Friday, July 1, 2011

The Mystery RPG Box of Mystery: Round 3

The third round of books from the Mystery RPG Box of Mystery contains:

  • Wyrmhaven, an adventure for Dungeons & Dragons (1992)
  • Smuggler's Run, a sourcebook for the Dragonstar game (Fantasy Flight Games)
  • Oasis of the While Palm, a module for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1983)
All right, I'm moving out of the generic rulebook part and into some adventures and sourcebooks.

Wyrmhaven is actually out of the Dragon's Den box set that came out in the struggling years of TSR.  The hope was to induce new players by creating a sort of hybrid game reminiscent of boardgames with which young people could transition into RPG's.  With that in mind, TSR created the "Easy to Master" Dungeons & Dragons, essentially a re-tooling of the Basic D&D into a box set that looked like a board game in size.  To supplement the game they created several box set adventures, including Dragon's Den, which featured three adventures, all featuring dragons.
The problems for me with this are manifold.  Clearly I'm not the intended audience.  Second, in order to have introductory level characters (Wyrmhaven is intended for PC's level 2-4) face dragons, the dragons are greatly weakened and the PC's are tooled up.  In addition, the story is so forced it would make a 4E game designer blush.  Wyrmhaven is the second of the series, and I don't know if the box holds the first, so the adventure presumes the DM and the players know the NPC mentor, who once again calls the PC's together to fight a dragon that has made its home in a local cave.  The dragon is a very young green one, and the mentor knows through eyewitnesses that it appears to be "skilled in illusion."  This deduction is apparently because the dragon is hard to spot and disappears easily.  With that in mind, the PC's are given the fantasy equivalent of gas masks, continual light stones, three healing potions, and several scrolls that allow them to dispel illusion.  So essentially you've knocked out the dragon's breath weapon and spell-casting abilities (not to mention given you a leg up on the troglodytes that serve the young dragon as protectors.
Included with the booklet is a pull out map with 1" grids marked on it, making me think I had another 3.X or 4E adventure, but the scale (which appears nowhere in the booklet) is 1"=10', not 5' as later conventions would hold.
What's fascinating is that, despite it being almost eight years before third edition, all the early signs of later iterations are there: a simplified plot; greatly lessened threats to allow lower-level PC's to face off against impressive, iconic foes; and a grid-based map with figures to create tactical gameplay.  What's funny is the idea was to bring board game enthusiasts into RPG's.  What happened was RPG's becoming board games.

In my experience, almost every starship-oriented sci-fi campaign I am aware of, the genre of the campaign could be described as a "merchant marine" campaign.  By that I mean that the game usually revolves around a ship and its crew engaged in high-risk commercial enterprises.  Not only does this connect with the iconic figure of Han Solo, it also allows for militaristic, technical, and personality-driven PC's to all have a role in the game.  It also, as Firefly points out, makes for a good story.  Smuggler's Run tries to help DM's (do they call them that in Dragonstar games?) run a good "merchant marine" campaign in the Dragonstar setting.  From what I can ascertain from the sourcebook and the interwebs, Dragonstar is basically D&D in Space, complete with elves, druids, spells, etc.  It reminds me of Shadowrun in that kind of "mash-up D&D fantasy with something else and see what happens" sort of vibe.  Which, frankly, doesn't mean it will fail.
Smuggler's Run has a lot of helpful information, however.  The first chapter covers the ins and outs of how a DM adjudicates commercial transactions, including gauging the needs of the market and the effects of competition.  The second chapter covers the PC's and how every class fits (or doesn't fit, in the case of the monk) into the campaign.  It also features some  prestige classes and some NPC's.  Chapter three is equipment and chapter four is vehicles, all applicable to the genre.  Chapter five outlines an example of a typical region of space for the PC's to ply their trade, named eponymously the Smuggler's Run.
Like I said earlier, most sci-fi RPG's tend to tack in this direction, and the information within is easily adaptable to any similar game, so this sourcebook is a solid hit out of the Mystery Box.  So much so, that I will probably be giving it to a friend who is launching a Traveller campaign in July.

Like Wyrmhaven, Oasis of the White Palm (module I4) is actually a sequel to an earlier Hickman module, Pharoah, and without that introduction the DM has to do some wrangling to get the PC's into the adventure.  What Hickman does well in modules is tell a story, and Oasis basically follows a plot line: the PC's have been set out into the Desert of Desolation to discover the source of the evil afflicting the area.  The module begins with what could be construed as a wilderness adventure sandbox, except the area is shaped to guide the PC's along a certain path that will take them through various encounters that will get them along the narrative, in this case the discovery of the Oasis and its sheik, the plot of the missing princess, and her eventual recovery and destruction of the villain.  For all its appearance as a location adventure, the module actually moves in ways subtle and unsubtle the PC's through the story to the ultimate end, which in modern parlance would be called a "cutscene."  There's some opportunity for wandering about and getting into trouble, and the designers realistically understand that the PC's just might try to kill everything and take their stuff, but this really does exemplify the "story" model of adventure modules for D&D.  How you feel about that will have a lot to do with how you would like Oasis of the White Palm.

Sometime I will have to give my own take on the subject.

1 comment:

  1. So far I think that if I were opening this box I'd be pretty excited as I have 0 books at all as I've just got back into RPG's and I think any of this stuff would be pretty handy for me.