Monday, November 7, 2016

Restenford and the Assassins Knot

It's taken me almost 6 years to get to the topic that inspired this bloggertation in the first place: the link between L1 Secret of Bone Hill and it's follow up L2 Assassin's Knot. Or, more specifically, how did the Lakofka's vision for L2 change between the writing of L1 and the final form of Assassin's Knot.

Garrotten: We're a suspicious lot.
For those of you not in the know, L2 starts off the day after Baron Grellus of Restenford has been murdered. Pelltar calls upon the PCs to investigate the matter because he's too high profile of a character to do the snooping himself. Plus he claims not to be interested in politics, even though we all know that he's been pulling the strings of Restenford for years now.

He may be too high profile to conduct the full investigation, but that doesn't stop him from inspecting the crime scene. And, fortunately, he's discovered three clues, each of which implicates, he believes, a separate person who was seen in Restenford on the night of the crime. Each of these suspects is a resident of the egregiously named town of Garrotten, a day's travel to the south. A search of the inns, drunk tanks, and brothels of Resty that morning turned up none of these gentlemen; clearly they've fled back to G-town one step ahead of the law. The case is ironclad, right?

Once the PCs travel down the coast to idyllic Garrotten which, as the name not so much implies so much as screams in gigantic, bright green neon letters, is home to a highly secretive assassins guild, will quickly learn that each of the suspects is a prominent, respected member of the community, Abraham the Innkeeper, Balmorrow the Theater Director, and Harpur the High Preist of Osprem. Each claims to have spent the entire day alone in their quarters and thus has no alibi, even though each lives in a communal residence in a small town where even a trip to the outhouse would fail to go unnoticed--it should be noted that the Garrottenford map is possibly the only published D&D material ever to include latrines. Surely at least a servant would have brought them their meals? Nonetheless, none of them has even the slightest motive to want the Baron dead, nor does any of them have the means to sneak into a castle and murder a dude who, despite being an incompetent ruler, is still a pretty tough fighter.

For those who don't know, here's the lowdown on the murder plot as written in L2 Assassin's Knot: the deranged abbot Qualton, suffering from psychosis induced by a psionic attack--how many D&D modules ever incorporated Psionics into the narrative?-- thinks that if he kills off the baron and marries his daughter, he'll get to be the replacement baron and move into Grellus's regal abode. So he makes contact with the assassins down in Garrotten. But since the Lord Mayor of Garrotten, who is actually a lady named Arness, is in bed with the assassin's guild--possibly literally?--she decides to use Qualton's plot to her own advantage. Ultimately, depending on the success of the PC's investigatory efforts, the assassins will kill off the Baron's wife and daughter and finally Qualton as well, leaving the Baron's seat empty for Arness to usurp. 

But by implicating three innocent and highly respected members of the community, the assassin has brought the focus of the investigation squarely onto G-town which is problematic for a few reasons:
  1. The assassin responsible for Grellus's murder is the head of the notorious guild of hitmen that gave Garrotten its name. Have you ever heard the expression don't shit where you eat? By extension, you should also not shit somewhere else and then intentionally leave a shit-stained trail of shit-scented footprints back to your dining room table.  Especially when...
  2. The baron's murderer is not only a professional assassin and CEO of the Garrotten A-guild, but also has a day job working as an advisor to Arrness, Lord Mayor of the town. Arrness is hoping to capitalize on the plot by filling the power vacuum created by the Baron's death--though let's be honest, he was never holding much power anyway. How pleased can she be that now, just as she is ready to set her putsch in motion, she has to deal with a team of investigators at her doorstep? Especially when...
  3. If the guild was looking for a scapegoat, they had the perfect patsy in the form of Qualton the Abbot, who, besides being thoroughly unstable--which they certainly must have learned when they vetted him as a client--is actually guilty of the crime since he hired the assassin in the first place! Frame him for his own misdeeds and let his psychosis shine through during the trial and your work is done for you; no one bothers casting a glance Garrotten-ward, despite its name.

But what really intrigues me is that evidence in the write-up in L1 indicates that the sequel was supposed to be set in Restenford itself, not in far flung G-town. A few clues exist that might give us an idea of Lakofka's original intent for the follow up module:
  1. Qualton, Abbot of Phaulkon, having lost his marbles because of a psionic attack, is intent on marrying the Baron's daughter in order to take over the Barony. His write-up in L1 specifically says to keep his lunacy under raps until L2. Clearly the PCs were intended to interact with this dude.
  2. In addition to his other real estate in town, Pelltar has a lease on the tower in the Baron's castle. There is specific language in the terms of the lease that allow him access to the tower even in the event of the Baron's death. Obviously this was meant to allow the action of L2 to seep into the castle. As an aside, what kind of landlord signs a lease with that kind of language in it?
  3. The dude in the bait shop is actually a spy for the Duke of Kroten. This has absolutely no bearing on anything in either L1 or L2 but I've always wondered if it was originally supposed to have some significance. Was he, in addition to spying for the Duke, the point man for the Guild? The guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who can get stuff done for a fee? If so, would the Duke have known about the assassination effort even before it happened, therefore making him complicit?
In L1 it seems obvious that it was Lakofka's original vision for the sequel that the PCs would be skulking about in Restenford looking for a killer, not racing off to Garrotten right away. The indication that Pelltar would have access to the tower at the Baron's "castle" even in the event of the Baron's death is only significant if the plan was to have someone taking hold of the Baron's throne right away; someone who does not want Pelltar seeking justice for the baron's murder. This implies that maybe Pelltar has to surreptitiously hire the PCs to investigate the crime. Which would make sense if Qualton did manage to take over the Barony; obviously it would be in his best interest to obstruct the investigation at every turn.

Perhaps the bait dealer was intended to be a red herring to distract them from the case. Or else the Duke of Kroten had some beef with Grellus, and his spy was gathering intell. Or maybe he doubles as the point of contact for the assassin's guild. And perhaps there was never meant to be an assassins guild--maybe it was supposed to be Kroten who took out Grellus. 

Or perhaps Fairwind, the Baroness, was in on the hit, having been humiliated by the milquetoast Grellus's continued incompetence. That actually makes more sense from a quick transition of power stance since Abbot Qualton's insane plot was never going to see him on the throne. But judging by her "haughty" ways and lawful neutral alignment, it seems more likely that she just wants to put as much distance as possible between herself and this backwater burg full of rabble rather than sully her footwear on the streets of Resty ever again.

My suspicion is that TSR decided that they didn't want to spread the adventure out over two separate publications which would have required aspiring DMs who bought L2 to then go out and acquire L1 in order to be able to run the thing. Admittedly, I woulda' been pretty freakin' annoyed if I'd had to do that back when I ran L2 in the 80s. Remember, in the pre-internet days you could only buy what your local supplier put on the shelves, so if they didn't have L1, you couldn't just go track it down on AbeBooks or wherever. So, in order to make L2 a self-contained module, they moved the action down the coast and left Restenford in the dust. And while I find this a bummer in that I think Assassin's Knot would have been a more interesting adventure if the Restenford angle were explored more deeply, this is somewhat offset in that we get a second, fleshed-out town setting on Lendore Island.