In my A Game Per Year project, my goal has been to read one roleplaying game corebook for every year they’ve been published. However, I soon started to feel that it was hard to decipher how the games were really meant to be played. For this reason, I decided to start a parallel project, An Adventure Per Year, to read one roleplaying adventure for each year they’ve been published.
The context of this adventure requires a bit of explaining. It’s published for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition and its Forgotten Realms setting. Around that time, in 1990, the world of Forgotten Realms expanded with the use of “sub-settings” that showcased new lands.
The core Forgotten Realms is basic high fantasy where pretty much every cliché is present in some form. Across the ocean to the west, the setting was expanded with Maztica, a sub-setting modeled after Mayan, Aztec and Inca cultures. To the south was Zakhara, the land of the Al-Quadim campaign setting, based on Arabic cultures. In the far east, there’s Kara-Tur, a Chinese and Japanese -inspired setting. And between Kara-Tur and baseline Forgotten Realms stands the Horde, a sub-setting based on the Mongols.
Storm Riders is the first adventure published to support the Horde setting. It features a group of adventurers landing in Ra-Khati, analogous to Tibet. They discover that the local custom states that strangers can never leave, because otherwise they’d reveal the secrets of the wealthy Ra-Khati to greedy conquerors.
At the same time, the Tuigan (i.e. Mongol) army is on the march, although it’s not clear whether their intentions towards Ra-Khati are really hostile. To make matters more complicated, the Ra-Khati leader, called Dalai Lama, is under the impression that the approaching army belongs to their old enemy Solon.
To stop the invasion, Dalai Lama enlists the player characters to escort his daughter and a magnificent black stallion to Solon as a bribe.
From a design perspective, much of the adventure consists of little morality tests, usually heralded by faux-Buddhist sayings, like this one:
learn no lessons
Often, if the player characters make a selfish choice, fail to figure out the situation or otherwise make a mistake, they get cursed or otherwise punished.
In the realm of railroading technique, the adventure features a few outstanding ideas. The first is a spell called The Karma Curse, employed by Dalai Lama, which punishes the player characters if they stray from the agreement. The second, even more striking one occurs near the end when the characters are trying to ascend the Sacred Mountain of Kushk. If they go in the wrong direction, they’ll start to literally fade from existence!