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Back in Black

Lonelylands, Part 1   by Kenton Kilgore
In previous articles, I’ve mentioned that I had in mind something different for my resurrected AD&D campaign. I gave my players the option of just doing “traditional” adventures, or going off in a weird direction, inspired by:

My players were familiar with at least some of those references, so they enthusiastically chose “weird,” and at the start of their third gaming session, “weird” is what they got. But before we got underway, I told them something very important to keep in mind as we went along: if they, in real life, knew something, they could assume that their character knew it, too. I gave no explanation for why that would be so, but it quickly became relevant. 

“Right This Way: Your Table is Ready”
Recall that the party, at this point, consisted of 5 player-characters, all of them 1st level, all but one of them run by newbies to 1st Edition AD&D. They were:

  • Lassiel, a wood elf ranger and leader of the group, played by my wife Joni;
  • Raina, a high elf magic-user, played by my daughter Beth;
  • Clover Tealeaf, a halfling thief, played by my daughter Ally Jane;
  • Ennostielle, a high elf cleric of Hanali, played by my niece Natasha; and,
  • Volke,” a high elf assassin, played by Natasha’s brother Matthew.
I started the adventure on the campaign day after their last one had ended. After spending the morning and afternoon relaxing and re-supplying themselves with provisions, the player characters returned to the Inn of the Last Laugh to enjoy a hearty supper—a supper they would never partake of. With no warning or explanation, the party was transported to seemingly another world, where they appeared atop a large stone table—whereupon, they were immediately attacked by several kobolds, intent on killing and eating them.

I believe I previously made it perfectly clear that
THIS is what a kobold should look like...

...while THIS is NOT. Understand?

After slaying most of the kobolds and driving the rest away, the party reconnoitered the area to find out where they were and what was going on. They learned that the good news was that their mounts and possessions had also been transported with them. The bad news was that where the party had arrived was a bleak, cold wasteland of gravel and sand and ash, strewn with bits of broken glass, tangled snarls of rusted wire, and all sorts of other trash. 

One of the visuals--in a depressing greyscale--that I showed the players upon their characters' arrival into the new campaign world

The worst news was that said wasteland seemed, from their vantage point, to go on for many, many miles and they had no idea where exactly they were, why they had come here, or how they could leave.

Examining the table, the party found that it was covered with letters in an alphabet they didn’t know. It also radiated magic. Using a Comprehend Languages spell, the party was able to read the writing and found that it was a list of names and numbers, some of which I list below:

Lankhmar  035.897.3526.158
Dhakos  089.921.0025.653
Dis  147.523.6999.157
City of Exiles  093.513.1202.068
Greyhawk  045.951.7530.258
Waterdeep  046.562.6987.005
Khand  003.896.8524.368
Charn  368.000.0000.875
Thond  090.065.8999.752
Northarbor  091.513.4423.978
Just as the players did, you, Well-Read Visitor, will recognize some of those names from literature and gaming sources. Others (City of Exiles, Thond, and Northarbor) are from previous campaign worlds I’ve developed and used. The players surmised that the numbers following each name were coordinates, and thus, the table was a teleportation device, but they found no way to make it work and send them back where they had come from.

With no other options, the party mounted up and set off to explore. 

“Here There Be Tygers Dinosaurs”
What’s not to like about dinosaurs? I’ve loved them since I was a kid, and after Jurassic Park came out in ’93, I’d used them several times in various campaigns. Dinosaurs work well in AD&D games because they’re exotic (and thus, exciting), they’re easy for the players to imagine, they come in a wide variety (from weedy egg-stealers to big, bad T. Rex), and they’re straightforward to use and play against. A dino doesn’t have complex motivation or lots of freaky powers and defenses to keep track of: it just sneaks or runs up on the PC’s and tries to eat them. 

The player characters learned that, once properly de-feathered and roasted, coelurosaurs taste not unlike chicken 

When one thinks dinosaurs, one thinks lush jungles and tropical swamps and such, which was why I was so keen on using them in this austere, cold wasteland. Soon enough, the party had their first of many encounters with dinos, when they were attacked by a pack of coelurosaurs, nasty, little, feathered carnivores. Subsequent adventures had them encountering dimetrodons, carnosaurs, a stegosaurus, brontosaurs,* velociraptors (too cool to resist), a triceratops, and even a flying version of a pliosaur (!). 

*Technically, these are rightfully “apatosaurs,” but “brontosaurs” is soooo much cooler to say

If one of my players had ever asked, I would have told them that the dinos survive in such a cold climate because they are warm-blooded (as, science tells us, they most likely were). Herbivores eat the thorny shrubs and the occasional, spindly tree that can be found, and carnivores eat them—as well as, of course, player-characters. Though it seldom rains, pools of oily, foul-smelling water can be found: not very palatable to humans (at least, not without a Purify Food and Water spell), but good enough for tough critters like dinosaurs.

At first, the dinosaurs were the stars of the campaign, a new type appearing during every gaming session, but lately, to avoid overuse and player fatigue, I’ve cut back on them in favor of other monsters, notably goblins and hobgoblins, and—most recently— cannibalistic human brigands. 

“Let There Be Weird”
As the party has gone along in the campaign, I’ve thrown a number of oddball things their way. The most notable has been that the sun of this strange new world gives off little light and heat, it hangs low in the sky, and it doesn’t move. More disturbingly, the sun shines continuously for the equivalent of 3-17 (2d8 +1) Earth days, and then slowly dims (over the course of 1-3 Earth hours) until going out; “night” lasts for the equivalent of 3-17 Earth days, with the sun slowly (1-3 Earth hours) glowing to life again. In the dark, there are no stars or moons, and PC’s had to light fires to stay warm and use torches or infravision to see. 

During their first adventure in this new setting, they came to a cliff, at the bottom of which was a tangle of human bones. As the party approached, the bones assembled themselves into skeletons and attacked; when the party retreated, the bones fell back apart and lay still, all for no apparent reason. By the way, scrawled onto the face of the cliff, was, in Orcish script, a message they would see several more times on their journey: “Nazdreg wuz heer.” Yes, THAT Nazdreg.

"Oi! Per'aps yooze wuz expektin' dat Ghazghkull git...."

Towards the end of the same gaming session, the party came across a large stone menhir (“The Marker”), most of it covered by scribbling in various languages. It was here that the party began to fully realize that they were caught in something very big and very mysterious. With the help of Raina’s Comprehend Languages spell, the party read these messages:

“I had not thought death had undone so many”;

 “To Ashe and the Edge,” with an arrow pointing west;

I think we are in rats’ alley where the dead men lost their bones”;

 “To the Tsingy,” with an arrow pointing east;

Find the tower”;

 “To Oth’s Fortress, where we lost all,” with an arrow pointing north;

To Carthage then I came/ Burning burning burning burning”;

Do not trust the Collectors”;

To the Ergs,” with an arrow pointing south;

Here is no water but only rock/Rock and no water and the sandy road”;

The Red Faction lies”;

Who is the third who walks always beside you?

The Edge is the only way out. All other paths lead to dissolution”;

Nira, I waited, but you never came. Where are you?—Terik

Who walks in Lonelylands?” 

Many of the scribblings on “The Marker” are lines from my favorite poem, T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” which I included for atmosphere. All of the others I wrote myself, as clues for the players and their characters. Clues to what, you ask? Well first, to this world, which takes its name, “Lonelylands,” from another poem (“He clasps the crag with crooked hands/Close to the sun in lonely lands”) by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Clues, also, to dangers to avoid and possibly a way to leave this world. And clues to why they are here anyway.

"The Marker"

The Shape of the Campaign
I had a few campaigns, early on in my days as a DM, in the World of Greyhawk, but most have been in homemade, typical Tolkienesque milieus. Almost all of them had extensive backstories and fleshed-out settings, with the player characters woven into them so that everything felt “organic” and “realistic” (as “real” as a game with elves and magic and monsters can be, anyway). Adventures were your typical fantasy stuff: poking around in dungeons, finding treasure, battling humanoids and powerful bad guys, fighting wars, and saving kingdoms (and the world).

This campaign is totally different. The setting is definitely “unreal” and the player characters don’t have any connection to it: they’ve been thrown into a hostile environment where they have no idea what’s going to come next and nothing can be taken for granted. In the first few gaming sessions in Lonelylands, just securing enough food and water for the PC’s and their mounts was an issue. Their goals are not to go out and kill monsters, but to avoid being killed by them; not to loot treasure, but to find answers; not to save the world, but to escape it. 

Which is not to say that the players haven’t enjoyed it: I think they have, though it’s a different sort of experience than they’re used to. We’ve been playing for several months, and the PC’s have already had some memorable encounters, met some interesting non-player characters, even picked up some choice treasures (although they have nowhere to spend their hard-won cash). The campaign is, I hope, something fresh and challenging for the veteran players, and intriguing to the new players. I have a lot of fun coming up with adventures, unexpected opponents, and mysterious “stuff” for them to puzzle over. Next time, I’ll tell you more about that. 

More dangers await deep in the wastes of Lonelylands....

More Black in Black

Posted January 2011


Fighting Tigers:
Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers

Other Pages:
Main <> What's New <> Site Index <> The Tiger Roars <> Themed Army Ideas
Events and Battle Reports <> Campaigns <> Terrain <> FAQ <> Beyond the Jungle