Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Finding the Gems: The Patriots of Ulek

Here's the Obligatory: SPOILER ALERT

If you want a good laugh, head on over to EN World and read Example from the worst TSR adventure module(s) ever published, where the Forest Oracle gets torn apart. Soon The Patriots of Ulek ends up getting roasted because of its a railroad with heaping amounts of boxed text. Erik Mona himself put it best:

"For example, in one encounter the PCs enter a town, talk with the populace, meet the local mayor, eat a meal with him and leave, all without ever having made a decision for themselves."

Yes, there's boxed text. If you love boxed text you'll love this module. In fact, the adventure begins with a whole page of boxed text.

Go ahead. Read it aloud to your players.
I dare you.
The Patriots of Ulek is for 6-8 characters of levels 1-3.

I like how this module is part mystery, part sandbox, and part war story.

The PCs are commissioned by the Prince of Ulek to uncover why the Graf of the Province of Prinzfield hasn't sent reinforcements to help against a massive invasion of orcs and goblins from the neighboring Pomarj. 

The PCs wander the countryside, looking for clues and rumors to the Graf's whereabouts, while encountering raiding orcs and goblins. But they do have a time limit. Finally, they journey to the Graf's mansion and discover that agents of the Pomarj have held the Graf hostage.

The adventure ends in a pitched battle against the hosts of the Pomarj, with the PCs preventing the forces of good getting flanked. The Players and DM may use Battlesystem for this.

So what's the deal with all of the boxed text? 
--This was Anthony Pryor's first full-length module he ever wrote.
--Everybody else at TSR was writing boxed text, a fine tradition going back to Dragonlance. So how was a young Anthony Pryor to know better? 
--But somebody did throw a bean bag at him during the module's playtest.

Finding the The Gems
--I like the war story aspect of the module. The PCs can be constantly harassed by wandering bands of orcs and goblins. They come upon desperate battles, looted farmsteads, rumors of war. This all builds up to the battle at the end.

--This module is meant for beginning DMs, as it says in the introduction. I remember being tongue-tied as beginning DM, so all of that boxed text might not be a bad thing.

--The Nazi Orc. The PCs find an unarmed wounded orc who won't shut up about his blessed messiah leader, Turrosh Makk, who will reclaim the lands once occupied by their ancestors. This would just be fun to roleplay--at least until the PCs kill him (alignment consequences may vary).

--Half-orc spies? The main villain, Horaz, is operating with group of half-orcs and is part of the conspiracy to keep the muster of Prinzfield from happening. The module alludes that he's a stranger--but it sounds like he's a half-orc that looks very much like a human.

--Combining Roleplaying with Wargaming. I wrote about the possibilities of doing that in a previous post.

Augmenting the Module
--Paraphrase the boxed text (duh, that's a no brainer). 

--Skip chapter one all together. Have the PCs start off as refugees from a town or village that's been overrun by the orc hordes. Their village was lost because the Graf's reinforcements did not arrive.

--Add your own encounters to the exploration of Prinzfield and the Graf's mansion. The mansion itself has quite a few "meh" rooms. 

--Play up this idea of half-orc spies. Sure, this is old hat: Battlestar Galactica used it, so did the retcon of the Klingons in the original Star Trek series. But it works. Who can the trust if the orcs look human? Maybe some of the NPCs they encounter deliberately give them false leads as they explore Prinzfield.

--Vary the monsters and the tactics they use. They'll keep encountering goblins, and orcs over and over again. So have some of the use longspears/pikes. Others could be archers or sit back and chuck javelins. Others, of course, are mounted on the wolves.

--Make sure the non-fighter types have something to do, as this is combat-heavy module.

--Since Battlesystem is long out of print, you probably need to find another system for the war game scenario at the end.

--Perhaps The Patriots of Ulek could be a prequel to a modified Red Hand of Doom module.

--I keep thinking about stealing ideas from Battlestar Galatica. The regular orcs, goblins, and hobgoblins are like Centurions, while the half-orcs are like the Cylon skinjobs. But that's all I've got.

Get this if: You or your PCs don't mind a war-themed adventure. You, the DM, don't mind taking the time to make the module work (like highlighting the important bits in all of that boxed text). Or if you want to complete your Greyhawk collection.

Don't get this if:  You're not interested in war-themed adventure. You don't have time to make the module world.

Both The Patriots of Ulek and The Forest Oracle are definitely mediocre modules. But they're not that bad. They have salvageable aspects. (I may to a retrospective on The Forest Oracle).

The truly bad modules ever written by TSR are coming in future installments of Finding the Gems in 2e.


  1. Thanks for dredging this one up. As I was offline for much of the 2e era, I'd never heard of this module. Now I know where Turrosh Makk came from in the 3e reboot of the Greyhawk Gazeteer. And I'm still looking for that seamless system for running PC and mass combat together myself. I have some hopes for Autarch's Domains at War, but it still seems to require large forces.

  2. I find it hilarious that TSR chose to recycle the cover of B12 Queen's Harvest for this module. Of all the great art TSR had theyick that stupid picture. Priceless.

    -DM Glen


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