Greyhawk Modules – Mr. Haarlaa Has His Say

Sampo Haarlaa, fellow Living Greyhawk module writer and a former Triad-member of the Principality of Naerie, mailed me some commentary of his own on the modules I put up last week. Since he asked me to post it here and I’m all for other people writing me content, here it is.

TSS5-04 The Sun and the Nightingale, by Nick Silverstone & Sampo Haarlaa

This was mainly Nick’s baby. He had an idea for an investigative module but we could not really place it in Naerie and the town of Poelitz for few reasons. Trennenport was chosen because it had been detailed previously by Creighton Broadhurst and offered us a good locale. The movie Third Man served as a bit of an inspiration.

Anyway… this became quite a magnum opus, mainly with statblocks and details of locations. It also requires quite a lot from both DM and players. It could perhaps do with some cutting down and tightening up but as locale presentation, it works pretty well in my opinion and many people definitely liked it.

ESA6-05 A Point of View, by Sampo Haarlaa

A Point of View was first the proper “Naerie metaregional” in the sense that it used local NPCs and so forth (there had been few earlier ones but Naerie had been mostly glossed over in details). It was also born out of an argument on forums with certain people over D&D being all about alignments and how there can be no middle ground, “evil” in alignment means you are always wrong, etc.

Basically, I wanted to make an adventure to take the piss out of such people. For this the whole borderland fortification with slave/prison labor, Hextorites and other such things offered a good setting. The original plan was to make both sides of the story totally despicable but in the end Ahlissan side comes out looking more clean here (writing constraits were also the limit, would have essentially required 10 more pages for other plotline). The villain also has a bit of a tragic side to his character, having gone mad in the Calling Mines (PCs who played ESA3-08 Prisoners of the Calling Mines can relate [a module known for starting the characters without equipment and having an allip as the final boss. – Editor]) and which also foreshadowed later adventures occurring there.

I was quite satisfied with the end result and ties very much with NAE6-05 Sharafon as my pick for “best adventure”. Also, a song by Apulanta, “Pahempi toistaan” (Eng: Each One Worse Than the Other) served as an inspiration when writing this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=754e3-5OZn8

ESA7-05 And All the Prince’s Men, by Sampo Haarlaa

I still don’t know why this was turned into metaregional module as it really offers nothing for surrounding regions. Nonetheless, Pieter Sleijpen, our Circle rep, kindly asked if it could be one and I said “Okay, but it really is a regional module”.

Anyway, it was supposed to be foreshadowing for the reversal of the Flight of Fiends, which was to occur at the end of the campaign, and also shake the command structure in Naerie City a bit. I had some trouble starting the adventure but Sir Ridley Scott came to rescue as I watched the director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven for the umpteenth time. In other words, a good public hanging is where it is. The Nasranite Watch introduction has even been copied from same scene where Tiberias (Jeremy Irons) and Raynald of Châtillon (Brendan Gleeson) argue over the men about to be hanged. Here it is, of course, the long-suffering Sertern Embric* (our local Michael Garibaldi/Zack Allan) having words with Commander Wanworth.

Originally, I was not supposed to even write this adventure, having written the barebones structure for another author. However, it soon came clear that the author was frankly clueless, refused to take into account previous adventures or set facts (for example, in that version Nasranite Watch wore leather armor and carried spears like some ancient tribesmen). After NAE4-03 The Apprentice, the policy was to keep it simple and use vanilla Monster Manual stuff if it could suffice. Not here, as much of the original author’s plot relied on a near epic-level druid to pull it off and had stuff like, I kid you not, an advanced legendary dire snake of legend with a page and a half of statblock. So in the end I informed the author that “Sorry, but since you cannot make the changes required, I will write this myself”.

I still retain the original version as example “how not to write an adventure”.

* Who turned into an often seen recurring NPC despite his somewhat humble beginnings in the intro module NAE5-I01 In the Docks, where his main task was to stop the PCs from derailing the plot completely.

ESA8-02 Old Debts, by Sampo Haarlaa

This is not one my favourites. Originally there was supposed to be an epic three-part series for finale of the metaregion, ending eventually in Irongate. Alas, timetables, authors withdrawing and other factors prevented the two others seeing the light of day, so only the first part made it in.

As this became clear, my enthusiams to write also waned quite a bit. Nonetheless, eventually I managed to turn in a completed module. Originally, it was supposed to be very straightforward adventure but I could not resist adding the prison escape sequence to it. In the end, I think it worked well enough as adventure and the prison thing gave PC’s something else to do than just teleport out of the town when shit hits the fan.

NAE4-03 Apprentice, by Sampo Haarlaa

Urgh… what can I say here other than apologise..?

It was my first regional effort, I had more enthusiasm than skill and considered the editing process to be something that happened to other people. Also, I had fallen in love with templates and insisted on using them (you cannot imagine how many times I cocked up those stat blocks).

Anyway, I got the basic plot premise from then Triad, proceeded to write and it sort of became unnecessarily bloated and epic in its scale in regards to adventure and so on. Well, at least a few useful NPCs and locales were created so not a total loss. [indeed, I believe this is the first appearance of Damar Rocharion, who is awesome – Editor]

NAE5-01 When Nightingales Sing…, by Sampo Haarlaa

After NAE4-03 The Apprentice, I wanted to do something simpler, having been humbled by the experience. The result was NAE5-02 Return to Gefjon, but due to various happenings (people stepping down, editors/sanctioners going on holidays) and such, NAE5-01 was published first.

I sort of wanted to look for a non-standard mystery/investigation with some odd angles, having been inspired by a story in old Finnish roleplaying magazine. In fact, much of the plot has been copied there but who cares. In the end it seemed to work out, as I playtested it and then playtested some more to avoid the catastrophe that was NAE4-03 The Apprentice. Hence, the credits section is pretty substantial.

I always liked Ekehold as place and it’s a pity that this is the only adventure where it really features.

NAE5-02 Return to Gefjon, by Sampo Haarlaa

I always liked the premise of NAE3-I01 The Stone Strider but the actual module left me with a vague feeling of “meh”. Why bother with this great setting if the only things you face are some giant rats? So, I decided to write the adventure as I envisioned it, taking into account the earlier adventure’s results.

I liked the end product, was certainly tightly written without any padding. It’s simple, it works, it’s good. At least in my opinion. Also, the statue in AR was a special bonus. 🙂

NAE5-03 Heart of the Wood, by Nick Silverstone & Sampo Haarlaa

This adventure is purely written by Nick. He used to have a small company that published D20 adventures under the OGL. He had abandoned the adventure and offered it to be used as Naerie regional. So the job was promptly done, some local colour added and we had new adventure. My job was to just add the local colour and do the bookkeeping required for an LG adventure.

NAE6-03 Legacy of the Serpent, by Sampo Haarlaa

The Serpent Guard plotline was supposed to be secondary plotline for Naerie and eventually culminate in a two-parter in the town of Gornor’s Cove, which ultimately never happened as the campaign ended. I wrote this to foreshadow possible future events but in most terms it’s a stand-alone adventure, which much inspiration being taken from a certain Bandit Kingdoms regional.

On hindsight, the plotline was largely unthinked and we could have done without it if we had other options, but since the first part got written, there was not much else to do than bite the bullet and go for it.

NAE6-05 Sharafon, by David Howard & Sampo Haarlaa

I don’t remember whose idea it was to feature the prison camp as an adventure location, whether it was me or David Howard. Jukka’s comments are sufficient as far as introductions go so perhaps I shall reveal some history behind this adventure. It was extremely hard to get it out in its current format. For starters, as the adventure progressed, there were certain creative difficulties between me and David, which resulted in me writing the bulk of the adventure as the original was nearly as “grey” as it turned out. However, in the end we sorted out our differences and David liked the adventure too (he was supposed to write another module but that never happened).

Then came the sanctioning process where I was repeatedly told that the ending could not happen, no way it would never be released, and so on. However, in the end the text went through like it was written, with AR entries giving both sides some goodies even if they lost.

Fine module, was worth the struggle to get it out. This was also run in GenCon UK Open Fiesta and got pretty high-praise from people if I remember correctly.

NAE7-05 Trail of the Serpent, by Sampo Haarlaa

It’s a mess, really. I felt need to visit Radoc at some point so as local description it works, but at this stage I was running out of ideas for investigative modules and in the end the module is largely a result of whoring from several different sources. At some point it also came clear that the Serpent Guard plotline would probably never be ended but nevertheless, the adventure was written. Like it’s predecessor, I think it’s okay but does not bring much to the table except the local colour, which itself is pretty good.

Radoc would definetely work as place for mini-campaign. Feel free to give it a shot.

Free RPG Day 2010 Offerings – Deathwatch! Pathfinder! Dark Sun! Sort of!

The Free RPG Day happened, once again. For the first time ever it wasn’t during the Finnish Midsummer celebrations, but our local game store chains still failed to participate, probably because of a lack of game space and because they make their money off manga and Warhammer, not roleplaying games.

However, the Internet comes to the rescue, and now, a couple of days after the event, there’s a wealth of free adventure modules online.

First off, from Fantasy Flight Games, we get the one item I’ve been waiting for the most – Final Sanction, the preview scenario for Deathwatch. They’ve also put up two additional characters and a FAQ link on their product support page. It’s the biggest of the WH40K RPG preview adventures, at 40 pages, and looks very promising. It also includes rules for hordes and demeanours. The available characters are a Dark Angel Assault Marine, a Blood Angel Devastator, a Space Wolf Tactical Marine, and an Ultramarine Apothecary. The additional characters are Ultramarine and Storm Warden Tactical Marines.

Paizo Publishing, in turn, gives us the adventure Master of the Fallen Fortress, which is your average, run-of-the-mill dungeon crawl, nothing in particular. More noteworthy than the module itself are the characters, which are a preview for the upcoming Advanced Player’s Guide – an alchemist, a cavalier, an oracle, a summoner, an inquisitor and a witch. It’s also Pathfinder Society -compliant and comes with a Scenario Chronicle sheet. It only gives the first-level stats for the characters, but if one is interested in levelling them up, there’s always the final playtest PDF before the book itself comes out for GenCon. As a side note, now that I’m browsing, it seems that the GameMastery Guide is finally out and the PDF is $10, for 320 pages.

From Alderac Entertainment Group, we get another preview module for an upcoming game, the fourth edition of Legend of the Five Rings. Legacy of Disaster is available from their RPG downloads page. The actual adventure seems to take up just eight pages of the 32-page PDF, the rest being quickstart rules and pregenerated characters. Personally, I’m looking forward to this. Though I never got to play it, I have a soft spot for L5R. I usually hate, hate, hate the katana-fetishism that occasionally pops up here and there, but L5R is fantasy and Rokugan is such an unabashedly Hollywood take on feudal Japan that I can forgive pretty much everything. Except the metaplot-centrism. And they seem to be finally getting away from that. Good job.

White Wolf, in turn, is still sorta apparently in the RPG business, and we get the adventure Under the Rose for Exalted. It’s set in the possible future of the Creation, where the Scarlet Empress has reclaimed the throne, and interestingly, the module suggests that it’s played with its own pregens as a plot point inside an ongoing campaign, such as… The Return of the Scarlet Empress. If it ever comes out.

Finally, there’s Wizards of the Coast, whose Free RPG Day offering was a Dark Sun module of some description. Instead of the module, the online crowd gets to settle for the pregen characters. At the time of writing, the file is corrupted and cannot be opened. The damn file can only be opened with WinZip.

There are other participating companies that haven’t yet uploaded their offerings or don’t intend to do so – and for the dice manufacturers, at least, that’s pretty understandable. I refer you to the event’s Facebook page, where they seem to be posting download links as stuff becomes available.

Personally, I think this event is awesome, even if our local stores don’t participate. We get free swag, the companies get advertising, the stores get customers coming in and maybe buying something else. The people who came up with the Free RPG Day and managed to sell it to even the big companies are likewise awesome. That is all.

Greyhawk Modules Online – Naerie Endures

Well, some of you may remember my involvement with the Living Greyhawk campaign of yore. I was active in our local region, the Principality of Naerie. Small stuff – wrote a module, collaborated with Sampo Haarlaa on another, worked on the final Gazetteer, which incidentally is available from the download link on the blog sidebar, there. Well, that campaign is over, but the modules remain, all two thousand of them.

From the Principality of Naerie side, we’ve now decided that the modules aren’t doing anyone any good if they’re gathering pixelated dust in the dark, dank recesses of someone’s hard drive. So, I present to you the fourteen adventure modules by me or Sampo Haarlaa, plus collaborations. These were originally posted to the Naerie Yahoogroup back in April, but for ease of access, I’m now presenting these here.

The collection is not complete – one notable thing that’s missing is COR7-18 Into the Mist, Sampo’s Core module. The collection also lacks a handful of introductory modules he wrote for Onnwal and the Bone March around 2002-2003, though he assures me that these are not a great loss. Apparently he has lost the original texts, and even I have not been able to scare them up from the depths of the web. We do have a special bonus module, though, the unreleased Lordship of the Isles module The Luminous Cloud that the Spanish Triad was supposed to translate and release over there as a regional. There’s also Bordermarch, which debuted at Ropecon last year, well after the campaign was over.

Generally, Living Greyhawk modules were password-protected. These are not. If you also want the Adventure Record files, e-mail me and I’ll zip them up for you. The Luminous Cloud and Bordermarch don’t have ARs. Also, a word on the module codes… For instance, ISL6-01 The Luminous Cloud. ISL is the three-letter region code. In this case, it’s Lordship of the Isles, which was Spain’s region. The number after that is the number of the year. Year Six was 2006, which would’ve made the module available for play until the end of 2007. The final number is its release number. Every region could release eight regional modules annually, plus four introductory modules and any amount of mini-missions and convention interactives. These limits were in place mostly for balance reasons, I understand. The APL thing stands for Average Party Level – modules were written so they worked on many levels of play.

I would’ve liked to do this with a single zip file, but WordPress doesn’t allow me to upload one, so we’ll have to do this the hard way, with separate download links. Many of these modules get rather involved with the lore of the setting, and it may not be a bad idea to download the aforementioned gazetteer for a reader’s companion. But, without further ado… fourteen great modules that kept us entertained and coming back for more for four years.

Splintered Suns and Scarlet Signs – Metaregional Modules

These metaregional modules were playable all over Europe, during the campaign. The module code fluctuated from ESA to TSS and back again, dependent on the phase of the moon on the first Tuesday of the month, or something. I never understood the logic there, but it sure fucked up all alphabetisation schemes.

The Splintered Suns metaregion was comprised of the Principalities of Adri and Naerie, the Free Kingdom of Sunndi, Onnwal, Bone March, the Lordship of the Isles, the Sea Barons and Dullstrand, and some lands between. Especially southern Ahlissa saw action in the metaregionals, as did the Solnor Compact and Medegia.

TSS5-04 The Sun and the Nightingale, by Nick Silverstone & Sampo Haarlaa

The strength of Ahlissa rests in the hands of the Great Guildmaster and his formidable merchant vessels. Sometimes these ships have more than bounty of Ahlissa in them and trouble ensues. Now a merchant is dead, his secrets with him but some loose ends remain… A one-round investigative scenario for APL 4-10.

This is one of the finest investigative adventures I’ve seen for D&D. The usual pitfall of investigatives in D&D is that they try to take a normal investigative module formula and just hammer it into D&D. Unless it’s a really low-level module, this usually fails. The game comes with such a wide variety of divination spells for finding hidden items and people and having chats with murder victims that the whole Agatha Christie repertoire is just shot. Every good module must take into account the abilities of the PCs at the level of the module, and with investigative scenarios this is especially true. TSS5-04 pulls it off perfectly.

ESA6-05 A Point of View, by Sampo Haarlaa

Since 590 CY, the Ahlissans have worked to build a fortification to guard the Adder’s Pass that separates Principality of Naerie from the Kingdom of Sunndi. The work is nearing completion but acts of sabotage have hindered the progress. Perhaps you can discover what is really going on? A one round meta-regional set in Principality of Naerie for character levels 1-11 (APL 2-8). Recommended for groups of adventurers who do not have conflicting loyalties.

A Point of View takes the same tack as The Sun and the Nightingale – take a story element that the D&D ruleset tends to break too easily and develop ways to counter the unconventional tactics of PCs. In this case, the element is a small border fortress. There’s also a pretty nifty story, cameos by NPCs we learned to respect and in some cases fear (I was ready to piss my pants when the White Lady rode in, and Damar Rocharion and Walennor didn’t exactly make it better). Both The Sun and the Nightingale and A Point of View are also very intelligent modules, and will mercilessly punish players who make certain stupid assumptions. The one in TSS5-04 hopefully doesn’t apply outside the campaign, though, since it breaks an adventure formula that you don’t get outside the strict scenario writing parameters. Incidentally, the playtest draft included brothel price charts. They were cut from the final.

ESA7-05 And All the Prince’s Men…, by Sampo Haarlaa

Patriotic Knights, a group of Oeridian supremacist and rabble-rousers, and their allies have suffered blows in the past but are hardly a spent force. Now, yet more fuel is thrown into the flames that threaten to tear Naerie City apart. Riots, robbery and revelations, all within one hectic day in the city. Recommended for well-balanced parties who have had past dealings and no enmities with the Nasranite Watch. Closely connected to ESA6-05 A Point of View, NAE6-05 Sharafon and NAE7-03 Incognito and introduction to the year 8 meta-regional trilogy Trouble Within. A one-round Splintered Suns metaregional set in Principality of Naerie for Character levels 2-13 (APL 4 to 10).

This one was originally supposed to be a regional module, but was co-opted by the metaregional coordinators for a metaregional to fill a gap in the schedule. I’m not entirely sure how it worked out, since the central NPC is a signature Naerie character and the plotlines it deals with mostly originated in regional modules. Still, a good module, and I especially like the end fight at the lowest APL. This one apparently offended the playtester group, because it portrayed the commoners as bloodthirsty rabble who thought that public executions are good entertainment for the whole family. Out of all the things in Simpi’s modules you could be offended about (there’s a [deserved] personal dig at another module writer in A Point of View, and Into the Mists contained a gay couple in direct response to a certain fan’s homophobic tirade), this one was pretty unexpected. The scene was inspired by Kingdom of Heaven, incidentally.

ESA8-02 Old Debts, by Sampo Haarlaa

14 years ago the armies of Ivid destroyed most of Pontylver in an orgy of violence. Now its harbor has finally been fully restored, and its docks have produced the first ships to rebuild the Ahlissan fleet. This is cause for a celebration and all are invited. This close to the cursed grounds of mainland Pontylver a few wonder if it is a good idea, wondering whether violence will strike. A one-round metaregional with an optional encounter set in Pontylver in Ahlissa for character levels 2-15 (APL 4 to 12).

This was our metaregional finale, pretty much. It’s epic, big in scale and magnificent, and has an ending so nifty it deserves to be made into a movie. Old Debts tied into the larger plotlines at the end of the campaign, such as the reversal of the Flight of Fiends. It also ties in with some of the themes explored in And All the Prince’s Men… and some of our regionals, and, of course, the canon of the region’s history. I think this is one of Simpi’s more challenging modules, from a sheer combat point of view. Old Debts also contains a Darwinistic dumbass test that will get overconfident PCs killed or at least seriously hurt. You can probably tell by now that Naerie modules did not suffer fools lightly.

The Lordship of the Isles – Regional Modules

The Lordship of the Isles was a region given to Spain, where the Triad promptly sat on it and did nothing. Simpi even wrote up this entire module for them, had it playtested and sanctioned and sent it to them for translation and release. They did nothing. This is a great pity, since their region was one of the most interesting in the setting. It had been taken over by the Scarlet Brotherhood (think Shaolin Nazi Communists, and you’re not too far), and was still during the campaign an occupied territory. The role of the freedom fighter fell naturally to the player characters and there was great potential for all sorts of Secret Army shenanigans, sabotage missions and the promise of eventual liberation by Ahlissans or Sunndi forces. Alas, it was not to be, and the only thing we have is this.

ISL6-01 The Luminous Cloud, by Sampo Haarlaa

A ship beaches near Sulward and a local pickpocket brings the news into town. Several groups want to investigate it but who will get there first? One-round regional module for APL2-6.

Not a spectacularly awesome module, which is why it was never rewritten for Naerie or even offered up as a metaregional module after it became clear that Spain was a dead zone. Still, it’s a solid piece of work, and probably fits most campaigns with more ease than the rest of these. In the playtest copy, several NPCs were still named after players in our local circle. I like the opening scene, set in a tavern inside the hollow shell of a dragon turtle. It sets a nifty ambiance, tells that we ain’t in Kansas anymore. An important thing about the regional system was having an individual feeling and tone for every region, and this one starts by setting itself apart from Naerie, or the City of Greyhawk, or Onnwal, or Sunndi.

The Principality of Naerie – Regional Modules

Now we come to the real meat. This isn’t everything we released – fortunately, we had many excellent authors – but it’s everything that Simpi or I had a hand in. During its five years of adventures, Naerie saw political turmoil, a couple of assassinations, Living Greyhawk’s only Circle-sanctioned orgy (not included here), and every shade of grey. Simpi, who practically ran the show in the triad, didn’t really go for the good vs. evil thematic present elsewhere, and instead built political themes with no easy answers. The central conflict was between the United Kingdom of Ahlissa, which was the lawful neutral iron fist in a velvet glove that drove out the Scarlet Brotherhood and annexed the formerly-independent region, and the Idee Volunteers, who were this ragtag bunch of freedom fighters who wanted to kick out the Ahlissans and form a free Idee. It made for interesting dynamics between player characters and really fun scenarios. Another theme explored in one of our series was the Victor Hugo-esque mercy vs. vengeance theme going on with the prison camps full of Scarlet Brotherhood slave soldiers.

We occasionally got told that we’re playing wrong, that D&D isn’t meant for these kinds of things, which was always really funny.

NAE4-03 The Apprentice, by Anders Lindborg & Sampo Haarlaa

You have come to Naerie City in time for Richfest. Weather is pleasant, people are polite and there is always something new around every corner. Unfortunately, someone sent some uninvited guests and it will be up to you and the Nasranite Watch to clear up the situation. A one-round regional adventure for APLs 2-10.

Sampo Haarlaa’s first Naerie regional. He doesn’t think much of it these days and personally, I agree that it’s not that great, though it’s not really bad, either. It just… is. It does introduce Damar Rocharion, the Vic Mackey of Naerie City Watch, though, and I like the carnival competitions in the beginning. One thing that’s not in the text that I always did when running this was that if the PCs manage to kill the wizard’s familiar at the end before entering the mansion, the XP hit is enough to take him down a level, depriving him of some spells.

NAE5-01 When Nightingales Sing, by Sampo Haarlaa

Baron Berik Oedil is re-marrying and the Barony of Ingmalt is preparing for the festivities. However, it seems someone does not like the idea and suddenly you find yourself drawn into a web of intrigue. A one-round adventure for an APL 2-8 party who are skilled in both diplomacy and swordsmanship.

The first and best of the three Year Five modules that Sampo wrote for Naerie. When Nightingales Sing is the beginning of a couple of plot threads that snuck around in the background before resurfacing for resolution towards the end of the campaign, and introduced a couple of really cool NPCs, such as the old Baron Berik Oedil, who in a movie would be played by Clint Eastwood, and Traneth Etali, Knight of the Chase, who’d be played by Clint Eastwood c. 1965. As a module, it has a certain investigative element, and the opportunity to be a total dick for some extra bonuses. An excellent module.

NAE5-02 Return to Gefjon, by Sampo Haarlaa

Breddol the Sage once again needs someone to visit the caverns of Gefjon Isle and the sleepy village of Bandhar. It’s been two years since the last trip, but surely things haven’t changed that much? Or maybe they have… Either way, it’s time to board a ship and return to Gefjon. A one round scenario for APLs 2-8.

This one is actually a sequel to a Year Three introductory module called The Stone Strider. I think it’s technically the first Naerie module released, but we’d all like to forget it and prefer to think that NAE3-01 Daughter of Idee, by Steven Zwanger, was the first. Aaaanyway… Return to Gefjon is a bit of a sandbox, and there are several directions the PCs can go and many solutions to the problems – some of them quite unexpected. I’ve never actually run Return to Gefjon, but were I to do so, I’d probably play up the isolation of Bandhar and present them as a bunch of rural hicks with a hint of Lovecraft – especially since both sahuagin and kuo-toa swim these troubled waters…

NAE5-03 Heart of the Wood, by Nick Silverstone & Sampo Haarlaa

Sapling Wood is haunted by a curse that terrifies the folk of Falenthorpe. All attempts to lift the curse have failed and people are being taken by the spirits in the wood. Can the heroes find the woods’ secret or will they perish like so many others before them? A one round scenario for APLs 2-8.

The third of the Year Five Naerie regionals. Heart of the Wood holds a special place in my heart because it introduces the village of Falenthorpe, which later lent its name to the Naerie message boards. This was because it’s possible in the adventure to gain the ownership of a house in Falenthorpe. As more and more PCs played the module and acquired the house – which was not difficult – it became an in-joke that Falenthorpe was the tax paradise where rich adventurers build their houses. In the grocery store, an egg would cost ten gold and the storekeeper would be the only original inhabitant left (the tavern owner would, of course, be a retired adventurer). In the evenings, Ahlissan loyalists and Idee sympathisers would lob trash over each other’s garden fences. There was even a whole introductory module we thought up about this setup, but never wrote. Anyway, this is a pretty nifty module, where the forest environment comes through nicely and really matters. I also like the end fight.

NAE6-03 Legacy of the Serpent, by Sampo Haarlaa

A trip to Gornor’s Cove lets you see some old and new acquaintances. But is there something darker going on in the town than everyone knows? A one-round Principality of Naerie scenario for characters of level 1-11 (APL 2-8). This module is a follow-up to NAE6-02 First Bite and it is recommended that you have played that module first.

I’ve always visualised this module as the Naerie plotlines standing still for a moment for a breather, to take stock of the situation. In the bigger picture, it ties together some plotlines and sets the stage for some others, but there is no big plot payoff. However, it works as a module and has no obvious flaws. There was some potential for an interesting recurring villain, but the campaign consequences swung so that she got killed. Well, not a great loss, we have enough bad guys to last years. Not a bad module.

NAE6-05 Sharafon, by David Howard & Sampo Haarlaa

You rarely notice them. Sometimes you see them in the streets or on the docks. Many remain in labor camp servitude. Others have made the Menowood their new home. Hepmonaland warriors rampaged through Naerie in the service of the Scarlet Brotherhood, but now they are slowly becoming part of the population. Will they always remain on the fringes of society? You will help decide. A Naerie regional adventure for character levels 1-11 (APL 2-8). This module will have important effects on future plotlines. Parties that share an ideological point of view are recommended for this module.

This is one of Naerie’s absolute best modules and sets the stage for the prison camp plotline, with its subtle political commentary, realpolitik and moral greyness. As an interesting point of note, in every table I’ve seen play Sharafon except for one, the final battle had the party split along ideological lines and beat each other black and blue. I played this series with a character who himself once fought for the Scarlet Brotherhood, which brought interesting depth to the proceedings. We also meet Traneth Etali again, in a most unexpected place – especially since most of us had thought he’d died.

NAE7-04 Unyielding, by Jukka Särkijärvi

In the days of yore, the keeps of the Eddri Line defended the County of Idee from the forces of the Great Kingdom. In their duty they were unsuccessful, for the attack came from a different quarter, yet some never admitted defeat. Now the forts lie empty and forlorn in the hills – right up until some stalwart fools with a deathwish come traipsing through their halls. A one-round regional adventure set in the Principality of Naerie for character levels 1-12 (APL 2-10).

My first Naerie module and the only one I wrote alone. (If you want to get techical, there actually is a Sunndi mini-mission that I adapted for Naerie, but I don’t count that.) I’m pretty happy with Unyielding, all things considered. It’s not as good as the rest of the Naerie regionals, but the players have been happy, and I think it can hold its own. If there’s something I’m unhappy with, it’s that the damn thing ended up too short. I’ve never seen it run the full four hours a LG module technically should. The basic concept of the module is that of a dungeon crawl that you can complete without a single fight and that actually rewards noncombat solutions. I haven’t seen anyone accomplish it, but it is theoretically possible.

NAE7-05 Trail of the Serpent, by Sampo Haarlaa

While the Serpent Guard has been destroyed, authorities in Felten & Gornor’s Cove still require assistance in discovering their past. The trail of the serpent began in village of Radoc, on the outskirts of Hollow Highland and it is here where the secrets will be revealed. A sequel to NAE6-01 First Bite and NAE6-03 Legacy of the Serpent. A one-round regional set in Principality of Naerie for Character levels 1-13 (APL 2 to 10).

The sequel to Legacy of the Serpent works a lot better. It’s a difficult module and especially the end fight is a tactical challenge. If I recall correctly, we never bagged the villain, either. What I really love about this one is the Deadwood-esque milieu of Radoc. It’s a crapsack town, ruled by an incompetent lackwit and policed by the Keystone Kops. However, there’s a promise of a turn for the better, if things aren’t totally screwed up during this module. Amusingly, the Radoc in the final gazetteer houses at least three high-level former player characters. One of them, Eremis the High Priest of Kelanen, ended the campaign with two different powerful evil outsiders having dibs on his soul. We had plans for an adventure where Eremis would die of the myriad curses he managed to accumulate during his career, and the PCs would be left cleaning up the mess when a balor and a pit fiend would start duking it out in the middle of Radoc.

NAE8-04 Bright Sun, Black Lion, by Sampo Haarlaa & Jukka Särkijärvi

It is a festive time in Naerie City, as Keoland and Ahlissa prepare to sign the historic Azure Sea Treaty for mutual cooperation against the Scarlet Brotherhood and the great cathedral of Wee Jas is reconsecrated after a decade of disuse. However, nothing ever goes smoothly in Naerie and even less so when the members of the Scarlet Sign are concerned. Can the heroes of the Principality present a unified front against their age-old enemy, or will all come to ruin? A one-round regional set in Principality of Naerie for Character levels 4-14 (APL 6 to 12) and the final adventure for Principality of Naerie. Warning: This adventure features untiered encounters.

And here we have the Naerie finale, the big bang that ended the plotlines of the Principality of Naerie. We wrote in references to every previous Naerie module, and get loads of returning NPCs, including every assassin that ever got away in a Naerie module. The adventure was partly inspired by the movie Smokin’ Aces. It’s got challenge, it’s got scale, it’s got ways for stupid players to get themselves killed, it’s got former player characters, it’s got something for everyone. I love it to bits. That “untiered encounters” thing, incidentally, means that there are encounters that are the same for all APLs, which should be a warning for the players that there are some things you should not even try to fight.

NAE9-01 Bordermarch, by Sampo Haarlaa

With the outbreak of hostilies in northern Ahlissa, Prince Barzhaan is keen to secure the borders of Naerie and the best opportunity comes after negotiations with the Kingdom of the Iron Hills. Now someone just has to go out mark where the border goes… A one-round outdoor adventure set in Principality of Naerie for character levels 1-4 (APL2).

And here’s the new beginning, a new Naerie for new characters. Elements of Bordermarch are inspired by the movies Raja 1918 and Sauna. I haven’t seen it in action myself, but I think it looks like it works, and player reports have been mostly positive. There’s something wonky with the PDF and the DOC file I converted it from, and I can’t find a way to remove the yellow highlighting. It annoys the hell out of me and if someone can tell me how to remove it, I’d be much obliged.

The Principality of Naerie – Introductory Adventures

One more module. The introductory modules were modules designed only for first-level characters. Stuff that was easy for the beginners, without difficult fights relying on equipment that a starting character would not have, and so forth. Because of the way experience points gains worked out, you could only play three intro modules with a single character before he hit second level, which sometimes resulted in more active players having several second-level characters with three intro modules each. Intro modules were not retired like normal modules were, but a region could only have four of them active at a time.

One of the more outrageous ideas we had for an intro module would’be been a scenario that was actually set during the days of the Scarlet Brotherhood occupation, and which would’ve featured a bunch of events that were later referred to in other modules, like the Burning of Poelitz. After that, the characters would’ve tacked on 14 years to their age and gone on to adventure in the present-day Naerie. It would have been awesome. Instead of that, I have to give you this. A bit disappointing.

NAEI6-01 The Temple Below, by Sampo Haarlaa

An easy job takes you to Eragern where an old grizzled soldier tells you about things he saw in the war. Will you follow the way he points you? An introductory adventure for 1st-level characters only.

It’s a dungeon crawl. You go to a dungeon and crawl a bit. As far as I can tell, The Temple Below was written in an afternoon so we’d have a fifth introductory scenario and The Stone Strider could be retired. It’s not exactly bad, but it’s not exactly good, either. Lacks ambition.

Disclaimer

The above modules are the property of their respective authors, except for the World of Greyhawk elements that are the property of Wizards of the Coast and the Dungeons & Dragons 3.0 and 3.5 rulesets and their accessories. No challenge to these copyrights is intended.

RPG Blog Carnival: What Inspires My Game

This month’s RPG Blog Carnival is hosted over at Campaign Mastery, and the topic is “What non-game media have most influenced your games and how?”

Well, loads of things, obviously. I read a lot, I watch a lot of TV, and I watch a lot of movies, and I often find myself thinking “how can I do this in a game?” I pick up loads of things, some little, some big, and I’m probably not even aware of most of them. However, there are a couple of really big ones that stand out to me.

Babylon 5

The five-season science fiction series that changed everything. I saw it in its entirety on its first run on the Finnish telly, in the mid-90’s, when I was still young and impressionable. Every episode I watched, sometimes going to absurd lengths. There was one fourth-season episode that I watched from a black and white travel TV with an LCD screen the size of a matchbox during an overnight train journey, somewhere along the western coast of Finland. I’ve since acquired the DVD boxes, which are a far more pleasant way to experience the series, and am currently in the middle of the third season on my umpteenth rewatching.

The influence of Babylon 5 is notable in how I construct longer plotlines (well, usually). When they started shooting the first episode, they already had a rough outline of the entire series, from start to finish. It didn’t go exactly as planned, but no plan survives contact with the enemy. However, knowing the end of the story, knowing where everything is going, having a direction, is crucial to a plot-driven campaign. Babylon 5 taught me this. It doesn’t apply as directly to roleplaying games as it does to TV series, since the characters are unpredictable and if your players are worth anything, it’s impossible to be prepared for everything they’ll think up next, but I find it is easier to adjust on the fly when I know where things stand. Incidentally, this also ties with something Matthew over at SquareMans wrote way back about villain plans. One of the important things to know is what the villains are doing and what they will do if the PCs do not stop them. When you know this, it’s easier to figure out what they will do in a given situation when the PCs are introduced into the carefully laid plans and every scheme goes pear-shaped.

H.P. Lovecraft

Quite possibly one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. I’ve read most of his stuff, re-read a good portion of it, and read huge amounts of stuff directly and indirectly inspired by it. It’s practically impossible for me to run fantasy or horror without a Lovecraft influence of some sort, whether it’s obvious or not. Lovecraft is everywhere, if you know what to look for. His are the degenerate and inbred villagers in the rural regions, far from the civilisation and sanity of proper cities. His are the ancient and unknowable Elder Gods from beyond the stars that drive even the gods of men into gibbering madness. His are the fish folk that come to shore to pass on their polluted seed to willing cultists. His are the intrepid professors who pore over ancient tomes and scrolls to collate seemingly unrelated facts to reveal dark and terrifying new vistas of existence.

While Lovecraft’s stuff is rather vulnerable to parody and it’s fairly easy to take the piss out of it, his work is a gold mine of tropes that he either popularised or created, and judicious use of these story elements works well in any genre. Actual Lovecraftian horror is a bit harder to pull off, like horror tends to be, but also doable. My top stories for game inspiration are The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, At the Mountains of Madness, The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, The Shadow over Innsmouth, “The Call of Cthulhu”, “The Doom That Came to Sarnath”, “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family”, “The Rats in the Walls”, and “The Tomb”. A lovely feature of old Howard, that. Most of his stuff is either in public domain or there’s no absolute certainty over the copyright holder, so it’s free game.

Raja 1918

Too new to have been a significant longtime inspiration, but nevertheless, the Finnish movie Raja 1918 (“Border 1918”) is one I regard as exemplary work in worldbuilding. It’s about the establishment of a border between Finland and Soviet Union after Finland gained independence in 1917. Apart from being a splendid movie in other respects, the border village it’s mostly set in is ideal for a gaming setting. There’s a constant tension between the Finnish and Soviet armed forces staring at each other across the borderline and an influx of refugees and immigrants from the Soviet side of the border. There’s language politics, smuggling, Reds trying to hide from the authorities and prosecution, and the wounds of the civil war that’s barely a year in the past. The fighting was between the Whites and the Reds, but the only morality is grey. There are memorable characters, like the young, educated aristocrat captain on the Finnish side and his Soviet counterpart who’s seen it all and is trying to hide his own learning from the commissar lest he get executed as a member of the bourgeoisie. There are English spies, a German military attachĂ©, the village idiot, a sociopathic young lieutenant, and the sergeant who’s just trying to live his life and raise a family. It’s a rich, compact milieu with enough plot hooks for an entire campaign.

The film is only three years old, and the Finnish DVD release has subtitles in English. It’s very bleak in tone and some nuance may be lost if one is not familiar in general terms with the Finnish Civil War, but I absolutely recommend it. It spawned a Greyhawk module last year, and Sampo Haarlaa mailed off a DVD to one of our American regional authors as thanks for a job well done.

Review: The Pearls of Pohjola from Expeditious Retreat Press

So, turns out I’m an intelligent bear.

Also, let it be known that Expeditious Retreat Press is made of awesome.

The Pearls of Pohjola is the thirteenth adventure module in Expeditious Retreat Press’ series of one-on-one adventures. They’re modules meant to be played by the Dungeon Master and a single player. They used to come out under the D20 System Licence, and as of the twelfth module, using the Pathfinder rules. There’s also a nifty compendium of the first ten adventures converted to Pathfinder, including the infamous #6.66, The Pleasure Prison of the B’thuvian Demon Whore.

The module is written by Suzi Yee, who was the Guest of Honour at Ropecon 2009, and, indeed, the module begins with a note that it is in part a thanks to us, the organizers.

There are also a lot of less explicit references to the convention. While this is nominally a review, I cannot quite maintain objectivity, since I’m in a position to spot most of the inside jokes and references that the module is quite liberally sprinkled with. I’m pretty sure I’m one of them. Apart from the rampant inside humour which about twenty people in the world are privy to, the module has a loose Kalevala fantasy theme. So as not to bog down the body of the review, I’m covering the in-jokes and references at the end. This, by the way, is totally awesome.

Here there also be SPOILERS. If you intend to play this module in the future, stop reading now.

The Adventure

The adventure itself is pretty straightforward and even railroaded at certain points. Actually, the level of railroading occasionally reaches completely absurd levels, but the module does make an attempt at justifying this. I am not entirely certain it works, but it is an interesting idea.

There are many areas that could have been fleshed out in more depth, but I’m giving them a pass on this one as well, since there isn’t all that much room to work with. As I mentioned, the whole booklet is  just 20 pages, which actually strikes me as a bit odd page count, since they tend to come in multiples of eight – 16, 32, 64, 96 and 128 are normal page counts. Something to do with printers, as I understand. I gather this is also the reason that paperback novels sometimes have empty pages in the back. But I digress.

The Pearls of Pohjola is written for a single character, a sorcerer of levels 10-12. There is a pregenerated 11th-level elf sorcerer (fey bloodline) provided, named Ressona. There’s a short bit of advice for running it for a group of four characters of levels 6-7, mostly to do with adjusting encounter numbers. Mostly it’s about adjusting the number of enemies and in one case, replacing one with a tougher foe. It looks solid, though the module still has a plot aspect that requires a sorcerer in order to access the last third of the adventure. Depending on party composition, I would relax the requirement to needing just an arcane spellcaster or any spellcaster. Not a big deal, just something I noted.

The adventure can be divided roughly into three parts. The first part begins with the PC on the way across the icy Northland to a distant inn called the Tallinn Tavern. The module pretty much assumes that the PC has some knowledge of the pearls of Pohjola and is seeking them out.

At the tavern, they meet the couple owning the tavern and some travellers, including the bard Sysikuu, who will sing them a song about the adventure background, while playing his dulcimer (which I would change into a kantele, in keeping with the pseudo-Kalevala setting). The backstory is a suitably mythical tale about the ancient king of the northern lands, Pohjola, and his three daughters, who ended up trapped inside the pearls of Pohjola, a pearl necklace, because of the villainy of a hag follower of Louhi.

The poem is provided, and is a passable piece of work, though were I to run this, I’d of course translate it into Finnish, in trochaic tetrameter. I’m not entirely sure the metric scheme works here.

Anyway, in the night, there’s a werewolf attack, led by a werewolf chieftain who wants to pillage the inn’s booze cellar. The next day, the travellers from the Tavern and the PC go to meet a tribe of intelligent bears called the Jukkas. They’re all called Jukka. The PC petitions the Jukkas to guide him to a spellgate that would take her to the pearls of Pohjola. This is a nifty social scene that has a number of trials and ways to stack bonuses on a Diplomacy check. There is a way to proceed even if the check is botched, and interestingly, it’s possible to stack enough circumstantial bonuses to exceed the actual DC of the check and make rolling unnecessary. This is not easy, though. This scene is very well put together.

The gate takes the PC to a tropical island far from the snowy Northlands, where she has to find the pearls of Pohjola, which is inside a giant clam in the surrounding coral reef. There are also hostile iridescent corals in the reef, which will give chase. I found this a bit strange, especially since they are presented without any comment.

Once the PC has found the pearls, she has to interpret a clue from the poem and enter them. The final section of the adventure takes place inside the pearls of Pohjola, and consists of a hilariously railroaded series of tasks that the PC must accomplish before facing the BBEG. It’s like an old Sierra adventure game. There’s a specific task you must do, and before you accomplish it, there are actual invisible walls preventing you from proceeding to the next pearl. The railroading is justified and explained by the fact that this is a magical prison meant to test the mettle of the hero who would free the daughters. As I said above, I am not entirely convinced that it works, but it’s an interesting experiment.

The end fight is straightforward, though the PC gets two NPC warriors to aid her.

Overall, though it’s not perfect and I have a few minor problems with the way things are presented, I like this module and may eventually run it, if opportunity presents itself.

Inside Humour

Now, the fun part – scratch that, the awesome part – at least for the Ropecon team… I probably didn’t get every in-joke and reference, but I think I got most of them. On my first reading of the module, I was giggling maniacally.

Let’s start with the name of the module, The Pearls of Pohjola. ‘Pohjola’ is a nation in the Finnish national epoch Kalevala, but it is also the name of the Finnish RPG designer Mike Pohjola.

The first part of the module takes part in the Tallinn Tavern. Tallinn, of course, is the capital city of Estonia. However, as we remember from my convention report last year, we also took our guests of honour there. The menu of the tavern supper is pretty much exactly what we ate at Olde Hansa. I can’t place all the NPCs here, such as the innkeeper Otto, his wife Olli (also a male name, incidentally), or the eastern traveller Stefan, but the bard Sysikuu (meaning Dark Moon) is a reference to the troll rock band from the Neonhämärä (Neon Twilight) LARP campaign.

The werewolf attack is led by the werewolf Timo, which would be Timo Multamäki, LARP organiser, game designer and a member of the GoH team. His motivation to pillage the booze cellar, and a magic item he carries, Skoda’s liquor cabinet, refer to our trip to the liquor warehouse. I do not recall if either of our cars for the trip were Skodas.

The daughters of Pohjola are named as Marjatta, Katri and Outi. Marjatta is a character from Kalevala. Katri and Outi are members of the GoH team.

Then there are the Jukkas, the clan of intelligent bears. This is in reference to the fact that there were two guys named Jukka in the main organizing committee of Ropecon and a third one in the GoH team. The other two Jukkas are now chief organizers, I’m still the RPG admin. I joked that there are so many Jukkas that I had to relinquish my name and go by an online nickname because the others had seniority.

The trials of the Jukkas include the Trial of Strength, which is a wrestling match. The specific description matches what previous GoHs, Jonathan Tweet, Kenneth Hite and John Kovalic, have described as “Naked Indian Wrestling”.

One of the NPCs inside the pearls is a cheesemaker named Wizzu. Wizzu is the nickname of one of the chief organisers from last year. He’s now our technology admin.

Finally, the two warriors who accompany the PC to the end fight are Antti and Petri. Petri was a member of the GoH team and is leading it this year, while Antti is probably a reference to Antti Malin, another guest of honour from last year – the 2008 Magic: the Gathering World Champion.

In the interests of full disclosure, I paid full cover price for this module. Twice, actually, since I first bought a hardcopy from Fantasiapelit, gifted it to a member of the GM team, and then purchased the PDF. I’ve actually ordered a new hardcopy for myself.