Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Salvaging & Expanding X3: "Curse of Xanathon" (1982), by Douglas Niles For Old School & OSR Campaigns

From the back part of X3: "Curse of Xanathon" (1982), by Douglas Niles,
"Something is rotten in Rhoona?

When the grotesque god Cretia casts his ugly shadow over the town, strange things start happening. First, Duke Stephen vanishes. Then bizarre proclamations begin coming out the Ducal Palace - dwarves are outlawed, taxes must be paid in beer, horses must be ridden backwards. Soon the entire town is in an uproar, and a dwarven army is marching on Rhoona. This is the situation when you and your party of valiant adventurers arrive in the suffering town.

There you find any number of oddities:
  • A ragged beggar who prowls the streets offering cryptic advice;
  • A mysterious black-garbed cleric planning treachery;
  • A trusted soldier plotting his master's overthrow; and
  • A sinister jewel casting its evil emanations over the town.
You and your party are Rhoona's only hope. Only you can unravel the dark mystery that plagues the town and save Rhoona from the Curse of Xanathon.

For character levels 5-7.

"X3: "Curse of Xanathon" (1982), by Douglas Niles, is the third adventure in the Expert series for Basic D&D. It was published late in 1982.", that's the official history but like so many of the TSR classic era modules there's far more going on below the surface. This is an Expert D&D module & it joins a classic setting of Mystara. We get some details of the town of Rhoona, ruled by Duke Stephen but many of the dungeon crawling, urban exploration & wilderness adventuring is created by the dungeon master. We get our first taste of Rockhome & the inner workings of the Dwarvian lands. The  political repercussions of the PC's actions are built right into the adventure. And examining the whole affair last night X3: "Curse of Xanathon" (1982) is a bit of a hot mess. There is the structure of a good module here but I'd love to gut the whole adventure. And in fact that's the route to go here. X3 details the Jarldom of Rhoona in Vestland, part of the Northern reaches of Mystara. That's the starting point for transforming  X3: "Curse of Xanathon" into a workable module.
The central conflict is between the worship of Frey and Freyja, a pair of Immortals which is the core of the adventure. The other side of this hot mess is a bit of urban exploration & some mediocre dungeon crawling.But let's start with the central core issues. Mystara Immortals & the gods of mythology are problematic. Way back in 2012 on the Piazza there was this forum post 'Gods or Immortals?' & I read a bit of this;
"Okay after asking Bruce his opinion about Immortals, I would like to say that his opinion is shared by Aaron in the AD&D Mystara book that he wrote.

Both he and Bruce agree (apparently) that the Immortals are not gods, or even close. They believe that Immortals are simply mortals who have achieved more power than other mortals. Aaron went on to say that they are long lived but can be killed.

As I said before, even in some campaigns, Immortals were shown to be subservient to gods." But are they? Frank Mentzer's IM1 Immortal Storm gives a visit to an alternative Plane Prime Earth. This is interesting because it puts a spin on some of what we heard from Gary Gygax's original Greyhawk campaign.  What this & other modules in the immortals line shows is that there are brush fire wars between immortals & gods. The immortals quietly war among themselves & with their namesakes. I'm not talking about killing the gods & taking their stuff here. 

Poster Rip Vanwormer makes a very interesting observation in that same Piazza thread; 
MPA wrote:
"Gods can be killed in AD&D1. In AD&D2's Manual of the Planes, Greater Powers can't be killed on their home planes, so they are truly immortal. Deities and Demigods in 3+ left the option of gods being killed up to the DM and his campaign.

So you are partially correct."
"There is no 2nd edition Manual of the Planes, but the 1st edition Manual of the Planes does state that. Your confusion probably comes from the fact that all gods were killable in 1st edition's Deities & Demigods, but an appendix in the 1st edition Manual of the Planes added a bunch of powers to make 1st edition gods even tougher. 2nd edition Legends & Lore says instead that gods can only be killed by other gods of greater status, which would make greater gods unkillable by anything other than beings greater than greater gods. Such beings did not appear in that book, but in the 2nd edition Forgotten Realms setting the overgod Ao was introduced, who was responsible (albeit indirectly) for the deaths of the greater gods Bane, Myrkul, and Mystra. In the 2nd edition Birthright setting a number of greater gods permanently died after sacrificing their lives to kill the evil god Azrai. The greater god Amaunator died in 2nd edition from lack of followers, and the greater god Aoskar was killed in 2nd edition by the Lady of Pain. In 4th edition, the greater gods Mystra and Tyr died (among others, I think), and the background of the core setting involves a number of dead gods, including Amoth (killed by a coalition of demon lords), He Who Was (killed by Asmodeus), Nerull (killed by the Raven Queen), Aoskar (still said to have been killed by the Lady of Pain), Io (killed by a primordial), and Tuern (killed by Bane). All of the gods of Athas were said to have died in their war against the primordials in the 4th edition version of the Dark Sun campaign setting.

The 2nd edition accessory On Hallowed Ground goes into detail on the mechanics of a god's death. "A power can meet his end in one of two ways. First of all, he can lose all of his worshipers... The second method's a lot easier, but just as tough to pull off: rally a host of other gods to put the blood down."

Also, there was a unique event in 2nd edition Forgotten Realms's Arcane Age in which the greater goddess Mystryl died in order to save the Weave when the wizard Karsus nearly destroyed it.

So while you're correct that the 1st edition Manual of the Planes implied that there was no way for greater powers to die, 2nd edition AD&D did offer methods for even greater deities to expire. It generally required the deaths of all their worshipers, the intervention of an overgod or unique entity like the Lady of Pain, or multiple gods teaming up on them, but it was possible.

In general, the list of dead greater deities in 2nd edition, 3rd edition (which inherited all of the dead 2nd edition Forgotten Realms gods and included a few generic ones in Tome of Magic and Elder Evils), and 4th edition is so long that I don't think a description of AD&D deities as unkillable makes any sense.

Honestly, I think the description "superpowerful adventurers who manage to draw power from mortals who honor them" fits many AD&D deities very well (in the Forgotten Realms, for example, the greater gods Kelemvor, Cyric, Myrkul, Bane, and Mystra were all former adventurers who got a big boost in power from mortal belief, as are many of the gods in the Birthright setting), but Bruce Heard is correct that the word 'god' is vague enough that it doesn't really convey much meaning. I think that Mystara's Immortals are roughly equivalent to the gods of the Forgotten Realms setting (and other AD&D settings), but if the word 'god' means more to you than that, the Immortals aren't gods (but by the same token most AD&D gods, even greater ones, probably aren't true gods either). There's a whole faction in the Planescape setting, the Athar, dedicated to the proposition that the so-called gods aren't true gods."

This fits into something I've been saying for years & years Mystara is far more important in the grand scheme of things then the settings ever gotten credit for when it comes to Dungeons & Dragons. 
IM2: "The Wrath of Olympus" (1987), by Robert J. Blake, is the second Immortals Set adventure for Basic D&D. It was published in February 1987. 'Wraith of the Immortals' seems to discredit many of the ideas presented in 'IM1 Immortal Storm' but does it really?! Immortals loath & jealously guard Mystara from the gods. Why?! Well because Mystara is very important to the cosmic affairs of others. 

Immortals are mythological bastions & powerful beyond the pale but are they privy to all of the matters of the workings of the courts of immortals?! I think not. Those secrets would be laid bare much latter on. So let's bring this back down to Earth when it comes to "X3: "Curse of Xanathon" (1982), by Douglas Niles. The immortals interfere with the royals of Mystara quite often.  I say set up  the Duke’s captain as a major NPC & then ditch the entire investigation aspect. The whole module is actually a part of  a political coup in Rhoona. Another possible option is to take  "X3: "Curse of Xanathon" (1982), by Douglas Niles & rework the entire module for Troll Lords Castles & Crusades The Codex Germania By Brian Young. 
Keep all of the mythological elements & mortal royal coup but bring it to more of a boil in keeping with the politics of Mystarian or Germanic history.. This is an idea that I've been toying with for a little while. 

Not only do the gods die in Germany mythology & opera but there's direct conflict in what happens to royal blood line when events like 
"X3: "Curse of Xanathon" occur. 

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