Saturday, April 8, 2017

'O1 The Gem and the Staff ' Dungeons & Dragons Expert Adventure Notes & Commentary For Your Old School Campaigns

"Your peaceful evening has been interrupted by an unusual request. As a thief, your skills are unmatched, but can you rise to the challenge of thieving for a powerful and frightening wizard? Do you have a choice?"

There are old school modules that are unique in both structure & goals,O1 The Gem and the Staff (Basic) by  John Van De Graaf, & Laurie Van De Graaf certainly qualifies for that distinction. This is a competition module for Expert B/X Dungeons & Dragons with a twist.  Here's a quick break down of the structure according to Wiki;"The Gem and the Staff, by John and Laurie Van De Graaf, is an adventure module for the Dungeons & Dragons Expert Set. Rather than being a typical group adventure, The Gem and the Staff was designed for head-to-head tournament-style play, with players separately playing the same adventure and competing against each other for points earned by accomplishing certain goals. The adventure is only playable with one dungeon master (DM) and one player" After the completion of one half the adventure the DM and players switch seats and roles. This is a great module when you can't get the gang together because of conflicting schedules & you've got that one die hard friend who shows up.

Now at first this would seem like its not a sword & sorcery style old school adventure but let me tell ya that's where your wrong. The set up for this one sounds like something straight out a Marvel Conan comic book;"The Gem and the Staff is an adventure for a DM and a single player using a provided thief character.[1]:145 The player must search for a magic gem and a staff of power inside an evil wizard's tower."
Eric The Bold is one of those master thieves that inhabits that hazy realm of nasty thief but with a touch of the outlaw in his background. "Run as the tournament adventure "Quest for the Fazzlewood" (1978) at WinterCon VII (1978) in Detroit. ", this is a module with lots of history & the nice part is the take down of the wizard Tormag. In the first part  Eric's task is to steal a certain gem from the trap-riddled tower of the wizard Tormag and in the second your to steal a mighty magic wand from his arch-rival Felspel. Here's the kick in the pants you've only got thirty minutes to complete the adventure.
Now I've heard a lot of folks talk about

A lake hydra looms over the drawbridge to Tormaq's Tower.
(Harry Quinn, D&D module O1: The Gem and the Staff, TSR, 1983)

O1 The Gem and The Staff should be set within the Known World especially
in the high-magic region of the Empire of Alphatia. Well I happen to think it could also work very well in the southern portion of Hypreborea. Both the wizard Tormag & his arch-rival Felspel are prime examples of  B/X wizards who can be molded into the Clark Ashton Smith model of weird arch enemy wizards. With a bit of little shove these two can be brought right over into the Hyperborean rivalry. A good example of the sort of rivalry I speaking about can be found in Clark Ashton Smith's Master of The Crabs;"

I remember that I grumbled a little when Mior Lumivix awakened me. The past evening had been a tedious one with its unpleasant familiar vigil, during which I had nodded often. From sunfall till the setting of Scorpio, which occurred well after midnight at that season, it had been my duty to tend the gradual inspissation of a decoction of scarabs, much favored by Mior Lumivix in the compounding of his most requested love-potions. He had warned me often that this liquor must be thickened neither too slowly nor too rapidly, by maintaining an even fire in the athanor, and had cursed me more than once for spoiling it. Therefore, I did not yield to my drowsiness till the decoration was safely decanted and strained thrice through the sieve of perforated sharkskin.
Taciturn beyond his wont, the Master had retired early to his chamber. I knew that something troubled him; but was too tired for overmuch conjecture, and had not dared to question him."

But at its heart, "The Staff and the Gem" can be used for a sort of reverse domain play, this of course hings on Eric The Bold the main PC of the adventure. You see Eric is an eight level thief & not a customer to be taken lightly. After the events of "The Staff and the Gem" both the wizard Tormag & his arch-rival Felspel are going to be sitting ducks. A part of strong PC's from Adventurer, Conqueror, King's rpg system could theoretically take over their entire operation if they paid someone like Eric The Bold enough gold or get in with his thieves guild. Here's where the rules in the Adventurer Conqueror King System Player's Companion can come in very handy. The PC's move in on the rival wizards and take over, & almost instant domain.

There are couple of very good reasons why 'O1 The Gem and the Staff 'style of adventure  still holds up even today:
  1.  The Gem and the Staff's writing, its design is very tight, the module does exactly what it says its going to do. 
  2. Eric The Bold is a solidly designed PC & he's more then up to the tasks presented in the module. 
  3. A good solid way to design single play sword & sorcery adventures is to use TSR's One on One module line which is  meant for only one player and one DM. With enough obstacles, challenges, etc. this is a viable way of raising PC levels when one or more players don't show up. 
  4. This is another way of getting that stoggy DM out from behind the screen and back into the flow. 
  5. TSR's One on One module design can also be used to create intriguing back story adventures that don't impact directly on to events in your home campaign. 
  6. This style of module can also be used to adventure in far flung parts of your home sword & sorcery campaign world that don't get used to often. 
  7. The lonely character death isn't a bad way of creating tension or adventure opportunities later on in a campaign. 
  8. TSR's One on One module style can also be used to have PC's go up against higher level retired PC's who have become NPC's in a home campaign. This is a trick I've used several times to create rivalries within domain level campaigns. This works especially well when you've got a sprawling campaign world such as Dark Albion and the PC's are working for royals or other patrons. 
  9.   One on One module style adventures can also be used with Lovcraftian themes such as penetrating the lair of a cult of the Old Ones or a Mi Go hive. These types of adventures can very challenging & dangerous enough to have a party of players pull their buddy out of the fire later on in play. 
  10. Never underestimate the power of nostalgia because 'O1 The Gem and the Staff ' still has a cult following today. There are number of folks who love this adventure and will play it at the drop of a hat.

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