Friday, April 13, 2018

D0 Hollow's Last Hope Deconstructed

Since my CULT OF UNDEATH and ISLES OF TERROR projects were both successful in many ways, and yet not in others, I've decided to do something a little different going forward.  CULT OF UNDEATH took the Paizo Adventure Path Carrion Crown and deconstructed it, putting it back together again in a way I could play it and modified to fit into my personal setting.  For that first one, I found that I had hewed too closely to the original, which was problematic and difficult.  For ISLES OF TERROR, I tried to do it again with Serpent's Skull but divorce myself even more from the original structure.  In the end, I decided that rather than trying to rebuild these adventure paths into a new custom campaign that I could use based on the same (or similar) elements, that what was most successful about the project was just going through the books, talking at high level about what I think about them and how I would (or wouldn't) use the material myself, and then looting them for concepts to be converted from d20 (or Pathfinder) into FANTASY HACK.

So, this is the first post of this new paradigm, and I've given it the tag of PAIZO DECONSTRUCTED.  D0 Hollow's Last Hope is a standalone very early adventure from Paizo, and although it isn't part of an adventure path per se, it is loosely linked in the "D series" of modules that all take place in Darkmoon Vale, which also got a very early (albeit brief) setting supplement.  These are a little interesting, because they predate the standardization of formatting a little bit that Paizo became known for.  They certainly predate the release of Pathfinder, or even (if I remember correctly) the earliest version of the setting book.

D0 is a wilderness and dungeon adventure that's meant to be a prelude (although it came out later, so it's a prequel if you bought them in order) to D1: Crown of the Kobold King, which was Paizo's first big successful solo adventure, if I recall.  It takes place in a small frontier town nestled in a forested mountain valley supposedly run by "lumber barons" who can't be bothered to care that some kind of plague has entered the town.  The PCs, naturally, are meant to go into the woods and look for the ingredients to the Miracle Elixir that will cure them.  Sigh.  Paizo's location in the PNW and it's generally socialist vibe are both projected into the fantasy world.  But whatever, that kind of stuff is easily enough countered or changed.  A corrupt company town under the thumb of "lumber barrons" and a caricaturish "wise latina" archetype healer are almost beyond parody, but other than that, the idea of this frontier town with some woodlands to be explored nearby is certainly fine.  The set-up, though—I can do without.  I also dislike variations on "What? Timmy fell in the well?" adventures because they're cheesy and honestly kind of dumb even at the best of times, and saving poor villagers from having a bad cough (seriously; it says that the disease shouldn't be particularly deadly, except to the elderly, very young, and those who live in poor sanitary conditions.  Right there in the module background.) qualifies.

PART I: The Elusive Antidote.  Presumably the PCs will find their way to the hut of the local Wiccan wise woman (who's illustrated as black.  Or at least very brown) and find that there's quite the crowd of people wanting help there.  Curiously, after chatting with her, they're expected to go on a "gather the three-part McGuffins quest" even though pagan-witch lady herself doesn't have any confidence in the remedy!  (She does, however, think she might be able to make a fair bit of money off of it, and is willing, with some persuasion, to cut the PCs in.)

PART II: Darkmoon Vale. There's a little wilderness exploration, although rather modest, here.  After taking on hiking as a hobby, I've come to realize that travel time in D&D makes very little sense; but whatever.  This is mostly a bundle of potential random encounters, some of which add color but very little else (such as goat-like tracks from some two-legged goat-footed creature that appear and disappear again about 50 feet later.  Or an encounter with three "inexpert and slightly drunk human hunters" who are, at least, relatively friendly if inconsequential.)  The most challenging of these potential encounters is a couple of wolves.  I won't repeat them all here, but the color ones are fine, I suppose, if you don't overdo them, and nothing else listed there is anything I'd need.

A. Lumber Consortium Camp.  They go out of their way to make this ugly, surly, and whatnot, while describing the trees as "proud."  Sigh.  PNW Green Cultists; when they write modules.  The headman here can provide directions and a sketched map of the area, as well as put some pressure on the PCs—his nephew is one of the sick ones and if the PCs aren't back with a cure in time, he'll blame them (for reasons that make no sense.)

B. Bait. Here there's a fox in a trap that's whimpering, but it's really bait for a hobgoblin hunter and his "razorcrows" (hawk stats) who will fight the PCs.  They call the hobgoblin a poacher, but I'm not sure why—is it illegal for him to hunt here, or are just all "bad guy" hunters actually poachers?

C. The Forest Elder.  The Oldest tree in the forest, and one of the destinations the PCs have been seeking out to get a specific mold that only grows there, or something.  The adventure even gives us some background on how the tree was supposedly planted by this old druid guy, yadda-yadda-yadda.  It's all very Tolkienien, but how in the world or the PCs supposed to find that out?  Anyway, they'll get ambushed by a tatzylwurm (see below) here.

As an aside, there's also a sidebar on this page describing unique animals to the region.  This is all color, because the stats are copied from more familiar animals (a dunlied has the stats of a light horse, for example, and the firefoot fennec has the same stats as a dog.)  This isn't a bad idea, but it ends up usually being kind of superfluous, unless you've got some real hobbyist zoologists in your group.

D. The Hag-Haunted Hollow. The old witch's hut. Again, we're given a monologue that in spite of the rumors, the witch was really just a somewhat crotchety old woman, but how again are the PCs supposed to know that?  Anyway, she's long dead.  They can find one of the ingredients in her hut, but will most likely get tripped up by her animated cauldron, which will attack them to defend the hut and its contents.

PART III: The Ruined Monastery. Most of the rest of the module is dedicated to a small dungeon, which I'll summarize a bit more quickly because I dislike dungeons compared to wilderness exploration anyway. This is also a teaser of sorts, because this abandoned dwarfish monastery at the edge of the vale in the shadow of a mountain is the main focus of D1: Crown of the Kobold King, which is the next adventure.  But the PCs are meant to find what they're looking for on the surface level of this dungeon at least.  Depending on when they approach, the PCs might find a pair of wolves nearby.

The PCs will encounter some pretty typical 1st level dungeon crap here; a monstrous spider, a little trap and a kobold scout who hangs out on this level, some darkmantles (a very esoteric D&Dish monsters), a bat swarm, three dwarf skeletons, two more wolves, and of course, the "boss" of this level, a worg.  The worg might try and fool the PCs into thinking that he'd let them take the special dwarf mushrooms that they're looking for, but he won't, because he's a worg and he's bad.

Then the PCs rush back to town, Sonia Sotomayor makes up the potion, and the adventure is over (although it can be blended seamlessly, if desired, with the next one, which takes place in the underground levels of the dwarf monastery.  But I'm going to just present this one as written.

It's pretty straightforward, and actually kind of painfully cliche.  Just a quick "get started" module that will bring the PCs from 1st to 2nd level, and that's about it.  I suppose the adventure is fine, but personally, unless for some reason you're actually running it as is, I see little reason to mine it for much, because it's so cliche and obvious that you could just make this stuff up yourself without any problem.  It does include a few names (if you need that kind of thing; I prefer to have big name charts in languages that I've predetermined to use), a small regional map and the map of a small ruined monastery, which are straightforward and competently done, if nothing extraordinary or innovative.  It's not a bad little module, but unless you get it free (or at least really cheap) I'd probably pass.  There's dozens of similar things out there in Dungeon Magazine or elsewhere, or you could easily make this stuff up yourself.  It doesn't offer any ideas that are so interesting that most people won't stumble across them naturally anyway.

Finally, there's stats for the tatzylwurm, which is of course, a real creature of Swiss, German and Austrian folklore, but which is presented here as little different than my own previously mentioned snake-men—except a bit in terms of color and flavor.  Because of that, I won't bother making up new stats.

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