The Koval Mansion isn’t the last City Hex we have to go – Stojenow Gate and Valjevo Castle still remain. However, it is the last city hex we have a quest for – and indeed there are no official quests for those areas, so theoretically we can just push through right now. But, first, let’s get this last city hex.

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After clearing Podol Plaza, I tried to get into Mendor’s Library again, only to not be able to get in due to failing my open lock and break down door checks. So, to grind up further, I decided to go take care of clearing Podol Plaza, and dealing with some of the remaining fixed encounters there and in Kuto’s Well, to grind some additional XP. While I’m doing this, I thought I’d talk a little bit about how I’m playing this game.

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Once Sokal Keep has been cleared, now you’ve gotten the attention of the government of New Phlan – as the room behind the counselor opens up, and Junior Counselor Cadorna asks to meet with you. Cadorna is one of the few NPCs in the game with a truly unique character portrait – one that wasn’t created with the portrait system that you would have used to create your party when you started the game.

Cadorna – with both some bling and a turtleneck

Cadorna’s family has roots to Phlan long before it fell – and he’s got a job for the PCs – retrieve some treasure the family stashed before they had to flee. However, the Textile House – where the goods were stashed – is in the corner of town between Podol Plaza and Mendor’s Library, so that quest will have to wait until after either of those two quests.

However, in order to get to either of those quest locations, you’ll have to go through the city hex of Kuto’s Well.

Map of Kuto's Well from the hintbook.
Map of Kuto’s Well from the Cluebook.

This is the first hex we’ve entered thus far that doesn’t actually have a story hex attached to it – but in order to clear the town, we have to clear this area, though the party only gets the normal “Hex Clear” reward for doing that. Still, that’s generally enough motivation for the player to clear this hex.

By taking on this hex, the player is introduced to a few new concepts.  For starters, this is the first multi-layer dungeon the player has faced in the game thus far. Every other hex has been a single part of town – so there’s that.

The catacombs underneath Kuto’s Well

Second is traps. Several squares in the catacombs (until you take out the bandit leader – Norris the Grey) will result on you getting shot at if you pass through them – and you’ll have to pass through at least one of them to reach Norris – who can show up at multiple places (and will appear t whichever of those places you get to first.

I have mixed thoughts on this. On the one hand, I wish that if you were actively searching and had a thief in your party, you could have a chance to completely evade the ambush. Alternatively, if you weren’t evading the ambush by random chance, I would like the idea of placing the ambushes in locations where the party could maneuver around them, with the thief having a chance to spot what squares contained the ambushes. That would provide a way, in the context of this video game, to emulate how in a tabletop session the Thief’s powers of observation can permit them to get the drop on an enemy or to evade an ambush or patrol.

Norris the Gray – I’m not entirely sure what race he’s supposed to be.

That said, the fight with Norris himself and his men isn’t too hard of an encounter – provided you’ve kitted your spellcasters out with area of effect spells that can take groups of people out of the fight. I took Norris’ minions out with sleep spells and took Norris himself out of the fight by catching him in a Stinking Cloud, at which point we were easily able to dispatch him.

Beating Norris also gets another journal entry – which in turn provides some story content. Specifically, that the forces holding Old Phlan are not a unified front. There is a note from “The Boss” calling for Norris and his troops to assist in holding Sokal Keep, and Norris basically telling “The Boss” to shove it up his ass. Now, he didn’t actually send the message – but the reasoning for his not sending it isn’t clear.

However, clearing out Norris basically clears out this city hex, and allows you to return to town and collect your reward for pacifying it.

Oriental Adventures was a sourcebook for AD&D 1st edition that sort of re-imagined and re-interpreted the game to fit a setting inspired by various stripes of Asian cinema, with varying degrees of success. However, two things that book did moderately well was to present a setting in microcosm that used the mechanics and the book’s non-weapon proficiency system. What it didn’t do well was to create classes and races that were conducive for adventuring, and it didn’t create a setting that a standard adventuring party could be inserted into.

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AD&D 1st Edition received a smattering of different settings. The longest lasting of those were the Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, and Dragonlance settings. However, a little less memorable one is Kara-Tur, which was born out of the Oriental Adventures sourcebook. While it would later be folded into the Forgotten Realms, on the outset it was very much its own thing. (more…)

A while back, I reviewed G1: The Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, an adventure that launched AD&D’s first real adventure path, and had some really interesting adventure design concepts.  The other two adventures in the series – G2: The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl and G3: The Hall of the Fire Giant King,  are much more conventional dungeon crawls, so they’re worth discussing together. (more…)

The concept of the “adventure path” – a series of adventures or vignettes strung together to form a larger campaign – has become increasingly more prevalent in tabletop gaming. Even standalone adventures, like some of the adventures for Dungeon Crawl Classics, are built around the idea of being part of a larger world, with the idea that the player characters would have further adventures brought on by the events of this adventure.

Probably one of the first examples of this to be published, though, is the G-D-Q series of adventures published by TSR for AD&D 1st Edition. The adventures were originally created to be run as a series of convention scenarios, but even then, the narrative of the three series of adventures were designed to be strung together into an ongoing story. In the interest of that, I’ve taken a look at the first scenario in the G series – The Steading of the Hill Giant Chief.

G1 is significantly different from Keep on the Borderlands in several very dramatic ways. The most obvious one is that it is designed for more high-level characters, and not a normal sized party either – the recommended party is nine 9th level characters, with less players being viable if the players are more experienced. Not if the overall party level is higher or more powerful, but if the players are more experienced and can consequently metagame better – which is especially interesting that the general vibe with modern roleplaying is in favor of less metagaming.

The other major difference is that Keep on the Borderlands is a more conventional dungeon crawl, though one designed with the concept of a bunch of monster apartments around a central hub. G1, on the other hand, has a much more cohesive structure. To make a comparison to modern video games, I’d compare it to a level from Hitman – you have an objective (Break the back of the Hill giants), and a living breathing environment that you have to navigate to accomplish that objective. Just rushing in and killing everyone all willy-nilly will get you killed, so you have to sneak through the environment trying not to get noticed. Indeed, the main set-piece of the environment, the ongoing feast between of the Hill Giant Chief and his supporters, is a location to be avoided if possible, because if you draw their attention you’re going to get squashed flat.

Further, there are several elements of the set-piece encounter that can be picked off if they show up as random encounters. A DM who wants to put some more work into this can change this from being triggered at random to setting up a guard schedule for some of the roaming portions of the set-piece. This makes it more like a Hitman sandbox level, and depending on your players might make the level more accommodating than approachable than the level as written.

As in Hitman, the preferred way of approaching the problem is to skirt the perimeter, finding a disguise if possible, and picking off guards quietly along the way. The adventure does have room for a more conventional dungeon crawl, mainly within the literal dungeons beneath the steading – where the Hill Giants keep their orcish slave labor. This isn’t a case of wiping out the orcs – but rather wiping out their guards – a few slaves upstairs will tip the players off to an earlier uprising and where the leaders are held, and in turn that if someone can take on some of the guards downstairs they can launch a larger uprising – something that sadly nobody has based a Hitman level around.

My complaint around the adventure is actually the framing narrative – that the band of adventurers are sent by their King to accomplish this task by pain of death. This makes sense within the context of a convention tournament scenario, but not within the context of a home game. Once you start approaching Ninth level, you’re starting to approach name level, and with it the responsibility of staking out land and maintaining it. So, I’d adjust the framing narrative to accommodate that – accomplishing this quest will include not only fame, riches, and glory, but also a land grant from your King that you can use to build your Name Level buildings – with the catch being that in the course of this adventure you learn that to pacify this area you will not only need to take out the Hill Giants, but also the other two groups of Giants as well (with the players learning of the Drow involvement partway through pacifying their new territory).

Overall, G1: The Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, is a really well structured adventure that provides a great break from the conventional dungeon delve, and with a few adjustments to the structure of the adventure overall, and the initial adventure hook, will make for something to keep your players adventuring and engaged once they hit Name Level.