Sunday, November 15, 2015

Retro Review & Commentary On The AD&D Adventure Module C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan For Your Old School Campaigns

I've been gone most of today as it was my Dad's birthday today and in the back of my mind I was tackling today's blog post in the back of my mind. Everyone I know rants and raves about Tomb of Horrors being their deadly module of choice. Not so for me, I've had eight mid level AD&D characters bite the dust in The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan. 
This is a very difficult module to do justice to, its a complex romp through a pseudo pulpy sort of Meso American jungle; this is a complicated beast of an adventure featuring lots of lost world action, incredibly dangerous traps, and lots of strange and weird monsters. This module does all of that but it does it on its own terms with the PC's blundering into the midst of it and having all kinds of horrors awaiting them within its environs. The 'C' stood for competition and they meant it, this module came out way back in 1979. According to Wiki 'originally printed for the 1979 Origins International Game Expo,[2] the module was made available to the general public in 1980. This book was written by Harold Johnson and Jeff R. Leason
and while it is incredibly deadly remains a favorite of mine because of its Lovecraft like feel to its internal mythology and dedication to its pulpy weirdness on its own terms.

The PC's are brought into the adventure environs by their own hand as the plot has an entire plot design built around a marathon of events for a long four hour convention set up and play. The back part of the adventure feels like it was ripped straight out of a Thirties style pulp novella. Wiki has a very short but quick insightful overview; "The player characters explore a stepped pyramid deep in the heart of a tropical jungle—the Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan.[4] The characters must penetrate this Mayan-style temple, which is full of tricks and traps.[2] Some of the traps include cursed items, firebombs, and triggered statues." That sort of covers the feel of the whole piece of the work but this adventure has it's own internal mythology that pulls the dungeon master and PC's into the back story & world of the Hidden Shrine! This module also introduced me to one of my all time favorite monsters, the Gibbering Mouther. The Hidden Shrine is not for the faint of heart DM. The traps and details of this adventure require the rapid quickness of a DM because one its a very detail orient and trap heavy adventure. In fact I'd go so far as to say that the traps are far more deadly then many folks might be used to. The hidden shrine is in point of fact it's own internal world and requires a huge amount of problem solving, puzzle solutions, and intelligent decision making on the part of the adventurers within its confines.

Parts of this adventure module are bad, nasty, and brutal to players. I'd go so far as to say that this is part of an intelligent design decision on the parts of the writers/designers because of the competition aspect of the adventure. Sixth through Eighth level is really the starting point realistically for PC's with even a micro chance of surviving the horrors, traps, tricks, and evil of the shrine on it's terms.

So what does all of the praise for this module have to do with actually prepping to run it and use it. This module isn't a treaty on real world Meso-American culture, instead this is a deadly pulp artifact from another time period. You can easily place this module within the confines of your own lost world campaign and that's part of the appeal for me at least of C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan. Note that for Christ sake please increase the amount of treasure and artifacts found in this adventure. This adventure is really light on the treasure because of the competition point nature of its origins.

So why do I like this particular adventure so much? Well its a real step into the Lost World vibe that appeals to me so much. Besides that, its such a culture class with
the medieval European flavor of AD&D that made the shrine seem just that wee bit more exotic and weird. It played hell with PC's put through its twisting chambers, painted hallways, and hellish traps. It reminded me of a Saturday Matinee come to life. Myself and my players knew what the Hidden Shrine looked like because of the forty pages of artwork that came with the module.

So what can you do with C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan? Quite a bit, actually with a little work the Hidden Shrine can be drafted into your favorite bit of your campaign. This is a module that has stood the test of time and could because of its deadly nature challenge PC's for quite some time as it chews up player's expectations and stands mocking them. Classics are classic for a reason and this piece of C series goodness has a certain deadly charm and appeal for me. Now on the retroclone from there are two choices in my opinion unless you want do quite a bit of modification to this adventure. Given the deadly nature of this massive beast, Labyrinth Lord Advanced is one choice or OSRIC. In point of fact I think that C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan is exactly the sort of old school adventure that would benefit from getting the OSRIC treatment. In closing C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan is a piece of gaming history that while requiring a ton of preparation offers some exciting challenges and dangerous rewards for the PC's.

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