Tuesday, January 14, 2014
D&D Module X10: Red Arrow, Black Shield
The module package comes with a 48-page booklet detailing the adventure, a poster-sized hexmap of the entire D&D "Known World" area, 200 cardboard counters for various divisions and legions contesting for that geography, a plastic baggy for carrying the counters, and a 3-panel cover (the inside of which has statistics for all the military forces).
Basically, the situation is this: The "Master", archvillain of the X4-X5 module series, is back -- and he's leading an almost endless horde of nomads and monsters out of the desert to conquer as much of the Known World as he can. The PCs (likely having faced him before) are drafted as Ambassador Plenipotentiaries to travel to the various countries and try to hammer out an alliance that can fend off the Master's armies. Generally in each capital the PCs will be face some quest, challenge, honorable combat, or roleplaying negotiation to sway the nation's leaders -- frequently with desert emissaries present, fighting for the opposite outcome. National alliances are run on a points-based system, and as the PCs travel about, other countries may ally or declare war against them (in accordance with their prior interests and rivalries). While war boils over on a strategic scale, with luck the PCs can put together an elite fighting force to take as a vanguard against the Master -- possibly culminating in an epic man-to-man showdown against the Master and his various allies at the edge of the Known World. The whole thing pretty much rocks.
When I ran module X10, my friends and I were in high school. We'd played D&D pretty heavily on lunch breaks in late grammar school and junior high, but our interests were veering in different directions, and it had gotten pretty rare for us to get together and play D&D anymore. I scheduled a weekend together to play "one more time", planning to use X10 as a grand finale for the D&D characters they'd developed over the prior 7+ years or so. The setup was kind of perfect -- their PCs had adventured against the Master in X4, but not seen his actual defeat in X5 (my roguish players had obtained & read that module in advance, so I aborted running it). Unfortunately, it was simply too big of an adventure to play overnight or on a weekend -- we got about halfway through it, with some good successes on their parts, before our time ran out. It was indeed the last time we ever got together for D&D, and the ultimate outcome for our world was left unresolved. An itch and a curiosity that I've unfortunately never been able to scratch.
in my first SFKH post from one year ago, Random Wizard mentioned how much that game reminded him of X10 from the same time period. How apt!)
Anyway, Module X10 spans at least 3 scales of action (feeding into my interest in such games): man-to-man roleplaying (regular D&D), tactical wargaming with miniatures (using Battlesystem by Knight Hawks' Doug Niles), and strategic campaign conquest (using War Machine by Frank Mentzer). At the time, I ran the tactical combats (where PCs were present) using Gygax's Swords & Spells system -- now, obviously, I would use my Book of War rules which fix a lot of problems in those older rules. While I'm generally very critical of Mentzer's War Machine rules (for not giving results the same as the D&D game itself), I would agree that in a worldwide campaign of this scale something more abstract must be done to handle the many (many, many) battles where the PCs are someplace else, and so I was using that at the time.
X10 serves as a "bridge" product, intending to be an appropriate denouement to PCs who played through the Expert set (level 4-14) adventures, and introducing them to action at the level of the Companion (level 15+) set and Battlesystem rules; that is, at the scale of kingdoms and empires. X10 contains several high-level monsters from the Companion rules (at least one mega-dragon), a 6-page summary of the War Machine rules from that set, and a list of Companion-level spells usable by the 30th-level Master in personal combat. It also predates the Gazetteer series of 1987-1991, so at the time X10 sketched out the most detailed information on the various D&D Known World nations in publication.
One of the delightful and loving things about the adventure is the multitude of connections it makes to other adventures before and after -- it might hold a record for adventure with the most references or links to other adventures. When the PCs visit the Grand Duchy of Karameikos (likely their earliest stomping ground), it is pointed out that the Duke likely knows them from their activities in any of the B-level modules: especially B1, B2, B3, B6, and BSOLO. Elsewhere connections are made to almost all of the X-modules: X3 (saving the King of Vestland), X4 and X5 (prior fights against the Master of the Desert Nomads), X6 and X9 (destinations available from the starting city of this adventure), X7 and X8 (actually sub-adventures recommended here as quests for when PCs travel as ambassadors to the Minrothad Guilds!). Even XL1 Quest for the Heartstone gets a nod (the tie-in module to action figures like Strongheart, Warduke, etc., remember them? Now the good members are the comically senile retired lords of the Kingdom of Ierendi). Finally, when the PCs attend the court of the Emperor of Thyatis, his offer is direct, simple, and rather brutal: pledge to move to Norworld -- the region of the first Companion-set module CM1 Test of the Warlords -- establish kingdoms under his sovereignty, and give him everlasting fealty. Then mighty legions of Thyatis are the PCs' to use in war against the Master; what better way to segue into the adventures of the CM-series thereafter?
Ayatollah Khomeini, the USA's main international bogeyman of the 1980's. In fact, the image behind his henchman Alrethus is pretty much a knockoff of when he was Time Magazine's Man of the Year for 1980. I think when I was a teenager I considered this representation clever, but now the topical political connection seems dated and kind of embarrassing.
So, Module X10: I give it an "A" for ambition, setting, writing, packaging, game-balance, design of the epic war game, design of the unique political alliance negotiation system, respect and connections for prior work, and more. Even though I never played it to completion myself. You could consider structuring X10 as an entire high-level campaign unto itself, including many of the other X-modules as side quests along the way (esp.: X2, X3, X7, and X8). You'd have to make decisions about how to deal with tactical battles (I recommend Book of War), strategic battles (the included War Machine Redux is as good as anything, I suppose), and generally keeping the campaign map set up with all the divisional counters for weeks or months on end (perhaps taped to a wall with sticky material placed under the army counters).
While the dndclassics.com reprint site includes modules X1-7 (along with XL1, CM1, and all the B-numbered adventures), module X10 is not among them. It may be infeasible for it to appear as a digital reprint, given the large poster-sized map and cardboard counters which were intrinsic to the product. For now, your best bet for a copy is to find one in fairly good shape on EBay or the like.
Question: If you ever played module X10 through to the conclusion, what was the result in your game?