Friday, April 19, 2019

Q is for Quasqueton

[over the course of the month of April, I shall be posting a topic for each letter of the alphabet, sequentially, for every day of the week except Sunday. Our topic for this year's #AtoZchallengeRevamping the Grand Duchy of Karameikos in a way that doesn't disregard its B/X roots]

Q is for Quasqueton, the mysterious fortress featured in Mike Carr's adventure module B1: In Search of the Unknown.

Many folks have cherished memories of B1; a lot of first-time D&D players cut their teeth on the module. Personally, I've only run it once: with my brother back in 2010 after modifying the content substantially for mid-level play. I'll probably get around to running it again some day, and properly (maybe for my kids), but it's tough when the adventure needs so much prep from the DM to work (as a teaching module, B1 leaves many encounter areas to be stocked by the new DM).

The reason I don't have much experience with the module is because I never owned the thing until recently. B2 was my "introductory adventure;" B1 was written for (and included with) the ORIGINAL D&D Basic set, the edition we Bloggers refer to as "Holmes Basic." My copy of B1 was acquired back in 2009 when I came across a (used) box set of Holmes (no chits) that contained the adventure (my initial thoughts are here, for the curious). As a Holmesian relic, the module is not entirely suited for B/X play (though it's easy enough to convert), and some readers might be wondering why I even bring it up for this particular series, as it antedates the publication of Karameikos and the Known World by half a decade (a lifetime in terms of the hobby's primordial origins).

Once again, we can hold Mentzer responsible: his re-printed wilderness map of the Known World in BECMI's Expert set included the location of (what I assume are) all the then-published "B" and "X" adventure modules. B1 is located deep in the northern foothills of western Karameikos, near the mountain origin of the Achelos River, which flows to the coast (eventually emptying into the Bay of Halav by way of Blight Swamp).  Fortress Q is not shown on the GAZ1 map, nor is it mentioned in the text of the Gazetteer, but it's clear from the landmarks on the Expert map where the "hidden" stronghold is located.

"Hidden" is a pretty relative term, in this case. The text of the adventure states the hidden fortress of Roghan the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown was located "far from the nearest settlement, away from traveled routes, and high upon a craggy cliff" specifically because they were not interested in unwanted visitors. However, it's clear from encounter areas strewn with recently deceased bodies and the relatively picked over nature of the site that there are at least a few adventuring souls that have found their way to the fortress. Heck, the adventure starts with the PCs acquisition of a map to the complex!

Not sinister enough for
Zelligar and Roghan?
Which is helps make some sense of the adventure (and gives plenty of justification for the "low level" nature of the site...the biggest treasures and monsters have already been taken out, both literally and figuratively). As usual, I advise folks to check out GusL's excellent review/analysis/ideas for this module. Despite his critique, he provides a great blueprint for how to run the adventure in a way that's both sensible and properly challenging/rewarding.

So let's talk about the adaptation of B1 to the Karameikos setting. The first thing one needs to grok is that In Search of the Unknown is NOT a "generic" site for contains a lot of background material and setting information in its pages, some of which doesn't jibe with the history of the region as presented in GAZ1:

- Roghan and Zelligar only ceased 30 years prior to the start of the adventure. That means they disappeared to fight "northern barbarians" around the time Duke Stefan, Baron Ludwig and all the rest were moving in.
- Prior to this (and within living memory...certainly for elves and dwarves) they had been "heroes of the people" having fought off a large barbarian horde that attacked the region.
- The construction of their fortress, even before their fight with barbarians took over a decade "and the work of hundreds of slaves and laborers." After the defeat of the horde, they worked for several years more, adding to the fortress, and presumably continuing to use additional workers. Many of these would still be alive, or have drifted into communities.
- While the pair took "most of their henchmen and associates" with them into the wilderness (when they disappeared), many they did not, including Roghan's mistress, their advisor, the captain of the guard for the fortress, etc. It's clear from the text that these individuals and other servant types (I doubt they used their menial orc servants for cooking, but who knows?) eventually left when R and Z failed to return. There aren't a whole lot of places they could have gone, especially not without an armed escort.

One more thing to realize: this adventure was NOT originally written to fit with the Known World ("Mystara"). At least in MY copy (the monochrome cover) there is a note on page 6 stating:

"In the mythical WORLD OF GREYHAWK (available from TSR) the stronghold can be considered within any one of the following lands -- the Barony of Ratik, the Duchy of Tenh, or the Theocracy of the Pale."

This note is removed from the later, "brown cover copy." Reviewing mine, I can see it clearly appears written to work in the AD&D system, based on the NPCs of different race-class combinations (dwarf thieves, elven fighters, etc.) that were later edited out of the "straight Basic" version. Also, certain titles in the NPC names ("Servant of Saint Cuthbert," etc.) implies use in the Greyhawk setting. Concepts like "The Great Church," "The Secret Church," and "The City Afar," sound cool, but don't really work with Mystara as written, except perhaps as euphemisms.

So I'd probably change that, and let the "fluff" of the module fill out game world.

[here's a different question that really nags at my brain: Who are all these berserker guards that are in charge of the place? If they've been waiting 30 years (because they're fantastically loyal to their masters or something) doesn't that mean they're all well past their prime?]

There are plenty more unanswered setting questions that arise from this pair of adventurers who were "dedicated to perfecting their craft." From whence did they come? Where did Zelligar receive his magical training? Who is this demon idol that they casually worship (it's not an extravagant temple...more of a personal shrine)? Roghan has a brass dragon skin on the wall (brass dragons were a part of Holmes, not B/X or BECMI)...where did this come from and what does it imply? Magic mouths? Not a spell in ANY form of Basic.

In a BECMI setting, with its "everything is codified" sensibilities, this weirdness doesn't work great. In B/X, it works but just becomes "weirdness," which may not be what you want.

And dammit, who are these "barbarians" supposed to be? The Republic of Darokin with its disciplined, Swiss Pikemen-like army is hardly what I call a "savage horde" (and neither does frothing halflings from the Five Shires). Another invasion of humanoids? That doesn't really work with the whole Song of Halav legend (it's not like King Halav returned as foretold). *sigh*

So here's the idea that comes to my head for revamping B1 for use in a B/X Karameikos:

Fifty-some odd years ago, the wizard Zelligar "the Unknown" arrived in the region of what would someday be called Karameikos. Perhaps he was encouraged to adventure in the land by his patron demon; perhaps he was expelled from his country of origin (Darokin? Glantri?) because of his necromantic practices. Perhaps it was simply a teleportation mishap.

Regardless, he found himself in foothills of western Karameikos. Turns out there was an indigenous population prior to the coming of Stefan and his Thyatia cronies...a hardened, iron age culture living in small agrarian communities...more tribal clans based extended families than anything that would be called villages. Here was a superstitious lot, easily cowed with displays of magic, easily manipulated...and Zelligar found it the ideal space to create a base of operations.

But one "barbarian" showed no apprehension of the strange wizard. Roghan (later called "the Fearless") was more intrigued by the stranger than worshipful. Desiring companionship and needing an interpreter (not to mention a strong right arm), Zelligar adopted the young Roghan as a protege, gifting him with enchanted armaments the likes of which had never been seen by the primitive hillmen. So equipped, the two began to explore the wilderness, especially the northern mountains, that were full of both fell beasts (like dragons) and treasure hoards built from mineral wealth of area. Successful in their undertakings, they eventually came to build Quasqueton as described in the module background.

Unfortunately, their relationship with the hillmen of the area were far from amiable. To the hillmen, the pair's worship of strange and foul gods was despicable, as was their taking of slaves from the hill tribes, forcing Roghan's own people to work alongside orcs taken in raids. What was worse, Roghan's and Zelligar's own henchmen and soldiers were drawn from the most vicious and violent of the mountain tribes, people who were known to practice human sacrifice and cannibalism. Eventually, the hillmen rose up, united, and marched on Quasqueton, only to be brought low by the martial might of Roghan and the sorcery of Zelligar. Much tribute was taken from the defeated tribesmen, not the least of which was the beautiful Melissa, eldest daughter of a great chieftain of the hillmen. Roghan was smitten at first sight and, bringing her to his stronghold used much of his wealth to construct suitable accommodations for his most cherished prize.

Fair Melissa, on the other hand, saw Roghan as a traitor to his own people and looked for a way to revenge herself on the adventurers. Knowing that murdering the warrior would do nothing to remove the pair's tyranny (would not Zelligar simply find another man of greed and ambition amongst the hill tribes?), she instead endeavored to seduce the wizard himself, with Roghan none the wiser. Thus manipulating both men, she arranged for the pair to embark on a dangerous venture from which they would never return, due in no small part to her sabotaging of their gear and poisoning of their supplies.

It was shortly thereafter that Stefan and his ilk arrived in the region. Searching out potential rivals for his control of the land, the archduke's henchmen made forays into the north, following rumors of a "secret fortress." However, none who found it actually lived to tell the tale, as the hillmen still secretly guard Quasqueton, regularly posting their strongest warriors (the berserkers) to prevent other adventurers from discovering and "setting up shop" in the fortress. The hillmen remember the past, and while they are content to let the "Archduke" and his pet barons rule in the south, they want no more foreign lords exercising their will over their lands.

Been watching too much GoT...
[by the way...Happy Triduum to folks that celebrate the Easter holiday! I shall be pretty busy the next couple days (aren't I always?) especially as it's my daughter's 5th birthday. I might not get around to my "R" post till Sunday night]


  1. Happy birthday and bright future to your daughter, Mr. Becker.

    1. Thank you, Janich. That is very kind.