“I attack… what’s going on?”

So on Saturday, Jackie and I played through the Living Greyhawk module “Isle of Woe”. This is a huge module of indeterminate quality (well, we didn’t know anyone who’d played it before, so we didn’t know) which is mostly notable for requiring a 16-hour time commitment.
I didn’t want to do it, since it pretty much meant 50 to 60% of my weekend, but we’d made a commitment…


The good:
– It’s a well-prepared module. What does that mean?

Once, when I was in college, I ran a friend through the first part of this monster mega-dungeon crawl that TSR had published from someone’s home game. This thing was detailed down to mentioning where discarded torch stubs were at. Here’s the funny thing: the first torch stub you find is EXACTLY where your first torch will run out, if you proceed along the ‘typical’ route and explore with a reasonable attention to detail.

That’s what I mean. The module takes place over three ‘in character’ days and 16 real-life hours. It’s also been written so that it can be run for an APL (average party level) of 4, 6, 8, 10, or 12. We had a table at the gamestore running one of each of these APL’s, and in every single case there were ‘breaks’ at just where the group would need to rest.
– Well, this is for a ‘living’ campaign, so you gather gold and XP for your character, and since this is a monster module, it’s monster rewards — everyone but me leveled at the table (and I only missed 9th by 400 points), and we each netted enough gold to buy significant (minor) magical geegaws.
The bad:
– The module is combat, interspersed with combat, with a little combat on the side, and with a few puzzles and traps you need to get past in order to reach more combat. It’s a 31 room dungeon disguised as an island. Like Anger at the Cave on Degobah, the only Role-Playing you face is what you bring in with you.
The ugly:
1. Attrition: We had two clerics with us, my character can do some healing, and Jackie’s character can as well, and we STILL went through TWO FULL wands of healing.
2. You must have a rogue in the group. Must. have. Must. Also, I recommend a FULL table of six, cuz this thing will knock the holy crap out of you. We had two clerics, one ‘spy’ (me) who is in no way a rogue, one low-end fighter with a level of mage and (I think) two spells to cast, and Jackie’s character Rhea, who spent her first two levels as a rogue (maxing out things like ‘search’) and was then ‘recruited’ (by the church of St. Cuthbert that she’d originally stolen some treasure from) as a kneebreaker vs. evil paladin. Don’t get me wrong: she never missed finding a trap, but that didn’t help us get around them. Sometimes it got very ugly.
When your ‘disable traps’ roll amounts to throwing the corpses of your defeated enemies onto pressure plates or holding them up in front of you as you charge into a locked door… that’s ugly.
3. The last fight took us two hours and we didn’t win. I don’t think anyone at any table did. At the end, I was charging up into the tower to get away from the thing while the rest of the party charged down. My “plan” was to find a window and jump out, hoping I’d survive the five-story fall. Not pretty. There is a VERY REAL chance you’re going to be boating back to the mainland in a body bag.
The end result: It was fun. Not the most fun I’ve ever had and certainly not the sort of thing I’d want to play more than one of a year even if it was ‘normal-sized’, but it was a visceral, blood-in-your-teeth tactical foo-faw-rah with only the faintest nod at a plot, a few puzzles, and lots and lots of crap to kill. It was a ‘classic’ module in the 1976 sense of the world, and if you reach back far enough you’ll remember that for a lot of us, it was a module like that got you well and truly hooked on the hobby.


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