Friday, August 26, 2022

Beacon of the Lizard King

This post contains spoilers for TSR-era modules. 

Today's post is a little bit about dismembering published adventures and stitching them together.  There's plenty of discussion out there about whether modules are worth using, and if so, how best to use them.  Do you run them straight?  Re-skin most of it?  Or cannibalize it for parts?  In today's example, we're somewhere between ghoulishly stealing parts and a Frankenstein re-skinning.  

I was running 5e for some folks and wanted to steal liberally from a TSR-era adventure, so I was looking at the I-series modules.  There's this bit of overlap that intrigued me...  I2 Tomb of the Lizard King gives us the vampire lizardman Sakatha.  I7 Baltron's Beacon happens to have a (quite alive) lizard chieftain, Yiss, raising an army in the swamp.  Both NPCs have pet dragons.  What if they were the same dude?  Couldn't I just replace Yiss with Sakatha, and put all this stuff on the same map?  Answer: yes.

AH YISS it ya boi comin' at ya with the latest swamp nonsense, pound that like button

First thing I did was dub the vampire lizard emperor Ah Yiss.  There's the stupid joke there (I envisioned players saying AWWWW YISS!) but the sound pattern of the joke name also suggested a pseudo-Mayan thing, so that's what I went with for the lizardfolk here.  I kept the lizard king's pan lung dragon mount from Beacon, because why wouldn't you?  So we have Ah Yiss and his rising forces out in the swamp surrounding his tomb, plop that on the map.  The only thing we're using from Tomb is the swamp and the tomb - we're ignoring all the intro stuff in that module.

Now we take a look at Baltron's Beacon and see it's about a ruined keep where various parts of the complex are held by (competing) nasties, and the PCs are expected to investigate the newly-lit eponymous beacon.  Easy-peasy.  Plop the keep on the map over here.  Be ready with appropriate NPCs who can offer information about the place or steer the PCs into the great swamp.

Game-time came around, and for the initial session I had only three PCs present:

Blitz Donner, thunder priest

Gunsi the Squirrel, sellsword

Lini the Tortle, swamp warrior (new PC)

Just as you would've done, I made sure new PC Lini had knowledge of the area - a way to get info download to the group but also tie the new PC right into things.  Lini's band of tortles had been recently displaced from the swamp as the lizardfolk got frisky (following Ah Yiss waking up).  Now Blitz and Gunsi had arrived in this small swamp-adjacent village that was overrun by expatriate tortles.  Tensions weren't too bad yet, but clearly the situation was untenable.  When the PCs also heard about the lighting of the strange beacon in the swamp, they knew the whole thing was chock full of xp, and resolved to head into the swamp with Lini as their local guide.  I was thrilled that we had avoided the hamfisted "please go do this" sections of both modules.  It seems like multiple pages are wasted on these vanilla expository bits in every otherwise-raidable module.

The guys tromp through the swamp - I think there was a wilderness encounter, can't remember - and make it to the keep relatively unmolested.  They scout around and decide to attempt to go in from the TOP of the thing, I think in part because this is 5e and 2/3 of the group can levitate or whatever.  That caper brings them face-to-face with this guy, his bugbear pals, and his pet hieracosphinx:

There is nearly a skirmish, then there is a parley, and next thing you know the PCs are begrudging allies (frenemies?) of Antarcus Giantbane.  He spares them and dispatches them back into the swamp to scout for other warbands and report back to him - since he's lightly allied with the lizards and, as a 9th-level fighter, knows this keep is inevitably going to be the only defensible position if and when stuff goes down.  The PCs agree to do the scouting and depart.  Never to return.

I mean "never to return" twofold there - first because the PCs agreed they were going to burn this guy and were not going to even pretend to work for him, and second because these PCs never got together again.  At the end of the session, they were trudging back toward the village, with minimal xp and essentially no treasure.  COVID hysteria hit and people stopped seeing one another, so that was the last in-person game for that group, which did not successfully slide online.

Sometimes a fallen ranger pays a little too much attention to his sphinx

But time marches on, and the campaign exists outside of one playgroup, so we have to look at what happened next.  That's my job as the DM, to keep the world moving even when players aren't putting their grubby paws all over it.

Gunsi the Squirrel got on the road and headed toward the region called Three Rivers, on his way toward the Lumberlands.  We know this because Gunsi's player is my son, so COVID didn't stop him interacting with the campaign.  He had a teamup with another PC and then a series of solo adventures in Three Rivers which we may talk about another time.  Today, Gunsi is sitting in the town of Squeamish, in the Lumberlands.

Blitz and Lini haven't played again, so I have to presume, absent player actions, they stayed somewhere near that whole swamp nonsense.  The more important question is, what's going on two years later with Ah Yiss the vampire, his dragon steed, and his lizardman army?  Fantastic question.  I should've run it at the time, and didn't.  I know now I could've - should've - run a sweet big battle at the keep between some defenders (or the villagers) and the lizards.  I'm sure I have wargamer pals who would've happily adjudicated that for me.  But now, two years later, I think I need to just weave from whole cloth based on what was likely to happen.

There's this:

Absent the intervention of PCs or some other regional power, it seems inevitable to me that the risen Ah Yiss, with his lizard horde and assorted evil non-lizard allies, would control the great swamp pretty completely.  Perhaps Antacus advises him, and also Leptor (the 9th-level wizard from Beacon), and Ah Yiss still has those brigands from Tomb in his employ.  This alliance may even control the demonic blackflame in the keep.  And potentially they have a good number of magical items as well - not just arms and armor, but assorted potions and things.  With two years to consolidate, it's a safe bet that Ah Yiss rules the area, and is now ready to consider expansion, or reach out for further allies.  Worth noting that this swamp is up north on the map, and is not Snollygoster Swamp, so (for now) Ah Yiss doesn't have any dinosaurs to command.

Looks like trouble for certain parts of Wampus Country.  And Ah Yiss isn't the only nefarious army-builder on the map...

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