Playing CM7 The Tree of Life (old school D&D)

So I have not been too busy on this blog, where as I spew out posts on my Danish blog. Sometimes I wish I could just send them through a translate-machine, but in no way are services like google translate able to translate longer texts in a meaningful way, but here goes. Here is a little on my roleplaying archaeological project, which is playing old D&D modules. As of know we are playing D&D BECMI and the module is CM7 The Tree of Life from 1986.

I spoke of the module earlier, but having played a few more sessions, two things become clear. One is that the elves have tremendous resources available. The group contains four ten level elves (that is more or less fighter 10/Wizard 10) and a wicca/shaman centaur (using the supplement PC1 Tall Tales of the Wee Folk) since a healer was necessary in the group. Little do they fight in combat, but mostly just bombard their targets with fireballs, lightning bolts, ice storms, hold monster, charm monster, magic jar, polymorph other, dimension door and telekinesis. Many encounters are solved in this manner in round one.

For a scenario designed to this huge amount of spell casters, several encounters are poorly designed. For instance one encounter is the elves scaling a cliff to investigate the nest of a roc, and the section contains a lot of notes of how the roc will attempt to grab the climbers and drop them off in the surrounding forests etc., but as the roc came flying, it was eliminated before its first attack round. An invisible medusa and her Invisible Servant was eliminated in much the same manner. Invisibility does not protect from a bombardment of fireballs.

Secondly a part of the scenario is the characters picking up 12 medallions to open a mysterious thing. The problems are partly that they do not know why, and they do know that the villain also wants it opened. So are they helping the villain by collecting the medallions or doing the right thing by getting there first? And what is at stake? – they do not know, so they do not really know if it is important. Also the medallions are hidden in a huge forest. There are often 20 miles or more between each location (and no horses are available), and so there is a lot of travel only interrupted by wandering monsters.

So what began as a fascinating scenario about saving a dying Tree of Life and battling an evil wizard and his army of orcs and humans, has been reduced to a grind of picking up items. I hadn’t imagined it would become reduced to a grind. Boring, sadly, it is.

Another trouble with the module is that several encounters contains inaccessible information, such as when the text reveals that the hydra wanted to annoy the Narwhale and the Nymph and thus stole the Nymph’s medallion, but then the hydra was killed by the mage, who took all of their medallions, thus leaving the PCs with a unsolvable mystery – why is the Nymph angry at the Narwhale? But then again the PCs met the Nymph – a watery monster – as it was about to drown one the evil mage’s knights, and they thus assumed it to be a monster, not a guardian of a medallion, and they killed it. So even though there was a mystery, it never entered the game.

Story vs Game

The story is about the elves mobilising the creatures of the forest to battle the evil wizard and his armies. Ages ago the wizard drove away the elves, but he was unable to plunder their sanctuaries, and now a small band of elves has returned to access the sanctuary to save their holy relic. During their travels they ally themselves with the denizens of the forest.

But what we experience around the table is the PCs travelling a huge forest to collect 12 quest items, but often they do not know what exactly they are looking for, nor do they know, when an encounter is a potential ally – for instance the griffins and the roc were potential allies, but the hydra and the manticores are enemies. The wizard, his armies and the grand story is far away.

1 Comment

  1. Played this adventure, our DM transposed the unnecessary and silly episodes into something really great. I think it’s often only the story on the back cover, or the illustrations, that attracts and gives you as a DM an inspiration. From there on it is up to you, what you are able to present for your players. For myself as a DM, I often get inspired by only reading back cover stories of old modules and having a look at the illustrations. This, mixed with my own ideas, and a good developed story with authentic NPCs, is what I think can make oldschool modules great. Of course there are exceptions, but most of the modules from this area are crap at second view, if not already at the first. I liked it, how it was presented to me.

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