Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Retrospective: Against the Cult of the Reptile God

Despite the fact that I rarely get to use them, I have a great fondness for low-level adventures. Even moreso, I have a great fondness for "sleepy little village is menaced by something bad" adventures. The paradigmatic example of this is Gary Gygax's The Village of Hommlet, which I praise at every opportunity, but there are many other examples of this well-worn genre of RPG scenario – too many, in the opinions of some.

I politely disagree, which is why I think kindly about Advanced Dungeons & Dragons module N1, Against the Cult of the Reptile God. Written by Douglas Niles and first published in 1982, this is, I believe, the last AD&D module to use this specific iteration of TSR's trade dress (a new one being introduced with Pharaoh later this same year). It's also a late entry in the period I've termed D&D's Golden Age and, as such, is more of a location based scenario than those of the nascent Silver Age (though not wholly, as we shall see). 

The adventure is set in the village of Orlane in the Gran March of the World of Greyhawk setting. Orlane was already a community in decline when an evil cult led by a spirit naga infiltrated it. The naga installed himself as "the Reptile God" in a dungeon in the local wilderness and set his cultists on the village. They then set about kidnapping villagers, taking them to their god, who uses his charm person ability to add them to his throng of brainwashed minions.Those who resist are slain and animated as zombies to serve as guardians of the naga's lair. 

The module largely consists of a series of location maps and keys, starting with the village of Orlane itself. Within the village, there are details of two different inns and a temple. Outside it, there are the two levels of the dungeon occupied by the cult. As written, the characters come to Orlane by rumors that something is not right in the town. Once there, they can gain additional rumors and clues by poking around and speaking with the villagers. With some work (and maybe a little luck), the characters should learn enough to make their way toward the lair of the spirit naga and put an end to his depredations.

Against the Cult of the Reptile God provides no "scenes" or set pieces or much of anything in the way of a plot beyond the one the characters create by interfering with the activities of the Reptile Cult. The closest the modules comes to that is a section detailing the activities of the cult independent of their own. Orlane is not a static environment and the cult does not simply stand in place waiting for the characters to come looking for them. One activity in which they might engage is kidnapping the characters, should they stay at a certain inn within the village, in which case one or more of them might wind up imprisoned or enthralled by the naga. Even so, this is a far cry from the heavy-handed story-driven approach seen in later AD&D modules.

The approach Niles adopts throughout is one I've come to appreciate more as the years have worn on. He trusts the players to figure out what's happening in Orlane and to act accordingly, just as he trusts the DM to be able to handle the various moving parts of the local situation without the need for explicit instructions on how to do so. N1 may be a beginning level module but it nevertheless doesn't treat its readers like children. It's little wonder why it earned an entry on the list of the 30 Greatest D&D Adventures of All Time.


  1. I always had a soft spot for this module. I don't know why. Only ran it a couple of times, but for some reason, it just strikes me as a really good module for beginning PCs. In fact, one could with a little tinkering make a connection with the cult in Orlane with the Temple of Elemental Evil. Maybe the naga is affiliated with the Water faction, and is using her abilities to create more worshipers. which in turn is an attempt to tip the scales in their favor for control of the temple. BTW, good to see you back. Always loved the blog.

  2. I am looking through this one right now, as a follow on for a party that successfully prosecuted action against Lareth in the moathouse. A good follow on, in my opinion.