CAUTION: This series of articles contains many spoilers concerning the modules D1-3 and should only be read by DMs and those players who will not be actually playing through the series at any time in the future. Failure to observe this caution will lead to a marked lack of enjoyment in the adventures.
D2: The Shrine of the Kuo-Toa
This is, perhaps, one of the most perplexing and dangerous modules in the Descent series. It’s unclear as to just what the PC’s are expected to do in this module’s main encounter area, both from the perspective of the DM and the PC’s themselves. Are the gogglers to be smitten hip and thigh? Negotiated with? Bypassed or slunk past? Much of course depends on the style of play preferred by the gaming group in question, but, like all the modules in this series, an overly-aggressive party will soon find themselves overwhelmed.
The minor encounter areas are both of intense interest, and for completely opposite reasons. The first, with the mad ferryman Thoopship, is a fairly straightforward encounter that could be settled by either parley or violence. The most likely trouble the party will face is their lack of knowledge of the common tongue of the underworld. The module explicitly mentions the possibility of an interpreter, but declines to state where exactly one may be obtained. A charmed drow, perhaps? An ally, either among the drow or the illithids? The possibility is certainly there to make allies in module D1, as discussed in the previous article in this series. Aside from the obvious tactical problem of being swept down the Pitchy Flow towards the Sunless Sea (northwest on the map, incidentally), this encounter is pretty straightforward. While it’s best done by simple negotiation (if possible), a combat resolution is certainly not outside the realm of competent play.
The second minor encounter, with the Deep Gnomes, is perhaps the greatest single opportunity the PC’s will have in the entire series. They will explicitly agree to accompany the PC’s into the Shrine itself, have been scouting it out for at least some weeks, and are familiar with at least the basic layout not only of the shrine, but of the politics of the Depths as well. This is truly a boon, and only a completely incompetent party will manage to not get at least a little information from this encounter.
But it does bring up several questions. The Svirfneblin will agree to accompany the party in exchange for gems. But where, precisely, do they expect to gain those gems? We are told that the Deep Gnomes “hate the Kuo-Toa people as much as they despise the Drow”. And there are bowls of gems on the altars of Blibdoolpoolp, the half-crustacean deity of the Kuo-Toa, seemingly there for the taking. Here, I think, lies a trap secreted within a boon. The Deep Gnomes, I believe, would do everything in their power to guide the PC’s on a more aggressive path when it comes to the shrine. Trosli Garnetgetter, their leader, must not be a pushover. He, coming as he does “of a very respected family” would certainly not be a milquetoast when it came to questions of strategy. While he might not advocate an all-out assault on the shrine, he would, I believe, most certainly press for a hit-and-run attack on the central ziggurat, with the bowls of gems on the second and third altars. At the very least, were there thieves in the party (and there had better be, if they want to make it in the Depths), he would insist on a mission of stealth to liberate the gemstones from their fishy owners.
Naturally, this is not stated outright, but it is implied by the text. And it turns the Shrine into an encounter that could turn decidedly deadly, where it could have been as simple as walking through and finding the northwest exit. And, as such things go when they are done properly, it would be the PC’s conscious choice that turned the place into a deadly encounter rather than merely a tense one. After all, they don’t have to follow Trosli’s advice…
Once the PC’s trigger the gogglers to action (assuming they do), the spectacle of swarms of fish-men billowing forth from every passage should make them quail (motivated DM’s may wish to re-read H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” prior to running the module, to get some very nice atmospherics). The good news is that, once they escape the shrine, the kuo-toa are too disorganized to mount an effective search throughout the Depths. The bad news is that there are doubtless dozens of them between the PC’s and the exit they want…