08 October 2018

Kellri's 18 Module Challenge - Day 10: Return of the Eight by Roger E. Moore

Day 10 - A Module I Have Big Problems With:  Return of the Eight by Roger E. Moore


Front cover art for Return of the Eight by Roger E. Moore (TSR, 1998)
Return of the Eight by
Roger E. Moore (TSR, 1998)

Today's topic was another difficult one to wrestle with, since there are so many problems with so many published RPG scenarios!   However, I decided to focus on flawed scenarios that I like despite their failures, and then added three more scenarios that have worse flaws (in my mind, anyway) but can be salvaged, and three stinkers that are total garbage, too! 

What I Love and Loathe about Return of the Eight

Roger Moore's Return of the Eight launched TSR's re-focus to the World of Greyhawk campaign in 1998, and inaugurated the "Greyhawk 98" era of products, several of which were quite good.  Perhaps even more importantly, Greyhawk 98's successes led directly to Greyhawk becoming the "core setting" for D&D Third Edition, and the founding of the Living Greyhawk campaign---the most-successful program run by the RPGA.  
I also like several elements within Return of the Eight (this link goes to Adrian Newman's newer site that includes the back cover page scan too), in particular:

  • Tenser's Fortress of Unknown Depths---an inspired site that's placed into the broader context of key locations in Oerik where artifacts can be created; as Tenser's fortress, it is also a bastion for the forces of good; Moore also alluded to concepts from Gygax's TD#37 article "Greyhawk: the Shape of the World" (May 1980), WG6 Isle of the Ape, and the Gord novels in how Tenser was portrayed, which was a nice touch
  • The concept of Oerthblood, a magical substance created by Moore as a key ingredient in the manufacture of certain magic items, artifacts, and relics (it also appears in my article on artifacts co-written with Erik Mona in Dragon #294's "Artifacts of Oerth"); I keep thinking oerthblood was mentioned in Return to White Plume Mountain too, but I think that was my own association and never appeared in published canon)
  • I like that the module breathes some life into old names like Tuerny as new forces/players, rather than leveraging the same old stand-bys like Iuz, Vecna, Acererak, the Slave Lords, etc.---inventing new villains, or at least defining them based on old names, is something Greyawk needs more of!
  • But speaking of those stand-bys, I do like Rot8's use of Iggwilv as a force machinating behind the scenes, and the fact that the PCs never actively engage against her directly--that she's a shadowy force operating in the background that they may never encounter directly
  • Iggwilv's moon base is a great idea, and could be built out further; Guy Fullerton has a module that he's been playtesting based on the moon (his sequel to F1 Fane of Poisoned Prophecies), but that's the only lunar-themed adventure that I can think of off the top of my head (other than Gygax's aborted one mentioned in "Fly Me to the Moon" in Dragon #301 (November 2002)

On the downside, Rot8 (as we referred to it back on Greytalk in the day) has a number of serious flaws:

  • It is built around one of the most railroady plots I've seen outside of the RPGA
  • It is grounded firmly in the Greyhawk Wars background stories which turned Lord Robilar and Rary against the rest of their friends and allies within the Circle of Eight
  • The cover art is abysmal; the cartography is, at best, bad; and the layout is worse 
  •  Tuerny is basically a throw-away villain---boss for the moment, but gone when when module's back cover is closed; building him out (perhaps in conjunction with his infamous Iron Flask) would have been nice to see

Three Runners Up x2

This time around, I decided to six list runners-up in the format of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly!

The Good...

Like Return of the Eight, these scenarios are rife with really bad ideas, but some decent ones that can be extracted, improved upon, and/or salvaged from amidst their published wreckage.  They're basically poor scenarios that I like in spite of their flaws:
  • Ivid the Undying by Carl Sargent (unpublished in print by TSR but excerpted in Dragon Magazine in 1993-1994, and later published online for free, along with a wonderful map by Kent Matthewson):  Sargent's capstone to this 2e-era Greyhawk work was supposed to focus on the Great Kingdom, but he really bungled it through the introduction of the animus undead creations that ran rampant through its noble houses (not unlike GRRM's later novels in A Song of Ice and Fire, come to think of it...).  That said, if you ignore that aspect of Ivid (along with some others, like Philidor the Blue Wizard), there's plenty of usable content in Ivid that won't ruin your game, and some quite good ideas that I rather like, too (the Isle of Lost Souls and Causeway of Fiends, in particular). 
  • WGA4 Vecna Lives! by David "Zeb" Cook:  nearly as railroady as Return of the Eight, I still like some of the background and concepts Zeb defined for the cult of Vecna, even if the idea of turning Vecna into a god isn't something that I like at all; and while the railroady nature of the introduction isn't something I like (or find terribly credible, as a regular player of high-level characters), I do enjoy the shock value of killing off important PCs/NPCs as a way to put the players on edge!

That these four pariahs number among my most-loathed from a potential cast of hundreds should not make you think that they're rare exceptions to the norm, merely that they're not only NOT worth the effort to salvage, but they're probably only good for recycling!:

...The Bad...

  • Cloudland by Tony Fiorito (Grenadier Models, 1984):  unfortunately despite some promising features (perhaps most prominently its five dungeons levels), this module doesn't live up to the premise in its name---it's not a cloud castle, or otherwise really connected to cloud castles in any way---and the encounters throughout are completely forgettable; this was also a missed opportunity by Grenadier to create a dungeon adventure centered on new monsters from their miniatures lines, which would have been a natural crossover product (they did include some RPG scenarios/scenes in many of the inserts from their Dragon Lords and Fantasy Lords boxed sets, but that was as far as that kind of design work ever went)
  • The Doomgrinder by Steve Miller (TSR, ):  this one never grabbed me despite its use of the derro, a monster I've been fond of since its appearance in S4 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth:  I'm sure the lame execution and wasted potential of Sargent's hook from From the Ashes were contributing factors (it was a toss-up for me to list this module or Sean Reynold's Crypt of Lyzandred the Mad here, but in the end I think Lyzandred is more-salvagable than Doomgrinder...)

...and The Ugly!


  • The Ruins of Undermountain II: The Deep Levels by Donald Bingle, Jean Rabe, and Norm Ritchie (TSR, 1994):  a total crap paint-by-numbers waste-of-poster-paper mega-dungeon almost as bad as Castle Greyhawk below, and equally a let-down based on expectations going into the product; it's probably debatable about whether RoU2 is worse than WG10 Child's Play, but either way they're a waste of good ink
  • WG7 Castle Greyhawk (TSR, 1988):  TSR's disgraceful hack-job on Gary's and Rob's Castle that mislead fans who'd been waiting for its publication for years, so nothing more really needs to be said

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

  1. Day 9: Pavis and Big Rubble by Greg Stafford, Steve Perrin, Oliver Dickinson, & Diverse Hands
  2. Day 8 - Angmar, Land of the Witch King by Heike Kubasch
  3. Day 7: X2 Castle Amber by Tom Moldvay 
  4. Day 6: DMG Monastery Dungeon by Gary Gygax
  5. Day 5: S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks by Gary Gygax
  6. Day 4: "Deep Shit" by Jeff Barber
  7. Day 3: A Fabled City of Brass by Anthony Huso
  8. Day 2: Masks of Nyarlathotep by Larry DiTillio
  9. Day 1: Empire of the Ghouls by Wolfgang Baur
  10. Day 0: These are a Few of My Favorite Things...



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