Thursday, 12 May 2022

Thoughts on A6 Die, Marquessa, Die!

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal:
it is the courage to continue that counts.”
― Winston S. Churchill

A6 Die, Marquessa, Die!
A brave fellowship of heroes failed last year to bring the notorious villainess known as The Marquessa to justice—and as a result, the innocent folk of the land have suffered greatly. However, the elusive and sinister enchantress has been located once again, giving the forces of weal another opportunity to extinguish the grim silhouette she casts across the region.
  [A6 – cover]

Thus begins Carlos Lising’s second installment of his continuing expansion of his A series, where the said fellowship of heroes again endeavour to put an end to “Marquessa’s” dastardly deeds, once and for all.
Who is Marquessa? She’s an homage to Markessa. See my post Thoughts on A5 Kill Markessa! for further details. If you aren’t familiar with who Markessa is, then you haven’t been reading this blog, or own the original A series of tournament modules released by TSR in 1980 and 1981. The short version is that Markessa is one of the Flesh Traders [Slavelords] who terrorized the Tanraeg [Gearnat] Sea and Wooly Bay coasts in 584 CY, and returned in Chris Pramas’ and Sean Reynold’s sequel (in 2000 AD, not CY) to do it all over again.
Be advised that I will adhere to Carlos’ spelling throughout this review [except where noted].
This, like Carlos’ A5 adventure, is a tournament module, first played at GaryCon in Lake Geneva in 2017. It was designed for OSRIC, very much a sibling to 1st edition AD&D, so if you have that elderly rule set you will be able to run it without any conversion. It’s intended for characters 7th to 11th level. A Wandering Monster Table is included for campaign play, not tournament play.
Have I played it? No. Have I Dm’ed it? No. You can cease reading here now, if that admission renders my opinion irrelevant to you. I do own a hardcopy of the adventure, and Carlos has graciously bequeathed me a digital copy that I might review his effort. I have read it, obviously—commenting on the adventure would have been difficult, otherwise—extensively, I might mention. With a critical eye.

Still with me?
As noted above, the heroes failed in that endeavour the prior year at GaryCon 2016. (That might depend on the session, but their failure is presumed in the blurb on the cover.) One should not be too harsh. It’s no easy task defeating high level NPCs. The odds were stacked against them, what with Marquessa’s paranoia. Security in her complex was tight.
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. […] 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.
[A5 – 2]
Is this a spoiler? One might think so, but this strategy is all but identical to that in A2.
And she had always prepared means of escape.
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 has always fought smart. She wants to win. And she wants to survive.
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]

We know that the fellowship of heroes put Marquessa’s minions to the sword in A5, but while doing so the alarm was raised and Marquessa escaped, or if she was confronted, she fled when she deemed her defense hopeless; either way, they failed in their quest, and one of the Flanaess’ most heinous villains escaped, yet again.
Unfortunately, this new fellowship failed in their aim. Though they managed to kill Marquessa's loyal henchman, the sly Storm Zothculb, the enchantress herself learned of their presence in her labyrinthine stronghold and used her potent magics to teleport herself away to a position of safety. [A6 – 1]
Far be it for Marquessa not to hold a grudge.
Leander Hatgled
Marquessa is not the sort of woman who takes threats upon her person lightly or with any sort of sense of humor. After the failure of Hatgled's mercenaries to lay her low, it was a relatively simple process for her agents in Diver to discover his role in the attempted assassination. Afterwards, she mustered the Fulvous Reavers – a powerful group of men and humanoids that have remained loyal to the Flesh Traders and their lieutenants even a decade after their defeat in Mahredus – and set them upon the mage's tower with a mandate to bring its master before her to face the consequences of his impetuousness. This collection of villains and blackhearts found far more success than Hatgled's mercenaries in this venture, dispatching most of the wizard's henchmen and men-at-arms on their way to overwhelming and subduing the lord of the tower. His fate, left to Marquessa's tender mercies, is better left to the imagination than explicitly described.
[A6 – 2]
And far be it for Marquessa to not be thorough in her retribution.
A score of his mercenaries, each one a potent warrior, were found slaughtered within his home. The wizard was never seen again. Perhaps even more terrible, after he returned to the village of his birth from his failed mission, the redoubtable paladin amongst the fellowship discovered that the entirety of the community had disappeared. His family, his friends...all vanished like morning dew beneath sunrise. All that remained was a simple note, written in an elegant feminine script:
Freedom, fleeting as the petal of a rose. –M.
[A6 – 1]

Marquessa’s reaction is typical of what we would expect of her. She’s, if anything, thorough. She’s a survivor, after all. Granted, one or two were likely to slip her net; someone who, perchance, might already be looking over her shoulder….
Skye, The Lioness
Still, a scant few of Leander Hatgled's allies managed to survive the assault upon his home. One of these was a woman named Skye, the Lioness, who had ascended to a place of trust within the mage's retinue. A wizard of no small power herself, Hatgled was unaware that Skye was in truth an agent of the mysterious Colorless Mage of Perrengaard, reporting his activities and noteworthy information she collected while performing duties as his henchman. With her allegiances elsewhere, it bothered Skye little to go into hiding with her familiar (a massive grizzly bear named Ursula) when it was clear that the battle with the Fulvous Reavers had turned in the favor of the enemy, teleporting to a place of safety far from the fray.
Yet, even as a black plume of roiling smoke rose from the top of the sacked tower of Leander Hatgled, Skye would receive a sending from her master to remain in Diver. Warriors from the north would arrive in but a night to reinforce her and aid her in a new mission. The task of reforging the fellowship that had failed to lay Marquessa the Enchantress low before had fallen to her. This group of powerful worthies would be sent forth once more to finish the job they had started and regain their honor, in the process. [A6 – 2]

The stage is set. The props do raise some questions, though.
Skye seems a little dodgy, to my mind. Her loyalty lies elsewhere, and not to Leander Hatgled, at all. Who might this Colourless Mage of Perrengaard be? Why does he care what goes on in the Tanraeg? It matters not a whit if you are just running this as a tournament. Motivations and McGuffins are a means to an end. These questions need answering, however, should this adventure be slipped into an ongoing campaign.
So, who exactly is this Colourless Mage? What’s he all about? Why does he hate Marquessa so, that he sent a trusted agent into harms way to spy on Leander Hatgled and report on his ongoing war with the dire elf?
Grist for the mill, I’d say.

As to the powerful worthies sent forth, these Pregens are the same as those made available in A5. Their gear is identical. 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
Kh√Ęzratha 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
Players may choose among them, or play their own characters, advice given in every classic adventure module ever published.

I will not spoil what happens within the adventure’s covers. Carlos wants to sell it, after all.
I will say that it will be challenging for players, more so than A5 was, I wager; as it should be: Marquessa has been tipped off by that earlier assault that there are worthy adversaries hunting her; and one might expect that after that earlier ordeal, she will be better prepared, and that she will be holed up in a far more secure bunker than she was the first time. This is not to say that A5 was a cake walk. I expect it was not.
One should expect that she has surrounded herself with equally worthy minions. Because she has. All are fugitives, in one way or another; and all are fitting companions to their mistress.
In her employ are a hot-tempered sociopath, Hargrath Gernad, the Headless Lion of Hicrets [Sterich]; a paranoid Lesser Heirarch of the Six-Fingered Society [the Horned Society], named Ranzir, on the run from the Empire of Zuii [Iuz]; and Lady Tazmin il-Varzii, a fallen Paladin who was once in the service of the Great God of the North [—an albino noted as Xuloise {Suloise}, I’ll go out on a limb and say that she’s Schnai]. Marquessa’s right hand man is the extremely formidable Azaak Tolin, from The Black Heath [Blackmoor].
A relevant history is given for each of Marquessa’s entourage. So too their personalities. These will be far more useful for the module’s inclusion into a larger, and longer, campaign, but will also help the DM give each life should the PCs get chatty with their opponents before engaging with them.
The history of Marquessa’s fortress is given in the Campaign notes, as well. You might imagine it’s a dark one, and in that you’d be correct.

The maps given are simple, concise, and functional. Room descriptions are equally clear and concise.
The bound maps are grey in colour, and look to be computer generated. 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 copies of the maps and doodled in what was described for each room, to better understand the layout and how the furniture might help or hinder combat and can say that everything stated fits with ease. I’ve always found dungeon rooms to be a little large for my liking—let’s call them unnecessarily spacious—what with what I know about subterranean excavations, and these are no different. The 40’ span of certain rooms appear enormous to my mind’s eye. Why are they so large, I wonder? Battle maps, maybe? Minis? I wonder why the adventure is laid out as it is, too. I assume because doing so afforded the greatest challenge to players. Carlos has a reputation as a masterful, and much sought after, DM at conventions, so I don’t doubt that it is so for just that reason. One thing is certain: should the players by chance choose a specific route they would bypass much, if not most, of the potential encounters and expedite their confrontation with Marquessa, the only way they could possibly face Her Vileness, what with the security measures she has in place.
They had best be quick about it, too, if they’re going to catch the Sculptress of Flesh, because if they learned anything last time, she’s a tough nut to crack, and if they fail again, they had better fear what she’ll do to exact revenge afterwards!

Is this a good adventure module? I think it is.
Is it worth the money? I think it is, too. Especially if you’re a fan of the Greyhawk setting. Little has been created for it outside of fandom, most of it either in Canonfire! And the Oerth Journal. Indeed, the setting was all but unsupported for decades since the Living Greyhawk Campaign folded decades earlier. In fact, I might suggest that fans of the setting would be remiss to not support those authors and game designers willing to take the time and effort to create and publish new content for the venerable Flanaess.

What do you get for your money?
The adventure hardcopy is staple bound, with glossy cardstock cover. The actual adventure is 20 pages in length of the total 64 pages. There is no interior artwork. Marquessa is extensively detailed, as are 4 of her lieutenants; and each PC is given 2 full pages, ideal as handouts. There are new monsters and new magic items. There is a page for tournament scoring, one for the Open Gaming Licence, and 2 for maps.

Just remember that should the players fail again, they should take heart, because:
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
― Winston S. Churchill

The Art:
Die, Marquessa, Die! cover art, by Chet Minton, 2017
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
Die, Marquessa, Die! map, from the digital copy, 2017

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

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