How many of you remember the following adventures: The Forest Oracle, Destiny of Kings, Treasure Hunt, Under Illefarn . . .
Wait, hardly any of those sound familiar?
What if I added Against the Cult of the Reptile God to that list?
These adventures represented the N-series, N signifying “Novice.” Yet if they were aimed at new players, only N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God stood the test of time as especially memorable—and with the rest certainly less iconic when compared to B1: In Search of the Unknown, or B2: Keep on the Borderlands. (Not coincidentally, Keep on the Borderlands themed our most recent season of D&D Encounters, and next month we’ll explore a room from B1).
This month saw the release of the Dungeon Master’s Kit, offering just about everything a DM needs to get a game up and running—including a 2-part adventure and plenty of solid advice. In the spirit of aiding DMs, we wanted to look back at one of the earliest introductory adventures as a guide to adventure design of your own and also to provide an updated final encounter for use in your own games.
Something sinister is at work (once more) in Orlane!
About the Adventure
Against the Cult of the Reptile God appeared back in 1982 as the first design project of Douglas Niles (who would go on to pen novels for the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance settings, as well as several more adventures). Set in Greyhawk, the adventure concerned the town of Orlane that had fallen on hard—and mysterious—times. Townsfolk have been disappearing, some returning but acting strangely, and an adventuring party happening through found a deep air of suspicion surrounding the place.
And here’s where N1 set itself apart. Other adventures centered around their location (Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain) or the heroes’ adversary (Against the Giants). N1 largely centered around its story: that of an evil cult infiltrating the town led by the naga Explictica Defilus.
In the adventure, player characters had to first investigate this mystery, with half of Orlane’s innocent townspeople providing what help or information they could, and the other half charmed or recruited cult members. As time passed, more townspeople were kidnapped in the night, adding a dynamic sense to the town and events. The heroes themselves were attacked in their rooms at the Golden Grain Inn, possibly kidnapped and forced into the cult—and all this before their foray against the naga’s lair.
For an introductory adventure, N1 required much of new players. It also required no small degree of skill from the DM: Through the course of the adventure, some or even all of the party might be overwhelmed, kidnapped, and forced into a cult to either act the part against their fellow heroes or await rescue from outside forces.
And yet (I would argue), it’s because of these complications—rather than despite them—that the adventure was originally well received and has been fondly remembered.
Running the Adventure Today
If you’ve picked up the DM’s Kit and you’re interested in running the plot of Against the Cult of the Reptile God (or, of course, just wish to run it in general), we have the following suggestions.
Choose a Town
The focus of N1 wasn’t really the final showdown with the naga—at that point, the adventure becomes a straightforward delve to confront the villain. Rather, the focus was investigating the mysterious town of Orlane.
In your version, you might have the heroes come to a new town in the Nentir Vale, where they are greeted with mixed reactions (secret pleas for help by innocent townsfolk; with suspicion and watchfulness by the cult members). Even better, you might choose a town with which your players are already familiar and where their characters know some of the inhabitants. In this case, they might show immediate concern when known townsfolk start disappearing or acting strangely. If it’s a town they return to periodically as their base of operations, you can slowly ramp up the events of the cult taking over until the heroes decide to investigate on their own or are outright attacked by cult members.
Discover the Cult
Several encounters within N1’s Orlane provided action during the investigation, and you could incorporate any of them into your version. Random farms and businesses (some of which the heroes should frequent) are now populated by cult members. Additionally, one of the local temples (originally the Temple of Merikka) secretly has been converted to worship of the naga. You might choose a temple the heroes visit and note that healing and other such services are no longer offered there—in essence, the benign power of the deities has been driven from the place. Investigation of the temple can reveal defaced carvings of the original deities, new icons to the naga, and an encounter with the converted priestess (Misha Devi) and former townsfolk converted into zombie slaves.
Ultimately, the heroes can find evidence of the cult and the lair of the naga at one of the inns (again, preferably wherever the heroes commonly stay). Kidnapped townsfolk are held in basement tunnels before being transported to the naga’s lair. If the heroes have been asking too many questions, or enough time has passed that the town has largely fallen to the cult, the heroes are attacked in the night. A cult representative (Derek Desleigh) along with troglodytes and converted cult members (townsfolk the heroes might recognize) organize the assault.
Face the Naga
Unique to N1, some or even all of the heroes could be overcome and kidnapped during the investigation. This offered a couple of options: escape attempts or rescue by the remaining party or outside forces. However, these options provide a challenge in terms of managing a split party. Captured heroes taken to the naga, where they are charmed into her service, can also offer rich roleplaying opportunities; charmed heroes could suddenly reappear in town with strangely altered personalities and agendas.
Otherwise, your heroes should eventually uncover the workings of the cult and learn enough of the naga to track her down in her lair: a series of tunnels located four days’ travel from town in the middle of a swamp.
Although we haven’t undergone a complete recreation of the dungeon (that’s where you come in!), we’ve provided the original map of the dungeon’s final level as a guide, as well as the following updated encounter with the naga, Explictica Defilus.
One more element to the original adventure concerned the help of a more veteran magic-user, Ramne, and his familiar weasel. Ramne offered his protection during the later stages of the adventure, with his weasel Whiskers also helping with any tracking. Without Ramne, the DM was encouraged to replace the magical protection he would provide (notably a powerful scroll with minor globe of invulnerability and dispel magic spells). We’ve included options for Ramne as well, if you wish to introduce him as a temporary companion character—and a new contact for the characters to have in town.
We hope you enjoy the encounter! If anyone has further suggestions or even encounters they’d like to share for their version of Against the Cult of the Reptile God, please send them in to firstname.lastname@example.org!