The Bloodstone adventure series came to a conclusion with H4 The Throne of Bloodstone in 1988. While nowhere near as elaborate a production as H1, with its thin box, BattleSystem counters and 3D-Adventure buildings, it was still more elaborate than the usual module with a 96 page book, and a poster-sized sheet with various maps, including a sprawling one of Orcus’ citadel in the Abyss. At this point, it went fully over to Forgotten Realms trade dress with the standard narrow frame around the cover, and the large gold-and-stone logo.

Taking ‘high level’ to new heights, the module advertises as being for levels 18-100, which brought it in for a fair amount of knee-jerk criticism. However, as an introductory section rightly points out, at least if you follow the AD&D rules as written, there’s just not a lot of difference between a level 100 character and a level-25 character as the various ‘to hit’ and saving throw tables shut down in the late teens to twenties, and past the level 29 limit of the spell tables, the only thing that continues to go up is hit points, at a somewhat modest +1 to +3 per level. Of course… that is assuming that the people playing games that have characters going that high didn’t just extend the various tables as they went. But as an official TSR product, the authors have the luxury of assuming use of the official AD&D rules without variants. There’s actually some good advice for high-level play that recommends paying attention to the rules for magic item destruction and the time for magic-types to recharge their spells (70 hours for a Magic-User to get all his spells back…). Also, several fights in the later parts of the module are actually scaled to the party’s levels.

The module begins right where H3 left off, with a war between Bloodstone and Vaasa that has stalemated at the Ford of Goliad. The Vaasan army is too big to fight (short of unexpected clever PC ideas… though that’s pretty well sledgehammered away) and can’t get past the ford (too far away from its base of power to keep all the undead going). So the DM is to present the players with the idea of sneaking into the citadel of the Witch-King Zhengyi to destroy his base of power. Since he is obviously backed by Orcus, this will also entail finding a way to confront and defeat Orcus as well.

(Warning: I keep descriptions very general, but if you wish to avoid knowing anything at all about the contents/plot of the module, skip down to the Conclusion.)

The Witch-King’s citadel is actually fairly small, and unusual in form. The DM is invited to show the players a full-page illustration of the citadel, but unfortunately it’s not very good as the artist didn’t get a description to go with the cutaway view of the citadel and drew it as the cutaway showed it (i.e., among other errors, it shows a pair of small towers to either side instead of a wall surrounding it). There’s only about 20 areas split across several levels (not the administrative hub of a large kingdom…), but is designed to present the party with a stiff mix of tough enemies (Zhengyi himself is a 30th level M-U Lich) and deadly puzzles. Once successfully negotiated, the party is confronted with a gate to the Abyss, which should look familiar after the end of H2, and a deus ex machina to egg them on to the Abyss to challenge Orcus and take and destroy the Wand of Orcus so that he will be unable to interfere with the Prime Material Plane for the next hundred years.

This  is where the module gets frustrating. The party gets dumped on the first layer of the Abyss, the realm of Pazuzu, “Palace of 1,001 Closets”. Or at least 665 of them, as there’s conduits to all the other layers of the Abyss scattered around, and the party is left to try them at random until they finally find their destination. So… Orcus is influencing the Realms through the gate the PCs just came through, and there’s no signs of traffic from his conduit to the gate? No trail? No command posts? No checkpoints on any of the conduits, letting things go through Pazuzu’s realm at will? Pretty close. Going through a conduit is somewhat difficult, and the party may encounter Pazuzu himself (along with random patrols of demons), but they’re mostly free to try things at random until getting it right. Worse, there’s no immediate way to know when they have reached Orcus’ realm (though the increased numbers of undead encountered should be a good clue).

Wandering around the Abyss and Orcus’ realm serve two purposes: exhausting the party, and challenging them with the trap of steady alignment change towards chaotic evil. There are some possibilities for a group to gather some allies (there’s a good number of demons who’d like to pull someone as powerful as Orcus down), but not nearly as many as might be thought, and they generally lead to the alignment change problem (there’s a certain amount of Lawful Stupid in force in the module).

The map of Orcus’ palace takes up the bulk of the poster sheet, making it inconvenient for the DM to lay out and refer to. However, much of what’s presented is visible to the outside, so there’s a pair of pages in the module designed to be overlayed on the map to present a full outside view to the players (not as good as could be hoped, but an interesting idea). Again, the design is inventive, and straight down the gonzo sensibilities of AD&D (hey, it’s the Abyss!), and does a nice job not telling players they can’t dodge obstacles, just that it’s tougher than it looks. I’d say inventive players will both be rewarded and suitably frustrated.

There is both more and less than might be expected after dealing with Orcus, including a pit arena fight against Tiamat, and then because two evils make a good, evil destroys evil, uh… well. The party gets to plant the White Tree of Gondor Bloodstone to protect the valley from Orcus even after he reforges his wand. There’s a very nice pair of pages at the end giving different ideas of where to go from here for further adventuring, including some that deal with native Forgotten Realms concerns, and one that concentrates on running the kingdom trough the D&D Companion Set rules.


The module has a lot to recommend it. The design of the various places the party goes to is inventive, major monsters/NPCs get ‘capsule’ descriptions that give the DM ‘hooks’ into running them, and if they aren’t utterly devoted to ending the PCs lives, describe how they might be negotiated with. I’ll also note that any reference I see to the module from people who played it is very positive. The climax of a high-level AD&D story deserves to be over the top, and the module not only delivers, but presents a nicely alien environment. Players who go through this should rightly feel they’ve done something special.

But I will note that despite being larger, it feels more confined than the previous modules. H1-H3 all feature a relatively straightforward story, but have sections where the players are free to find their own way to reach the goal. H1 has the players finding ways to gain the confidence of, and train as militia, the residents of Bloodstone Pass. The battles are more-or-less scheduled, but what the players meet them with is up to them. H2 is largely dungeon crawl, but turns the party loose a couple times to deal with life in the pass and explore the Underdark. H3 has a fairly scripted war, but with just a little effort, it can present them with rich options of maneuver. Better yet, that module starts out letting the players loose to solve the challenge of converting mined bloodstone into cash, and deciding what to do with this budget. Even H2, with it’s large dungeon crawl eating up much of the module, felt like it had a bit more going on than this.

The tendency of the H-series to highlight the latest major release continues here. This time, it is the Manual of the Planes. It is pointed out that demons are more powerful on their home plane, and that Orcus is much more powerful where he’s the Prime Power, and stats are noted as being adjusted to match. There’s a nice bit of using player knowledge as PC knowledge, where the DM is invited to let the players look through relevant sections of the Manual of the Planes during the initial briefing, and after that what the players remember is what the PCs know. BattleSystem does not even get mentioned in the blurb or introduction to the module, though it gets suddenly recommended to run a couple of the larger fights.

In all, it’s a good, if frustrating, end to a good, if frustrating, series. The original Bloodstone Pass is easily the highlight of the series with its attempt at doing something truly different. Throne of Bloodstone completes the series’ transition back to regular adventuring, running full-tilt away from the political realm of running the kingdom that is put together through the series, but H1 and H4 are the modules in the set that need the least playing around with to run well.