Saturday, November 23, 2013

From Print to Digital (Part 2)


Tomb of Horrors is unique in that despite being a dungeon crawl there really isn't much combat.  What it lacks in foes though it more than makes up for in deadly traps and oppressive foreboding.  I'd like to take a moment to stress that unlike the Hollywood move set lighting we're used to seeing in video games and recent Dungeons and Dragons artwork, these old modules base their imagery on real life caverns, tunnels and tombs (in this case Egyptian).  Firelight, whether it be candle, torch or oil lamp, was the only non-magical form of subterranean illumination until the invention of electricity.  This fact of underground exploration is reflected in many of the visual pieces produced back then.  As for traps...there are so many at times it feels more like Super Meat Boy than a RPG.

Expedition to the Barrier Peaks is a bit of a genre bender in that the premise revolves around a crashed spaceship high in the mountains.  The vessel has a floor plan layout straight out of FTL and is filled with living specimens taken from various planets.  The crew have long since perished from a disease which oddly poses no danger to the player characters (possible H.G. Wells reference).  So, the alien lifeforms have been getting out of their pens and into the wild.  If you've ever wondered how some of those really bizarre entries in the Monster Manual (like Bulettes and Beholders) came to be it turns out they're from outer space!  In part, this ecological disaster is the fault of the ship's malfunctioning automated machines.  One of the most hilarious parts of running this adventure is seeing how fantasy magic-users, barbarians, thieves and clerics deal with police robots, medical robots, janitor robots and my personal favorite a gym coach robot.  Another interesting twist is a lot of the loot that can be found acts like magic items, but is actually just extremely advanced technology.  A belt of levitation is really a personal zero-g field generator, a wand of death ray is actually a laser pistol, and magic suits of armor are powered exoskeletons.  Needless to say any heroic explorers who make it through alive are probably going to throw off the balance of game such that it will look and feel more like Saint Row 4 than any traditional fantasy setting.

H.P. Lovecraft stories have always left a big footprint in Dungeons and Dragons, but no more so than in The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun.  It's probably the most Cthulhu Mythos inspired module to be produced and also has some of the best cover art of any module, in my opinion.  I particularly like how it looks bright, colorful and inviting at first glance, but then becomes more and more sinister the longer you examine it.  The focal point for players is a ziggurat and the hidden temple underneath.  The deeper players go the creepier it gets.  Rituals must be performed in order to access the inner sanctums.  In all likelihood insanity or death will claim any interlopers before they can make to the "Black Cyst," a prison for the dark god of chaos and destruction.  The climax to Quest for Glory 4: Shadow of Darkness seems to have borrowed whole cloth from this adventure module.  The fact that player can very easily miss important secret areas also makes the underground parts feel like something out of a Metroidvania title.

The Isle of Dread was included in one of those boxed sets that used to be sold back in the 1990s.  As such it's probably one of the most well know modules produced.  Superficially, it feels a lot like Skull Island from the film King Kong.  However, I personally think Author Conan Doyle is the chief source of inspiration here.  A distant little known land inhabited by primitive natives and overrun by not-so-extinct dinosaurs is part of it.  The biggest thing for me though is the high plateau complete with precipitous rope bridge patrolled by overly aggressive pteranodons.  At the very least players will spend a lot of time exploring and doing battle with everything from giant oysters to carnivorous plants.  Other nods include a pirate base and and ancient ruin which would make this an ideal place for a Lara Croft game.

Castle Amber is split into two parts.  The first is a chateau inhabited by a variety of denizens including a family of nobles fallen from grace, a sun knight, mimics, giants, profiteers and a hideous coroner-like creature with spider limbs called the "Brain Collector."  Did I mention that the place is surrounded by a colorless fog?  While never referenced by anyone over at From Software I have a gut feeling that somebody on the design team got a look at this module before they set about creating the Anor Londo area in Dark Souls.

The second half of Castle Amber mostly involves journeying through the lands of Averoigne.  If you've never heard of this place it's basically a patchwork amalgamation of short stories written by Clark Ashton Smith.  In game terms though it really only serves as a backdrop for fetch quests as players try to gather the necessary items to free the lord of the Amber family from his ethereal imprisonment.

Treasure Hunt is the last one this list, but first when it comes to starting fresh with a table-top gaming group.  The idea with this adventure is players start off as level zero slaves washed up on the shore of an unknown land after the their galley wrecked in a fierce storm.  Rather than choosing a class during character generation, players are eased into one based on their action during play.  Unlike most fantasy which tends to drag out the greater destiny trope, this module has a Robert E. Howard vibe to it.  Players are expected to forge their own path in life through desire and cunning....and, of course, a whole lot of lucky dice rolls.

Whew!  Well, that was a little blast from the past for you.  Hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it.  

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