Once upon a time, there was a dungeon called Rappan Athuk…
Necromancer Games (and/or Frog God Games) have been publishing adventures for a while now. The original incarnation of the company was publishing adventures back in 2000, when Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition came out. One of their products was a little dungeon known as Rappan Athuk. Or the Dungeon of Graves. It’s actually one of the few mega-dungeons ever to get published. Based on material from Bill Webb and Clark Peterson’s original D&D game, it was released in three parts during the early 2000s. And then there was supplemental material. And a kickstarter a few years later. And more expansion of the material, so it now exists in various forms for Swords & Wizardry (an original D&D variant), D&D 3E and Pathfinder. It’s tough and uncompromising. You can get your party killed in the first encounter from one of the death-traps. But it’s tremendously fun and inventive – I ran quite a bit of it during an AD&D campaign we played while waiting for 5E to be released.
It was inspirational enough that Greg A. Vaughn decided he wanted to write an adventure that complemented it and that tied a few Necromancer Games adventures together. This was thought to be a good idea, but Bill didn’t quite realise how inspired Greg would get. 550,000 words indicates Greg was significantly inspired! The result of his labours was Slumbering Tsar. It’s huge. (Tsar is the name of a city, by the way. The official title is “The Slumbering Tsar Saga”, but the definite article makes it sound like a person to me, so I refer to it as “Slumbering Tsar”). This series of adventures covers levels 7-20 and complements what appeared in Rappan Athuk. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to delve in Tsar at this point.
The world that these adventures (and others from Necromancer Games) take place in has never been properly described. You had bits and pieces of lore from the adventures, but more than that wasn’t available. In recent years more material has been released, and the idea of campaign setting books began to be bounced around at the Halls of the Necromancers. (Interwebs of the Necromancer?) Now, we’re beginning to get them. The overall title of the setting? The Lost Lands.
Borderland Provinces – now funding via Kickstarter – describes the lands around Rappan Athuk, taking in the environs of The Lost City of Barakus. They’re producing two books: a campaign setting book (by Matt Finch with Greg A. Vaughn and Bill Webb) and an adventure book of seven adventures (the adventures are overseen by Ari “Mouseferatu” Marmell). And some other bits and pieces. And they’re doing three versions… including a 5E version.
It should be noted that I’ve done some work for Necromancer Games in the past – things like working on Fifth Edition Foes and the Book of Lost Spells. I’m not really objective about the company. Which is why I haven’t written reviews of their adventures (much as I’d like to do so). But I can burble enthusiastically about this project, so I’m going to do that.
So, what are the Lost Lands like? Well, any place that has Rappan Athuk in it has to be fairly grim. I like the phrase “dark medieval”, but Matt Finch keeps referring me to the Averoigne stories of Clark Ashton-Smith, darkly elegiac stories of a fictional province of Southern France. It’s a place where everyday folk live, but there are ruins of places where darker magics were practised. A small village may appear safe and welcoming, but strange horrors could emerge at night. The Borderlands? Wise people avoid it… but adventurers have never been known for being that wise.
Of course, it’s also a fantasy adventure setting, which means that there are actually a wide variety of adventures that can take place there.
Matt Finch has made one of them available for free (in S&W, PF and 5E versions): Rogues in Remballo, an adventure for first-level characters in one of the small trading cities of the Borderlands. It describes the strange occurrences that centre on The Four Corners – a city cul-de-sac where thieves hawk their acquisitions. One of the major banking houses is concerned about disturbances in the area, and with good reason: A war is brewing between two rival thieves’ guilds.
The adventure isn’t written for new DMs or players, despite being written for first-level characters. It doesn’t presume that players will take one action or another. There are a number of interested parties, and it’s up to the DM to decide which of them contact the party and get them involved. After then, it lays down what the players can find and the major NPCs, and lets each group work out what they want to do with the material.
The fantastic elements in this adventure are minor, with the adventure being more concerned with character and investigation (although there will be a few combats and perhaps a small dungeon delve). The players will need to be on their toes, as it’s very challenging, but it does a good job of introducing factions, conflicts and allowing the players to discover this part of the world.
Why am I interested in the Lost Lands? The main reason for me is that they’re well-supported with adventure content. And I have a liking for the style they’re written in. These are adventures which challenge the players and their characters. You can’t go through them on auto-pilot: thinking and discretion are required! The hints we’ve seen in the adventures indicate there’s a fascinating setting behind them. Now we get to actually see what it’s like!