Sunken Treasure: The Rod of Seven Parts Retro Review

The Rod of Seven Parts ©TSR Games

The Rod of Seven Parts Retro Review

The author would like to acknowledge that some spoilers to the adventure may be given within the review, so if you intend on playing in this campaign you might want to avoid reading it until after the campaign is complete.

 

Campaign Design by Skip Williams

Artwork by Stephen A. Daniele, Greg Kerkman, Arnie Swekel, Phillip Robb, Jim Roslof and Erol Otus

History of the Campaign

A lot of us probably remember the Second Edition boxed sets that came out around mid 1990’s.  Titles such as Dragon Mountain, Night Below, and Council of Wyrms gave a system neutral adventure campaign that could fit in any DM’s chosen world.  Many do not realize the Rod of Seven Parts has actually been attached to Dungeons and Dragons from its inception.  In 1976 Gary Gygax and Bryan Blume published an additional supplement to the OD&D white box rule set entitled Eldritch Wizardry.  Within this small tome, we learn of an artifact known as the Rod of Seven Parts.  The rod is the creation of the Wind Dukes of Aaqa to combat the vicious forces of the Queen of Chaos.  together the pieces form the Rod of Law and with it, the forces of law were able to defeat the Chaos queens greatest general Miska the Wolf Spider, Prince of Demons.

An RPGA Tournament module that was loosely made entitled “The Dwarven Quest for the Rod of Seven Parts” for Gen Con East II in 1982 used the history from Eldritch Wizardry to support the quest.  It is divided into three parts, Igax Pass, Firey Fortress and Thor’s Fountain.  Unfortunately, it is not an official adventure and few if any copies are seen these days.  Still, it was not until 1996 that the rod became the subject of its own published adventure set.  My review focuses solely on this set.

The box set is split into 4 booklets and several odd-sized mini maps.  If I recall 2nd edition is where TSR began to experiment with what would later become the battle maps we all know and love these days.  In full disclosure, I once owned the hardcopy version of this product but lost it to a tornado back in 2002.  So some of this review is off of memory, while the rest was done reading the PDF version sold on Drivethrurpg.  Without further blustering from me on the halcyon days of gaming yore, let’s get to the meat of the product.

the cover of book 1 The Rod of Seven Parts

Book 1 cover of Rod of Seven Parts ©Wizards of the Coast 2017

Book One: Initiation to Power

The first book begins simply by letting the reader know what has gone before.  The forces of Law, fighting for all they are worth are losing ground in their war with Chaos.  The Wind Dukes of Aaqa are losing the battle and knew they must come up with something.  They create a weapon capable of slaying the General of the Chaos Armies Miska.  Unfortunately,  the Rod of Seven Parts merely wounds Miska, allowing for his capture, but resulting in the breaking of the rod itself.  Shattering into seven pieces, the rod loses itself across a myriad of worlds.  Legends spring up where ever it goes, and the forces of chaos hunt for it.

Book one begins simply by offering up the legend and then giving three possible paths to acquiring the first piece of the rod.  This product is not setting specific (the rod has appearances in many worlds moving constantly) with the intent being for the GM to plug it in wherever they like in their own world.  The 3 scenarios all have vastly different hooks to bring characters into the hunt for the rod.

Night Raiders

Night Raiders the first possible path, focuses on a Naga that has taken over a small region and is terrorizing local towns and travelers with orcs, ogres, trolls and even an ettin or two.  There is a lot of humor here as the Naga is a neat freak, and forces the usually slovenly acting races into keeping things neat and tidy.

At the Sign of the Golden Cockatrice

The Golden Cockatrice is a tavern with a reputation for gambling in specific.  Multiple different NPC characters will interact with players, however, there are other aspects to this adventure short that truly make it shine.  A pickpocket and braggart, a gambling game with actual rules in book three, and many encounters flesh out this small tavern in great detail.  The one issue I have with it is at first the author references map A1 for the golden cockatrice, but the correct map is A3, which at first glance is hard to read.

Incident at a footbridge

The third scenario is a short adventure with little to no plot before bringing the players in.  The players meet a melancholy soul that holds the first piece of the rod.  The holder is on the verge of losing their sanity and is quite helpless at this point.  In their loss of sanity, they believe themselves to be safe.  The players have to quickly decide to save a stranger with no real background as to why.  I find this to be a little to light for my liking.  These days most players are looking for a motivation for heroics.

Spelunking

The second hunt for the rod leads the adventurers deep into the bowels of the earth.  Unlike the first segment of the rod, the second segment is under close observation and study.  The owner desires to complete the rod but is wary of doing the quest themselves.  Instead, the entity hopes to use their powers to influence or force others to do their dirty work for them.  Spelunking is a long underground crawl, through a few typical encounters (Shriekers, Drow, Umber Hulks OH MY!) and several dangerous critters besides.  There are a few noteworthy encounters, but this is a dungeon crawl in the vein of 1st edition adventures.  The Big bad has something the party wants so the party slaughters wave after wave of minions.  I realize this was a common trope of older modules but 2nd edition did introduce many that somehow broke from that mold.  Sadly this part of the campaign is not one of them.

Uninvited Guests

The third piece of the rod is the property of a Fire Giantess.  She has found using the hairpin’s powers of haste greatly increases the productivity of her servants (slaves), and frequently abuses its powers.  The segment of the rod is warping her perspective into one of law and much like the naga this means things must be neat and tidy.  She is currently traveling between her home and a Cloud Giant castle where one of her daughters is about to have a wedding ceremony.  The demons that have been attacking her have lost, being more of an annoyance to her than an actual threat.  The players must infiltrate the wedding as spider exterminators, alongside a couple elves they have to bribe to create the facade.  Little do the Giants know the “spiders” are chaos demons here to fetch the segment away.  Throw in a lost silver dragon hatchling, two angry silver dragon parents and the general disdain the cloud giants and fire giants share for one another and the players will have their hands full.

Book 2 cover of Rod of Seven Parts ©Wizards of the Coast 2017

Book Two: The War against Chaos

In the second book of The Rod of Seven Parts, The players have hopefully made a recovery of the first three pieces.  Each segment of the rod can track or point the way to the next missing piece.  While that ability is nice, it does not begin to cover the scope of distance that each piece lies from the next one.  Luckily if the players survive up till this point, they will have come to the conclusion that none of this is going to be easy

Hospitality

The fourth and fifth segments of the rod are in the possession of a Jackalwere who wandered across a Medusa with petrifying results.  Despite having an artifact, Asaph Abdul Anat is a lawn decoration for a band of Jann(Efreeti or Genies) and Medusae and the caravanserai (roadside inn) they took over from the former occupants.  As no one survives meeting this ghastly group, the only hope of getting insight comes from a tribe of goatherders who lay down a thick local legend regarding the valley.  The Jann and Efreets use rumor and local superstition to set the stage for a tribe of ghosts and angry spirits and even perpetuate this to great effect later in the adventure.  The issue with this scenario is even though the players can track the segment of the rod, they will not be able to visualize it unless they start breaking up statues of Medusa victims.  The GM has a few tools to help figure out where the pieces are, but ultimately it may be blind luck that rules the day.  This scenario will definitely need some tweaking to be usable as is.

The Forgotten Temple

The Forgotten Temple is a much more enjoyable scenario.  The characters are lead to the steps of a fallen temple.  The worshippers are long since gone, but little do the players realize as they cross the threshold of the dilapidated structure they will enter a pocket dimension in which the temple is vibrant and functional.  Descriptions waiver between the current broken version of the temple and the pocket version of the temple which looks much as it did the first time the demon Ulthut entered into it.  The scenario offers the use of intellect or straight carnage and either way can end up with the same end result.  I think the best part is the players realizing their goals may align with the goals of an absolute fiend, especially if the rod is subverting one or more of them to be followers of law.

The Citadel of Chaos

The final scene takes the players to the wind ripped tunnels of pandemonium in search of the citadel of chaos.  At first glance, the quest is tantamount to suicidal at this point.  Priests of law deities can suffer a total disconnect from their deities, as can other priests.  This scenario just drips with Moorcock style references, I was waiting for the red archer to show up at any moment.  All that aside, the last adventure feels pretty incomplete, like it never got a second editorial glance.  Grammatical errors and incorrect reference points show up here or there but the worst part is the final encounter with Miska feels entirely too scripted and frankly a little underwhelming.  That and by this point I am quite sure the players would prefer to never even hear the word spider again.

Book 3 cover of Rod of Seven Parts ©Wizards of the Coast 2017

Book 3: Might and Menace

Might and Menace is the background information go to for the gamemaster.  It adds context to a lot of the decisions on paths to take and how to present them.  The first 12 pages are solely about the rod, its many uses and abilities and its effects.  This is one mighty magical artifact, and doubly so for how it changes as the rod gets more complete.  A few other magic items are included such as Vaati blades, wind chariots, an ointment to prevent fungus, and a wand of vapors.  Side Treks offers up a few plot hooks and small adventure tie-ins to bring the characters back onto the path of the rod hunt.  Finally, the card game Dragonfire is given its own rules and background with suggestions on how to incorporate it into your campaign.

And all the rest of the stuff

The box set includes a small pamphlet Book 4: Monsters, which is more or less specific monster entries on Miska, the Queen of Chaos and her MANY repetitive spyder fiends, and finally the Vaati.  The rest are maps and geomorphs (battle mat like pieces) that sadly is too small to actually be utilized in their current form.  I must say once again Book 4 seems like it was more of an afterthought, which is not surprising viewing my final opinion on the product.

Final summary and thoughts on use

Okay, I really want to like The Rod of Seven Parts.  There are many enjoyable aspects to the product in terms of storyline and plot hooks, but it never reaches the caliber of other box sets such as Dragon Mountain.  It is rife with repetitive encounters and many points where its save or die, which I always felt was an artificial way of creating danger.  It is obvious the original intent was for a GM to insert aspects of this adventure into a bigger ongoing campaign, but so much of it requires so much study and research on the part of the players there is no way it could be taken up casually. Yes, this adventure has a target of characters from level 10-12 to begin with but that is assuming your in a high magic world where the same characters will be dripping with magic items themselves.  Not every GM is a Monty Haul style GM.  I have run low magic, political strife campaigns for years where items were not always magical but just exceptionally well made and the longer the player had them the more “magical” they became.

The adventure pounds you with spyder fiend after spyder fiend, and I can remember the players in my early days of my military time groaning every time I so much as spoke the word spider.  I did my best to spice things up eventually completely changing the forces of the queen of chaos to be more robust, and in my setting, the queen was actually an amorphous entity of swirling colors and tentacles very much more Lovecraft than spider beast.  Because I launched into a full-blown Planescape campaign, I actually put flesh on the war of law and chaos and my ending was vastly different than the box sets intention.

I do think the style of gameplay this adventure offers would work well with 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons, but you would have to make some adjustments.  I would probably change out some of the main antagonists to reflect gods and a war in the heavens, between lawful and chaotic deities.  I would remove all the save or die stuff, instead replacing it with curses or effects that could be removed.  The effects of the rod in changing someone to lawful alignment would be interesting to play out so I would leave that alone.  A major overhaul of the maps would be necessary as some of them are just not usable in a battlemat setting and stretched out look like garbage for online gaming such as roll20.  The plot hooks and story devices Mr. Williams wrote are excellent and require only small tweaks here or there.  Ultimately, the bulk of the work would be in overhauling the spyder fiends and replacing them with a menagerie of different foes.  This is chaos we are dealing with, nothing should be plain or repetitive.

You can pick up The Rod of Seven Parts in pdf form for around$9.99 at Drivethrurpg,  If you are a collector expect a pristine copy to set you back at least $80.00 on average.  The price of buying our youth only increases over time.  Expect to put in quite a few hours of elbow grease if you buy it, but that effort can lead to a campaign that literally shakes the heavens.

Until next time,

Keep rolling them bones

Chris

 

 

 

 

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