Oh boy did I open a can of worms with my blog rebuttal/commentary on Wm. John Wheeler's HS4 The Lost Caverns of Acheron from the wonderful blog piece that Timothy Brannan did about this blog today. Yes HS4 The Lost Caverns of Acheron is actually the end of a long D20 campaign. Tonight's commentary is on the first module in the trilogy homage to Gary Gygax's "D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa". The designer's notes in the module HD2 The Shrine of the Black Ones goes into why & why was changed; "This is a homage to the original classic adventure module, “D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa”, by Gary Gygax, reimagined for sword and sorcery gaming in Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age using Mongoose’s Conan RPG ruleset. Many of the original’s high fantasy elements have been removed or toned down, but the module should be instantly familiar to those familiar with the classic scenario, as much of the text is verbatim from Gygax’s original manuscript. I have turned the subterranean Shrine into a ruined temple on a nameless island, changed the Kuo-Toa into Black Ones, and the Sea-Mother into a tentacled horror from the Mythos. The amount of treasure has been significantly reduced from the original."
Here's the important fact the treasure has been significantly reduced which is gonna reflect in where I'm going with this for campaign purposes.
“Into the west, unknown of man, Ships have sailed since the world began. Read, if you dare, what Skelos wrote, With dead hands fumbling his silken coat; And follow the ships through the windblown wrack Follow the ships that come not back.” – The Pool of the Black One By Robert E.Howard
Please,please, before running this adventure make sure to read Robert E. Howard's The Pool of the Black Ones. Now HD2 The Shrine of the Black Ones is not your average module & instead is set & padded out for PC's of levels ten through twelve. That means that if your gonna run this with Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea or Castles & Crusades the encounters are gonna have to be scaled. The treasure has been reduced & encounters are gonna be brutal & very dangerous.
HD2 The Shrine of the Black Ones takes the lone island location from the original story & turns the setting, ideas, etc. on their collective heads. When start to look at the stats for 'Black Ones' then we get an idea of the typical D20 Conan gaming stats we're facing down;
"Black One Large Outsider (native) Hit Dice: 6d8+30 (57 hp) Initiative: +7 (+2 Dex, +5 Ref) Speed: 25 ft. (5 squares) Dodge Defense: 19 (-1 size, +2 Dex, +8 natural) DR: 7 Base Attack/Grapple: +6/+16 Attack: Claw +11 melee (1d8+6) Full Attack: 2 claws +11 melee (1d8+6) and bite +6 melee (1d4+3) Space/Reach: 5 ft./10 ft. Special Attacks: — Special Qualities: — Saves: Fort +10, Ref +7, Will +5 Abilities: Str 22, Dex 15, Con 20, Int 14, Wis 10, Cha 16 Skills: Balance +11, Climb +15, Bluff +12, Jump +15, Knowledge (arcana) +11, Hide +11, Intimidate +12, Move Silently +11, Perform (ritual) +12, Search +11 Feats: Improved Sunder, Power Attack, Steely Gaze Environment: Isle of the Black Ones Organization: Solitary or group (6-10) Advancement: — " Again this would be easily translated into classic Castles & Crusades. We're given a damn good overview of the island in HD2 The Shrine of the Black Ones
We're given some really weird details about the island that reads like a prime set up for a Sword & Sorcery campaign or something straight outta Weird Tales;
"The island is some eight to ten miles long in the north-south direction, and perhaps eight miles broad at the widest point. At the north end of the island, there are five smaller islands, all uninhabited. On the western coast is a shallow bay, which has a white beach bordering an expanse of gently grassy slopes, masked by green trees. The trees grow in irregular clusters, and between these groves stretch rolling expanses of meadow-like slopes. Between the slopes lie gentle declivities, likewise swarded. The scenery seems to melt into itself, or each scene into the other; the view is singular, at once broad and restricted. Over all a dreamy silence lies like an enchantment."
The fact that this isolated island could be in a sea any sea in fact. The mystical forces of the Black Ones could in fact connect this island to a great many times & places across the planes. The island is a prime candidate for getting the Clark Ashton Smith Zothique treatment. Again be sure to grab a copy of Zothique D20. Zothique is millions of years in the future of our time & its a perfect world where the intersect of the churning seas meet with the island terror of HD2 The Shrine of the Black Ones . This is also the perfect opportunity for plugging in Jason Vey's Amazing Adventures into the mix. The pulp elements mix very well with the horrors of the module but again there's that pesky scaling of the PC's monsters, treasures, etc into the mix.
Here are some further notes on using HD2 The Shrine of the Black Ones .
- HD2 The Shrine of the Black Ones is free & easily adapted to your favorite OSR or D20 system. But there's going to be some very messy deaths of PC's have backups prepared.
- The customization of the adventure is essential for running this with your favorite system. There's enough here in the module but getting into that perfect zone is essential for play at the table top level.
- This is a beginning high level Sword & Sorcery adventure with lots of Weird Tales elements here.
- The module could be turned into a survival horror story adventure with lots of scares & unknowns in the mix.
- Understand your audience because this isn't a light weight roam of an adventure so have a few additional encounters perhaps with some pirates or other sea born horrors to continue the adventure after the module concludes.
- The Black Ones are evil, dangerous, & very Lovecraftian to have their own minor cults within the campaign world so there's plenty of opportunities to continue these foes and use them for long term campaign foes. I'm thinking of Robert Howard's Solomon Kane stories as inspiration for some of the campaign goodness.
- Danger, intrigue, & horror abound within this module so its a great one to introduce some ship wrecked NPC's into the mix.
- The author knows his subject & the module balances encounters but there's room for an additional adventure location if necessary.
- Connecting AS&SH with HD2 The Shrine of the Black Ones is as easy as an oceanic planar gate or two.
- Other Robert E. Howard NPC's might appear on the shores of this module there's plenty of solid ideas in his stories to bring into HD2 The Shrine of the Black Ones