Friday, June 16, 2017

OSR Commentary On B5 Horror on The Hill By Douglas Niles For Your Old School Sword & Sorcery Campaigns

The end of the road. A lonely fort stands on the banks of a mighty river. It is here the hardy bands of adventurers gather to plan their conquests of The Hill, the hulking mass that looms over this tiny settlement.

The Hill is filled with monsters, they say, and an evil witch makes her home there. Still, no visitor to The Hill has ever returned to prove the rumors true or false. The thrill of discovery is too great to pass up, and only the river stands in the way. The adventurers' boat is waiting!  One of the best mid tier B/X Dungeons & Dragons adventures that came out during the B/X era. Yes I said mid tier because this is a very deadly adventure in some respects. You've got elements of a wilderness crawl, several deadly encounters & a butt load of goblin & humanoid encounters. Wiki actually has a pretty solid breakdown of the whole module;"It is intended for beginning gamemasters and 5-10 player characters of level 1-3.[1] The module contains around 20 encounters on the surface, a monastery, three dungeon levels and three new monsters."
So this adventure has been made for a large group of five to ten players?!? Which makes the adventure come off as a bit of a 'combat hog' ( a term often used in New England war gaming circles to indicate a combat situation which could bog down play for hours). In fact its got a completely different feel from 'Keep on The Borderlands' in terms of artwork, production values, & overall cohesiveness to the whole old school affair. This is also an adventure with a decidedly European pulpy flair as one of my American friends pointed out last night.

Some other very interesting things about 'Horror on the Hill' with a little work this adventure can be used to put PC's straight into the middle of a sword & sorcery fairy tale gone wrong setting. The dungeon master here is going to have to do a lot of work but with some customization work this isn't as bad as it sounds. The whole feel of the module has this sort of 'fairy tale' gone wrong or is it reality?! Something a friend suggested on the phone when we went over the module is that the forces of sorcery have been breaking things down & mutating the locals for some time. Some minor artifact of old has been unleashed within the last twenty years & slowly warping the locals in some very bad ways. The witch has been taking full advantage of this & bringing in several monsters from other realities.
"At the Fort, hardy bands of adventurers gather to plan their conquests of The Hill, the hulking mass that looms over this tiny settlement"

In Mystara the placement of 'Horror on the Hill 'by various hands reveals an interesting pattern. The adventure brings its placement that sharp interior fantasy Europe that we so often in D&D or AD&D campaigns. What this means is that DM's are using Horror on the Hill as a bridge gap for parties of adventurers to cross over from 1st to higher levels instead of simply using it as a first to third level advancement as the module was intended to do. This is being done because of the number of players that the module relies on. This isn't the first time I've had some commentary with 'Horror on The Hill'. 

So I've been thinking a lot about Horror on the Hill & how I would use it. There are several conclusions I've come to lately. The fact is that module might be used to help define a 'war with chaos' using local conditions that are 'on the ground' for players. The weird elements are clearly defined from easy encounters right up through the dragon at the end. There's a weird Saxon/Roman movie romantic feel to the artwork of 'Horror On The Hill' giving a not quite but close Arthurian or Russian pulp fairy tale feel to the module. This could be picked up and run with by the Dungeon Master.  How do I mean? Forget Michael Moorcock & let's plug into a far older chaos war. Perhaps Paul Anderson's Three Hearts & Three Lions background might be something that the dungeon master might want to pull from. What's giving me such an epic background for a beginning module is the number of players needed to pull Horror on the Hill off.

Surely that's going only be a one shot style of adventure? Umm no with the background of a world such as Hyperborea of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea we can mold the background of Horror on the Hill as we see fit. We have no ideas what's been taking place after the events of the Green Death plague.

Yes once again this is a clear point in which the DM is going to be setting the tone & placement of the adventure. This is something that happens time & again in campaigns but its up to the players to decide where & when their going to run with the adventure elements. The article Modules and adventures in Mystara is a clear example of this sort of thing.

The fact is that 'Horror on the Hill' could be mated up with Keep on the Borderland to create an over arching ruined fortresses on the edge of a crumbling empire sort of a feel. Something that has clear indicators for a game campaign world such as Dark Albion from which the PC's might be called back to deal with the War of the Roses events. In fact Dark Albion's Cults of Chaos could be used to add even more background to give 'Horror On The Hill' a bit more historical gravitas for players.

Horror on the Hill could be used to highly the pulpy transition from the run of the mill into the deep end of old school pulpy adventure with little effort. The DM is going to have to be willing to sacrifice a few PC's along the way because of its lethality but this is a module from the transition period of TSR. It has all of the old school deadliness we've come to expect.

Ten Ways That Horror On The Hill Can Work For You 

  1. Get the players into the deep end of your sword & sorcery world by providing local events of the past in an in your face way. 
  2. An easy location in Guido's Fort that can separate them easily from their hard earned gold. 
  3. Horror on the Hill could be used as a side quest for a group of experienced players and add a new faction or two for campaign direction 
  4. As an add on for a quest to pad things out with some pulpy adventure 
  5. To get the PC's into the thick of deadly pulpy humanoid action 
  6. Horror on the Hill makes a very nice post apocalyptic adventure with some adjustments for a slight twist to your old school wasteland adventures  
  7. Add in more pulp elements to bring the adventure into a sharper sword & sorcery focus such as a slightly different origin for the goblins for a game such as AS&SH 
  8. Add in more evil witches & covens with a Lovcraftian twist for a deadly cult of evil. Night Hags make excellent heads  heads of such cults. 
  9. This is an excellent adventure to add in some Clark Ashton Smith elements such as Gargoyles. Or  Averoigne elements to 'Horror On The Hill' 
  10. As a bridge gap for a Sword & Sorcery Greyhawk 

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