Recently I have been playing old modules like B6 Rahasia, B4 The Lost City and X2 Castle Amber. They were fun, though they cost the players quite a few characters. Especially Castle Amber that involves quite a few ‘save or die’-sequences, that only can be avoided by avoiding all the interesting encounters. Don’t open the doors, don’t talk to people etc.
However X3 Curse of Xanathon (from 1982) is different, it claims to be a detective-module, and it is no fun.
The local lord has begun issuing strange decrees, and the people are suspecting that something is wrong. As the module begins he declares war on the local dwarven nation, though he stands no change of winning the conflict.
In truth the lord’s garrison leader – a former pirate – is allied with the local ethnic minority’s high priest, who has cursed the lord in attempt to remove him from the throne and replace him with the former pirate.
The structure is, that the PCs needs to go through five dungeons in order to stop this, and they are tied together with some simple dysfunctional investigation.
The Five Dungeons
The first dungeon is the city barracks filled with innocent guardsmen and their servants. At most the PCs can legitimately battle the garrison leader’s wizard.
However why are the PCs here? Well the scenario begins with the declaration of war against the dwarves, and thus an angry dwarf tells the PCs to go investigate the barracks, as the leader must be behind all of this. Any other investigation is irrelevant at best, misleading at worst, at the scenario includes the usual handful of rumors to give the players some insight into what is going on. However all of the rumors are false, and none are relevant than the plot.
Deep in the barracks – in the secret room – the PCs find evidence, that the high priest is allied with the garrison leader and has cursed the the local lord. The text is coded, but next to it a magical helmet, that allows the PCs to immediately decode it.
The second dungeon: From here the PCs must confront the high priest – no other solution is possible, and here the enter the temple. As with the barracks there are hardly any enemies to confront – and some are silly: A sea serpent inside the temple?
The purpose of this dungeon is confront the high priest in his secret room – just as with the barracks – and here it is revealed the priest is invulnerable. As the PCs realize this, he reveals his weakness (his life-force is hidden in a dungeon), and the PCs are now supposed to flee. As they flee they notice a map on the wall revealing the location of a dungeon.
– This sequence is simply just not worth it, and we skipped it.
The Third and the fourth dungeon: In the mountains the PCs find a dungeon in two levels. They find granaries, a wine cellar, a brewery and statue, and then a teleporttrap – which unsettled the players for a while as they recalled their trouble with B6 Rahasia. The trap was quickly defeated, however, and they decided to explore the remainder of the dungeon.
Finally they actual encounters someone to battle – and the text explains that one cleric had a dream of battle, which is why each and every encounter consists of fighters and clerics ready for battle. Boring.
The lower level is the part, we have not played yet. There are a few encounters, that seem interesting, which is why we are still playing the module.
The fifth dungeon is more or less a replay of the barracks. The PCs move through a dungeon with innocent civilians in order to find and cure the local lord – after having defeated the high priest, now that his life-force was found in the fourth dungeon, and finally the evil ex-pirate can be defeated. Again this is not interesting, which is why, we will skip this dungeon too.
So Is It Fun?
Sort of. Mostly the fun has been with the silliness of the dungeons, the poorly executed story and the trivial encounters. The scenario lacks exciting locations, challenging traps, weird encounters and grand mysteries to explore. All the stuff we found i Castle Amber, The Lost City, Rahasia and Night’s Dark Terror. As with The Clearing of Castle Caldwell there is no much fun in exploring the dungeon.
Also it is annoying how poorly designed the investigation is. Mostly there is not any, and basically it alone comes from the information picked up in the final, secret room of the dungeon. Meanwhile the high priest of a local, competing cult is dressed up as a beggar secretly guiding the PCs pointing them to the next dungeon. Why he is doing it in this manner is never explained, besides the GM’s need for a character to tell the PCs which dungeon to explore next.
Once we have braved the fourth dungeon, we will move on to some of the other modules from the X-series. I am considering X4 and X5, but have to check if they are any interesting.