Tuesday, April 4, 2017

U2 Danger At Dunwater Notes & Commentary

The little fishing town of Saltmarsh is threatened! Why are lizard men gathering force nearby and why have they been buying large quantities of weapons? A party of bold adventurers must answer these questions or the people of Saltmarsh will never live in peace!

Apparently Saltmarsh can't live in peace at all. U2 is one of the most interesting and yet sparse in the U series of modules. "This adventure can be played by 6-10 characters of levels 1-4 &  U2: "Danger at Dunwater" (1982), by Dave J. Browne with development by Don Turnbull, was the second adventure in the "U" series and the third product overall from TSR UK. It appeared in 1982."
This is also one of the most Lovecraftian of the U series & presents a fully stocked module with large-scale maps, full background information, and detailed encounter descriptions for the players and DM all of which can be tweaked by the DM to blend seamlessly into the background of Hyperborea. Clever DM's that I've known have used this module to connect to Underborea & the classic Shrine of the Kuo-Toa by Gary Gygax. This is done through a series of witch cults that have connections to the Deep Ones that have been busy along the coasts with some of the locations from
The Mystery at Port Greely

This gives players the backbone of the monster's insidious danger & why the Deep One style cults are some of the most weird foes PC's can come up against. The material here comes from some deep & very sinister place.
Danger At Dunwater is the second in the "U' trilogies of adventures and pits the characters into the aftermath of  The Sinister Secret Of Saltmash adventure and meshes right into the front and back adventure plots U1 quite nicely.

This all gives legs to the strangeness that is created by the horror of the HP Lovecraft style
"The Shadow Over Innsmouth," adventure locations. U2 Danger At Dunwater has this very desperate feel to the whole affair. Shunned by its neighbors, Innsmouth slowly dies & so does some extent Saltmarsh. There's a tragic air about the place and there's good reason for that. All of it really goes back to Innsmouth.

"Toward the end of the second hour I feared my quart of whiskey would not be enough to produce results, and was wondering whether I had better leave old Zadok and go back for more. Just then, however, chance made the opening which my questions had been unable to make; and the wheezing ancient's rambling took a turn that caused me to lean forward and listen alertly. My back was toward the fishy-smelling sea, but he was facing it and something or other had caused his wandering gaze to light on the low, distant line of Devil Reef, then showing plainly and almost fascinatingly above the waves. The sight seemed to displease him, for he began a series of weak curses which ended in a confidential whisper and a knowing leer. He bent toward me, took hold of my coat lapel, and hissed out some hints that could not be mistaken,
"Thar's whar it all begun—that cursed place of all wickedness whar the deep water starts. Gate o' hell—sheer drop daown to a bottom no saoundin'-line kin tech. Ol' Cap'n Obed done it—him that faound aout more'n was good fer him in the Saouth Sea islands.
"Everybody was in a bad way them days. Trade fallin' off, mills losin' business—even the new ones—an' the best of our menfolks kilt aprivateerin' in the War of 1812 or lost with the Elizy brig an' the Ranger scow—both on 'em Gilman venters. Obed Marsh he had three ships afloat—brigantine Columby, brig Hefty, an' barque Sumatry Queen. He was the only one as kep' on with the East-Injy an' Pacific trade, though Esdras Martin's barkentine Malay Bride made a venter as late as twenty-eight.
"Never was nobody like Cap'n Obed—old limb o' Satan! Heh, heh! I kin mind him a-tellin' abaout furren parts, an' callin' all the folks stupid for goin' to Christian meetin' an' bearin' their burdns meek an' lowly. Says they'd orter git better gods like some o' the folks in the Injies—gods as ud bring 'em good fishin' in return for their sacrifices, an' ud reely answer folks's prayers.
"Matt Eliot his fust mate, talked a lot too, only he was again' folks's doin' any heathen things. Told abaout an island east of Othaheite whar they was a lot o' stone ruins older'n anybody knew anying abaout, kind o' like them on Ponape, in the Carolines, but with carven's of faces that looked like the big statues on Easter Island. Thar was a little volcanic island near thar, too, whar they was other ruins with diff'rent carvin'—ruins all wore away like they'd ben under the sea onct, an' with picters of awful monsters all over 'em.
"Wal, Sir, Matt he says the natives anound thar had all the fish they cud ketch, an' sported bracelets an' armlets an' head rigs made aout o' a queer kind o' gold an' covered with picters o' monsters jest like the ones carved over the ruins on the little island—sorter fish-like frogs or froglike fishes that was drawed in all kinds o' positions likes they was human bein's. Nobody cud get aout o' them whar they got all the stuff, an' all the other natives wondered haow they managed to find fish in plenty even when the very next island had lean pickin's. Matt he got to wonderon' too an' so did Cap'n Obed. Obed he notices, besides, that lots of the hn'some young folks ud drop aout o' sight fer good from year to year, an' that they wan't many old folks around. Also, he thinks some of the folks looked dinned queer even for Kanakys.
"It took Obed to git the truth aout o' them heathen. I dun't know haow he done it, but be begun by tradin' fer the gold-like things they wore. Ast 'em whar they come from, an' ef they cud git more, an' finally wormed the story aout o' the old chief -- Walakea, they called him. Nobody but Obed ud ever a believed the old yeller devil, but the Cap'n cud read folks like they was books. Heh, heh! Nobody never believes me naow when I tell 'em, an' I dun't s'pose you will, young feller—though come to look at ye, ye hev kind o' got them sharp-readin' eyes like Obed had."
The old man's whisper grew fainter, and I found myself shuddering at the terrible and sincere portentousness of his intonation, even though I knew his tale could be nothing but drunken phantasy.
"Wal, Sir, Obed he 'lart that they's things on this arth as most folks never heerd about—an' wouldn't believe ef they did hear. It seems these Kanakys was sacrificin' heaps o' their young men an' maidens to some kind o' god-things that lived under the sea, an' gittin' all kinds o' favour in return. They met the things on the little islet with the queer ruins, an' it seems them awful picters o' frog-fish monsters was supposed to be picters o' these things. Mebbe they was the kind o' critters as got all the mermaid stories an' sech started."
From Lovecraft's popular "The Shadow Over Innsmouth"

There's a bit of investigation, wilderness adventure and a fair amount of dungeon crawling in U2.
The town of Saltmarsh itself plays one of the central rolls in Danger At Dunwater and the dungeon master is supposed to flesh this town  adventure setting out for themselves. Now over the years I've heard of friends and other dungeon masters taking the town from The Secret of Bone Hill by  Lenard Lakofka   using it as Saltmarsh and its environs. The adventure in and around the fishing port of Restenford which fits squarely into the plot and details of Danger At Dunwater. There's a very nice little thread about combining these two classics together on Dragon's Foot. Can it be done and should it be? Well that brings in the lizardmen which represents a very real danger to the whole town at a later point.

I've seen players underestimate the lizard men as a faction much later on as the events of the Descent Into the Depths of the Earth kick off and we really get a good look into the workings of the 'real' Hyperborean survivals deep in the bowels of Underborea. This goes back to the fact that Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers can make the 'underdark' far more alien, Lovecraftian, & dangerous  then its been portrayed in certain Forgotten Realms products. The lower ancient  Lovecraft Underborea races want to replace mankind on Hyperborea and take their place is practically spelled out in AS&SH.

The reason why U2 is a perfect module for this because its a low level adventure that puts the PC's center stage in the struggle between the inhuman forces & the one resource that Hyperborea has in spades, humans. The coin of the realm isn't treasure its resources and this is where the human population comes in very handy. From slaves to super science components people make excellent resources! This seems like its in total conflict with the sword & sorcery aesthetic but its not. The PC's are the heroes regardless if they want to be or not. These modules put them in the cross hairs of conflict of the underwater & underworld of this struggle.

This fact can be used to work all of these modules right into the back plot of the Slave Lords modules but we'll find out more about that in tomorrow's blog entry. So let's get back to Danger At Dunwater again. The fact is that Saltmarsh is surrounded on all sides by inhuman factions.

By the time that Danger At Dunwater is over the extent of this weirdness is going to become very evident to the population. I've always felt like Saltmarsh is like one of those isolated Robert Howard style colonial frontier towns that always seem to appear in Howard's pulp stories. A place where the edges of the map are not so clearly defined & perhaps man wasn't meant to go. In Danger At Dunwater the infection goes much deeper and there are reasons why this series is one of the best.
  1. The U series takes PC's from first straight up into the middle ranks of character levels if they survive & those survivors are going to be grizzled veterans. 
  2. These adventures can be back tied into your own home campaigns & yet they have a ton of flavor. 
  3. All of the events of the U series especially Danger At Dunwater can be used as threads to draw in other modules such as including references to events in Port Greely or the Isle of Dread. This gives consistency to the over all campaign setting. 
  4. Danger At Dunwater is a deadly adventure and its a thinking man's piece of D&D crawling. Hack & Slash is seldom rewarded in this one. 
  5. Its creepy! Danger At Dunwater is a damn creepy adventure and borders on the horrific in many places by placing it in Hypreborea it gains that much more traction. 
  6. Timeless - Danger At Dunwater can be set in the Dark Ages or the edge of the Black Powder age and it will work. 
  7. Factions - This is one of the main spokes of the U series and the factions are some of the most dangerous ones that PC's will run across in their careers. 
  8. Treasure isn't what the U series is really about but adventure & experience. This module is what I refer to as a career builder. 
  9. Danger At Dunwater can foreshadow the later events of a campaign when things move into high gear. 
  10. Lower PC levels doesn't mean lower quality of module. Danger At Dunwater is a higher quality piece of game design from one of the better teams of writers from the classic TSR era.

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