Thursday, January 30, 2014

A3 Aerie of the Slavelords: Bring the Chaos

It was mid-December of 1982, Donkey Kong reigned supreme at the arcade, Toni Basil's Mickey was rockin' the airwaves, and my old friend Byron the Chaotic was once again stationed behind the DM screens. Five months had passed since the infamous firefight in Hommlet and this time he was serving up A3 Aerie of the Slave Lords for our adventuring fare. Like V. of H., there's a town encounter area in A3, this time it's the hidden metropolis of Suderham. And much like our experience with T1, there's no way that anyone could have planned for the way things went down.  

I don't remember much of the subterranean activity in this module--another similarity to our experience with the V. of H--just something about riding down a salty slide on a toboggan made of beef jerky and finding an invisible sword in a tub full of vanilla pudding. Did that module have a pronounced food theme going on or was I just really hungry at the time?

What I remember most clearly is that, once we walked into Suderheim, some douchebag sidled up to the party and muttered some mumbo-jumbo about going to the “alabaster paladin” or somesuch meaningless bullshit and then slipped away before we could interrogate him further. As most of you know, this is a scripted encounter that is supposed to be just the first leg of a goose chase that the PCs must complete before they can get on with the dungeon.  But we didn't know what was up so we were all “Huh?! I ask him what the hell he's talking about.” and Byron was all, “He’s already gone, lost in the crowd” which annoyed us all, but especially my brother.  You wanna' piss off my brother, toss one of these gingerbread man encounters into your dungeon.*

Now, all of us players thought that we should have a reasonable chance to grab this dirtbag and smack some useful information out of him and, on a normal day, Byron would have agreed wholeheartedly.  But clearly the module said otherwise and, back then, defying the printed word of the Prophets of TSR was considered blasphemy--it was the DM's sacred duty to protect the work of the author be it Lord Gary or, as in this case, Sir Allen of Hammack whose machinations needed preserving. I could sense that our evening was about to be derailed by a prolonged and fruitless debate between DM and players when I suddenly heard myself saying “Why’s this prick gotta’ be so cryptic?  He wants us to go somewhere, why can't he just tell us where we're s'posed to go?**
Two arms, two feet, one eye: Chaos!
I don't want to take credit here for Byron's propensity for anarchy, but it was as if he suddenly realized the potential for mayhem in ignoring the text of the module and allowing us to run this jerk down. The expression on his phace changed from stony resistance to mischievous glee as the 8-pointed sigil of chaos flashed in his eyes and, instead of engaging my brother in verbal combat, he turned to me and said “Dread Delgath spots the bum slipping through a door in a building down the street.”***  The chase was on.
What ensued was a running brawl through the backrooms, alleys, and rooftops of Sonderholm as a mob of angry store clerks, unpaid taxi drivers and humiliated plate-glass deliverymen hopped on our trail seeking redress for our trespasses.  Ultimately, the chase concluded with a showdown in the parlor of a brothel--excuse me, "house of ill repute"-- where we escaped through a trap door with the assistance of the very same cryptic messenger who started this whole fracas in the first place.  When he eluded us again moments later--still without edifying us as to the significance of the "ivory paladin"-- we were too thrilled by what had transpired to notice.  

Which, as it turns out, is just as well because, only on reading the module now, 31 years later, do I find out that this is the very tunnel that the "ivory paladin" clue was, in its circuitous way, intended to lead us to in the first place.  But, rather than wandering around Sodergard, guessing the meaning of the clues, interrogating and bribing our way through a labyrinth of informants, we'd cut to the chase, quite literally.  Once again, Byron pulled off a vast departure from the "script" of the module that put us in exactly the right place to continue the adventure. Maybe it was just a happy accident, or maybe he was a brilliant DM disguised as a 13 year old kid. 

* I think the term was coined on the night in question.  As my sisters were in the next room cooking up a gingerbread house, the association seemed obvious. 
** I was trying out a Brooklyn accent back then.
*** Yep, that's the Dread Delgath of the classic, A-series pre-generated characters; I'm pretty sure the A series was the only published module anyone ever used the pre-jens for.

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