De-Imperialisming Blackwall Keep: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying...


Age of Worms Adventure Path


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Of all of Paizo's many strengths and weaknesses, particularly discordant has always been their attempts to master the portrayal of different cultures. It's not easy—Paizo is pretty racially and ethnically homogeneous, and has been for many years. They, like myself, have very understandable blind spots. It's not always easy to catch those before a magazine goes to print!

I've experienced a lot of this firsthand as a player in Serpent's Skull. I think part of it comes from Paizo's general love for racist pulp magazine stories—mind you, they do try to cut that racism out and just leave the "fun stuff", but a lot of those magazine stories were just inherently problematic. Irredeemable, even. You can't tell a story about a bunch of Europeans busting into Africa looking for treasure and not have them be the villains without telling an imperialist narrative, even if they do their best to only kill a few Mwangi abolitionist extremists what the hell Serpent's Skull.

*Ahem*

Sorry. This isn't about Serpent's Skull. This is about Lizard's Skull lizardfolk. You know, that species that's always sorta existed as this coded "here's the savage spear-chucking tribal cannibals" elephant in the room throughout every edition. Well, Age of Worms has a whole chapter about these guys.

And you kill a s+%&ton of them. I do not exaggerate: Encounter at Blackwall Keep has, beyond a doubt, the highest assortment of nonevil casualties in the entire AP—and that's including all the elementals, vermin and constructs! You are encouraged to mow down dozens of True Neutral lizardfolk simply because they've been misled by a pair of colonizing influences—a lizardfolk ex-slave from the Free City and a big old dragon.

It's awkward, obviously. And it gets more awkward when you consider that this is one of the easiest adventures in the entire AP—against a well-optimized party, these dozens of lizardfolk are almost totally helpless. When I said "mowed down", I meant it. You are basically massacring a pretty good portion of a pretty good-sized tribe whose only crime is not really being a fan of entire generations of hatchlings being killed in their eggs.

I'm going to be running this game again sometime soon, and when I do, I don't want to deal with this s+&%. Last time I ran it, my players felt uncomfortable, and so did I—back then, I actually ended up handwaving things so they could establish a truce before the casualties climbed into the forties.

Now, here's the thing.

It's actually a pretty progressive adventure.

The lizardfolk aren't evil. They aren't even exactly "misguided savages". I think Paizo even came close to avoiding the Noble Savage trope in places. These lizardfolk have legitimate grievances, but are misinformed about where the blame lies. There are moderates within the tribe who will work with the PCs to bring down the leader of this attack, and the leader isn't from the tribe—he's essentially an urban agent who's been installed as a puppet leader to guide the tribe towards destruction. It's actually a pretty good effort at making a two-sided conflict for players to wrestle with.

Unfortunately, it's still a D&D adventure, and so the scaly guys still gotta be the fodder. And it arguably actually makes things worse that the lizardfolk are as justified as they are—you end up converting a lot of innocent people into XP.

But I don't use XP. If I want to turn the entire first half of Encounter at Blackwall Keep into an open-ended intrigue, there's nothing stopping me.

So that's what this thread is about: Fixing Encounter at Blackwall Keep to cut back on the genocide. And if not...well, this will be how I learned to stop worrying and love the worms.


There are other adventures in D&D where someone is mislead, and has to die because of it. I do get where you are coming from. What you can do is write in some clue to let the players know the lizardfolk are being misled, and have them be open enough to discussion so that the players dont have to fight them. From the way I remember it as being written they were not too open to discussion.

Sometimes even neutral people end up on the wrong(bad) team. At least this way it can be an acceptable loss vs them just being XP fodder for those that use XP. I don't XP either.

PS: I never really aligned the lizardfolk with spear chucking natives, but I do see your point.


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So, the first thing that strikes me is this picture. The first thing I thought—what got this whole ball rolling, actually—was the idea, "What if I could just show this awesome art to my players?"

And that evolved to, "What if this is the first thing my PCs see? What if they actually come right upon the leaders of the attack?"

From the adventure: As the PCs and Allustan cover the last stretch of the southbound trail, they notice an increase in the number of flies and the smell of a battle—smoke and blood. Earlier this morning a large number of lizardfolk surrounded and attacked Blackwall Keep. Both sides inflicted casualties, and by the time the PCs arrive the lizardfolk have pulled back, regrouped, and are preparing for their next sortie against the keep.

For my notes: The smoke and blood gives way to a stronger, boggier stench as you round the hill and stop in your tracks. Straight ahead in the dim twilight, you finally see Blackwall Keep. Every arrow slit glimmers with torchlight from within the dark, imposing tower. Campfires blaze all around the base of the tower, manned by reptilian humanoids who are armed and decorated for battle. Bog iron weapons glitter, some stained with blood. There are almost twenty warriors surrounding the tower, though many look severely injured.

And you have arrived directly behind the main encampment. Ahead of you, you see six of the scaly creatures crouched behind cover, poring over what looks like a map. They are taking heavy fire—as you watch, an arrow flies into the shoulder of one of them. The evident leader, a particularly large lizardfolk with a gleaming iron shield, moves to block further shots. It is clear that their side is somewhat getting the worse of things.

Kushak, N lizardfolk warrior 4, is leading this excursion against the soldiers of Blackwall Keep. He is the one who moved to block the arrows. If he notices the party, he attempts to ask them to clarify their intent—he has no wish to make new enemies (and unless it's a human-only party, the PCs probably don't look like standard reinforcements), but he's understandably suspicious. Unfortunately, Kushak only speaks Draconic, which might be a barrier.

If the PCs manage to communicate with Kushak, or manage to reach Shesht, NE lizardfolk druid 3 (who does speak Common), they can learn the truth: The lizardfolk are suffering from a blight of green worms, and they have reason to believe that the Keep contains the source. Unable to persuade the soldiers to allow them to investigate the Keep and find proof, they have been forced to resort to open battle—unfortunate, as thanks to the worms killing most of the previous generation, almost all of their current warriors are old and past their prime. They can no longer sustain a siege against the better-supplied humans.

They will ask for the PCs' assistance in capturing the Keep. The PCs can certainly choose to attack Blackwall Keep directly, but the solution they will ideally gravitate towards is getting the soldiers' point of view via a parlay. From this, they will learn the soldiers' grievances: One of their number has gone missing in the swamps, and they think the lizardfolk are to blame. They will not cooperate until the mage is returned.

Prior to this battle, Marzena went out to consult with various lizardfolk experts regarding her own studies about the worms. When she tried to visit Hishka, the shaman of the Twisted Branch tribe, the King and his kobold allies realized that the Jig Might Be Up. Through her consultations, Marzena knew enough to incriminate Ilthane. Thinking fast, the kobold rogues framed Marzena (and possibly infected her with worms, but I haven't decided whether I want to kill her yet). This, plus Ilthane's "tips" that the humans are up to something, has solidified in the tribe a need to investigate Blackwall Keep. I might rewrite this bit—I kinda like the idea that Marzena really was infected before she arrived here.

The thing is, the lizardfolk aren't exactly wrong. The guards of the Keep know more than they're telling. A few years ago, their captain met with a cleric from the Free City named Bozal Zahol. Let's just say there's a reason a ragtag little watchtower has been so well-supplied lately.

More to come!


wraithstrike wrote:

There are other adventures in D&D where someone is mislead, and has to die because of it. I do get where you are coming from. What you can do is write in some clue to let the players know the lizardfolk are being misled, and have them be open enough to discussion so that the players dont have to fight them. From the way I remember it as being written they were not too open to discussion.

Sometimes even neutral people end up on the wrong(bad) team. At least this way it can be an acceptable loss vs them just being XP fodder for those that use XP. I don't XP either.

PS: I never really aligned the lizardfolk with spear chucking natives, but I do see your point.

Here's the thing: I'm fine with the PCs tragically killing a few innocents who were misled into fighting aforementioned PCs. Seems like kinda a paladin thread waiting to happen, but it does lead to interesting roleplay. And I've played in multiple fun adventures where you are forced to answer the question, "Is it always okay to kill the person who tries to kill me?" Hell, the final installment of Age of worms asks that question with a frickin' Lawful Evil character.

But there's a big difference between, "Oh, no, I killed a guy who was misguided" and, "Oh, no, I killed 50 guys who were misguided". The former encourages you to focus on the tragedy. The latter? It sort of doesn't. You get numbed to it. You have no chance to think about how sad it is that Lizardfolk #23 is dead, and the adventure certainly doesn't try to get you to examine how you murdered dozens of innocent people over a basic mix-up. It never really comes up again.

Liberty's Edge

Don't have any thoughts right now, but this is a good project.

Scarab Sages

I am glad I a came across this thread as I am about to run some player through the whispering cairn soon. So seeing how other GMs handle the emotional roller coaster of what is mass murder and the entire party becomes evil. Due to slaughtering innocents. I am am still trying to wrap my head around three faces of evil and the tragedy that is to piece together but that's something for another thread.


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber
Phoenix1990 wrote:
I am glad I a came across this thread as I am about to run some player through the whispering cairn soon. So seeing how other GMs handle the emotional roller coaster of what is mass murder and the entire party becomes evil. Due to slaughtering innocents. I am am still trying to wrap my head around three faces of evil and the tragedy that is to piece together but that's something for another thread.

I think you might want to lighten up on that "innocents" thing. The lizardfolk may be dupes, but they're aggressively attacking people who are not in the slightest way responsible for the lizardfolk's plight. PCs shouldn't be penalized for responding to the situation in good faith as it appears and fighting the lizardfolk at the keep nor fighting to rescue captives that will meet a cruel end.

If GMs want to play up the conflict between lizardfolk factions, it's pretty easy to have a couple of lizardfolk actually surrender at the keep (or survive the defeat, at least) and be able to provide information that the PCs can then exploit to keep casualties lower on both sides.

Scarab Sages

I was planning on having the PCs encounter some of the other lizardfolk tribes along the way so that the PCs may have some information on the new militaristic line the twisted branch has taken recently as it may have not always been known as the twisted branch. But I can do concede innocent may have been a strong word to use.


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Yeah, the major problem is that the lizardfolk are placed as the villains. It was a deliberate choice by the game designers to frame the adventure in such a way that the PCs are encouraged to take the soldiers' side and kill quite a large number of lizardfolk. In reality, the soldiers are roughly as complicit in the worm problem as the lizardfolk are (they are literally sheltering a spawn of Kyuss in their basement, for crying out loud), but the adventure treats the imperialist soldiers like gray-morality questgivers and the native lizardfolk like encounters to defeat.

I do also think there are missteps with "here are the good lizardfolk, and here are the bad lizardfolk" as a narrative "fix". The thing is, that dichotomy isn't new. The "Arawak/Carib" dichotomy was basically two made up terms being randomly applied to whichever tribe or nation the Spanish colonizers liked/didn't like to justify varying shades of diplomacy or conquering. "Arawaks are the good, reasonable Noble Savages, and Caribs are the brutal cannibals who are only good as slaves." In reality, "Caribs" didn't even really exist to begin with, and the vast majority of tribes the colonizers called "Arawak" or "Carib" were different peoples altogether. It'd be like if we boiled down all of the USA to "the savage, hostile Texans" and "the mellow, friendly Caliradoans".

So while the adventure does encourage you to highlight that the Twisted Branch is being unusually hostile by the standards of the local tribes, that's not actually a great remedy for the imperialism. All it does is make the PCs feel better about killing a lot of enemy warriors whose main crime is just assuming that the weird unexplained blight of worms wiping out their children is caused by the soldiers of Blackwall Keep, rather than the dragon who's supposed to be helping them.


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

As complicit? The soldiers aren't complicit at all. They're not sheltering a spawn of Kyuss, they're imprisoning it and are reluctant to try to kill it because it was, until recently, a comrade.

I'm also not really seeing imperialism as a problem since the backstory of the keep is it's there in response to raiding action from the lizardfolk. That may fit a technical definition of imperialism, but if the alternative is to leave the farms and trade routes vulnerable to violence from the lizardfolk, I'm not seeing a problem. There doesn't seem to be any indication of actively colonizing the Mistmarsh, so any parallels between Spaniards colonizing the New World are tenuous at best.


1. The soldiers being reluctant to try to kill it because it used to be one of their own is literally sheltering it. Think about it: If the lizardfolk were hiding worm-infested friends of theirs, the adventure would be about putting a stop to such selfishness. And EaBWK is itself fully aware that the soldiers are in the wrong here (it just fails to follow the logical progression to "maybe we shouldn't default to lizardfolk being the baddies when the humans are behaving arguably worse"), so I'm not sure why you're defending them for it.

2. The soldiers fail to alert the PCs to the problem when the PCs first arrive. That's just flat-out irresponsible.

Mind you, they aren't "in league" with the spawn of Kyuss. They're just idiots who value the lives of their brethren above those of the lizardfolk. But they are absolutely sheltering it. They are trying to find a means to "cure" it and/or hoping it just dies on its own. It's understandable, but is the lizardfolk making a deal with a black dragon to try to save a few hundred children really any worse? Both groups are misunderstanding the danger and, in the process, making things more dangerous for everyone involved.

Anyways, Blackwall Keep is there because the lizardfolk are raiding villages because the Free City is encroaching on their territory. That's why Hishka wants to draft a treaty, remember? There's a reason the lizardfolk assume that the Free City is responsible for the worms—the humans already have a history of polluting lands with alchemical experiments.


Here's a pretty key quote from the adventure summary.

Encounter at Blackwall Keep wrote:
With their increased numbers and the dragon’s support, the lizardfolk hope to amass an army that can threaten the expansionist Free City, stalling further encroachment on their homeland and exacting revenge for the terrible blight upon their eggs.

This is textbook imperialism. The lizardfolk aren't just being marauding a+~!$+!s—they are actively trying to chase the colonists out.

Scarab Sages

I like your idea Kobold of having the party come over the hill and see the lizard-folk regrouping after the initial assault earlier that day. The leader seeing a group of what could be not all humans and maybe realising that these are not reinforcements and people that may listen. If you have a group open to the idea of role-playing. Otherwise I can see many groups picking up weapons and quickly dispatching this group and be none the wiser of why these lizard folk are A) Old and B) Suicide against a fairly large keep.


Oh, sure, you gotta know your group. Luckily, my particular group is gonna contain a lizardfolk druid, so I can afford to take some chances (like the language barrier). If you want to avoid combat with a more hack-and-slash group, I might recommend Kushak actually greet the PCs in Common.


As a most tangential sidenote, I hate how it turns out that Marzena knows basically nothing of note, so I'm definitely gonna be giving her some proper intel she picked up from the shamans in the area. Because, come on, nobody likes a wild goose chase.

Grand Lodge

Imo, you can't really blame the PCs for killing all those lizardfolk if they were the aggressors and they had no way of knowing that the lizardfolk were being manipulated/misled.

And if they do know, do other people not carry non-lethal weapons specifically for situations like this? I carry a sap on just about every one of my PCs specifically so I have a non-lethal fall back for people who aren't "evil" but are still trying to kill us at the moment for one reason or another.


This isn't about blaming the PCs. It's about the way the adventure is designed to support a s+~*ty imperialist message. The PCs can't be blamed for playing the parts the adventure designs for them.

Scarab Sages

There is always more than one way to solve a problem I just don't like it how the first solution is violence. I will try and gear my players towords uncovering the truth but if they want to swing and get killed by a platoon of scalies then they go ahead. I have also beefed up the scalies using the entries found in 5e monster manual. As that is now my preferred system.

Grand Lodge

I guess I just don't see it as a pro imperialist message. I just see a s!%+ty situation in which a group of people has been misled into violence and its caused an absolute bloodbath. Its not like the PCs are intentionally going to kill the natives for their land or wealth.

The lizardfolk are legitimately the aggressors towards the PCs, are they not? If they're the ones swinging first because they see non-lizardfolk they seem like intolerant racists. Just because they're the natives doesn't mean they're blameless good guys. You can have natives be the bad guys without it being Pro Imperialist Dogma.


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber
Kobold Cleaver wrote:

Here's a pretty key quote from the adventure summary.

Encounter at Blackwall Keep wrote:
With their increased numbers and the dragon’s support, the lizardfolk hope to amass an army that can threaten the expansionist Free City, stalling further encroachment on their homeland and exacting revenge for the terrible blight upon their eggs.

This is textbook imperialism. The lizardfolk aren't just being marauding a*$~$%@s—they are actively trying to chase the colonists out.

That's assuming you actually believe that point of view is based on objective reality or part of the incitement promulgated by the dragon. There's no indication this is a widely held sentiment among other lizardfolk tribes. The other lizardfolk on the likely encounter list are substantially more willing to assume a peaceful posture and share info.


If the Free City has encroachment that needs to be stalled, that's not a "relative perception". It's just a literal fact: The Free City is encroaching on the Twisted Branch's territory. This was likely a problem long before the other lizardfolk tribes became more peaceful, and certainly long before the worm blight re-polarized the Twisted Branch against the colonists.

"Further encroachment on their homeland" isn't phrased as the statement of an unreliable narrator. It's just stated as a fact that the lizardfolk want to stall the encroachment. And it is rather difficult for natives to be delusional about encroachment—they would know. It's their land. As there is nothing in the text to suggest that they are simply deluded about their own territory (and if they were, it would certainly support my assertion that the adventure is negative towards natives who do not passively accept "westernized" presences), it makes much more sense to assume that the encroachment is genuine. To assume anything else is to make a leap of logic without any evidence, which makes me wonder why you're so determined to make these leaps.

The fact that many lizardfolk tribes are nonaggressive does not prove that there is no encroachment. In fact, it is actually fairly heavily implied that the only reason the tribes stopped their raids on the colonists is the presence of heavily-armed keeps outside their swamp. Them being nonviolent doesn't mean they're totally cool with the humans—all it means is that they have, for whatever reason, chosen to mind their own business for now. Many native nations in real life chose this route out of self-preservation. Would you use their nonviolence as proof that the land rightfully belonged to the Europeans all along?

Jurassic Pratt wrote:
The lizardfolk are legitimately the aggressors towards the PCs, are they not? If they're the ones swinging first because they see non-lizardfolk they seem like intolerant racists. Just because they're the natives doesn't mean they're blameless good guys. You can have natives be the bad guys without it being Pro Imperialist Dogma.

Well, er, not really? A story that frames the imperialists as the victims of needlessly hostile natives who need to be exterminated is inherently pro-imperialist. Anyways, I get the sense you haven't played in or run this adventure, so I don't think I'm going to continue this conversation with you.

For those who didn't come here to argue, I'll look to post more brainstorming about Hishka and Marzena later today!


Look, I think you're over analyzing it. 0:50 - 0:55 "The bad guys are snakes and the good guys are army people".

How hard is that?

Also, maybe there's a more interesting backstory. Maybe before the lizardfolk were there, a happy tribe of troglodytes called this home?

As hard as it seems to rework the adventure to be definitely non-imperialist (given your base assumptions), just roll with it. Or give the lizardfolk more punch.

It's a game, not a didactic tool of reeducation to make players sensitive to imagined disadvantaged people groups.


Actually, it's media. It's storytelling. I get that a lot of people are very hostile towards looking at the values of our media critically, and I get that people who aren't as much into the roleplay will probably be satisfied with, "The badguys are monsters and the good guys are adventurers," but anyone who is into the roleplay has to acknowledge that they are participating in a story. Every story has political values, and sometimes, those political values are garbage. If you don't want to hear about them and prefer to turn your brain off when you game, that's fine, but maybe don't drop into threads you know will piss you off.


Let me preface this, by saying I haven't read or run Age of Worms.
Therefore I have nothing against changing part of the AP, if anyone (or Cleaver in this instance) wants to do so. I would even recommend doing so, if anyone at the table is uncomfortable with any aspect of an AP, as its written.

No, my problem is more with the words being throw around, such as "Imperialism" and "Colonialism", as these are terms that really should be use very concretely, and be given full context when used as to what's meant with their usage.

Now, I'm a failed History Major, so when I see "Imperialism", my first thought is what do this person mean?
So I picked up my " A history of world societies by Mckay, Hill Buckler and Ebrey" (which, for those interested, is an introduction to world history from roughly 3000 B.C.E to 2005ish) flipped to the index and looked up Imperialism...
Then I quickly skimmed through the entries and something struck me, the damn book doesn't define it!
It did however jog my memory to the most broad definition of "Imperialism"
It is basically a country's (or societies) extending of their own power (and influence) through the acquisition of other territories through the use of force, influence or other means.

Thus Imperialism in terms of Pathfinder would be every nation, society or other groups, that has conquered, subjugated or otherwise acquired territory with the purpose of strengthening their own powerbase.
The creation of Lastwall -> Imperialism
Qadira's invasion of Osirion -> Imperialism
I think you get the picture...

So if the premise is that this "Free City" has constructed a fort on foreign territory with the express purpose of controlling the area...
then yes, it is a case of "Imperialism".


Kobold Cleaver wrote:

Actually, it's media. It's storytelling. I get that a lot of people are very hostile towards looking at the values of our media critically, and I get that people who aren't as much into the roleplay will probably be satisfied with, "The badguys are monsters and the good guys are adventurers," but anyone who is into the roleplay has to acknowledge that they are participating in a story. Every story has political values, and sometimes, those political values are garbage. If you don't want to hear about them and prefer to turn your brain off when you game, that's fine, but maybe don't drop into threads you know will piss you off.

... {and from the OP}
So that's what this thread is about: Fixing Encounter at Blackwall Keep to cut back on the genocide.

I provided two solutions that speak directly to the OP.

1) Maybe the lizardfolk aren't so innocent themselves. Maybe it was bullywugs they beat the #### out of to live there in the swamp. IRL imperialism worked, to the extent that it did, because of internecine conflicts making the locals easy prey - by other locals or by true cultural outsiders.

2) Give the lizardfolk more punch so that any potential confrontations aren't genocide. Along this line was
Callum's solution, "I changed all the lizardfolk to blackscale lizardfolk, from the Monster Manual III." and
Dm vs Halfling horde's solution, "I gave all the lizardmen one barbarian level. With the added rage ability they were defeatable but definitely not easy."
There was even a suggestion by someone named Kobold Cleaver back in March of 2015, "I suggest you give each lizardfolk a ranger level or the like, depending on how well-optimized the PCs are."
And/or a thousand variations on this theme.

How hard is that?

As for the values of our media and critical thinking. Sure "sometimes, those political values are garbage".

But you're talking about a game in which expressly evil PCs are a thing. Not the result of some cursed item or other narrative accident but the player's and (by complicit will) the GM's choice.

So this side discussion on the politics of media confuses me. Do you want help understanding how to cut back on the apparent inevitable genocide at Blackwall Keep or hammer out a thesis for a college paper?


Quark Blast wrote:
So this side discussion on the politics of media confuses me.

You complained that I was overanalyzing the politics of the story because "it's just a game", so I had to address that complaint before I could go forward. Don't sow grass seeds and then complain when grass sprouts. :P

Quark Blast wrote:
1) Maybe the lizardfolk aren't so innocent themselves. Maybe it was bullywugs they beat the #### out of to live there in the swamp. IRL imperialism worked, to the extent that it did, because of internecine conflicts making the locals easy prey - by other locals or by true cultural outsiders.

Okay, see, you just kinda helped explain why your own suggestion isn't great—you're still vindicating imperialism. Casting the victims of imperialism as worse villains isn't the solution, it's part of the problem. I'm pretty sure I actually stated in my OP that I appreciated that Paizo tried to be somewhat respectful of the lizardfolk's grievances, even if the attempt ultimately fell flat. Your solution is to make the lizardfolk even more unpleasant so the imperialists feel vindicated. It's not a solution at all.

Quark Blast wrote:
2) Give the lizardfolk more punch so that any potential confrontations aren't genocide.

Er, killing a bunch of lizardfolk is still killing them even if the fight is harder. Sure, it's less "massacre-ish", because they actually have the ability to fight back, but it's still going to be genocide if you end up wiping out the tribe or whatever. Invading the Zulu nation wasn't any more moral than invading small isolated tribes, regardless of whether the Zulu nation was better-equipped to fight back. Mind you, it's still better encounter design (which was the context of that 2015 quote you presented from me, by the way), but it doesn't really address the subject of this thread.

The problem with both of your "solutions" is that you fundamentally don't seem to see a pro-imperialist narrative as a problem. As such, I'm not sure you're really going to be able to contribute anything to this thread other than further argument over the thread's most basic premise. I'm not going to be engaging with your complaints anymore, simply because the time I take to refute your points comes out of the time I budgeted today to come up with adventure tweaks. If you want to debate the moral questions of imperialism, check with the mods to see if it's okay (it's a bit political, after all), then start an Off-Topic thread.

Kjeldorn wrote:
So if the premise is that this "Free City" has constructed a fort on foreign territory with the express purpose of controlling the area... then yes, it is a case of "Imperialism".

They've actually constructed two forts. ;P

Thanks for your sidebar, Kjeldorn!


Also, are you trying to excuse a pro-imperialist adventure by saying, "Well, sometimes the GM runs evil campaigns"? Because I'm sure you know that Age of Worms isn't remotely an evil campaign.


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I did not read all of this KC and I am sort of just dotting for interest but my PCs way back when slew only the Chieftan as while they were sneaking around to avoid the tribe they realized that only a small segment of the Lizard Folk were dedicated to a sinister purpose and the rest just lived there. I ran this back in 2009 so I'd need to pull up my notes to see exactly how it went down...


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

hmm hmm.
I own/have read AoW but have not yet run it for my group. (have done shackled city and savage tide already though)

Your suggested alteration i think would still flow fine overall story wise in my opinion. If you want to allow your PC's to manage to wrangle peace, perhaps you could build on that further once the group makes it to Greyhawk proper?


So, here's my thinking: A good while ago, the guards of Blackwall Keep started to notice weird goings-on in the area. Worm-eaten dead, lizardfolk shamans warning the "Age of Worms was at hand", grief-stricken lizardfolk being exceptionally hostile towards the locals, etc. This was right after the Twisted Branch lost its new generation, but the guards didn't know this, as they were not in the habit of communicating with their neighbors.

They were spooked, assuming that the lizardfolk were up to no good, and contacted their superiors in the Free City. Their superiors in turn contacted an independent Free City cleric by the name of Zahol. Zahol, a tiefling cleric in the service of some obscure worm god, had not been aware of Ilthane's machinations at this point, being rather caught up in his own dealings with Raknian. This was the event that first put him into contact with Ilthane the Black.

Zahol journeyed to Blackwall Keep, offering to investigate these claims of the dead. While he was there, he assisted the guards in their duties, helping them to contain the lizardfolk within the Mistmarsh and "protect the good colonists". As a matter of fact, Zahol found it quite easy to just let the guards escalate the situation on their own, and rarely had to encourage anything. The guards were already panicked and angry.

But the mage at the time did not trust Zahol. This mage eventually followed the cleric into the swamp—supposedly, Zahol regularly made "research expeditions" to look into the worm problem—and caught Zahol communicating with Ilthane and Shukak (who was not then affiliated with the Twisted Branch). They infected the mage with a terrible fever, as well as a terrible slow-working parasite, and brought him back to the Keep. There, his affliction became known, and as in the adventure, he was sealed into the cellar—to Zahol's mild disappointment and great amusement. Zahol had sort of hoped for a total breakdown in Blackwall Keep, but a cleric of the god of decay can always appreciate a cruel joke with a slow payoff.

Zahol vanished not long afterward, promising to "deliver help soon". His work was done. Ilthane's sneaky children leaked information to the Twisted Branch, revealing out-of-context details about the spawn in the basement, providing just enough evidence to foment panic and paranoia in the tribe. It was then that Ilthane and "King" Shukak arrived on the scene, killed the elder leader, and took control.

They never really planned to start a war, mind you. They just wanted the lizardfolk to trust them, and driving the soldiers to antagonist the tribe more and more made it much easier for Ilthane to smooth things over between her and the Twisted Branch. Ilthane was quite positive that by the time tensions were actually close to the breaking point, her foul egg would be ready to hatch. Marzena was a complication, and one that forced Shukak and the kobolds to improvise. Things have gone quite well so far, really.


Storyteller Shadow wrote:
I did not read all of this KC and I am sort of just dotting for interest but my PCs way back when slew only the Chieftan as while they were sneaking around to avoid the tribe they realized that only a small segment of the Lizard Folk were dedicated to a sinister purpose and the rest just lived there. I ran this back in 2009 so I'd need to pull up my notes to see exactly how it went down...

Yeah, stealth is possible, but it's definitely not easy with creatures like harpies. The thing is, D&D isn't a "stealth" game. Most characters are only mediocre at stealth at best. So it's hard to really encourage an all-stealth dungeon without a pretty specialized party.

Rathendar wrote:
Your suggested alteration i think would still flow fine overall story wise in my opinion. If you want to allow your PC's to manage to wrangle peace, perhaps you could build on that further once the group makes it to Greyhawk proper?

Yeah, the adventure does encourage you working to get a treaty signed in the next chapter. Doing this allows the PCs to halt the encroachment (which, as I said in the OP, is actually a very nice element in the adventure which I appreciate). The adventure's proposed resolution has a kind of stark contrast to its actual content, and that's what I'd like to approach here.


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One factor will significantly affect how big a deal this is from campaign to campaign. That factor is what races the DM allows the players to play. In a human centric game that uses the FR or Greyhawk setting as written where the DM allows only races from the Player's Handbook, xenophobia is a natural condition in those campaigns. If an armored minotaur walks up Waterdeep's main gate, it is greeted by a hail of arrows, not a friendly "Welcome to the City of Splendors"! No one bothers to check his alignment first. A party of adventurers coming upon the siege of Blackwall Keep by lizardfolk typically will not bat an eye about breaking the siege to relieve the human troops in these campaigns. My PCs, which included a paladin and a lawful good cleric, had no misgivings, even after they later learned from the lizardfolk druid that the tribe had been deceived by Ilthane. They helped the druid by defeating the lizard king and helping her assume leadership of the surviving members of the tribe.

On the other hand, if a DM allows PCs to play all the dozens of races in splatbooks and Monster Manuals, the DM has to make some societal changes to allow those PCs to interact with NPCs, buy equipment, Gather Information, etc. Some would say these changes to civilized sections of the campaign setting make them more cosmopolitan, other less generous observers would characterize the changes as modern cultural relativism imposed on a fantasy setting. :)


Kobold Cleaver wrote:
Storyteller Shadow wrote:
I did not read all of this KC and I am sort of just dotting for interest but my PCs way back when slew only the Chieftan as while they were sneaking around to avoid the tribe they realized that only a small segment of the Lizard Folk were dedicated to a sinister purpose and the rest just lived there. I ran this back in 2009 so I'd need to pull up my notes to see exactly how it went down...
Yeah, stealth is possible, but it's definitely not easy with creatures like harpies. The thing is, D&D isn't a "stealth" game. Most characters are only mediocre at stealth at best. So it's hard to really encourage an all-stealth dungeon without a pretty specialized party.

Yep, that's part of why they got caught but when they got caught they were past the "non-combatant" warrens.

If I remember correctly now, the Shaman/Adept sued for peace and explained the situation to the PCs which is how the matter was solved with only the na'er do wells being slain and those Lizard Folk who were simply living there were left alone. The PCs even began trade dialogue but it was left off screen as they had bigger fish to fry elsewhere in the AP.


Kobold Cleaver wrote:
Quark Blast wrote:
So this side discussion on the politics of media confuses me.

You complained that I was overanalyzing the politics of the story because "it's just a game", so I had to address that complaint before I could go forward. Don't sow grass seeds and then complain when grass sprouts. :P

<...aaaand snip>

The problem with both of your "solutions" is that you fundamentally don't seem to see a pro-imperialist narrative as a problem.
<...aaaand snip>

Okay, I guess at root then I'm confused as to how you want to play with verisimilitude in a fantasy RPG and yet entirely leave out real-world elements that drive human history (and will continue to do so).

There's a utopian thread in some settings but not in any D&D-based universe I've ever heard of.

Telcarr nailed the crux of the issue with his second paragraph. And if that's the case then the OP boils down to:
"I bought a game product designed for one purpose and I want to use it for another purpose, therefore the game designers did it wrong. Oh, and help me fix it."

That you made a campaign world where imperialism is not a thing isn't an oversight by the game designers.

As to your assertion that I "fundamentally don't seem to see a pro-imperialist narrative as a problem"... I don't know what to say. I'm a realist?

This place here, The Farm, had big plans on how to make a better society. None of the founding members are there today, and not just because they died, but because humans are humans and don't get along too well when the group numbers more than a few.

For example, ironically not so very far away from The Farm is this place here. Living there nets you a 1-in-9 chance of being a victim of a violent crime over the next year.

What do these non-startiling facts of human behavior have to do with the OP? Excellent question! :)

Answer:
In your campaign, transform the lizardfolk into analogues of The Farm. That would be hard for the PCs to overlook and go all imperialist genocide on them.


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I'm honestly just not sure how "indigenous-coded people are used as adventurer fodder" and "the main enemies in the adventure are indigenous-coded people trying to block expansion of a Western-coded metropolis" aren't obvious problems that come of a magazine whose staff was, at the time, largely dominated by white Pacific Northwestern gamers.

It's a racist adventure. D&D has always been hugely influenced by racist pulp tropes like "white people exploring savage jungles"—the thing is, we're a little more aware now of how s@$+ty those tropes are, and we have grown beyond them. I like Age of Worms, and I'd like it to grow up a little, too. :)

Quote:
That you made a campaign world where imperialism is not a thing isn't an oversight by the game designers.

I don't think you phrased this well. My version doesn't erase imperialism—it simply puts the PCs more unambiguously on the side opposing it. If you really want to play a D&D game where your good-aligned party is trying to conquer a bunch of native peoples, "weird flex but go off I guess".

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

Well, this is an interesting blast from the past. Thanks KC.


TriOmegaZero wrote:
Well, this is an interesting blast from the past. Thanks KC.

I'm still running these adventures for people! I'm actually thinking about doing some sort of essay or video essay series about them. Age of Worms is a hot mess and I adore it.


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I am running this for 13th Age and made a Lizardfolk race available to players. I also made a player's guide to Diamond Lake which included info on the Free City's encroachment on Lizardfolk lands. I plan to have a few Lizardfolk in Diamond Lake itself and in the Bronzewood Lodge.

So, they will exist as sentient humanoids with a legitimate gripe. Some may even help the party out in the first couple adventures.

So, when Blackwall Keep happens, the party may think twice about wholesale slaughter. I hope the narrative nature of 13th Age also helps the players come up with more out of the box solutions. We'll see.


An interesting YouTube video was posted recently that touches on many of the issues brought up in this thread, especially the race/species players choose to play. The video is about D&D as a whole, not specific to the Age of Worms or Blackwall Keep:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ch7kakb9aAg


Love this thread...


So what did you end up doing, anyway?

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