Ramping up my reviewing.
Happily playing games for many, many years.
Oasis of the White Palm is an AD&D adventure for 6-8 characters of sixth to eighth level. It was originally written by Philip Meyers and then rewritten and edited by Tracy Hickman as he combined it with his adventure, Pharaoh, as part of the Desert of Desolation series. There are several problems with how it is written, but my play experiences with it allow me to rate it very highly.
The most basic problem with the adventure is that it doesn’t inform the DM about what is going on. You might remember that there is a chance for the players to release an efreeti in the previous adventure, Pharaoh. This adventure presumes that the efreeti was released (either by the adventurers or by someone else) and has come to the Oasis of the White Palm to destroy the things that might imprison it again – or worse – kill it. Along the way it has killed several of the natives that live in the area because, when you get down to it, it’s an evil demon that wants to smash things.
The adventure doesn’t communicate this directly to the DM; there’s no introduction that explains what is going on. Instead, the DM has to discover it much as the players will, by reading through the adventure and putting the various strands together. It makes for a certain level of frustration, which is a shame, because the actual adventure is very good.
The adventure opens with the players waking up after their experiences in Pharaoh, and coming across the destruction wrought by the efreeti. The only food and shelter nearby is the Oasis of the White Palm, and they are directed that way by a dying survivor of the attack. In the Oasis, they discover that the bride of the sheikh’s son has vanished and they are asked to find her.
This section is well done; there are two secret factions, each of whom blames the other for the bride’s disappearance! The cultists were visited by the efreeti and commanded to bring the bride to him, but now she’s disappeared and they blame the slavers. The slavers, who were asked to kidnap the bride by the cultists, think the cultists have her. Oh, and they both meet in the same set of ruins near the Oasis, but in different parts – neither group knowing how close the others are. There are real elements of farce here, but it all works.
An important factor in making this section of the adventure work is how the character notes for the NPCs are handled; they’re not extensive, but they cover the main points of information each of the NPCs knows. Most of their actual characterization is left up to the DM, but the key points are covered and the DM should be able to fill in the rest.
What the cultists and slavers don’t know is that the efreeti found the bride on his own and has taken her; eventually the players should be able to work this out and the action moves to the other major location of the adventure, the Crypt of Badr al-Mosak, where the efreeti and his undead minions are gathering before launching an assault on the people of the desert. The crypt is dangerous; let’s face it, AD&D energy-draining undead are particularly scary, and the crypt includes several of them along with some inventive tricks and traps.
Why is the bride so important, anyway? It’s because she has, on her palm, a design that when matched with the amulet of the sheikh or his son, reveals magic words that will summon a djinni to fight the efreeti. The designs, as printed in the adventure, would probably allow a party to guess the words just from the amulet, which they’ll be given by the sheikh, so some suspension of disbelief is required here just to make the rescue of the princess significant. The efreeti is, in fact, a Vizier of the Fire Sultan, and is exceptionally powerful for his kind, which is why the djinni, a Vizier himself, must be summoned: the party isn’t powerful enough to defeat him unaided.
Through all of this we can perceive the hand of Martek, a mighty wizard who long ago foresaw these events and put resources in place that the heroes are able to use; at this stage, the players should be getting an idea as to how important Martek is, but it is in the third adventure in the series, The Lost Tomb of Martek, that the final import of his machinations is revealed.
Oasis of the Lost Palm can quite easily be played on its own, with the conclusion being the Djinni being released and going on to fight and defeat the Efreeti. If the adventure continues, the fighting will be inconclusive and the party will need to find Martek’s legendary tomb to save the desert from the ravages of the efreeti.
It is hard, at this point, to tell what parts of the story originated with Philip Meyers and which were added by Tracy Hickman. The investigation into the cultists and slavers seems very likely to be Meyers, but it is less clear as to the provenance of the efreeti and djinni storyline; it is entirely possible that it was in the original, but it also might have been added to create the entire Desert of Desolation storyline.
As with Pharaoh, Oasis of the White Palm has a strong, mythic story at its centre, in addition to the trappings of the standard D&D adventure. Where Oasis goes beyond Pharaoh is in its depiction of the NPCs and their relationship to the story: in Pharaoh, the NPCs make little impact on the story, in Oasis, the investigation section makes the NPCs key.
Artwork in the adventure is provided by Jim Holloway (cover and frontispiece) and Keith Parkinson. Holloway’s artwork is quite inappropriate – especially the frontispiece, which makes the adventure seem like a comedy. Parkinson’s artwork is a great relief, as it properly conveys the seriousness of the adventure. Parkinson’s work still isn’t perfect – he would do better work later – but is perfectly acceptable. No credit is given for the cartographer, but they are well presented. The book has a double cover, which presents a large number of maps for the DM’s use.
One unusual feature of the adventure is that the back cover text describes the conclusion of the adventure – what happens if the adventurers are successful! It’s an evocative piece, as is the actual text that ends the adventure.
All in all, Oasis of the White Palm is one of my favourite adventures. It is not a flawless adventure – far from it – but as it manages to blend investigation, dungeon crawling and a mythic story together, it delivers far more than it initially promises. This is one of the classic adventures of D&D, and can be considered that in its own right, and not just as part of the Desert of Desolation series.