Friday, December 30, 2022

In Search Of The Unknown

So...huh. Looks like I do have another post or two left in me before 2023.

Holiday playdates have been going on this week...Wednesday, we had Maceo over and Lo and Behold, the kids did not want to play laser tag, sing karaoke, or show off their Minecraft creations. Nope, they wanted Dungeons & Dragons and nothing but. 

Not only that, but they're starting to get to the point they can sit and engage with the game for hours without needing 'brain breaks.' Kid got over to our house around 12:20 and after 15-20 minutes or so of the usual catch-up with buddy you haven't seen in weeks, they had butts at the table and ready to go. And stayed that way till 5pm. Could have continued, but we had to kick the kid out at 5 since we had plans to hear Beethoven's 9th at the Seattle Symphony in the evening. 

[it was magnificent, by the way]

However, the kids did NOT want to run with their beefy, mid-level (elven) assassins. Instead, they wanted to make brand new 1st level characters. Reason being: level restrictions. Knowing they were starting to reach the top end (well, being more than halfway there) and seeing the writing on the wall, they decided to move onto new characters rather than invest more time in the old ones. The new characters: an elven thief ("Donc"), a human ranger ("Luther von Dink"), and a human cleric ("Brother Dank").

[yes, Dink-Donk-Dank...there was some silliness involved, and that's fine. Always some jitters/nerves when starting out...we can always retcon and rename later if we want]

Luther had a rolled strength of 18/93, which makes him the second-strongest ranger to have graced our table (Diego had previously had a ranger with...natural!...18/00 strength that perished in Hommlet). Using my updated height/weight tables we determined he was 6'2", 313# , giving him roughly the same size and build as Drew Desjarlais of the New Orleans Saints (I pick Drew because he's from Ontario and most rangers should be modeled after Canadians). 

Donc is typical of elven adventurers in my campaigns: a lowdown scoundrel with a debased and incorrigible disposition. I don't get it, haven't these kids ever watched those LotR films?  I suppose Diego ran a Legolas clone in his early days, but...well whatever. Mace just likes roguish wastrels with pointy ears. 

Sofia refuses to play elves (half-elves are okay). She joined the game a little belatedly, jumping in with a new cleric to round out the party. Clerics aren't her usual shtick, but so long as her character can wield a flail (her preferred weapon) she's generally unbiased in what she plays. 

SO...yeah, new characters, so no Desert of Desolation reclamation project. Which is, you know, fine. It's not really ready anyway...and, as with my (similar) Ravenloft project may end up being for lower leveled characters than the 5th-9th range, more like 3rd+.

[what I'm actually doing is reworking the whole thing as a more open "sandbox" environment for exploration with various interconnected plots/factions, all laid over a map of southern Idaho...however, the dungeons/monsters get bigger/meaner/tougher the deeper one gets into the desert. Fewer purple worms in the west than in the east, for example]

New characters need a new adventure and I decided to run B1: In Search of the Unknown, an adventure that I haven't ever run "straight" (at least, not in recent memory). For my world, Quesqueton is located in the Cascade foothills, just outside of Issaquah, up the side of Tiger Mountain in what the internet tells me is "the Issaquah Alps" (I have never heard this term and I've hiked Tiger dozens of times over the years). The party was hipped to the location by a local thief ("Garbo," halfling) who was willing to sell them a map to the 'legendary stronghold.' Little did they realize this is just the local scam business, and all number of adventurers have picked the place over during the last couple-three decades.

Turned out to be a fun little romp. My players are pretty solid with regard to adventuring logistics...outfitting themselves with lanterns, oil, donkeys, saddlebags, rope, rations and water. Upon locating the entrance to the old fortress, their first priority was building a shelter for the animals and a base of operations for themselves. Initial scouting found old guard stations that...with modification...could act as a makeshift stable. Thus securing their pack animals, the delve proceeded.

It was soon apparent the the place had long been picked over by prior invaders. Various vermin-type monsters were found and dispatched (giant rats, a pair of primitive troglodytes), as well as humanoid looters (gnolls..."we hate these guys"). A small tribe of goblins were found to be squatting in the fortress barracks and negotiations were struck up with them and bloodshed avoided altogether. 

Lots of neat discoveries...B1 has a lot of "interactivity" within it, leaving aside monster encounters and plunder. The famous "pool room" accounted for quite a bit of fun, with the players using fish from the "fish pool" to test the waters of the various magical pools. Much harm was avoided in this way, though the cleric still managed to get himself magically silenced, prompting the adventurers to depart (no voice, no spells).

The treasure take wasn't bad for their initial excursion: in addition to a scroll of clerical spells, they recovered a bit more than 500 gold pieces worth of salvage, with some 'big ticket' items (a marble statue, a beautifully carved rosewood bedroom set) left behind and marked for later carry-out. Plans were made to return to town and hire mercenaries, using acquired loot, for the removal of these exceptionally heavy/bulky objects (the statue in the lounge has no weight but is described solely as a "life-sized" marble statue; the Venus de Milo is a bit larger than life-sized and weighs some 900kg. Based on some rough dimensions and the density of marble, the statue probably comes in somewhere between 1500 and 1800 pounds).

But, overall, it was a successful little venture. Three-ish hours of delving netted the characters a good amount of experience, and if they can somehow recover that statue, they should all level up (even the ranger!). Personally, I would have tried to harness the goblins as a work gang, but they'd still need some sort of cart to get the thing back to town (some seven miles distant on foot). An interesting quandary.

Anyway. Good fun. Not sure what 2023 is going to hold as far as gaming is concerned, but it's nice to see the kids are still interested in that old edition magic.  If I get another post off before year's end, it will probably be some sort of "review" or discussion on new resolutions. Time to make the kids some breakfast. 

Happy Friday, folks!
: )

Friday, December 23, 2022

Killing It Softly

All right...maybe a very SHORT blog post. 
; )

There is weirdness in the virtual (internet) air these days...anxiety over Dungeons & Dragons that I simply don't understand. Stuff about One D&D and the new OGL and the "death" of the game or the "death" of the OSR or...I don't know. Anxiety.

And I conclude this is just a cyclical thing, because Once Upon A Time, many years ago, I had similar anxieties. The Game Will Die. Go the dodo. And my children's children's children will never know the joy of kicking in a dungeon door and sticking their imaginary blade in some fairytale monstrosity.

Alexis used to give me a hard time for worrying about that kind of thing. 

Who would carry on the legacy of D&D when all the old idiots like me had passed from this planet? Who would be left to understand the "right" way to play D&D?

*sigh*  It seems like every few years I have to take stock of my own past idiocies. It's a constant process of refinement called "living an introspective life."

Cyclical. I was recently hipped to this old Raggi blog post from waaaay back in 2008...never read it at the time, and only heard about it through this video post of him reading the transcript.  However, even if I had read it back in 2008, I'm afraid much of it would have been over my head...just as it is clear from the comments that much of it was over LOTS of folks' heads. The problem is, he is conflating multiple issues into a single rant and thereby burying (or at least, confusing) the kernels of truth that he'd hit upon. 

It's taken me decades of self-work and re-wiring analysis to synthesize this kind of thing. Here's probably the best bit:
You're not playing a game pretending to navigate your playing piece (called "a character") through some story where you get to be the hero! You are using the rules to pretend to be someone and experience and react as that person would though a dangerous world. Nothing more, and nothing less. If you want to be the hero...then you get to try. To guarantee success is to defeat the entire purpose of role-playing.
[if you want to read the most pertinent bits of the post, rather than the entire screed, I'd suggest beginning your read AFTER the indented tangent]

And, you see, to me that IS fun...if by 'fun' one means an enjoyable pastime that one wants to continue pursuing for the pleasure of it. Despite his provocative title, Raggi doesn't "hate fun;" he hate's a particular brand of time-wasting that some folks (including he himself!) lazily assign the convenient label of "fun."  

I can grok that. I've been hitting the holiday goodies and holiday booze a little too hard lately myself (and my waistline bears witness to the fact). Tis the season, as they say. And while it's all well and good to hate one's lax discipline in January (and vow to take steps to rectify the back-sliding), it's important that we appreciate just why we have this period of time when we "let ourselves go:" we are enjoying the company of our fellow humans and sharing a bond of seasonal joy (and stress!) together.

Which is, of course, one of the great benefits of the Great Game of Dungeons & Dragons. It helps us connect with our fellow humans, sharing joys and excitements and stresses with them in a fashion that is UN-likely to leave (real) folks dead and bleeding on the ground.

Has crass commercialism killed the spirit of Christmas? I realize that sometimes it can feel like this. But what IS the "spirit of Christmas?" It's not like Jesus (the dude my fellow Christians and I celebrate) was born on December 25th...that was simply the day the Romans celebrated their winter solstice festival...the darkest day of the year and the mark of the return to growing light in the world. Folks wanting to listen to cheerful music, decorate their homes with lights, give gifts, and eat/drink special foods with loved ones this time of year should feel little guilt in their holiday enjoyment...whether they're believers in Christ and His message or not! If you're celebrating your shared humanity...and not robbing and murdering folks...then you're probably showing more "Christmas spirit" than MANY of us display for MOST of the year.

I celebrate Christmas in my own way...just as I play Dungeons & Dragons in my own way. I have adapted holiday traditions of my mother's family, my father's family, and my wife's family, as well as creating traditions of my own for my own family. My children will synthesize these traditions and add their own twists and tweaks...just as they will do with their D&D games. Just as their children will do, some day down the road.

Will the continued commodification of D&D and the iron grip of corporate greed destroy D&D? Are you kidding me?

Pick up an extra copy of your favorite rule system (print on demand is still available for many books). Teach the game to someone young and imaginative. Pass along the rules to them to explore on their own. Share your joy. Engage with your fellow humans in a deep and meaningful that is active rather than that of the passive consumer.

Doing this might assuage some of the anxiety. Maybe even cause it to dissipate entirely.

I (half-)joke that I'm an old man. "Old" is an extremely relative term. I'm not even 50 (that's next year), and my low impact, semi-healthful lifestyle has kept me at about the same level of fitness for a couple decades. Even so, I've been playing D&D for longer than many players have been ALIVE...that makes me a real geezer in relation to the gaming community.

Here's my "geezer wisdom" for my fellow gamers this holiday season. Worry less, play more. Play for the experience; play for the connections it makes with others. 

I'll talk at y'all in the New Year (or possibly, next week). Have a happy one, folks!

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Baby, It's Cold Outside

It's not the snow...hasn't snowed in a couple days and Seattle didn't get more than 3-4 inches anyway. It's the temperature. 20 degrees right now (which is nothing compared to Montana, yes, I know) and the little snow received has been packed down into a sheet of ice covering the roads. Which in a hilly town like Seattle (city of Seven Hills...and upteen smaller ones) makes for not-too-safe driving.

Tuesday, I was out in it...had to go to Queen Anne in order to pick up a last-minute, hard-to-find Christmas gift for the boy. This was...extremely...rough, as it was the first day of the serious ice, and the snow was still falling. Somehow I made it there and back but it's not an experience I'd want to repeat, and when I finally pulled into the garage it was with a flat-as-a-pancake tire. Spent 4.5 hours at the dealership yesterday paying an exorbitant amount of money on four tires and a realignment. 

And that was with the temperature around 27ish. It's been dropping steadily since then.

Now, I'm prepping to go out in it again. Well, I say "prepping" but I'm really just drinking coffee and surfing the blogs while waiting for shops to open. 10am is the time things open and I've got a haircut, a vacuum repair shop, and one more (secret) shopping run to make. 

Ugh. It does look exceptionally cold out there, though. Gusty, too, Not really looking forward to stepping outside.

RE Gaming Topics

Turns out I might (MIGHT) have one(-ish) more gaming subjects to discuss before the end of the year.  Yeah, it's about D&D...all that sitting around the dealership yesterday led me down too many internet rabbit holes (and I had no laptop on which to type). 

Probably tomorrow, if I can find the time. Just let me think on it a bit.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Shutting Down For '22

Wow. Things just got real busy around here real fast.

I've been sick with a flu bug for the last week or so (did I already mention this? yeah, I did)...just have this lingering cough that is a killer for trying to get to sleep at night. *sigh*  Lots going on around here...probably working myself a little too much.

[doesn't help that every time I have a beer I suffer a bit of a setback. And yesterday's shellacking of the Seahawks at the hands of the 49ers was worth three...]

A week till Christmas and the tree's not even up yet. 

So, apologies to everyone but I'm going to have to shut it down for the year. Totally lame since this has been my lowest output of blog posts since 2018 and I was really hoping to at least hit triple digits this year. Unfortunately, far too many of my posts have simply been tiny missives like this or mini-rants...not really enough content for my taste.

But what can I say? I wasn't trying to putz out on folks. Fact is, I probably did more gaming this year than my B/X hay-days, pre-Paraguay. Both running AND playing. That's...well, that's good progress. If I haven't been writing as many theoretical essays, or posting the speculative rule modifications of yesteryear, you can blame it on the fact that I've been deep in the AD&D...and the game just doesn't need much change at all. It's a solid game (as I've written more than once) that simply needs to be respected and taken seriously to provide solid hours of enjoyment.

Ya basta. Enough of that noise. Folks can go "rules light" if they wish, and still get more-or-less the same result, so long as they put in the world building stuff (just means you end up doing more heavy lifting down the road). I'm not harping on that.

Instead, I'll just wish folks a festive holiday season and a happy New Year. 

See you all in 2023. Blessings and best wishes!

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Idaho Deathlands

My plan to write more got derailed by ending up flat on my back with the flu the last three-four days. Just a bad week to be sick (and, yes, now it's hit other family members, including the wife and daughter) what with the in-laws in town and mi suegra's birthday to celebrate. Ah, well. Most of us...including me...are on the mend and the boy's iron constitution has once again proven to be immune to the soft depredations of the rest of us frails.

SO. What am I working on today. Sticking the Desert of Desolation into my campaign world. Specifically in Idaho, in the eastern half of the Snake River Valley, a.k.a the "Great Rift of Idaho." This was a tricky one; not only did I need to find an area of similar size in specifications (the I3-I5 series encompasses a mapped wilderness roughly 110 miles long by 60 miles wide), it had to be an area that could be 1) easily converted to desert, and 2) be bordered by mountainous foothills and broken lands of the type described in the modules. A great sandbox of death, in other words.

Building on my Micronauts-inspired, post-apocalyptic wasteland, the easiest way to get to where I wanted was to look at climate change projections and blow-up the human-made irrigation systems that allowed Magic Valley to transform from an uninhabitable wasteland it was as recently as the 20th century. Knock out the dams and infrastructure and Twin Falls dies in (probably) a cannibalistic apocalypse...especially when you factor in standard D&D monsters looking for sustenance. 

Fortunately (for me), there really aren't that many towns I need to raze /de-populate once you remove the "Magic Valley" issue. Gooding is pretty much the "last outpost" of humanity: 2020 census puts the population under 4,000 anyway, and my campaign generally cuts pop by a factor of seven to ten...well, when I'm not using the 1890 figures (my go-to default). As such, the Great Kingdom of Boise is really the only organized civilization west of the Desert...and it may be more "bandit kingdom" than anything else at this point. 

Well...maybe. Thing is, when doing pop. figures I'm generally looking at post-European settler / pre-railroad for determining what kind of populations my "D&D-tech-level" can support. Because despite the existence of magic, it's a tough ol' world for these fantasy colonists and this ain't no magical Renfair society. Magic-users (um...sorcerers? witches?) are generally feared and/or misunderstood and the "awe-inspiring" bit only holds until you've got a big enough mob of peasants with pitch-forks. Magic (and its counterpart, "high technology") is generally blamed for the current shambled state of 'the world that is;' peoples are trying to make their way without magic, rather than with it. 

What's the stress-level of people living near Hanford? Do you really want a wizard capable of summoning demons living inside your town? Even one claiming to be beneficent? Yeah, clean, nuclear power...totally cool with that, right?

So, yeah. No railroads. Lose the infrastructure it makes possible. Up the temperature a few degrees, add some heavy desertification (possibly helped along by a magic/tech catastrophe a couple centuries prior) and voila!...a setting for exploration and uncovering of ancient, treasure-filled ruins. 

Now, I did say that the Desert of Desolation wilderness is about 100-110 miles long that, even starting with Gooding, doesn't quite take us all the way to Idaho Falls, let alone I-15 and the cities along that route. But, that's actually fine as it helps explain one of the things left unexplained by Oasis of the White Palm, namely where the heck are the slavers of the Sandvoyagers Guild selling their kidnapped victims. Yes, yes, the module tells us that Thurnas Netmaster (leader of the slavers) "is working with Drow allies," from which we might infer that captives are being taken into the UnderDark...except that the presence of the Drow in the desert is patently ridiculous (how the hell did they get there? There are no subterranean tunnels or methods of reaching the UnderDark from the oasis. The slavers own excavation efforts have led them nowhere! And there are no ways for a dark elf to get across the burning sands with their special "Drow gear" intact...the two presented by the module are given nothing in the way of personality, background, or motivation and exist solely to fight and die on the blades of adventurers).  So, Drow. Which means we still need a buyer of slaves. And while the savage centauri are likely to use such captives as a foodsource, I'm thinking of placing a slave-owning/slave-trading nation/culture EAST of the desert...should the players decide to continue adventuring that direction.

After all, I've still got the Slaver series to re-work. And if one needed a place to put the volcano-situated city of Sunderham, well, you really need look no farther than the caldera of Big Southern Butte, some 90 miles east of Gooding and 47 miles west of Idaho Falls...a perfect location for the secret City of the Slave-Lords. 
; )
The adventure to follow....

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Something Different

December...well, the winter holiday season in general...always seems to be a tough one for blogging about RPGs. So many distractions: not just family/vacation/travel stuff, but just non-gaming stuff (like football season playoff races, holiday parties, school activities, surprise snow falls, etc.), This year, I've got the in-laws in town through the New Year and World Cup soccer to watch as well. 'Course it didn't help that my electricity was shut off for eight hours yesterday (that was planned power company work, not weather related)  Plenty of reasons not to sit down and blog.

Not that I don't want to. Woke up sometime around 4am this morning wanting to reel off a long-winded rant, mostly political in nature, and only tangentially tied to gaming. Instead, I spent a little time surfing the net, popping off on other folks' web sites and (eventually) going back to bed. After all, in addition to everything else, I do need sleep and four hours a night just isn't enough.

But here's the thing: much as I like writing my commentary on gaming (and occasional, practical ideas), I do have some writing projects I'm working on (and, no, not just Micronauts-related). And with limited opportunities for any type of 'sit-down-compose-my-thoughts-and-type,' I'm left with a tough decision: put in effort on things that may (or may not) bear fruit down the road OR bloggity-blog-blog and keep my readership entertained.

And you know I do love you guys.
; )

Soooo...I think I'm going to try something different, at least till the end of the year. I'm going to spend my spare moments working on projects and, when I have opportunities, I may just post excerpts...probably sans explanation. I realize that's kind of lame (no one likes a tease), but I really want to bang out some solid page counts on these ideas, see if they have "legs," and I just can't do that when I keep taking time off to blog about my research on the Great Rift of Idaho (for example) and how it pertains to my AD&D campaign.  Ya' know?

Yeah, yeah...not a very merry Christmas gift for readers, I'm afraid. Maybe it won't be so bad...or maybe I'll change my mind in a week (so wishy-washy!). But that's my plan for the next four weeks.

Later, gators. Much love to all of you.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Sand Zones, Star Scepters, And Pharoid's Legacy

SO...looking back over my old blog posts, I thought for sure I'd mentioned my love/fascination with Micronauts somewhere. Clearly this isn't the case. I suppose another dive into my personal history is necessary.

My earliest memories of Micronauts are, of course, the toys which for several years (I'm guessing 1977 to 1980 based on release dates) would inexplicably appear beneath my Christmas tree on Christmas morning.

I say "inexplicably" because (as far as I can remember) I never asked Santa (or my parents) for a Micronaut toy ever (at least, not till the very final series) and they were largely off my "kid radar;" I didn't see ads on TV for them (Saturday morning cartoons had not yet started marketing toys via serial tie-ins to children), my cousins/friends didn't own them (so far as I knew), nor did I ever see them in the stores (not that I frequented these regularly as a small child).  In later years, following the first batch's appearance on Christmas morning, my brother and I, now familiar with them, would sometimes pore over the Sears "wishbook," divvying up which Micronauts each of us would eventually own (as we did with ALL toys appearing in such catalogues)...but we never went so far as to actually LIST these, so far as I can recall.

Typical Micronaut
As a matter of fact, this led to tears (on my part) one Christmas morning when I received a Galactic Command Center and my brother received a Star Wars "landspeeder." While the Micronauts base was, by far, the more interesting and useful toy of the two gifts, all my young mind could process was the fact that my brother had received a Star Wars spaceship...and I had not. Where was my tie fighter? Where was my X-wing? Ah, well, I did get over it (even the same day) as children do, and while I have immense affection for all the Star Wars toys and action figures I received over the years of my childhood, the Micronauts, in retrospect, are far more interesting. There are many times I've thought that I'd wished I'd been a bit older when they'd been released so that I'd appreciated them more.

Then again, if I had been older would they have gotten so tightly woven into my subconscious imagination?

If you had asked me, as a child, which was my favorite Micronaut toy EVER, I would probably cite the last one received: centaurus, with his laser crossbow and glow-in-the-dark (removable!) brain. That's a figure I absolutely wanted and asked for...even saw it on a store toy rack before Christmas. And even today, it's still of the coolest action figures I remember owning. But two other figures stand out as being exceptionally loved and played with by Yours Truly. One was the (original) Acroyear, whose dagger I managed to retain for years, despite being of the age when one loses accessories right and left. The other was Pharoid and his Time Chamber which fascinated me endlessly. I took it with me to Christmas morning Mass (the only toy I ever treated with such reverence) and recall spending long hours just...fiddling...with the thing. Opening the tomb. Putting him in the tomb. Taking him out. Repeat. What was the story of this guy?

Such a weird toy.

[if I had to guess, the Egyptian motif probably had much to do with the fascination. The King Tut exhibit traveled to Seattle in 1978, and was another momentous experience in my formative years]

But regardless of childhood toys, it was the Marvel comics written by Bill Mantlo that really cemented my love of the Micronauts.  I am 99.9% sure I started reading Micronauts with issue #34 (circa 1981) in the middle of the whole "Enigma Force" storyline (guest starring Doctor Strange!). I mean, talk about starting with a bang: mysticism, magic, super science, alien species, drama, betrayal...and, of course, a murderous band of gunslinging adventurer-heroes...all in the desert environment ("Sand Zone") of Aegyptia, with its towering tomb monuments, said to house the giant ancestors of the Microversians.

In addition, there was also Pharoid and Acroyear, Force Commander and Baron Karza. 

Well, whatever. I collected more than a few of the comics during its 50-some issue runs, including several of the back issues...mostly ones that were Micronauts-specific rather than crossovers with the X-Men and such. See, I wanted stories steeped in the lore of the specific IP, strange as it was, weird as it was...and, often, quite "dark" in nature (considering the concept's origin as a children's toy line). Some of those body bank stories...brr, frighteningly gruesome. A lot of body horror in Ye Old Micronauts, even the first issue of "The New Voyages" (the last issue I ever purchased, summer of '84) when protagonist Commander Rann was forced to sever his own hand at the wrist

[and people wonder why I like to make player characters suffer...]

Okay, okay, enough with the nostalgia: why am I writing about the Micronauts? Well, the last few days I've been working with the Desert of Desolation module series (I3: Pharaoh, I4: Oasis of the White Palm, and I5: Lost Tomb of Martek), seeing if there is some way, somehow, that I can twist them into something fun and functional for use in my own D&D campaign.  After all, they ARE just sitting there on my shelf, and I have fond memories of them as a child. Plus, they seem to be...more or the proper "level range" for my current batch of players.

Mm. I won't lie. They're all pretty bad. Or, maybe, "inconsistent" is the operative word. Take Martek, for example: it's got some pretty cool ideas in it. The Cursed Garden. The Abyss. The Moebius Tower. But it's a real stinker of an adventure...just really poorly designed and fatally flawed in several gross ways (the Skysea is AWESOME...but it also one of the easiest TPKs I've ever seen in a TSR module). As well, it is just...missing...stuff. Things to do. Monsters to fight. Places to a non-linear, nor railroad fashion. There are several "here's a place that the DM can long as it doesn't PCs too long from the story being told" instances. Why the heck not? Because we're in such a hurry to get onto the next story? 

[probably...considering the absolute dearth of requisite treasure levels in these modules]

SO...interesting concepts/ideas, poor-to-terrible execution...and as with my analysis of I6: Ravenloft, I find that a LOT of this adventure would work just fine for LOWER LEVEL CHARACTERS. There is really nothing "mid-level" about this adventure, save that all the Hit Dice of encounters have been pumped no good end.

FOR EXAMPLE: You don't need these unique "noble class" djinni and efreeti...a normal 10 HD efreet with max hit points would work JUST FINE for characters of levels 3 to 5 (remember also that the MM specifically says there are noble djinni with the same HD as an efreet). You don't need all these 4 hit dice dervishes and air lancers...just make them standard dervishes and nomads of the MM. And these new undead? They're just 8 and 10 hit dice NOTHINGS that cause fear and hit for 1d10 points of damage. Just what the hell are we playing at Hickman? It's not like the treasure count justifies a party of 6th - 8th level!

And remember that whole post about how much water you need to carry? In AD&D (the edition for which these adventures were...ostensibly...written) a cleric receives the create water spell at 1st level. By 5th level (the minimum suggested level for I3: Pharaoh), a cleric with a 16 WIS can cast five such spells per day, each casting conjuring 20 gallons of water per day...enough for some 25 humans. As with my review of I6: Ravenloft, it appears that Hickman's design assumptions are based on an earlier rule set (in OD&D, only a 6th level bishop can create water...and doing so leaves the character without the ability to neutralize poison, cure serious wounds, or cast protection from evil 10' radius). 

[side note: when I ran the Desert of Desolation series in my youth, the party tackled it withOUT a cleric, making the adventure considerably more difficult]


SO...the modules are crap, but they're crap with interesting bits. They're railroads and poorly stocked, but they've got a bunch of maps that ain't terrible. So when I think of how to fix take their interesting bits, and make them both playable and (if possible) more interesting...I keep coming back to the Micronauts and those images from my youth: Giant, upright sarcophagus-tombs. Ancient tech/magic lost centuries before. Techno-bedouins riding giant, domesticated "ostras" (think: axebeak) against horse-headed "centauri" (re-skinned centaurs) in tribal warfare. And somewhere, lost in the sands, a laboratory-temple housing the ghost of Baron Karza, waiting to be resurrected and resume his conqueror's ways.

Lots of ways to spin and 'skin this thing. And probably a lot of ways to do it in a way that doesn't require a large group of mid-level characters. A post-apocalyptic, desert wasteland concealing generational secrets buried beneath riddles, legends, and sand. Sand and blood and treasure. Dig it.

Who needs "Sambayan air lancers"
and "Thune dervishes?"