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Desert of Desolation - your experiences?

the Jester

Legend
I've both played and run these- they're great! Most recently, about 1-2 years ago, I played in a 3e conversion of it; it was great fun, though that's where my character picked up 'the Accursed' as a nickname after getting nailed by three separate curses at the same time!

He's never really recovered. :uhoh: :eek:
 

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Quasqueton

First Post
I've "always" owned the first two in this series, but never played them. A few days ago, I got the third module. I decided to reread the whole series. It's been years since I originally read anything in them.

I've only read about half of the first module so far, but oh my god, it is horrible. So much about this module is horrible. Just some examples I can remember without it in my hands right now:

Monsters in the random monster charts don't have hit points listed. Just HD.

There is a group of about a dozen bandits with 2 HD. Half have only 2-4 hit points.

There is a maze with only one way in -- jumping into a burning brazier in the temple. The worshippers at the temple haven't figured out the brazier is a teleporter. But there are a couple dozen folks (non-worshippers) in the maze who had to come through the brazier.

There are wondering wizards, bandits, dopplegangers, etc. in this maze, but no explanation on how long they've been there, how they got there (past all the worshippers), or how they survive there. There are monsters in rooms in the maze, with no explanation of how they survive. There are areas in the maze where treasure is just sitting in the middle of the floor, apparently just abandoned and not found by anyone else.

In one area, a +1 warhammer just is lying in the middle of the floor. No monster, no trap, nothing but the warhammer on the floor. Another area has a +3 ring of protection, just lying there. Another has a bag of 510gp. Etc., etc., etc. WTF?! Just walk through the maze and pick up the treasure.

In many areas, there is ancient writing with hints and clues for the PCs. But for most all of them, there is a 30% to decipher the writing. Just a flat 30% chance, regardless of being a wizard with 18 Int or a dumb fighter. And it doesn't even say this is 30% for the whole party as a group, or for each individual trying to read it.

I don't think I ever read these modules cover to cover, because I never ran them in a game. I had only previously spot-read here and there. This first module at least, is absurd. All those of you who say this is a great module, are you smoking crack? Or just looking back through rose-colored glasses. I mean, this thing is outrageously bad. And I'm only half-way through the first module.

Edit: that "smoking crack" comment reads much harsher and in-your-face than I intended. Take it as surprise, not as confrontational.

Quasqueton
 
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Psion

Adventurer
I'm thinking that when it came to "return to" modules, this one got passed up.

I5 is like one of my favorite modules ever. These adventures define "1e feel" to me more than White Plume Mountain or Tomb of Horrors.
 

Barendd Nobeard

First Post
Played in a 3.5 conversion. TPK (sort of) halfway through the second mod.

We killed something, and then went down a pit it had come out of. The pit led to the planes of Pandemonium (I think). Bye-bye party.
 

DarrenGMiller

First Post
I have it, but have not run it. I vaguely remember playing in a group that went through the original 3 adventures in the mid-80's, but only remember bits and pieces. I am hoping to run a 3.5 conversion at some point.

DM
 

Melan

Explorer
Quasqueton: some of us don't give a flying f damn about breaking the suspension of disbelief, and like "illogical" dungeons just fine. The thing about Pharaoh is: there are a whole lot of cool traps and memorable encounters in the module. It does play well (and I didn't run it in 1983 - I ran it in the late 90s). Those things you mentioned never bothered anyone in my group, partly because we play Dungeons&Dragons, not Elminster's Ecologies, and partly because most of the problems you mention are easily corrected. Also, there are a whole lot of absolutely awesome encounters in the adventure, like the battle with the M-U Munafik, the unearthing of the Efreet or that palm tree with the pineapples...

As for specific points --
Monsters in the random monster charts don't have hit points listed. Just HD.
Yeah, so what's the problem? Can't roll dice? ;) Seriously: I got myself a sheet of paper and rolled up hps for a bunch of critters before the game. Problem solved in ten minutes.

There is a group of about a dozen bandits with 2 HD. Half have only 2-4 hit points.
Like the PCs, the bandits could have encountered monsters previously.

There is a maze with only one way in -- jumping into a burning brazier in the temple. The worshippers at the temple haven't figured out the brazier is a teleporter. But there are a couple dozen folks (non-worshippers) in the maze who had to come through the brazier.

There are wondering wizards, bandits, dopplegangers, etc. in this maze, but no explanation on how long they've been there, how they got there (past all the worshippers), or how they survive there. There are monsters in rooms in the maze, with no explanation of how they survive. There are areas in the maze where treasure is just sitting in the middle of the floor, apparently just abandoned and not found by anyone else.
Yeah, that was a bit problematic. I treated the maze as a place of stasis - those who were lost would wander it For Ever(tm). Problem solved with an ominous twist. :] I placed the treasure in the side rooms and added a trap or two.

In many areas, there is ancient writing with hints and clues for the PCs. But for most all of them, there is a 30% to decipher the writing. Just a flat 30% chance, regardless of being a wizard with 18 Int or a dumb fighter. And it doesn't even say this is 30% for the whole party as a group, or for each individual trying to read it.
So assign it to a Read Languages check or Ancient History for Magic-Users (or 3e equivalents!). There, "DM fiat" solved another "game-breaking" problem in two freaking seconds.

To sum it up, the "problems" you mention are
a) not considered problematic for some people
b) easily corrected anyway.
Seriously, it is not like people in the early 1980s (or the late 70s, when the first, non-TSR edition of Pharaoh appeared) were too dumb to realize that the aforementioned bits are "not realistic" or whatever. They had different priorities, different interests and were more interested in improbable, even surreal adventures in exciting locations than crafting elaborate and "living, breathing" worlds. Also, modules weren't supposed to be the "whole deal". It was encouraged and expected of the DM to adapt and change the things he didn't find appropriate for his games. Moreover, the designers trusted the DM to be of sufficient competence to make those corrections.

Oh well, enough semi-coherent rambling, back to smoking crack, eh. :p
 

EricNoah

Adventurer
This is one of my favorites -- I've run at least one group through the first two of the three modules and it was incredibly fun. A very nice variety of things to do, places to go, people to see, monsters to kill, and tricks/traps to endure.

And I've used parts of the third in different homebrewed adventures.
 


Quasqueton

First Post
Moreover, the designers trusted the DM to be of sufficient competence to make those corrections.
In this case, I see it that the designers were sufficiently incompetent to require the DM to make major and numerous corrections.

And I'm not arguing that some folks couldn't or didn't have fun with them. What I'm talking about are these comments:
This module, and Ravenloft, cemented Tracy and Laura Hickman as two of the top Module Designers EVER, in my opinion.
...and mine as well.
I might even be so bold as to say this is the best designed module series of all time.
Module builders could learn a lot about how one goes about making a good setting/product by studying this series.
...it's a great!
Great set of adventures, and quite well designed.
the modules are both creative and well done.
These are not well designed. Not even close. The story/plot may have been interesting, and I think I may agree with that. But the execution and *adventure module* design is abyssmal. If I have to roll up hit points *for a published adventure*, someone was slack in design or editing. If I have to mark out free magic items that are just lying about in vacant rooms, someone was just stupid. If I have to come up with reasons for a major plot point (people wandering around in a maze for who knows how long), some designer wasn't doing his/her job.

Hey, I loved Keep on the Borderlands, but I'd never say it was an example of great adventure design.

Quasqueton
 

Mark Hope

Adventurer
These are definitely adventures that play far better than they read. Remember, we are talking about some pretty old 1e adventures here - the standards for what constituted a great adventure were very different to the current norm. Every "i" did not need to be dotted, nor every "t" crossed (nor every "hp" rolled). If it is fun, go with it and wing your away around the speed bumps - 1e style at its purest. Calling the design staff "slack", "incompetent", "stupid" or whatever is going a bit far, imho. The relatively minor issues you raise are by far overshadowed by the finer elements of the adventure (such as the concept and design of the pyramid, the oasis factions, cults and lairs, the sea of glass, the demiplanes linked to Martek's tomb, the degraded societies in Martek's garden etc etc). I'd advise actually playing them through with a decent DM and seeing if you share the same opinions then :).
 

Quasqueton

First Post
Every "i" did not need to be dotted, nor every "t" crossed
Missing hit points is a missing dot or cross. But this adventure was missing whole paragraphs -- the hows and whys of major elements.

There's a +3 ring of protection lying on the floor of a vacant area; there is a sphinx sitting in a 30'x30' room; there is a dozen bandits holed up in the room right next door -- with no explanation what-so-ever as to how, why, or when. And there are a dozen more examples of this lunacy. <throws up hands>

How this can be called "great design" is completely beyond my comprehension.

Edit:
Remember, we are talking about some pretty old 1e adventures here - the standards for what constituted a great adventure were very different to the current norm.
There were better modules produced earlier than these.

Quasqueton
 

Ranes

Adventurer
Well, Quas, I always enjoy reading these threads but it seems you've really got more than you bargained for this time.

I never played, ran or even read these modules but I've decided to add them to my list of wants now. Go figure.
 

Quasqueton

First Post
Well, Quas, I always enjoy reading these threads but it seems you've really got more than you bargained for this time.
What did I bargain for? I'm just discussing the modules -- exactly the reason I started these threads.

I never played, ran or even read these modules but I've decided to add them to my list of wants now. Go figure.
Great. When you get them and read them, come here and tell what you think.

Quasqueton
 

Warrior Poet

First Post
rogueattorney said:
When Scotty's halfling landed the killing blow they all mobbed him. It was awesome. Scott was 3 or 4 years younger than everybody else in the group and always treated like the little kid, so it was a really cool deal for him to get to be the hero.
Haven't played the module (it was one of the few I missed growing up), but as a younger brother who got to play, on occasion, with his older brother and his older brother's friends in a few game sessions, and who always looked up to his older brother, I just wanted to say that was probably a totally great moment in your brother's life. I bet he remembers it to this day.

Excellent story, and a great moment in RPG-games, I'd say.

Warrior Poet
 

Mark Hope

Adventurer
Quasqueton said:
Missing hit points is a missing dot or cross. But this adventure was missing whole paragraphs -- the hows and whys of major elements.

There's a +3 ring of protection lying on the floor of a vacant area; there is a sphinx sitting in a 30'x30' room; there is a dozen bandits holed up in the room right next door -- with no explanation what-so-ever as to how, why, or when. And there are a dozen more examples of this lunacy. <throws up hands>
These are not "major elements". But I can see why you might find this approach frustrating. My feeling is that not every adventure needs to have the presence of every item or creature explained. I like the freedom to spin ideas off myself - or leave it as an unexplained D&Dism, with which the game as a whole is already replete.

There were better modules produced earlier than these.

Quasqueton
Yes, there were. Doesn't make the play experience of these three awful though. Anyway, it's clearly a subjective issue of taste - some gamers don't like this kind of approach to module design and some do - it's not a flameworthy issue. At the end of the day, the play's the thing :).
 

Melan

Explorer
Quasqueton said:
There's a +3 ring of protection lying on the floor of a vacant area; there is a sphinx sitting in a 30'x30' room; there is a dozen bandits holed up in the room right next door -- with no explanation what-so-ever as to how, why, or when. And there are a dozen more examples of this lunacy. <throws up hands>

How this can be called "great design" is completely beyond my comprehension.

Quasqueton
Again, you assume that these things you are talking about bother everyone. Let me assure you, they don't. ;) And if they do, we change them. End result: awesome module after about an hour or two of additional work. About your specific examples -- dungeon ecologies may be an ubiquitous philosophy in modern games, but it is hardly an universal concept of "good design". The sphinx is there because it is cool. The bandits are also there because they are cool (granted, the sphinx is more cool). Maybe the latter are worshipping the former. Or maybe they are just next to each other. And there is a cool 3d dungeon architecture puzzle in the Sphinx room.

I give you: these are not the elements the dungeon is famous for. Nope. The dungeon is famous because of the innovative use of 3d dungeon environments, the interesting NPCs and the fiendish challenges facing the player characters - right from the maze through the Dome of Flight to the Clay Golem guarding the heart of an undying wizard...

Also, I would never claim Pharaoh is flawless (and the railroady bits in Martek are just horrendous - I skipped them entirely). I'd just say - I and my players enjoyed the campaign immensely.
 
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S. Baldrick

Explorer
Pharaoh was the second module that I ever DMed. I eventually ran Oasis of the White Palm as well. All in all, the two modules that I did run are two of the best modules of all time in my opinion
 

Arnwyn

First Post
Quasqueton said:
All those of you who say this is a great module, are you smoking crack? Or just looking back through rose-colored glasses.
Since I've updated this adventure to 3e, it's "neither" of course. The real answer, "smoking crack" and "rose-colored glasses" notwithstanding, is that I'm nowhere near the same universe as you in pickiness.
Edit: that "smoking crack" comment reads much harsher and in-your-face than I intended. Take it as surprise, not as confrontational.
Taken, with a raised eyebrow.
 

Andre

First Post
IMO, Quas's criticisms of the module are well-deserved, in the same way that the first Star Wars movie was panned by so many critics. For whatever reason, these modules seem - in play - to be much more than the sum of their imperfect parts. My group played these in 1E and I still remember that they were a blast, if a bit railroad-y.
 

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