A1-4: Scourge of the Slave Lords
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Make sure your rose-tinted glasses are on nice and tight, and prepare for a lovely walk down nostalgia lane.
Scourge of the Slave Lords is an epic quest assembled from tournament-play in 1980. It's known for being good, for being better in its revised edition, and for introducing several not-so-iconic monsters all of which really really sucked. I mean, what was the point of the Storoper or the Cloaker? Fiend Folio has nothing on this nonsense.
- 1 The Development
- 2 The Chapters
- 3 Drow?!
- 4 The Force Awakens
- 5 The Phantom Menace
As early as the 1970s, Dungeons & Dragons had a problem with crappy unoriginal dungeon-crawls. In 1979 the gamers at Gen Con [XII] rose up in revolt and petitioned four TSR designers - Zeb Cook, Allen Hammack, David Johnson, and Lawrence Schick - to come up with better. (These four were too polite up to 1986 to tell us which was the offending adventure. We do know that Len Lakofka ran Deep Dwarven Delve there - which wouldn't see the light of publication until 1999, as "L3" in the Silver Anniversary Collector's Edition.)
Johnson, to punish the others, on "one cold evening" the following winter dropped the other three's first-level party arse-and-boobs naked into a minotaur's labyrinth. (They did get a loincloth each.)
The four agreed this should be the LAST encounter for a tournament, not the first. Fortunately the loss of an equipment-advantage serves to put high-level adventures on almost the same even keel as low-level, excepting maybe hitpoints. And so the adventures which became A1, A2, A3 were born, to lead to that last dungeon; and brought to the public at the very next Gen Con. The ensuing A series proved popular so they were brought together, and expanded, into Scourge of the Slave Lords published May 1986.
We apologise to any hyperfans of the original modules; as with Temple of Elemental Evil (and unlike Queen of the Spiders) the trade-paperback expansion did justice to the original, so we're using that as our basis.
Canonically this Adventure Path is the sequel to Temple. We concede that the connexion is contrived, so do feel free to ignore it and to play something else before it. (Wait 'til you get a load of the intended conclusion to the "trilogy".)
The PCs getting captured, looted, and potentially enslaved themselves is a running theme in the series. Taking agency from the players is generally frowned-upon, as a design decision; but in a slavery-themed series, at least they know what they're getting their PCs into.
Another theme - because tournament - is that there are several parties on the same trip, in mutual competition. As a result you'll notice dungeons being disconnected from one another, and points where some PCs are carried off to Markessa's exercise-mat whilst other PCs are left with their wands in their hands. To play this series, one option is to go for a marathon outing with at least two DMs leading a dozen or more players, which sounds pretty awesome if it could be done right. Otherwise the DM has to do some work to keep everything on target.
The Road to Highport
This first chapter is "A-Zero" in the expansion. The party comes to a formal ball at Dame Gold's. Gold wants the party to deliver a MacGuffin to her brother. But she is about to be . . . Taken. The party, following the kidnappers, get hit by pirates too and Taken, onboard the slaveship Ghoul - to man the oars. Hope they weren't much attached to the magic weapons they'd acquired up to now.
The slavers' sails are purple, replacing the yellow sails of A1. Why the change; don't ask us. Maybe to flex that the slavers are the real kings of the Wild Coast. Seems an arrogant move that could provoke a response by Nyrond and others; although, 'tis true, the Greyhawk Wars are coming...
The City of Highport / The Temple of Highport
Here commences A1, Slave Pits of the Undercity. The "City" chapter is five pages of mostly charts; David's (he wasn't going by "Zeb")'s adventure is the temple. Highport's liaison to the slavers are the orcs, running the operation from the sewers. New (forgettable) monsters: Aspis and Giant Sundew.
As a tournament module, there are two parts to this, played by separate parties in competition.
Into the Wilderness
This moves the player characters so they can start A2. It's basically a Gazetteer of the northern Pomarj coast. Party can interact with humanoid villages, who charge tolls; and fend off orc opportunists, charging "tolls" outside their property. It expands and essentially replaces the optional wilderness run in that module. It's about to be replaced itself (see below).
The Slavers' Stockade
Five chapters in and we're at A2, Secret of the Slavers Stockade. Started by Harold Johnson and finished by Tom Moldvay, they say because Johnson was a full TSR employee so had editorial duties on other projects and couldn't get back to this one. In the stockade the party learns The Princess Is At Another Castle. This speedbump in the narrative justifies itself in a fine sultry BDSM villainess - Markessa - and lots of body-horror. (Johnson was young n' horny back then.)
The PCs can be Taken here too. OH NOT THE WHIP. Also note "the party" can be split, a leftover from the tournament days when there were two parties doing their own simultaneous separate thing.
Knowing Moldvay, we can only speculate as to what other help he provided in toning down Markessa's kinks and dropping silly monsters. Unfortunately the cloaker survived Moldvay's white-out, hiding among the mothballs. Many errors and typoes survived with it although they did get fixed in the trade-paperback.
The Caves of the Drachensgrab
This is the start of Allen Hammack's A3, Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords. As a tournament run, this is to be done in three hours and was actually just the one of the tournament's five (5) linear starting modules. This one, supposedly the best of the five, features the storoper, a one-off special roper that, like the other stupid new monsters introduced up to now, made it to the second Monster Manual.
This tunnel-system is how people find the slavers' Gondolin called Suderham. Here's a nod to the Afrikaans language, a language in bad odour during the early 1980s.
The Hidden City of Suderham
It's the semifinal round, as A3 continues. The Slavers set up their base where nobody else would - within the caldera of a dormant volcano (and they're about to learn why the other Pomarjis didn't think of it first.) In the first part, the players need to find the catacombs. Here we meet several Slave Lords, including Mordrammo later renamed "Stalman Klim" and promoted to leader.
The catacombs themselves are Tournament Mode again aaaaand IT'S A TRAP.
The Dungeons of the Slave Lords
Why we're all here: good old-fashioned Carter-era nudity. It's A4, In the .... Lawrence Schick is credited with the final result, rather than Johnson again.
Queen of the Spiders is canonically the sequel to all this - mainly because that series' players will be higher-level than this series'. You may recall, above, the A series was designed after GenCon XII let alone XI. The A series assumes the Drow tarantula is out of the bag. So various dark elves show up here.
Your options are (1) delete the drow from this book; (2) follow up instead with Sean Reynolds' Against the Giants without drow nor D/Q; (3) play GDQ expecting drow to be there; (4) don't think too hard.
There's much to be said for (4).
The Force Awakens
Its first 81 pages (of 128) detail the cities of the Wild Coast, including Elredd. Highport is introduced p. 89-97... but not the Temple nor undercity. Stockade ain't here either. Instead Markessa has her base at Kelen Lekos p. 100-9. Instead of Suderham, the adventure culminates at the Temple of the Earth Dragon which is a standalone cavern-complex.
Reynolds and Pramas presented this as a sequel: Stalman Klim, leader of the Slavers in the first lot, is back with a new arrangement of bases. Players familiar with the first set might appreciate the nostalgia-trip if the DM runs the two new stomping-grounds instead. But these dungeons are a pale imitation of the dungeon-crawls and the sheer naked terrors of the original A series. It's a soft-reboot, more than a sequel or an honest remake. It will be too soft for most.
What Slavers does offer the DM, is a gazetteer of the Coast and Pomarj, to supplement the series if you bought the four and didn't buy Scourge.
The Phantom Menace
When WotC republished the adventure in 2013 as Against the Slave Lords, they got Skip Williams to write a prequel module, "A0: Danger at Darkshelf Quarry", a self-consciously old-school goblin delve (in Nyrond) for levels 1-3. It even comes with the same Helvetica sansserif. Its trail of clues leads straight to Highport, for those who don't want to waste time on the Wild Coast.
Although a DM might still enjoy locking the party to oars on the Ghoul, especially if they don't win this one.