[Review] The Garden of Al-Astorion (C&C); The sweet taste of Sword & Sorcery

[Adventure]
The Garden of Al-Astorion (2006)

Gabor Lux (E.D.M.T.)
Castles & Crusades
Lvl 6 -9

I have been on my best behavior and thus, like all good boys, I deserve a treat. The treat is Gabor Lux’s Garden of Al-Astorion, a free module for Castles & Crusades positively dripping with S&S. Ah, Sweet S&S Modules, how often do you beckon, how few times you answer when I call upon you! The S&S scene is catfish heavy. I prepare, mentally, for disappointment, a death of the soul, when I hear those words uttered.  

This is an earlier Gabor Lux module and it lacks something of the terse precision that we would see in subsequent works but this does not diminish the power of this exotic fantasy. There is an art to making a good S&S module and few authors, despite the odd flounce or iconic image or concept lifted from the pages of Kull or Clark Ashton Smith, actually get it. There is some intangible combination of theme, encounter and description coupled with restraint that resonates with the worlds of Leiber, Howard, Smith, Wagner, Anderson. It is not gonzo, nor is it, god help us, dark fantasy [1].

Magic in S&S is mysterious and dangerous. The world is savage, ancient and echoes with pagan myth; savage rites of blood sacrifice, fierce and dangerous wilderlands, inhabitants that reek of the primordial, magic is an echo of faerie-tales and myths half-consciously recalled. Garden of Al-Astorion sometimes feels like a checklist of a good S&S module.

The premise is overly long, but this was 2006, before the rising of the Holy Bryce and the Utility Jihad that would leave all a whole generation of pay-by-the-word padders and dissemblers of the Hasbro Throne drowning in their own blood. A full page of backstory, two columns, laden with hints to a greater world beyond; Once set in JG’s Wilderlands, and truly it deserves no better setting, it has been adapted to serve the City of Vultures and Melan’s own Fomalhaut/City of Vultures, surely no less S&Serish. Al-Astorion, cleric of Emore, goddess of flowers, forsakes the vulgar city life for a pilgrimage to a secluded valley, littered with the remnants of the ancient world. Struck by its beauty, he resolved to create there the garden of his dreams. As he slowly goes mad, his creations become increasingly dangerous. A few survivors of an expedition to his valley tell tall tales of enchanted fruit, horror, riches and great peril. Enter le PCs!

The module is osentisibly for Castles & Crusades, but this is a later conversion, and it should not be very difficult to restore it back to the wholesome AD&D that is visible underneath its outer coating of ascending AC, Attack bonuses, Ability Score based saving throws and difficulty classes. All this can be converted with a slight snap of the fingers, with only the damage rolls requiring some careful evaluation. There is nary an ugly feat or dirty 3e spell in sight, for which we thank the Gods. One notable difference is the treasure, decent for C&C, a beggar’s ransom for the mid- high range AD&D.   

Like most of Gabor’s work the module utilizes a steadfastly traditional format [2], elevated to a higher standard of fantastical adherence, individual encounters, subtlety and creativity in order to distinguish itself. The DnDishness is given a proper context. The effect is potent, though one wonders if there is not, perhaps, a bit too much S&S in this secluded valley. There is not only a secluded valley with animals thought long-exctinct [3], there is a tribe of psionic man-apes and their ape-god [4], a cyclopean temple of Deep Ones [5], a piece of technology from a crashed space-ship [6] and THEN we get to the magical garden. The tone wavers a little. There’s a group of comically stupid Sprites that want to get the fuck rid of an annoying Memphit, this is a funny encounter and it would absolutely work. Then there is the Garden, which is terrifying in a way that only a place of great beauty that hides terrible lethality can be. They both work, but they exist on a different wavelength.  

There is a sumptuous list of rumors available to whetten the PCs appetites but I must admit being somewhat perturbed by the lack of a random encounter table? What is this? What if the PCs, damnable slackers, do what PCs always do and expand all of their spells on the first combat, then yawn, take a nap, and return to the fray, refreshed and none the wiser. The expedition, it is true, would last weeks, but the lack of random encounters is the single glaring absence. It was a different time one considers.

There is effective use of foreshadowing in the module, placed at bottlenecks to an otherwise almost entirely sandboxery area. The moment you enter the valley…BAM. Gravesite of a previous adventurer. The moment you get to the stairs of the ziggurat that holds the Garden of Al-Asterion. Message cylinder. Not easily found.

“Nothing remains here but nefarious hatred and demented malevolence. If you life is dear, turn back – we didn’t, and paid the price of our greed in full. – Tal Unnar”
    
Intelligent humanoids, by and large, have some routine and follow at least rudimentary tactics, allowing for strategy in any sallies made against them. The prose is lengthy and thick and seeks to explain more then we always want to know, but it is possessed of a fine atmosphere to fire the GM’s imagination; “…he temple is a vaulted natural cavern modified to look less irregular. Grotesque humanoid idols squat and kneel in small niches in the wall, small stone bowls standing before them. Their depressions contain ancient grease mixed with soot, the remains of old fires. The paintings on the wall are much more vivid and almost completely intact: they depict grinning man-apes with sloping brows, clad in rich clerical garments.”

There should be a salient example from the original catalogue of TSR for this model of adventure; a wilderness area peopled with several monster lairs (with maps that are decently complex for their relatively short size) with one feature that is the focus of the adventure. There should be, but nothing comes to mind. G2 has the right idea but is geographically limited. The wilderness section of B10. Maybe something later, WGS5?

There are plenty of new monsters in the module, the bulk of them horrific new plant creatures, though enough from the standard catalogue remain to retain some connection to Core D&D. This type of design too is nice, it shows subtlety. Existing carnivorous plants like Assassin Vines and Venus Fly Traps are supplemented with new antagonists like Purple Moss, the Terrible Flaying Tree (may be negotiated with), Cobra Flowers and Vampiric Rosebushes. These new additions serve to give context to the whole. And good on you, using Scrag statts without regeneration for the Deep Ones, that’s exactly what I like to see. Elegance. Precision. Do not do work you don’t have to do.

Let me give you an example where this subtlety and fine touch is demonstrated. There is one item in a Wizard’s Tower. It’s ALMOST a Mirror of Life-trapping [7]. Yeah we all hate those. This one…is better. It functions like one, but it exchanges its occupants with the person starting into it. The guy inside is a 10th level knight, has been there for fuck knows how long, arrogant dick, looks down on peasants etc. etc. etc. But not evil. Will under no circumstance look in the mirror again. The mirror is heavy and fragile. What do you do? GREAT ENCOUNTER. Almost every encounter in this thing feels like that. Like a normal D&D encounter but fortified in such a way that it runs BETTER. It’s not that Lux is a good writer, he is, but it’s that he knows what he is doing, he understands the capabilities of this game and a way to get the most out of it. Statue of a god that you can pray to BAM Tree with seemingly precious gemstone fruit do you date pluck it BAM encounter with trash mob enemies in incredible amount, making it very deadly BAM battle with illusionary spectre kings as they lament the doom of their long-forgotten kingdom BAM the talking door of the wizard’s tower can’t be forced but if you manage to out philosophise its guardian he might let you in BAM.

There isn’t really faction play as such, but there ARE plenty of opportunities for negotiation. An Ogre Mage that will invite characters to dine with him while they discuss matters, this is the type of stuff that I like to see. The variety gives a substance to the world that is being portrayed, where monsters can have goals and exist for reasons outside of being PC fodder.

This is not Gabor’s best module. In 2006 the Magyar were not even fully mobilized. But it’s a breath of fresh air. A breath of fresh air that is not afraid to fucking kill you with an odd dickish trap. Hell yeah. Keep people on their toes. Then comes the garden proper, easily the best part. I knew it was good when I predicted that the third stairway would have some sort of cursed guardian on it in the manner of Faerie, and lo there he is, a former companion of the mad cleric, horribly transfigured. Of course he is. And yes climbing the plateau, an idiot solution, has been accounted for, even…flight! Suddenly we are reminded of C.A. Smith’s the Gardens of Adompha [8], or the fables of the Hesperides and their enchanted apples. The cleric proper? Total fucking asshole. Randomly rolled disposition, a thing I would later independently use for my cult leader in Palace of Unquiet Repose. Will the PCs attempt to restore him or try to dispatch of this hermit within his cave? He no longer receives spells but still wields the gift of Transmutation and Creation. And also Peacock Cockatrices are a fine invention. Marvelous. Chef’s kiss.

I am most dubious about the lack of random encounters, enabling the PCs to perhaps wear down their opponents with their 6th level characters a bit too easily. This is probably inconsequential, as the bulk of the deaths are likely to be caused by the assholish traps that have been daintily sprinkled throughout the module, without a doubt the most assholish a Mummy with a necklace of fireballs that has a chance to explode if the PCs use fire against it. What did we ever do to you Gabor?!? Also there are quite a few formidable monsters and opponents in this thing.

Garden of Al-Asterion is gloriously S&S, not as well-constructed as Strabonus or as creative as In The Name of the Principle! but a fine entry in a large body of work. If we overlook its overuse of tropes, its lack of random encounters and its rather husky text blocks, not to mention the fact it is statted for C&C, then we have ourselves something that is still better then the vast majority of stuff being put out there. How does he do it? Someday my divinations will make him reveal his secrets!
If I keep this up, I might end up using Kent’s suggestion of a split author + module rating, albeit in a separate post per Author. I think it would be worthwhile to rate works on an author scale.

****

Get it here, for free.


[1] I still recall, with heartrending grief, the scathing words of Noisms, as he compared my beautiful boy, the Red Prophet Rises, to Raymond E. Feist, and gave it a paltry 4 out of 5 stars. A new name was added to the Book of Grudges that day. 
[2] I suggest this might be a good thing. There are formats like the GDQ, B or I series or for that matter Tegel Manor that can be copied wholeheartedly because they are meant to serve as templates and thus utilizing its structure does not mean the end result is merely a derivative because a great deal of variety is possible WITHIN the framework. Contrast with the S series, which relies, to a large part, on gimmicks and one-off trickeries. This is probably why attempts to replicate the Tomb of Horrors have yielded less then interesting results.
[3] Ref. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World, or Conan’s Red Nails if one prefers
[4] Wonderfully there is no exact match but troglodytes and war with sub-human monstrosities are a recurring element in Howard’s Conan & dubiously, Lin Carter. It should be noted the Ape-God is not literally a god but merely a savage thing that is being worshipped as such, very S&S
[5] Lovecraft of course, though stories of actual fights against such monstrosities is more K.E. Wagner’s Bloodstone or Elric
[6] I’m going to cautiously put forward C.L. Moore as an early adopter of the trope.
[7] S&S is on the Brain. House of Leaves has ruined my capacity for brevity. Is the mirror of life-trapping traceable to H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘The Trap’?
[8] There are references to the worlds of Xiccarph and haunting reminisces of vistas of other worlds in the abandoned wizard’s tower, a very C.A.S. sort of Wizard


28 thoughts on “[Review] The Garden of Al-Astorion (C&C); The sweet taste of Sword & Sorcery

  1. Another excellent review. I would suggest reading the Echoes form Fomalhaut zines that Gabor also produces. The small size doesn’t constrain the creativity abound inside their pages.

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  2. Another successful review as I am compelled to download and peruse, although that is a pleasure rather than a chore with a Melan module. For now, possible TSR “wilderness area with several small monster lairs with non-trivial maps, and a compelling reason to visit” modules: best fit may be UK4 When a Star Falls; desert section in I3 Pharaoh; N3 Destiny of Kings. Were you thinking of WGS1 Five Shall be One (a superior collect the magic swords Greyhawk quest, let down by a lacklustre sequel WGS2)?

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    1. I was thinking of none other then the supposedly excellent WG5 (Tharizdun!). All of the abovementioned modules seem short of classic territory. It is as we have been told. There is a gap in classics DnD, yearning to be filled by those who are knowledgeable and daring.

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      1. I think the code for Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun is WG4: that is a sidequest from S4, and the main site is most of the adventure (a layer of obvious challenge and then much more difficult to find treasure). S4 itself is a possible, although some of the wilderness encounters fail the non-trivial map test. Moving to personal opinion, UK4 is an excellent Graeme Morris module that fits your constraints. (Not quite as good as B10, not far away.) Trying to reach the Chief Sage without massacring too many dupes is an interesting challenge; the derro lair has a nice map (with safe and unsafe areas to dig); those who don’t charge blindly into the epic final battle have better chances.

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    2. Some guys I played with still fondly remember UK4. The bait-and-switch I pulled with the gibberlings, less so. But they still talk about that module, 30+ years later. Recommended.

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  3. Fun fact: the “City of Vultures” referred to in the module is NOT the “City of Vultures” of Fomalhaut, but Kauran, an altogether different city. I wanted to expand on the place in later adventures, but never got the opportunity since the campaign went elsewhere, and ended abruptly when my game materials were stolen on a train ride. Blair Fitzpatrick (who also did Planet Algol much later) did some fine work on the city at a later date, but his work never got published.

    Fun fact #2: it was originally a 3.0 adventure, published in a 80-unit print run in 2003, sold through various game stores. This is where EMDT (“First Hungarian d20 Society”) comes from.

    This is really the first thing I have written that I can point at and say, “I am okay with this.” Finding your voice and all. It is obviously heavily inspired by CAS, and the Wilderlands booklets. The random encounters are for the journey to the valley (I was using the 1e tables for a 3.0 game, extra deadly). The keyed encounters were deadly enough, particularly the deep one temple. After that, the remaining party just chickened out and never visited the Garden proper!

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  4. I totally need to start a Book of Grudges; so many names already waiting!
    ; )

    Your new god-killing post is up, BTW. Appears to be the penultimate.

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    1. You tax me. The urge to address is impossible to contain, a barbed serpent coiling in my guts. It is a fine series, I can feel you working up to something worthwhile and noble.

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      1. So much pressure. I’ll do my best.

        [how can I not (ultimately) disappoint? You can’t please all the people all the time]

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    2. I seem to have difficulty posting on your site. (Perhaps there is a quality barrier!) An intriguing set of posts. I would, however, give a free pass to modules (and referees) who want to bend the rules to make things more fun, and see no need for exacting explanations. In the case of N1 (or indeed the Red Prophet Rises), maybe some malign deity is taking a special interest in the situation. Nagas in general don’t have the power to grant spells, but maybe Explictica does.
      Unrelated to this but related to your blog, many moons ago I did run a fairly by the book version of Ravenloft, with Strahd “wanting to win the heart of his beloved”, i.e. do his best Christopher Lee impression. But there is no way I would allow the 6 spectre random encounter to stand. Regarding levels, don’t forget that the PCs will be drained a few during play (and seeing your character diminish is surely horror); however your suggestions make a lot more sense than what they did with the 2e version. Prince’s review on this site is excellent, and I would also recommend Fiasco’s on Dragonsfoot.

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      1. Rereading, I see your objection for Red Prophet Rises is different: the cleric should be stripped of spells. Well assuming the Bull God is much like WFRP’s Khorne, any sort of bloodshed would probably be considered acceptable. And as that adventure is written for a 2e clone, we are now in the realm of priests with different weapon selections, access to certain priestly spheres, bespoke special powers, etc.

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      2. Huh, that’s strange (that you can’t comment). And here I just thought the lack of conversation was due to the rather dullness of my topic! I do moderate comments to keep all the porn/spam from showing up; everything else I allow to pass.

        Good modules have a tendency to add things that are outside the scope of the rules for their particular edition (my mind always goes immediately to G3 and the encounter with the fire giant queen and her decapitating scepter). For me, these fall under the category of (what Gygax calls) “tricks,” and two or five of these in an adventure module are necessary to keep players on their toes and I daresay *engaged* with play.

        That’s different, however, from altering the defined systems of the game.

        [please note: RPR does NOT alter the perception of clerics as they appear in BECMI, and neither do the priests of Zargon in B4; in fact, using the Wrath of the Immortal rules from the post-RC edition of D&D, one will find plenty of examples of immortals (“gods”) whose followers are granted little bennies like the ability to use edged weapons…albeit at a cost. Personally, I think the idea of being REQUIRED to use edged weapons in place of blunt weapons (as RPR does) isn’t much of a trade-off choice…but that’s a whole ‘nother conversation. Just saying there’s precedent. Probably in 2E as well, but I’m not as familiar with the rules to comment without pulling them out and referencing ’em]

        Now for a CAMPAIGN SETTING supplement, I’m totally cool with changing definitions. You want an S&S campaign on par with Howard’s Hyboria? Go right ahead and change how healing works and which spells are allowed and the presence (or lack thereof) of demihumans…TSR did this with their Conan modules, back in the day (CB1 and CB2). When players sit down to play a particular deviant setting, they have some “informed consent” about the changes. But a “modular” adventure inserted into an existing campaign should probably follow the basic rules of the universe (as defined by the edition being used).

        My opinion, I understand. But the blog series was all just “my opinion.”

        @ Prince:

        Apologies for jacking your thread, man.

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      3. @Jon
        By all means, jack away, the intial discussion has dissipated, so have at it, it’s an interesting point.

        @Shuffling
        It is uncanny. I voiced the same rationalizations r.e. RPR. Very good to have an insightful commenter. Commendable.

        This reminds me. The Greyhawk campaign setting (TSR 1015) had little bennies for specific Greyhawk deities so this is not unprecedented in AD&D 1e either.

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      4. @ Prince:

        Just to be as pedantic as possible: the original World of Greyhawk folio (published in 1980) had no information on deities. The boxed WoG setting was published in 1983 and included deities from Gygax-penned Dragon Magazine articles, the first of which appeared in November 1982. So, yes…1E but this is *late* 1E.

        World of Greyhawk also counts as a “campaign setting” in my book, separate from bog standard B/X or AD&D. “Bog standard” D&D still has some implied setting presumptions (thieves guilds, bard colleges, etc.) but generic (*and* defined) when it comes to cleric-related systems (like deities).

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      5. I sense I am approaching a checkmate. So on the aforementioned technicality your argument holds weight, that RPR, which violates no prescriptions of the system it has been made for (2e), and does not violate the ‘spirit!’ of AD&D as envisoned by Gary Gygax (for he himself is credited as penning Greyhawk), violates the default settings in a way that it is unbecoming of a generic module to do. But then I ask you, what of the ACCURSED LEGENDS & LORE manuscript?, published in 1984 for no specific setting, exactly 2 seconds before Gary walked out of the door yet again! In this accursed tome, we see, oh horror of horrors! that there are minute regional variations in the abilities druids that worship the Celtic Pantheon, Druids of the Celts of 10th level or higher being able to use their cauldrons filled with blood as crystal balls, Clerics of the Aztec pantheon gain a +1 bonus to hit if they attack targets in their favorite Cardinal Direction. Taking in mind these two exceptions, and childishly ignoring the fact that none of the deities in the tome give their clerics any special abilities besides the two listed at the pantheon level, we nevertheless have clear examples of minor variations in the abilities of clerics, depending on which gods they worship. And thus RPR is very much in the spirit of What Gary Would Have Wanted!

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      6. @Jonathan
        You make a strong and consistent case, however in some ways it comes down to which rules you are prepared to bend for some welcome variety. G3 might get a bit monotonous if all the fire giant fights were similar: your excellent example of Queen Fruppy could be supplemented with the duo of the Headsman and the Torturer, and their imaginative use of the iron maiden etc.
        On a side note, I seem to remember the official Conan modules (CB1 and CB2) weren’t all that good; the GURPS solos were better.

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      7. @ Prince:

        Your entry into evidence of the L&L tome falters only on the basis that it is (again) of “late period” AD&D; however, as I have access to the much earlier (and cooler) first print Deities & Demigods AND because the textual examples you cite are contained in that ancillary (if somewhat discretionary) book from the hallowed time of 1980…especially as it contains EGG’s official stamp of enthusiastic praise and approval in the Foreword…it merits consideration and examination.

        Though I think you over-estimate your chances of obtaining a so-called “checkmate.”
        ; )

        But first, a quick question: if RPR was indeed written for 2E (or For Gold & Glory, acknowledged as a superior retroclone of that edition), why the imperative to fight tooth-and-nail for consideration by first edition standards? Is it some badge of honor or mark of maturity to be associated with a system that features half-orc assassins, arch devils, and wandering harlots? Is it not “old school enough” to be associated with Zeb’s version of the the Advanced game? Is there some deep, abiding need to place distance between your product and the era of thrice-damned Lorraine Williams? I believe that on grounds of content alone, RPR passes muster as something distinct from the saccharine sweetness that was as much the downfall of TSR’s empire as was the rise of White Wolf in all its pseudo-gothic splendor.

        To your argument: inferring “What Gary Would Have Wanted” is an incredibly fun game that I, too, love to play, but it should be recognized that most such arguments in this direction are specious at best given A) the man is dead and cannot be questioned (nor have his thoughts read telepathically), and B) many of his own writings changed, evolved, and contradicted themselves over the decades. God may have broken the mold when He made Gary Gygax, but EGG was not a man set in stone. Hell, the guy readily admitted to not playing by his own rules.

        That being said, I think it difficult to dismiss the original AD&D game as the pinnacle of “D&D design,” despite the absolute train-wreck that is the 1E version of polymorph other. And as Gary was the (main) author of that August work, it is right and just to read What He Hath Written.

        Gygax is effusive in his praise of Ward and Kuntz’s work on the DDG, describing it as “an indispensable part of the whole of AD&D.” Thus (if we take EGG at his word) “NOT OPTIONAL.” However, it is clear from both the Foreword and the introduction that a DM’s choice of pantheon is her own (depending on the campaign’s “flavor”), and no single mythos or pantheon need be used, nor is any pantheon singled out as the right and correct choice for a “standard” AD&D game. There is clear evidence that Gygax developed his own pantheon of deities for Greyhawk, none of which are found in the DDG save for some of the non-human ones like Lolth. With this in mind, I am left with the conclusion that the only part of DDG that is truly “indispensable” are the parts OUTSIDE of the described pantheons: the information running divine beings, issues of immortality, omens, and divine ascension, as well as the various appendices concerning the outer planes and temple trappings.

        Thusly, the small adjustments given for specific pantheons (such as the cited Mesoamerican and Celtic Mythos) are OPTIONAL, to be used if and when a DM chooses such a pantheon to be appropriate to the “flavor” of her individual campaign…in effect, should she choose such a particular, specific campaign setting. Which is (as I commented before) certainly allowable, but outside the sphere of “generic” or “standard” AD&D play as written in the sacred text.

        Furthermore, when using the ACTUAL part of the DDG text judged to be “indispensable,” specifically the first several paragraphs of the second column on page 9 (CLERICS AND DEITIES) it would appear that the clerics of RPR (at least Khazra) fall outside the boundaries of acceptable AD&D play because of their use of Bull God spells despite the heresy of worshipping an entity of non-divine origin. If, as EGG writes in the Foreword, the authors of DDG “have prepared exactly what AD&D needed to make it a complete work,” then I think the book may be closed on how closely RPR adheres to the first edition system and the style Gygax put forward as the true and correct way of playing his game.

        @ Shuffling:

        The Conan modules are not particularly good, but they ARE interesting as a potential alternate campaign setting, and following their suggested rule changes add a solid dose of “Howardian flavor” to one’s game. Plus the interior art is good (though some pieces were re-purposed for later AD&D works of lesser quality…Bloodstone I’m looking at you!…presumably after TSR started losing staff from the art department). Also it’s hard to take any adventure seriously when it has a film-promo photo of Arnold on the cover…blatant f’ing cash-grab, that.

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      8. I am not disputing that CB1 and CB2 give some rules modifications for a better fit to a Howardian campaign: if my hazy memories are correct, were there not Luck Points and special abilities (Feats!?!) like killing blows, as well as less magical healing (but quicker natural recovery)? Maybe one should go the whole hog and run it with a ruleset like WFRP.
        My (possibly simplistic) take on Red Prophet Rises is that it is 2e clone rules, but 1e feel. And without any disrespect to the ruleset that has probably given me more roleplaying fun that any other, 1e does have some absurdities like Death clerics with healing spells and blunt weapons (as well as those preaching peace packing Flame Strikes). It is merely using appropriate tools to do the job. And you seem to have thought up modifications that do no harm to the module, yet make it more palatable for you to run. I call that win-win.

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      9. @jonathan

        Gah, delayed response.

        [Why do we fight]

        We fight for the sheer thrill, the exuberant joy of the dance of death and to be uplifted by the charnel music of steel striking steel or and the panting and screaming of fighting men! All hail Discordia!

        But on a more serious note; I consider AD&D to be as close to a clear view of ‘original’ D&D as it is possible to get. As such, since RPR is not intended as a challenge to the spirit of D&D, but rather a triumphant celebration of its S&S roots, I must contest any attempt to portray it as deviating from that spirit, if insufficient rationale is provided for that portrayal.

        [WGWW]

        I must admit to using it in a quasi-ironic sense. What Gary Would Have Wanted was a YDIS tag used to make fun of a particularly dogmatic faction of the OSR, and while I do indeed agree with you on AD&D, the comment is meant to be taken with an ironic wink.

        [Deity wrangling]

        I agree with all of the information r.e. the DDG but I draw a different conclusion. IF the expansion permits clerics of specific pantheons to have minor variations in abilities then that alone signals that such things are possible or permitted within the confines of generic AD&D, as subsequent expansions would clearly illustrate. Since the deity that is introduced is obviously new, there is no reason the nature of his clerics cannot have just such a variation.

        [Worshipping a Nondivine]

        You have re-stated this premise but it is an inference, or interpretation, not explicitly described in the module proper. The People of the Bull are clearly worshipping the Bull god in their rites, and there is no reason to suppose that Khazra is different. The only information that is definite is that Khazra has taken over rulership of the People of the Bull and led them to the Valley, there to conduct rites to achieve a crimson paradise.
        The blood that is being spilled feeds the entity below, but whether or not this is pleasing or displeasing to the Bull God is something that must also be inferred. Given that Khazra still receives his spells, one cannot help but conclude that it is the Will of the Bull God that this be done, or that the Bull God welcomes the death that the revival of the entity will cause.

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      10. @ Prince:

        No worries for the delayed response (though I did assume it meant you were conceding all points).
        ; )

        RE: Irony

        The internet is a poor medium for conveying the subtleties of conversation, especially in dialogue with a person one has never had the pleasure of meeting. I make screwy assumptions all the time when I feel folks are, in fact, being serious.

        [likewise, I often find myself being misinterpreted by others. It seem contagious]

        RE: DDG Interpretation

        There is a legal term that would seem to fit the faultiness of this argument, but it escapes me at the moment…not surprising as I am not a lawyer and it’s been decades since my last “pre-law” class at university.

        Since I can’t dispute the point with pithy Latin phrases, I will thus concede that, okay, sure there is evidence (NOT precedent) that allowing small deviations in clerical abilities is (barely) within the boundaries of acceptable 1E play. That being said:

        (*sigh*) I think the Bull God’s allowance of “edged weapons” violates the SPIRIT of AD&D play. Sure, it’s a “restriction” but whereas the PHB limited the cleric potential weapons to some FIVE choices, you have opened up an inventory of some thirty or forty options, including the best and most damaging melee and ranged weapons of the game…without taking away anything but the use of a mace or sling? Boo-freaking-hoo. Such a deity would quickly become the standard choice for all clerics in a campaign, given the granting of all standard abilities (there are cure spells in the cleric’s list, and I see nothing to indicate a lack of turning ability). Why play with the strictures of a paladin when this option is at your disposal?

        The deviations found in the DDG and in Gygax’s own Greyhawk deities are VERY minor in comparison to allowing the use of all swords, axes, polearms, etc. PLUS new “blood magic” spells. Some examples:

        – clerics of Heironeus gain the ability to cast a *bolt of energy* 1/week at 11th level. Based on the textual description, they would appear to be limited to chain armor.
        – clerics of Hextor gain 1 level of “assassin ability” (presumed to be limited to the auto-kill ability) upon reaching 6th level, and this increases only every other level to a maximum of 6th level ability upon reaching 16th level cleric.
        – clerics of Iuz gain the ability to *change self* 1/day upon reaching 3rd level. This is simply a single bonus spell of 1st level power.
        – clerics of St. Cuthbert come in three orders; each gains a different bonus spell (like clerics of Iuz) useable 1/day. One sect gains *shillelagh* at 3rd level, one gains *ESP* at 4th level, and one gains *friends* at 2nd level.

        I think your argument is a “bridge too far” in comparison to the abilities granted Khazra and his clerical brethren. Even in Wrath of the Immortals (to cite a Not Great Work of later days) had a god that granted ONE edged weapon’s use (the two-handed sword) with a trade-off of delayed granting of spells (clerics of the god received spells as a character one level lower; as WotI was written for BECMI/RC which does not allow clerical spells till 2nd level, this meant NO SPELLS AT ALL UNTIL 3RD LEVEL, as well as an overall reduction in spell output by followers of the deity).

        Just saying.

        RE Khazra’s Relationship With The Bull God

        As you are the author/creator of both the scenario (the adventure) and the pertinent characters (Khazra and the Bull God) I cannot but defer to your interpretation. YOU know Khazra’s piety and faithfulness. YOU know how the Bull God views its followers’ actions (and what brings the deity joy or wrath). I have no ground on which to stand, and perhaps a closer reading of the adventure’s text by Yours Truly would have revealed all without further explanation needed.

        Still…the Bull God seems pretty darn easy going. If I were to run RPR, I’d think he’d quickly earn himself a LOT of bloody-handed followers (among the PCs!). Not sure if that’s what I’d want for my campaign.

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  5. Read this now. A spot on review. Bryce would lament the organisation, lack of bullet points, wordiness, maps that could be sharper. Others would criticise the artwork. (Aside: where did this terrible trend come from, if the artwork helps break up the text and inspires referee descriptions, it has done its job.) Yet this is a very good module, and when someone who can write uses lots of words, it fires the imagination. It is somewhat “everything but the kitchen sink” when it comes to S+S tropes. There is something of Apocalypse Now about the whole (or Heart of Darkness, as this is a place of erudite discussion of novels). Read Melan’s comments with interest: for me, if you cut this module it bleeds 1E D+D.

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    1. Hah, a philistine’s erudition I fear, there are few literary works I have read after the coming of the 20th century (but Heart of Darkness does happen to be one of them!). There’s something about the mythical garden of paradise combined with such a sobering twist (there can be no peace and the gardener goes mad) that rings an S&S bell.

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