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?
So I've been receiving a lot of heat hon this side for this upcoming Fall/Winter campaign run I've been toying with. The setting & adventure ideas of the 'Old Solar System', my unhealthy Clark Ashton Smith & Abraham Merritt attachment, & of course the injection of super science technology & relics as part of the campaign. Most of this came down from the wire from a friend's brother whose an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first edition traditionalist & self professed grognard. So I've had to get a tad creative, work around this, over that, & generally play around with the D&D elements to get what's needed. Its been an interesting hit or miss sort of a process & given me something of an education when it comes to design. This brings me to today's adventure;
'O1: "The Gem and the Staff," by John and Laurie Van De Graaf, was the first adventure in a (short) series of one-on-one adventures for Basic D&D;, supporting one GM and one player. It was published in 1983.'
Wait a one on one module published in Eighty Three but what does this have to with anything? Well,
O1: "The Gem and the Staff is interesting because it can be used to create a campaign style & setting all based around some of the work of Clark Ashton Smith. Hear me out before you throw this blog entry onto the bonfire.
Wiki gives the origin and play style of the original module;"This adventure was originally published as Quest for the Fazzlewood in 1978 in a limited printing of twenty-six sheets with an outer folder and sold at WinterCon VII.:146 The adventure was written by John and Laurie Van De Graaf, with art by Gregg DeCesare.:146 This original module was a tournament scenario for a DM and one player with a thief character.:146 Quest for the Fazzlewood was published by Metro Detroit Gamers, who also published Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. Quest for the Fazzlewood was used as a tournament module at Wintercon VII, and later publicly released. The module was later expanded and revised as O1 The Gem and the Staff.:146
The Gem and the Staff was published by TSR in 1983 as two sixteen-page booklets with an outer folder, and included cardstock miniatures and nineteen illustrated maps for use by the player.:145 The module contained viewed-from-above scale maps." This tournament style of play would later be used as part of the central plot of the adventure;"This module is divided into two separate adventures, which can be played as successive scenarios. The player takes the role of an experienced thief named Eric the Bold, who is pressed in both adventures into special thieving services. In the first adventure, Eric's task is to steal a certain gem from the trap-riddled tower of the wizard Tormag. The second adventure involves Tormag hiring Eric to steal a mighty magic wand from his arch-rival Felspel. Both modules are set with a time limit of thirty real-world minutes to complete the task."
Its precisely this style of play that has the adventure lend itself to a Clark Ashton Smith style of play thieves & wizards abound in the Zothique setting. The adventure not only fits into the world whole cloth but could be used as an excuse to find out the fate of the poor fool who ventured into the trap-riddled tower of the wizard Tormag. Or could it be to raid an easy mark like the tower of the wizard Tormag which managed to defeat or be won by one lone thief.
The Drivethrurpg entry on O1 gives a vital clue about its campaign setting and adventure placement;"Multiple fans at numerous online fan sites have suggested that it would work well in the high-magic region of the Empire of Alphatia." The power of Alphatia might be a good stand in for some of the more magically powerful empires of Zothique. In Empire of the Necomancers by Clark Ashton Smith's set during the Zothique cycle we get a good look at the sort of magical power that prevades the world at this time. The Gem & The Staff could be set during an earlier time period of Zothique. This would make a far more interesting setting as wizards grow a bit more desparate to maintain their power in a world turning into its next cycle. The Death of Ilalotha by Clark Ashton Smith could be used as the model for an iconic & somewhat macabe end for the wizard Tormag or his arch-rival Felspel. There's a lot of potential for mixing and matching elements from these sources to create something weird & dangerously unique for a player or group of adventurers.