N1: Against the cult of the Reptile God (TSR 1983)
By Douglas Niles
AD&D 1st Edition
The adventure is designed for 4-7 characters of levels 1-3.
Something strange is going on in the town of Orlane, and the characters must get to the bottom of it.
The adventure is 28 pages long, there are an additional 6 pages of maps. The breakdown is as follows:
1 page of credits/legal/advertising
4 pages of adventure overview and plot development
8 pages of town adventure (houses, occupants, etcetera)
8 pages of specific building adventure (more detailed town buildings)
2 pages of wilderness travel
7 pages of underground dungeon adventure
1 page of pregen PCs and "further adventures"
This adventure is somewhat similar to the Villiage of Hommlet, in that you have a building-by-building writeup of an entire small villiage, followed by a dungeon. About half of the occupants of the villiage have been charmed by a spirit naga that lives in a swamp a few days journey away. These charmed occupants are slowly kidnapping other villiagers and bringing them to the Naga to expand the cult. There is a distinct "body snatchers" vibe to the adventure. There is a lot of suspicion and mistrust among the non-charmed occupants, and the NPCs are very well written to account for the suspicion. The dungeon below the swamp is almost humdrum compared to the outstanding villiage in the first half of the adventure.
1. Interesting and varied encounters (I look for unique encounters, allowing for a variety of role and roll playing.): (4/5)
The first 2/3 of the adventure in the town of Orlane has an outsanding array of encounters with a broad spectrum of roleplaying opportunities. Combat is a bit sparse in the early half, and some trigger happy players may be spoiling for a fight by the time they have their first confrontation. By the standards of the 2010's, the adventure doesn't do much hand-holding, and by the second or third session of play the DM will be on their toes trying to make the townsfolk react appropriately once the cult is exposed. The mayor and some allies are not charmed, while the temple, and prosperous "Golden Grain Inn" are the centers of cult activity, with the constable falling on the cult side of the conflict. Some of the later encounters in the naga's lair under the swamp seem rather ordinary by comparison, though there are some interesting water-borne encounters. The final confrontation with the naga would be nearly impossible, but a potent NPC can provide some protection from the naga's charm.
2. Motivations for monsters and NPCs (or some detail of how they interact with their environment or neighbors.): (5/5)
The motivations for the various NPCs is outstanding. It is perhaps the best part of the adventure. There are many plots brewing in town, and it is up to the PCs to untangle the situation and pick their allies carefully.
3. Logical (the adventure should obey a sense of logic that clever players can use to their advantage): (4/5)
The sooner the PCs can become aware that townsfolk are charmed, the sooner the players can start making sense of the situation. In early edition rules, it is up to the DM to help reveal that information at an appopriate time. If the DM waits to long, it can be a bit of a drag for the players. Once the players recognize that the cult members are also victims, it becomes more important than ever to head to the Naga's lair. The alternative is for the PCs to go on a murdering spree killing many of the charmed townsfolk. This could make some players uncomfortable.
4. Writing Quality (foreshadowing, mystery, and descriptions that bring locations and NPCs to life): (3/5)
For the time it was written, this adventure would easily rank a 5/5; but by todays standard the NPCs could use a little extra flavor. Making sure that all of the NPCs had names would help, as would including snatches of sample dialog. There are some clever bits, such as the "Slumbering Serpent" inn being on the good side… its name tends to fighten paranoid PCs. Many of the town write-ups were a bit bland, and they included gold coins stored under floorboards. This habit of including stashes of coins in every building follows in the tradition of the Villiage of Hommlet, but it really doesn't add anything of value to the adventure (unless your players insist on robbing everyone they meet).
5. Ease of Dming (Clear maps, friendly stat blocks, skill check numbers, player handouts and illustrations): (4/5)
The adventure contains boxed text for the GM to read aloud or paraphrase. Everything about the adventure is servicable. I would like to have seen some illustrations to show the players periodically. The suggestions for cult activity as time passes are an oustanding aid to the DM. I would like to have seen some more possibilities for how the townsfolk react once the cult is exposed… who steps forward to help the party, how do cult members react, etcetera. When I last ran this adventure, I had a group of surviving cult members attempt to ambush the party as they made the wilderness journey to the Naga's lair. I also had some of the more powerful allied NPCs in town deal with the remaining cult-members in-town in order to keep the adventure moving quickly. The party shouldn't need to deal with every charmed 0-level farmer in town... once the cult is discovered, the party should move on to confront the naga instead of cleaning the riff-raff in town.
This is an oustanding adventure that has survived the test of time. I've run players through it 3 times… once in the 80s (with AD&D rules), once in the 2000s (converted to D&D 3.5), and once in 2012 (with homebrew rules). It has been a great experience every time. The town adventure in particular played differently each time. Regardless of the version of D&D or fantasy roleplaying game you use, this adventure is a great addition to your library.