Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Think Like A Leprechaun!"

I'm sick, I've been sick, perhaps tomorrow I'll still be sick. Today, I stayed home with the beagles and slept most of the day away.

But I also took time to read a module that I've owned for a number of years and...well, never bothered to read.

UK1: Beyond the Crystal Cave was written in 1983 and must have been published AFTER Unearthed Arcana as it has several UA references in it (a horn of bubbles, the spell chariot of Sustarre), yet before the Monster Manual II as it includes mud men (one of my favorite monsters from the latter book) in its appendix. However, I have no recollection of when I purchased the module...probably somewhere around 1986-88, though (got it used, of course).

I've never run the thing...heck, I'm not sure if I ever read it in its entirety before. But I've certainly never played it or acted as a DM for this module. Which is too bad, 'cause having read it NOW, I think it looks great!

But before I gush at its brilliance, let me just give some of my "why" reasons for not being interested in the past. Certainly any module with a "UK 1" designation would have been less interesting to me as a kid...I was not about to run anything out of England (at the time I did not realize the Fiend Folio itself was from beyond the pond). I wanted straight-up American adventures of the TSR classic variety...I was quite a snob on the issue.

Of course, UK1 IS a TSR module, and so my 2nd possible reason for setting it aside would have been the low level (5-7) of the adventure. Depending on when I purchased it (anytime between 1985 and the first half of 1987), I would have had no players in my on-going campaign with characters LOW enough in level to make use of it. This appears strange to some folks who are routinely running low level games, but the simple fact is Dungeons & Dragons becomes self-perpetuating after a certain point. Once characters can raise the dead or wish each other back to life, the only thing to stop the upwards progression of character level is a group's own interest in continuing play with said characters.

For kids who loved nothing more than our RPGs (and who created plenty of dramatic stories, backgrounds, and intrigues for our characters), there was little interest in "stopping play"...and a lot of free time FOR play (weekends, school breaks, etc.).

However, if I got the module AFTER 1987 or so (quite possible as I didn't really stop playing till '88 or '89), then one thing that might have stopped me, made quite clear in the first few pages of the module, is the thing that today I find quite brilliant.

This is a non-killing module.

I mean, it is certainly possible for a party armed-to-the-teeth to attempt to hack their way through the adventure...but doing so will make them extremely miserable. The easiest and most efficient means of getting through the module will be friendliness and diplomacy.

Not that there aren't dangers and fact some of the "fail" possibilities seem more drastic in this particular module than a simple failed poison save in a different adventure. After all, poison can be neutralized and dead people raised. How does the possibility of being out of the campaign for a few hundred years sound? Pretty rough, at least in campaigns with fully developed game worlds (yeah, and what happens to your castle while you're out of action, Mr.Van Winkle?). And there are plenty of irritations (f'ing leprechauns!) as well.

Of course, being slowly and irrevocably turned into a tree ain't no picnic either.

This adventure, as much as any I've read including S1:Tomb of Horrors, is about challenging the players not their characters. A 1st level character will have just as much chance of succeeding as a 7th level character...or a 15th level character for that matter. After all, how many characters can really stand up to a demigod?

I love it. My nephews were supposed to come over this weekend for a big ol' D&D session, and I was intending to run 'em through White Plume Mountain, albeit my B/X conversion (why? well, 'cause I think everyone who plays D&D should have a chance to run in the best adventure of all time). But now I'm thinking Beyond the Crystal Cave would be right up their alley.

Having run a few games with these kids, "hack-n-slash" is NOT their first instinct...and personally I'd like to nurture that. I mean, the Crystal Cave can be downright punishing for players that have a "stab first" mentality; why not give 'em the chance to run it BEFORE they develop the habit?

Or maybe I just like the idea of showing newbies what's possible in a game like this before the develop set notions about "what D&D is." It doesn't have to be World of Warcraft.

Could 4e do Beyond the Crystal Cave? It would seem to me that the answer is: no, not really. At least, not in the way the game is really designed to be played. It seems to me I saw some argument on a different blog or forum about why (4th Edition) D&D bothers to include monsters of good alignment at all.

Ugh. If I wasn't already sick, just the thought of how the game's been run into the ground over the last few years would put me off my dinner.

Anyway, I'm glad I took the time to check out UK1; it's very different from other published adventures. I could probably say more, but my head's a little stuffed right now. Hopefully tomorrow I'll be up on my feet again...if I don't get right, I won't be running anything for anyone this weekend. Peace, folks.


  1. I've had that module for years and I'm not sure if I have ever read it through myself. After I dig through Stonehell I'll take a look at it again.

    Get to feeling better.

  2. Nice write-up.
    I hope you feel better soon as well.

  3. I liked the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide.