What do you get if a party of adventurers meets a brave, independent woman in a ruined city holding a great treasure guarded by unnatural beasts? Well, it’s possible you have a Conan adventure, but it’s also possible you have Robert J. Schwalb’s adventure, The Watchers of Meng, written for the Primeval Thule campaign setting, but playable in many other D&D worlds.
The chief NPC of The Watchers of Meng is Oola, Mistress of the Whip. Whether she’s used as an ally or a foe is up to you. Perhaps the players are hunting her down for the gambling lords she owes money to. Perhaps Oola has hired them as mercenaries to guard her as she makes her way through the Jungle of Zaal. Or perhaps they just run into her as they investigate the ruined city of Meng, in search of a great treasure. The adventure isn’t tightly plotted: it sets the stage, but very much allows you and your players to decide how it plays. I find Oola to be a fascinating and repellent character: she’s a slave-trader who has been a brothel-owner and a gladiator, but she cares very much about her kidnapped lover. She exemplifies much of what I find so unsettling about the setting.
If the adventure had a plot, it would be this: the party travels through jungle having encounters, it finds the ruined City of Meng and investigates, and something terrible happens and they have to flee, possibly with treasure, and possibly they’d make it out alive.
Meng itself is fantastic: a city built by intradimensional travellers that was abandoned long before. Only a few ruins still remain, with only its great pyramid (it’s a trope) and the dungeon beneath it intact. The city is inhabited by degenerates – creatures that may once have been human, but are no longer. The dungeon has a number of monsters and traps, and some really weird tricks. Deadly? Of course! (Although I’m quite disappointed that a polymorph trap doesn’t permanently transform its victim…)
The random encounter table for the Jungle of Zaal is also well-constructed, and there are also some small encounters that can occur on the way to or from the city.
Two new monsters are described in the appendix, all other monsters can be found in the Monster Manual.
Although this is a short adventure – at only 13 pages – it has a lot of interesting encounters and situations. It does require the DM to pull it all together, as it isn’t a tightly-plotted adventure. However, it has all the elements needed to create an exciting and memorable story; it’s just that each group will end up with a different story. That’s something I think is absolutely excellent.
There’s little artwork in the adventure, but it’s of high quality. The map is computer-generated, and it does suffer from the grid-lines being hard to discern. The adventure is well-written and edited, although I would have preferred if the monsters were called out in bold text as many other adventures do.
The Watchers of Meng is a completely different beast from Red Chains, but equally a part of the Primeval Thule setting. It very much excites me due to the different ways the adventure could play out, depending on the motivations of the characters and their actions. It’s quite possible to play it as a standard dungeon crawl, but you could also bring to the fore the strong elements of horror that exist in the city. It’s a great adventure, and one I hope to play at some point.