I’ve always really liked this module for some reason – 30+ years after it’s publication (1984), I believe it still ranks as one of the best IMO and my opinion is shared by some others. A unique beginning, followed by several other unique plot elements, of which the meteorite ruined derro lair is one of the more interesting.
A product of the ill-fated and short lived UK division of TSR, it’s setting agnostic (although it fits well into a “standard” setting like Greyhawk, the Forgotten Realms or more recently Golarion and/or Midgard).
Published just after their original statistics appeared in Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (1982)(never used in the module however) and then the Monster Manual II (1983), the derro featured herein are effectively “setting agnostic” or fairly original in concept, before the later accretions such as their deities or origins. It would be very interesting to convert the adventure using more the modern concepts now associated with derro or even retain the basic structure of the adventure but shift the focus of the adventure to being part of a larger derro plot…
Skyfall and The Crater
Unfortunately for the mornally reclusive derro, in this module the shooting star lands directly on their lair, not only destroying much of their base of operations but also sending up an enormous “look here for adventure ” sign loudly revealing their otherwise hidden home and making them the target of anyone interested in skyfalls for miles around. Hardly seems fair. No chance of the usual later derro modus operandi of abductions and Shaverian urban terror here…
As far as plot devices go, even without the innovative MacGuffin of the memory web, any adventure or wizard with a knowledge of skymetal or similar would be interested in investigating the recent impact site. One proposed start to the module assumes the party are oblivious to the skyfall 3-4 days ago prompted by the memories obtained need to consult a local druid / sage (perhaps a multiclassed savant from DRAGON #140) for the location of the crater, which turns out to be pretty much just around the other side of the mountain valley he lives in conveniently.
Looking at this map, the meteorite impact crater is only about 100′ across, corresponding to a very small single meteorite in the great scheme of things, consistent with the rock itself being described as roughly the size of a grapefruit. There’s a significant blast radius, modelled by the flattened trees.
Any weakness in the plot or choice of derro as guardians of the meteorite aside, the overall concept of derro being linked to falling stars is an intriguing one and something worth commenting on later in discussion with reference to Bruce Cordell’s excellent When the Sky Falls supplement (Malhavoc Press, 2003)…
Ruined Derro Lair
The first part of the derro lair description includes a comment about a derro idol, and the fact the derro are impressed by the power of something that can shattter their idol, indicating the ambiguous nature of derro religion at the time of the creature’s introduction.
In later 2E, Greyhawk and FR versions this would probably be an idol of Diirinka, but clearly different for Golarion and Midgard where the idol might represent a different derro deity or preferably a Cthulu mythos being.
The surviving derro are portrayed as very disorganised (well more than usual) as they are only led by the students and a low level leader, as their savant leader was killed by the meteorite impact.
Obtaining the sky rock is not particularly difficult but there is the option of opening up the access tunnel to their main base…
The derro pictured are using a normal spear and a pick respectively rather than their usual signature weapons of a fauchard or “hooked spear” – admittedly they have survived a major catastrophe but it’s a pity this minor detail was skipped over by the artist.
Oddly, they are said to be allied to a surviving common lamia trapped in a sealed off section by rubble. To me this really this optional and readily bypassed encounter doesn’t fit and should be replaced with another mid level CR Underdark creature, something provoking further exploration or perhaps at least a collection of semi-tamed oozes.
Effectively the usage of derro in UK4 is an extended cameo, rather than a major appearance of the race as primary antagonists. Their inclusion does make the module highly distinctive however, even without invoking the later svirfneblin parley – using goblins, orcs, gnolls or the other usual stock humanoid adversaries would have been much less interesting.
If anything, apart from the distinct lack of a nearby decent sized settlement, the use of derro makes a lot more sense than the svirfneblin, who seem to have been summoned up from depths and included due to the clear intention to showcase monsters from the recent publication of the predominantly UK writer sourced Fiend Folio (1981).
Synopsis: Wikipedia article
Physical: 32 pages booklet
Maps: cover + double-sided map insert
Edition: 1st edition
Setting: no specific setting but readily adaptable
Review: at ten foot pole