“Some days in late August at home are like this, the
air thin and eager like this,
with something in it sad and nostalgic and
― William Faulkner, The Sound and
A decade ago, nine
stalwart warriors, common men and women, faced the sinister Slavelords, and
prevailed! To save loved ones stolen by the evil Slaver, they braved the rugged
wilds of the Pomarj and fought fierce goblins and orcs that guarded the Slavelords’
secrets. They vanquished many villains, from the wicked priestess Pieta and her
thief comrade Dirk to the blind warrior Icar and his elven mistress Markessa,
whose cruel craft reshaped bodies and minds. At last they found the Slavelords’
stronghold. In the hidden city of Suderham, in the maw
of Mt. Flamenlut, they confronted the masters [,] vanquished their foes and
scattered them to the four corners of the Flanaess, the mountain woke, its
fiery blood consuming the Slaverlords’ city.
—The Telling of
Blodgett the Survivor
[Slavers – 2]
Thus begins the last canonical installment of the Slavers
saga that began with A1 Slave Pits
of the Undercity
, or A0 Danger
at Darkshelf Quarry,
if you are so inclined to include Skip Williams
additional adventure that kicked off the 2013 anniversary compilation A0-4
Against the Slave Lords in the fold, as I am.
Ten years prior to Slavers’ introduction, a small
group of heroes set themselves against the Slavelords in a series of confrontations
that plunged ever deeper into the heart of the Pomarj, culminating in the finale
in (or under) the vile city of Suderham. While vanquished, not all of the
Slavers were put to the sword. Indeed, those slavers who survived the final
battle were scattered to the four corners of the Flanaess, never to rise again.
Or so we thought.
We were wrong.
flying the yellow sails of the Slavers has been sighed as far north as [the]
Nyr Dyv, the lake of unknown depths. People are being stolen from their homes,
and the scourge of the Slavelords has returned. [Slavers – 2]
Slavers is Sean K. Reynolds’ and Chris Pramas’
sequel to the original “A” series of tournament modules.
It’s long, far longer than all the originals combined,
much as one might expect, this coming years after tournament modules had
largely fallen out of favour. Players wanted epic adventure paths at the time
of this adventure’s release. This is not to say that the original was not epic.
Or long, either. Were they run as tournaments, as intended, each could be
completed in a few hours, or a few sessions, if the long form was played; but
they could last for months if an ambitious DM chose to fill in the blanks and
flesh out all the bits that were inferred to have happened between each installment.
Back in the day, I played through A4, not the others.
Why? Because we didn’t have them, that’s why; and there was no game store
handy, so we could not purchase them, either. Suffice it to say, we were a
little disappointed to hear of all the adventure we had supposedly experienced
prior to beginning, but had never experienced. How much XP did I get, I asked
jokingly, eliciting a snort from my then DM.
Sean and Chris ensured that the disappointment I felt wouldn’t
happen to those playing this adventure by ensuring inclusivity in one volume.
Mostly. There are a lot of “the DM can create further scenarios” throughout its
pages, much like every adventure I’ve ever read.
They also ensured that the DM would not have to spend
hours imagining what might be there, either. This work is not just an
adventure; it’s a regional sourcebook. I’m lying, of course. This adventure,
like every other, will take prep. A lot of prep. But the story is there in its
entirety, with set pieces that need be played, and enough red herrings and side
quests to keep your players busy for months.
I should note that the adventure is scaled for characters
4th through 7th level. Or should I say, characters ought
to be 4th though 7th at the unveiling.
The story begins in Dyvers.
During this time,
the heroes should discover abandoned scenes of carnage, missing people, and
rumors about suspected slave raids. Word is out that humanoids—gnolls, goblins,
orcs, and ogres are behind the disappearances. [Slavers – 4]
But before we begin, the stage must be set, and that’s
where the embedded gazetteer comes to play. What did we know about the “Lands
of Dyvers” and the “Wild Coast” prior to this release? Not much, just what
could be found in the Greyhawk Folio, the Gold Box, and what could be inferred
from prior modules, mentions made in Dragon magazine; and I suppose from what one
could interpolate from certain passages in the City of Greyhawk boxed set, as
well. Thin missives, to be sure.
One need not guess anymore. Dyvers’ history is told in
brief, and each of its Districts are discussed in slightly more detail: Dock,
Old, Trade, Royal Grounds, and River; and its Catacombs. Outlying regions, like
the defensive towns of Caltaran, Maraven, and Eastguard, are only treated to a
paragraph, while others are covered in more detail, insofar as the writers
thought those would be the places the PCs would spend more time. It’s enough to
get a real feel for the city, though.
Also included is a detailed selection of ships, their
descriptions and stats, and the armaments to be found on them. Personally, I
think one would be better served by a copy of the 2e supplement, Of Ships
and the Seas, but there is enough information given here to get by. (Most
of that information was recycled for 5e in Ghosts of Saltmarsh, if you
are imbedded in that edition; and dealt with exhaustively in Stormwreck
for 3e) More importantly, a fairly extensive Encounter Table is included for all
regions within the scope of this adventure.
Maps are included. Always a plus. We do love our maps.
Although the maps included are lackluster, at best. I suppose they are
serviceable, in that they inspire the imagination, but all “detail” (i.e.,
every street, every building, everything) is left to the DM to lay out himself.
In defense of the designers, there is only so much that could
be shoehorned into the page count allotted them. If they had gone into as much
detail as I would have wished, this would surely have been a boxed set, easily
as expansive as the City of Greyhawk, because Dyvers is a very big city,
How big is Dyvers, do you ask? That depends on when you
mean. The Folio says it is 36,000 (44,000 surrounding), the Gold box 42,000+
(53,000), FtA 49,000, and the LGG says that its population is 52,000. That’s
some sizable growth. Those numbers are not accurate, though; I’ve been tutored
that those early numbers are only the able-bodied fighting men, for use in
tabletop wargaming purposes. Nevertheless, the most important dramatis personae
are included, along with their key motivations.
One such notable NPC is a certain Hodor the mage, one of
those infamous few to have braved and survived the Ghost Tower of Inverness.
Let me jog your memory:
You don't know what
time it was when you were awakened, for the room stayed in had no windows. All
you know is that you have been roughly d ragged from your cot by the palace
guard, and that you now find yourself walking down a long, dimly-lit corridor.
With you are four people whom you have never met before, each escorted by
several heavily-armed guards similar to the ones who walk by your side. You
wonder what the others could have done to deserve so dubious an honor. [C2
Ghost Tower of Inverness – 4]
Across the chamber
sits Duke Justinian Lorinar of Urnst. To his right, partially shrouded in shadow
stands his advisor, the mysterious magician known only as the Seer. At a motion
from the Duke your party is urged forward to stand before the ducal throne.
A smile creeps
across the Duke's face as he speaks to your small band. He seems strangely pleased
with the turn of events. "I imagine you are wondering why you have been
brought to appear before me today." His eyes sweep approvingly over the
five figures in your group; none of you betray any apprehension about what is
to come. "Most of you," he continues, "have been convicted of
crimes for which you should spend the greater part of your lives in my dungeons."
His gaze falls upon
one of your party, a thin man with a short black beard. "Hodar," he
begins, " you dared to defy a royal order and continued to dabble in
sorceries which I had forbidden to all the people of my realm." [C2 –
|The Yellow Lighthouse|
Intrigue abounds in Dyvers. There are guilds and factions
galore. Some are aligned with the Slavers; most are not; indeed, most, although
aware of the Slavers’ actions up and down the Nyr Dyv’s coasts, are not aware
that the evil organization is orchestrating its northern crimes from within
their very walls. It’s up to the PCs to uproot it, and expose its doings there,
and gain much-needed allies. The Slavers will surely try to stop them, and will
either attempt to seduce those they might, or assassinate those they know they
could never hope to sway.
The heroes will have to be clever, and cautious here.
Dyvers is not a place to use strong-arm tactics; unless strong-arm tactics are
required, that is. Because, you know, sometimes they are. But civilized cities
tend to frown on such tactics.
Be advised that the Free City of Dyvers seems a little
martial heavy, in regards to its defence. It has 350 Watch, 2000 in its standing
army, and another 1000 in its navy (the Marines), and another 20 rangers
(Rovers) that patrol the bordering Gnarley Forest. The last seems a reasonable
number, but the others seem a little bloated, to my reckoning. Its police force
is 2x the real-world equivalent average of 300/100,000 inhabitants, and its
combined armed forces is 7% of its population, 49/1000, 10x more than the
real-world ratio of 5/1000 (only North Korea tops Dyvers at 50/1000).
What follows is a comprehensive review of where and how
the Slavers are operating, a section on conducting sea combat (adapted from the
aforementioned 2e supplement Of Ships and the Sea
), and another on all
types of conveyances, waterborne and land-crossing, alike.
Points along the path are detailed: Smugglers Cove,
Blackthorn, the North Woolly Bay, Bright Tower Keep, Safeton, the Orcish Wild
Coast, etc. And finally, the Pomarj. Each are given the same treatment as was
Dyvers; especially Hardby, described with the same depth as was Dyvers. There
are fairly in-depth descriptions of certain towns (there are maps, sometimes; but
not always), and encounter tables.
Like I said, this is as much a gazetteer as it is an
There is much said about who the Slavers are, who their
spies and contacts are, and what this cast of characters do while “off stage,”
and suggestions on how they will react to the PCs’ meddling. As there should
be. How else could a DM run this sandbox?
That said, much is left for the DM to flesh out. Most
towns visited are given descriptions, but are not mapped. Taverns are named,
but not detailed; nor mapped. Nor inns. Nor guildhalls and temples and castles
and courts. Nor could they be; the scope of the adventure is enormous, the number
of potential sites that could be explored beyond count. But important encounters
are: Dungeons, and towers, and wherever else conflict is keyed to occur.
There are odd passages throughout; usually concerning some
relevant NPCs’ origins and their reasons for being…wherever.
Captain Planck is a patient soldier with a good amount
a tactical experience, having participated in the Great Northern Crusade to
retake the Shield Lands lost to Iuz. [Slavers
Shouldn’t he still be there, then? The war is waged
there, still; and always will be, in either a cold or hot state, until the Old
One is put to rights, if he ever can be. I should think that anyone invested in
the Great Crusade would be engaged in it forever more. Wouldn’t you?
A recent addition to Safeton is Bendel […], a
redheaded native of the Yeomanry (a friendly nation to the southwest). She
fought against giants when they invaded her homeland, and came to Safeton to
help keep the humanoid ride at bay. [Slavers – 46]
Wouldn’t she, too, still be there, or in Sterich or
Geoff, fighting the good fight against those fell foes?
So too Unjan, a former paladin of Mayaheme, was
involved in the Great Northern Crusade to reclaim the Shield Lands lost to the
evil demigod's armies during the Greyhawk Wars. [Slavers – 105]
See Planck, above.
But Greyhawk has always been replete with globetrotting
adventurers, thousands of miles from their homelands, with uncertain (or, to my
mind, less than convincing) reasons as to why they are no longer there when
trouble is invariably brewing back home, without fail.
The PCs, at least, have real reason why they are roaming
the map. They are on the trail of the Slavers, and the scent leads south, to
Hardby, and beyond.
There’s much ado about the Earth Dragon, who really seems
to only make appearance in the Slavers’ saga (for good reason, actually; but
more on why later). I’ve suggested it be swapped out for the Elder Elemental
Eye, in keeping with the 2013 inclusion of that god’s temple in A0 Danger at
, but either can suit, I imagine. Reynolds and Pramas do a
good job extrapolating upon the decidedly local Oerthly demigod and weaving it
into the Flanaess and its history. I just don’t buy it, personally; not fully,
anyway. Not so much the Earth Dragon, or its place in the Pomarj; that is well
interpolated; it’s Stalman Klim: most specifically why and how he created “The
Nine,” and how slaving could possibly help him attain his goals. I’ve mentioned my preference for his
venerating the Elder Eye, instead, and I’ll go into why in a later post.
The Aspis return as well. They make their only appearance
in A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity and this adventure. I suppose that
Reynolds and Pramas were paying homage to the original series in regards to including
both. I submit that the Aspis may be native to the Pomarj, and nowhere else.
Maybe they infest the Suss Forest and the Amedio, as well. Lord knows what else
might dwell in those dense morasses….
As to the adventure, there is a path to follow. Is it a
railroad? No. The PCs can do as they wish, but there are warnings about
tackling certain locales too soon.
The DM should provide the heroes with clues that lead
to an investigation of the Blackthorn Caverns in the Gnarley Woods. Care should
be taken so that the heroes don't discover the precise location of the entrance
to the Blackthorn Caverns. Thus, it will prove difficult for them to return
with an army and destroy this haven of evil. The heroes may stumble on the site
in the dark or during a storm or they may chase a band of humanoids back to
their lair or be captured by humanoid raiders and have to escape these caverns.
The heroes should barely escape with their lives. [Slavers – 4]
Personally, I think there is too much discussion on
Sandboxes and Railroads.
This module is a great example of a sandbox, but it is
also an adventure, and there are set pieces within, plot points, scenes and
acts within a larger play; and it is up the players to play their parts, if you
will. There’s a lot of wiggle room within it on how this play plays out; but
there are acts and scenes within it, otherwise there is no story. And there is
a story! Is expecting the players to follow the clues railroading? If it is, so
be it. There is either a story, or there is blind chaos.
There is quiet a bit of leeway within the scope of this
overarching narrative insofar as what might happen in the cities and towns, and
upon the deep blue sea. Nevertheless, the story is firmly entrenched within the
confines of Dyvers, Hardby, the Woolly Bay, and the Pomarj; not Gradsul and
Keoland, not the Free City of Greyhawk, and certainly not in the Empire of Iuz.
Should the players wish to deviate from the presented path, the DM has either
not sufficiently impressed upon them the importance of their doing so, or the
players are assholes, disrespecting the DM and the adventure at hand.
Either way, if the players don’t follow the clues laid
out before them, the Flanaess would surely have fallen to Stalman Klim,
Eclavdra, Iuz, and whomever else has threatened it, given the heroes it had to
stand against them.
I digress. What is the path laid out?
The PCs begin in Dyvers, where they either hail from, or have
arrived at, for whatever reason. They meet and greet; they make acquaintance
with family and friends (hopefully); where they could thwart a smuggled ring
and the enmity of the rogue alliance. They may slay rampaging monsters and
explore the countryside. Or they may bring a thief or assailant of innocents or
a noble to justice. during this time, the heroes should discover abandoned
scenes of carnage, missing people, and rumors about suspected Slave raids. [Slavers
When the heroes return to Dyers after their abortive
raid on Blackthorn, they should witness the end of a slave raid on an outlying
manor house by the Pirates of the Yellow Veil. They can only stop a few of the
raiders, and are too late to prevent the ship from setting sail and escaping.
The heroes should discover that several of their friends were either skin by
the Slavers or nabbed in the raid. […] [They discover evidence that the Pirates
of the Yellow Veil are actually agents of the Slavelords. [Slavers – 4]
The heroes are to sail forth on a decoy ship [….] [Slavers
Why? To gather information, and to set them on their path
to the next altercation.
Where they face the first of the Markessas they are sure
The heroes’ efforts lead them to the first secret base
of the Slavers hidden on the southern shore of the Nyr Dyv [, where] the heroes
discover clues that lead them to other secret way stations along the Selintan
River and to the port of Hardby. [Slavers – 4]
Not the Free City.
That place is a rabbit hole for the PCs.
If you wish to entertain that notion, there’s plenty of
information in the City of Greyhawk Boxed Set. And, quite likely, quite a bit
of intrigue to be found there, too. But the scope of the story, as written, is
not in the Free City, but in Hardby.
It is in Hardby where the heroes encounter a
misunderstanding with the Hardby Marines, being in possession of a contraband
smugglers’ ship. […] They should run afoul of the town’s politics and the
Slavers’ agents, who attempt to eliminate them. Eventually the heroes are
conscripted by the city to perform pest extermination in return for dropping
all debts they come to owe to the city
[Slavers – 4]
They are posted to Bright Tower, where they encounter the
orcs of Blackthorn.
In an effort to keep their presence secret, the orcs
attack Bright Tower under the cover of night with reinforcements from
Blackthorn. [Slavers – 4]
The PCs journey south to the Wild Coast, where the trail
leads to Sevant’s Cove, where they defeat the 2nd of the Markessas,
the black-skinned Vessa, and pursue the Slavers to Port Eldredd, into the
Pomarj, to the City of Highport, and finally, on to the Drachensgrab Mountains,
for their final showdown with the Slavers in their city of Kalen Lekos.
What about Markessa?
Which one? There are more than one, as one would expect
from our prior experience with her.
There is a Markessa the Red found at the Slaver’s Cove on
the Nyr Dyv. She is a short female elf with fair skin, red-golden hair and
an evil look about her. She wears red studded leather armor and a dark red cap,
which she uses to add flourishes to whatever gestures she makes. However, this
is not her original identity. She once was a Kaoish sylvan elf by the name of
Tynley. Catching the eye of the slavelord Markessa, she was brainwashed and
surgically altered to look like Markessa. Now Tynley’s original personality is
gone and she considers herself to be the real Markessa [….] There are very fine scars on certain parts of
her face and body, belying her elaborate disguise. [Slavers – 27]
She divides her time between the Cove and Dyvers, and runs
the Slavers’ operations in the north. It is she who has seduced and coerced
those guilds and gentiles who’ve thrown in with the Slavers, for one reason or
|Markessa the Black|
Another is Markessa the Black, who directs operations in
the Woolly Bay.
Sevant’s Tower was annexed by the Slavelords to become
the center of a spy network. The leader of this network was once an elven
wizard-thief named Telaril. When she caught the true Markessa’s eye, she was
kidnapped, surgically altered, and brainwashed to believe that she is Markessa.
Because of a strange reaction to one of the drugs, her skin became mottled. To
hide this discoloration, Markessa had Telaril’s skin tattooed black.
Now, known as Markessa the Black, or Vessa, an alias
she often uses, she resembles Markessa with black skin and ebony tresses.
Except form her hair, she could be mistaken for a drow. She is reclusive and
rarely speaks above a whisper. [Slavers – 48]
Needless to say, the Markessas are more dangerous the
further into the adventure we get.
Is there any mention of the real Markessa? Other than it
was she who created these duplicates, none whatsoever.
Or should I say, none so far.
Are there more? Assuredly.
Have I piqued
Or are you wholly
familiar with this adventure, and reading this purely for nostalgic reasons? If
you are, maybe I’ve inspired you to pick it up and give it a re-read, curious
whether it holds up to your memory. I would recommend that you do. It is
good. The prose is, too.
In either case,
I’ve only scratched the surface. The adventure is just getting started, the
true foes yet to be faced.
To be continued….
One must always give credit where credit is
due. This History is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax
and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them, and the new old guards, Carl
Sargant, James Ward, Roger E. Moore. And Erik Mona, Gary Holian, Sean K. Reynolds,
Chris Pramas, Frederick Weining. The list is interminable.
Special thanks to Jason Zavoda for his
compiled index, “Greyhawkania,” an invaluable research tool.
All art is wholly owned by the artists.
Slavers cover detail, by Jeff Easley, from Slavers, 2000
Dyvers detail, by David Roach & Sam Wood, from Slavers, 2000
Dyvers map, by Todd Gamble and Sam Wood, from Slavers, 2000
The Yellow Lighthouse detail, by David Roach & Sam Wood, from Slavers, 2000
Wooley Bay Map, by Todd Gamble and Sam Wood, from Slavers, 2000
Aspis detail, by Jeff Easley, from Slavers, 2000
Dyvers detail, by , from Slavers, 2000
Hardby detail, by Wayne Reynolds, from Slavers, 2000
Savent's Tower detail, by Wayne Reynolds, from Slavers, 2000
Markessa the Black detail, by David Roach & Sam Wood, from Slavers, 2000
World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
Of Ships and the Sea, 1997
World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
A0 Danger at Darkshelf Quarry, 2013
A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity, 1980
A2 Secret of the Slaver’s Stockade, 1981
A3 Aerie of the Slave Lords, 1981
A4 In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords, 1981
The Scarlet Brotherhood, 1999
Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, 2000
Magazine #215, 2013