Friday, February 2, 2024

A Race Against Time - Dungeon Magazine 81

A Race Against Time is an adventure that years ago I wrote off without much of a thought because it wasn't a match for the campaign I was running, and it didn't appeal to me. Decades later, and running a Ptolus campaign, it deserves a second look. This scenario will take some re-engineering. 

The premise is that a criminal has decided to break his friend and superior Bruce "Bruiser" Holloway out of prison while wreaking as much destruction and death as he can, and play a challenging game. The death and destruction is an overly elaborate distraction for the jail break. Gecko, as he is known, is crazy that way.

Gecko has gotten his hands on some magic bombs that will go off at a set time at various places throughout the city. We'll come back to the discussion of his source for these bombs in a bit. 

Who Gecko and Bruiser work for could be interesting. They are not highly placed in the criminal food chain, but aren't bottom feeders either, they have underlings. Their list of crimes don't sound like the kinds of things the Longfingers Guild would be involved with. Extortion and Murder are more in line with both the Balacazars and the Killraven Crime League. They aren't in the know when it comes to where secret operations of allies are hidden so one of the targets I selected would still work. I chose Killraven.

The first problem to solve is how to, or if to involve the prison. In Ptolus the prison is in a very different place than most would imagine. It's not a building on the surface, but is deep below ground, accessible by boat from the Bay of Ptolus.

It seems that a better option might be to have Bruiser not yet in prison, but awaiting trial in a City Watch jail cell. Which one is up for you to decide since they are all over the city. Recommendation is to pick one far from any of the planned bombing targets. We'll return to this as well shortly.

Player characters get involved while in a busy market, definitely North Market since it is described as being crowded with merchant stalls. A flying snake approaches bearing a scroll along with one of these magic bomb crystals, and won't leave the PCs alone until they take the message. This thing could easily be the familiar of Gecko's sister, an arcane spellcaster.

Reading the message starts the countdown for the detonation of the Fire Crystal. Getting rid of safely is the first challenge of many. The message explains the nature of the "game" and provides clues to the seven other crystals locations. 

Originally the gargets included a blacksmith shop, the privy at an administration building where the Duke might be working, a College of Astronomy, the courthouse, the base of a dam, a tavern on the docks, and the town square. There are some easy parallels for a few, but other will require thought.

Clues and Targets:

Clue #1 can remain the same. It's vague enough to provoke thinking and hesitation, but working with NPCs in the story can aid the PCs if they're stuck.

There are many blacksmiths and other smithies in Ptolus. Narrowing down just one might be tough, and a small shop doesn't provide for massive damage and casualties. The obvious target becomes the Foundry in the Guildsman District. There's a secret Shuul operation below it, but even a Killraven agent wouldn't have a clue about its presence.

Clue #2 can also remain as it is written.

The natural location for the second target is the Administration Building in Oldtown. It might not specifically be the Commissar's throne, since he doesn't actually have one, but it is where his decisions are handed down from and they do have a privy.

Clue #3 Keep the third clue as well. Again NPCs can help narrow it down.

Third would be the Temple Observatory of the Watcher of the Skies in the Temple District. More for show than for casualties.

Clue #4 is fine as it stands.

Wanting to hurt the legal system which is making their lives difficult, the obvious choice is the courthouse and a specific judge. Oldtown.

Clue #5 needs the last two lines rewritten. I suggest the following: Beneath a pillar of faith and stone, To keep it all abridged.

Ptolus doesn't have a reservoir with a dam, so how about the Blessed Bridge crossing from Midtown into the Temple District. This time he's going for casualties, and it might piss off a bunch of religions.

Clue #6 this one also works, though vague. Some searching around the building might be enough to solve the riddle.

The adventure identifies the Docks location as a tavern called The Moxy Maiden and there's a chance it and some other buildings nearby could burn down. I would stick with that instead of involving important locations from the setting. I considered the legal brothel, Esser's because it is the only place less likely to be tied directly to organized crime or if so, the Balacazars.

Clue #7 is another that can remain the same way it is given in the original module.

Delver's Square is another obvious location for clues to lead the party, but from there it becomes less obvious. The clue is actually pointing to a mirror in the window of an antique shop in which you can see the reflection of a confection shop. There is room for these in Delver's Square so that's not a problem. The antique shop can sit between Bull and Bear Armory and the Watchhouse. The bakery/confectionary can be to the immediate right of Potters. The actual target is a children's hospital nearby and the bomb is in the sewers beneath the building. This hospital makes sense to be the building directly southwest of St. Gustav's Chappel.

Of course there is an eighth location where a Fire Crystal is being planted and that's the Watchhouse where Bruiser is being held. The clues to that come from Gecko's sister as she tries to steer the party there for her purposes without being revealed as working at cross purposes to her crazy brother.

The goal then is for the characters to prevent as many of the bombings as possible and to stop the jailbreak.

For the location of the jail where Bruce Holloway is confined there are plenty of choices that are far from all the chaos. Of the districts that aren't involved, we can rule out both the Necropolis and the Warrens. We're left with Nobles Quarter which is unlikely since they would be pushing for quicker resolutions in court, Rivergate, and South Market. Either of those districts seem ok, but perhaps Rivergate is better since it has a bridge leading directly to Oldtown where the court is located.

Regarding where Gecko got his explosives, here's where a future adventure can spring from. In the original module the source was a disgruntled mage that had been exiled from the city. You could keep that or maybe have his source be a Drow spellcaster seeking to do harm to the city and its people. There are a number of disguised dark elves in Ptolus so this is easy to make happen. Gecko wouldn't even have to be aware of his source's true identity.

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