Thursday, April 6, 2017

Beer, Clark Ashton Smith, & B/X D&D Deconstructing B8 Journey To The Rock By Michael Malone

Not my beer image by (c) 2005 Zubro

Lots of good ideas seem to start over a beer in my town & end of the hobby. Let's start with last night's discussion & workshop with B/X Dungeon's & Dragon's Journey To The Rock. Will the deconstruction, discussion, & ideas from last night's old school bar visit work?

Book cover of Journey to the Rock by Michael Malone, artwork by Larry Elmore

So I got together with friends last night & we started talking about B8: Journey to the Rock. The module is mostly well regarded within the old school gaming community locally. The fact is that for a B/X D&D game its a good introductory module but we came to the conclusion it would have to be heavily modified ergo gutted to make it a slightly more sword & sorcery friendly. Wiki has a good breakdown of the over arching plot of the module;
"Journey to the Rock is a wilderness scenario, which includes rules for wilderness play.[1] The wizard Lirdrium Arkayz wants to know the secret of 'The Rock' and hires the characters to uncover it.[2] The player characters are hired to find the secret of "the Rock", and to get there they must pass through a perilous countryside using one of three possible routes" At its heart & soul, B8: Journey to the Rock is a wilderness crawl with a twist where the party is doing an errand for a wizard to help bring back a city lost to time. Stop right there it sounds fantastic doesn't it, Journey To The Rock comes across as flat as cardboard in rereading it. By taking a sip of beer & then almost everyone came up with the same name Clark Ashton Smith.

Clark Ashton Smith proved us with exactly the sort of make over we need for Journey To The Rock with his Zothique stories. Each of the paths through the wilderness in Journey to the Rock leads to slightly different take on the plot. That take is the wizard himself which with a bit of polish can be molded into the Smithian NPC mode. A wizard with more then a slightly ironic twist to him trying to relive the days of glory of his city that is slightly out of phase with time brings
the setting of Zothique to life in spades. Zothique has a very interesting quality to its setting which is that there are a variety of environs in the cycle. This enables the DM to take the setting adhoc and bring the adventure right into alignment with it.

The flatness of the Journey To The Rock is replaced by the alieness & strangeness of the pulpy flare of Smith's Zothique cycle. This puts the wizard into a desperate & rather dangerous light where the PC's are unsure of his motives as well as the place in his schemes. Going along with this scheme several of the encounters would have to be punched up to match the oddity of the world setting. The composition of the Zothique cycle falls right into the same branches of old school pulpy role playing as Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea but DM's are going to need a few resources bringing this style of campaign to life.

Fortunately the Eldritch Dark site has quite a few resources perfect for bringing this old school favorite to life for a DM.  Introduction to 'Tales of Zothique' by Mike Cothran is an excellent starting point for a dungeon master whose unfamiliar with these classic tales. A quick search of the site turned up a plethora of resources all of which are freely available to a DM looking for excellent commentary on Smith's stories.
But does this sort of deconstructionism of a classic module work? Yes I think so. Because it takes a low level adventure & twists it into a sword & pulp direction that the players will not be expecting. Suddenly lower teir PC's are thrust into an alien environment where the red bloated sun is above their heads and the stars are a bit too bright. This also gives DM's license to hook in all kinds of weird monsters, alien encounters, & some very dangerous factions from Clark Aston Smith's stories.

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