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Acting Up In Lankhmar: A Retrospective

“Acting Up In Lankhmar” by Michael Curtis might just pip Harley Stroh’s “Tower of the Black Pearl” to the crown when it comes to adventures that I’ve run most at conventions. Indeed, I ran it again at this weekend’s Virtual Gary Con.

As per usual, it was a thoroughly entertaining and completely different kind of RPG romp. I think “Acting Up” might even be my favourite RPG adventure of all time. High praise indeed.

So, what’s so great about it?

Well, it’s the perfect length for a convention game. A neat three and a half hours was sufficient to run it today. Yes, I cut a few corners (a couple of burglars failed to put in an appearance) but it’s very doable in a con slot. Also from a convention perspective, it features a map which needs neither to be drawn on the fly nor progressively revealed. The entirety of the map is available to the players right from the start.

Let’s go back a step though, to the basic premise of the module:

An acting troupe in Lankhmar is putting on a play which pokes fun at a well known and pompous noble. Duke Borvat (skewered in the play as Duke Hogfat) gets wind of their plan and in a fit of egomania and anger, promises to “end both the play and the players”.

Enter our heroes from stage left.

Hired to protect the theatre and the actors during the performance, the party are likely to spend the first part of the session familiarising themselves with the layout of the theatre, which is spread across three levels – main auditorium, basement and fly loft above the stage.

Predictably, the party usually spends their time identifying the access points to the building and either guarding these or securing them. Indeed, while some of the threats do enter the theatre through traditional entry points, not every threat does. The watershed moment in this adventure for me is when – every time – the party realises that some of the threats are already in situ in the audience.

There are a couple of elements in the design of this adventure that make it stand out for me.

Firstly, it’s not a dungeon crawl. I mean, I like a dungeon crawl probably more than any other type of adventure but this is very much NOT a dungeon crawl.It all takes place in a theatre. Instead of inflitrating a building, the players have the not inconsiderable task of making sure that the bad guys don’t infiltrate the building.

Secondly, it actively encourages splitting the party. In order to address all of the threats that arise during the course of the play, the party are forced to spread their meagre resources thinly. Someone needs to deal with the brawling hard men creating a diversion in the plaza outside the theatre while other party members are forced to deal with a spreading blaze, started at the same time by arsonists in the theatre cellar.

On top of all of this, the party has to consider how their actions affect the mood of the crowd, with a five point mood scale ranging from “Ecstatic” to “Surly” being used to track the audience mood as events unfold. If the audience mood ever reaches “Surly” then a riot breaks out and the party has failed in it’s task because the play is disrupted so much that it can’t continue.

Finally, there is a brilliant segment of the adventure where two adventurers are press-ganged into replacing two poisoned actors on stage, resulting in them having to act the part and read the lines of the characters in the play while the remaining party members search for and confront the poisoner in the audience.

A grand finale, including the arrival of a couple of sorcerors who conjure up swarming rats and gas clouds, along with the maligned Duke himself ratchet up the tension and drive the final act to a crescendo of action.

Every time I’ve run this adventure, I’ve used Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar to run it. In reality, with very little tweaking it could be run in any RPG system, including Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition.

The beauty of this adventure is how different it is and how unpredictable the events are. Watching the party dash from one end of the theatre to the other to deal with ever more disruptive events is a joy to behold.

A warning to anyone who is planning to run this though – it’s not an easy run. I consider myself to be quite an experienced DM at this point but it does present challenges, not least of all running a party that is split across multiple locations in the building and more importantly (with the noise of a theatre show and it’s audience as a backdrop) a party who may not be able to easily make each other aware of what is going on. It’s an adventure which could overwhelm a poorly co-ordinated party fairly quickly.

That said, buy it, read it and run it. It’s possibly the finest adventure I’ve ever run for any RPG system.

Return of the DM View All

I am a 40 something DM/GM located in Scotland. In 2016, I rediscovered the joys of tabletop role-playing games. This blog documents my journey back into the fold.

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