As a young man and fledgling Dungeon Master, I was always interested in adventure and Dragon Magazine articles dealing with city adventures. At that time, I lived in Staten Island, New York, which was (and likely still is) the most suburban of the New York City borough. I actually lived on the ground of an old World War I air force (before it became the Air Force) base converted in a sprawling mask of soccer fields for children and teens and housing an old hangar and an ice skating rink. If there is a grand avatar of suburbia, Miller Field nestled among New Dorp was it. I had gone into the city and been to other cities, but there was always an amazement of sensation in the city, and my young brain was having a hard time imagining, if not pulling off, running a city adventure.
When B6 The Veiled Society by Dave Cook wound its way to my hobby shop in 1984, I fretted on it for a bit. I loved the cover and the premise, but I was a bit of an AD&D snob, and this was for the basic line. Then again, Keep on the Borderland was part of that line, and I loved that adventure. But by my second or third trip to the game store, I was taking The Veiled Society home. It just had too much promise. Not only was it a city adventure, but it also offered this bit on the back cover.
“This special game adventure provides a section of paper buildings and figures to cut out and use, giving you three dimensions to your gameplay!”– The Veiled Society back cover
I was intrigued and revolted. I have and always have loved playing with miniatures and miniature setups. My imagination went wild with city streets detailed in miniatures, like a playable version of the miniatures displays in some old museum or some crazy model train setup like my uncle had. Revolted that you had to cut them out of the adventure. Maybe I could get dad to make photocopies.
By the time my daydream ended, I was home. I ripped the shrink of my new treasure and started reading.
The story was interesting but fraught with problems. I was about 13 at the time and was gaming with a group about the same age. There is a whole undercurrent of taxing the characters. The premise is that the characters are entering the city of Specularum in search of new fortunes. To get into the city walls, they must pay a tax of 8 sp (a portion of which goes into the guard’s pocket). After witnessing and maybe taking sides in a tussle on the streets, they need to find lodging for the night, which drains more capital, and they are also pickpocketed out of some of their coin.
Let’s just say my players would not play well with those circumstances—there would be tussles galore mere meters into Specularum. My players were fledgling libertarians without a clue, which meant I would either have to tone it down or prepare something akin to Wrestlemania without a script.
Luckily, the next morning they are offered patronage by two different factions within the city. Which gets us to the underlying plot of the various encounters packed with The Veiled Society. There are three factions within the city, run by three families: the Radu, Torenescu, and Vorloi. The Radu secretly run a crime racket called…you guessed it…the Veiled Society. Using skulduggery and violence, the Radu are trying to gain a greater grip on the town politics and turn the citizens against the Torenescu family, who are already in decline. The Vorloi become involved when the characters, upon take a job clearing out a local woman’s cellar of monster, find that the tunnels under her cellar lead to a dead body—one Lucia Fortunato (I imagine maiden name Vorloi, the there is some confusion in the text), the daughter of Fortunato Vorloi. While the death was at the Veiled Society’s hands, they have made it look like a Torenescu hit. There are clues, the characters aren’t accused of the death, but word gets out that the Torenescu were involved, and the mod, agitated by rabble-rousers, take to the street culminating in an anti-Torenescu riot. The characters have many options to deal with rioters and may find out that the rabble-rousers were Veiled Society plants.
The next day, the riot calms, but there is still tension within the city. One or more of the two factions engage the characters, and they can follow up on clues that they made have discovered at the murder site. This leads to various possible encounters that eventually lead them to uncover the Radu plot or even siding with the nefarious family (at the cost of Lawful characters becoming Chaotic).
Overall, it’s an ambitious adventure that taught me that city adventures were indeed complex. I think it took me three readings just to wrap my head around the plot and possibilities and to work out the confusion of names, events, and the sometimes-unhelpful adventure layout. But the encounters were interesting, for the most part, and the maps provided locations for the cut-out buildings, and the city will provide in the back…at least sort of. The foldouts in the back provided five buildings and one wall. If you didn’t make photocopies of the pages (as my impatient young self did not…and my dad not interested in using the photocopier at work to copy even more D&D stuff), the adventure provides only a fraction of what you need to set up the encounter areas. The first encounter map requires nine-building, the second nine and one wall, and the final one (if you ran it in one large area) required over fifty buildings and three walls. You could piece it together in smaller sections. Still, even if you doubled up and had 10 buildings and two walls, it was an endeavor to piece together the terrain needed to run the adventure. The buildings (and especially the chimneys on the building) were not particularly easy to build. But I made do, and we gave it a shot with my five buildings and one wall.
The result of the play was mixed. My players were far more interested in fighting than solving murder mysteries and quickly became frustrated with the paper buildings’ close quarters on a 10 feet per inch grid (I soon switched to 5 feet per 1 inch). One of the buildings was crushed, and the group ended up joining the Veiled Society.
More important than all those misadventures, The Veiled Society taught me important lessons about running a city adventure. Its episodic framework was an inspiration. It also taught me how to keep track of the various places that might pique the characters’ interest. And it provided this nugget of excellent table play.
“Allow the characters to visit places not shown on the maps. Have the player write down the name of the place, its location, and any important facts about it. If the character returns to this place, have the player remind you about the important details. This makes your job easier and encourages the players to pay attention and remember details.”The Veiled Society page 2
While sometimes I took the notes, this is an excellent method to deep play during a city adventure and spawn all sorts of side quests and follow-up plotlines.
Both the boondoggles of play and presenting such an ambitious storyline have inspired just about every city adventure I’ve ever run. It was formative.