With the release of Spelljammer for D&D 5th Edition, I decided to break out the second AD&D Spelljammer module Skulls & Crossbows. I'm looking at it particularly with quick conversion in mind, but also for story and general usefulness. Chapter 5 is entitled "Rewards and revenge," and it consists of just two adventures, one called "X" and the other "Cain." This is, of course, the final chapter. This is the pay-off of the previous 60 pages. In this adventure, the PCs are to finally meet the enemy of the module, the man who's been pulling the strings all along, the fearless assassin known only as Cain.
One of the PC's bounties has been spotted, and they're sent after it with the orders from Prince Andru himself that they are to take no prisoners. The adventure is very careful to force the PC's hand, here, saying that the Dungeon Master may threaten them with the loss of their letters of marque should they refuse. I don't know why the players would refuse, but I guess the point is that the module really feels that this adventure must precede the grand finale with Cain. I can't figure out why, though. This adventure is entirely unspectacular and has only the barest connection with the next (and final) adventure.
The PCs are given a map of where they can find their target, so they go out into space and fight the pirate ship. Assuming they're losing the fight, the pirates blow their own ship up. That's the end of that.
The repercussion of this is that they "lose any good will" they've earned from Prince Andru from the "Jihad!" adventure. I gather that the PCs are meant to care, but I'd forgotten about it entirely. Prince Andru hasn't been mentioned since "Jihad!" so his good will toward the PCs has been entirely inert. But I guess it's gone now.
As a result of having defeated the pirates in "X," the PCs are now targeted by the local pirate union (that's not a real thing, but I couldn't be bothered to remind myself what the Tenth Pit was...apparently it was mentioned in Chapter 1?) The pirates hire Cain to assassinate the PCs.
You remember Cain. He was the terrifying lich from "Violent Death," cursed by the gods to roam Wildspace forever as an undead pirate.
No wait, that wasn't Cain. No, Cain is the expert assassin who killed a bunch of mind flayers, leaving a rare copper piece as his calling card. This guy's very good at what he does. Famously elusive, and terrifyingly deadly. I mean, he killed a ship full of mind flayers and got away with it.
First problem: The PCs have to find Cain. That's probably not going to be easy. This guy is a trained killer, and has the PCs in his sights.
Oh, no actually it's really easy. He hangs out at a pirate bar.
Next problem: Getting to Cain. It's not like Cain is just going to be sitting in the bar unprotected. He'll likely be heavily guarded, tucked away in a private and opulent den of inequity. And the PCs are, by this time, well known pirate hunters. The PCs will need to formulate a plan, maybe disguised to avoid recognition or maybe sneak in through a back entrance.
Oh, no actually Cain is at the first table in the bar with just one of his crew members.
Final problem: Cain is an assassin. He's never caught off guard, and he can strike before even the DM thinks to roll for initiative. Cain is likely to have killed at least one PC and using their body as a meat shield before the party even realises he's in the room.
Oh, no actually Cain sees the PCs and runs away. Oh and the PCs lose their letters of marque because Prince Andru doesn't like them any more.
Well, Skull and Crossbows is not what I'd call a perfect adventure. There were some good ideas in it. Some really cool moments.
Some interesting encounters.
The back of the book definitely over-sells it.
I think I'll read some Spelljammer adventures from old Dragon magazines next, but sadly this particular purchase proved not to live up to the book's description. I don't recommend this book for modern Spelljammer adventures unless it comes your way for free.
Skull & Crossbows cover copyright by Wizards of the Coast, used under the fan content policy.