Sunday 3 March 2024

Night's Dark Terror 8: Raid on the Goblin Fort

This is part of a series of posts with a scene-by-scene critique, appreciation, and improvement of the 1986 TSR module B10, Night's Dark Terror

When the adventurers find it, the lair of the Wolfskull goblins is properly atmospheric. It's in the middle of a miles-wide petrified forest -- not the paltry fossilized remains found on Earth, but a whole forest turned to stone, birds, squirrels, leaves, and all. This strange and gloomy place will attract the attention of the adventurers when they discover it, and channel them to one of the paths that runs through it, which all lead to the Wolfskull fort at the center.

Petrified Forest by ShahabAlizadeh on DeviantArt
Art by ShahabAlizadeh

There's a fight with some giant bats (confusingly, not the same bats that are the hobgoblin Vlack's pets), then a more consequential run-in with a goblin patrol. Although the party see the foes in time to arrange an ambush, letting just one goblin get away can mean trouble - and we can assume the foot-goblins at least are more able to scramble through the petrified underbrush than a typical adventurer.

But if the garrison isn't alerted, there are just two guards in the entrance of this memorable fort, built of and around the stone timber of frozen trees. Two guards lit by torches, who are not even looking out their one door ... OK, hold up a second. Goblins can see in the dark and wolves have a great nose, so all the fires and torches described lighting up this fort's interior are besides the point. Just make it a dark hole with two red eyes staring out that, if you're lucky, you see before they see you. And don't fall in the river moat - if cold-water piranhas are too much for you, they can always be replaced by good old mundane giant leeches.

This is a strange little castle, to be sure. It can't be defended with archers, no battlements or window slits. But actually, that suits the armaments of the Wolfskulls, which are throwing spears and axes and the jaws of their mounts. And forget the boxed text that has the goblins "rushing forward with weapons drawn." Instead, the best strategy would allow the goblins' numbers to tell by luring a force of stronger but fewer invaders inside the walls, deep ebough in to be attacked from all sides with no escape possible.

But does the fortress' layout actually support that strategy? Sort of. If the goblins abandon area c quickly, darting in and out of cover to throw spears or (in 5th edition) striking and disangaging with their hand axes, the defenders of areas d, g, and e would do best to hide away out of sight, forcing the invading vanguard to enter that room while the other areas bide their time and attack from the flank.

Then again, perhaps the goblins would absolutely slaughter a third level party, especially playing by Basic rules, if allowed to use optimal tactics. As written, the defenders are quick to attack but slow to be alerted, allowing for a series of manageable battles. Still, you might prefer balance to come from a reduction in numbers rather than from dumbing down the goblins -- perhaps subtracting one or two patrols like the ones encountered outside from the roster, to come back later and put the victors on the defensive.

A smart party will avoid Vlack's rooms across the log bridge, which have no proactive forces in them, until they've recovered from the main fight. The split skull painted on the door (why not a bloody head, the insignia of Vlack's tribe?) should be warning enough. Vlack's not home, but his pet giant weasels are in, and a pair of the most iconic Basic D&D-only monsters: thouls, those misbegotten creatures that happen when a hobgoblin, a ghoul, a troll, and an OD&D typographical error love each other very much.

Thoul, by Steve Zeiser

There's a good mix of obvious and hidden loot in the lair, but the object of your quest - Stefan Sukiskyn - is in another castle. One of the left-behind prisoners, a Slavic granny literally called Babushka, has overheard the word "Xitaqa" as Stefan's destination. We can assume that the people who came to get him were not goblins, but servants of the Iron Ring whose description should match the attackers that start out the adventure -- that gives them a reason to speak Common and for Babushka to overhear. If you feel there should be a few more clues to what's going on, you can have some of the loot give those clues - a rough map of the raid locations in Vlack's room, or an heirloom from one of the raided settlements.

The bridge to the hobgoblins' quarters also gives the goblins a way out if the battle goes against them, assuming they follow their retreat strategy and end up concentrated in room h. But where will they go? It might be a relief that there are no goblin civilians, the traditional "women and children" of D&D moral philosophy. But it's also a puzzle, and my reckoning was that the goblins had a civilian settlement hidden away in the stone forest, not obviously at the conjunction of all the paths like the fort was. In about ten years there will be a new generation of Wolfskulls raising hell.

Some other hacks I applied to make the magic loot here more interesting:

* Whatever the potion of delusion is, it's likely the goblin king Kloss would keep it on his person. In this case it's an emperor's new invisibility potion - you can't see yourself but everyone else can.

* The shield +2 in my campaign is a heirloom of the slaughtered Segenyev family, known as the "White Wall." It is a large, heavy shield that goblins cannot use, white with a red stag, and gives resistance to cold when held but is only +2 after a combat round (turn) spent without moving, as shields with pluses are a little overpowered in 5th edition.

Next: What's a Xitaqa?

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