The Curse of the Wildland (1982)
Phil Masters (White Dwarf Magazine #30)
Lvl 1 – 2
The White Dwarf Crawl continues. I’ve skipped over issues that have adventures for systems I am completely unfamiliar with (like Travelller) or issues that have adventures that are essentially glorified monster manual entries with a little vignette or set up to use them. That’s not what we are here for.
The first proper entry is Curse of the Wildland, a simple but charming pointcrawl set somewhere in the vaguely medieval backdrop that all D&D is assumed to take place in. Two points are immediately in its favor. The wilderness map is gorgeous, divided into hexes even though the adventure is really too rudimentary to make much advantage of these, and the premise is awesome, involving asshole druids, my favorite interpretation.
The premise is a good one. The local hamlet has been suffering from bad harvests, and unusual droughts, and the Oracle from the Swamp points to the Wildlands. It goes into how the region once held a prosperous town that eventually became too orderly, causing the local druids to rebel against it, with almost all of both parties ending up dead, and the druids pronouncing a curse on the entire area that no civilized place could ever flourish there again.
What follows is a very large random encounter table (just MM/WD entries, but its nice), some notes on how the PCs can get directions (they can take either the trail in the Wildlands or follow the dried up riverbed) and a cryptic prophecy warning of certain doom. Enter the PCs.
It’s six encounters with an added hindrance, a Vance inspired bug-man that follows them at a distance and harasses and terrifies the players, sets traps, has a poisoned knife and if it can, it will leave the severed heads of any people it manages to kill for the PCs to find, a nice complication. The six encounters are all solid. Why you ask? Almost all are interaction and all have that faery-tale vibe! Nixies fucking about in a pond, a lone brownie, wolves in a dilapidated stone ruin. How do you make even wolves not boring? You put them in a nonstandard location (a ruined stone cabin), you add a complication (they have cubs, possibly worth money, but will cause them to fight harder) and to boot the treasure is interesting and includes a map to the probable area of the Curse.
NPCs aren’t really hostile but won’t necessarily immediately trust you either, and again fit into the faerie-tale atmosphere the adventure is going for. A woodsman that has sworn an oath to protect the forest from intruders, a crotchety old gnome that will trade booze for fur and knows something about the surrounding region etc. etc. A final showdown in a ruined village, overgrown with mounds and tumuli, with a fucking buried green dragon skeleton and an old temple. The creature probably isn’t home and will return within a few turns to stumble upon the adventurers, a bizarro fusion of owl, ape, man-face and dog, with druidic powers augmented by the curse. For a first level party it might prove a bit on the deadly side, but as far as bizarre medieval faery tale monsters go, it’s a keeper.
Good for a single session but easily portable if your campaign has the default medieval fantasy smorgasboard of old D&D. Only 4 pages too, and not a lot of fat. A little on the light side but Nice. ***
Chaos From Mount Dorren (1982)
Phil Masters (White Dwarf 32)
Another 3 page dungeon, well beyond the level where D&D becomes acceptable. Don’t let the low page count fool you, White Dwarf was the first to pioneer a new form of quantum-printing where the map is inscribed in the electron spin of a single trans-uranic atom.
It’s a standard dungeon but everything is done unconventionally and that really extends the lifespan. I’m not monstrously critical, I just get tired of seeing the same stuff done over and over again, worse then its predecessor. CFM is different. It’s a bandit lair, complete with all the things you expect from a humanoid lair, which is to say an organized defence, some traps/ambushes, a little differentiation, some domesticated animals or monsters and a chieftain fight to put hair on your chest, but it’s all done quirkily. No level indication though, which sucks, although the strength of the counter-measures would put it at about 3-6, anything lower is suicide (19 damage glyphs of warding anyone?).
Caravans moving through the Dorr Pass get ambushed and almost totally destroyed. The city doesn’t know who did it but is offering 2k if the PCs take care of it. There’s a small wilderness map of the surrounding area with a few wilderness encounters, a Leucrotta Lair and a Water Weird, as well as a burnt camp [*]. Random encounters with some Fiend Folio entries are provided, but are simple statts.
The real meat and butter is the stronghold. A temple to Pan, with gnomish bandits riding pteranodons. It’s like any other good humanoid lair, a percentage chance of detection if you don’t take precautions to stealthily approach the temple, there’s tame wolverines, tactics, people sounding the alarm etc. etc. The inhabitants of the lair are fleshed out beyond the usual 4 Orcs (2,5,1,9). There’s the occasional strange curve ball (one of the warriors is psionic), there are leaders with tactics, magic items, people have a sort of role, there’s dormitories, pteranodon stables, pteranodon hatcheries, little details about some of the gnomes that spring out (two old guys run the armory, one with a peg leg, one missing an eye). The map is solid, nothing exceptional, but multiple ways up to the second level and theoretically it can be entered at the opposite side of the mountain if you climb up on the opposite side.
Then there’s the tomb of Cruth and the surrounding area. A classic little bit where the founder of the cult will animate as a skeleton and pelt you with javelins of lightning. They’ve got a lorekeeper, acolytes and the big bad is a 11th level fucking high priest and his war dog flamebolt. I don’t know what level the party is expected to be, but that is going to be one hell of a final encounter, considering none of the others are at more then level 5.
CFM is a fairly simple but well executed lair assault, made charming by the attention to detail, solid design and offbeat monster choices. Throw it in if your party needs a break from killing orcs, or if they were subjected to too many Gnome adventures from Dungeon when they grew up. ***
[*] I know everyone has made at least one Orc Lair and that’s fine. What I would like, in my perfect world, is a second of reflection before you try to sell me your Orc Lair and ask the question ‘what is this Orc lair doing that someone having access to B2, B5 or B10 or that thing from Dark Folk or the Jaquays Orc lair or whatever the fuck does not already do. And THEN try making one. Or you could try doing something new. No seriously.
What if you made a dungeon using only animals? Or a series of ancient halls, holding a horrid prehistoric stone demon, inhabited by mind-controlled Neanderthals. Or a cult of crocodile-worshippers? Or a hall set on the site of an ancient battle where time repeats itself and the warriors come back to life every sundown to repeat their tragic heroics? What if it is a thousand variations of the same room, the exit hidden, each with the same guardian, but each time his method of attack grows more fiendish and ingenuous? These are but a few of my incredible thoughts.
[*] If WD has a signature then it must be tiny lairs, with a perfect amount of fleshing out and level appropriate treasure in 4 types of currency.