Published in the March/April 2000 of DUNGEON (issue #79), the year in which 3E was later released, this 16 page 2E adventure by author Jeff Fairbourn deals with the players foiling a somewhat anachronistic derro smelting operation linked to the production of secari, the signature weapon of Suloise derro (Greyhawk).
The derro are the primary antagonists of the module, led by Jinjuk, a derro savant and his two students (Isho and Kuruki), supported by a band of derro and some bugbear guards.
The Death Cloud
The hook for this adventure is unique and surprisingly environmentally conscious for its time – a cloud of pollution is threatening the local supernatural fauna and the adventurers are drawn in to investigate.
As far as hooks go, this is comparatively weak IMO and somewhat unecessarily involves asperii, a form of wingless pegasus / flying horse and a wilderness style aerial adventure in the so-called “Sky Realm”. The addition of guidelines for aerial adventuring takes up space which is only used for the first part of the adventure and could have been used for an alternative access. Having the chimney smoke and resulting cloud visible from the lowlands and/or resultant ash poisoning a local water source could provide sufficient enough reason for PCs to investigate, obviating the need for the complex asperii hook and allowing the opportunity for a more inspired short mountain ascent to the same chimney access.
I suspect over at ten foot pole he will pan it for this reason.
Although the heartstring-pulling-cute-flying-horses explain the how and why of the characters ultimately accessing the factory, the majority of the encounters are uninspired and can be bypassed readily without affecting the story. Even the “quest giver” NPC provides little additional fluff to what is essentially a moral railroad to the set piece encounter / final battle with the derro and their servants in the factory proper.
It’s here where I feel the adventure picks up considerably.
The Derro Factory
The above artwork shows the factory cavern, as seen from the concealed ingress point used by the heroes / murder hobos. The scene itself is evocative but the description, map and set up of the workday of the factory lends itself to a memorable set piece battle (possibly ill-advised given the 40+ potential opponents present) or climactic strike and escape.
Like a James Bond film’s third act in the evil base. Except with derro.
OK, maybe not.
A great map, very evocative and somewhat essential to study closely, particularly if the PCs are to have any chance of surviving. From here, stealth and considerable planning rather than brute force are required. Let’s ignore the fact that the derro do seem incredibly organised and focused – they do have a charismatic savant leader after all – a force of 30+ derro would give pause in any system to any mid level party.
I think this factory, repurposed or retro-fitted into another setting or as part of a longer campaign, would make a great set piece encounter for an appropriately powered party.
The Hoop-Gate Issue
For me, this is definitely the weakest aspect of this scenario.
Although the somewhat anachronistic aspects of the smelter have a technological theme, the need for a magic item that can only be used by the savants and is essentially a technological portal to their main Underdark lair is a blatant deus ex machina level unfortunately and if I may say, somewhat lazy even with the compressed space. It’s just too convenient to supply the raw materials and slaves through this access – it’s as if the author came up with the smelter concept (admittedly a good concept), spent a lot of time and effort on it and then had to make major concessions to realise the page length or deadline.
Alternative: a caravan link through the Underdark for the supply of raw materials, fresh slaves and the return of the manufactured secari, adding the possibility of further reinforcements either during the battle or potentially after the smelter’s disabling, allowing the option for the derro to have revenge or for the PCs could attempt to trace the derro back into the Underdark to their main lair.
Oddly, area G6 “Slag Dump” is noted as being the original entrance to the Underdark but has been sealed off by the repeated dumping of slag. Even for the notably insane derro this makes little sense. This seemingly careless practice closes off their only effective non-magical exit as it is implied they are either unaware of the harpy lair or if they are aware, unable to use it as they lack flight capability and there is no means of descending the mountain face.
In addition, closing this exit prevents potential expansion of the adventure into the Underdark proper, which seems a missed opportunity as noted above – the classic D1-3 series begun from a seemingly innocuous tunnel leading out from caves beneath the palace of the fire giant king. Just look how classic a lead in that turned out to be… only resulting in a path to “the single greatest adventure of all time” (awarded to the GDQ series, DRAGON #204)…
Author: Jeff Fairbourn
Physical: 15 B&W pages with 3 illustrations + a diagram
Maps: 1 wilderness, 1 insert, 1 underground
Edition: 2nd edition
Setting: Greyhawk, but readily adaptable
Location: likely the Hellfurnaces (any mountain range)
Review: TBA @ ten foot pole (hopefully soon)