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Advice on how you can write great adventures - from the company that has published more than 200 top-notch adventures!
3,247 backers pledged $125,456 to help bring this project to life.

Stretch Goals! And The Secret of the Slavers Stockade!

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Hi everyone,

Thanks for the amazing start! In our first day, we not only funded but also cleared what we thought would be an aggressive stretch goal.

Stretch Goal Update

How to Write Adventure Modules that Don't Suck will now printed in hardcover!

For our next stretch goal, at $40k we will print The Adventurers Almanac in hardcover format. All existing pledges will automatically be upgraded to hardcover format.

Beyond that, we'll be working on some additional ideas - more to come.

Favorite Adventures, And What We Learned From Them

The contributors to this project are all great adventure designers who have in turn been inspired by the adventures that came before them. As one of the features of this Kickstarter, I thought we could ask them to describe their favorite adventure modules, and what they've learned from them.

Continuing this feature, which started with yesterday's update on the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, here is today's update...

Markessa and the Madman: the Secret of the Slaver’s Stockade

By Casey W. Christofferson

One of the modules that really helped me understand how to design challenging but fun adventures for my buddies in middle school and high school has to be Secret of the Slavers Stockade by Harold Johnson and Tom Moldvay.

Man, I love this module! To begin with, it’s a real doozy that I don’t feel gets talked about enough when sitting around the grognard’s game table. Let’s break it down. A2 is the second of the Slave Lords saga. It’s a tournament module which explains some of the weird stuff that happens towards the beginning (more on that later). What the tournament mode gives the adventure is a sense of immediacy. A2 isn’t a simply a dungeon crawl, it’s a raid, and its cause is just. The party is tasked with infiltrating a processing center used by the dreaded Slave Lords in an attempt to break up the criminal network once and for all. A2 doesn’t require you to have played A1, but it doesn’t hurt.

It is not an easy adventure to run, and has a lot of moving parts. But it is rewarding when the GM is properly prepared to run it. Characters have to use stealth as much as possible, but once they are discovered, all bets are off and the leaders of the fort can draw from chamber after chamber of enemies to throw at the characters! There is a particularly nasty encounter with an ankheg in mud followed by a run through a wall of fire. Obviously this choke point is designed for tournament play, because as part of a standard adventure design it begs the question “how do the slavers get the slaves into the fort?”

Parts of the fort are haunted. Other parts of the fort simply appear to be haunted but really aren’t. For example, there is a secret lair of a character called the “Madman.” The Madman is a legitimate insane escaped slave who is living in the rafters of a whole wing of the fort. He even has a woman and her child that he has rescued and feeds hidden between the walls. He does nasty things to the hobgoblins and goblins he captures and may very well do nasty things to the player characters, like snatch them up with a noose and strangle them if they don’t look out! How cool is that? When I was designing adventures for my buddies in middle school and high school, this is the sort of thing that had me thinking about what sorts of weird little bits I could add to my adventures. Backstory wasn’t something I had really thought about before.

Another great thing about A2 is that it is one of the first modules I remember that explicitly tells you to move the leaders of the fort around and have villains directing the fort defenses. It is careful to remind you to save the “big baddies” for a later battle but it wants you to use the villains to direct traffic. This is one of the challenges of running the adventure but I would say as an adventure designer later in life it really got me thinking hard about adding tactics to adventures and going the extra distance it takes to explain the sorts of actions a villain intends to take when faced with a sophisticated party of adventurers.

Secret of the Slavers Stockade benefits from having great and memorable bad guys to do all that traffic directing. First off, you have Markessa. She’s an elf, but not a drow! She’s wickedly evil! She spends her time when she isn’t running the Slave Lord’s operation in the Drachensgrab Hills doing evil magical experiments on her prisoners. Nice! She also has body doubles and creatures she has “created” using no spell that exists anywhere in any Player’s Handbooks you or I have ever read, I grant you that! She’s so twisted she has generated her own race of “cavelings” from tortured slaves that have developed their own weird underground society.

Aside from Markessa, you have some other cool bad guys like Icar. Icar is so cool he has a portrait of himself playing with fire on the title page of the module done up by none other than the esteemed Jeff Dee! Then you have Blackthorn, an ogre mage who likes to polymorph himself into a freaky looking old man to creep out his underlings. Blackthorn is a big shot with the Slave Lords and although Markessa runs the show in the fort, you know that even though Blackthorn “works” for Markessa that doesn’t mean he “works” for Markessa! There are a ton of other great bad guys in this adventure. Bad guys that were memorable to me and my friends struck me for some reason as an important factor in making a good adventure. You want to have memorable enemies.

Finally, I really like that the enemy base shows a mixture of bad guys and explains their reasons for being there. The Slave Lords themselves may be all about kidnapping people, fattening them up, and selling them off, but they are open for employment to all manner of humanoid creatures. They employ werewolves to train their worgs, and keep carnivorous apes to roam their courtyards. Their foot soldiers include hobgoblins, bugbears, goblins, orcs, an ogre executioner, humans, elves, and a minotaur!

A2 has served me well for years as a blue print for the type of location based adventure that I like to write, and is populated with the sort of characters that have a purpose and a reason for being. When players complete an adventure like A2 they have something big to talk about. They have memories to share with their friends that last them a lifetime and brave deeds to brag about to their friends. That is why Secret of the Slaver’s Stockade is one of my favorite all time adventures!

Casey Christofferson has written for various publishers since the early 2000’s including the Ennie nominated Feast of the Gobbler, Wilderlands of High Fantasy boxed set, Tome of Horrors series, and the Tower of Jhedophar for Necromancer Games/Kenzer Co. He has done various work for Troll Lord Games including development of the Haunted Highlands Campaign Setting, Players Guide, and adventure source-books including the Book of Familiars, and the Castle Keepers Guide. He also has an adventure in DCC #46 Book of Treasure Maps for Goodman Games! Casey has authored various short stories including Tinsel the Christmas Elf, a YA adventure available on Kindle.

Next update: Castlemania!

Chris Fuchs, Elrico, and 22 more people like this update.

Comments

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    1. Weisenwolf on

      I'm enjoying these articles from games designers. A1-4 were the first full adventure series I ever brought back in the day and I still have them in my collection. I now have a hankering to DCC all four of them and run them again. Thanks Casey for the insights and trip down memory lane.

    2. Vincent DiCello
      Superbacker
      on

      Casey - nice! Very thorough description, makes me want to find it so I can enjoy reading it, and then run it in my upcoming campaign!

      Thanks for sharing.