Wednesday, August 17, 2011
In some respects, module D2 is very similar to its predecessor, lacking in an explicit plot and filled with a lot of random tables for generating encounters with the denizens of the subterranean world as the PCs continue their quest to find the city of the drow. Where it differs is that Shrine of the Kuo-Toa describes in detail a single eponymous locale, which is intended to be the focus of play. Module D1 had the Caverns and Warrens of the Troglodytes, of course, and they certainly qualify as adventuring locales, but they lack the coherence of the Shrine in my opinion. Players remember the Caverns and Warrens as "just a bunch of caves" populated by a wide variety of monsters, whereas the Shrine is not only held by a single type of monster -- the kuo-toa -- but is clearly important to them, so important that they will mount an organized and determined defense of it against the PCs and their allies.
These allies are another important part of what differentiates modules D1 and D2. The deep gnomes (or svirfneblin) of D2 are presented as determined foes of the kuo-toa and thus potential aids to the player characters in their own efforts. Their motivation is primarily greed, as they've played out all the veins of gems that can be obtained easily and wish to gain more from the area of the Shrine, either by prospecting or, if possible, theft. The deep gnomes are potent enemies, some of whom can summon earth elementals to do their bidding, but they're also suspicious of outsiders. Convincing them to help the PCs is thus an important means of achieving success in this adventure, though it's worth noting that Gygax devotes very little verbiage to it.
The Shrine itself is terrific: a ziggurat-like structure filled with kuo-toa, including many clerical spellcasters (which only makes sense, as it's a religious location). It's here that we first catch glimpses of the awesomely-named Blibdoolpoolp, the Sea Mother of the kuo-toa. Again, Gygax displays his appreciation of the power of names. Blibdoolpoolp is not just a memorably absurd name; it's also one that sounds like it could be uttered by alien lips immersed in water. And the appearance of a nude statuesque woman with the head and claws of a lobster is an inspired way to portray this deity -- alluring and repellant at the same time. I'm not ashamed to admit that, as a kid, I found Blibdoolpoolp quite disturbing and, on some level, I still do.
Shrine of the Kuo-Toa isn't as good as Vault of the Drow, but it's still very good. It presents a well-realized locale that inspires as much as it describes. There can be little question why, like the drow, the kuo-toa are remembered as among the most interesting antagonists AD&D ever placed in the path of adventurers. I am frankly grateful that, more than three decades later, this module remains one of the only places where the kuo-toa are discussed at any length. Unlike the drow, there's still mystery associated with them and I'm sure that contributes greatly to my liking of D2, one of Gary Gygax's finest creations.