Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Adventure Site Contest: Review #15 St. Durham’s Home for Wayward Youths

 St. Durham’s Home for Wayward Youths

By: Trent Smith

Ruleset: AD&D

Recommended Levels: N/A, but nothing here will be a challenge to PCs over early mid-levels (around 4th) presuming typical party numbers of 6-8

The Gist: In the countryside is a reformatory facility for evil humanoid women and children built using platonic gygaxian naturalism.  It's a proper "location" in that it doesn't presume why you'd be interacting with it or attempt to manufacture a reason.  The nature of all the conflicting aims easily breeds organic reasons to interact with it, so as-written it's one of those "static" elements discussed in CAG episode #7 that a DM could stick on a map and let it putter along largely undisturbed until some natural development in the campaign world either flipped it to a dynamic element, or, brought about PC involvement almost certain to change the status quo.  One thread that could flip the location to dynamic at any time is if the orc tribe the adult females came from learned they were still alive and were in the program - they'd attempt to storm the fortifications and retrieve them.

But as written it is a tight, functional, working location that isn't "adventuring" per se, in the sense that an alchemist's shop in town isn't adventuring, or a druid's grove isn't adventuring - there's no lit fuse.  And this is no mark against it by any means.

Most of the potential comes from conflicting aims, both secret and unspoken.  Most of the reformees aren't steadily progressing towards reformation, except perhaps for one demographic (orc females).  The guards don't expect any of this to work, and have a typical prison guard mentality of being there to prevent uprisings and ensure the situation is under control and the humans stay safe (the humanoids aren't their charges though, per se).  The head cleric believes in the mission, intending to effect changes to the humanoids' natures through instilling what we could call the puritan work ethic and rigid discipline - both growth of the personal sort, and correction of the punitive sort (up to and including hanging for physical assaults).  His main assistant is double-faced, playing good cop to his bad cop but secretly worst cop in that she sells "graduates" into slavery instead of attempting to integrate them - which, being lawfully-minded, has been meticulously tracked in a secret ledger that could blow the situation wide open if it became known beyond herself.

The reformees are largely faceless excepting one goblin female who's managing to keep secret being a shaman dedicated to the devil Moloch.

The entire place is a mess of tangled grey and black colors.  Don't come looking for any archetypical do-gooders here.

While the structures aren't fantastic in any way - they're exactly what you'd expect a religious reformatory in our world to look and feel like, with kitchens, workrooms, dormitories, chapels, etc., the building does hold its secrets just as the inhabitants do.  The headman has a secret passage connecting the upper and lower levels opened by pulling on a book with a hindsight-obvious title; the goblin shaman has finagled a secret door in the punishment cells (guessing she's been thrown in there many times) to an excavated cave/sacred space with an incomplete jailbreak tunnel leading off.  The text notes the DM can expand this into a system of caverns if desired, although if doing so the DM should have a motive for the shaman to still be here instead of escaping (several come to mind, the main thing is the DM is prepared to answer this question if needed.)

The exterior is walled and fortified, with corner towers keeping watch over the whole; the guards keep shifts to maintain a 24/7 watch, and reinforcement patterns are noted if trouble breaks out.  It's built to withstand a siege from either evil humanoids or nervous humans.  All normal outbuildings necessary for the location to function are present and described.

Daily schedules for all the mundane inhabitants is provided; a DM will be able to run this like a clock should something create a stir.

Monster Roster: clerics of 6th and 3rd level with four 1st level acolytes; one 3rd level fighter, three 1st level fighters, and 24 0-level fighters with typical arms/armor; 45 humanoid women and children of mixed types and one female goblin shaman of 4th level ability; a poisonous snake.

Treasure: The valuables are worth about 6,800 gp, max, although some of it will pose difficulties getting that in coin value as it's a mix of location-appropriate items such as altar pieces that can be connected back to the home, a bank draft letter where our trafficker deposits her ill-gotten gains, or incense that presumably has a more limited market of buyers.  This is a nice touch reflecting advice in the DMG about making treasure a mix along spectrums of convenience and portability.

Magical treasure includes a scroll of protection from normal missiles, potions of extra healing and sweet water (also known as the potion of player sadness).  The leveled clerics have plate mail +2 and quarterstaff +3, ring of mammal control, +2 scale armor, and a wand of flame extinguishing.  The guard captain has +1 chain mail and broad sword.  

Given that magic mostly belongs to the humans in charge, many interaction scenarios would have a low likelihood of taking possession of these.  So if a DM wants to up the treasure take, using the suggestion of putting extra caverns off the escape tunnel with a challenging monster (and treasure) of some sort could be a solution. 

Do I think this will work: The scenario itself, as crafted?  Yes, it will work without a doubt.  

In an out-of-campaign sense, will this work for all play groups?  No, simply because it chooses to present a subject that's been a heated debate in the hobby for decades (what to do with non-combatant evil humanoids).  I don't think anyone is obligated to shy away from interacting with that subject, and I don't think Trent would be offended by someone choosing not to use it on those grounds.  He addresses the subject with a tremendously even hand, here: it's controversial in human society, it's unwelcome in humanoid society, it's not very effective, and everyone involved is either dubious of the worth of it, an uptight dick, or shamelessly abusing the point of it for personal gain.

But it does interject that entire debate into the campaign world, and there's no way to really keep it there if the subject is considered contentious to those playing the game at the table.  In a best case scenario no one cares and it's just an interesting thing to consider.  The DM should judge whether this is the case however.  It could also generate an argument among players very easily.

Do I like it: Yeah, I like it as a well-done expression of the game.  I personally don't have reformable humanoids in my campaign world, so usability for me is limited without reworking it (very possible to do, and I might).  But I can like something I wouldn't make or use as-is myself.

Nitpicks: None, it's as tight as a drum.

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