Although many of my previous comments may seem unkind, I wasn't joking when I said much of Douglas Niles's work irritates me...especially my recently acquired X3:Curse of Xanathon. However, I admit that I did tie one on last night (karaoke debauchery) and some of my irritation may be due to a pounding head this morning.
Also, I found a little something-something to soften my critique of Mr. Niles.
Just finished reading N1:Against the Cult of the Reptile Gods...rather forced myself to read it, despite my boredom with the first few pages and my "irritation with Doug" in general. And guess what...I'm changing my tune. N1 is pretty darn good.
Now, I realize it was ranked 19th Greatest Dungeons & Dragons Adventure of All-Time Dungeon Magazine in 2004, but I personally dislike and/or take serious umbrage with many of the adventures ranked on the list. For example, I am arm-in-arm with the folks who feel each module should be judged by its individual merit, not with a "series-as-a-whole" approach. But just being on a Top 20 list is good enough reason to give the thing a fair shake (well maybe...The Gates of Firestorm Peak is ranked #11 and I've never even heard of this 1996, 2nd edition adventure).
So anyway, I bothered to finish reading N1, and it's pretty good. I still don't understand why there are no lizard men and how a spirit naga is connected to troglodytes (and why all the cultists are Lawful Evil when their "god" is Chaotic Evil).
Heck, at first I thought there were NO alignments in the module, as none are listed with any of the NPC stat boxes. However, a re-read of the blurb at the beginning quickly explained most folks were Neutral Good while most baddies were of the LE variety. However, before my re-read I was tempted to consider this a pretty cool innovation for a module from 1982...after all, it DOESN'T really matter what alignment anyone is...the bad guys are bad unless the PCs can break the evil spell, and the innocent victims are in need of the PCs' help regardless of their alignments.
Okay, so what did I like about the module.
Well, for one thing it doesn't suffer from the same "silliness" as X3. It is small scale (one town, a la Village of Hommelet) that is in trouble from a real menace that can operate on a town scale. And yet, the adventure has the potential to "scale up;" if the PCs fail in the mission, the bad guy has a plan to spread his evil influence over the next village (he even has his patsy set to start the black tide); the Cult of the Reptile God could transform into a mini-campaign in and of itself!
Likewise, should the PCs succeed in putting down the Cult, the module continues to act as a "mini-campaign setting" with notes on what happens afterwards, how the PCs can set-up base in the town, and other possible adventures around the area. That's a lot of "bang for your buck" from one module.
In addition, the subject matter is mature and dark. The PCs arrive in the middle of a hostile takeover, and the bad guys already have a good foothold. The villains are mean, mean, mean with realistic drives and sub-plots and plenty of potential ickiness (especially once the ensorcelled townsfolk are freed from their spell...lots of potential role-playing issues/drama to deal with in a campaign that doesn't simply treat the module as a single episodic adventure).
I like that. I like depth of play/design. I like nuance, I like possibility, I like "open-endedness."
And N1 IS original. It is different from T1's "re-kindled ancient evil" and any other "evil religious opponent" module you care to name. Hell, it's not every day low level characters get to bring down a god!
And the power of the "god" IS god-like for low level characters. Granted they get some much needed help from a crutch...er, "helpful NPC"...but it's still going to be a pretty grim battle, quite possibly involving a LOT of dead PCs.
Which to my mind is a good thing...encounters can be challenging without giving the Big Bad the farm in "special powers;" to a low level character, a perma-charm, a poison bite, and a handful of spells (not to mention 9 hit dice) is PLENTY to deal with. Throw in the rest of the setting (the mud and trogs and possessed cultists) and you make a VERY challenging adventure for low level characters...especially if they happen to be good-hearted ones interested in saving a few souls (rather than laying 'em out).
So Douglas Niles gets a pass from me after all, and has earned a bit of good will even. Along with his co-developer Allen Hammack, he's designed a very cool and thoughtful adventure module...one that I'd very much like to run sometime.
Earlier, I posted a B/X conversion for the AD&D module S2:White Plume Mountain, and I was asked if I planned to convert any other modules. Well, N1 is certainly in the running for conversion. It's pretty darn simple really (though I might remove the trogs in favor of lizard folk...I think of trogs more like those creatures in the film The Descent). The main challenge to this is the availability of maps and text for this out-o-print module (the D20 version of S2 is available as a free download from WotC web site, N1 is not). However, I think I'll at least do it for myself. If anyone else is interested in seeing my conversion notes, let me know and I'll upload a file at mediafire.