Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Descent Into The Void

The in-laws have headed for home and I may now resume my normal blogging schedule...well, I may after I've resumed my normal sleep cycle. Yowza!
In looking back over my various posts from August, I see that I've completely neglected to fulfill my "pseudo-promise" (there's a better word, but I AM pretty sleepy right now and the phrase doesn't spring readily to mind) of detailing the why's and wherefore's of my Top Ten Adventure Module list. Tonight I want to look at #7 on the list, Gary Gygax's D1-D2 Descent Into the Depths of the Earth. Now as I said, I'm calling these as I purchased them, and when I got D1-2, they were one module combined. Yes, I realize they were originally published as two. Enough already! As I said, let's look at it...I mean LOOK at it! What a piece of cover art! Right there, the image is enough to stick it in my top ten. No giant, grinning blue man on the front, just a badass battle between several shady looking adventurers. Of course, the cat getting his brain sucked out on the back cover is pretty sweet, too...more Willingham goodness. For those who haven't played D1-D2, it is the middle section of Gygax's epic G-Q, 7 module series (yes, I realize Gygax didn't write Q1...Q1 is a different post folks). I don't think one could call a series of adventure modules an "opus;" not when the guy writing 'em has penned the DMG and the PHB. But there's no doubt the series is a classic. So why then do I only single out D1-2 for my top ten list? What about G1-3 or everyone's beloved Vault of the Drow? Is it just the cover art? Nah...though of the whole series, I find the Roslov illustration on D1-2 the best of the bunch. No it's the adventure. See, I've run the whole series...what...MAYBE three times? Q1, as I said, is a whole 'nother story necessitating its own post (some day, some day). I've actually owned the D series longer than I've owned the G series...hell, I had access to Q1 through a friend prior to finding a copy of G1-3 (and guess where? yeah, that little used book store in Missoula, Montana). So D1-3 I've run individually more than others, and of them, the first two are the creme de la creme for me.  I mean, come on! A wilderness adventure underground? Drow back when they were totally evil? Mind flayers? No, there are no dragons in the caverns of the troglodytes...but there is a badass lich.
I'm not even going to talk about the DM's option of crafting his own Underdark adventures by allowing the PCs to explore side passages...I, myself, never went though the trouble to detail "the rest of the map," though I think it's a fairly cool idea.  However, for the record, I think the first two scripted encounters (the Drow outpost and the Mind Flayer lair) are two of the best I've ever laid eyes on in a published module. Each encounter is like its own mini-adventure...you need brains and tactics to defeat both, and if your PCs have never encountered drow or mind flayers before they are in for just a vicious surprise.
And yet, the encounters also perfectly showcase what these two classic monster-types are all about. You get a taste of the drow, their matriarchal society, their clerical and magical powers, their weird magic, their purses filled with platinum.  You get mindblasted and brain-sucked by the illithid...holy crap! 
I should probably do a whole post about the mind flayer. It breaks my heart that I can't stick 'em in my B/X Companion (no psionics, no IP material). I had probably used or thought about using a mind flayer prior to owning/running D1 (I did have the Monster Manual, though I may have "winged" the psionics without a copy of the PHB).  But what happens when you throw one mind flayer at a party of adventurers? You get a dead mind flayer, no shit.
But throw TWO mind flayers at a party? With their wererat thralls as canon fodder/distraction? You get a LOT of dead party members, is what you get...ha!
Vicious, vicious, vicious...D1 taught me to respect the illithid for the terrible foe they are.
And the lich in the great cavern...how many of my players got encouraged to venture into its lair and start "detecting magic" by yours truly?  All of 'em, that's how many...no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to use such a powerful monster...hell, that's excellent XP for PCs and excellent loot to boot! Why stash something so cool in a hidey-hole. That lich is the most powerful being in the caverns, it only makes sense he'd be running the joint.
[just by the by...in Paul Kidd's Descent Into the Depths of the Earth that's his take as well, and I respect him immensely for it, even if I don't like what he did later in the book]
Anyway, I've wasted a ton of blog space on D1, and it's not even my favorite part of the module...that would be D2: Shrine of the Kuo-Toa. I LOVE the Kuo-Toa; don't ask me why.  They have a draw and appeal to me that is similar to the draw and appeal of H.P. Lovecraft's works...certainly there are marked similarities between the Kuo-Toa and HPL's "Deep Ones." Not to mention Blibdoolpoolp the Sea Mother...she could easily have been one of Lovecraft's elder gods.
But I found D2 and the Kuo-Toa long before I found H.P. Lovecraft.  And I dig 'em. I love their weird amphibious nature. I love how, while tool-users, they wear no garments besides harnesses for their weapons (how very Burroughs...). I love how they have this weird priest-hood and character classes including assassins and "whips." I think it is especially creepy and weird how they "grow with age" so the more powerful ones are larger than man-sized and imposing compared to the younger, grunts...I find that just disturbing and yet totally fitting for the weird pulpy "city" that Gygax has created in D2.
I mean, I could really go on for a long time. Jermalaine? Love 'em. Getting teleported to Blibdoolpoolp's elemental plane of existence? How could you not love it!
There ARE flaws to the module...I found much of the underground stuff more time-consuming as a kid than fun (I wanted to get to the action, not worry about wandering trolls!). The Svirfneblin are just "okay" in my book...I don't find it necessary to have some sort of short, good-aligned allies in the Underdark (dammit, it's too deep underground for "good" to exist!).
And I really don't like the whole Kuo-Toa boatman encounter. Not because the rogue monitor isn't a cool encounter, what with his chance to go berserk and his giant gar and all (who doesn't love a giant gar?). But I think it "gives away the farm" too fast.  Ideally, I would prefer the PCs to not have ANY contact with the Kuo-Toa prior to finding the Shrine. Having one that is "kind of friendly in a professional if slightly crazy way" down-plays the weirdness and inhumanity of the Kuo-Toans. In my opinion, tt would have been better for this encounter to have occurred AFTER the shrine (as in, on the way down to the vault) where the strangeness of a "friendly monster" would have been more felt (after invading and fighting hordes of the things).
All right, I should probably talk about why D3: Vault of the Drow FAILS to make my top ten list when it rates so highly with others. However, this post is already running pretty long, so I'll save it for another day.


  1. As far as a B/X Mind Flayer - the beastie showed up early in the Strategic Review magazine - maybe issue one - BEFORE PSIONICS! Take heart! The mind blast was resolved by a saving throw dependant on the target's intelligence and the distance from the Flayer.

  2. Yeah, I believe there was a similar conversion provided in the Spelljammer supplement (for folks who wanted their space ship out of Mystarra but still wanted to use mind flayer pirates).

    Hmmm...Spelljammer. That is totally in need of a post. Dammit!

  3. I should probably do a whole post about the mind flayer. It breaks my heart that I can't stick 'em in my B/X Companion (no psionics, no IP material).... I LOVE the Kuo-Toa; don't ask me why. They have a draw and appeal to me that is similar to the draw and appeal of H.P. Lovecraft's works... certainly there are marked similarities between the Kuo-Toa and HPL's "Deep Ones."

    The Kuo-Toa seem indeed to be derived from Deep Ones ... and I've always felt that Mind Flayers were inspired by Cthulhu and/or its Star Spawn. You can put Illithids (Kuo-Toa are also IP BTW) in your B/X Companion... just call them Star Spawn instead of Mind Flayers. You'll of course have make the stats independently, not derive them from D1-2, but since your companion is an extension of B/X and not a flavour of AD&D you just want the idea of the 'Flayer, not that exact creature, right?

    We'll all know what you mean ;)

    Cthulhu Dark Ages Star Spawn
    A Star Spawn Fig

  4. @ Rain: Well, actually I don’t just want a re-hashing of AD&D in a B/X format. I know that I used some of the drow stuff in the Dokkalfar write-up, but they are more an homage to the dokkalfar of Norse legend…at least that was my original intent. As with the monsters of the original Moldvay/Cook&Marsh sets, my monsters are more of the legendary and/or Harryhausen/cinematic types…with a very few special exceptions.

    As for the Deep Ones…well I realize Kuo-Toa are IP, but I’m pretty sure that all Lovecraft’s stuff is public domain these days. And while I considered adding Deep Ones (or Depth Dwellers, I may have called them) I am already including a monster called the Ponaturi…check ‘em out on the Wikipedia. They will be a combo Deep One/Kuo-Toa/Sahuagin…but based on actual real world myth!