Saturday, August 18, 2018

Retro Campaign Commentary - X4 Master Of The Desert Nomads By David "Zeb" Cook For Expert Dungeons & Dragons With A Clark Ashton Smith Campaign Twist

If you were playing Expert Dungeons & Dragons back in Eighty Three then one of the more dangerous modules to get your PC's embroiled in was the  second sword and sorcery style adventures that came from the pen of David "Zeb" Cook. X4 Master of the Desert Nomads. This adventure puts your PC's right in the cross hairs of two armies on their way to defeating 'The Master'.

"Everything seems to start off with a war and the PC's are caught right in the middle of the action in the Sind desert.

"To arms! To arms! The battle lines are drawn as desert men and inhuman tribes wait poised to strike on the fertile and rich lands of the east. The call has gone out through the civilized lands. The armies have been raised to match the invading foes from the west. Nobles and peasants have joined swords to greet the foes.
But Fate or Chance has decreed another role for a small few. No glorious banners will wave on their march. No squadrons of knights will charge at their word. Instead, they will fight the war through stealth, secrecy, and cunning. The risks they will take are great, but the fates of both armies lie with them.
It begins one night for your party far from the fighting. Suddenly you are entrusted with the most dangerous missions of the war. Can you cross the Sind Desert, occupied now by enemy armies, to find the Great Pass? Can you find the one known only as The Master? What will you do if your do find him?""

But how can this classic be adapted into a fully functioning campaign adventure, we'll with a bit of help from Clark Ashton Smith its a perfect vehicle to open the door to a whole cloth Sword & Sorcery  campaign set within Zothique or the far future of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition. But why Zothique at all? According to a letter written to Clark Ashton Smith himself described the Zothique cycle in a letter to L. Sprague de Camp, dated November 3, 1953;
" Zothique, as I conceive it, comprises Asia Minor, Arabia, Persia, India, parts of northern and eastern Africa, and much of the Indonesian archipelago. A new Australia exists somewhere to the south. To the west, there are only a few known islands, such as Naat, in which the black cannibals survive. To the north, are immense unexplored deserts; to the east, an immense unvoyaged sea. The peoples are mainly of Aryan or Semitic descent; but there is a negro kingdom (Ilcar) in the north-west; and scattered blacks are found throughout the other countries, mainly in palace-harems. In the southern islands survive vestiges of Indonesian or Malayan races. The science and machinery of our present civilization have long been forgotten, together with our present religions. But many gods are worshipped; and sorcery and demonism prevail again as in ancient days."
This sounds exactly like the sort of desert weirdness that the PC's encounter in Master of the Desert Nomads. The master is simply another in a long line of cult leaders & lost kings who have come across the trackless wastes of the Diamond Desert erm the "immense unexplored deserts" which bound Zothique to the north. As per usual I've already heard from friends that Empire of The Necromancers is a perfect frame work in which which this classic of the B/X era should dropped into? Actually X4 fits the campaign frame work of CAS's The Weaver In The Vault.  The idea of the ruined kingdom with  mercenary scouts doing dirty deeds in the desert fits the rough & tumble ideals X4. It fits the sardonic humor of CAS.
"Three of the king's roughest henchman began losing their nerve as they descended into the dark catacombs of a long-forsaken, earthquake-ruined burial site in Chaon Gacca. Their assignment, to recover the remains of an ancient king, was detestable enough. However, nothing could compare to the horrific sights and sounds....of the weaver!"

X4 The Master Of The Desert Nomads is one of those adventures where the classic wilderness crawl is full effect. The PC's can wander where & when they need to within the frame work of this hex crawl as the adventure take them. The village on the border of the Republic of Darokin there is a priest  looking for scouts to seek out the Master a mysterious figure who is uniting the various tribes of humans and humanoids in the Sind desert.
  1. The PCs are presented as mercenary scouts in almost but not quite Robert Howard Conan fashion in the X series. This is a perfect set up for adventurers & fits the rough & tumble nature of Sword & Sorcery adventures. 
  2. The wilderness crawl presents the opportunity to introduce other side quests for the party & allows the DM to customize X4 as their own. 
  3. The various desert locations are the perfect place to add in the adventure locations of  necropoli, abandoned ruins, epidemics & more that  fit the  far distant future of Zothique. 
  4.  X4 is the perfect vechile for the that typical CAS vivaciousness! 
  5. Master of the Desert Nomads has a bit of that Pulp weirdness we love already but with a bit of a push can be inverted into a hard core campaign. 
  6.   Because the set up is a classic sword & sorcery adventure the X series of modules could be used to frame work around the Ghost Ship of the Desert Dunes as a lost world style mini campaign. 

Within a pseudo historical setting X4 Master of The Desert Nomads could be used in an alternative dark fantasy Egypt or North African style adventure set around the Fourteenth or Fifteenth century. The dungeon master might want to draw from the Robert Howard well of dark fantasy literature with Solomon Kane and “The Fire of Asshurbanipal". This adventure will also work on the Chinese Gobi desert style Silk Road setting  which pulls from the Oriental and Middle Eastern mythological traditions. This plugs directly into the ideals of Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique & yet keeps the adventure from becoming overly stale.
X4 remains a very different feeling adventure with its encounters wrapped around the central wheel house of  dark fantasy encounters, odd supernatural encounters, dangerous pieces of old school sword and sorcery action. This was one of the adventures that I've run over and over again with PC's coming face to face with weird monsters and becoming hooked on the desert series.

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