Armagideon Time

After successfully completing a marathon playthrough of the Temple of Elemental Evil “mega-module,” my little brother and my new buddy Scott were itching to take their absurdly overpowered characters to new heights of loot-intensive glory.

As it happened, I had just the adventure for them….

The Mines of Bloodstone.

A follow-up on what had intended to be a one-off scenario, The Mines of Bloodstone was heavily hyped in the pages of Dragon Magazine as the ultimate high level AD&D adventure. That house propaganda organ hard sell was effective enough to convince me to pay full price for the module at Paperback Booksmith in the Woburn Mall. The purchase was made more out of morbid curiosity than any practical intent, but it seemed perfect for keeping the fires of my player’s enthusiasm stoked.

The module took place in a tiny mountain kingdom beleaguered by restive neighbors and nefarious shenanigans unfolding in the cavernous underdark beneath the realm. The scenario itself was fairly uninspired, a bog-standard hackfest distinguished only by the novelty of its “endgame” level scale. It also included not-so-subtle plugs for the newly released Wilderness and Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide source books, as well as option bits which required access to TSR’s non-starter rules for running pitched battles.

Straightforward and nonsensical was right up my players’ alley, though. I did dial back the overall difficulty of the module a wee bit, but Lil Bro and Scott’s power-gaming duo of cavalier and paladin would’ve made a joke of things even if I hadn’t. Scores upon scores of elite duergar warriors fell before a whirlwind of +5 sword strokes. A legion of iron golems was reduced to so much enchanted scrap metal. Even a dreaded tarrasque was rapidly carved into so many tiny pieces.

When the time came to confront the evil mastermind of the deep realms, they decided to let him finish his sinister ritual just so they could lay some righteous retribution on the freshly summoned demon prince Orcus.

For their heroic downwards-punching efforts, Scott and Lil Bro’s characters were rewarded with…well, there’s a reason White Dwarf’s scathing review of the adventure particularly singled out its loot rewards.

Lil Bro’s cavalier also ended up — through NPC marriage — as monarch of the valley kingdom, while Scott’s paladin set up a knightly order in its capital village. I attempted to continue the campaign through a handful of homebrew scenarios involving an invading army or orcs and border skirmishes with neighboring warlords, but the thrill was fading fast.

More puritantical RPG enthusiasts would say that was an inevitable consequence of running a high-powered, loot-generous campaign, but I don’t agree with that. The only way a role-playing run can fail is by not fulfilling the players’ expectations — not in terms of predictability or generosity, but of understanding the collective and individual mindsets of folks sitting around the table. We were adolescent boys raised on comics and action flicks. A “serious and mature” interaction-heavy approach would’ve guttered out even sooner than the reckless abandon one I adopted.

We weren’t unhappy with the campaign — quite the contrary — but there was no escaping the sensation it had gone as far as it could go. It’s a pretty typical characteristic of youth, the burning desire to replicate or extend a magic moment which invariably ends on a note of disappointing futility. It was fun while it lasted, but that moment had passed.

The end of the campaign marked the end of our teen Dungeons & Dragons days. I still picked up various D&D products and we made a few attempts at staring over with new characters, but never managed to get a regular run going after that point. Going back to basics was too hard an adjustment for us.

Though we burned ourselves out on D&D, we soon found another object for our role-playing obsessions….

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