Monday, April 9, 2012

Dungeon Module D2: Shrine of the Kuo-Toa

It's easy to find examples of "bad" Dungeons and Dragons artwork.  One has only to look at the D-series of modules to find it.  Of course, when I say bad, with quotations, I don't really mean bad.  Primitive, yes.  Amateurish?  Fine.  But it is also entirely appropriate, in keeping with the requirements for Dungeons and Dragons art, as separate from Fantasy Art.

Incidentally, some people, big fans of Elmore, Easley and Parkinson, uncritically consider fantasy art (particularly by those three artists) and DnD art to be the same thing.  I will return to why they are not in a separate post.

Having reached the end of module D1, Descent into the Depths of the Earth, and avoided or defeated the troglodytes, bugbears, trolls, dark elves, and assorted other adversaries that dwell in a large subterranean cavern, the party pushes on towards the fabled city of the Drow.  The party continues to encounter Drow patrols and merchant caravans, along with quintessential DnD monsters like the Rust Monster pictured above.

Several other new (for 1977) monsters appeared in Shrine of the Kuo-Toa.  The above Umber Hulk makes his first appearance here in this DnD module.

Above we discover a trio of Ropers, one being put to the torch while another Roper pulls a hapless party-member to his doom.  It's interesting to view these illustrations, and in so doing compare them to the artwork that will come in the mid-80's and beyond.  It's typical of these early illustrations that the party's survival is often in doubt.

Other than some standard subterranean corridors, we are provided with very few encounter areas in D2.  One such encounter area is a river crossing, populated by a single insane Kuo-Toa ferryman.  It is possible that this will be the first of several encounters with this Lovecraftian adversary, prior to reaching the Shrine.

It should be obvious that the above artwork is by Trampier, even without his signature appearing upside down at the top of the illustration.  It features Tramp's not-atypical conceit of framing the illustration from the persective of the monster, rather than that of the adventuring party.  It catches the action at the precise moment of decision and danger, for the madness of the insane Kuo-Toa will be revealed in the manner in which the party reacts to his hail.

Another secondary encounter area features deep gnome miners, foes of the Kuo-Toa, whose reaction and sympathetic gestures towards the party may affect the success of their visit to the Shrine.  The deep gnomes have been scouting the Shrine of the Kuo-Toa, and have had several military encounters with these fish-men.  The deep gnomes are potentially powerful allies, if the party reacts to them in a fashion appropriate to their motivations.

Finally, we reach the Shrine of the Kuo-Toa.  Like the central subterranean cavern adventure location in D1, there is no requirement that the Shrine be cleared of foes.  In fact, you could, potentially, bypass this encounter location without participating in a single combat.  That is because there is significant underworld traffic through this area, including the traffic of drow patrols and merchant caravans.  Although the Drow and the Kuo-Toa hate each other, they have come to an uneasy accommodation, with rare breaches of that truce.  Other underworld denizens travel to and past the Shrine, so it is not unusual to find over-worlders in the vicinity.

However, there are clues to be gathered at the Shrine, regarding the intentions of the dark elves, and opportunities for other intelligence-gathering and preparation for what lies beyond, not to mention ample treasure and combat for those who wish to partake in those activities.  A smart party will take advantage of their friendship with the deep gnomes, or use subterfuge and cleverness to gain information and treasure here.


Kiltedyaksman said...

I think language use is really important when taking about early art like this. I prefer emergent or rudimentary over the alternatives. We need tocappreciate the art in context and look atnit on its own terms.

darren said...

Great job, Aaron.

I am a big fan of Trampier. Hope to see more reviews of modules such as this...haven't played D series myself. Our group is starting at Hommlet and heading to the Temple shortly. Looking forward to it!