Clockwork Mage (1985)

If Swordthrust didn’t exist, I’d probably count Clockwork Mage (1985) as the most original adventure module in the Role Aids line. Like Swordthrust, this one doesn’t go for broke — you’ll immediately see ways to do things different or push the concept harder than the original designers did. I appreciate having the path laid out, but I would have much rather this have been a slam dunk rather than a lay-up (A…sports metaphor? Am I OK?).

Even playing it conservatively, though, this is an unusual and well-conceived adventure. The idea is that there are two mages who have been subjecting each other to practical jokes for a while. Recently, the clockwork mage went too far and pulled off a joke that left the mage on the cover (painted by Janny Wurts) diminished in a way she did not find funny. So she really upped her game in retaliation, trapping him in one of his clockworks in such a way that outsiders need to enact an elaborate solution to free him. This requires the party to explore the clockwork mage’s strange villa. Unlike the last few Role Aids modules, there are not a lot of typical encounters to be had. Rather, there are a lot of jokey puzzles and strange constructs (the mages “Sims”). Oh, oh, and a bard is necessary for a successful outcome! How often do you see that?

There is no real dungeon, just a rather well-kept, magic-soaked house. Merely exploring someone’s pleasant residence is a major paradigm shift and one I don’t think has been duplicated very often, if at all. I love how low the stakes seem (though the players are in some serious trouble if they upset the various folks who have a stake in the mage’s rescue, not to mention the house’s automated defenses).

Throw in excellent interior art by Erin McKee and Gerry O’Malley and some crisp maps and you’ve got the makings of an overlooked classic, I think!

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