Saturday, March 23, 2013

Advanced Unseen Fiendish Librariankin, Part Six

"Gygax Zagig built the Tower of Magic for one purpose—to teach others about his often controversial and always unorthodox theories of magic. But as his quest to become a god consumed greater and greater amounts of Zagig’s energy, his apprentices—many of whom were quite good game designers powerful in their own right—shouldered more and more of the burden of managing the tower and the chambers below. Zagig took no notice of the rivalries that sprang up among his followers, or of the factions that formed within the student body. Each faction was loyal to its own eccentric master, and its members were willing to do anything to stay ahead of their rivals. Alliances arose and died with regularity in the Tower of Magic as the years wore on, and the leaders of the various factions expanded greatly upon the subterranean levels below the tower in their bids for supremacy.

"When Zagig finally left the Material Plane, he did so without even saying good-bye to his apprentices. Some understood and remained loyal—indeed, more than a few actually aided in establishing Zagyg’s church. The majority, however, viewed Zagig’s abandonment as the final insult. Open warfare tore through the Tower of Magic as the conflicts between the factions escalated and grew bloody. Some factions opened tunnels to the Underdark to forge allegiances with White Wolf drow, story-gamers  kuo-toa, and other evil denizens. Others turned to retrocloning, necromancy or video games  golemcraft to bolster their ranks, and at least one sought aid from collectible card games the Lower Planes. It wasn’t long before the battle for supremacy came to its inevitable end, with the majority of the apprentices slain and huge sections of the dungeons under the control of monstrous “warlords.”

Is this a metaphor or is it just the intro to Chapter Five?

Nothing is certain in this Let's Mine Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk series except that if it was a good idea, it'd be in 48 point type.


For example, what the fuck is up with this guy...

"Just south of the surface ruins of the Tower of Magic stands a strange, pyramid-shaped structure that serves as home to a small group of human priests of Zagyg. Their leader is a man known only as Grandfather Magic (CN male human cleric 17 of Zagyg). Addressing him in any other way results in a temper tantrum that combines a storm of tears with a stream of profanity.

"Grandfather Magic’s six followers are all relatively young and inexperienced (male and female human clerics 2 of Zagyg)—he refuses to associate with higher-level clerics because he fears that they might try to steal his body parts and sell them as relics. As soon as a priest reaches 3rd level, Grandfather Magic sends him or her away to seek one of the 864 secret words of Zagyg. (These words might or might not exist, but Grandfather Magic uses such quests to remove imagined threats from his immediate area.)

"Recently, Grandfather Magic received a vision from Zagyg in which the god warned him that intruders would soon come to the Tower of Magic and use it for nefarious purposes. Until one of them could present him with the key to the Ruby Skull (one of dozens of strange Zagygian relics that Grandfather Magic owns), no one must be permitted to enter the tower. Filled with terror at this prospect, Grandfather Magic used a miracle spell to seal all the entrances into the dungeons that he knew about. He doesn’t know about the deeper entrances from the Underdark that the forces of Iuz are using, so he has effectively barred entrance only to those who might be able to prevent the unfolding doom.

"Despite his apparently addled state, Grandfather Magic is among the most powerful clerics of Zagyg in the world. His actual name and background are left for you to devise, but for now, his sole purpose is to foil the PCs’ attempts to enter the dungeons below. He refuses to cast spells for anyone—including visiting PCs. In fact, he refuses to use his spells and abilities even to harm attackers, since he can never be sure who might be an avatar of Zagyg sent to test him. If attacked, he simply teleports away using word of recall, then returns a day later acting as if nothing had happened.

"The key to the Ruby Skull is the obsidian key that Mordenkainen presented to the PCs when they visited Zagig’s study in Chapter 4. If the PCs show it to Grandfather Magic, his eyes bulge briefly; then he snatches it while jabbering excitedly. After a brief examination of the key, he proclaims the PCs to be the people sent by Zagyg to liberate the Tower of Magic, then uses another miracle spell to remove the wards preventing surface entry into the dungeons.

"Grandfather Magic then begins to search through his robe and eventually produces a skull made of polished red crystal from one of several pockets. He then inserts the key into the skull’s left eye socket, turns it, and squeals in delight when the skull’s jaw opens, releasing a brightly colored butterfly that flutters around his head. “The butterfly of Zagyg!” he shrieks, clapping his hands. “It will show me the way to the one true portal!” Taking no further notice of the PCs, Grandfather Magic drops both the Ruby Skull and the key, then leaves the pyramid to follow the butterfly’s erratic journey through the world. Where the butterfly leads him (and whether his journey even matters in the grand scheme of things) is left to you to decide. For the PCs, the way into the dungeons is open."


This guy who shows up for ten seconds and disappears is the most developed NPC in the module.

Another metaphor, or just the product of repeated exposure to tremendous quantities of mind-altering drugs? Having already spent enough time in art school, I see no need to ask this question again.

However, now that Grandmaster Butterfly has let us back into the dungeon, I do need a metaphor myself:

The central conceit the Ruins team has used to turn the old 2nd edition D&D Greyhawk Ruins location-based adventure into a 3rd edition event-based adventure is the concept of the evil Iuz's growing army, preparing itself for war deep in the dungeon.

But the execution of this idea has a problem and the problem is this:
Basically, Iuz's army is like a bunch of Social Justice trolls. They are a varied and heterogeneous group, but in order to distinguish themselves from just random trolls independently fucking with real people in a sort of endless meaningless old school monster hotel, they have united with a common purpose.

However, since, when you meet them they don't act rationally toward that common purpose, don't respond to changed facts on the ground or ever do anything to further their cause (you can leave them alone as long as you want and they will not have progressed an inch toward their goal), in practice they still come across exactly like a group of random trolls--only in addition to the implausible, charmless old monster hotel dungeon, they add on the charmless implausibility that they keep trying to pretend they have a purpose.

And, of course, on top of all of this there's the fact that the original draw of the place they inhabit is that it's supposed to be a wondrous environment full of bizarre places and inventions left behind by an eccentric now-dead dungeon master, yet the thing's actually set up to separate them from those locations and inventions. So you're either interacting with these places and inventions or with the trolls. The trolls themselves don't seem to interact with them in any way or even really notice them.

So the basic set-up could use some work.

All that being said, especially after the drillbit to the ear that was Chapter Four I'm happy to say Chapter Five is more like it. It's not it, but it it's like it, and that's refreshing because it helps you actually run a game.

In fact, if some obscure blogger had written up Expedition's Chapter Five: Wrath of Iuz and sold it as a  3.95$ pdf, the online-o-sphere would be calling it a gonzo-dungeoncrawl masterpiece.

I've seen worse, I'll say that. As usual, the good ideas will be in big text at the end. But first, the dead wood.

Vanilla shell:
Long intro. Then some concepts that don't get used in the chapter at all, the profound oddity that is Grandfather Magic, a reminder that lots of the dungeon is missing but this is a golden opportunity to write your own rooms, then Monsters In Rooms: a pudding, some verbeeg giants, an efreet, a purple worm, a giant statue that throws a skull at you (but its not his skull so no big letters).

Missed opportunities:

-There's a place the PCs can find a map:

Included on these labels are some key points of interest to the PCs, including a large tunnel leading into the lower reaches of the Tower of War from the Underdark and a tunnel connecting the Vaults of Creation to the Tower of War dungeons. Other notes of interest include troop placements, some dan- gers the troops have encountered so far, and regions as yet unexplored. Finally, a route from the lower levels to the surface world is mapped out and labeled “Army’s Path.”

...and that's it. Like the dangers are not enumerated or placed, what the army's path is is not explained. But then so they got someone to draw an illustration of this map--but then it has none of these details on it. "We're going to describe what could've been a really cool thing to show your players and then pay someone to not make it."

-...and, elsewhere, battle plans:

The parchments are hand-drawn maps of Greyhawk, each detailing an alternate plan of attack for the army depending on weather conditions, expected resistance from local forces, and other factors. None of the scenarios seems to bode well for the Free City. Destroying these maps won’t impact the invasion much—they amount to little more than doodles that Bailak has scribbled while away the hours.

-A poison gas trap:

"The gas is magical, so if it is blown or otherwise transported out of this room, it becomes inert and harmless—"

Mandy from the other side of the room: "That's boring."

-A mushroom forest. The mushrooms only come in: poison, valuable, edible or pointless and aren't integrated with any of the other hazards or monsters. Just a simple juxtaposition like mushrooms + purple worm could've turned this into an actual idea.

Yo, Dawg I Heard You Like...:
-Two more invisible monsters--mind flayer, giant.

-Two more beholders. One's technically a "gauth" named Iaxithrax which I don't even have the energy to make a pun about and the other is actually an illusion projected by another monster which might make it better except it's the second beholder librarian in the book which just makes it more of a joke. It's not another invisible beholder librarian though--that would make it a pretty lame illusion plus the designers may have some qualms about pulling all their monsters from the same part of the Venn Diagram.
The score so far
A monster on the next level that just used Ventriloquism to be like "I am an invisible giant naga mind-flayer beholder assassin! begone from my library" would be pretty funny though. I'd run.

-"With the proper incantations, clerics of Nerull could cause the statue to animate, hook into the ceiling with its titanic scythe, and lift the pyramid, allowing access to the tunnel."

-A giant vacuum transporter funnel that takes you to another dungeon level if you can take Gaseous Form. By sucking.

Now that that's over with, The Goods:
-The mind flayer does two interesting things: it uses Suggestion to make the party think a pool of green slime will heal you if you drink it and it doesn't try to kill you, it tries to enslave you so that you go off and help it retake its stolen lair from some other mind flayers elsewhere in the dungeon.

-Likewise there's some kind of pseudo-in-distress demonbabe who tries to trick you (and if that doesn't work, mindfuck you) into going off and finding a spell that can free her. This plus the mind flayer doing it too isn't mindless Venn diagram dungeonpimpery because it sends the PCs roaming off after possibly but not necessarily opposed objectives. Though it would be nice if there were a few more honest-to-god helpful civilians in need in the dungeon so that PCs wouldn't just develop the habit of killing everyone they meet.

-Another interesting thing about the demon babe is she's an enemy of the secretly-evil priestess back in Greyhawk. They both want each other dead, both are bad, and both are powerful and have access to interesting information. If the PCs realize this, there are a lot of possibilities.

-There's a statue with a command word on it. If you say the command word you're trapped inside it (and replaced with its previous dead inhabitant) until someone else says the command word and gets trapped inside. Not near any of the monsters, unfortunately.

-A shrine that, via a gambling mechanic, steals magic items but then gives you either good luck or bad luck.

-A stairwell that you can collapse--the collapse will kill anyone on it and (though the exact way is not specified in the module) force the army to change its plans.

-An angry underlieutenant has notes on all her boss's(Vayne's) fuckups in her room, she's planning to present them to his boss (Iuz) at some point.

-The librarian devil who uses the beholder illusion is actually pretty good--he hides and uses the illusion (which keeps missing them) to try to suss out the PC's tactics and make them waste resources.

-"the verbeegs are unwilling to enter the room as long as the remains of their shaman are visible." 

-Neither of these are so good alone but they are kinda neat, so I give them one point between the two of them: the devil's library has a register of everyone whose ever been in it, including all the villains and several of the major NPCs, and there's a sweet leaf: When grasped tightly by an elf, the leaf transforms into a green key. What lock this key might open is left for you to devise.

... then you fight the boss. Then the boss's boss comes and kills him for failing him, smacks you unanswerably around if you interfere, then that boss is in turn captured by the tentacles of his fake mom. I hope you like to watch.

Thus ends Chapter Five. Score...

Pages: 40
Words: 30,910
Good ideas: 11

...Next up Chapter Six: Some Stuff I Haven't Read Yet.


Jonas said...

I really dislike these dungeons where even possibilities of fun stuff are pre-emptively, like that poison gas thing, I would love to see how and why PC's would device some crazy pla nto get it out of dungeon.

Green elf key sounds funny, I would use it to elf ear to unlock Uri Geller powers.

Nate L. said...

These posts are hilarious and helpful. In 2005/2006 during the hayday of 3.5 I always had a lot of trouble putting my finger on why the published modules were all so terrible . . . I loved reading and playing dungeons I hadn't made, but none of them had many good ideas, and I kept getting confused about what good design actually was. So thanks for pulling back the curtain so to speak.