Monday, August 10, 2009

Top Module #8: Oasis of the White Palm

For all the grief OS folks give Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman, I have got to say that I really don't share in it. First off, while I read the (first six) Dragon Lance novels, I never played (or owned until the last couple years) any of the DL modules. My fellow DM, Jocelyn, did own three or four, but because of the cement of the setting and story-line, we never bothered to actually run any of 'em.

Furthermore, while Ravenloft WAS run in our campaign (again, by Jocelyn) I didn't take part in the adventure that particular session, so I can't tell how it went at all. The one time I tried running Ravenloft myself, we (everyone at the table) got bored with it and gave it up before we even met our first gypsy witch. Truth be told, while I own the module still, I don't remember hardly a thing about it.  I should probably re-read it one of these days.

No...besides the Dragon Lance novels, the main experience I have with the Weiss/Hickman duo is the awesome Desert of Desolation series (I3, I4, and I5).  I've never owned the "super-module" version, but I have two copies of each of the original modules.

What a great set...what a great setting! I've written before that I love blood and sand adventures, and anything vaguely "Sinbad" or Egyptian falls readily into that category as easily as Rome and gladiators, so it's not surprising I'm a fan. However, I came to these modules rather late in my DM'ing career...I actually never had the opportunity to run this for my original gaming group (Jocelyn, Matt, Scott, Jason, etc.).

First off, while I saw I4: Oasis of the White Palm and the grinning djinni on the cover many times at the game shop, it never intrigued me. A giant blue man? Nah. He was smiling for god sakes! If the cover had had a glaring efreet....well, maybe. Secondly, it was only for mid-level adventurers. The PCs in our games were a LOT higher than 8th level. Taken together, the module just wasn't as sexy an option as other choices on the shelf.

Then, of course I finally acquired it and found that it was part 2 in a three-part series...and it took me years before I was able to find a copy of I3: Pharaoh. Completionist that I am, I only ran I4 as a stand-alone for the occasional one-off game (cousins, my brother and his buddy, etc.), not for my regular game group.

Too bad really, because it is fantastic.

Of the three, I find Oasis of the White Palm to be the best and the only one worthy of my Top Ten list of "best modules" (coming in at #8).  Truly, all of 'em are great and they offer real old school AD&D entertainment: plenty of dungeon crawling, monsters and undead, tricks and traps galore.  Yes, there is a very specific plot and some end objectives, but the characters themselves are more of the hoodwinked than heroic variety. And while a party may fail to break the curse that created the "Desert of Desolation," there are still rewards to be had...the fate of the world does NOT rest upon the PCs. Also, the adventures do NOT tell the story of some uber-NPC.  The PCs either help the NPCs in the modules or they don't...but they are the protagonists in this particular adventure.

I3: Pharaoh and I5: Lost Tomb of Martek, the book ends of the series, are mainly dungeon crawls...yes, there is some outdoor travel with a few planned encounters, but for the most part they are just "what happens on the way to the dungeon." Oasis is the real meat and potatoes adventure. 

I4 can be used as a stand-alone adventure readily. I've read other folks' accounts on-line where they spent weeks and weeks of game play in the Oasis because they couldn't "figure out what to do." The fact that you can do so much with the module speaks volumes. The adventure includes two full multi-level dungeons, a city in ruins, and a detailed town (the Oasis of the title) in addition to the desert wilderness setting...really a ton of adventure packed into not very many pages.

The dungeons themselves are nothing but the coolest of non-standard encounters with fiendish, fiendish traps.  The "maze of light" is the kind of thing I was designing in my own adventures, and the Pit of Everfall is just a bowlful of awesome. A pit that leads to Pandemonium? The minions of Set?  A gigantic chasm filled with an ARMY OF UNDEAD and only a single bridge across?  Holy guacamole! 

The fact that the wandering desert encounters has the equivalent of lance-wielding bedouins riding pegasi and the gigantic vicious purple worms just make the thing all the more crazy-cool. But I absolutely love the intrigue and adventure that can be explored in the Oasis itself...a desert outpost with legends and history that tie directly into the adventure's story.  

This is adventure design at its finest.  I think Weiss and Hickman really reached their peak with I5, regardless of the "cool maps" and plotting of Ravenloft.

I know I haven't mentioned him in awhile, but I would like to note that Alejandro and Company cut their mid-level teeth on the Desert of Desolation series (from Pharaoh to Martek). This was before Alejandro picked up Blackrazor (and a good thing too with the abundant legions of walking dead!), back when Big Al was simply a two-handed sword Weapon Specialist rather than the force of destruction he was to become.  

[I do recall Al and Arioch  finding a copy of the Necronomicon in the Oasis bazaar, but I don't recall the party ever using it (never a good enough reason to risk insanity I suppose). However, it seemed to fit the whole genre...was Set and Elder God? Perhaps. This question was never answered in the campaign]

ANYway, it IS an excellent adventure module and one worthy of praise (in my opinion). I would certainly be willing to run it again, and if one isn't too tied to the original game background, it wouldn't make a bad "jumping off" point for starting an Arabian Nights (or Knights) type of campaign.  If I were to ever convert it to B/X I would probably do just that...starting the players off in the Oasis itself, allowing them to find the Pharaoh's or Martek's tomb only after acquiring the need for the Star Gems...hmm, not a bad idea at all, really.

Ah! The place is set! I must do this!

As soon as I have the free time, of course....

**EDIT: I actually finished this post at 11:38pm after getting home from a Seattle Mariners game. I don't know why these things insist on carrying the timestamp of when I started the post!**


  1. I always wanted to check these modules out but never found them in the shops.. : (

  2. Sorry,'re missing out.

    I missed ALL of the later X modules (everything after X2, actually) so I never got to check out the Desert Nomad series. But for "Arabian-style" D&D entertainment, you'd be hard pressed to find better.

  3. I3 - I5 was my favorite AD&D module series of all time. I've run it probably a half dozen times over the past 20 years. Last time was a couple of years ago, when I ran it for my girlfriend and a group of our friends.

    I love the desert setting, the wild mix of Egyptian and Arabian cultures, and the goofy sense of humor prevalent throughout the series. I still think the opening hook for I3 Pharaoh is one of the best (and funniest) intros I've ever seen in a module, and it really works as a way to throw PCs into the setting without inundating them with a lot of tedious backstory.

    I have a copy of the supermodule as well, but felt the attempts to shoehorn it into Forgotten Realms were awkward and unnecessary.

    Anyway, just stumbled across the site and was wallowing in nostalgia, so I figured I'd share. Thanks for listening. You've been very therapeutics.

  4. @lrb: You're welcome!

    I, too, enjoy the intro to I3 and dig on the desert setting (for all of 'em). One of these days I'll try running a "desert only" D&D campaign...I3-I5 is the best example of how that could be done, IMO.
    : )