Monday, March 24, 2014
Finding the Gems: Puppets, by Vince Garcia and Bruce Rabe
Depending on your tastes, WG11: Puppets is either an enjoyable and whimsical light-hearted adventure or one of the worst modules ever published by TSR.
I remember picking this up sometime in the late 1990s, thinking, "Great! An out-of-print Greyhawk module!" Then I remember being disappointed.
Because its not really a Greyhawk module.
TSR took two RPGA Network tournament adventures, "Puppets" and "At Last, Ravens Bluff!" and put them together. "At Last, Ravens Bluff!" became "The Road to Dyvers" (since Ravens Bluff is a city in the Forgotten Realms).
Then they slapped Greyhawk on the cover and called it good.
We learn this on page 2 of the module, as part of a sales pitch for the RPGA by Jean Rabe.
While I'm not trying to resurrect 25-year old grudges in the hobby, I can't help but feel a little offended.
So what do we have here?
"The Road to Dyvers" starts off with the PCs in the middle of the Gnarley Forest, escorting a caravan from Narwell to Dyvers. Repeated monster raids have killed everybody else in the caravan, save for a woman named Marya Darkeyes. They have to get the remaining three wagons, bearing cloth and ship building goods, to Dyvers.
Along the way they encounter:
--A paladin, cleric, and mage (all three lawful good) attacking the caravan to kill a supposed vampire inside one of the wagons (there isn't one, "oops, sorry.")
--a halfling warband hunting for orcs and goblins.
--a 19-week-old gold dragon (but with the stats of an adult) disguised as a cat.
--Freddie McKrueger, an evil leprechaun, and his wererat lieutenant named Jason and their assorted humanoid minions.
--Wizard disguised as a city guard who tries to rip off the PCs.
"Puppets" takes place it the City of Dyvers itself, where the PCs investigate a series of robberies. As the title suggests, a band of puppets is behind the thefts. Though nobody has been killed, small items have been stolen, enriching their master--a wizard who isn't evil, and will probably escape before the PCs even encounter her.
The puppets include: The Jester, Bow Peep, Baron Blardo (a dressed like a vampire), two gladiator puppets named Romulus and Remus, Conn the Barbaric, Little Miss Muffet and Boris the Spider.
Oh, it gets worse...
My main beef with this module, light-hearted or not, is that the actions of the PCs don't matter. The villains are supposed jerk the PCs around and then escape. On top of this, the PCs aren't in any real danger.
In "The Road to Dyvers," Freddie uses illusions and invisibility to annoy the group; his Polymorph Non-living Objects ability can infuriate PCs ("Oh no! my magic sword!"), but the module doesn't explain how this ability works (nor does the Monstrous Manual, for that matter).
The presence of the halflings and the baby gold dragon pretty much assures that the PCs will survive.
Furthermore, given Freddie's powers, he can easily get away. Even Jason the Wererat is supposed to run away.
In "Puppets," the PCs are supposed to be going from inn to inn, questioning NPCs and gathering rumors about the thefts. But then advancement of the "plot" relies on the PCs coming up with the idea of posing as wealthy travellers and becoming targets of the thefts themselves. If the PC don't come up with this idea--an NPC suggests it.
Once the PCs engage the puppets, the puppets are supposed to run away, leading to a chase through the city back to their hidden lair... where Browynn, the wizard who created the Puppets, is supposed to run away.
In Dragon #171, Ken Rolston gave this module 4 stars--even thought he admitted that the module contained three "cheap tricks" and investigative portion of the second adventure was "cheesy."
Finding the Gems
--Beginning in media res. The PCs are in a tough spot and need to figure out how to get out.
--I like the idea of a dragon polymorphed as a cat (but I also like cats).
Augmenting the Module
Why aren't the puppets killing people? The puppets should go around killing people. And Browynn, their creator, should have some sort of drug addition so you, the DM, have an excuse to play "Master of Puppets" by Metallica.
Get this if... No. Just don't get it.
Maybe if you find it for .99 cents or free somewhere and want to see how bad it really is, then by all means go for it. But if WotC decides to put this up on D&D Classics for any price above $1.00, resist the urge to buy it.
Don't get this if... you own at least one good published module. Run that.
I really tried to find the gems in this module, I really did.