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Needless to say, I'm still on something of an old school kick. I've been reading old modules and swimming in nostalgia. I am planning on running some old school games when I can get enough time and players and so I have been looking to some old favorites. One such module that I have recently enjoyed revisiting is L2: The Assassin's Knot, by Lenard Lakofka. This adventure is written for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Edition) and set up for 6-10 PCs of levels 2-5, with the party totaling at least 20 levels.

L2 is the second module in the L - Lendore Isles series. L1: The Secret of Bone Hill is the module before this one. L2 is followed by L3: Deep Dwarven Delve (found only in TSR Silver Anniversary Collector's Edition) and L4: Devilspawn. There is also a Companion (L4C: The Lendore Isles Companion). L1-3 were all part of Len Lakofka’s home setting and were officially added to the World of Greyhawk campaign setting by TSR/WotC, while L4 and L4C: The Lendore Isles Companion were published in pdf format at Dragonsfoot.




Caution!! If you will be playing this adventure do not read any further as this review contains spoilers!!

Background:

This adventure takes place in the small town of Garrotten, which is located approximately 18 miles south of Restenford (the town location in L1: The Secret of Bone Hill). The Baron of Restenford is dead and all clues point to nefarious plans in Garrotten. The party is contacted (in Restenford) and tasked with finding out who murdered the Baron and to bring that person back to Restenford for the dispensation of justice. The death of the Baron is threatening to throw the entire region into political chaos.

The Baron was found strangled, but his bedroom was locked from the inside. There are no signs of forced entry, but three clues have been left behind. The three clues point to three strangers that were spotted in Restenford on Sunday. Guards recall seeing each of the three men enter town separately, but none of them were seen leaving (though they are obviously gone). The three men are easily identifiable as residents of Garrotten.

Garrotten has a bad reputation as an apparent hive of scum and villainy and the NPCs for this adventure bears this out! There is suggestion of an assassin’s guild having power in the town, but no real proof. The party must go investigate, following the clues as presented, and figure out what the heck is going on in the small town of Garrotten.

It turns out that a mentally ill canon of a church in Restenford hired an assassin to kill the Baron. Simultaneously, the leader of the assassin's guild in Garrotten has decided to seize power in the region. This leads to the framing of three different innocent individuals in Garrotten and much confusion as to motive. It weaves a tight little knot that is exacerbated by the lack of knowledge held by many of the guild members. The party, if astute enough to pick up on some important clues, can figure it out easily enough, but whether or not they do it in a timely manner could make a huge difference to the region.

Preparation:

At the time of its publication (1983) this module broke the mold of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Edition) adventures, and it still does to some extent. The adventure is based entirely on solving the mystery of the murder of the Baron of Restenford. Garrotten has several interesting NPCs for the party to interact with, and the module places a time limit on the party’s activities. The success or failure of the party has consequences throughout the region and will set the tone for this area for the foreseeable future. Like L1, this module plots out an entire town that can easily be used elsewhere in a DM’s home setting.

Mystery: The Assassin’s Knot is the perfect title for this module because it accurately describes the activity behind the initial murder. A thick knot of intrigue and backstabbing is occurring right under the noses of the party and the townfolk not in the know about the assassin’s guild. The module gives the DM plenty of details about each major NPC and what that person knows and doesn’t know. It also presents a few alternative ways for the PCs to obtain information if they do not find it at the first opportunity, but not nearly enough to make the DM's job easy. As a result the DM has to know this module very well to run it efficiently and effectively as written. Of course, there is enough variety here for the DM to change the motivations of some NPCs and therefore change the outcome of the module; to tie a different knot, so to speak.

Time Constraints: The module comes with a built in timeline that describes certain pre-set events. As the week wears on and events unfold, the gravity of the situation should become clear to the party and they will (hopefully) step up their search for the killer and get some results!

Interesting Town and NPCs: Most homebrew settings, and many published campaign worlds, are populated with small towns that remain un-described until a party of PCs ride into town. This is an area where the DM could use an easy to use town and Garrotten could do the trick. Included here are several NPCs that could, with only slight tweaks (name and alignment mostly), could be dropped into any small town in many different settings.

Consequences: If the party is planning on making this area (Lendore Isles) a home-base of sorts, they should be extremely concerned with the consequences of the events unfolding in L2. Whether or not they discover everything that needs to be brought to light, and how the region reacts, is of great importance. In fact, it could mean the difference between the party being locally respected or completely exiled from the area. In other words, this module sets up a nice place for the party to spend their off-time, make a name for themselves, and recuperate from various adventures in the future. It could even become a place where one might decide to build a stronghold in the future.

Module Structure:

The module is split into six main parts. The first of these is a general outline of the plot of the module, some basic instructions for the DM, and a review of the general area (3 pages total). The second section describes the town of Garrotten, along with an entry for each building in town (5 pages total).

Since the players will most likely take the obvious route of wanting to speak to the three NPCs seen in Restenford, the module spends a lot of space on describing the places where the party will find those three. Therefore, the next three parts describe the The House of Abraham (the inn; 5 pages), the Church of Osprem (3 pages), and The Theater of the Mystic Celebration (2 pages), where they find Abraham d’Farmin (the innkeeper), Harper (the high priest), and Balmorrow (the bard), respectively. Each section includes a keyed map to the establishment, descriptions of each room, extensive instructions regarding who can be found there, how they act, and what they know, and stats for each person involved. The last part of the module gives the same treatment to the Castle, where the mayor lives and, if any occurs, where a large portion of the fighting action will take place in this module (11 pages).

The final two pages describe 3 new magic items and the pre-generated characters for use with the module, along with an overland wilderness map of the area. Add the front page and you have 32 total pages packed with information. In fact, this module if one of the more densely packed ones put out, perhaps just because the nature of the adventure requires the DM to know and remember so much of the information in intimate detail.


At the House of Abraham (the local inn)


What I liked:

d10-1 Town Table: Along with a map of Garrotten, the module includes a town table that gives the DM an at-a-glance view of the town occupants. This table includes which building a typical person is likely to be found in or near and any stats needed. This is an excellent tool that could be utilized in another campaign by an enterprising DM.

d10-2 Mystery: I like the fact that this is a mystery based adventure - rare thing in a D&D module even now.

d10-3 Consequences: As stated before, the fact that there are consequences for not getting to the bottom of the story quickly, and that these consequences could affect the long-term livelihood of the region (and the PCs) is a wonderful thing.

d10-4 Maps: This module has many maps and keyed areas. Being a map lover I think this is a great thing, and the maps here are generally well done and certainly functional.

d10-5 Role-Playing: Since this module relies upon the interaction between PCs and NPCs to move forward, it necessarily requires a lot of role-playing. This may be a good or bad thing, depending on your group. I consider it a good thing overall, even in a group not accustomed to more talking than fighting, it can be a great experience. Some players may miss the combat heavy adventure, and for them you can add in a few combat encounters if needed (e.g. the octopus in the lake, page 4), though this does have consequences for the group’s timing. Also, DMs may need to learn how to provide clues in-character versus just telling the players what NPC1 told them.

What I didn’t Like:

d10-1 Evil Town: Since the main motive of the murder is a bid for power in the region by the assassin’s guild, it is obvious that many of the NPCs dealt with will be evil in nature. In fact, there are 9 (according to the town table) or 13 (according to the guild roster on page 3) stated members of the guild, and they feature prominently in the plot to derail the party’s investigation. This is a good thing in terms of story, but it makes me wonder about the regular residents of the town. Given the horrible reputation that Garrotten apparently has, why do the non-evil residents not suspect anything? They ignore the rumors about their homes and places of business?

According to the town table, there are 110 men, 56 women, and 80 children in residence. This is not a large town... I can understand residents not wanting to admit, or just being in out-right denial, about the guild but... I don’t know. I guess this could be explained by alignment. Of course all guild members are of Evil alignment, but most of the statted non-guild characters are neutral. In fact, I can’t find a single good aligned person in town. It seems a little excessively un-good to me. I can't decide if it makes sense or is a bit unreasonable.

I suppose this could be an opportunity for the DM to use the townsfolk in any way that he/she pleases. It could be that the townsfolk are happy that the guild wants more power since that might bring prosperity to the area. It is equally reasonable to think that the townsfolk are disgusted by the evil acts of the guild, but are either fearful of the guild, or do not know what action to take against the guild.

d10-2 Mystery: Yes, this is a good thing and a bad thing. What do you do if a party doesn’t find the clues needed to put together the story and figure it all out? A few tips and alternatives are in the text, but they aren’t extensive and they aren’t highlighted in any way. If you take the information I stated above about the random townsfolk, you could easily add a new NPC into the mix to help out the party - the motive of the NPC may be formed by their previous interaction with guild members. This takes a bit of work though, and it may just muddle and confuse things even more. In fact, the whole mystery chain of events is a bit confusing at first and I recommend the DM planning to run this make a flowchart style graphic that can be used as a guide during the game. Unfortunately this could inadvertently put a linear spin on the adventure, but that is the danger of writing a mystery-based D&D module.

d10-3 Motivation: In order to give the PCs motivation to really find out what is happening and why, they need to care about the region and know something about it. This is assumed in the module and, as such, it doesn’t make for a very good one-shot adventure. Don’t get me wrong, it can be run as an interesting crime mystery one-shot with money as the main motivation for PC involvement, but it won’t be as interesting. This module cries out for the party to be invested in the area and it will work best and be much more memorable if the PCs are based in the region.


The High Priest


Final Thoughts:

I really enjoyed re-reading this module and it was much more understandable now than it was when I was much younger. With my experience nowadays I feel that I could run this module very well, flesh out the NPCs, make the region memorable to the players, and start a lasting campaign in the area. But this is due to my experience with mysteries and investigative RPGs and not due to the module itself. This adventure may be difficult to pull off by a newer DM; success is very possible due to the details given, but there may be much frustration for the DM.

The town is very well done and with a little tweaking can be placed just about anywhere. I like that about this module and am amazed that more adventure writers don’t find it worthy to spend a few pages fleshing out important towns for a module. There are many examples where an adventure would be greatly improved by providing just this sort of information.

L2 is well written overall, but it is left to the DM to really flesh out the town (as is to be expected). This is usually not a problem, but when the adventure relies upon the party sussing out hidden information kept by NPCs, it can be a difficult run.

At the very least I recommend aspiring DMs read this module. It walks the fine line between the standard linear D&D hack and slash dungeon crawl and the more open-ended mystery investigation style seen in much of the work done for CoC.



This is iron reviewer entry #14 for me
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Eric Dodd
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Yeah, absolutely Sam. Our group would have made a mess of this back in the 80s but it never got played. I re-read it a couple of years ago and enjoyed the attempt to make it a non-traditional adventure. The experince I've gained would make it much easier to run, and allow me to fill in any plot gaps missed by the players.

The problem of a whole town being "evil" is not addressed well. You could down play the "evil" reputaion of the town without any trouble, as all the leads points to that town anyway... It doesn't seem that smart for a secret assassin's guild to out itself and openly align with a new ruler, but then history is written by the winners afterwards, I suppose. If the higher authority is still receiving their taxes / tithes would they care who is in charge of the town?
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DMSamuel
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Red Wine Pie wrote:
The problem of a whole town being "evil" is not addressed well. You could down play the "evil" reputaion of the town without any trouble, as all the leads points to that town anyway...


I agree - and it was obvious to me with this read, but I don't remember feeling that it would be easy back in the early 80s (I was also really young).


Red Wine Pie wrote:
It doesn't seem that smart for a secret assassin's guild to out itself and openly align with a new ruler, but then history is written by the winners afterwards, I suppose. If the higher authority is still receiving their taxes / tithes would they care who is in charge of the town?


True, and this was the train of thought that made me question what the other residents of the town were thinking about having such a bad reputation.

I didn't say it in the review, but the mayor of Garrotten is either the first or second in command (I can't remember which) of the assassin's guild. So, I suppose the bid for power and outing themselves isn't such a bad thing for the guild per se, but one would think that having an active assassin's guild openly running things in an entire region would attract attention - both good and bad. Evil characters may come to the region looking for a quick way to make money in an already corrupt place, where their crimes may not be readily noticed. And good characters may decide to travel to the region and rid it of the corrupted evil that has taken hold.

Even now I can't decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing. What it comes down to, I suppose, is that if I were going to put this region in my campaign I would be pleased with all the different ways I could have it go.
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The Harnish
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Great review! I remember running this way back in middle school and it being really cool but also falling apart at the table.
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Maurice Tousignant
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This sounds like an excellent module. I'm nearly certain I have L1 in my inherited collection. How well does this module tie in with the first one?
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GilvanBlight wrote:
This sounds like an excellent module. I'm nearly certain I have L1 in my inherited collection. How well does this module tie in with the first one?


Very well if you are playing a campaign that is based in the Lendore Isles. Given that, the tie in is easy since the players would most likely have made Restenford their homebase due to the events in L1: The Secret of Bone Hill. Since this module involves a plot to assassinate the leadership of both Restenford and Garrotten, it ties in really well.

If the players aren't making Restenford their homebase, the tie-in is still possible, but much less interesting. This is because the players won't have an emotional connection to either town and, other than getting hired to find out what is going on, there would be very little motivation.

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Nice review.

Anyone willing to GM this via PBF?

I'm thinking about running this with my (face to face) group in the near future. Problem is I'm always the GM and never get to play. I'm trying to train some of them to GM (they are teenagers) but I kind of want to get the full impact of an experienced GM on this on if anyone is willing.

I'm open to any version of D&D. I am most familiar with AD&D2, but recently started playing Pathfinder.

Thanks in advance.
 
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