKs which were saved by usually one lucky character.  The dungeon adventure had lots of tricks and traps and creatures that caused us all a lot of laughs and headaches. It was a blast to finally be a player in an extended campaign and I can't wait to jump in that side of things again.  I really wished I had summarized those sessions as well, but real life made that harder to do than usual.  I'll do my best to cover a brief summary in the next post or two just to keep the campaign complete.

For now, though, we have moved back to the main campaign this past Monday.  I'll get the session summary for that posted in the next week.

So, for now, thanks Brain and...


Friday, May 5, 2017

Session LXXXVI: The Road Ends In Larm

Continuing our ongoing Swords and Wizardry sandbox campaign...

Current Player Characters:
Torvin Fulvousmith (Dwarf)
Thenus (Ranger)
Wang Du (Monk)
Centari (Elf)
Wolfheir (Viking)
Arg (Half-orc)
Sir Gwain (Paladin) 
Su (Cleric)
*NOTE that this post contains SPOILERS for the Village of Larm adventure, the Labyrinth Lord module from Soapbox games so precede at your own peril! 
 In pursuit of the wights, the party found themselves in a room with a locked door and a riddle: "Only the will of the gods will help you now".

Not being able to answer the riddle in the hopes of opening the door, the party leaves the temple basements and heads back to Brother Erkmar who is ecstatic to tears when he hears of the success that the party has had in putting to rest the souls of his religious companions.  He is so thrilled that he once again dons his holy armor and accompanies the party back to the temple.  

They made their way back to the basement and the locked door where Brother Erkmar tells Su to cast a spell to his god which is the sacrifice to unlock the door, which Su does.

The door unlocks and beyond they are attacked by a gargoyle which the party easily beats back.

Opening the final door the the crypt they are once again engulfed by black smoke.  Once the smoke clears they see a sarcophagus around which stand four deadly creatures - a SoulSpinner, a Spectral Scavanger, a Spectre, and the renegade wraith.  A fierce battle ensues as the SoulSpinner entangles Su in a web and the Scavanger uses lightening and giant bony hands to erupt from the ground grabbing Arg and Wolf.  Things were looking grim for the party but eventually Wang, Centari and Torvin and Sir Gwain defeat the cursed souls.

With the monsters dispatched, the sarcophagus is opened to reveal the entombed body of the first Abbot, Brother Thorleif.  Brother Erkmar sheds tears of joy as his temple has been cleared of the curse of the evil book.  The party is victorious once again!  The town is grateful and tales are told all though winter of their heroic adventures.

The party settles down for the winter sending out messengers to the east looking for additional brave souls to help them face the vengeful ancient dragon Agatheron... but that is another tale soon to be told...