Welcome back! One of the advantages of working out of my home is that I can listen in on ball games while plunking away at various projects. Since I live in the Seattle area, that means listening to a lot of Mariners games. Baseball broadcasts are good “white noise” for writing, just like cranking up my favorite playlist in iTunes. And, since the M’s are a West Coast team that has to play a lot of games in other time zones, a lot of their games air around 4 pm our time. Sometimes they’re even on around 10 in the morning if they have an afternoon game on the road, which is great for my writing schedule.
Before the season started, I thought the M’s were positioned to make a move in the AL West and perhaps take over the division. So far this season, that hasn’t happened; they’re still a couple of games under .500, and the Houston Astros are playing ridiculous baseball. But I am hopeful that the Mariners will hang in there and make up ground—they’re a good, well-balanced team, and there’s just no way the Astros can keep up their torrid pace.
So much for baseball—back to gaming, and my third and final Dungeon magazine adventure.
#16: “Prison of the Firebringer,” Dungeon #101
For several years after 3e came out, my responsibilities as the head of the Forgotten Realms team edged out most of my hands-on design work. In theory, this let me work on helping other designers be better, but of course the downside was that I wasn’t didn’t get to do something that I liked and was pretty good at. I was always looking out for opportunities to pick up some writing contributions, so I regularly pestered Bill Slavicsek (the head of the D&D creative team) for assignments to help out with. But most of my creative energy went into a big burst of after-hours novel-writing that included the books City of Ravens, Condemnation, and The Last Mythal series.
In late 2002, I was really feeling the itch to do some adventure design again, so I started work on a big new adventure for a home FR campaign I was running. Usually in my home games I don’t bother to do more than slap together quick outlines and terse notes with stat blocks as needed, but for whatever reason, I found myself expanding those basic notes into full-on adventure presentation along the lines of what we were actually publishing at the time. I eventually pulled together 20,000 words of pretty solid adventure, so I decided to take it to Erik Mona (who was editing Dungeon magazine at the time) and see if I couldn’t sell my home campaign adventure, since I’d already gone to the trouble of writing it out. Erik loved it, and even though it was monstrously big for a Dungeon adventure, he picked an upcoming issue and cleared the space needed to accommodate “Prison of the Firebringer.” Everybody wins!
My idea for “Prison of the Firebringer” originated in the “Known Dungeons of Faerûn” section of the 3e Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, which for my money is four pages of the best D&D ideas you can find in one book. The brief description of the setting spelled out a wizard’s school, dwarven ruins, and froglike monsters. A few months later, I pitched in to help out with Silver Marches, one of the first 3e Realms sourcebooks. Ed Greenwood and Jason Carl were the primary designers, but Silver Marches needed a good deal of reorganization, development, and expansion, so I wound up contributing 10,000 words or so to the manuscript. In my work on Silver Marches I expanded the information on the Dungeon of the Ruins, inventing the name “Bazim-Gorag” and describing a unique slaad lord hidden in the depths. So far it was just a colorful adventure hook, but then I picked up my own idea for a home game, and began to write a real adventure based on the drive-by description from Silver Marches. As it turned out, Bazim-Gorag made the leap from Dungeon Magazine to Realms canon a couple of years later when he was picked up and featured in Champions of Ruin. He also appeared in the 4e Realms.
The mechanical premise of the adventure is simple: If you know a boss villain is in the last room and you can make any preparations you like, just how tough of an encounter can you take on? I assumed a well-prepared party would halt just outside the prison and summon up a dozen big, beefy elementals, or go back to civilization and buy spell scrolls of seriously over-leveled spells like time stop so that they could take on a monster who is otherwise a very lethal fight for the party. That’s not the way it went in my home game, though. My players included Ed Stark, Dave Noonan, Warren Wyman, and (IIRC) James Wyatt. The best story: The monk and the sandwich. (SPOILER ALERT!)
At the conclusion of the adventure, the party reaches the magically sealed archway beyond which the slaad lord Bazim-Gorag is imprisoned. Bazim-Gorag has a pretty good idea that the party is coming, and like many powerful slaads, he has the ability to assume a human-like guise. So, he takes the form of a regal human lord, and greets the party at the doorway to his prison. Bazim-Gorag attempts to persuade the party of PCs that they ought to help him escape from his “unjust” imprisonment, and promises to reward them richly. Roleplaying ensues.
“I’d be very grateful if you could help me with your magic,” I say, playing the part of B-G. “I was trapped here by a treacherous archmage, and your assistance would be greatly appreciated.”
“You must have quite a story to tell!” says Ed Stark, playing his character—a high-level monk. “Can you explain how you came to be trapped?”
“Of course,” says Bazim-Gorag. “You see, a long time ago this wizard promised me—”
“Say, do you want some beer? I have beer in my backpack,” says the monk.
“Well, okay,” says B-G. “That’s very considerate of you. Now, as I was saying—”
“I hand him a flask full of beer,” Ed tells me, making it clear that his character is carrying out the offer.
“OK, he takes it,” I tell Ed. “He nods and goes back to his explanation. ‘I did what the Ar-Magus asked me to do, but then he reneged on his payment. Instead, he imprisoned me here—‘”
“How about a sandwich?” asks the monk. “Would you like a sandwich?”
“Umm, sure. That’s darned decent of you,” says Bazim-Gorag. “I haven’t had a sandwich in forever. Now, about your part in this—”
“I hand him the sandwich,” Ed tells me.
“Okay, he’s got the sandwich,” I reply, struck by the unusual affability of Ed’s monk, and wondering how exactly the slaad lord is going to bring this conversation around to getting out of prison.
“So he’s got the beer in one hand and the sandwich in the other?” Ed asks.
“Uh, sure, I guess,” I reply. Last time I checked people had two hands, after all.
“Great!” says Ed. “I kick him in the nuts!”
Needless to say, we’re all in stitches for a good long time. I decide that Ed’s monk has, indeed, managed to achieve surprise with this ploy (he sure surprised me!), and gets his free nut-kick and stunning blow attempt. Bazim-Gorag has a Fort save of +25, so he’s almost certain to not be stunned, except I roll a 1 on the saving throw. A bad initiative roll follows, and the whole party piles on and goes through one-third of Bazim-Gorag’s hit points before he even gets a chance to act. As it so happens, the party fights Bazim-Gorag to a draw, even though one of the characters is butchered by the angry slaad lord. They wind up withdrawing, and use magic to bury the place. But the beer and sandwich story survives to this day.
Next Week: Red Hand of Doom!