Dungeon Module A2: Secret of the Slavers Stockade is the second adventure in the “Aerie of the Slavelords” series. As I mentioned in my review of the first adventure, they were originally designed as tournament adventures for GenCon XIII. This adventure consists of two parts of the first round, but (somewhat confusingly) also follows on from the other adventure which would have been taking place at the same time…
The chief task for the adventurers is to discover where the Slave Lords have their stronghold. The map from A1 takes the characters along the caravan trail the slavers use to an old fort in the hills; they must then infiltrate the stockade and find maps or other clues to take them to the main stronghold of the Slavers. Secret of the Slavers Stockade was designed by Harold Johnson with Tom Moldvay; the result is a much more coherent work than that of the rather confused Slave Pits of the Undercity.
Although this adventure was originally written for tournament play, the published adventure expands upon the base scenario so that the Dungeon Master may use it in campaign play. In particular, it provides wandering monster tables for the journey between the Slave Pits and the Stockade, and rooms not used in the tournament have been fully detailed. Guidelines are given for running the adventure in tournament mode, but I believe this adventure works far better when you actually play the entire thing (in contrast, once again, to A1).
Unfortunately, it’s still an adventure of two halves; the stockade and the dungeons below are both different scenarios with few links between them, and it looks like even those connections are blocked. I may be mistaken, but assuming the party are paying attention to their goal, it’s unlikely that they’ll enter the other half of the adventure.
However, even playing through half the adventure should provide entertainment for the players. The stockade strikes me as being less of a grab-bag of encounters and more of a realistic take on what you would encounter, although there is time for enjoyable diversions. My favourite is an abandoned section of the stockade inhabited by a madman who has the slavers convinced that he’s a ghost!
Although it is a more naturalistic take on the adventure, a few artefacts of the tournament style still intrude. For instance, as one passage turns, a mirror is placed to convince the adventurers there’s no turn; and thus waste their fireballs against the reflected mummies rather than the mummies themselves. Why exactly have the slavers set this up? (The answer is, of course, because this is a “trick” to deceive the tournament players. It’s enjoyable to read, but it doesn’t make the greatest sense in the world).
The dungeon level contains the lair of Markessa, the commander of the stockade and a rather intelligent and evil elf, who uses her magical powers to experiment on the slaves, turning some into doubles of her, others into her dream lovers, and other into great beasts. This gives the lower level of the dungeon its own feel, distinct from what was above, and the result allows the DM and players to explore a number of deceptions and problems that are quite unusual to include in a D&D adventure.
Four monsters make their debut in this adventure:
- The Phantom, which is more of a trick than a monster, which is an image of a dead person often reliving their death.
- The Boggle, a small goblinoid-like trickster with the ability to manifest a small dimension door that they can put their hands through to steal things or strike another character.
- The Cloaker, a highly intelligent and extremely alien monster from deep under the earth. It seems quite out of place in this adventure – especially as it doesn’t use its intelligence at all, but is content to just pacify the slaves with its moaning.
- The Haunt, which is another undead spirit, but far more dangerous than the Phantom as it will possess a character and force him to complete some task the spirit left undone.
The artwork in the adventure is generally rather poor for the era and was created by Jeff Dee, Erol Otus, Jim Roslof and Bill Willingham. The maps are fine, although the shading of the tournament areas make them a little less clear than they could be.
Overall, there’s a lot to like about Secret of the Slavers Stockade. It does reward a group whose DM is willing to flesh out what is given, and the links between the two halves of the stockade are poor, but the adventure as a whole is a worthy one.
At time of writing, the adventure is not available in PDF form, but can be found in a reprint edition.