Role-playing design notes

Random notes on the design of Gods & Monsters, and maybe even Men & Supermen if I can remember what I was drinking when I wrote it.

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons

Skin a Module 2: The Fell Pass becomes Mansio Solis

Jerry Stratton, April 25, 2015

The Claws of Heaven

One of the most surprising moments for me when reading through the Dragon Magazine CD-ROM collection was an adventure in issue 32, The Fell Pass, written by a San Diegan named Karl Merris. I have never met Karl Merris, and the issue was slightly before my time, but I had been through an adventure called Fell Pass and it had been run by a San Diegan. It was in college, too many decades ago, and I was playing a cleric of Ra named Praxos.1

Our Fell Pass resembled Karl Merris’s only in that it was a short cut through a mountain populated with strange creatures. But since our college DM was someone I still gamed with, I asked, and sure enough he knew the guy.

So I determined to run that adventure relatively straight. The chance came when the player characters boarded a train, and the line ended at a chasm in front of a mountain. I needed a mountain with a desert on one side and a jungle on the other, along an old road known as Highway 49. The Fell Pass became an old way station along that road from a culture steeped in the divine and the technological.

If this sounds a bit like Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, it freaks me out a bit, too. While I had read the first book in the series before creating the world of Highland, Sai King had taken forever to get the others out, and they are the ones The Road resembles. Even now, reading The Wind Through the Keyhole with its forest of gigantic trees and swampland abutting an ancient bridge over a chasm with tentacles reaching up, and the old way station on the other side I wonder what common source we are obviously stealing from. Mind you, my bridge went through what I call the abyss, but King has that covered too: he’d call it a thinny, and no doubt after the world moves on from young Tim’s time, that chasm will get a thinny.

But, back to reskinning The Fell Pass. This is the most extensive reskin I’ve done, mainly because this was a complicated adventure with warring factions, and I needed reminders of who related to what. The hardest to deal with was the Beholder. Beholders are powerful enough as is, but with minions they’re a real pain. One of the things I did to help was draw a diagram of the Beholder and the area of effect of each of its eyes.

First, The Fell Pass became The Station of the Sun (PDF File, 2.3 MB), or, in the original language of the City, Mansio Solis. You can see that I’ve expanded a bit on the area of the road before the original module.

Second, the poem at the beginning. It was not in the original. Nor did I write it, although I did modify it a bit. In the several months between deciding to use this adventure and running it, I found my old notes from when we ran through the similarly-named version in college. Those notes included this poem, and it wasn’t hard to make it fit the new Station of the Sun, the jungle after it, and the jungle temple’s entrance to the Lost City, that is, the Caverns of Thracia. Our old DM used to like to throw confusing poetry at us all the time, and it felt good to get back at him with his own work!

The magic items get more history specifically for this campaign and of course I’ve added something new, the Coriandrome Scarab from The Coriandrome Circus, that they were likely to (and did) reach later.

Edurlag’s speech is modified slightly to match the City and the Road, with a nod to Polaris as well.

Among the coolest things I stole from this adventure for the reskin was the “self-sealing rubber” stone walls. This, I decided, was part of the design for the original, and I’ve used it elsewhere on the Road, as well as in a completely original sublevel of the Station of the Sun that may show up later2.

The Mist of Misdetection also inspired the shape of a monster later, the Amethyst Dragon that guards the waste of the City. And the pink nickel pool became a means of displaying a hologram of the city’s shining spires and timeless beauty.

The jackalweres have been replaced with mananubi, because I already knew that these jackal-headed servants of Anubis roamed the cold ruins of the City.3

Likewise, the centaurs have been replaced with saurians of the jungle that lies on the other side of the pass.4 The saurians, besides introducing the jungle, also make it clear that the Pax Urbana that keeps the Road safe is failing!

Similarly, I replaced the werewolves with lizard-kings, basically the same thing but a more jungle-like air.

Sister Felicity and Old Gran are my favorites. Sister Felicity becomes a high priestess of the City, a Flamen Quirinalis of the old religion. I’d already introduced Old Gran in The Circus as a demented fortune-teller.

The Sword in the Stone with its Circle of Conflict became a symbol of the degeneracy of the City in its final years. It’s a game, that’s all, a teaching game designed to teach that peace is always preferable to fighting, even when it isn’t. That one freaked out the warrior in our group, who took a long time to realize that the voice at the end was wrong.

And at the very end, I couldn’t resist adding a new last word in homage to the original name of this module.

I certainly do not recommend doing this much work when you reskin a module. This was a lot more work than I expected when I chose to reskin The Fell Pass, and is by far the biggest reskin—no other reskin comes close to the 60 pages that make up this one. But that’s partly because the module was so close to what I needed at this point that I couldn’t resist turning it into exactly what I needed, a reminder of the City and its latter days, and its combination of divinity and technology. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to write. What started as a quick trip down memory lane for our group—we’d all been through our old DM’s repurposed Fell Pass, and he had been through this adventure in its original form—became one of the coolest adventures in the campaign.

  1. Unless it was a Paladin named Sheridan—my notes for that era have again disappeared. Like an evil ring, they will reappear at some point.

  2. This sub level is currently on queue for Fight On! though it may or may not come out there given the magazine’s reduced schedule. It is called Fabrica Solis, which is to say, the Forge of the Sun; it is the power station beneath the Station of the Sun.

  3. I’m not sure if I had decided they also roamed the living City as tyrannical servants to the citizens there.

  4. This came in handy when a new player joined and decided they wanted to play a giant lizard man!

  1. <- Chagmat reskin
  2. Thracia reskin ->