Monday, May 28, 2018

AD&D1e N2: The Forest Oracle

I have already forgotten what exactly led me to discovering N2: The Forest Oracle (C. Smith, 1984).  Perhaps it was a post on G+.  Perhaps in a moment of idle curiosity I googled "worst D&D module ever."  Whatever it was, I soon found my way to a 2015 review from the blog "Merric's Musings," which judging by its position on google has been read far more than the adventure itself.  Intrigued, I quickly acquired it at used-bin price (isn't life in the 21st Century nice) and read through the 32-adventure myself.

An unearthed gem!
Note that I refer to it as an adventure and not a module.  I have a very specific definition in mind when I talk about modules.  Modules are location-based, "modular" as the name implies: scenarios which can be dropped into the midst of a larger campaign setting or world with a minimum of modification.  They center around a specific, fixed place where adventure happens.  B1: In Search of the Unknown, Maze of the Blue Medusa; these are modules.  The Forest Oracle, second in the N-for-Novice series of "introductory" adventures published by TSR in the first half of the 80s, is most definitely not that. In fairness it does supply deliberately generic, somewhat colorless locations that could be slipped easily into just about any fairly recognizable world of Medievalesque Fantasy.  The content, however, more resembles one of Paizo's adventure paths, where player-characters are led through an unfurling novelesque plot, setpiece-by-prefab setpiece.

And boy, what a plot do we get here.

As said, I no longer in fact recall what led me to discover N2.  I downloaded it a while ago and spent my free time over the last few days savoring and digesting the contents.  As you probably surmised already, it doesn't enjoy the highest reputation.  The words "worst ever" have not infrequently been used and can be found on its product pages for Amazon, DrivethruRPG, and in any forum thread where it has ever been discussed.  Does "The Forest Oracle" deserve this opprobrium?

Honestly, people have probably been too nice to it.  What we have here is the kind of generic "FantasyQuest" adventure you'd see in a TV show about people playing Dungeons & Dragons, such as Community or Dexter's Lab.  A flavorless farming village is imperiled by a gypsy's curse: the PCs are asked to trek into the mysterious ancient woods immediately adjacent, and acquire the aid of a wise-but-shy Order of Druids.  Orcs and goblins will be fought.  Abandoned dwarf tunnels will be explored.  At various points a nymph and a dryad will be rescued.  For the adventure's climax, the PCs free a noble Pegasus from captivity.  A hack TV writer with a condescending attitude couldn't cook up a more boiler-plate D&D adventure on their best day.  No dragons actually show up (thankfully), but they are alluded to via rumor and local geography.

*Cue embarrassing falsetto* "Hold, Crunk! Thou shalt go.... no farther!"
 It should be emphasized in fairness that the adventure is intended to guide a group of tender first-timers into the world of Fantasy Roleplaying Games, hence both the heavy-handed Structured Funtime and the no doubt intended Boilerplate Fantasy feel of its environs.  Personally I feel newbies to our hobby deserve better---to see all the wild weirdness it can offer early and often---but nevermind.  The product exists, and in fact I'm not here merely to critique it.

Therefore one more thing before we move to the meat of this post.  Not only is N2 intent upon being a thoroughly colorless exercise, but it doesn't even execute its modest aims competently.  When I say the writing is incompetent, I mean basic things an editor should have caught: like inconsistently referring to the number of towers in a ruin, or the number of buildings in an encampment.  Information is staggered between mind-numbing amounts of padding.  Sentence structure is aggressively passive and frequently unclear.  Read excerpts from any forum post about this thing and you'll see what I mean.  The infamous bandits who are not singing and most definitely not joking as they march along the roadway are merely representative of the adventure's scatterbrained style.

by Adrian Smith - hope you really enjoy fighting these li'l guys!
 So, N2: an embarrassing footnote in the litany of products from TSR's Silver Age.  Deservedly forgotten.  Why bring it up again?

I'm gonna adapt this fucker to Pathfinder and make it into a runnable pointcrawl.

Yes, I am an idiot.  It's my blog, shut up.

 1. Setting Thanks to its utterly flavorless nature, N2 can be easily slotted into just about any Medievalesque fantasy setting that A) has orcs and goblins ; B) has some kind of vaguely nature-priesty class.  Seriously; at least the bar for entry on this fucker is about as low as you can go.

I'm going to be adapting it more specifically to the broader world of my Eastwylde/Kingdom of Pellegrine setting, although such bits will be quite easy to sand off if you'd like to use my modified version for your own Pathfinder games (........who'm I kidding?)

1a - Name Game First we'll need to modify some of the uh, decidedly embarrassing names which the adventure graces us with.  I mean I appreciate anything that avoids awkward fantasy names that nobody will remember like Zin-Shalas or whatever, but seriously.... The Greate Olde Woode?  With three extra e's?  Come on, man.

"The Downes."  Farming village where the adventure begins.  Described as occupying a valley surrounded by a ring of hills which..... wouldn't be downes, to my understanding.  Downes are hills, specifically low and somewhat terraced chalk hills, if we're going to try and generalize from the actual specific downes that exist in real-world England.   So we'll rename the hamlet as Downesvale. 

"The Greate Olde Woode."  Yeah.... we'll just say it's a very large stand of old-growth oak and elm known as The Oldwood.  Only minimally logged over the centuries and still wild at its heart, thanks to the longstanding protection of a Druidic Order. 

"Quiet Lake."  Not terrible but not quite enough specificity to satisfy Y.T.  Let's rename it Lake Quietus.

"Wild River." (At least they didn't call it Wilde River?)  In keeping with the Merrie Olde Englande theme I'll call it The Floodwald. 

"Order of the Golden Bough" - The Druids allegedly at the center of this story who actually don't play much part in it.  The Frazier reference is a little cute for me---I'll just call them The Order of the Oaken Bough. 

WORRHHH, DRUIDS!  You knew this was coming.
Names fine as-is: Old/New Wilderness Road, Old North Road, The Wildwood Inn (I don't like it but it's acceptable), Dragonteeth Mountains (ditto), Castle Karn. 

That out of the way, Downesvale and the adjacent forest will fit nicely into the northern quadrant of Pellegrine's Red March---a long strip of mostly-flat, agricultural land that forms a web of backwater baronies and crumbling castles.  Downesvale is a relatively new settlement, only about 60 years old, holding some 30 households with a total population of around 150.  It is sheltered by a cradle of low hills called The Downes which fan across the west, while to the east sprawls the ancient forest known as Oldwood, out of the southern half of which erupts the high stony peaks known as The Dragonteeth Mountains (not true mountains, but such as the folk of relatively flat Pellegrine would know them).

Downesvale is technically in the bailiwick of one Sheriff Conrad, who answers to Sir Terrance (known universally as Sir Terry), Lord of Pillowe.   Sir Terry's smiling portrait hangs in Downesvale's solitary tavern, The Ploughman, but few locals could even name the gentleman in the frame and taxes have been infrequently levied to say the least.  Oldwood and Downesvale lie on the very edge of the territory of Pillowe and are easily forgotten.  
You get exactly no points for guessing which Bond plays Sir Terry.

Since time out of mind, the Order of the Oaken Bough have called The Oldwood their home.  They kept to themselves, and were generous in using their power to keep the surrounding lands fruitful, thus down to the end of Feudal Times local authorities let them alone.  In modern times, the Order has retreated deeper into the forest and are rarely seen.  It's said that in the heart of the Order's sacred grove is a well which can foretell the future, tended by a sisterhood of oracles.  Folk from every quarter of the forest environs make pilgrimage, particularly in Spring, to have their future foretold or seek the oracle's advice.

2. Pointcrawl Map
Feast your eyes on my definitely legible and very clear pointcrawl map.

Distance not marked because it doesn't matter.  The entire thing is like a three day walk across.

I...... think I forgot to mark the last point in this pointcrawl.  Erps. :-X

01. Hamlet of Downsvale, Farmhouses 
----Fight: Brigands----
02. Abandoned logging camp, brigands' lair
03. Lake Quietus
04. Wildwood Inn
05. Dragonteeth Caves, West Entrance
06. Dragonteeth Caves, East Entrance; Dryad's Tree
----Fight: Giant sawtooth frogs----
07. Floodwald ropeway
08. Castle Karn
09. Druids' Dun, House of the Oracle
----Fight: Bugbear raiders---
10.  Crowfolk Camp
----Fight: Lynx
11. Peryton Nest
12. Olot's Lair

It's late and I'm losing professionalism fast.  More of this project later, perhaps.


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  2. Thank you for this. I am planning to run this module and this post is a HUGE assist for me :)