Monday, November 29, 2021

(Earthdawn 1e) Parlainth Adventures

 This book is a collection of four adventures set in and around the ruins of Parlainth, and three of the four adventures share the same fundamental flaw. I'll let the "Troubleshooting" section from an early encounter sum it up for me - "If these events do not make them investigate what happened, the adventure is over. A week later, the characters hear tales of a brave band of heroes who entered Parlainth and battled a fierce Horror, saving the lives of Jasom's entire family and earning the everlasting respect of the residents of Haven."

That cracked me up. I'm just imagining the lazy PCs:

"We've got to save that innocent boy by venturing into the monster-haunted ruins and slaying the creature that's feeding on his soul."

"Sounds like a real hassle. I say we skip it. Someone else will come along and do it, I'm sure."

(One week later)

"Wow, you were right. That situation completely resolved itself without us even having to get off the couch."

"Told you. These things have a way of working out."

I wonder how long you could sustain that level of passive-aggressive GMing. "Oh, you decided to pass on the plot hook and avoid the Tower of the Necromancer, well now your shopping trip is being interrupted by the parade the townspeople are holding for the other heroes." It's a rich comedic premise that would probably work in a video game or tv series, but I suspect your PCs would mutiny sooner rather than later.

Now, to be fair, if the PCs do get a bit more involved in the first story, the stakes evolve. Drop out or fail past encounter three and the family dies, but there is a certain stability of the status quo that pervades the other adventures as well. Help Twiceborn, the Queen of the Cadaver Men, fight off a coup attempt, and she will grant you the boon of sparing your friend after he foolishly gambled with his life. Ignore the coup, and she fights it off just fine on her own. Aid the coup, and after she beats both you and the traitors, you'll have to escape her dungeons before she executes you. Really, it's just a stroke of luck for you that there happened to be a coup at the exact same time as you needed a favor from the Queen. Otherwise, she might have said no (actually, she definitely would, the adventure explicitly shoots down every other avenue of persuasion).

Similarly, the third adventure feature a magic box that causes chaos in the town of Haven by generating a magical aura that convinces people that the fondest wish of whoever holds it is easily attainable. It doesn't actually grant the wish or anything, but a guy walks by holding it, and you're convinced his goal of becoming King of Barsaive is a foregone conclusion. The lady who wants to organize the people of Haven to work together and do one massive dungeon raid and split the loot almost takes over the town, because "we're all going to get rich" is pretty persuasive when it's backed by a "plausible" plan, but she loses control of the box rather quickly and all hell breaks loose. Luckily, after a couple of days, Chorrolis, the Passion of Desire, comes and retrieves his lost box and things go back to normal.

These first three adventures all have stakes around the edges, but they are pretty small. Save the nice, but perfectly ordinary family. Save the foolish NPC that the GM introduced several sessions back so you'd get attached before they ran the adventure. Make sure cooler heads prevail until the box situation resolves itself.

I'm not going to be Mr Cynical here and say that these small victories are not worth your time, but it does feel like a bait-and-switch. Play as the epic heroes who make things slightly better for the people caught up in high-fantasy nonsense that is far beyond your pay grade. I doubt it's what the players signed up for.

The fourth adventure probably is what they signed up for - a classic dungeon crawl with genuine stakes (the monster's mind control abilities will likely subvert Haven, if left unchecked for 3-5 months), but there's also not much to say about it. It features a room filled with magical bouncing balls that might, at worst, be slightly annoying, but which pose no threat whatsoever, and that strikes me as a pretty funny juxtaposition with a group that calls itself "The Cult of Pain."

Overall, I'd say that Parlainth Adventures is a weak companion to one of Earthdawn's best products, but there is a glimmer of something here. If the PCs stay on the rails, and never learn that certain outcomes are pre-ordained, then you'll have some pretty memorable stories, but I don't think the odds are good that this will happen organically.

Ukss Contribution: I've got this weird idea of reversing the situation from the first adventure - there's a group of lazy adventurers who travel in front of the PCs, turning down the quests that made the PCs famous, and they've thus developed an intense, one-sided rivalry, but I think that may be too much of a niche parody. Best to go with something sincere.

I actually really like the idea of a kingdom of intelligent undead, and "Twiceborn" is a great title for a monarch. I could probably find a place for that on Ukss.

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