Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Grimmerzhul Trading Post

Following events at the Chamber of Eyes, the players will know that the captured slaves are in the possession of Duergar - but they won't know where these Duergar might be. So it's back to the Seven-Pillared Hall to look for clues.

The most obvious place to start looking is at the Grimmerzhul Trading Post, where the Duergar come to do their business with the residents of the Hall.

does its typical bait-and-switch here. It starts off describing the Trading Post by saying, "The Duergar here aren't interested in fighting but depending on the PCs' actions, a fight may break out."

So, great. This is a diplomacy encounter, then, right? The players are going to get the relevant information out of the Duergar by wit and deception, and they'll only end up in combat if they make a mess of the chatting?

Wrong. The Duergar "don't say much, answering in as few words as possible and being evasive if asked probing questions". Further, "the guards order the PCs to leave if [..] the characters press them about slave trading. If the PCs refuse to leave or if they try to enter another part of the trading post, the Duergar attack."

So it's a railroad. Once again, talking is only a prelude to the inevitable hitting-things-with-swords phase of the encounter. Just to reinforce the point, the encounter ends by reminding DMs that there's only three ways the players can find the Horned Hold - interrogating a captured duergar, ransacking the trading post, or (and I'll come to this option in another post) paying an exhorbitant price to the Hall's resident drow.

Combat in the Trading Post raises an ugly problem for continuity in Thunderspire Labyrinth. The Trading Post lies within the boundaries of the Seven-Pillared Hall, and its residents are largely peaceful members of that community. It can't be said that the Mages of Saruun are unaware of the Duergar propensity for slave-trading - they clearly permit the Duergar to do their business in full knowledge of the proclivities of their people. So when the players go deliberately causing trouble, why on Earth wouldn't Orontor descend on them with the full force of his magic and his animated statues?

One answer is that he needs their help to find his rogue brother Paldemar. But if the guardians of the Hall go making excuses for the players now, it significantly undermines their authority from that point forward. The supposed wrath of the Mages is what forces good-aligned surface dwellers to co-exist with Brugg and the other disreputable types dwelling in the hall. By ignoring this unprovoked attack on peaceful traders, Orontor (and the DM) are risking the start of a town-cleaning crusade , which at the very least is a significant diversion from the adventure that Thunderspire has planned.

As is often the case, none of this is a difficult problem to clean up for a confident DM, but it's another occasion of the module as-written being wilfully perverse, and holding out roleplaying with one hand while clubbing you with the combat-stick held in its other.


FalconGK81 said...

I'm running Thunderspire Labyrinth right now, having started with KotS, and my original intention was to run the entire H1-E3 series. The game club I'm a member of runs games on a once-a-month schedule, so even though we started KotS when 4e launched last year we're only in the Horned Hold of Thunderspire.

ANYWAYS (sorry for the rambling) I just wanted to say that I completely agree about the disconnect between the adventure assuming a combat at the Trading Post and the fact that the Mages of Saruum wouldn't allow that type of shenanigans. DMs can easily fix this type of stuff, but I'm dissapointed, as I assumed that I was paying for a product so I wouldn't have to worry about obviously stupid things like this. A little bit of quality would go a long way. After KotS and now Thunderspire, I'm considering stopping the whole H1-E3 plan and just doing homebrew stuff. I think I'd spend just as much time on it as I do modding these adventures, and they'd be tons better. And I'd keep some $ in my pocket.

Brian said...

This encounter's coming up in the next session for my party, assuming they con't go delving into the labyrinth for some treasure. It'll be interesting to see how they handle it. IIRC the only solution that the module offers that maintains the status quo is having the party break into the trading post at night and finding the papers in the theurge's office. Of course, it only pays it lip service at best. There's no real description of how to play such a break-in.

From what I've read, it seems that a lot of thinking DMs end up making the party outlaws at around this point in the adventure. Which is perhaps fitting for the Wild West feel of the Hall. Of course, that possibility isn't covered in the least by the text.

Alternatively, if the party is thinking about the potential wrath of the Mages here I suppose they could just opt to knock everyone unconscious. It's possible that the penalties for assault and B&E around here are less steep than those for murder-1. This path leads to a Horned Hold on high alert, though.

FalconGK81 said...

Outlaws is essentially the result my party got as well. I figured the Ordinator (Orontor) wouldn't tolerate this sort of nonsense.

The Horned Hold sucks. Big ones. Endless Duergar slugfest, with a pointless Wight encounter thrown in. I'm seriously disilussioned with this whole H1-E3 idea. The most frustrating thing to me is the lack of ties between the adventures. When you're told that you can play the adventures as part of a series, you expect at least some kind of cohesive story. Like the way that Kalarel dies in KotS leaves his return open, except that by E1 he still hasn't shown back up. What the hell WotC.

Greg has it right when he talks about Chekov's Gun. These modules are a long row of loaded but unfired guns. I guess they assumed the DMs would alter the mods to fire them? I just thought I was paying them to do most of the work for me. They don't even hint that you should do this, its left to experienced DMs to realize the flaws and then fix them.

Thanks for the blog Greg and the great analysis. Makes me feel better that others have the same feelings as I do.

Greg Tannahill said...

Falcon - Neither H3 nor P1 get significantly better than Thunderspire as-written, so if you're holding out for improvement you're probably going to be disappointed. (P1 has some nice ideas, though.)

Brian - The fight at the Trading Post seemed to me to work too well in the storylines of two of my characters to discard it, so personally I just ended up with Orontor showing up, being unable to decide "who started it", and letting both sides off with a stern chastisement (as there'd been no deaths).

Oscar said...

My party got to the Horned Hold last session skipping the Trading Post entirely, so I didn't have to mess with it. They found the location during the first session when they started asking about different things. I think I dropped the drow subquest with the scepter in during their first visit to his shop and they went around asking about where the duegar might be located. I don't see any reason certain members of the hall wouldn't know where the Horned Hold is and that the duegar are inhabiting it, what with it being off a prominent road. I guess that was my mistake.

If the PCs did start a fight in the Trading Post, I wouldn't know how to handle it. I'd probably just ignore the bit with the Ordinator and the implications involved, and only bring it up to keep the PCs in line. I was more worried about the PCs wanting to loot the place, since I had already established it as having "rare ores, gemstones, liquor, poison, and alchemical reagents from the underdark". Where is all that stuff in the Treasure section? There must be thousands of GPs worth of goods located here that my fairly intelligent party will be inquiring about. Comes with playing the game with an economist in my group.

As for the outlaw possibilities, my party has already done that too. Brugg stopped by to harass the PCs at the Halfmoon Inn and the party didn't really like that. I had Brugg ask for an entry fee/adventurer's tax to operate out of the Hall. When the PCs started making excuses for being there to trade and mine, he upped the fee (to like 125 GP, which isn't that much for a party of five). He shoved one character around a little (no damage, just pushing him into tables and the like), and the rogue tried to pickpocket him. Needless to say, the rogue failed, and Brugg took a swing at him. Next thing I know the entire party is drawing weapons and rolling for initiative, I've got all the halflings in the Inn yelling for the party to stop and that they'll die if they continue, and Brugg calling out for the Ordinator to come save his ass. The party goes as far as attacking him, while the Mage is calling for the party to lay down their weapons, which doesn't work.

After I made it clear they couldn't win, they finally gave up. Orontor summoned them to the Custom House the next day, forced them to pay a 200 GP fine for destroying part of the common room of the inn and disrupting business for the Halfmoons, who don't really like the party anymore. Also, he cast a "ritual" that prevents the party from leaving Thunderspire until they solve a little problem for him. Enter the Paldemar hook.

Maybe not the best way to solve things, but as of now the party does not know that the slaves have anything to do with Paldemar, and they still consider the human thigh bone key a major quest. I honestly wasn't expecting to have to take that route, but as it was unfolding I was scrambling to come up with some way to keep the party alive and still make the Mages of Saruun not be pussies.

Modern said...

Greg, et al-

The Trading Post does indeed present a problem if you run it as written. I took a slightly different approach, though, which was to work the absence of the mages into an ongoing plot element in the city above, leaving Orontor to scheme about how to make the Hall over more to his liking. Enter a group of PCs who can deal with the Duergar, or not, with Orontor implying to them he'll look the other way if they're discreet and successful. Essentially, he did the math and the Halfmoons are more important and less trouble than the Duergar, and since the Blood Reavers were going to sell Rendell Halfmoon to them (a fact Rendell KNOWS because of his time spent with the PCs), a conflict was inevitable.

So, basically, Orontor is allowing the PCs to clean up messes left by the other Mages, while they're gone and he can make hay. It's also been cool to gradually have him warm to the PCs as they actually deliver and he starts to see them as more useful than Brug (another 'holdover') for advancing his own agenda.

I completely understand the desire for the modules to be more coherent, but OTOH, I always expect to heavily modify any adventures I buy, even really good ones, to shoehorn them into the campagin world, so I guess the need to do that just doesn't bother me as much as it seems to others.

(Oh, and I'm pretty sure we'll be forgoing the P series in favor of the Giants mega-module coming out this summer, which the players are all really enthusiastic about. Anyone else considering going this route? THAT is something I'd love to see this type of analysis applied to!)

-Jim C./Lefty/ModernMyths

Greg Tannahill said...

Thanks guys. As I've said many times, I don't recommend anyone run it as written. But I analyse it as written, because that's the only way to meaningfully look at the content.

Evan said...

I'm a little late commenting on this, but I want to say that my experience as a player in this module exactly supports your comments.

Our group was positive that if we tried to rough up the Rrimmerzhul in the town we would be stopped by the mages. We had every reason to expect that was the case, so when the duergar threatened us we backed off and came up with another plan.

We came back at night, talked our way in the door and were planning to kidnap the poor fool who let us in without waking anybody else. We were well on our way to succeeding at this when the DM had another duergar randomly catch us in the act. Since we had one of his companions hostage we tried to negotiate rather than fight.

"Drop your weapons or your man dies!"

No dice. They attacked anyway. Total railroad. Incredibly frustrating. Just thinking back on it now annoys me.

Aenghus said...

I changed the trading post when I ran it as well. Similar to another poster, I decided Orothar wasn't personally involved with the duergar himself, but other mages were, and due to internal politics he wouldn't mind the duergar coming to a sticky end.

Secondly, I decided the trading post was on paper an embassy of the duergar city. This meant that the local enforcers were not obliged to react to violence there. A convenience when enslaving unwary locals, not so great when adventurers come calling.

Aaron said...

We ended up avoiding the Trading Post because we ~were~ sure that it'd devolve into a fight and that we'd be on the wrong side of the law (as it is). Given that we're generally Good characters, we didn't want that to happen. The GM was happy to steer us away from it as well and throw us some other options, knowing that we're going to be killing a bunch of Duergar soon enough anyway.