This wraps up my review of the "Slaver's Series" - A1-4. For the individual adventures that this supermodule is adapted from, look here:
A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity
A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade
A3 Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords
A4 In The Dungeons of the Slave Lords
There is also a special edition hardback out containing A1 - A4 plus a new adventure. I do not have that, but if ever get my hands on a copy I'll be sure to review that, too.
Speaking of reviews, if you like them, there are all linked on my reviews page.
A1-4 Scourge of the Slave Lords is one of the "supermodules" put together out of earlier adventures. This one assembles the slaver's series into a single volume.
The adventure opens with the assumption the PCs have completed T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil, and are now heroes. They're invited to a party by a noble woman, who gives them a desperate mission of mercy to go on. Naturally, as soon as they leave the manse it gets sacks by slavers and everyone carried off.
This is not a good adventure intro. Now, the PCs have two choices - complete the mission (and get punished for doing so, because this isn't a "Good" action) or give up and chase after the slavers. Instead of a mission with real meat on it - PCs getting hired by nobles and sent on their way to try and take out the slavers at minimum cost to their employers, they're guilted into the mission by the raid.
The railroading just starts there. After that, the road is strewn with clues pointing to Highport and the slave-pits of the undercity. Instead of letting the PCs make their way there, the module puts obstacles in their path in the form of slaver agents. If the PCs lose, they're tossed onto a ship and made to be slaves for a while before they are aided in an escape that puts them in Highport. If the PCs win those fights, they're automatically overwhelmed in a later fight and tossed onto a ship and made to be slaves for a while, etc.
Whenever the PCs either fail, or when the original modules would have aid from the (few) agents of the hiring lords, the PCs get bailed out by a conniving slavelord looking to overturn one of the other slavelords.
That addition actually makes a lot of sense, but the actual mechanisms of the plan (planted materials, aid to the PCs) tend to be a little obvious and overcomplicated. Basically, every chance the adventure has to give the players a lot of choices and an active mission with a plausible explanation of minimal support* the PCs get forced down a specific path. It's disappointing.
This is really too bad, because the connective tissue put before A1 and between A1-2, and 2-3 is good stuff. It makes the Drachensgrab Hills come alive, gives the Pomarj a feel of a dangerous area full of uneasy and ill-cooperating humanoids, and lets them use violence, bribery, or their wits to deal with any number of situations. One section - the Broken Rudder, an inn with lots of clues about the road ahead - are excellent set-pieces that invite good roleplayer and/or good tactics. It's just that whenever there is a chance to let the PCs find their own path the adventure chooses a ham-handed railroad.
The book also has a lot of little editing issues. These include errors, missing stats, assumptions that mix "the players have their own characters" and "the players are playing the tournament characters" that show where text was lifted without review from the originals.
The art is interesting. It's a mix of illustrations from the original modules and many new ones. The new ones seem like illustrations done over pictures, which a mix of photo-realism and clearly drawn elements. Overall, I'm not a fan of most of it. Even more oddly the picture of the slave lords changes the sex of several of the members (Lamonsten and Neralas become women) and the half-orc looks . . . just odd.
Overall, this isn't one I can recommend. For all the good, useful, and fun stuff in here, it's not one you would really want to run for a party. It is too much railroading for no good purpose, especially the set-up slave raid and the even-worse automatic capture to get the players into Highport.
For all my complaints, you'd expect I would have never run this.
But I did.
I ran it with AD&D for an Unearthed Arcana-era group. They never made it as far as Highport before the game broke up, although I didn't enslave them. I was actually kind of surprised to be reminded the module calls for that - I don't know if I was planning to use that or not. I didn't use it, though.
I later ran bits of this with my 3rd edition GURPS group back in the mid-90s. I moved the lot to the Forgotten Realms, put a slave ring outpost in the sewers under Waterdeep, and let the PCs at it. They took the slavers out and found clues leading to The Broken Rudder. They went there and had an epic fight, with several PC deaths and lots of NPC casualties. From there they found the clues to Highport and headed there. Once there, they went into A1 and never came back out. Well, some did, as slaves, and the campaign changes radically as half of the players dropped out.
At that point, I knew this was a bad railroad, so I wasn't planning on any forced slaver or deus ex machina assistance from NPCs. Had the PCs made it out of A1, they'd have had a chance to deal with A2 or A3 (they had enough clues in A1 to skip ahead) and go from there.
Like I said above, the expansion material is uniformly good. It's just how it's put together as a railroad is bad. If I were to run this, I'd get rid of Dame Gold (unless I just wanted to give the PCs an additional, personal reason to go), get rid of the alternate quest, and save A4 for the results of losing on the way.
It's not a bad pickup for the extra material - especially the Drachensgrab details - but the originals are better.
* These coastal nobles are also paying protection to the Slave Lords, so it makes sense they'd like a cheap and deniable solution like sending some expendable adventurers. Win if they succeed, nothing to lose if they fail.