Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Twenty-Eight Adventures, Part 28: The Moon-Door

Well, I’m finally there! After almost a year, I’ve finished with my look-at-each-adventure retrospective. During the course of writing these 29 blog posts, I discovered that I did *not* have 28 adventures, as my first count indicated. Instead my final count comes to 33, since I managed to forget or overlook a few in my initial list, and I also wrote a couple of new ones during the course of the series.

My real total might be 34, because I skipped over my work on the 2nd Edition First Quest boxed set. I know I worked on an adventure for it, but I just cannot bring any details to mind and I can’t swear as to which of the adventures in that set are mine! I guess that’s a drawback to a long career—sooner or later you forget some things you worked on.

One more thing before I move to the adventure: If you haven’t checked it out yet, take a look at my Ultimate Scheme Kickstarter! We’re really coming down to the wire on this one, and we can use all the support we can get.

Even if it’s not for you, please—share the link and help spread the word!

#33: Secret of the Moon-Door
After finishing our work as the design studio for WotC’s Elemental Evil, my fellow Sasquatches and I realized that we had a good deal of 5e knowledge and an audience with a serious demand for more 5e content. After some brief deliberation, we decided to move forward with plans to present a new version of our Primeval Thule Campaign Setting compatible with the newest edition of D&D.  Not knowing if or when a 5e Open Game License would be made available, we looked closely at the 3e-era OGL, and we realized that it would work just fine for a 5e-compatible setting.

So, in the summer of 2015, we launched our second Kickstarter. This time we wanted to produce just one version of our Thule setting, not three in one book. For stretch goals, we at first planned to create more PDF adventure content for the 5e Thule game . . . but on thinking it over, we decided to provide a mix of bonus material, including a player-oriented book (the Player’s Companion) and a GM-oriented book with monsters and rules variants (the Gamemaster’s Companion). For the third book in the set we decided to collect the first two stretch goals—the adventures by Steve Winter and Rob Schwalb—into an Adventure Anthology. Better yet, we figured out how to make the booklets available as print-on-demand softcovers as well as PDFs.

That all seemed good to us, but I was dissatisfied with the Adventure Anthology because I felt it was pretty thin at just two adventures. I wanted to make sure we were providing good value for the dollar. So I talked with my partners, and we decided that we’d add a “bonus” adventure to the Adventure Anthology to make it a threesome instead of a duo. That became Secret of the Moon-Door.

Primeval Thule had its origins in my love for Clark Ashton Smith’s Hyperborea stories—one small corner of the Cthulhu Mythos stories that happened to match up very well with my favorite game, D&D. Secret of the Moon-Door is my homage to Smith’s stories. In fact, the plot is based on a mash-up of Smith’s story The Door to Saturn and some parts of Lovecraft’s Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.

(If you’re a fan of Lovecraft and D&D and you haven’t read Clark Ashton Smith, I’d really encourage you to do so. Smith’s Hyperborea stories feel like something halfway between Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar and Lovecraft’s Dreamlands. They are the most D&D-ish Cthulhu stories around. Some of the best are “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros,” “The Testament of Athammaus,” and “The Ice-Demon.” Smith’s Atlantis stories are pretty good, too. Check ‘em out!)

I set out to provide a party of Thulean heroes with plenty of Smith-like touchstones such as a wizard trafficking with Things from Outside, subhuman savages, and an expedition to an alien sphere to bring justice to an evildoer who thinks himself far outside the reach of any human power. More than that I really can’t say without dropping major spoilers (I probably spoiled a bit already). But I think there’s a nice mix of mystery-solving, a simple puzzle, and a truly far-out setting for the adventure’s climactic scenes. I hope you enjoy it!

Next Time: Beats me! Having just finished a long stroll down memory lane, I’m inclined to spotlight a few of my favorite games from my collection and talk about why I like them. But if you have something you’d like me to blog about, let me know! The topic spinner is spinning.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Twenty-Eight Adventures, Part 27: The Giant’s Tribute

I’m slowly getting close to finishing up my adventure retrospective. It’s been a busy few months; during the summer and fall I was working like crazy on Primeval Thule 5e and my new sci-fi novel Valiant Dust (coming in 2017 from Tor Books). These days I’m pushing hard on ULTIMATE SCHEME, my new boardgame. We’re planning on sending files to the printer at the end of February, and there’s a zillion things to do!

Let me take a moment to engage in some naked self-promotion: ULTIMATE SCHEME is awesome, and you should back it now at Kickstarter. It’s a lighthearted game that mixes some resource management and worker placement mechanics with a fun theme of global mayhem through villainous plots. If you’re into good Euro-style mechanics, nerd culture references, and lots of replayability, I think you’ll like it. And tell your friends, too! We’re fighting to get the word out and we can use all the help we can get.

Here’s the link:

Don't make me melt the icecaps to get your attention!

#32: The Giant’s Tribute
As you have no doubt noticed by now, the overwhelming majority of my adventures have been published by TSR, Wizards of the Coast, or my own little outfit, Sasquatch Game Studio. But last year my friend and occasional collaborator Robert Schwalb asked me if I’d be willing to pitch in on his Shadows of the Demon Lord project by serving as a stretch goal adventure author. Since Rob had just committed to doing the same thing for me by helping out on Primeval Thule 5e, I was pretty much obligated to say yes. But I was also real curious to see what happened when Rob managed to slip the leash and run off to do anything he wanted.

As it turns out, Rob asked *everybody* to do short SotDL (that’s Shadows of the Demon Lord) adventures, and he was clever enough to stagger out the schedule of adventures so that no one got buried early on with the landslide of adventures he arranged. My turn didn’t come up until about five months ago. By that time, Rob was looking for SotDL adventures suitable for high-level characters. Since I didn’t know all that much about the setting, I asked Rob if there was anything he felt was under-served by the previous adventures. Rob thought about it for a moment, then said, “No one’s done much with giants yet.”

So, giants it was!

I read through Rob’s excellent setting and the interesting rules set for his game, and thought hard about what a “Demon Lord” giant adventure ought to be. The classic D&D giant adventure is, of course, the G1-G2-G3 series (Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, and so on). But the giants you fight in those adventures are not really all that unnatural or horrifying. Sure, they’re big and they have lots of hit points, but they really act like big 10th-level orcs. You cut them down four or five at a time, and you feel pretty mighty about it.

I asked myself what would make a giant horrifying, and I thought about the classic giants of myth: Wicked, sinful brutes that gleefully devoured children or ground your bones to make their bread. SotDL giants are pretty stupid, but something that is big and filled with evil cunning and an instinct for petty malice . . . that’s a little more interesting. It reminded me of the Raver-possessed giants from Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books, and I found my hook: (SPOILER ALERT) What if the PCs found out the hard way they weren’t dealing with a dull-witted brute, but a demon that had possessed the biggest, strongest thing around?

The nice thing about the format for the Shadows of the Demon Lord adventures is that they’re pretty short. A short adventure is just the right format to challenge the PCs by presenting a situation they think they understand (a giant is demanding tribute from a village), put a nasty twist into it (the giant has a demon’s magic and wickedness), and deliver on an exciting finale. If you have a chance to play it, let me know if the adventure delivers!

Next Time: Secret of the Moon-Door, the last in my series!