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STARPORT a Campaign in the Duchy of the Peaksby The Real Nowhere Man from Threshold Magazine issue 20
A system agnostic, roleplay-heavy campaign for six players and a Game Master
[Image: Stars over the Peaks]
WHAT IS THIS CAMPAIGN ABOUT?
This campaign is focused on the lands of the Duchy of the Peaks and is made of ten episodes. It doesn’t have a reference ruleset, but each Game Master can use her favorite ruleset or can even use a different ruleset for each episode.
The episodes will NOT take the characters from zeroes to heroes as it often happens, but the players will play a different character in each episode, starting every time from scratch… almost. Why? Because at the end of each episode they will die (sometimes a violent death, other times of old age) and reincarnate when the next episode starts. This way they will live through some of the most exciting ages of the Duchy of the Peaks.
As you may expect from a game involving a cycle of reincarnations, you will have not only to solve some complex situations proposed by the Game Master, but also to progressively prepare your soul for… something that is waiting for you at the end of your path through multiple lives and situations.
CAMPAIGN INTRODUCTION FOR THE PLAYERS
You start this campaign as pure souls. In front of you is an overwhelmingly powerful being with female appearance, flowing red hair, fair skin and sharp eyes piercing space and time.
“You are part of my project.” she says.
You don’t have time to reply. You feel dizzy as you cross the barrier that divides you from the incarnates. A crossing that always brings oblivion.
In who are you incarnating?
First of all, in order to define in which “role” you will incarnate, each player needs to choose randomly (as an option, the Game Master can choose them and rotate the roles as the adventures come and go or introduce variations inspired by previous adventures and experiences) between one of these six characters:
Lover (female): your objective is overcoming all hurdles and getting together with the Lover (male). You are in general naïve and shy. One character between the female and male Lover (chosen randomly) comes from a somewhat inferior social environment.
Lover (male): your objective is overcoming all hurdles and getting together with the Lover (female). You are in general naïve and shy. One character between the female and male Lover (chosen randomly) comes from a somewhat inferior social environment.
Antagonist (female): your objective is to prevent the Lover (female) from achieving her objective. You come from a somewhat superior social environment, but you have a hidden psychological wound or a dark secret (to be agreed with the Game Master).
Antagonist (male): your objective is to prevent the Lover (male) from achieving his objective. You come from a somewhat superior social environment, but you have a hidden psychological wound or a dark secret (to be agreed with the Game Master).
Jester (choose sex as you prefer): your objective is to make a mess of the adventure and make everybody else laugh. You can choose to be more clumsy, or salacious, etc. as you prefer. The Game Master will allow you to repeat once any roll that may allow you to play better your “comic relief” character.
Confused (choose sex as you prefer): despite all possible evidence, you believe that one Lover is a bad person, and you want to be an obstacle, while one Antagonist is a good person, and you want to help. You master the art of misunderstanding, in good faith. Typically, you are older than the other characters and like guiding and controlling them.
This way, besides having to achieve the overall group objectives that the Game Master will indicate to you at each Episode, you will also need to take care of your personal objectives. You can’t change these guidelines when you roleplay, unless instructed differently by the Game Master.
Now, you need to order randomly the seven sins (pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth) and the seven virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, faith, hope and charity).
When you start the campaign, highlight the number one sin and the number one virtue. When roleplaying your character, you need to stick strictly to them, unless you want to try changing your “destiny”. Depending on the ruleset chosen, the Game Master will tell you which (difficult to achieve and expensive to play) game mechanic will allow you to overcome your initial sin and virtue (maybe a Saving Throw with progressively increasing penalties, a Fate point use, a Benny, or a LUCK roll…) and, if you manage to do it, you can roleplay against your sin and/or virtue. As the opportunity to roleplay against your pre-defined sin is difficult to achieve, make sure it is worth it!
If, during an episode, you “overcome your karma”, in the subsequent episode you will move to your second sin and your second virtue, and so on until you get rid of them all. If the Game Master judges that you haven’t “changed your destiny” enough, you will play next adventure of the campaign with the same sin and virtue.
After a number of episodes, you should be able to free yourself from all “hurdles” (sins and virtues) and roleplay as you like, without having to stick to a predefined background behavior, with few, costly opportunities to deviate from it.
CAMPAIGN INTRODUCTION FOR THE GAME MASTER
This system agnostic campaign is focused mainly on the Duchy of the Peaks, with a story arc covering millennia. The characters will reincarnate at the start of each Episode and their final objective is not just to complete successfully the ten Episodes, but also to “purify” their souls. Of course, a character that dies during an episode will reincarnate on the next one, typically with no penalty incurred from that. Actually, dying a good death, helping to overcome the obstacles of that episode and one’s sin, should be awarded with some bonus.
In practice, the good behavior in one episode will not be rewarded with special objects or extra levels on the next episode, as the characters will die between episodes are reincarnate many years after (the Game Master can decide what experience level is appropriate for the characters on each episode), but with a progress to the next sin and virtue. As there are ten episodes and only seven sins, the Game Master can set the difficulty level accordingly: the opportunities to “change the story”, as mentioned, should be rare (between one and three per episode?) and their success rate should be reasonably unlikely.
This approach is similar to certain Thai lakorn telenovelas, where the same actors play first on a historical background (often ancient Thailand), usually displaying bad behaviors and making mistakes. Then the same actors, sometimes with swapped roles and different personal situations, play again as their reincarnated selves in a contemporary background, of course oblivious of the past. They will find themselves in front of quite similar moral dilemmas and they will have to decide if they want to repeat their past mistakes or if they want to break the circle of bad behaviors and “change the story” for good.
Of course, with this campaign, I don’t want to promote the beliefs of reincarnation, nor the concept of karma (that are often in the background of some Thai lakorn, that this way sometimes become kind of moral plays), but I want to put the players in unexpected and intriguing situations, where they will have to take difficult decision, under a roleplaying point of view.
The overall campaign plot, as it will become clearer reading through the Episodes, is the conflict between logic and technology versus religion and magic. Logic and technology are the basic beliefs of a race that claims to be the original inhabitants of this universe, while religion and magic are promoted by the Immortals, that originally came from a different universe through the Vortex. The Immortals have the initial advantage of being able to time travelling, so they can actually change the story, but have the disadvantage that they can’t make direct interventions and need to use pawns. The self-proclaimed original inhabitants of this universe need to learn quickly time travelling technology to overturn the changes in history, but have the advantage that the Immortals actually need some of their race as pawns.
EPISODE ONE: WE SAW YOUR STAR IN THE NORTH
Recommended soundtrack: The Planets, by Gustav Holts
The first episode is set in a mythical past, when men were few in the world and the Thonian Empire was young. Imagine an early bronze age. The climate is colder, an icecap still covers Frisia (north of Blackmoor, across the Black Sea) and a big part of what will become the Duchy of the Peaks. Between Hak and Mohacs there are large steppes, where tribal groups migrate constantly with their flocks. The characters are part of the clan of a mysterious child mage-monarch, that leads her followers wherever prophetic dreams and portents indicate the way. On this occasion, during her astronomical observations she saw a star falling on the Superstition Mountains and wants to reach it.
[Image: The Star Satura has seen in the sky]
Caption: The Star Satura has seen in the sky
The mysterious child, known as Satura (although her original name would be pronounced more appropriately as T’Pzatura) came to Mystara a long time ago on an exploration and study mission from a planet very far away in space and time (one of the many visits aliens have paid to Mystara during the millennia). She looks like a human child with slightly elvish traits (pointed ears, up-swept eyebrows) and her skin is pale with a slight bronze to greenish tint. She is usually impassible and controls very strictly her feelings. She greets by showing the palm of her hand with strangely outstretched fingers and by muttering a few words in an unknown language that no magic allows an understanding of. Her spaceship crash landed and she has been waiting a long time for her rescue mission (the Vessel of Stars), that also crash landed. She doesn’t know this, however there is still a functioning escape pod, that will become her ultimate objective to go back home. This sequence of crash landings is the result of a local singularity. The spacefaring race of Satura came from a turbulent past when they almost self-obliterated and on the brink of destruction decided to negate their attraction for greed and lust and embrace pure logic, philosophy and desire for perfection. They are now on the brink of being conquered by another race of spacefarers and are looking for alternative planets where they may want to live in exile, in case they lose the planetary war, as looks likely right now.
Just before the beginning of the game, she lost nearly all her followers in a battle against off-world enemies, so the characters will be her last hope to reach the Vessel of the Stars. As a source of inspiration, you can imagine the technopowers of Satura as similar to the powers of the best equipped oards from the classic module Where Chaos Reigns1, written by Graeme Morris and published by TSR.
The adventure can be played starting from the module The Vessel of Stars2, written by Robert Holzmeier, published by the Wizards of the Coast, with a number of adaptations, changes or clarifications described below.
The map should be replaced with a Blackmoor map, although its northern shores are threatened by an ice shelf, there is only one meaningful Human settlement in Blackmoor, Maus (that replaces Horvath in the original adventure), mostly dedicated to fishing, and another minor settlement in what will become Ten, the Waystation (that on the map is where Port Dacoit will be in the far future), populated when the season leaves the Black Sea free of ice and suitable for whaling.
Between Maus and Port Dacoit there is an untamed and underpopulated forested wilderness where the bizarre Queen Maragaine reigns over a small nation of elves that are just beginning to notice the human presence. Feel free to add this force to the possible forest encounters.
The areas of what will become the Barrier Swamp are populated by an almost intelligent race of reptiles similar to humanoid crocodiles. Feel free to add this force to the possible encounters before reaching Superstition Mountains, but remember that this area is cold at this time in history and reptilians can become very slow with cold temperatures, especially in the night.
The crash site is of course in the area where Starport will be founded.
The city of Stern is a trading post somewhere north of Mohacs.
Raz’s name is replaced by Thrax.
The Blighted Hills are replaced by Superstition Mountains.
Fharlanghn, Boccob and Pelor can be replaced with Dealth, Phellia and Pacuun3.
In room #5 of the Vessel of Stars Keyed entries (Royal Yacht Hangar), besides the egg-shaped escape pod for Satura, there is a gift that the young monarch mage leaves behind for her followers: the Pygmalion! She is a fabled relic: an android, in fact, programmed for bringing happiness and harmony to Satura’s followers left behind, after serving her.
One way or the other the characters from Episode One met the end of their lives and, depending on how they overcame their sins, they should move to the next sin or not, while, depending on how well they achieved the objectives of their adventure, they should get a bonus while generating their new character sheet, leaving some details open to fate, such as their new roles (lover, antagonist, etc.) and gender.
This time they do NOT meet the same overwhelmingly powerful being with a female appearance that originally told the characters that they are part of her project. They instead meet a similarly overwhelmingly powerful being, but with a male appearance, with amber skin, black hair and beard and sharp eyes piercing space and time.
He will say that the project is still very far from being concluded, but, somehow, starting it and concluding it is all part of a single step. He’s of course talking about the point of view of an Immortal with a strong grip of Time.
During the years following the discovery of the Vessel of Stars, more wandering monarch mages and stargazers came from the south to study the relic from the stars. That is the start of the settlement known as Starport! The inhabitants of this small human enclave will call this land Thracia. They exploited the fantastic services of the Pygmalion, that made their life easier. The Pygmalion achieved her objective of pacifying the life of humans, that previously were always at war with each other, by giving them all kinds of facilitation, so the society lost the high level of violence that was inherent before, as there was no more need to fight for the meagre resources, that were instead tapped by the Pygmalion. This way the new society of Thracia, the first name of the civilization growing on the Superstition Mountains, was mostly a society dedicated to pleasure and debauchery. The humans enslaved the reptilians that were living in the area of Superstition Mountains. Passing barbarians (the ancestors of what will become the Skandaharians) occasionally tried conquering them, with poor results, due to the great services of the Pygmalion, and some other times they rather offered themselves as slaves, hoping to enjoy at least a small part of the great pleasures of the Thracians.
The Thracians, in order to avoid the cold climate of Superstition Mountains, asked the Pygmalion to dig for them an underground kingdom of pleasures. Eventually, the Pygmalion went too deep and discovered what should have stayed hidden: the lost civilization that ages before was the reptilian civilization and that worshipped the bloodthirsty Immortal named Thanatos!
The Pygmalion disappeared in the bowels of the earth and only a few roaming barbarians kept alive her legend and her cult. Some worshipped the Pygmalion as an Immortal, while others instead believed the Pygmalion to be Phellia’s avatar.
EPISODE TWO: THE CAVERNS OF THRACIA
Recommended soundtrack: William Tell, by Gioacchino Rossini
This adventure can be played starting from the module The Caverns of Thracia4, written by Paul Jaquays, published by the Judges Guild, with a number of adaptations, changes or clarifications described below.
Room 73: The Singing Caryatids. One of the three caryatids is actually the Pygmalion! However her body from the outside is in all similar to the other two caryatids described, including its functions. She will be brought back to her former self by the triangular key that can be found in room 112 and which needs to be plugged into her body.
Room 112: The treasure trove of the Minotaur King. In this room, mixed up with all other treasures, there is a golden, triangular object that is big enough to be held in a human hand: on one side it is flat and smooth, while on the other side it has strangely crafted, delicate studs. If inserted in the appropriate way into the body of the right caryatid (as a kind of plug), it will revive it again as the mighty and glorious Pygmalion!
As a source of inspiration, you can imagine the technopowers of the Pygmalion as similar to the powers of the best equipped Oards from the classic module Where Chaos Reigns, written by Graeme Morris and published by TSR.
More rogue mages from Thonia reach the Superstition Mountains and the new found Pygmalion revives the society around Starport, which slowly grows, still with its peculiar culture of debauchery. Slavery is also very common and many people, especially barbarians, give themselves up voluntarily as slaves or mercenary warriors as there are rumors about the fact that the best slaves and mercenaries are allowed into the decadent society of Starport as full citizens.
After several years of good service the Pygmalion is mysteriously lost again, raising a lot of anguish, only mitigated by the wide use of slavery to keep the life of the free citizens as easy and comfortable as before.
During these years, the name Duchy of the Peaks is used for the first time. The title of Duchy is used to make sure no great interest or retaliation desire is raised from the Emperor of Thonia, who doesn’t like rivals. Not even in such a far, isolated country.
The Duchy of the Peaks welcomed refugees from all over, as long as they were happy to serve as slaves, as the use of reptilians as slaves went out of fashion over time.
In order to attract more people from the Stars, slaves were used to carve mysterious trenches in the mountains, that can only be seen from high in the skies and from that point of view look like drawings and are meant to attract spaceships to Starport. This was an ancient design by the Pygmalion, now worshipped more than ever as an Immortal on her own or as Phellia’s avatar by the locals. During these years the climate becomes a bit warmer and the Black Sea is free of ice for most of the year, apart from winter.
This time the souls, ready to be re-born oblivious of the past, will meet a demonic-looking creature with sharp eyes piercing space and time. He will mock them and order them to carry on with their project, if they don’t want to be devoured.
EPISODE THREE: A VISITOR FROM A DISTANT STAR
Recommended soundtrack: Rusalka, by Antonin Dvorak
[Image: Starship crash]
Caption: Starship crash
Eventually, another alien spaceship (looking for alternative places to start a colony, as their original planet was under attack and likely to fall to another species of aliens) visited Starport, and crash-landed like the previous ones, due to an unexpected singularity that caused so many crash-landings in time.
Seeing this other star falling near Starport, the locals send a party of slaves willing to show off their worth and be made full citizens of the Peaks (the characters, of course!) to investigate.
This adventure can be played starting from the module Dungeon from a Distant Star5, written by Stuart Robertson, published by Robertsongames, with a number of adaptations, changes or clarifications described below.
Remove the first paragraph of the background and replace it with the above info to run this adventure.
Room 23. Crypt. In this room no alien can be found alive, but there is a half-damaged and half-mad android with a humanoid shape: Ran of Ah Foo! This android is somehow like the fabled Pygmalion with respect to its powers and abilities (that appear to be semi-divine), although with a male shape of otherworldly physical symmetry, but part of his memory banks and emotional circuits are damaged.
Ran of Ah Foo doesn’t have the Pygmalion’s programming aimed at taking care of the surrounding humans, but he is rather programmed for exploration. He therefore goes to investigate the closest singularity: the Egg of Coot! He is also interested in magic and magical creatures, like dragons, that on his original planet are unknown or, if they were known in a very distant past, they are now replaced by technology. Ran of Ah Foo, having powers approximately like the Pygmalion, can be assumed to have technopowers similar to the powers of the best equipped Oards from the classic module Where Chaos Reigns, written by Graeme Morris and published by TSR6, but also with some magic-like ability coming from his study and imitation of Mystaran magic.
The souls this time meet with a very old-looking man with long, white hair and beard and sharp eyes piercing space and time. The old man doesn’t speak, but looks at them with interest and smiles gently.
EPISODE FOUR: THE SINGULARITY
Recommended soundtrack: The Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, by Andrew Lloyd Webber
The first part of this episode is based on the adventure Ties that bind, that is included in Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor7, written by Dave Arneson, Dustin Clingman, Jeff Quinn, Richard Pocklington and published by Zeitgeist Games (it is in Chapter 9). This part of the adventure is about finding a Blackmoorian noblewoman that disappeared, as she is controlled by the Egg of Coot. The Game Master will have to make sure that she isn’t caught before sailing towards the lands of the Egg of Coot as in the original adventure, but that instead she manages to escape to it, followed by the characters.
The characters will have to take break from their pursuit just before crossing the Black Sea and this will be the beginning of the second part of the adventure, that can be based on All the Egg’s Men8, an Episode from Blackmoor MMRPG campaign, written by Dustin Clingman and Tad Kilgore, published by Zeitgeist Games. In this second part of the adventure, the characters will also have to gather as much information as possible about the Egg of Coot and its plans.
In this second part of the adventure, Skae (Chapter 4) should be replaced with the noblewoman that disappeared at the beginning of Ties that bind to make everything gel together. On top of this, in the same chapter, at the head of the Army, there should be the encounter with Ran of the Ah Foo, an overpowered enemy that, once has demonstrated his superiority to the characters, should start a telepathic conversation with the Egg of Coot, accusing it of not being perfect, nor logic and, eventually, deciding to abandon its services, leaving the characters still (barely) alive and able to complete the adventure.
Ran of the Ah Foo moves to the Duchy of Ten, where, thanks to his overwhelming powers, he quickly becomes one of the ten Dukes, replacing one that he killed while serving the Egg of Coot. The Duchy of Ten was founded quite recently by more Thonian refugees and was largely ignored by the Duchy of the Peaks, despite being so close.
Ran of the Ah Foo is then involved in several battles for the Duchy of Ten and he proves to be a real mastermind in battle, calculating with superhuman perfection and logic all actions and reactions. However, being mortal meatbags, sometimes his troops or his enemies have reactions that are beyond his calculations and this causes him to have a very strong crisis, pushing him to seek isolation.
Ran of the Ah Foo is also making plans for a new capital for the Duchy of Ten (Starmorgan) and to replace all organic inhabitants of the Duchy with 10,000 androids, so his proposed new name for the Duchy will be the Duchy of Ten Thousand. However, he doesn’t have time to pursue his most far fetched plans.
The souls this time meet with a man in his prime, with long, black hair and beard and sharp eyes piercing space and time. He smiles gently and tells them that the plan is progressing nicely and that he is very curious to see its conclusion.
If the characters ask for it, the Game Master can confirm that the man looks like the younger self of the old man with long hair and beard that they met previously.
EPISODE FIVE: WARGAMES!
Recommended soundtrack: 1812 Overture, by Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky
On this Episode, all characters are the top generals of neighboring nations, each of them with specific motives. They may ally or betray each other.
Here are the six contenders in which the six players will be incarnated:
The Duchy of Ten, guided by the Duke General Ran of the Ah Foo. This is a leader always open to all possibilities, quick to switch alliances and attack the weakest contender on the field to get the most advantage in a cold and logical way, without affection for his lands and citizens, that he sacrifices without a second thought whenever he can get a strategic advantage.
The Duchy of the Peaks, guided by the Abominable Snowfreak, Duke Whitehead, although it is whispered that the real power behind the throne is Sonia Sholako, his lover. The Duke’s mercenary army is very powerful, although small (as they are motivated by the dream of becoming full citizens if they distinguish themselves enough in war), but the real secret weapon of this mountain nation is the ability to corrupt whatever enemy is camping within its borders. They are very quick to switch their alliance to the closest or strongest army.
The Afridhi, guided by Zugzul’s priestess Toska Rusa. The Afridhi are slavers and attack relentlessly the Duchy of Ten. Their final target, however, is Blackmoor. They worship the fire and hate water, so hey are a bit clumsy when crossing rivers and even swamps.
The Skandaharians, barbarian seafarers always looking for plunder, under the leadership of the first Jarl Thorsen. They opportunistically attack the weakest coastal settlements and don’t like going too much inland, unless it is along rivers.
The Egg of Coot, an enigmatic being, controlling a strange army of creatures of many kinds, often with grafted limbs, and interested above all in plundering magic items and magic users to drain their powers, as it is said that the Egg of Coot gets its power from draining magic.
The Earl of Vestfold, the future of Blackmoor, is mostly interested in defense, and attacks other nations only as pre-emptive attacks to negate their chances of attacking Blackmoor, rather than to conquer them.
This adventure is in practice a military campaign (wargame) to be played by the various characters following the motives of their army. The references for setting up this adventure can be found in The First Fantasy Campaign, by Dave Arneson, published by The Judges Guild. This publication leaves some details under described, and the Game Master will have to be ready to fill some gaps.
The characters can of course exchange messages, agree to alliances, break alliances, attempt sneak attacks, try assassinating each other, hire and fire heroes, etc. as true generals.
On this occasion, the end of the adventure doesn’t coincide necessarily with the death of the characters, but rather their souls are withdrawn from the bodies they occupy.
Ran of the Ah Foo, perhaps shocked by a military defeat against the Afridhi that he didn’t foresee, or by the fact that the other Dukes of Ten didn’t approve his blueprints for the new capital Starmorgan (that was eventually built along solid Thonian architectural canons), disappears, while the Duchy of Ten is completely subdued by the Afridhi.
[Image: Sonia Sholako]
Caption: Sonia Sholako
In the Duchy of the Peaks, old Duke Whitehead marries an exotic dancer, Sonia Sholako, then disappears under mysterious circumstances. The crown passes smoothly to Sonia Sholako.
The souls meet again with the man they encountered last time: in his prime, with long, black hair and beard and sharp eyes piercing space and time. He is very curious to see how the plan develops, because, the more he studies it, the more he struggles to understand its vast boundaries. However, he won’t provide any more information.
EPISODE SIX: THE TEMPLE OF THE PYGMALION
Recommended soundtrack: Il Trovatore, by Giuseppe Verdi
Gin of Salik, one of the greatest wizards of the time (mentioned in The First Fantasy Campaign, page 15) studied the ancient legend of the Pygmalion and dedicated his life to finding her. For this reason, he moved from Salik to the Duchy of the Peaks and is now called Gin of Kralc (Kralc is the small settlement, not far from Starport, where Gin’s new tower is). He offered, as a payment, huge riches, or full citizenship of the Duchy of the Peaks, or himself as a slave for a year, to whoever finds for him the Pygmalion, and there is news that an ancient temple has been found in Superstition Mountain. The characters come across the map by chance and realize that this is a great opportunity for them to sort out the rest of their lives…
This adventure can be played starting from the module The Temple of Poseidon, written by Paul Reiche III, published by Dragon Publishing, a division of TSR Hobbies, in Dragon Magazine #46, February 19819, with a number of adaptations, changes or clarifications described below.
The location of the Temple is somewhere in Superstition Mountain.
Replace Poseidon and the Sea Lord with, obviously, the Pygmalion and the Lady of All Graces.
Room 18, there is no great bearded man emerging from the waters, but of course an amazing female of otherworldly beauty.
Room 31, inside a sarcophagus is the Pygmalion. She won’t tell what happened to her during the many years she was away, nor will she explain how or why she ended up in this underground temple. She doesn’t seem to be under any kind of stress and suffers no visible damage. The myth of the Pygmalion will live on: she will be the one that will subdue the mighty Marfeldt the Barbarian, perhaps the most dangerous warrior of these times, on his rampage against the Duchy of the Peaks, although in such a way that no one will know it, as this time she behaves in a much more stealthy and hidden way compared to the past.
Caption: Appearance of the Pygmalion
The Afridhi conquer the Duchy of Ten and enslave its population in their terrible grip. They also threaten Blackmoor, while they reach some kind of arrangement with the Duchy of the Peaks. The rulers of Blackmoor can’t convince the Emperor of Thonia to help them and, when they repel the Afridhi invasion by themselves, they get removed from their position by the Emperor, as he didn’t order them to fight the Afridhi.
After this insult, Blackmoor fights back for its independence and becomes an independent kingdom.
In the meanwhile, Ran of the Ah Foo, the strongest General of Ten disappears. This is due to the shock of losing his last battle, that he calculated so carefully, but his predictions didn’t materialize and he went into one of his legendary fits of depression.
After a long time, an oracle reveals news about him: he is in Port Dacoit, pretending to be an old madman. If somebody could be sent to remind him of his duties and to persuade him to go back and fight the Afridhi, then there would be a new hope for Ten!
The souls meet again with the man they met last time: in his prime, with long, black hair and beard and sharp eyes piercing space and time. He urges them to stay strong and keep going, as the conclusion of the plan is slowly but surely coming forward.
EPISODE SEVEN: PORT DACOIT, THE CITY OF THIEVES
Recommended soundtrack: The Thieving Magpie, by Gioacchino Rossini
The Afridhi have no experience with seafaring, due in part to their loathing of waters, and Port Dacoit is one of the few ports they conquered. For this reason, apart from the initial bloodshed during conquest, to make sure they are taken seriously, they treat this city in a somewhat “gentler” way than their other conquests. A minimum Afridhi presence, and a light hand at governance, insures that the city maintains a good reputation and does not drive away all the people with a good knowledge of seafaring. This way, Port Dacoit, known also as Blacksand from its volcanic and sandy soil, has been left a bit to itself during last few years. The Afridhi continue to cultivate some seafaring skill here, in case they are needed in the future for conquering Blackmoor. Now, most of the surviving inhabitants are thieves, assassins or morons… but they can sail!
Ran of the Ah Foo found his privacy here and he’s drawing very complex plans, involving programming 10,000 androids and winning the war with precision calculation and detail control. He needs a lot of time and quiet for these calculations!
This adventure can be played as a sandbox in Port Dacoit, starting from the module Blacksand10 (only Chapter 3, excluding the History section), written by Graham Bottley, published by Arion Games, with a number of adaptations, changes or clarifications described below.
Carsepolis is an ancient, walled pirate stronghold originally founded by the Duke of the Peaks, Carses, as a present for the Amber Channel pirates (that in exchange stopped disrupting the traffic of slaves, spices and gems to and from Starport and acquired the typical debauchery of the Duchy of the Peaks - a classic Starport strategy) over an even more ancient settlement (the Waystation, from Episode 1). Carsepolis is now buried underground below the surface of Port Dacoit.
The Guild of Wizards and Sorcerers is actually what it says and it protects both Wizards and Sorcerers, that in Port Dacoit are not fighting all the time against each other!
Hause Hadrak is owned by a family that betrayed Port Dacoit, the Tenian ruling Van Ringe family and took their mansion. More recently they claimed that they are the oldest family in the city, while the truth is that they descend from a treacherous pirate.
House D’Arrago is a family originated from an exiled noble from south Thonia, due to his bad deeds.
The four noble houses currently in Port Dacoit (Hardak, Kobassis, Sturtz-Chenser and D’Arrago) are all Afridhi collaborators, in exchange for power over the City of Thieves. Unverified gossip says that they all sold their souls to Zugzul and therefore they are under his control.
The City Guard is made of a mix of races conquered by the Afridhi during their long march to Ten and Blackmoor and they are very faithful to their masters, although undisciplined and debauched.
G15 – Arakor Nicodemus: this is the hidden identity (crazy, old mage) that Ran of the Ah Foo took to stop being harassed and take his time and think about the best way to program 10,000 androids and retake the nation. The objective of this Episode is to locate Ran of the Ah Foo and convince him to come back to his duties as Tenian Duke and General. If convinced, he will trigger the next Episode.
T7 – Temple of Solinthar, replace with Uzu Kul. This temple has fallen somewhat into disuse as to avoid displeasing the Afridhi. However, it is tolerated that services are held when a ship is about to leave the port or when it returns from a long sail.
T8 – Temple of Fourga, replace with Zugzul. This temple, the most beautiful of Port Dacoit, was once dedicated to Khoronus. It was desecrated and recently it was rededicated to Zugzul, although true Afridhi don’t seem to worship there, but almost all Tenians, after their conversion come to this temple to worship Zugzul.
T9 – Temple of Sukh, replace with Mwajin. It followed a path similar to the Temple of Uzu Kul, but it sees even less crowds.
T10 – Temple of Kukulak, replace with Kadis. This temple was converted to the cult of Zugzul right after the fall of Port Dacoit. Nowadays only the few Afridhi resident in Port Dacoit go there. If a non-Afridhi is found here, they are often sacrificed to Zugzul.
T11 – Temple of Elim, replace with Med-a.
All references to Logaan are replaced by references to Dealth.
Lord Azzur is actually a Lich possessed by Zugzul and its background story needs to be rewritten accordingly.
After Ran of the Ah Foo is found again, he states that he needs to focus on his calculations for some time more, but if his followers want to help and expedite his plans in the meanwhile, they should clear the way to the 10,000 androids that he wants to re-program.
He gives indications to an ancient spaceship where the androids should be found still intact. This is the spaceship that long ago brought Satura to Mystara and crash-landed not too far from Starport.
On this occasion, the characters don’t necessarily need to die and be reincarnated, as the next Episode is very close in time, although the Game Master can choose to do it.
Potentially, for next Episode, a few characters could have purified themselves of their sins and could remember all their previous lives… and the Immortal project. Nobody will believe them, of course, apart from the other characters that went through the same kind of purification, leaving them with a free will. This should make the following adventures easier for the characters that completed their purification.
EPISODE EIGHT: THE SEARCH FOR THE ANCIENT ARMY
Recommended soundtrack: Pictures at an Exhibition, by Modest Mussorgsky
This adventure can be played starting from the module Expedition to the Barrier Peaks11, written by Gary Gygax, published by TSR Hobbies, with a number of adaptations, changes or clarifications described below.
This adventure is not set in the Grand Duchy of Geoff but in the Duchy of the Peaks.
Background information should be limited to Ran of the Ah Foo’s information to locate the entry to the ancient spaceship.
The spaceship comes from the world of queen-mage Satura (see Episode 1) and crash-landed on Mystara and not on the World of Greyhawk.
Level VI, Cargo Hold areas have lifts going down to Level VII, where 10,000 androids still to be programmed have been dormant for millennia. Ran of the Ah Foo wants them to be transported to a safe place for reprogramming. This will probably require some kind of deal with the Duchy of the Peaks.
[Image: Climbing the Peaks]
Caption: Climbing the Peaks
After the wars against the Afridhi (if the Game Master wants to add another adventure to play in this same timeline, perhaps the City of Gods12 module, by Dave Arneson and David Ritchie could be added) there is a very long time lapse. During this time, Blackmoor civilization flourishes and dies under the Great Rain of Fire, to be covered by the polar ice cap, after the axis of Mystara is shifted by the terrible cataclysm. The inhabitants of the Duchy of the Peaks of course follow the same destiny of Blackmoor, due to the short distance.
When the global axis shifted, Starport was occupied by kobolds, much more resistant to the Wasting Disease than other races. They quickly got quite a lot of their advanced technology, starting up a glorious civilization somewhere under the polar ice cap (powered with the nuclear reactors that were present in Starport, of course). Outside their technological refuge below the ice, the planet took centuries to heal and civilization took millennia to flourish again.
This civilization is the "fabled" kobold civilization, very isolationist and based on a highly scientific and philosophical approach to life (canine teeth of predators are replaced by flat teeth of the vegetarians). They could possibly rule Mystara with their high tech, but they are not interested in power, just in knowledge and philosophy. Their only "weakness" is that they like travelling in secret and helping "underdeveloped" kobold tribes all over the world (that's where Kurtulmak's "shining" armor suit comes from, for example).
The souls this time meet with a very old-looking man with long, white hair and beard and sharp eyes piercing space and time. The old man is the same that was met after Episode Three and says that time progressed a lot since their last incarnation, but the project is still ongoing and their help is needed to complete it.
EPISODE NINE: THE BARBARIAN JUDGEMENT
Recommended soundtrack: The Water Goblin, by Antonin Dvorak
The characters are incarnated as a group of kobolds. They are part of the Whistling Wind horde and, like the wind, their horde roams vast steppes (in northern Skothar) with their grazers. Their ancestral culture is very low-tech, but their mythology tells about a fabled kobold civilization of outstanding refinement.
According to their culture, tribesmen desire an honorable death, fighting face to face with an honorable enemy to meet their ancestors in a fabled land where they can stay together forever in glory: this is the Road to Glory. For them, the only honorable death is one found in hand to hand combat. Ranged weapons are considered good only for hunting or for cowards to be used against other kobolds.
Recently, the Mourning Star appeared in the skies, initiating a terrible, never-ending winter that is taking a terrible toll on the huge herds of the horde and on the tribesmen.
During this hard times, the horde is attacked by new, mysterious enemies coming from south (the characters should be involved in some of these skirmishes): the enemies are in fact human troops with higher technological and magical advancements, taking advantage of heavy metal armor, long range crossbow bolts and wands casting Fireball and Lightning Bolt spells, while the kobolds are fundamentally at Stone Age technology level, with no magic abilities. For the kobolds it is practically impossible to get close enough to fight in an honorable melee and eventually the horde leaders order the tribes to fall back north.
Eventually, the horde is surrounded in a flatland called, with ironic hindsight, the Shallow Grave. All around it, there are frozen lakes, difficult to spot under the snow that keeps falling.
During just another skirmish, enemy troops, with heavy armor, break the ice and sink in the lake below. This can happen various times. After these episodes, the enemies seems to change strategy: now they just wait, shooting at any kobold that tries escaping. During the impasse, cold is slowly but surely grinding down the horde and there is no hope in sight.
The heroes are abducted by a super technological flying saucer and taken into an underground base, run on nuclear power (what in ancient times was Starport).
People in boilersuits, faces covered by breathing masks, control the heroes with paralyzing rays. They are stripped, completely shaven, carefully washed, disinfected and given strange medicines. They are fed exclusively with tasteless nutribars.
Eventually, the heroes are put into an aseptic labyrinth, like guinea pigs. They encounter logic puzzles that force them to work cleverly together to progress, get food, avoid traps and, finally, there is a door that can be opened only by keeping a kobold-sized hamster wheel in continuous movement: the exit. One hero will have to stay behind in the wheel, while the others can escape.
Then there is a group fight against a big troll, requiring collaboration to survive.
Then there is a session against a mechanic spider. It is too fast and powerful and the only escape option is having one hero staying behind and fighting it, while the others flee.
Typically, the situations call for a single to sacrifice for the community (or vice versa).
The trials continue until the heroes either refuse to “play” or only one of them is left standing.
Whether they refuse to “play” or keep going until the last one, eventually the super technological “Masters” reveal themselves, congratulating the heroes and telling them they are worth saving, like their ancestors (the “survivors” will meet “fallen” heroes, actually still alive).
The “Masters” remove their breathing masks: they look like kobolds too! However, their teeth are not pointy, like carnivores (and the heroes), but flat, like grazers. In fact, they eat only vegetarian nutribars, trim their hairs carefully and are hygiene fanatics.
This is the “fabled” kobold civilization, very isolationist and based on a highly scientific and philosophical approach to life. They could rule the world if they were interested in power, but they just love knowledge and philosophy.
They travel periodically to "underdeveloped" kobold tribes all over the world, take “samples” (like the heroes), make “civilization tests” and, occasionally, lend a hand to their kind (that's where Kurtulmak's mythic armor comes from, for example).
Having passed “the tests” the heroes are allowed to roam freely in the otherworldly underground base where they meet legendary kobold heroes of the past: Road to Glory!
When the Heroes mention the dire situation of their horde, the tech-kobolds will sigh, as they have a law that doesn’t allow such dramatic interventions: their “help” can only be a little nudge, but in the tactical map it is very clear that the enemy troops will overpower the horde. Just a nudge won’t suffice.
The tech-kobolds will also show the Mourning Star, an asteroid that will cause huge destruction and climate change, passing very close to Mystara, but they built a nuclear super missile that will deflect it. In theory they could use it to destroy the enemy instead, but the law doesn’t allow it. The enemy will destroy the horde before the asteroid hits Mystara.
The heroes have to decide between staying put in this fake heaven, leaving the horde to a grim destiny, or using the missile against the enemy, causing a massive fallout, but likely allowing most of the horde to survive, as kobolds are a resistant race, until the collision with the asteroid.
If the heroes choose to use the missile against the enemy, then the tech-kobolds, realizing what kind of damage technology can do, hastily build a second missile to destroy the asteroid, effectively saving the planet as intended, and then, stoically, they destroy their own civilization in a blast, removing this source of technological knowledge (and danger) for the world.
If the heroes decide not to save themselves or their horde, in full Duchy of the Peaks fashion, and let the tech-kobolds destroy the asteroid instead, the adventure ends here anyway.
[Image: Sky and Comet]
Whether or not they completed the path to get rid of sins, all the character now can remember their nine previous “lives”. During the following Episode, the characters should be able to make the most of all bonuses and advantages earnt so far, by completing successfully the previous Episodes.
The “souls” meet an overwhelmingly powerful being with female appearance, flowing red hair, fair skin and sharp eyes piercing space and time. If they ask the question, the heroes can be informed that it is the same powerful being they met at the beginning of the campaign.
She finally explains that their project was started to prevent magic from being wiped out from Mystara (she won’t say that this would also prevent the very existence of the Immortals in this universe and that the Immortals are bound to strict rules to avoid direct interference on the Prime Material Plane and therefore need to rely on heroes like the characters to push their agenda). A foul race of time travelers, the oards, from the planet of Aelos, is time travelling to many different planets, destroying retrospectively the development of magic (and religion), to supplant them with logic, philosophy and technology: they need to protect their planet and their way of living from technology!
EPISODE TEN: WHERE CHAOS REIGNS!
Recommended soundtrack: The Isle of the Dead, by Sergej Rachmaninov
Episode Ten is divided in various parts, where each time the “souls” meet the Immortal with a female appearance, flowing red hair, fair skin and sharp eyes piercing space and time that they met at the beginning. She is still running her mysterious project and asks the characters to support her against the oards, without telling much about them. In particular, she will not mention that Aelos and Mystara are two different names for the same planet, used at different times.
During this Episode, if the characters can’t achieve the objective at the end of each Part, they are left stranded in space and time, as the Immortal disappears and can’t bring them back anymore, resulting in an unsuccessful conclusion to the campaign.
Of course, all following Parts of Episode Ten are based on Where Chaos Reigns, written by Graeme Morris and published by TSR13.
EPISODE TEN, PART ONE: IN THE BEGINNING
The characters are sent to the original planet where Satura (and the Pygmalion) came from by the female Immortal that started the project. They are sent to a very ancient time, when magic (and religion) were still developing (early Stone Age, early times for humanity). The Immortals can in fact be defeated by the oards in two ways: either by removing magic from the universe, as magic is the very nature of the Immortals, or by removing all religions, as Immortals wither and vanish if they are not worshipped.
What is not clarified to the characters is that this planet is actually Mystara (and approximately the area that will become the Duchy of the Peaks), but on another time / timeline, and that Satura went back home not with a journey in space, but rather with a journey in time. She was time-stranded.
The objective for the characters is to keep the populations with magic and religion alive, then they will once again face the female Immortal that they met at the beginning.
EPISODE TEN, PART TWO: FORGE OF POWER
This time, the Immortal with a female appearance sends the characters to another time and place: the past of the planet of Ran of the Ah Foo. Once again, it is still Mystara (and approximately the area that will become the Duchy of the Peaks) on another time and timeline, but this is not communicated to the characters.
EPISODE TEN, PART THREE: BRONZE AND IRON
Another trip to “a different planet” (with not much further detail) sponsored by the Mystaran Immortal. However, the characters may start thinking that it was always the same planet every time, as its inhabitants may remember them in their legends related to previous parts of this Episode.
EPISODE TEN, PART FOUR: ISLAND OF SORCERERS
The announced trip to another “different planet” may raise more doubts in the characters, similarly to previous expeditions, as it is always the same planet (a different time and timeline of Mystara). The Immortal driving this project keeps avoiding all questions that may cause doubts.
EPISODE TEN, PART FIVE: THE ENTROPY BUBBLE
This is the final climax of the campaign. The characters, at the end of Part Four, should have acquired enough information and equipment to travel (or be transported by the Immortal as previously, although this option is less preferable in the climax of the story arc) to the Entropy Bubble, an oard location out of space and time. The location is not so dull and oppressive as described in the original adventure module, but more logical and technologic in nature. On the way into the Entropy Bubble, the characters may glimpse, in the chaotic landscape outside space and time, a huge Vortex.
Once the characters reach the Column and earn their chance to destroy the Entropy Bubble, that is the last sign of existence of the oards in the universe, one of them comes forward and tries to convince them not to do it. She says that the oards are actually the true representatives of mankind and that all their adventures took place on Mystara, a planet that had million years of history without either magic, or religion. The Immortals, together with religion and magic… and the ability to manipulate time, came to this universe from the mysterious Vortex, but are originally aliens from a different dimension and invaded this universe to colonize it.
The oards tried to defend their universe from the attacks of the Immortals, that manipulated time to bring mankind back to a state where technology was very underdeveloped and taught them religion and magic, but the original representatives of mankind struggled before learning how to travel in time. During this time, the Immortals manipulated the hearts and soul of the inhabitants of Mystara to the point that they convinced them with lies to act against themselves.
Suddenly, the female Immortal with flowing red hair, fair skin and sharp eyes piercing space and time appears, just outside the Entropy Bubble. She says that clearly the oards haven’t learnt to manipulate time fully, as now there is no longer a way to say what the original status of this universe was, because history changed so many times (she doesn’t confirm it explicitly, but she doesn’t say that the oard’s explanation is false, only that it doesn’t matter anymore)… but now they finally won: technology and logic have now been completely expelled from this universe, limiting them on the Entropy Bubble, outside time and space. She then urges the characters to destroy the Column and collapse the Bubble once and for all.
The oard says that, while the Entropy Bubble has now been pushed out of time and space, it still has all the knowledge required to bring the universe and mankind back to the situation it was before the Immortals’ attack, wiping out all religions and consequently all Immortals and all magic. It all depends on the characters.
Now it is up to the characters to decide the story of the universe: magic or technology? Who will they chose? This may be the beginning of a new world and a new era!
[Image: Stars over the Peaks]
Pixabay CC0 Creative Commons
[Image: The Star Satura has seen in the sky]
Photo of the comet Hale-Bopp above a tree. This picture was taken in the vicinity of Pazin in Istria/Croatia. Date 29 March 1997.
Author Philipp Salzgeber
[Image: Starship crash]
[Image: Sonia Sholako]
Mata Hari photographed in 1906
Particular from Sandro Botticelli (1445–1510): The Birth of Venus painting. Date from 1484 until 1485. Current location Uffizi
Gallery, Florence, Italy.
[Image: Climbing the Peaks]
Pixabay CC0 Creative Commons
[Image: Sky and Comet]
Pixabay CC0 Creative Commons
1Available as a pdf on DriveThru http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/17120/CM6-Where-Chaos-Reigns-Basic?it=1
2Available free in the Wizards of the Coast site http://archive.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/oa/20001101a
3Please note that Dealth is also known by some worshipper on Mystara as the Air Elemaster, Phellia as Ixion and Pacuun as Odir, although not everybody agrees on this.
4Available as a pdf from DriveThru http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/127336/Caverns-of-Thracia-1979
5Available as a Pay What you Want pdf at DriveThru http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/106505/Dungeon-From-A-Distant-Star
6Available as a pdf on DriveThru http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/17120/CM6-Where-Chaos-Reigns-Basic?it=1
7Available as a pdf in DriveThru http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/51494/Dave-Arnesons-Blackmoor-Core-Campaign-Book
8Available for free upon registration at The Comeback Inn Blackmoor forum and following the instructions in this post http://blackmoor.mystara.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=91&t=8654
9A description page for this issue is on Rpg.net https://index.rpg.net/display-entry.phtml?mainid=7436
10Available as a pdf from DriveThru http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/192544/Blacksand
11Available as pdf from DriveThru http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/17065/S3-Expedition-to-the-Barrier-Peaks-1e
12Available as pdf from DriveThru http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/17132/DA3-City-of-the-Gods-Basic
13Available as a pdf on DriveThru http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/17120/CM6-Where-Chaos-Reigns-Basic?it=1