Friday, 18 August 2023

Thoughts on D3 Vault of the Drow, Part 2

“No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.”
― Aristotle

D3 Vault of the Drow
Is D3 Vault of the Drow a great module? Is it even a good one?
That depends.
I can hear the cry of “Sacrilege!” even as I type this. There are even those who believe, “All things penned by Gary Gygax are brilliance personified!” Were they?
That too depends.
On what? Perspective.
As an adventure module, D3 is mediocre, at best. That’s my opinion. Yours may differ. I believe the G series if far superior, personally. They are focused, to the point, and brief. So too are D1 and D2 – brief. But where each of the G modules are a mission, D1 and D2 are a journey. I’m not sure why D2 even exists, to be honest, except to introduce the Kuo-Toa.
Why am I critical of D3? D3 feels like a tournament module, to my mind. There are 2 or 3 challenges leading up to a “finale,” a Big Bad Boss battle at the end of a dungeon crawl, in this case the Great Fane of Lolth.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with tournament modules; indeed, they were the bread and butter of golden age D&D; but if D3 is indeed akin to a tournament module, then there is surely a lot of bloat betwixt its covers leading up to that battle with its Big Bad. There’s even a fair amount of bloat in the Great Fane, as well. Most of its 2nd through 4th floors are superfluous, bedrooms and barracks stocked with “innocent” guards and priestesses of Lolth – innocent because they were never the reason why our heroes delved so deeply into the Oerth, in the first place. Our heroes descended into the depths of the Oerth to discover and put an end to the threat facing the nations on the surface.
Giants have been raiding the lands of men in large bands, with giants of different sorts in these marauding groups. [G123 Against the Giants – 2]
They are to follow any clues discovered if such point towards the sinister hand suspected of guiding the rising, but to return at once if they should determine exactly the reason or force behind the unholy alliance. Some relic of great evil might be at hand. [G123 – 2]
Eclavdra was always, or should have always been, the focus of the adventure.
Not Lolth. There, I said it. Crucify me.

But if we set that aside, there is genius within, too. But only if you’re willing to invest in it.
If the D series is an introduction to the Underoerth, it’s quite inspired – despite its faults. Gary Gygax packed a ton of lore into those few pages available to him in that era of super-slim volumes, D3 even more so than the other D modules – even though a fair chunk of it is regurgitated encounter tables and “race” exposition. To truly succeed, though, D3 should have been a tome as weighty as those that eventually followed: Greyhawk Adventures, and the like. But Gygax being Gygax, Erelhei-Cinlu lore is not confined to D3 alone. Evidence of faction fighting and religious division dates back as far as the G series.
The Drow
These 8 guards protect Nedylene, a cleric/fighter noble generally opposed to anything Eclavdra attempts. She is here to check up on her rival, and she will be suspicious of any creature entering her current abode. On the other hand, she will not be adverse to seeing her rival's plans go wrong. Nedylene is an 8th level cleric/7th level fighter [.]
[G123 – 28]
It is there, I believe, that we need to focus, as it ought to have: Not on Lolth; but on the dramatis personae: the Merchant Houses, the Nobel Houses, the people, their factions, their alliances, and their inevitable betrayals.

Where to begin? With the city and its people, I suppose.
You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”
― Obi-wan, Star Wars”
“Here pity only lives when it is dead – Virgil”
― Dante Alighieri, Inferno

Scum, villainy and the dead, indeed.
Between 8,000 and 9,000 Drow live in the city, and double that number of half-casts, servants, and slaves. To this permanent population can be added a thousand or so creatures visiting for purposes known only to themselves. [D3 Vault of the Drow – 15]
That’s dense, regardless its modest footprint. Let’s assume that these 8,000+ drow are residents of the city proper, excluding any who reside in the merchant villas or the noble estates. If Erelhei-Cinlu is roughly 20,000 square yards (100 x 200 yards), then its mean population density is about 0.5 persons per square yard (roughly twice the population density of Manhattan). That’s a lot of persons in close quarter. One imagines them one atop the other.
The main ways of this ancient and depraved city are thronged with as unlikely a mixture of creatures as can be imagined. Green cloaked Illithids and Kuo-Toans rub shoulders with Dark Elves. Ghosts and ghouls roam freely, and an occasional shadow or vampire will be seen. Bugbears and troglodytes are common, as are other various servants and slaves of the Drow (dwarves, goblins, half-orcs, humans, and orcs are sometimes free inhabitants of the place). All are pale from dwelling in the sunless Vault. Trolls slink by evillooking men wearing the green garb. None are disturbed to pass a lesser demon or succubus, a night hag or mezzodaemon. These crowds part hurriedly for Noble Drow riding nightmares or the more powerful demons or nycadaemons (see special section at the end), but those of the Dark Elves with pack lizards must slowly force their way through traffic. Beggars of all sorts are seen, and half-Drow thieves, pimps, and harlots are as common as the enslaved human and elven prostitutes displayed before certain establishments. [D3 – 15]
Daemons and Dark Elves and Spies, oh my!
Kuo-Toan spies
will always be in or near the water. […] If not in the water, they will be clad in black Drow cloaks and make every attempt to avoid being detected. [D3 – 9]
Drow nobles
Noble parties will stop to converse with unusual groups 75% of the time. If they see anything which appears dangerous to the welfare of the Drow, they will immediately act (attack, summon a passing creature(s) to aid them, arrest, etc.). [D3 – 16]
Rakes roaming the streets in Erelhei-Cinlu are bands of bitter youths, often outcasts. The band will be composed of either Drow, Drow-elves, and half-Drow (human cross) or Drow, half-Drow, and (1-2) half-orcs. The former sort of group is 40% likely, the latter 60%. Drow crosses will have magic resistance equal to their Dark Elven heritage but no spell ability. The bands with elven-Drow members will be hostile to all they perceive as part of the system which prevails in their world, and the Dark Elves with them are of the few who are neither totally degenerate nor wholly evil—they are haters of the society around them and see no good in it. All rakes will be fighters of 4th-7th level of ability (or in the case of groups with half-orcs, fighter/thieves of 3rd-5th/4th-7th or fighter/assassins of 4th-6th/4th-6th level are 50% likely for half-Drow and half-orc rakes). The first sort of group will wear chain shirts under their garments (+1 or +2) and have +1 weapons. The latter groups will not wear armor, and they will be likely to have a few +3 weapons. Rakes encountered inside will be seated so as to appear to be several smaller groups. Those outside will be in 2 or 3 groups so as to surround and surprise their victims. All will scatter when a patrol or nobles appear, for they are greatly disliked by the Drow military and upper class. (See Thieves below.)
If the party manages a friendly meeting with a group of Drow/Drow-elves/half-Drow rakes the youths will tell them about the worship of the Demoness Lolth and the way to her "Egg." The rakes will accompany the party to the area in question if a plan which seems reasonable to them is put forth. They will also leave the Vault-Egg areas in the course of adventuring. [D3 – 16]
Thieves will be of several racial types. [D3 – 16] Most are either drow or half-drow, but they can also be dwarf (I’d expect that duergar or derro might better suit than any surface variety), gnome, human, half-elf, or half-orc.
There are other encounter types, far more; but maybe the most curious persons our heroes might meet are those humans who are not slaves.
Human cleric party will be […] evil (chaotic or neutral) [.] These groups will be likely to attack and slay any humans they meet—such as explorers—who are of good alignment. [D3 – 16]
That would go without saying, wouldn’t it?
This intrigues me far more, though:
Human magic-user party
The alignment of these magic-users will be as follows:
neutral – 25%
neutral evil – 20%
chaotic evil – 50%
lawful evil – 05%
If the magic-users are evil, they will attack good parties if discovered. Neutral magic-users will be open to any reasonable offers, of course… [D3 – 16]
Neither of these parties would advance the plot, probably; but thoughts do rise concerning them, don’t they? Drow were still altogether unknown on the surface when the G and D series were published, so one wonders who did know about them, and for how long, and to what purpose they ventured this deeply to seek them out for? To elicit their help? To conspire with them?

Human parties aside, that’s quite a stew of chaotic ambition and discontent ready to boil over.
How will our heroes navigate such a motley mess? With caution, I don’t doubt.
And with a guide, hopefully. Fortuitously, Gygax had already introduced one such person who could be deemed made to order….
Nedylene – 8th/7th cleric/fighter female (House Despana) [D3 – 17]
She hates Eclavdra, after all; and her House has already tasked her with “spying” on her/their “rival.”

It would be best that our heroes were allied with her, because even before entering the city proper, they are going to have to pass into the vault, where even there, trip cords cross their pass, and factions lurk beneath the surface.
The Black Tower will be their first true test.
Drow medallions and badges which would allow them relatively unquestioned passage in most areas [.] [D3 – 2]
But they are coded: blue enameled prism, white enameled morel mushroom, bronze coiled whip, silver crescent [D3 – 5], etc.
Our heroes would never know whether one might be a boon or a bane without help.
Aliens with a brooch of one of the merchant clans or noble houses are allowed to keep their special pins and need not wear a green cloak either, but they will be required to display their special pass (the brooch) whenever requested, and woe to the adventurer who fails to have a glib tongue if the interrogator happens to be of the clan or house of the pass (or worse still an enemy of that clan or house). [D3 – 11]
The Black Tower
Divolg, the High Bailiff
Behind him are two chests of wood, one with green cloaks, the other with 4 metal boxes inside — one with 17 medallions, another with important papers (all pertaining to trade), one with 4 sets of cinnabar cusps, and the last (triple locked) holds 120 p.p., 6 100 g.p. gems, and (in a secret space in the lid) a small piece of parchment with Drow script saying: "The bearer is my most trusted servant and must be speeded and aided as is his need. Eclavdra". With this message is a brooch of copper formed in the likeness of a staff with tentacled end, engraved on the back, EILSERVS. [D3 – 11,12]
Merinid, the Bailiff
He hides these in a secret compartment in a leg of his desk, and therein also is a broach of an adamantite mace bearing the engraved name DESPANA on the reverse. [D3 – 12]
Tension must be high in the Black Tower, I imagine; unless each is not aware of the other’s loyalties; but drow being drow, I suspect they would be suspicious of one another, regardless, as a rule, even if they were brothers.

One can only imagine what it might be like in the FEMALE FIGHTERS SOCIETY:
This military sisterhood supposedly counters all other factions in direct service of Lolth. [D3 – 13]
One would think that, but drow being drow….
Each sorority of fighters represents one of the 8 noble houses, although not all of the members are by any means of that particular noble family. [D3 – 13]
General Telenna, a 9th level fighter [D3 – 13]
Lieutenant General Drisinil, an 8th level fighter [D3 – 13]
Gygax does not say which House each of its top brass is aligned with, but I can only imagine that top ranked Eilservs would have maneuvered one of their own into its command. It would only stand to reason then that either the Kilseks or Despanas, or both, ensured one of theirs would be placed next to the General to keep careful watch over their hated Eilserv rival.

The MALE FIGHTERS' SOCIETY would be of lesser importance to that decidedly matriarchal society. But no House would ever allow another to hold complete dominion over their scions, regardless how inconsequential a male might be in the grand scheme of things.
Just as the female organization is a neutral instrument of the Drow clerical hierarchy, so too is the fraternity of male fighters an instrument to counter any destructive feuding or power seizure by one or more of the merchant clans at the expense of the others. Of course, the society also furnishes troops for guard duty, patrols, etc. [D3 – 14]
General Istolil, a 7th level fighter [D3 – 14]
Commander Captain Relonor, a 6th level fighter [D3 – 14]
Relonor is secretly in the service of the House of Tormtor. [D3 – 14]
I would expect that Istolil is in service to Godeep, that low House countering Tormtor’s ambitions there.

Merchant clans are as ambitious as the noble houses. And presumably as scheming, influential, and powerful, too, no matter how low or weak even the lowest of noble houses may perceive them to be. They survive, after all. And thrive in the drow’s drider eat drider world.
Merchant clans are nominally allied in pairs to a noble house, thus making a perfect balance of power, but due to intrigue and feuding between the merchants and nobles, there is an uneven balance. Feuding and raids are fairly common. Merchant clans and alliances are shown below:
a.      PRISM (Tormtor) allied with h. and c. (Eilservs)
b.      MOREL (Godeep) allied with d. (Aleval)
c.      COILED WHIP (Eilservs) allied with a. (Tormtor)
d.      CRESCENT (Aleval) allied with b. (Godeep) and i. (Noquar)
e.      PUFFBALL (Kilsek) allied with f.
f.       HOOK (Kilsek) allied with e. and m. (Despana)
g.      SHELF FUNGI (Despana) allied with m.
h.      CHAIN (Tormtor) allied with a.
i.       MUSHROOMS (Noquar) allied with d. (Aleval) and o. (Everhate)
j.       BARS (Eilservs) allied with p.
k.      URN (currently uncommited)
l.       HORSETAIL MUSHROOM (Noquar) allied with o. (Everhate)
m.    GEM (Despana) allied with g. and f. (Kilsek)
n.      STAR (currently leaning towards Eilservs)
o.      LOZENGE (Everhate) allied with i. (Aleval) and I. (Noquar)
p.      BONE (Eilservs) allied with j (Bars).
Noble family names are shown in parentheses. The members of each clan wear the appropriate emblem as a broach […]. [D3 – 14]
One wonders whether they are loyal to the nobility as all; or whether they are just playing one against the other to keep them “weak” and “balanced.”

I can’t for the life of me, understand why the bugbears and troglodytes were treated to as many lines as they were I this volume; but they were. I suppose they are as much a faction as any, however irrelevant.  They are useful though. Someone has to do the dirty work, after all. It’s not like the bugbears or trogs would harbour any resentment or ill-will towards their “masters,” would they?
Kreffok, the Bugbear hetman [D3 – 10]
Ttirssslup the Chieftain [D3- 10]
Neither would aid our heroes, to my mind. The risk would be too great to them if they did.
I suppose one might consider their lairs a couple of “side dungeons.”

The more I think on it, the more I think that allying with Nedylene would be our heroes best chance for success. She’s a female. She’s nobility. She’s a member of a powerful House. None would oppose her, regardless who was with her.
Overall commander of the gate is a male fighter/magic-user of 3rd/6th level [….] He is an ally of the House of Eilservs, so any person possessing an Eilservs or Tormtor badge will be passed with only minimal questioning by him. [D3 – 15]
It matters not a whit that the Gate Commander is opposed to House Despana. What’s he going to do, incur the wrath of one of the most powerful houses opposed to his own? That smells like suicide to me. Besides, he lets all manner of human cleric and magic-user parties to gain entry to the city already.

The Noble Gate guards the access to the flying bridge which spans the Pitchy Flow and leads to the high plateau upon which the noble families have their estates. [D3 – 15]
The commander of the Noble Gate is a female of 8th/4th cleric/fighter level. She is Jysiln, a member of the Servants of Lolth, wearing her gold spider broach proudly (and openly hostile to any bearing the Eilservs or Tormtor device). [D3 – 15]
The Flying Bridge and Plateau Beyond: As mentioned previously, the only persons permitted to leave the city by the Noble Gate are those on business of the noble families, i.e. those with the proper devices and a good reason (fabricated or real) are allowed to pass over the bridge to the area north. [D3 – 16]

As I noted in my earlier post, I can’t, for the life of me, imagine why this temple is required if the true enemy is Eclavdra and House Eilserv; but these NPCs are named, and could presumably be of use in the campaign.
High Priestess of Queen Lolth, Charinida, a 14th level cleric [D3 – 22]
Baltana, 10th level high priestess [D3 – 19]
Vlondril, 9th level female cleric [D3 – 19]
Inidil, another 9th level cleric. She conforms in all respects to Vlondril [D3 – 19]
Commander Pellanistra, an 8th level female fighter [.] Pellanistra is of the House of Noquar originally, so she is exceptionally hostile to any of the Eilservs ilk. [D3 – 19]
Behind the secret door is a cell wherein is chained an insane human of great strength (9th level fighter; H.P.: 73; 18/81 strength, 11 intelligence, 9 wisdom, 16 dexterity, 18 constitution; 17 charisma) kept here by Charinida for whatever purposes please her at the time. [D3 – 22]
One presumes these NPCs are not in league with Eclavdra and House Eilserv, who’ve abandoned Lolth for the Elemental God. They’d harbour Bad Blood towards them, to be sure.

That said, which noble Houses would aid in defeating Eclavdra and House Eilserv?
Probably not ALEVAL.
14. ESTATE OF THE HOUSE OF ALEVAL: […] Rank: 8th. This weak family is primarily bent on gaining more power. As they are relatively unimportant, they can manage a semi-independent position, waiting for the Kilsek-Despana-Noquar faction or the Eilservs-Tormtor axis to wax supreme and then join with the victors. [D3 – 17]
They’re too weak to commit, one way other the other until the outcome is obvious.
There would be little help (probably none) from EVERHATE, as well.
11. ESTATE OF THE HOUSE OF EVERHATE: […] Rank: 5th. Nominal supporters of the noble houses worshipping the demoness Lolth, but seldom active against the Eilservs-Tormtor faction, as they prefer to wait to see the eventual outcome of the contest. [D3 – 17]
EVERHATE would have too much to lose.

Most others would, though. I’ll list them in descending order.
15. ESTATE OF THE HOUSE OF KILSEK: […] Rank: 2nd. Hatred and jealousy has always existed between Kilsek and Eilservs, and the Kilsek family is more than happy to be able to play off the Despanas and Noquars against their rivals. [D3 – 18]
There’s no honour among drow, it would seem. Not that we ever expected otherwise. No wonder their “war” has been going on as long as it has.

12. ESTATE OF THE HOUSE OF DESPANA: […] Rank: 3rd. The House of Despana is closely leagued with that of Kilsek and Noquarto bring ruin upon the Eilservs, for each of these families imagines that their house would then gain first precedence. [D3 – 17]
Nedylene – 8th/7th cleric/fighter female [D3 – 17]

13. ESTATE OF THE HOUSE OF NOQUAR: […] Rank: 4th. These close allies of the Despanas and Kilseks secretly hope that the struggle with the Eilservs will weaken their allies so that Noquar will be the greatest noble family. [D3 – 17]

16. ESTATE OF THE HOUSE OF GODEEP: […] Rank: 6th. The Godeep nobles are also committed to the anti-Eilservs faction, for they perceive that they will gain greater rewards from the victorious Kilsek combination, and thus displace the Everhate House as 5th in precedence. [D3 – 18]

Those who oppose our heroes would be:
10. ESTATE OF THE HOUSE OF TORMTOR: […] Rank: 7th. Actively allied with the House of Eilservs (17.), rising, and thus incurring the enmity of the other nobles, the Tormtors are very powerful despite their current low rank. [D3 – 17]

Ultimately, though, Eclavdra and the EILSERVS are really the only House that’s going to have to be dealt with.
17. ESTATE OF THE HOUSE OF EILSERVS: […] Rank: 1st. The Eilservs have long seen a need for an absolute monarch to rule the Vault, and as the noble house of first precedence, they have reasoned that their mistress should be Queen of All Drow. When this was proposed, the priestesses of Lolth supported the other noble families aligned against the Eilservs, fearing that such a change would abolish their position as the final authority over all disputes and actions of the Dark Elves. Thereafter, the Eilservs and their followers turned away from the demoness and proclaimed their deity to be an Elder Elemental God […]. Although there is no open warfare, there is much hatred, and both factions seek to destroy each other. An attempt to move worship of their deity into the upper world, establish a puppet kindom [sic] there, and grow so powerful from this success that their demands for absolute rulership no longer be thwarted, was ruined of late, and the family is now retrenching. [D3 – 18]
Eclavdra – 10th/4th cleric/fighter female [D3 – 18]
Lyme – 5th/12th fighter/magic-user male consort [D3 – 18]

In the interest of beating a dead horse to… well… death: Why was the Great Fane of Lolth mapped and detailed, and not the Eilserv estate? It is on Eclavdra’s mushroom patch that the final confrontation will be. Why in fact, is so much of this adventure unmapped? And, as per the expectation with Gygax modules, why are so few NPCs named? Might it be because this adventure is akin to a tournament module? Was the expectation that the PCs should only spend a session of two in Erelhei-Cinlu’s vault? Were they expected to skulk past its main thoroughfare with minimal engagement, to strike a surgical blow and slip away, its loft vault never to see the dark of day ever again? If that were true, then little need be mapped; none of it, in fact. But why then were its gambling dens, bordellos, taverns, drug saloons, and even less savory shops [D3 – 15] dwelt upon? To paint a picture?
The back streets and alleyways too boast of brothels, poison shops, bars, and torture parlors. Unspeakable things transpire where the evil and jaded creatures seek pleasure, pain, excitement, or arcane knowledge, and sometimes these seekers find they are victims. All visitors are warned that they enter the back streets of the city at their peril. [D3 – 15]
It almost as if Gygax were trying to scare us off…. Perhaps we were meant to linger only as long as necessary, and escape while we still could. It does seem as though the Free City’s worst neighbourhood is palatial by comparison….

The Temple
If that were true, and it might surely be, the story as it could unfold might be thus: Our heroes come to mutual understanding with Nedylene while in Snurre’s stronghold, and descend into the depths of the Oerth with their drow “ally.” They creep through the vault and past the city, and after pleading their case to the Despanas, assault the Eilservs’ stronghold – or more likely, they assault the temple of the Elder Elemental God, while the anti-Eilserv Houses attack the Eilservs, and put an end to Eclavdra’s schemes, once and for all.
Maybe that’s too simple. Drow are drow, after all; so, I wouldn’t dally in the underoerth for long, after dealing a blow to any drow. I expect they would wish to reward the PCs’ efforts by serving their heads up on a platter, for their trouble. Because, you know… drow….
And Nedylene is without doubt about as trustworthy as Eclavdra, no matter how you slice her up. She probably deserves such a fate, anyway.
Then again, she’s the lesser of the two evils, and our heroes ally; isn’t she…?

“Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before.”
― Mae West

One must always give credit where credit is due. This post 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.

The Art:
Eclavdra, by Erol Otus, from D3 Vault of the Drow, 1980
Drow, by Bill Willingham, from D1-2 Descent into the Depths of the Earth, 1980
Erelhei-Cinlu map, by Jason Engle, from Drow of the Underdark 3e, 2007
Kuo-Toa, by Tony DiTerlizzi, from Monstrous Manual 2e, 1995
The Black Tower, by David A. Trampier, from D3 Vault of the Drow, 1978, 1980
Vault of the Drow map, by Christopher West, from Dragon Magazine #298, 2002
Erelhei-Cinlu, by Tomas Giorello, from Drow of the Underdark 3e, 2007
Lolth, by David A. Trampier, from D3 Vault of the Drow, 1978, 1980
Underdark Ziggurat, by Adam Paquette, from Underdark 4e, 2010

9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
2009 Monster Manual 1e, 1977, 1978
2011 Players handbook 1e, 1978
2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
9018 G3 Hall of the Fire Mountain King, 1978
9019 D1 Descent Into the Depths of the Earth, 1978
9020 D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa, 1978
9059 D1-2 Descent Into the Depths of the Earth, 1978, 1981
9021 D3 Vault of the Drow, 1978, 1981
9058 G123 Against the Giants, 1978, 1981

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