Thursday, December 17, 2015

Twenty-Eight Adventures, Part 25: Primeval Thule

Time is flying by these days! I’m pushing to finish up all the Thule 5e stretch goal projects and make sure our Thule 5e books all get to where they’re supposed to go. I’m also up to my eyeballs in prepping our next Kickstarter project, Ultimate Scheme.

Ultimate Scheme is a Euro-style boardgame I designed a year ago that is now well on its way into production. Here’s the basic pitch: You’re a sinister genius or secret organization out to take over the world. You’ve got an ultimate scheme such as Become a God, Destroy Rock ‘n’ Roll, or Global Chaos. You’ll need to execute a number of stepping-stone schemes such as nuclear extortion, making a deal with the devil, or creating a dance craze to pull off your master plan. For you boardgame nerds out there, it’s basically a “worker walkment” game that’s easy to learn and hard to master, built around a not-too-terribly-serious theme. You’ll be hearing more from me about this soon!

Speaking of fun things from Sasquatch Game Studio, that brings me to this installment of my adventure collection: the adventure I wrote for the Primeval Thule Campaign Setting.

#30: Cavern of Golden Tears
A couple of years ago, I had what I thought was a good idea. “Hey Rich,” I asked myself while driving back and forth to Redmond. “If you could write any game you wanted, what would that be?” And the answer I came up with was a RPG setting that brought Clark Ashton Smith’s Hyperborea stories to life for today’s D&D and Pathfinder fans. So I invited my good friends (and former WotC colleagues) Dave Noonan and Steve Schubert to join my little cabal, and Sasquatch Game Studio was born.

Along the way, the initial concept of Primeval Thule—basically, the subgenre of fantasy that I like to think of as “fantastic horror”—broadened a bit to absorb influences such as Conan, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Pellucidar, and pulpy sword and sorcery stories in general. Much as the old Dark Sun setting captured “desert” sword-and-sandals adventure, we decided to build the 21st-century d20 setting that could capture lost worlds, barbarians, thieves, and a little dash of Lovecraftian horror. In my opinion, a game or setting should meet the “you know it when you see it” test, and I think Primeval Thule holds its savage head high in that regard.

We also decided to try out the experiment of seeing what happened when you created one IP (intellectual property) and supported it with multiple game systems. We initially built Thule for Pathfinder, the new 13th Age game, and the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons system license – and just this month, we’re bringing out a 5e version of the setting. So if this sort of thing interests you, check out DriveThruRPG for the pdf version, or ask your FLGS to see about ordering it for you!

Okay, on to the adventure part of this whole thing. We wanted to make sure Primeval Thule was playable “out of the box” so we made room in the outline for several short adventures. Mine was Cavern of Golden Tears, my best take on a pulpy sword-and-sorcery tale complete with hostile natives, a lost city, and a sinister priest of Set who’s out to beat you to the prize. It’s all about capturing a memorable hook—a hidden ruin where a dead king weeps tears of gold—and presenting it as if you were playing through a Conan story.

As it turned out, I used my design draft of Cavern several times as a playtest/demo of Primeval Thule—I ran it at PaizoCon, GenCon, and once or twice in private settings. At the time I felt it was a good taste of what the setting was about, and I’m lazy enough to fall back on “What have I already written?” when I’m looking around for a scenario to run. I also put together a fun group of pregen PCs for the convention games, including the ranger Zargon the Deadly, Marresh the thief of Quodeth, and Isko Yhoun, the Atlantean wizard. (In one game session I killed Zargon dead in a single round of combat when he failed to note the approach of a saber-tooth tiger. Heh.)

Is Cavern of Golden Tears any good? I’d have to leave that to the readers. As I’m getting close to the end of this retrospective series, I’m naturally drawing closer to things I worked on quite recently, so it’s harder to get a sense of what other people think about something as compared to what I think about something. Cavern of Golden Tears really isn’t that old yet, and hasn’t been played by all that many people. But I think it’s a fun little one- or two-session expedition into the jungles of Thule, and I hope that the folks who have seen it enjoyed the trip!

Next Time: Princes of the Apocalypse.


  1. Just downloaded the Thule 5e from DriveThru RPGA. I really like what I've read so far. I was a long time DM in Darksun so this setting is in my wheelhouse. Can't wait to see what you say about Princes of Apocalypse! I was moved to comment because since I've finished the Campaign Book, I've been making notes to run that adventure in Thule. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi, Planeswalker -- Thanks, glad you're enjoying Thule! If I had to pick a spot in Thule to set your Elemental Evil game, I think I'd go with the outlying parts of the Quosa Vale -- say, something about halfway between Quodeth and the ruins of Hurhun. That's comfortably outside the reach (and beyond the attention) of the authorities in Quodeth, but settled enough to provide that sort of bucolic "Red Larch farming settlement" base town where elemental evil is taking root.

  2. It's a great adventure! Took my Sunday group three sessions though - I expanded it a bit with the journey from Quodeth, meeting Jorjun's widow in Ghanport, and a fierce battle with Beastmen amid the ruins of Kal-Ne-Moz. Lots more on my Thule blog -
    I especially recommend this 6 minute professional-quality voiceover account by Zerda the Defier (aka Jack) :) -

    1. Possibly the best & most S&S bit was when the annoying newcomer Ranger fled the enraged party after 'accidentally' summoning a small horde of demons, ony to blunder right into a horde of hungry Shadows...