Saturday, 25 September 2021

Thoughts on A5 Kill Marquessa!


“So new to him,' she muttered, 'so old to me; so strange to him, so familiar to me; so melancholy to both of us!”
― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

A5 Kill Marquessa!
Of the infamous Flesh Traders, perhaps none was more fearsome than the twisted elven enchantress known simply as the Marquessa. Her unspeakable experiments that twisted the flesh and bones of the innocent into horrific abominations continue to fill the good folk of the land with dread, even now, fifteen years since the slavers ring was smashed by a band of legendary heroes and she was forced to flee into the night.
[A5 Kill Marquessa! - cover]

Sound thrilling?
It should. Could there be a viler villain in all of Greyhawk? Unlikely. Iggwilv would surely give her a run for the title, but where Iggwilv might have consorted with demons, her main goal appears to be power and conquest.
Not so Markessa, of should I say, the Marquessa.

Hold on, you say! Marquessa? Who the deuce is Marquessa?
Marquessa is Markessa. Unfortunately, a little thing called Intellectual Property stands in the way of calling A ROSE anything but a ROZE. Suffice it to say, while WotC may not be publishing new material in the Greyhawk setting, they have not opened up the IP to fan content on DMs Guild, either. Therefore, anyone who wishes to set their adventures in the venerable old setting will have to do a little slight of hand, if they want to sell the fruit of their labour. They could give it away free, legal under the fan content clause, but why then would they go through the trouble is producing EXPENSIVE physical product. To sell adventures, they have to do something called “shaving off the IP.” Change names, etc.
Maybe I shouldn’t be saying this, just in case WotC is reading this humble blog…. I suppose it doesn’t matter, seeing that those who do this have voiced what they do on online streams.
Getting back to Marquessa, what do we know about her? She’s beautiful.
She is a small female elf with ivory white skin, golden hair and an evil slant to her amber eyes. [A2 - 27]

And yeah, she’s evil. Iggwilv doesn’t really measure up to Marquessa’s kind of evil. Marquessa experiments on people. She’s a cross between Josef Mengele and Doctor Moreau. That puts Marquessa on a completely different plane of sinister depravity.
[What] catches the party’s attention are the two tables in the center of the room, from one of which rises a strange caricature of a man—long and thin, with a horribly deformed mouth and a long clawed arm. It emits a brutal croaking sound [A2 - 27]
The creature on the table was once a human slave, but is now a crazed experiment of Markessa. Markessa is chaotic evil and an agent of the Slave Lords and in charge of the running of this branch of the slaver operation. Markessa is also performing private experiments on some of the captured slaves in order to create the perfect slave. […] Unfortunately, most of her experiments have gone awry, for she operates without anesthesia and most of her experiments are driven insane by the pain. [A2 - 27]

Some were successful:
The party sees a female elf with ivory skin, golden hair and amber colored eyes. She is wearing studded leather armor and carrying a shortsword and throwing darts. She is seated at a work table writing on a length of parchment. [A2 - 33]
Actually she is one of Markessa's more successful experiments, a double who has been surgically and magically altered to look like Markessa, then brainwashed to obey Markessa's commands. [A2 - 33]
Why? So she can be in more than one place at a time, I suppose. Chris Pramas and Sean K. Reynolds puts this to great effect in their 1999 sequel to the Slavers series, Slavers.
When confronted by Markessa’s experiments, the PCs ought to be horrified, and desire to put an end to hem, and her.
I’ve suggested in prior posts that if the PCs manage to kill the real Markessa, the deceased ought to be one of her successful experiments. I will be so bold as to suggest that even the writers of the module, Harold Johnson and Tom Moldvay, intended Markessa to escape:
If things are going badly for her she will either cast her darkness spell and flee or she will pick up a flask off of a shelf and throw it down to smash on the floor. The contents of the flask will form a blue cloud of smoke, 10‘ radius, that cannot be seen through. Anyone caught in the smoke will find that it stings their eyes and blinds them for 1 round after they leave the cloud.
[A2 - 27]
Behind the fireplace on the east wall is a secret door opened by adjusting the flue with a poker. When the secret door is opened the wooden chandelier on the ceiling will come crashing to the floor to distract attention. The fireplace will then swing out into the room revealing the secret passage beyond it. This is Markessa's escape tunnel if she is pursued to her chambers. [A2 - 33]
Part way down the tunnel, Markessa's escape tunnel exits through a secret door in the west wall into this passage. The secret door looks like part of the stone wall and is opened by pushing up on a nearby rock outcropping. [A2 - 35]
The tunnel opens into a large natural cavern. In the southeast corner of the cavern are a number of black-skinned elves leading slaves who are carrying packs. [A2 - 35]

It was because she escaped that Markessa’s depravities were able to continue in Slavers. Did Markessa survive the assault on Kalen Lekos in Slavers?
You bet your ass she did.
Markessa has a contingency spell cast upon herself that should she be reduced to 10 or fewer hit points, she will be teleported to the home of a charmed ally in Furyondy. [Slavers – 105]
Aside from that, she will fight smart. She wants to win. And she wants to survive. Wouldn’t you?
Markessa is incredibly intelligent and extremely wicked, and will use her spells to neutralize her opponents. If she thinks she’s outclassed, she’ll use her project image spell to harry people from afar (in addition to sending guards after them) and dimension door away if things look bad (failing that, her contingency spell should save her). [Slavers – 105]

All this matters if you’ve been playing the A series in sequence, and in a larger campaign.
You may have never played the original tournament modules.
But if you had, or if you wish to, the story need not end, or have ended, with Slavers. Our heroes might have chased the survivors down. And one or two might have slipped through their fingers.

Which brings me to A4 Kill Marquessa!
Even now, fifteen years later, the tales of her unspeakable experiments upon the flesh of the innocent fills the hearts of good folk with dread and brings spider-legs to climb the ladderwork of their spines.
Of those that cannot forget the nighmares found in Marquessa’s laboratories is Leander Hatgeld. [A5 - 1]
Leander Hatgeld is none other than Dread Delgeth of A2, one of the pre-generated characters of the A-series. A middling mage all those years ago, he has grown in skill, and in the intervening years, he has spent his life dealing with the aftermath of that epic struggle. [He] quickly discovered that [many of the Flesh Traders] survived and thirsted for revenge against those that had laid leaders low. [A5 – 1]
The Slavers tried to assassinate him for his efforts, a score of times. They failed. And those who tried died.
None of his fellow heroes that stood at his side during that final battle [in A4] had been so lucky, each one felled by blade, spell, or poisoned cup. [A5 – 1]

Hatgeld [Delgeth] fled to Divers [Dyvers] and from there, dedicated his life to tracking down those slavers who had managed to escape the fall.
Recently, Hatgeld has learned much regarding one of the most fearsome of all the Flesh Traders: The brilliant and depraved elven enchantress Marquessa. [A5 - 1]
He’s divined her fortresses, and even discerned a pattern to her movements.
He’s assembled the PCs to strike at her least defended fortification. Too, he is shrewd enough ensure that each one of these heroes has some personal score to settle with the Flesh Traders and their agents. [A5 - 1]

Sounds exciting.
Leander Hatgeld
There’s one flaw here that I can discern, why not go himself? He’s powerful. He’s capable. And he, if anyone, has a score to settle with Marquessa.
It’s a small issue, one easily resolved: Hatgeld has narrowed the possibilities to two within the time frame pinpointed. He and his team will strike the more difficult of the two. There, done. As I said, it’s a small bone of contention.
What can Hatgeld tell them about her lair? Little. It has defied scrying. So, how does he know about it then? Activity of her minions, outside and nearby, maybe?
Let’s not be too critical. This was Carlos Lising’s first kick at the can, and he was writing a tournament module, not a campaign set-up as Pramas and Reynolds were. If you wish to slip this into a long running Slavers campaign, you’ll have to do a little work, as would have been required to develop all the scenarios leading up to and around A1 through A4. There’s no denying that will be a lot of work. It will be; but therein lies the difference between running a one-shot tournament module and a long-running campaign.

There are two potential starts to the adventure. One for tournament play, the other for campaign play.
As one would expect, the PCs begin play at the fortress entrance in tournament play. Campaign play can begin in Diver [Dyvers], where they set out overland or by sea. Wilderness and Water Encounter Table are included.
In either case, a map was provided to the PCs, but not included, owing to the adventure being originally intended for convention tournament play. The text describing the surrounding terrain is vivid enough for the DM to create on with a little imagination.

The story begins at the fortress entrance.
A Wandering Monsters Encounter Table is provided for the fortress, but only intended for campaign play. That has always been the case for tournament play. NO wandering monsters. There’s little enough time to reach the end of the adventure in the allotted time as is, likely impossible if the party is stumbling across patrols, or their pets.

I won’t go into the particulars of the adventure.
It’s new, after all, published in 2016; and not mine to disclose.
What I will disclose is the adventure was penned for the OSRIC Reference and Index Compendium. It’s a close cousin to the AD&D ruleset, so if you have one, you won’t need the other.
It’s designed for 7th to 11th Level characters, and more difficult than the original tournament modules. It would have to be, wouldn’t it? It has been years since Marquessa was “defeated” in the Drachensgrab Hills and forced to flee. One ought to expect that she would have grown in skill and power, much as Hatgeld had. She’s not much more powerful than she was in Slavers, though. In Slavers, ten years had passed since the “final” confrontation at Suderham; and in that noble work, Markessa had advanced from a meager 5th level magic-user and 5th level fighter to a F12/M13; where in the five years that followed she has only risen to F13/M14. That seems realistic to me. It would take far longer to advance in levels and carry on her research.
Some might say that she exceeds level limitations. She does. Were she a PC, she’d have been limited to 5th level fighter (14 strength) and 9th level magic-user (16 intelligence) in AD&D 1e. She was still “legal” in A2. She is even “legal” in 2e: Fighter limit 12, magic-user limit 17 (15 +2, due to Intelligence). She is not legal in OSRIC: F5, M6; but she’s not a PC, is she? She’s an NPC; and NPCs have always been a little outside the rules, haven’t they?

As to the Pregens, they have a detailed backstory, much like those of A1 Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan had. Are they required? Not for a tournament; but those stories do add a little lore to the setting, if you are so inclined to use them. Much like the classic A series, the Lising sequel use the same pregens in each of his A adventures.
They include:
Our Heroes
Marya Hammerfist, 8th level Dwarf Female Fighter
Quenden Tasander, 6th level Elf Male Fighter / 6th level Magic-User
Sildan Enathwrel, 8th level Elf Male Magic-User
Ilsandre Sunshower, 6th level Gnome Female Illusionist / 6th level Thief
Jaran Braxx, 7th level Half-Elf Male Ranger
Telvas Thistlewine, 8th level Halfling Male Thief
Khâzratha Ironthews, 7th level Half-Orc Female Cleric
Lyandra Yrsanthi, 6th level Human Female Cleric / 6th level Magic-User
Merranen Eagleheart, 8th level Human Male Druid
Ravella Zaar, 8th level Human Female Illusionist
Brother Lyrwend, 8th level Human Male Monk
Kendrel Rilsheven, 7th level Human Male Paladin

12 Pregens. That seems a lot, more than in the average classic tournament module, in any event. I’ve never attended a convention, so that may be the number of seats around a convention table.

Storm Zothculb
Back to the adventure, and what I will disclose.
Needless to say, Marquessa is well protected. She was in A2, and she is now. There are guards, and guards do what they will: they patrol. She has a trusted lieutenant in Storm Zothculb (if that seems at all familiar, it might be that the 5th level thief Sturm Blucholtz of A1-4 Scourge of the Slavelords survived A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity, and has prospered under Marquessa, ever since {now 8th level Thief}).

Stealth is crucial.
The PCs should understand their fate if captured.
Marquessa’s reputation proceeds her.
If the party surrenders to the garrison, they will be disarmed and their magic items, and armor confiscated. Once the party members have been rendered harmless, Markessa will question them as to what they know of slaver activities, using all means available, including torture, if necessary. Once she has learned everything she can, Markessa will immediately kill all spell casters (if these can be identified) and sent the other party members to the dungeon [,] where it can be assumed that the mad cavelings will kill them for meat.  [A2 - 3]
She could have experimented on them, as well, a fate potentially worse than death, one might assume.
One should expect no less now.
The consequences of failure would be catastrophic. Not only would Marquessa become aware that the system she relies upon for her safety is compromised, but the Player Characters could well pay for their defeat with their lives. Perhaps worse, the enchantress would likely vanish from sight, never to be so easily be found again. Certainly, the good folk of the land would pay dearly, in such a case. [A5 - 1]

Her fortress strategy of A5 is essentially identical from that of A2:
Once a party of adventurers is detected inside the fortification complex, the guards will raise the alarm. This will generally be done by means of an alarm switch (with which every room is equipped) that sounds a great klaxon within the facility. If, for some reason, this switch fails to sound the alarm, the guards will voice a great hue and cry that is much more limited in effectiveness (only the rooms or halls on either side of the area in which this is raised will be alerted to trouble). Should the alarm switch be thrown, the entirety of the fortification will be alerted at the end of the turn in which it is sounded. If a shouted alarm is used, the fort will be alerted at the end of the turn following the one in which the characters are spotted.
Once the complex is alerted, guards in barracks will proceed to the area in which the alarm was thrown. Storm Zothculb (possibly accompanied by one or more of his pet giant weasels) will likewise speed to said area, if he yet lives. Marquessa will begin casting defensive spells upon herself and her bodyguard in anticipation of their approach. [A5 - 2]
No complains there on my part. Don’t mess with what works.

To disclose more would be unfair to both Carlos and to you.
Is this a good adventure? I think so. Is it a great adventure? Those who’ve played it loved it (Carlo’s games much sought after at conventions, I’ve heard), if that is any guide.
Is it worth the expenditure? I think so. I purchased it; and I think you should, too, especially if you are a fan of the Greyhawk setting. Few are creating new adventures for the setting, and it behoves those who wish to keep it “alive” to support those who write for it.

What do you get for your money, you ask?
The adventure hardcopy is staple bound, with glossy cover. The adventure is 10 pages in length of a total 40 pages. Marquessa is extensively detailed, and each PC is given 2 full pages, ideal as handouts. There is a page for tournament scoring, one for the Open Gaming License, and 2 for maps.
The bound maps are grey in colour, and look to be computer generated. They may have been rendered in colour, but they are B&W in the fold.
Carlos was kind enough to donate a digital copy for my review purpose (to which I am grateful), and that has B&W maps. I prefer these. I printed them, and doodled what was described in text for each room within them, to get a feel for what was there, how spacious or cramped they might be, and to better see how combat might play out in each. I do that, doodle. I’ve copied and printed every module map for the same purpose throughout the years, painstakingly drawing altars and pews, and desks and beds, and braziers with a fine-point pencil, adding descriptive passages and notes in the margins and spaces between. Those doodled and annotated pages are tucked into my physical copy of this module even now, and likely will remain there until I pass beyond the veil. What did I discover?  I can say with great certainty that nothing thicker than the consistency of water will drain from the refuge chutes of two rooms given their length of travel and depth of discharge (it’s a small complaint, maybe even trivial, but I am exhaustive in design, given what I do for a living). The rest holds up to scrutiny, and I’m finicky, as you can now well imagine.
All considered, it’s a good adventure, and worth the cost of admission should you deem it worthy of your consideration, and its potential place on your shelf.

I wish you luck.
Defeating Marquessa will not be easy. Honestly, the odds are in her favour that she’ll escape.
But that’s okay. Her escape paves the way for A6, and A7….

“...all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.”
― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, the Whale

One must always give credit where credit is due. This piece 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 Reynolds, Frederick Weining. The list is interminable.
Very special thanks to Carlos Lising, without whose efforts, this piece could never have existed.

The Art:
Kill Marquessa! cover art, by Chet Minton, 2016
Markessa by mli13, originally published in A0-4 Against the Slavers, 2013
Markessa detail, by Bill Willingham (?), from A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade, 1981
OSRIC cover, by Mark Ahmed, 2006
Orcs detail, by Jeff Dee, from A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity, 1980

2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
2010, Players Handbook, 1st Ed, 1978
2160 Dungeon Masters Guide Revised, 2nd Ed., 1989/1995
2159, Players Handbook Revised, 2nd Ed., 1989/1995
OSRIC, 2006
9040 A2 Secret of the Slaver’s Stockade, 1981
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

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for another interesting review - this makes me want to run the Markessa/Marquessa.