A side-quest where a small contingent of our beloved heroes tackle probably the most critically panned module from D&D past: The Terrible Trouble in Tragidore.
Hey there! In case you missed it, here’s the intro to Jon’s new D&D Campaign “Big Fish”
Years ago, Jono ran the Drunken Step-Dad of all D&D Modules “The Tomb of Horrors” for us (and you can read the epic 4 part retelling of that particular adventure here) and it was great. The old school, seemingly off the cuff vibe of it was a delight.
While I do have a pen and paper pedigree (today’s theme is alliteration), my time with D&D in any form has been limited to the past few years. That means that there are all these great little pieces of in-game and out of game lore that I know nothing about.
I don’t know the pantheon of The Forgotten Realms, I don’t know about the Lords of Waterdeep or the comings and goings of Baldur’s Gate. Hell, throughout most of my life I didn’t even know what a Beholder was.
Also though, I know nothing about the out of game history. I don’t know what THAC0 really means (it’s like Armor Class or something). I don’t know about the classic modules or why they’re so beloved (or in this case, disliked). I know that the “Expedition to the Barrier Peaks” is batshit sci-fi insanity-meets fantasy but I’ve never gotten a chance to play it.
To Hit Armor Class 0. Your THAC0 started at 20. Naked AC was 10, and best AC is -10. So a level 5 fighter with a THAC0 of 16 needs a 10 to hit AC 6. Easy as fuckin pie. It was changed in 3rd edition, though how it stuck around in 2nd baffles me to this day. In 2nd edition saving throws went down as they got better as well. One of the design decisions they made for the 3rd edition release was “if a number goes up on your character sheet it should be a good thing”. Why would anyone care about all this? You should probably edit this out.
Nope, going to leave it in. I don’t know, maybe because stats going up is a lot easier to get your head around? Wait a second, in old editions did some stats go up while others went down as you leveled? That’s super weird.
Anyways, when we don’t have at least 4 players available for a session, Jono has decided to run some classic modules for us. And this brings me great joy. It’s like getting to see some of the history of the game.
So What’s All the Trouble?
How much work is it converting these modules to 5e? The rules seem so streamlined that the process seems almost trivial to me. Also, remind me next time to bring that playlist I made during the Tomb of Horrors run through that consists mostly of Rush and Jethro Tull.
That’s actually my favorite part. 5th edition is so streamlined and actually similar to the older editions that a lot of the rules translate easily. I do have to update the monsters a little but the differences are small enough that I can do it on the fly. A lot of these old modules (the classical term for a pre-written adventure) are designed to be quick, and as I’m sure you noticed were written in a much simpler time. All this means that I don’t have to work too hard to run side quests, so they’re relaxing fun for me as well. I really do love hamming up the terribly written characters from the 1980s.
Even more fun was that this adventure consisted of Brubax, L’eau D’ur and Jim (me). All 3 of us unfamiliar with the module so there was no chance of us meta-gaming any of the silliness. We were just along for the ride.
It also worked out that these characters are “along for the ride” in general. There is so much goofiness in this module that I feel like straying off the path or thinking too much about all the absurdity that’s going down would get you bogged down.
So we started off in this town and we were broke and out of supplies. We find a sign saying there would be gold and such if we helped out with the… TERRIBLE TROUBLE IN TRAGIDORE. I read up on this module a little bit after the fact, and I think Jono did us a service here, since I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to lose all our equipment for no reason at the start of the adventure.
Haha, maybe they did intend that. If that happened to me as a player I’d have been pretty pissed. “Oh look it says in the book here you lose all your gear no roll LOL it’s 1989 and players are ok with this?” Either way the adventure was for 4-6 characters level 5-7 or whatever and I was like “eh fuck it let’s run it as written as see how they do.” You lived! So I chose correctly.
Or, we got lucky by accidentally evading some of the more lethal bits of the adventure.
We asked a few questions of the locals and came up with a story that involved missing men, leprechauns and vampires. Our impulsive-ass characters don’t really need much more than the vague promise of gold to send us into an adventure so off we went to Tragidore.
We encountered the infamous crew of bandits pretending to be vampires. None of us are clerics so we had nobody who could instantly see through the ruse. But we’re also kind of badasses so we mowed them down pretty easily.
I think this was honestly my favorite part of the module. It was a cool little moment where the party goes from “oh shit, vampires” to “ha ha, these stupid bandits just opened up a can of whoop-ass” in like a single round. Brubax planted a big ole’ arrow in one of them and the jig was up for the thugs.
This is a really well made encounter. You could have snuck past them, accidentally bumped into them in the dark, could have found that the one who escaped was a dark elf (and had some warning about the finale), they had treasure if you had tracked them. From a storytelling perspective “dumb bandits dress up like vampires and bite off more than they can chew” can fit into any campaign and still be fun.
We make it into Tragidore and the mayor is a little bummed to find out that none of us are aligned “Good”, but hey, none of us are “Evil” either so no harm done.
Stop, Trouble Time
All the able bodied men are being kidnapped or killed or something and that’s the terrible trouble. I will complain about this plot point later. They all go missing in the woods.
Before we head into the woods, L’eau D’ur fashions us waxy earplugs from a candle, because even though it makes no sense, we suspect Sirens. This is the kind of thinking that I feel is very important in these old school modules. We’re talking about an era of D&D that instantly killed you if you pulled on a set of drapes.
Hey thanks again for that, Gary.
One of us was almost eaten by man-eating flytraps because that’s part of it.
So we jammed wax wads up our nose to avoid smelling the pheromones of the flytraps.
It was revealed after the game that because we had wax in our noses and ears we just trundled right passed some dryads who would give us riches as long as we didn’t look at them. If we looked at them, we’d be permanently blind because old school modules were about ruining a player’s character.
Cure blindness/deafness was level 3 at the time. I was kind of sad you walked past those girls.
At this point we’re just moving along briskly. Seeing things and ignoring them because I think we’ve all got a sense that this module is like an NES era dungeon. The last boss is “forward”. Keep heading forwards and you’ll get to the last boss.
The strategy was flawless. But then.
We encounter a Lamia. An event which are characters are more or less unconcerned with since that’s just not the kind of thing they’d care about. The fact that an official, TSR issued module just decided to drop a lamia onto the players is crazy though. “Hey, even though we’ve written up this whole book about monsters and where they can be found and stuff let’s just toss a dessert monster into the woods.” And why? Dark Elves.
Well, that was supposed to be a clue that something fucky was up. The drow actually summoned and controlled her. Also: Lamia permanently reduced your wisdom back in the day, and they also have charms. You guys unloaded a pain train on her in one round so it felt like nothing but if she had charmed one of you (Brubax) probably you all would have died.
That lamia encounter seemed like one of these things that could have been ultra-bad to 3 Level 5 dudes had it not been for some lucky rolls and big damage attacks.
We somehow beat down the lamia in a few rounds and in a stroke of mad luck (I believe L’eau D’ur crit his counterspell) we avoided one of us being geased to the lamia. It turns out she has been enslaved by a couple of Drow to act as a miniboss for any adventurers trying to stop them. She spills the beans about the Drow and their little hideout/mining operation that can be found by holding up on the controller and continuing forwards.
Oh yeah, the counterspell. Yeah that geas would have demolished you. A geas would have turned one of you into her slave (ish).
The party gets to the tower and promptly makes a mess of a surprise assault by banging on the doors, talking loudly outside and then trying to be quiet after the fact. We kill some guards, take some damage and head inside.
Next, an amazing sequence of events unfolds. We find a fancy room. There are delicious smelling buds or something on the table and because we’ve played Tomb of Horrors we don’t eat them, even though they smell delicious.
That kind of thing never comes up in Jon’s adventures. There’s never just delicious stuff lying around in the villain’s lair just demanding to be eaten.
Trusty Jim Clocks the Rogue manages to find a secret passage that leads into a basement and we skip over the rest of the first floor which was probably filled with traps and enemies and would just try to kill us with boxes of snakes or something.
Also there was a pack of dark elves and orcs you managed to walk right past without alerting. That whole first floor could have delayed you tremendously.
And by “delayed” you mean “killed us” because D&D used to be about killing players.
At this point, I forget the golden rule of these modules and forget to say “I check for traps” before taking a step anywhere ever and it turns out that the steps to the basement are booby trapped. Because everything is booby trapped!
Finally, We Solved The Trouble
We finally make it to the basement and spring an attack on the two Drow who are responsible for the terrible trouble. Seems like they needed the men, and only the men, for some kind of a mining operation. We never really found out why because we killed them.
I think this is one of those points that leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of most gamers. There is no reason that the Drow would only employ men for this task. It was just this decision that was made because women were too weak to mine I guess. Also, we didn’t bother to explore this but apparently the mine in no way connects to the Underdark. It’s just a mine.
Dude, dark elf society is matriarchal, Drow men are literally second class citizens. They only had male miner slaves because they only wanted male miner slaves. Also it’s never detailed very well.
So we’ve got these two Drow, kidnapping only men to work in a mine, enslaving a Lamia and planting man-eating flytraps to cover up their regular-ass mining operation.
I got to say, this module was goofy. But I don’t really know why it has such a massive hate-on from older players. I think Jono took some of the sting off by not having us lose all our gear, since “lose all your gear” parts of any game suck hard.
All in all, I was pretty charmed by the nonsense the module tossed at us. It kind of has the feeling of playing an old NES game you’ve never played. It lacks a lot of the polish and well thought out design of a modern game but it’s cool to see what people were trying to do in another era of game design.
It does lack the polish of modern modules but it was brisk, and sometimes the very best decision a DM can make is to send their PCs on a dumb quest to face dumb enemies and just let the fun spill out of the mayhem. Terrible Trouble At Tragidor did exactly that. Sure it was a one-off mini session, but I think it held up as a fun session. What else matters?
Have you (the reader) ever played “Tragidore”? Did you hate it as much as the rest of the internet does? Or did you enjoy for it the goofy nonsense that it was?
Keith does all sorts of things here on 9to5.cc, he works with the other founders on 9to5 (illustrated), co-hosts our two podcasts: The 9to5 Entertainment System and Go Plug Yourself and blogs here as The Perspicacious Geek.
Lamia image from the talented Seraph777 on DeviantArt.
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