Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Comparing Pulp

This post is probably going to ramble a bit. Sorry. I'm in the middle of guzzling coffee, so hopefully my lucidity will improve. Hopefully.

Good podcasts are hard to find. Okay, that's not exactly accurate. Finding podcasts regarding the exact bit of minutia you want to hear can be hard to find. Which just goes to show how reliant on the internet we've all come to be (well, me at least). I'm trying to find comparison reviews of ancient D&D adventure modules and I get irritated when I can only find one or two...this wasn't even a thing five years ago! Sweet Jesus.

But that's what I've come to these days: those who can't do, teach...or blog. Those who can't blog listen to podcasts on the subjects they want to blog about. The other day I listened to a three hour recording of an on-line group playing Dwellers of the Forbidden City (I was doing housework at the time)...and while there's a lot I could criticize about their game, it doesn't change the fact that I listened to (most of) it! And thank goodness I was able to FIND something...those guys were a GODSEND in my "hour of need."

[it was terrible though...I kept wanting to reach through my headphones and throttle them all. First, spending three hours on a single encounter...in AD&D!...is pretty inexcusable. But mainly it just irked me that the DM wasn't prepared to run the encounter. Yes, yellow musk creepers are outside the norm of your usual goblin infestation, but then you should have spent some time figuring out (beforehand) how the creature and its various abilities are supposed to work. The dragging out of the encounter was a direct result of the lack of prep]

I'm inclined to blame Delta for this, by the way...Dan's new video channel (with fellow Wandering DM Paul) have become "must-listen" material for me when I'm doing dishes late at night, or running around doing errands. Both of these guys are long-time, experienced DMs, who aren't afraid to step outside their comfort zones and try new things...or adapt new methods...when it comes to their gaming. For the most part, I don't find them trying to "teach" folks how to run games, but are instead talking about things that worked and didn't work at the table...which is really what I'm looking for. Most of the podcast stuff (and here I'm including videos and "vlogs," too, as I only listen to it, I don't watch the screens) about gaming, especially the "teaching" stuff, is pretty damn lame. Dan and Paul gave me hope that there was better stuff out there. That's why I blame them.

So what I've mostly been searching for is stuff about older adventure modules because (as I wrote yesterday) there are packaged modules that I like that I would like to incorporate into a campaign setting. 

Dwellers of the Forbidden City is one. The Isle of Dread is another. Despite the inclusion of bugbears in both (still need to write my "bugbear hate" post), both of these adventures have a lot of elements that I love. Really, they're both decent settings for long-term (multi-adventure) play...what the kids playing 5E these days term "campaign play." Both are large sites, both have multiple access points, both provide multiple "starter ideas" for possible reasons for exploration/adventure, both have numerous potential factions for players to encounter and ally with (or piss off), and of course both have a ton of treasure to be plundered.

The treasure count for both modules are pretty similar, despite one adventure being written for AD&D and the other for B/X. X1: The Isle of Dread has a total "loot count" of 123,010 g.p. divided as follows:

Main Island encounters: 89,810 g.p.
Central Plateau: 15,000 g.p.
Taboo Island (the target objective): 18,200 g.p.

Okay, this IS a beautiful map.
A lot of this requires additional work, ingenuity, and outright feats of engineering to pull the treasure out: gold to be mined, trade routes to be established, etc. As a large island, there are plenty of opportunities to establish additional lairs (and loot) for various monsters on the wandering encounter tables...including a red dragon, black dragon, centaur clan, dryad grove, and cyclops...all of whom have no way to get off the island (it's too far to fly to the mainland) and all of whom probably have some place their bedding down at night. The average treasure yield for those five creature types is 128,500 g.p. (more than the total treasure in listed encounters!) and even scaling down for smaller tribes and younger worms, you could probably still expect to increase the total value of X1 adventuring by 50% or so. That's probably enough to earn adventurers another level...or close to it, anyway.

I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City has (as listed) a larger haul of treasure: 136,323 g.p. value, but almost all of it is straightforward looting and cash grabs. There isn't a lot of heavy lifting necessary (as in X1) nor a number of cursed treasure items (B2) nor even pricy antiquities requiring specialized buyers (Return to B2 has a lot of these). What it does have is a sprawling ancient metropolis with hostile factions/tribes that will try to bushwhack small parties of treasure-laden adventurers and an adventuring site secluded far from any "civilized" area (i.e. places where wealth can be spent or pawned). Yes, the Isle of Dread is 800-900 miles off the coast of the mainland but (despite historical inaccuracy) once treasure is loaded aboard one's ship the return voyage is relatively safe and easy compared to overland travel through miles of (presumably) hostile jungle. 

[running out of food and water at sea just doesn't have the same sting when players have access to high level cleric spells]

Just like X1, Dwellers has plenty of room for expanding the scope (and treasure) of the adventure. While the yuan-ti are reputed to be the "main bad guys" of the city, no detailed lairs or strongholds of the creatures are presented in the adventure. While they may be more independent than the clannish mongrelmen and tasloi, there're definite hints of organization and cooperation among the demon-men, and no reason not have pockets of wealth scattered all about the city (where are they putting all those trade goods stolen from jungle caravans?). Most of the adventure ideas presented at the end of the module require DMs to create additional lairs within the (rather ample) city confines...and lairs mean treasure. There's no reason the Forbidden City couldn't be expanded to accommodate higher level play by increasing both the opposition present AND the wealth available for plunder.

Now, I realize that more than one DM blogger out there has run these two adventures in conjunction (setting the Forbidden City on the Isle of Dread...usually in place of Taboo Island). Heck, James Maliszewski even had a Forbidden Isle project in the works at one point, though I don't think it was ever realized. For me, while I'd like the presence of both pulp adventure sites in my campaign setting, I don't believe they work well together. You can tell me I lack imagination, but I just don't want my Lost World dinosaurs mixing with demon-bred snake-men; to me, that's much more distasteful than mixing fantasy and science fiction (something I kind of love that a lot of people hate). "Reptillian" ain't a unifying theme, and throwing yuan-ti on the backs of velociraptors (or whatever) is just too gonzo ridiculous for my taste. 

Still, I like the idea of having both adventure sites in the same world, and I'm not sure how exactly to do that. And, no, I'm not into the "demi-plane" idea. 

Anyhoo, got to go. More thoughts on this later (perhaps). Or I might talk about swords instead.


  1. My idea to merge the two modules is to put Dwellers somewhere in the southwest jungles of Isle, and replace the (mist?) dragon with more kopru, who hate the yuan ti. Maybe the yuan ti caused the collapse of kopru society.

    1. The Forbidden City, as scaled, easily fits onto the central plateau...or any other hex of the Isle of Dread. The issue is the overall flavor: “civilized” caravans being ambushed by an “ancient evil” from another time doesn’t really work with a hard-to-reach Lost World setting like X1. I need a fantasy Stygia/Hyborea on the edge of the jungle.
      ; )

    2. Well, I planned to ignore the given hook.