Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Twenty-Eight Adventures, Part 6

Hi, there! Thanks for stopping by. April has been a busy month so far: I’m working hard to finish up a first draft of a new military SF novel that I hope will inaugurate a series, and I’m getting close. I’m in chapter 21 of a 25-chapter outline, about 75,000 words done so far. With a little luck I’ll be shopping it around in another month or six weeks, and we’ll see what comes of it!

In other news: Baseball! I am a big baseball fan (for those of you who don’t know). While my beloved Phillies look pretty terrible, I’m excited for my AL team, the Mariners. Just this weekend I watched two games that I think the M’s would have lost last year. Nelson Cruz, their new free-agent slugger, hit crucial home runs in each of those games that made the difference between victory and defeat. That big right-handed presence in the lineup was something the Mariners sorely lacked last year, and the early evidence suggests that they’ll be a much more dangerous offense this year. It should be fun to watch!

Okay, on to gaming stuff. This week, I’m still working through my AD&D 2nd Edition adventures.

#6: Night of the Vampire

One of the more unusual adventures I ever worked on, Night of the Vampire was one of the very few D&D products to include an audio CD. (Back in the mid-‘90s, people used to actually buy these things called laser disks that had music on them.) It was a low-level adventure set in the Mystara campaign setting, which I didn’t know much about. Fortunately, the adventure is pretty self-contained, and I didn’t have to do a ton of studying up to write it.

My marching orders required me to A) write a low-level adventure, and B) make sure the Big Bad was a vampire. However, in 2nd Edition, low-level PCs would get absolutely killed by a vampire. Heck, they wouldn’t even have weapons that could hurt him, and every time he hit somebody, they’d probably die. I spent a fair amount of effort seeding the location with magic weapons the heroes could borrow, pointing out the location of things like garlic and mirrors, and providing some rules guidance for how a whole gang of low-level PCs could grapple, tackle, and stake a vampire through sheer weight of numbers. I also had some fun by creating several NPCs who might easily be mistaken for the vampire in question.

The big challenge about working on these adventures was that the script was written separately by a sort of “West Coast TSR affiliate” that was headed up by Flint Dille, the brother of TSR president Lorraine Williams. That team was given the job of producing the audio recordings for the CDs. Those of us who were ordinary shop-floor RPG designers in Wisconsin had no idea who was involved, what they were doing, or what exactly we were going to get back. Voice casting? Not a chance. Final approval? Please. Heck, we weren’t even supposed to write the scripts for these things, although in practice, we created a sort of “here’s what needs to be in this script” script that the West Coast office used or didn’t use as the mood took them. Some of the tracks used dialogue reasonably close to what I suggested. Some didn’t. We only found out which it was when a FYI copy was sent to us so that we could make a final error-check to see if something had been introduced that literally made the adventure not work.

(As an example of the sort of challenge this sometimes entailed. I wrote a scene in which the PCs are extracting information from captured assassins by threatening them with stern punishment. The line I wrote ran something to the effect of, “Tell us who hired you, or we’ll put your head on a pole!” OK, not brilliant, but it’s medieval. But when this scene was “fixed” by the West Coast scriptwriters, one of the PCs demands, “Tell us who hired you!” and another PC shouts, “GET A POLE!” When I heard the track for the first time, I just about fell out of the chair laughing. I mean, my first reaction was, “Dear God, what’s he going to do with THAT?”)

Given the fact that I was writing an adventure with a bunch of intrigue and sleuthing about, I decided to go ahead and assume lines/interactions from the PCs. I just couldn’t see a way to cover “random heroes talk to Lord Gustav” without having someone feed Lord Gustav conversational cues. I felt bad about essentially putting lines in the players’ mouths. I also wasn’t happy about the voice casting, or the fact that the PCs addressed each other by their class names—for example, “Get a boat in the water, Thief!” I don’t think I did that in my proto-script. There was another audio CD adventure called Hail the Heroes that was a more conventional adventure, and was able to do without PC dialogue to concentrate on “what do you hear now” type audio tracks. Certainly less intrusive, I suppose.

While the audio CD was painfully dorky (man, you should listen to the early-‘90s synthesizer), I think Night of the Vampire is actually a pretty cool little adventure. The NPCs are interesting, there are several plots going on for the PCs to unravel, and the mix of event-based encounters with a well-described nobleman’s manor works really well. The poster map is good, the handouts are pretty good, and the page layout is just gorgeous (the artwork, eh, it was 2nd Edition). Anyway, you could pitch the audio CD altogether (I would!) and run this as a nice little intrigue adventure. My only concern would be that there is no good time to let the party rest, and it would be a real challenge to slug your way through without recovering spells and hit points before the finish. I think I would let the party get a “full rest” before the masquerade starts, and another one after sunup, even if there isn’t really 8 hours for the characters to sleep and study spells.

Next Week: My only Planescape adventure, Eternal Boundary!


  1. I actually decided to adapt this module from a table-top to full blown LARP many years ago. I was pleased that enough things were going on in the adventure that it scaled pretty well to handling 20 PCs! The biggest problem was that it was a little too obvious who the vampire was. Just thought you'd be interested to know.

  2. That's pretty awesome! I actually thought I did a reasonable job providing a couple of "could also be" vampires -- maybe not!

  3. Ah yes I remember one of the tracks is at the Masquerade and the irish fighter? yells, "THIEF!" when talking to the rogue PC.

    Loved this game, must find the audio again at some point.

  4. Somehow, this ended up in my iTunes, and tracks occasionally get mixed in with my music mix which can be entertaining.

    It's interesting to note that some of the voice talent involved is the same in Skyrim.

  5. Much of the problem with TSR is there, the West Coast nonsense, and the fact he was assigned to write an adventure for a setting he knew almost nothing about. I'm not thrilled with the dismissive tone towards the modules artwork. I'm surprised, given the above, how well the module turned out. TSR really didn't know how to handle what it had, never really has. Great ideas mixed with horrible execution even during the 2e era, when TSR was crediting its best ever products.