Secret of the Slaver's Stockade
I am in the process of reviewing all four of the Slave Lord modules, and this represents installment #2. These have special nostalgic value to me as there were the first modules I bought, so I am starting with these four modules first before going to other products. Going forward I think I will be doing my product reviews on the weekend.
This was the second in a four part Gencon tournament that was held around 1980. The results of this were published in the form of A1-A4 between 1980-1981. The final published module included the tournament versions plus some additional material to give it a bit more content than just a tournament module. I included the basic outline in my first review, so I will not repeat it here, but suffice to say that this module follows the same basic outline as the first module.
The module follows the basic layout of the time, with the standard two adventuring levels, which for this module was an above ground fort and the dungeon level below. The maps are printed on the inner covers with a 40 page book that includes the encounters write ups, new monsters, and some pregenerated characters that were used in the tournament. This is the largest of the 4 modules. The new monsters included were the phantom, haunt, cloaker and the boggle, which would see a full write up in the later MM2 that was produced several years later. The module includes the relatively new feature of the read aloud box text. When looking at the layout of this module in relation to the others at the time, I would say that it is no better or worse than the others, and it is very similar in quality to the others in the series.
The artwork of this period generally consisted of good black and white art. To me, the art style from 1978-1982 was all very similar. Some of the art was very good and some of it was mediocre. Given the style of the period, I think that the modules stack up well to their peer class of modules. Looking back over the module, the amount of art work is considerably less than the other modules in the series, which re-enforces the point that there is a lot of content in this module.
The goal of the adventure is simple enough, defeat the slave lords and free the slaves. The module starts out with the characters following an overland route to the slaver's stockade, which is an old fort. A runway slave provides the characters an entrance into the fort through a crude rope ladder onto the curtain wall. From here the characters have to navigate through the curtain wall, past the anhkheg into the fort itself. The fort proper is patrolled by hobgoblins with the dungeon below stocked with goblins. After the characters clear the upper fort, the dungeon below represents a significant challenge as it is a rather extensive. Both the fort and the dungeon have a solid 40+ encounter areas each which should provide for a considerable amount of adventuring experience.
There are a couple of features that this module provides that I am going to list out below:
1. A fully mapped out fort. The map of the fort in my opinion is one of the strongest points of the module. Not only can it be used for this module, but can also be used as a template for other adventures. In particular, the curtain wall and the guardhouse are very well detailed out. Also, the rules for the wandering guards work well for giving the feel of the watch rotation. I really enjoy looking over floor plans for castles and forts. Any adventure that can provide this, gets a thumbs up from me.
2. A number of interesting tactical battles. Without a doubt, there are a couple of encounters that are just deadly to an unprepared party. I do appreciate the fact that the designers included several tactical maps to help with the orientation of the encounter. I do find the format included in this module to be better the larger delve format that is now being used by WotC for all their encounters. In my opinion, the separate tactical maps are just needed for the more complex encounters, not all of them. Sometimes less in more.
3. The module features six major evil leaders which can mount a counter attack against a careless party. With flexible DM play, these leaders can provide to be a considerable challenge. I would also go as far as to say that for the most part the leaders are different and interesting. The fort commander Icar is my favorite of the group.
4. There are a number of challenging traps for the party to navigate around, which should give the party's thief something to do between encounters with the denizens of the fort complex.
5. The cave complex in the dungeon area is a bit creepy, and can provide for some interesting role playing encounters.
This is one of my favorites in the series. The fully mapped out fort complex wins it for me, as I have a soft spot for stuff like this. Without a doubt this is a tough module as the leaders can quickly rally the troops against the characters. The characters in this module are heroes, rather than treasure hunters, as the objective is heroic in nature not just to gain treasure. I will be blogging about this concept in the future as I think this interesting difference in play of adventures. I can see the DM award story experience points for defeating the leaders and freeing the slaves. I would not call this a sandbox module, as it feels more like an adventure path. Overall, thumbs up!
Rating: 4 Dragons (on a scale of 5)
late edit - Added some additional content