The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Ruins of Intrigue

I've been looking through my old D&D materials, of which I have rather a lot, and I found one I hadn't read at the time. This was Mike Mearls' Ruins of Intrigue. It is billed as a campaign sourcebook rather than as a campaign, "module" for you first-edition grognards out there.

RoI is set in the Arcana Evolved setting "Diamond Throne". Way back in the early 2000s I'd bought Arcana Unearthed, the first edition of this; the "evolved" edition came out (too) soon afterward, and I resented having to pay twice. So when I got RoI it was, I admit, by accident. Since then I'd broken down and found a used copy of AE. But I still hadn't read RoI until the last few nights.

So, background: the Diamond Throne setting was the brainchild of Monte Cook, to house the Arcana Unearthed rules itself part of Cook's larger project of bending the rules of Dungeons and Dragons' third edition (which he had helped author). Among AU / AE's deviations was to do away with alignment - sort of. The main protagonists were (supposedly) not evil, they just had their own agendae.

In the world of the Diamond Throne, though, there used to be evil.

One of the "totes not evil, reallies" powers of old, a dragon by name of Nithogar, during his planar jaunts stumbled across some magical artifacts called "tenebrean seeds". The seeds' nature evolved over the course of Cook's imaginings of the setting. First, they were just banes that corrupt sentient beings. As of AE they could be used to "evolve" certain races (but not, interestingly, humans) to be closer to a Platonic ideal of such races. Anyway Nithogar used them on his own race, the dragon, adding some further eldritch substance to his experiment. What came out was an arachnid-humanoid-draconid hybrid. (Why arachnid? Ask Monte.) These dragon-scions, the dramojh in Draconic, grew powerful and prolific - too much for the dragons to control. They struck out east and conquered the human lands there, enslaving the humans and subjugating every other race to varying degrees. Later some giants from even further east, across an ocean, sailed west and conquered the land from the dramojh, slaying every last one of the abominations. In the second edition of our story, which is AE, the western dragons have been contacted and are now re-exploring the east.

The Ruins of Intrigue are where the western dragons and the eastern giants have met, upon a just-discovered ruin - the city Serathis. This city is where Nithogar had first created the dramojh. Now, one dragon in particular, Krovacatharis, is keen to explore the place. The giants have arrived here too because they worry about potential banes getting loose.

Mearls has clearly been steeped in Da Rools of Diamond Throne, which is that "good" and "evil" are relative. Every major agent in RoI has two or even three possible ways the DM can play him/her/it, as a good guy or as a bad guy or as a mix of either. However worthy this ideal is - personally, I think it adds confusion - I don't think Mearls has succeeded.

Serathis by its nature cannot be other than a dramojh nursery. The giants have no interest and no ability in reviving the dramojh. That goes double for their human subjects. The only entities here who could use Serathis are the dragons and the dracha, and maybe some lunatic mojh (human draconic wannabes). It becomes clear when exploring this ruin that its founder Nithogar was the greatest villain in this world's history: so callous in his experiments that he let loose a plague. Even if Krovacatharis himself isn't attempting Nithogar's example, other dragons will.

Given that, a good proportion of Mearls' "maybe this, maybe that" text boils away to superfluity. The giants (as a whole) are the good guys and the dragon is the villain. Anything else is a distraction - maybe it can extend the life of the campaign, but that's it. So this "sourcebook" is not a sourcebook at all: it is a frame for an adventure against a scheme to revive the dramojh.

If Mike Mearls had accepted this, his story would have been more coherent.

posted by Zimri on 19:16 | link | 0 comments

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