From: Marc Tizoc Gonzalez [mtizoc@SFSU.EDU]
Sent: Monday, July 23, 2001 11 :19 PM
Subject: [GREYTALK] Review: AEG: Dead Mans Cove
DMC is designed for character levels four to six, and the cover art (along with the title) suggest accurately the theme of the adventures. As the back cover text states, "Cutthroats and cannons!" Because of my interest in the Pomarj and trade on the Azure Sea, piracy is what prompted me to purchase DMC. However, as the quote indicates, there are aspects of the published adventure that do not mesh well with Greyhawk.
Although it is not a major point of the adventure, cannons and bombs aren't organically based in the Flanaess, so these aspects of the adventure booster should be removed, replaced, or otherwise confronted. As past threads on Greytalk have demonstrated, there are myriad ideas on how to represent sea travel and battle on (and under) the Azure Sea. I direct interested people to the relevant threads. (Use the Archives!)
Having stated a reservation about DMC, let me note my belief that the plot hook and backstory are relatively strong. I find the introductory boxed text to be well written for the most part. Certainly it does a good job given the constraints of space. However, the adventure booster fails regarding the travel required to arrive at the site of adventure. While this is understandable given the aforementioned constraint of space, it means that DMs must do more work.
Before, I suggest some ways to bring DMC into the Flanaess, I want to note three other reservations. I do this because I believe that the adventure booster is good overall. These critiques indicate where I believe it could have been excellent. First, the map is of poor quality. While multiple maps are provided of the locations that need mapping, the maps aren't ready for immediate tactical play. Instead they present important spatial relationships, but scale is missing, which may be even more important in 3e than previous editions. Second, the opposition is too generic; there is almost no differentiation. Basically the PCs are pitted a hundred level three Warriors (although the NPC class is only implied - another flaw)! This is unfortunate and indicates a mediocre comprehension of 3e's combat, which is structured for using fewer combatants than previous editions. Third (and perhaps of especial interest to Greyhawkers), the new monster comes close to being a rip off of Nerull's Drowned Ones. (Or, if that connection is denied, then the monster is basically just a normal zombie.)
My previous critiques should not be taken to indicate that I don't believe DMC to be useful for gaming in Greyhawk. The plot is ripe for enmeshment in the machinations of the southern Flanaess, and the booster may serve to guide DMs in taking on the somewhat daunting arena represented by post-FtA's Azure Sea. While some DMs may be using Slavers to explore the Pomarj, and LGH bases campaigns out of multiple areas of the southern Flanaess, the domination of the Azure Sea by the Scarlet Brotherhood dampens typical adventuring. In other words, post-FtA adventuring on the Azure Sea must contend with the SB, which seems to homogenize a previously interesting and diverse region.
Beginning in the west, the former Hold of the Sea Princes and the Horn of the Amedio Jungle represent ideal locations for DMC. Pre-FtA, Monmurg, Port Toli, and the islands are fine bases for Baldrick Mornstar. The pirates could be other Seolders based away from one of the Amedio forts, or the hideout might actually be one of these forts. Post-FtA, Gradsul provides a better location than Gryrax, but the capital of the Principality of Ulek might work. In this case, Mornstar's enemies might be competing merchants, but it might be fun to connect them to the SB. Perhaps Korvahl is an agent of the SB, or maybe he is allied with the renegade faction, which once ruled the now chaotic parts of the Hold? Korvahl might also be based in Scant, Blue or even Highport, if a DM wanted to direct later adventures to these cities. Before moving far to the east, I want to note that a pre-FtA adventure might be based in Narisban (of the Olman Isles). Perhaps the adventure represents some of the pre-Wars competition between the Sea Princes and the agents of Shar?
Although I posited some Flanaess connections in the west of the Azure Sea, the eastern lands seem to provide a better fit. Pre-Wars, Scant, Irongate, and Naerie all provide fine bases for Mornstar, and the pirate base can be set within the Headlands, Iron Hills, or beyond the Menowood (respectively). While the time to travel therein wouldn't take the two weeks suggested in DMC, the overland journey could provide an interesting adventure in itself. In the Headlands, there would be native Flan hillsmen to deal with for safe (or guided?) passage. Either the Headlands, Iron Hills, or the Hollow Highlands could provide a dwur or noniz encounter. Likewise the hills provide a fine site for combat with humanoids. Given the suggested level for the adventure booster, I think that ogres would be ideal, and those encountered might be from a tribe that roams the Hollow Highlands. Treasure found on the ogres could provide clues that lead to adventure in Sunndi or perhaps into the Vast Swamp. At the border of the Menowood, wolves or worgs should be encountered. An encounter with a ranger, druid, or bard could prelude encounters with wolves to make the players fear lycanthropy. In the hills southeast of Menowood, the pirate base could be used as is, or some connections to Wastri or the SB could be formulated. Perhaps there are some humanoids amongst the pirates like xvarts or norkers? Again, Korvahl could be an agent of the SB. Pre-Wars, the adventure booster could even lead the heroes to sail for Kro Terlep. Perhaps these are the heroes described in tSB as responsible for the destruction of the weeping hexagram?
Post-Wars, Scant is out of the picture, but Irongate and (later) Naerie might still be useable. In this era, the pirates are almost certainly Mornstar (and hence the heroes) should be aware of this probability.
There are many possible sites on the east coast of the Flanaess too for DMC. From Roland to Pontylver and perhaps even Dullstrand or a city of the Lordship of the Isles - all of these cities could be Mornstar's home city. Roland, Ounsty, and Rel Astra provide the nearby coast of the Lone Heath as a likely place for the pirate cove. In any era, the pirates might actually be goodly aligned freedom fighters. Mornstar could be either neutral or evil; his name could be a title of the priesthood of Hextor (per the OJ article). For Pontylver and Dullstrand, the pirate cove could be somewhere in the coast of the Hestmark Highlands. Overland travel herein would be challenging, and the terrain accords with what is presented in DMC. Finally, pre-Wars, the adventure booster could be set so that either Duxchan or Sulward are the start. The pirate cove could be on another island, or it might be on the same island as the city (though requiring several days of overland travel). Post-Wars, the pirates could be loyal to the Iron League's Lordship of the Isles and fighting against a SB allied Mornstar. Korvahl could be a patron from Rel Astra or Pontylver.
Finally, after deciding a scale for the maps, consider specifying the opposition to include warriors, rogues, fighters, and even supporting clerics (of chaotic neutral, CE, or NE alignments). Also contend with the returning pirate ship. As it stands, the PCs must find certain information to nullify the pirates on the returning ship. PCs should also be able to obtain this information by roleplaying with captured pirates. Consider detailing an NPC for this role, and have him or her turn up as a pirate that survives a combat. If the PCs do cause the ship to crash, then consider detailing some of the survivors. Perhaps a replacement PC could be found either amongst the survivors or as a prisoner? If the ship is destroyed, then the PCs still need to return overland. If they have prisoners, then the return trip should be even more challenging, as prisoners attempt to escape and flee or escape and murder a PC. Some prisoners may try to convince the PCs of their sad life story. An NPC might have been shanghaied and want to return to his or her home port. The PCs might release a SB agent that the pirates captured or a renegade priest (of a variety of gods - Pholtus near the Great Kingdom, the Earth Dragon in the western lands, Vecna anywhere, Wastri near the Vast Swamp, etc.).
If you're interested in piracy, sea based adventures, or the southern Flanaess, then consider using DMC. It should also be said that the adventure booster might be used to the north, near Grendep Bay, or perhaps to the far West on the coasts of the Dramidj Ocean or Gulf of Ghayar!