"Lost in the desert! The only hope for survival lies in a ruined city rising out of the sands. Food, water, and wealth await heroic adventures inside and ancient pyramid ruled by a strange race of masked beings. " Sounds like something out of a pulp magazine of the weird tales variety and this wasn't lost on the author Tom Moldvay .
We're talking iconic modules here and over the years I've used C1 and B4 together as a strung together 'lost world' Conan style 'Red Nails' situation. The various factions of B4 The Lost City are the remains of an ancient people now long gone. The Olman peoples, traps,etc. of C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan might be at war with the various factions of 'The Lost City' hence the deadly level of tricks and traps. All of this adventure set up could be for religious reasons. I refer back to Robert Howard's Red Nails novella.
"Techotl pointed to a black column of ebony which stood behind the dais. Hundreds of red dots scarred its polished surface — the bright scarlet heads of heavy copper nails driven into the black wood. "Five red nails for five Xotalanca lives!" exulted Techotl, and the horrible exultation in the faces of the listeners made them inhuman.The two adventure settings connect up via a smaller dungeon tunnel system and into the lost valley of "C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan" . This puts a very different spin on the domain level play of such a campaign where hidden passages, weird Lovecraftian monsters, and even hidden factions could ply the tunnels between adventure locations. This also means that perhaps the players might be taken on one or more of the domain locations. The hidden sinks of evil sub system of magic in Adventurer, Conqueror, King has some perfect fodder for the weird pulpy occult background of such a campaign set up. Thanks to the Vaults of Pandius website there are tons of resources for B4 The Lost City to plunder.
— Robert E. Howard, "Red Nails""
B4 The Lost City has some of the best mini campaign elements for D&D DIY since Tomb of Horrors for Competition play as well. This means that with a larger and experienced D&D group a DM could use and expand the tricks and traps of B4 into a mega competition module with "C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan" as the next expansion. Bring plenty of PC's the mayhem and death will put the average DCC module to shame. Infact the mercenaries and hirelings of B4 can be used to help round out parties of adventurers.
So what does this have to do with Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea? Plenty actually, I've been rereading Novalyne Price Ellis, One Who Walked Alone which I highly recommend for the Robert Howard fan and his themes of cultural decline and decadence;"
The theme of cultural decadence maintained its grip on Howard's imagination. In early 1935 he remarked to Novalyne Price:
"You see, girl, when a civilization begins to decay and die, the only thing men or women think about is the gratification of their body's desires. They become preoccupied with sex. It colors their laws, their religion – every aspect of their lives.
"Girl, I'm working on a yarn like that now – a Conan yarn. Listen to me. When you have a dying civilization, the normal, accepted life style ain't strong enough to satisfy the damned insatiable appetites of the courtesans and, finally, of all the people. They turn to Lesbianism and things like that to satisfy their desires...I am going to call it 'The Red Flame of Passion.'" — Novalyne Price Ellis, One Who Walked Alone"
These themes are central to the ideas and motivations for competition among the various factions, peoples.etc. of these modules. This leads to the perfect in for players wanting to carve out their own little petty kingdom of weirdness among the ruins. This is central theme to several adventures of both Adventurer, Conqueror, King & especially Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.
"Eibon saw that Zhothaqquah was indeed a god of his word: for the scene beyond the panel was nothing that could ever find a legitimate place in the topography of Mhu Thulan or of any terrestrial region. It did not altogether appeal to him; but there was no alternative, save the inquisitorial cells of the goddess Yhoundeh. Envisaging in thought the various refinements and complications of torture which Morghi would have now prepared, he sprang through the opening into Cykranosh with an agility that was quite juvenile for a wizard of mature years."
The Door To Saturn
Clark Aston Smith
Competition, combat, blood, sex, and adventure figure around the central axis of black magick, weirdness, and the dangerous nature of these two modules. The fact is that these are perfect fodder for getting the blood flowing both around the dice and on the map. There are lots of reasons why a cross campaign works with these two modules:
- Drop the Lost City in first & run the whole affair as a mini campaign with the understanding that "C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan" is going to be the follow up the PC's will encounter some corpses of Aztec warriors in B4 and the seeds are planted. There are plenty of opportunities for domain seeds throughout B4.
- Deadly little dungeons are scattered throughout B4 and the factions add even more weirdness to the whole affair, an air of insanity hangs over The Lost City just as Robert Howard's Red Nails.
- Undead are your friends for coloring the war between the city states backstory for this which gives an especially weird Edgar Rice Burroughs feel to the whole thing.
- Trapped Lovecaftian Gods are only the tip of the ice berg here and there can be a story within a competition or domain level adventure here scatter a few legends or adventure locations within.
- Clive Barker vacation spot this is the perfect marriage to drop in a demon or other mid level boss monster with an agenda of its own. Weird city locations are excellent for just this sort of strangeness.
- Strange Character classes - isolated locations are the perfect locations to try out NPC's with strange character classes to see how what works and doesn't. They'll be aced or killed at some point so these NPC's can easily be used to build tension.
- Weird tales for two - This is a good opportunity to build NPC with crazy backstories that are build into the campaign world. Lots of pulps did this time and again. This works especially well for Lamentations of the Flame Princess.
- Competition from Beyond - The rival adventurers are a perfect foil to introduce in mini campaigns such as this and giving them the weird or powerful magic item will piss players off especially if they by passed them in the past.
- These adventures are DM DIY D&D friendly and deadly as sin take full advantage of this fact especially with sword and sorcery themes.
- Have Plenty of Extra PC's and use the scoring system of "C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan" because if the players understand this they will want and demand to come back for more. This is one of the reasons why Dungeon Crawl Classics has been so successful.