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. 

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


1 comment:

  1. That is mighty kind of you Allan. Thanks so much for the shout out!


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