Greyhawk Lives! River to a Sea of Choices

A couple of days ago, I was contacted by the Living Greyhawk module author Grant Featherstone. He had stumbled upon the collection of Living Greyhawk modules by Sampo Haarlaa and myself from a couple of years back, and wished to contribute his own module to the collection, the Splintered Suns metaregional ESA6-03 – River to the Sea of Choices.

I remember playing the module. It is a fairly straightforward piece of work, but it showcases what was from my point of view one of the central tensions in the Splintered Suns plotline, the conflict between the United Kingdom of Ahlissa, which represented a strong military and rule of law, and the Iron League, who had weaker militaries but more individual freedoms. Law vs. chaos, basically. The military strength was relevant because the Scarlet Brotherhood posed a threat to everybody in the region and the kingdom of Onnwal only was liberated from Brotherhood occupation during the campaign.

ESA6-03 – River to the Sea of Choices, by Grant Featherstone

The revenue brought in by gemstones panned from the River Thelly is vital in the maintenance of the war-damaged city walls and defences of Nulbish. The Royal Guild of Merchants need guards to protect a barge full of grain and gemstones destined to be sold at Kalstrand for the Windmarch fair. The Ahlissan army after all routed many bands of outlaws and humanoid tribes during the recent campaign around Wyverntor, and these are desperate for coin and food. An adventure for APLs 2-8.

And here is Mr. Featherstone’s commentary:

This is the first and only adventure I wrote for the RPGA. It took a little over a year from the first contact I made with the local Triad when I whimsically offered to write a module to finally getting it polished enough for release. I did have an idea for a follow-up adventure but I do not think the Triad wanted to wait another year for it.

The title came about as a bit of a poke at the railroaded adventures most of the other RPGA modules were. However, once you take on the knowledge that someone else has to run it and with a group of any PC type you can think of, it actually becomes very challenging not to railroad the adventure and ironically the choices generally came down to help the Good guys or the Lawful guys. Or the other choice being to pay 25 gp to get off the boat! Apparently from the feedback I got most PC’s are tight with their gold and refused to pay for an additional roleplaying scene. The other feedback I got ranged from the encounters were easy “we backstabbed the cleric game over” to it is so dangerous its broken.  Ideally its APL 4-6 being a bit too deadly at APL 2, and too easy with the high level magic available at APL 8.

Apparently, he also received only one report where the party sided with the cleric of Hextor against the Nemoudian Hounds.

I’m pretty sure that was my table. I’m so proud.

Review: The Unofficial Living Greyhawk Bandit Kingdoms Summary

I recently got my hands on a most curious book. The Unofficial Living Greyhawk Bandit Kingdoms Summary is perhaps a unique work in that it discusses the World of Greyhawk, an intellectual property owned by Wizards of the Coast, yet it is self-published by Casey Brown (and available print-on-demand and for Kindle from Createspace and Amazon).

Brown himself has described the book as more of an academic work discussing the campaign rather than something copyright-infringing. Indeed, a certain remarkably disagreeable member of the Greyhawk fan community mailed about the book to WotC’s legal department, who issued a DMCA notice and got the book removed from Createspace. It looked for a moment that my copy, then winding its way over the Atlantic to me, might become a rare collectible indeed. It was not to be, however, and Mr. Brown was vindicated, the notice withdrawn, and the book returned to Createspace.

The book itself, then. It is 81 pages in length, with a cover illustration from a 14th-century illuminated manuscript that I’m afraid is rather pixellated. The contents are what it says on the tin, an overview of the approximately 150 rounds of adventures that the Bandit Kingdoms region produced in the eight years of Living Greyhawk.

It begins with a discussion on the tone of the region, titled “I had to save the bad guys from the other PCs,” quoting a paladin player from another region upon his first foray into the Bandit Kingdoms. The BK is rather like our own Principality of Naerie was, in their lack of clear-cut heroes and focus on moral grey areas. While Iuz was always the bad guy, the PCs might find themselves in the employ of, say, the church of Nerull, the death god. The BK player characters don’t seem to differ a lot from Naerie PCs, except that ours dressed better.

This is followed by a critical analysis of the Average Party Level system, experience and Encounter Levels in Living Greyhawk and their problems.

The majority of the book, however, 52 pages, is taken up by a variety of summaries for the adventures produced by the Bandit Kingdoms. The book is not comprehensive in this—it includes only those scenarios that somehow affected the Bandit Kingdoms plot arcs. This mainly excludes special missions, only one of which is discussed in the book, and mini-missions. There’s a general listing of modules; longer summaries of each with their level ranges, adventure series, blurbs and Casey Brown’s comments; and listings of the modules according to location and adventure series. The book is rounded out by a timeline of Bandit Kingdoms events, a reproduction of an in-character letter sent by a player character to a major villain, a selection of quotations from Bandit Kingdoms (my favourite is “This would get your PC pulled in most regions.”), and a listing of Bandit Kingdoms Triad members.

The book is tagged “BDKR1” and promises to be the first of a trilogy, followed by BDKR2: Rogues’ Gallery of the Bandit Kingdoms and BDKR3: A Mercenary’s Guide to the Bandit Kingdoms.

So, it’s a book full of information on a campaign that ended four years ago, whose scenarios are no longer easily available and which includes no rules items whatsoever. Is it of any use?

Well, the timeline will be handy for DMs wishing to run a game in the Bandit Kingdoms. However, what the book is about is documentation. It details and discusses a slice of the largest roleplaying game campaign that ever was and sets the information in print before it is lost. It is about the history of our hobby (and more than a little about nostalgia), and it is well made. The production values may not be all that, but the writing is good and the book has been edited with an admirable attention to detail, with a hundred footnotes. Some of them are impressively long. The only things I feel are missing are a complete scenario listing, including those mini-missions and special missions that did not warrant longer summaries (turns out even my collection has one, a Year Four mini-mission titled Two Gentlemen of Veluna), and perhaps an entry in the longer summaries for the original designation of the module in question. For the purposes of clarity, the author has dropped the original, often discrepant, module codes for intro, special, interactive and mini modules and introduced his own.

It’s good stuff. I would never try to do this for the Principality of Naerie, but it does give me some ideas for the next revision of the Principality of Naerie Gazetteer that I’m still occasionally working on. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the trilogy.