30 September 2018

Kellri's 18 Module Challenge - Day 2: Masks of Nyarlathotep by Larry DiTillio

Day 2 - A Module You Like with a Monster in the Title:  _Masks of Nyarlathotep_ by Larry DiTillio

Masks of Nyarlathotep: Perilous Adventures to Thrwart the Dark God was first published as a 140 page boxed set by Chaosium in 1984, with one scenario from the original box version cut and published in Terror Australis in 1987.  Masks was fully reintegrated with the third printing in 1996's Complete Masks of Nyarlathotep, which also added four new encounters to the campaign.  

Masks of Nyarlathotep 1st edition boxed set and later reprints
grodog's Masks madness - from first edition onward!

Written by Larry DiTillio and developed by Lynn Willis, Masks is a masterpiece of campaign-adventure design, and features the following globe-trotting adventure chapters/locations, each originally published as as stand-alone booklet within the box (with "City in the Sands" in Terror Australis):
  • New York 
  • London 
  • Egypt 
  • Kenya 
  • Shanghai 
  • Australia - City in the Sands (in Terror Australis)
  • Extensive Play Aids and Handouts

The Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion was created by the membership of the venerable Yog-Sothoth.com Call of Cthulhu fan site to add historical resources and context to teh campaign, to fill perceived gaps, and correct errors/omissions in the original text.  The Companion was published in a semi-final form for free in PDF format in 2013.  A print edition was funded via Kickstarter in 2015 in conjunction with Sixtystone Press, and finally appeared in 2017. 

Masks was also recently updated to Call of Cthulhu 7th edition, and vastly expanded in response in part to the Masks Companion's critiques and additions:  the new version is at least 869 pages (with the main adventure book being 666 pages in length!).  An analysis of the expanded content in the new edition was shared by Mike Mason of Chaosium on the YSDC forums.  The new edition is available in PDF from Chaosium, and the print edition will ship in mid-November 2018.  The new edition looks gorgeous:

Masks of Nyarlathotep 7th edition
Masks of Nyarlathotep 7th edition (2018)

I've still not checked out CoC 7e, and doubt that I will pick up the main rules set, but I will definitely get Masks 7e once it's available.

Why I Love Masks of Nyarlathotep

It's #1!  Masks is the best adventure written for any RPG, ever.  I like it better than the Giants-Drow modules for AD&D, better than the Enemy Within for Warhammer FRPG, better than MERP's Court of Ardor, annd better than Paranoia's Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues.  And I do love all of those too; I just love Masks more!

Why you ask?  Well, Masks offers the best of what defines excellence in a role-playing game adventure to me: 
  • Inspires me to dig into the materials, to research and to create more adventure based upon its already-robust framework, in order to make the game shine at the table
  • Epic in scope, in tone/mood, and in execution:  Masks is what I want every game to feel like at the table, no matter what game I'm playing
  • Player choices matter in its sandbox environment, and the players' successes and failures drive the entire scenario---with the fate of the world in the balance!
  • Offers a defining and common play-experience that unites generations of gamers

Three Runners Up

I'm limiting myself to three, otherwise I'll just end up recreating my favorites list with each entry.

This one was hard, since many of my most-favorite adventures don't feature monster names in the titles, so:
  • Dark Druids (Chaotic Henchmen, 2015):   Rob Kuntz's original Greyhawk campaign scenario set in the Gnarley Forest, with wilderness and dungeon environs
  •  "Treasure of the Dragon Queen" by Rutgers University Gamers:  an AD&D convention tourney I played c. 1983
  • Walker in the Wastes (Pagan Publishing, 1994):  Pagan's Ithaqua campagin for Call of Cthulhu

My other posts in Kellri's 18 Day Module Challenge:

  1. Day 1: Empire of the Ghouls by Wolfgang Baur
  2. Day 0: These are a Few of My Favorite Things...

29 September 2018

Kellri's 18 Module Challenge - Day 1: Empire of the Ghouls by Wolfgang Baur

Scot "Kellri" Hoover posted his 18 Day Module Challenge today, and I think this is just the kick-in-the-pants that I need to get this wayward blog back on track!  So, for those who are link averse, here's Scot's concept summary:
"Despite my [Kellri's] own focus on classic and/or old-school AD&D modules - you should feel free to choose anything you like, even something for another edition of the game or one you've written.  Ideally we should all discover something new that we might like to include in our own gaming."

Now, I have written about my favorite RPG game system and adventures back in May (this topics arises often enough on old school message boards, in one form or another, that I started saving my responses in a file back in December of 2005), and I'm leveraging many of my favorites from that listing, but several of Scot's criteria for the challenge will push me outside the bounds of my previously-defined lists, too.  And the scope of each day's challenge will also give me an opportunity to talk about the cools things in each module that I love, as well as to mention some favorite runners-up. 

So, without further ado, here's my tossing of the gauntlet to accept Scot's challenge!:

Day 1 - A Module from a Series:  _Empire of the Ghouls_ by Wolfgang Baur

Empire of the Ghouls by Wolfgang Baur (Open Design, 2007)
Empire of the Ghouls by Wolfgang Baur (Open Design, 2007)

Empire of the Ghouls by Wolfgang Baur (Open Design, 2007; RPGgeek entry) is both a sequel and a prequel, of sorts, nominally set in the World of Greyhawk.  Empire of the Ghouls is a 3.5-era sequel to and expansion upon Baur's late 2e-era "Kingdom of the Ghouls" adventure from Dungeon Magazine #70 (September 1998); both are also prequels to the reappearance of true ghouls in the "Age of Worms" Paizo-era Greyhawk adventure path, in Baur's "A Gathering of Winds" (Dungeon #129, December 2005), which is itself a site-based sequel to Erik Mona's excellent "Whispering Cairn" adventure which kicked off the Age of Worms in Dungeon 124 (July 2005).

Woflgang was running his patron-funded Open Design projects years before Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or Patreon were a twinkle in some VC's eye; Open Design eventually morphed into Baur's Kobold Press, still going strong today.  Empire of the Ghouls was Baur's third Open Design project, and I think it's still the biggest project he's written (I need to confirm that).  Baur distributed Empire of the Ghouls in PDF format, and patrons of the project could also purchase at-cost paperback or hardcover editions of the book from Lulu.   

The book itself is 160 pages, and, like D1-3's drowic underworld, presents a long-term campaign environment spanning the drowic underworld and a subterranean wilderness.  When Denis "Maldin"Tetreault began working up his Greyhawk Underdark maps, I worked with him to insure that Baur's pieces were included as part of the larger regional maps he built.  Empire of the Ghouls details The Ghoul Imperium---the true ghouls' cults, religions, and magics; Darakhan, the White City of the Ghouls---their capital; 31 varied underdark locations of interest; and 18 new or new-to-3.x monsters.  

Ghoulish Underdark Environs Map
Ghoulish Underdark Environs Map

Why I Like Empire of the Ghouls

The adventure campaign's sub-title helps to set this module apart from the beginning:  "A Cannibal Adventure-Campaign for 9th-12th Level Characters."  That really sets the tone for its content and background, encounters and adversaries, a tone of horror and consumption that's not readily evident in most D&D adventures.  

I also like the interconnections between the various texts that Empire of the Ghouls builds upon, draws from, and alludes to.   Baur does an excellent job of placing the ghouls within the greater D&D underworld, and gives them sufficient space to breathe and to define their own cultural identity, while still firmly situating them inside the scope of D&D's mythologies and legendry.  

Empire of the Ghouls, like many of the Gygax and Kuntz classic TSR adventures, also provides many hooks and opportunities for the DM to make the adventure his or her own---by offering allusive hooks for the DM to create, as well as places for easy and obvious expansion to build out further from the provided design.  A must for any of well-designed adventure.

In addition to its ties to the World of Greyhawk, Empire of the Ghouls also reaches back to H. P. Lovecraft's ghouls---Pickman from "Pickman's Model" and "The Silver Key", and the ghouls of the Dreamlands, too.  These offer a more-refined evil to the standard ghouls and ghasts of the 1977 Monster Manual.  

Three Runners Up

I'm limiting myself to three, otherwise I'll just end up recreating my favorites list with each entry:
  • Dave Cook's A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity (TSR, 1980):  the first module I bought on my own, and the launching point for the Slavers series
  • Gary Gygax's D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth (TSR, 1978):  a favorite of mine, probably my third favorite in the giants-drow series of adventures
  • Rob Kuntz's MOZ4 Eight Kings (Creations Unlimited, 1988; Different Worlds, 2004):  the finale to Kuntz's Xaene/Zayene modules, and the best archmage's extra-planar wizardly laboratory ever published to date


24 September 2018

Monsters Not in DMG Appendix C - Dungeon Random Monster Tables by Monster Level

While working on keying the recently-redesigned and -expanded dungeon level 2 of my version of Castle Greyhawk, I discovered that many monsters from the 1977 Monster Manual were not, in fact, represented in the Dungeon Masters Guide's Appendix C's Dungeon Random Monster Tables, which list dungeon monster encounters by Monster Level:

DMG Appendix C - Dungeon Random Monster Tables - Monster Level
DMG Appendix C - Dungeon Random Monster Tables - Monster Level

Since I use the DMG Appendix C tables to help populate run-of-the-mill dungeon encounters, using only the Appendix C tables would preclude certain monsters/types of monsters from showing up all, without some tinkering.

The analysis of these tables (as well as those that appear in the Fiend Folio and the Monster Manual II) reveals that the following noteworthy---to my eye, anyway---MM monsters are missing from the standard dungeon encounter tables by monster level:

The above is not an all-inclusive list, and this is not to imply that these monsters don't appear in Appendix C at all, merely that they're not present in the Level I to Level X tables listed by monster level for use as random dungeon encounters.  (Also noteworthy:  both the nycadaemon and mezzodaemon from D3 Vault of the Drow appear in the tables, too, although drow do not, nor do other new creatures introduced with TSR's new modules). 

In fact, several classes of monsters were largely absent from the dungeon-specific encounter tables, some of which were quite surprising (and some of which made some sense, of course).  Taken as a whole, the following types of monsters do not appear in the Appendix C tables by Monster Level (again, for random determination of dungeon encounters):
  • animals (normal and giant)
  • aquatics
  • avians
  • faeries
  • pre-historic beasts
  • wilderness-only creatures (including those from extreme environs)

The lack of axe beaks, tyrannosaurus rex, giant eagles, ixitxachitl, leprechauns, mastodons, tigers, treants, unicorns, whales, and yeti makes sense in many cases---after all, how often are you DMing a mega-dungeon beneath a Castle in the Unseelie Court, set in Pellucidar, or in the frozen north?---so excluding them from standard dungeon environments makes perfect sense at the baseline level.

Several of the missing classic monsters were later added to the updated tables published in the Fiend Folio and MM2, including the anhkheg, bulette, lizard man, and giant scorpion, which helps to insure that such fan-favorite monsters are more-easily encountered in our mega-dungeons. 

I do wonder why some these monsters are absent from the tables, and speculate somewhat on possible causes as follows:
  • A simple editorial oversight?  This seems less likely to me since the MM was published at least a year in advance of the DMG, and would have been readily available as reference.
  • Some of the more-recently created monsters may have been excluded from the first drafts of the DMG tables, or perhaps not have been top-of-mind for the DMG team---the water weird, for example, is mentioned in the Preface of the MM as the creation of Ernie Gygax (and was first published in the 1976 tourney Lost Caverns of Tsojconth), and Erol Otus' remorhaz and anhkheg (from The Dragon #2 in August 1976 and #5 in March 1977, respectively); other relatively-recently created creatures like the beholder and the demons and devils from Eldritch Wizardry (April 1976) do appear in the tables, so perhaps this does fall back on editorial oversight?
  • Perhaps most early mega-dungeon designs didn't include the aquatic, avian, etc. classes of creatures as part of their standard dungeon encounters' repertoire?  This also seems unlikely, because Rob Kuntz and Gary Gygax have both discussed the need for larger rooms for large, flying creatures in the deeper levels of Castle Greyhawk, so perhaps the world will  never know....
Of course all of these monsters are easily added to a dungeon key through DM fiat, or through a more-systematic revision to the Appendix C encounter tables, but at least now know you that some creatures are missing in the first place, and you can remember accordingly to include them when designing your dungeon encounters.

Happy gaming!