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 out of the know, L2 starts off the day after Baron Grellus of Restenford has been murdered. Pelltar calls upon the PCs to run the investigation because he's too high profile of a character to be snooping around on his own. 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 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 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, a cursory investigation will quickly reveal that--despite the implausible fact that none of the three suspects has an alibi for the day before--each is a prominent, respected member of the community, 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. But by implicating these three, the assassin has brought the focus of the investigation squarely on G-town which is problematic for a few reasons:
  1. The assassin's guild responsible for Grellus's murder is located in Garrotten; hence the 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, besides being a professional assassin and CEO of the Garrotten guild, has a day job working as an advisor to Arrness, Lord Mayor of the town, who is hoping to capitalize on the plot by filling the power vacuum created by the Baron's death. How pleased can she be that now she has to deal with a team of investigators at her doorstep just as she is trying to set her putsch in motion? 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.

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 stylish castle.  So he contacts 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 occupy.

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. In his deranged state he sees no flaw in this plan.
  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, but 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.
In L1, it seems obvious that it was Lakofka's original vision that the PCs were supposed to be skulking about in Restenford looking for a killer, not wandering down to Garrotten. At least not right away. Perhaps the 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 to prepare for the hit.Or maybe he was the point of contact for the assassin's guild.

The bit about Pelltar's tower at the Baron's castle seems to indicate that the plan was to have someone in power right away; someone who would not want Pelltar to be 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.

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.