Thursday, September 12, 2019

OSR Commentary On The Basic Dungeons & Dragons Adventure 'M4 Five Coins For A Kingdom' By Allen Varney For Your Old School High Level Campaigns

"In an instant, the city of Lighthall vanishes from you very midst! In its place come five coins of amazing powers - power to transport you to a realm of fantastic worlds and incredible magic. In this realm, islands float in air and vast armies battle at the brink of oblivion. The return of Lighthall depends on the defeat of one man: the evil enchanter, Durhan the Conqueror.
Surrounding himself with the armies of Volde, Durhan musters his strength for the final assault on Trann. Defeating Durhan insures the preservation of Eloysia. Saving Lighthall, however, is another story. Lost in the raging core of the sun, the city balances on the edge of destruction. The rescue of Trann, its Ruling Wizards, and Lighthall itself all depend upon the powers of the coins - and the brave adventurers who take the quest upon themselves.

For characters of levels 28-32.
Last night I cracked open M4 'Five Coins For A Kingdom' of the high level B/X Dungeons & Dragons adventures because I've been on a Clark Ashton Smith kick for the last six to eight months. This is one of those underappreciated adventures that seldom gets mentioned. Not because its all that bad but because hardly anyone has PC's that make the 28-32 plateau levels.

Allen Varney comes in with a really high level adventure for B/X Dungeons & Dragons in the form of M4 'Five Coins For A Kingdom'. The real star of the adventure is Durham The Conqueror who dimensionally warps an entire city right out of existence.  The PC's are the fulcrum here to the action standing the way of the conquest of their lands & their existences!

With a flourish & weirdness that we've come to expect in the '87 high level B/X adventures after the tepid M3, M4 manages to capture the imagination and high concepts of science fantasy all in one go.  This adventure takes the concepts promised in the higher level B/X box sets and tries to deliver on them. Something that would later carry over to the Dungeons & Dragons  Rules Cyclopedia. But does it work as an adventure?

The PCs stand between the evil sorcerer & the total obliteration of their homelands. To a certain extent the adventure succeeds in this. There are lots of bits and pieces that I like in this adventure including the science fantasy bits.

The plot is interesting & to  it  lives up to the high level promise on the tin;"On a clear day, bright lights appear in the sky over a vibrant city as the player characters stand in the market, and then the city vanishes, leaving the party alone in a grassy field. Five coins fall from sky, each imbued with the spirit of a power wizard beseeching the party to free them and save their world from destruction. Using the magic coins, the party travels to the outer plane of Eloysia, explore what is left of the city of Solius and free the wizards. Before saving Solius, the party must defeat an invasive army led by mad Durhan. Finally, the party journeys into their own sun to save their city." But there's also a weirdness to the design and writing of it. This adventure doesn't follow the adventure plot strings of the M series and for that alone I'm thankful for. The villain is a one off and wizard that could be used in other adventures for campaign play if the DM wants or needs a recurring high level foe. He has to a certain extent some of the tropes of a Dr. Strange wizard draining the life force of hundreds of victims. This plot bit is something that Mr.Varney would actually use for his
Doctor Strange gamebook, Through Six Dimensions (1986) written a year earlier. So what the hell is it that appeals so much to me about M4 Five Coins For A Kingdom? I think its the fact that it delivers on its high level promise. Would I play it or run it today? Yeah I think I definitely world there's a weird Roger Zelazny Chronicles of Amber or Clark Ashton Smith vibe that strongly runs through this adventure.

I hate to say that I've done rude things with M4 Five Coins For A Kingdom but I have. The truth is that I've used this adventure as the basis for an Amber Diceless Rpg campaign but there we are. Yes it worked out quite well back then. But I was playing with experienced D&D players back in then. But then today what retroclone system would I play M4 with? Hmm two different systems immediately spring to mind.

One is the Dark Dungeon Rpg system which has all of the tools for handling this style & level of play. Easily accessible as a pay what you want system. The hardcover has everything that the DM would need to run M4 Five Coins For a Kingdom.

Well the second choice is far more interesting in my opinion and that would be Adventurer, Conqueror, King! This is a tailor made adventure for that style of system and play, the high stakes and the kingdom being up for grabs makes this a nature for just that style of domain level and high stakes weirdness but this adventure is not without the need for modification. Adventurer,Conqueror, King's PC's levels should be carefully examined and modified as needed for M4.

The style of play demanded by the adventure requires certain modifications for it to work as a part of a campaign going adventure:

  1. The encounters have to be tailored to the DM's world and he or she can't be afraid that there will be consequences to their campaign setting. 
  2. Certain restrictions on treasure, artifacts, relics, etc must be observed read this adventure carefully several times. 
  3. Amber style campaign play is built into M4 and the dungeon master should keep this in mind. 
  4. PC's are going to have a huge number of responsibilities on an almost Stormbringer rpg level. 
  5. Reality & dimensional travel is a must here! 
  6. PC death will have dire consequences for their homelands and could lead to further adventures and DM's should make note of this. 
  7. There are several forces of Law who are jerks in M4 and another thing to keep in mind. 
  8. DM's should not be afraid to modify this adventure as they see fit for certain adventure elements to work within their own games. 
  9. Durham the conqueror could make an excellent recurring campaign villain. 
  10. Don't be afraid to go over the top with this one. This is a high level adventure and almost but not quite in the realm of the gods.

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