Those of you with Netflix might have noticed an interesting film that just recently released on our televisions: Bright. If you haven’t watched the film–or even the trailer–I highly recommend you give it a chance. This movie’s an urban fantasy buddy-cop film revolving around a dangerous magic wand in a city populated by humans, elves, and orcs–with plenty of other wonderful weirdness. Yes. I’m serious. And it stars Will Smith.
In short: I loved this movie.
Now, this is not a movie review. This is a blog about d20 games. But watching Bright got me thinking. See, in addition to being a fantasy movie and a comedy movie, Bright cast a glaring light on some important topics. Chief among them: racism and corruption. Now, I’m not going to spoiler any more of the film than I already have, but I am going to say one last thing: Bright handled these topics very well. And to celebrate that we’re going to make a short list.
Now lists are likely something you’re going to see a lot of on d20 Diaries. I’m a fan of a good list. So today we’re looking at my five favourite d20 adventures that deal with prejudice.
You will not find adventures about wanton destruction or wiping out ‘evil races’ or anything like that in here. These aren’t orc-hating, demon-hunting or goblin-slaying tales. Here you’ll find adventures that have environments heavily tainted by prejudice, mysteries where killers prey upon the downtrodden and social encounters where the player’s may wonder whose side they should really be on. So without further ado:
My picks for top five d20 adventures that feature prejudice:
#5 – War of the Wielded by Michael Kortes
Although many of the top five adventures I’ve chosen are serious in tone, the first one is anything but. It’s an unabashedly absurd, fun little adventure printed in Issue 149 of Dungeon Magazine, back in 2007. War of the Wielded, by Michael Kortes focuses on a centuries old fight for dominance between two rival thieve’s guilds, The House of Oquon, and the Cabanites. The descendants of these groups despise each other with a passion reminiscent of the Montague’s and the Capulet’s from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It’s a fifth level 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons adventure, but can easily be adapted to Pathfinder or other systems.
The adventure begins with the player’s stumbling upon a violent battle between the rival factions, and by the end has the player’s wondering which side of the war they should throw themselves behind. But, wait! There’s a twist!
The Oquons and the Cabanites are long gone. Dead. Caput. Only their intelligent blades remain, still battling each other to this day by possessing the people who happen to touch them, and using everyday people in their never ending war. That’s right. You heard me. The prejudice and hate featured in this adventure is perpetuated by two rival factions of magical swords.
It’s insane. It’s wonderful. I love it. Your player’s will love it. And by the end they’ll be torn between greed–come on, who doesn’t want a magical sword that can talk–and the need to save the people being used by these powerful blades. So give this adventure a whirl and see if you side with the Oquons or the Cabanites. Or perhaps, put an end to the hate and battle them both! I hope you’ve brought a rust monster…
#4 – Siege of the Spider Eaters by Tim and Eileen Connors
This next entry is an interesting adventure that in a lot of ways feels like classic dungeons and dragons, but has a neat twist. Siege of the Spider Eaters is a 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons adventure made for 1st level characters, that can easily be transferred into any other fantasy world. It was printed in Issue 137 of Dungeon Magazine. Siege of the Spider Eaters takes place in a secretive little village called Haven-Fara founded by pirates. When the players get there they find the entire town carpeted by a blanket of thick spider webs and more than half the townsfolk are missing. Of course, the player’s need to save the townsfolk, right? You can’t just let them get eaten by the spiders who’ve clearly dragged them away! And so they set out on a spider-squishing mission. But this adventure’s got some twists in it, and things aren’t going to be nearly that simple.
Now, Siege of the Spider Eaters has some cool things going for it. First of all: the town, Haven-Fara. This village is built around a beached pirate ship. Yup. Right there in the middle of the town, taking up a solid sixth of the entire village. A big, freaking, pirate ship. What makes that even better? The interior’s a pub. Haven-Fara’s also got ramshackle huts made of driftwood and scavenged ship parts, it’s surrounded by jungle, and it’s covered in thick spider webs. This town has atmospheric written all over it.
The beginning of this adventure is an investigation, and leads into a simple monster-killing mission, but when the locals you need to befriend and save are shifty, scuzzy, pirates, scuttlers, sailors and the descendants of thieving buccaneers, even small social encounters are memorable. And when a walk down the road is through massive spider web tunnels, it’s not the kind of adventure that will not soon be forgotten.
Once the player’s get to the spider’s den, though, things take a bit of a turn. For the spiders aren’t all what they seem. Some are aranea–intelligent spiders who can also turn into human-like people–and are in fact, the missing townsfolk. Yup. Spider people. Let’s hope the group didn’t kill too many of their pets on the way here… But if the missing townsfolk are spider people, why web up the town? Well, I’m not going to give the whole adventure away, as the surprises are part of the fun, but let’s just say it involves, spider-eaters, pirate treasure, secrets and greed.
As the players navigate the secrets of Haven-Fara’s aranea population they’ll be making plenty of choices. Who to help, who to hinder, and what secrets to keep and expose. The players actions can save Haven-Fara, or see it torn apart by hate and mistrust.
#3 – Murder’s Mark by Jim Groves
Murder’s Mark is a Pathfinder murder mystery intended for level one characters. It’s a fun, solid adventure that keeps moving along even if the players get stuck thanks to well-timed events and flavourful encounters.
Murder’s Mark takes place in the city of Ilsurian, an independent trade town in Varisia (a part of Pathfinder’s Golarion campaign setting), whose citizens are mostly foreign colonizers (Chelaxians) who harbour deep distrust and resentment towards the native Varisian population (a very gypsy-like peoples). The adventure begins when a traveling carnival comes to town, and the player’s pay it a visit.
The opening is a fun, light-hearted romp, where the players get to engage in games of skill and chance at the carnival, and end up distinguishing themselves as heroic and trustworthy when trouble breaks out.
But trouble’s brewing in Ilsurian. People begin turning up dead and the locals suspect a member of the traveling carnival–an enigmatic sphinx said to be tame. With tensions mounting between locals and performers, and the body count rising on both sides, the player’s have to discover what’s really going on before Ilsurian erupts into ethnic violence.
Murder’s Mark does a great job of using the rampant racism found in Ilsurian, and making it a focus of the adventure. With the townsfolk being Chelaxians and the carnival folk being Varisians, every encounter has the potential to take a violent turn due to prejudice, fear and stupidity. Players have a real chance to change Ilsurian, and save a lot of lives. But they also can fail. And when lives are in the balance, failure can be a huge disappointment–and an instigator of even greater violence.
Murder’s Mark is a great, well-written adventure filled with wonderful twists and turns, and social encounters that really matter. When your players finally discover the architects behind this string of murders, they’ll be dying to give them a whooping! I guarantee it.
#2 – Steel Shadows by Keith Baker
Another great murder mystery, Steel Shadows was published in Issue 115 of Dungeon Magazine. It’s a 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons adventure intended for level seven characters and set in Sharn, a city in the Eberron Campaign Setting.
Steel Shadows takes us on an adventure in the seediest, poorest districts of Sharn, where a murderer is preying upon the city’s most oppressed citizens: it’s warforged. Warforged are essentially golems given life, souls and sentience by magic. They’re like robot men, or droids, but made by magic instead of technology. Warforged were made by rich people in order to fight their wars, but when the wars finally came to an end, the government made the surviving warforged citizenship. Unfortunately, these naive new peoples were taken advantage of. Many of them are poor, live in horrible conditions, suffer through tremendous racism, and were tricked into taking jobs that are little more than indentured servitude. It is on these people, that a killer is preying.
While investigating the murders, the players don’t just need to confront the dregs of society, and the dangers and sadness of the slums, but they also need to battle indifference. Why? No one really cares about a few dead warforged.
Finding justice is entirely up to your players.
Steel Shadows has some twists and turns, plenty of interesting characters, and a good deal of red herrings. It’s a great, unique adventure and I highly recommend it to anyone that manages to get their hands on it.
#1 – River Into Darkness by Greg A. Vaughn
River Into Darkness is a Pathfinder Module made before their ruleset came out, which means it’s technically a 3.5 adventure. It’s intended for level four characters and takes place in the Mwangi Expanse, a vast jungle dotted with newly settled colonies and commercial ventures found in Pathfinder’s Golarion Campaign Setting. This adventure is not your typical fantasy fare. It’s darker than most, not because of violence or horror, but because this adventure does not take a simple view of the world. It is not black and white, good and bad. It’s mostly written in shades of grey. But that’s what I love about it. It’s fluid, and adaptable. And what the player’s decide to do is entirely up to them. Honest! This adventure doesn’t assume your players choose one ending, it acknowledges (and even better, plans for) multiple possible endings. So get ready to pick a side–or flip flop a lot–cause the River Into Darkness is here!
This adventure begins with the players in the port city of Bloodcove, a tropical town built around a massive mangrove tree. After battling one of the city’s more natural hazards the player’s are offered good paying, simple work: protect a river boat owned by the Aspis Consortium as it travels to its destination deep in the country’s jungle interior. How hard could it be?
The hazards are simple at first. Dangerous animals, bad weather, ship trouble and sickness. Players can triumph (or not) and get to know the ship’s crew. In time, the dangers begin to involve a group of jungle elves known as the Ekujae. As the players finally get their ship to its destination they are offered further work, protecting the colonial trade station from incursion and attack. But as the skirmishes with the Ekujae continue, and the players get a chance to explore this trade station they’ll begin to wonder why the elves are so intent on destroying the Aspis Consortium. And how far both sides are willing to go to put an end to the other. However deep your players are willing to delve into the mysterious rivalry, one thing’s for sure, choosing a side won’t be easy–if they decide to at all. As the violence escalates, the players could be major players, or get caught in the crossfire. Should they side with the Aspis? The Ekujae? Try to broker peace? Abandon them both? Only protect themselves? This module leaves that decision firmly in the hands of the players. And the hardest route of all? That of peace.
Not an easy module to run (and not an adventure for everyone), River Into Darkness tops my list for the five best d20 adventures that heavily involve or focus on prejudice. If you don’t own it, you can pick up River into Darkness by clicking the link below.
What did you think of the adventures? Have you played any? Did any tickle your fancy? Do you have a favourite adventure that would fit that I missed? Let me know what you think of d20 Diaries or this article in the comments below!
Now go get those dice rolling!