AD&D Review – A4: In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords

In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords is the final adventure in the four-part Aerie of the Slave Lords series. It was originally written to be the final round of the AD&D Open Tournament at Gen Con XIII in 1980.

There’s no doubt that In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords was a tournament module; it begins with the party, having been captured at the end of the previous adventure, being thrown into a set of caverns beneath the Slave Lord Aerie without equipment or spells. From there, they have to escape. Yes, this is an unusual adventure, and the set-up works a lot better in a tournament setting rather in regular play, where the group probably will do something inconvenient like refuse to be captured.

Lawrence Schick, the designer of this adventurer, takes into account that a magic-user probably won’t have a very good time of it without his spells, and so provides three scrolls – two for magic-users and one for illusionist – so that the spell-casters can have some effect in the dungeon that follows. Clerics have been able to pray for some spells due to slip-ups by their jailers, but the group is definitely down on their resources.

The major section of the adventure is the escape from the caverns, has 21 encounter areas devoted to it (and 14 pages of the adventure). Apart from the lack of equipment, a lack of light is likely to make this section quite difficult for the players. The dungeon is very much written so that players who pay attention and are creative will do a lot better than players that just do the obvious (and whine about their situation).

The adventure provides several different ways out for the players, but many of them aren’t obvious, so it is entirely possible that the group may walk away from a possible escape. It is certain that this is an adventure where the DM has to play scrupulously fair with the players. It is meant to be a challenge for the thinking player, but it would be terribly easy for it to become nothing more than just lots of ways for the DM to frustrate them instead.

There’s something grimly amusing about running an adventure where a giant badger is a potentially deadly threat for the party, but it’s very good to see that another way the group can get out is by negotiating with certain inhabitants of the underground. The myconids introduced in this adventure – mushroom men – are an inspired invention, especially as they use fungal spores to both communicate and attack. In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords allows the players to be tested in many ways, and that is its strength.

The tournament module ends when the party escapes the dungeon, but the published adventure is expanded to deal with what happens next. Throughout the adventure, the tunnels are rocked by earth tremors, which culminates in a volcanic eruption when the players escape. There are references to an “Earth Dragon”, but that seems somewhat like an out-of-place superstition, especially given the sophistication of the Slave Lords.

The party now have to dodge looters, frenzied goats and the fleeing populace as they try to get enough equipment to escape the dungeon. Luckily, they have an ally, the same agent who provided them with the scrolls when they were captured, although he’s introduced in a way that allows the party to kill him by mistake. He can equip the party so they’re ready to face the remainder of the Slave Lords, who are trying to flee by boat.

There are six remaining Slave Lords, along with guards and an ogre. This is likely to be a very difficult encounter, especially as the group likely has no big spells such as fireball; the agent has mainly given the group support spells. The group can try and take another ship, but (as expected) these are also being swarmed by frightened locals. Going back into the ruined city is impossible due to poisonous fumes – and the rampaging magmen don’t help, either.

With the Slave Lords slain, the group can then sail to safety, and end the series victorious.

I just hope they don’t think about what was going on too much. Because, when you come down to it, a lot of this doesn’t make much sense, or actively works against the party’s accomplishments. The very fact that it is a volcanic eruption that destroys the Aerie is problematic, especially as the party has nothing to do with it. If they’d disturbed something in the previous module that had caused the destruction in this part, it would have been a fantastic end to the series. Unfortunately, such is not the case, and the volcano just blows up to do the party’s work for them.

Another problem with the adventure just comes from the geology of the situation. It’s admitted in the module that it doesn’t really make sense that there are limestone caves in a volcanic setting, but in addition there’s the very business of the eruption: the Aerie is a small island in the middle of a crater lake in a volcano. So, when the volcano erupts, how come the island gets destroyed but the rest of the lake doesn’t (and the party can sail to safety?)

Yes, better not to think about it. It makes for good theatre, and the dungeon portion of the adventure (the tournament section) is an entertaining challenge, and one that would have been quite a surprise for those first participating. It’s not a challenge that everyone will enjoy, but I personally quite like the idea of it.

Ultimately, In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords is probably the best of the Aerie adventures, with a lot of memorable challenges for the players. Unfortunately, despite having some good ideas, I do not feel that the series as a whole succeeds: the potential of the Slave Lords was frittered away through a series of dungeon crawls that would have proved testing experiences for tournament players, but don’t have much coherence as we consider them now.

Later, the Aerie adventures would be consolidated into a supermodule which made some drastic changes to how they ran. I shall cover that in due course.

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