Thoughts on A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade
“There was a long hard time when I kept far from me the remembrance of what I had thrown away when I was quite ignorant of its worth.”
|Secret of the Slavers Stockade|
The battle against the slavers continues! You and your fellow adventurers have defeated the slavers of Highport, but you have learned of the existence of another slaver stronghold, and you have decided to continue the attack. But beware! Only the most fearless of adventurers could challenge the slavers on their own ground, and live to tell of it! [A2]
Is this module the best in the Series?
It might be. Does the module have problems? What module doesn’t. The most glaring issue to my mind in this one is the ankheg hiding in a far too deep puddle at the entrance of the stockade. Think on that for a moment, if you will. But I’m willing to look beyond that and focus on the adventure’s strengths. Secrets of the Slavers Stockade has the most realized plot, and the very best villains of all the modules in the A-series. Blackthorn is creepy! The Executioner horrifying! Icar is terrifying! And could there an antagonist more vile than Markessa? You would have to look long and hard to find one. She’s Mengele! Todesengel! The Angel of Death!
The story so far:
Slavers have plundered the coasts, carrying off farmers, fisherfolk, and nobility alike. You put an end, albeit temporarily, to their activity in Nyrond at Darkshelf. Maybe not. You likely set them back a few months until they set up another front in another coastal village and carried on, unabated. Then, some time later, you infiltrated the sundered city of Highport in the Pomarj, where all evidence of the slavers’ activity pointed.
You crept into Highport and after much investigation discovered the slaver’s stronghold, a burnt-out temple in the heart of the city, surrounded by orcs and undead. You narrowly escaped death and enslavement within, but in the end, you defeated the Slave Lord and his minions, only to discover that Highport has never been the slavers’ true base.
On the table are the records of the slavers’ activities in the area and a map of the caravan route and the stops on the way. [A1]
It’s an old trope, but in this case it works. These are lower echelon slavers, not privy to the same knowledge as their superiors.
In any event, [the] map has led the party inland from Highport to an old fort lost in the midst of the Drachensgrab Hills. Supposedly this stockade is used as a way station by humanoid caravan merchants who dare risk travel across these perilous lands. The party's map, however, indicates that the fort is really a front for the slavers, and that it is being used as a processing and fattening house for newly acquired slaves. The information agrees with that received from a slave who escaped from the stockade. The slaves are brought in with the mock caravans, but they are never seen to leave. To help fulfill their mission the player characters decide to investigate the old fort. [A2]
So says the module. But like the modules preceding this one, it is for tournament play and designed to fit neatly within the four-hour play period allotted it.
What follows is a series of lethal encounters within the fort, where the characters are lucky to remain undetected for long.
Should they remain undetected, they will eventually descend into another of those dungeons built in the crazy heyday of dungeon creation, and eventually meet and dispose of the Executioner and Icar, Markessa’s trusted minions, if not Markessa, herself, as the module hints to her inevitable escape, never to be seen or heard of again, until the release of Slavers in 2000; and again in 2016 when caslEntertainment revived her memory with the first his series of adventures featuring her.
Might I suggest some changes? A stockade is well and good, but I would wonder its purpose in the centre of what was once a territory. I might imagine that the slavers have secured a number of locales along their “caravan route” that met their needs. It need not be a stockade. It can be, of course; but what if it were a remote and once palatial hunting lodge? That would suit Markessa, I think, owing to the description of her quarters in the module. Palatial is not necessary, but it would certainly be more comfortable. Remote, that would be far more important to her; to be left undisturbed. But I also imagine that she would prefer quiet to conduct her “work.”
Congruent to that chain of thought, she’d have erected a wooden stockade downwind of her lodge to keep those odoriferous assets.
Which leads me to the lodge. Her “supply” would be kept in the basement, maybe her laboratory, as well. As might be the Executioner. Icar would be on the ground floor, in the kitchen, as per the module; so too offices and studies and libraries and solariums and dining halls, each decked out with the accoutrements of a trophy rooms.
There need not be a second floor. If there is, that is where their suites would be and not on the first, both personal and guest. Treasure would be in their quarters, hidden, trapped, what have you. This is where the drow are likely to be as well, the curtains drawn by day, thrown open to the glories of the night sky that they would be in wonder of by night.
Once Markessa is defeated, either dead or taken flight (I prefer the latter for campaign continuity purposes), a search of her laboratory (or her quarters, or study—a more likely prospect) would reveal the lure to the next stage in the adventure.
Shoved behind some books and papers on the top of one cabinet is a roll of parchment. There are three sheets of parchment, the first one listing various names, these are the names of the slave merchants Markessa normally does business with. The second sheet is a tally of the slaves most recently received divided by general description and where they are from. The last is a crude map of the caravan routes and may be used by the party to reach dungeon module A3 - Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords. [A2]
Why would there be such a map? I prefer that the PCs find correspondence instead: letters, orders, a summons.
Despite my criticisms, and desire to tinker, I believe this is the strongest of the A series modules.
What are your thoughts on this much beloved classic?
Do you agree?
|Markessa in her laboratory|
Cover Art, from A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade, by Jeff Roslof, 1981
Markessa, from A0-A4 Against the Slave Lords, by Mike Lowe, 2013
Detail of Stockade Cartography, from A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade, 1981
Confronting Markessa, from A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade, by Bill Willingham, 1981
Markessa in her laboratory, from A0-A4 Against the Slave Lords, by Mike Bridges (of Greyhawkery), 2013
All source material presented within this blog piece is owned and copyrighted by WotC.
The use of this material is not intended to challenge the rights of WotC.
This document is fan content and presented solely for the personal use of those individuals who game within the Greyhawk Setting.
9039A A0 Danger at Darkshelf Quarry, 2013
9039 A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity, 1980
9040 A2 Secret of the Slaver’s Stockade, 1981
9041 A3 Aerie of the Slave Lords, 1981
9042 A4 In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords, 1981
A0-A4 Against the Slavers, 2013
11621 Slavers, 2000
A5 Kill Marquessa!, casl Entertainment, 2016
A6 Die, Marquessa, Die!, casl Entertainment, 2017
A7 Marquessa, Thy Name is Evil, casl Entertainment, 2018