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M3 Twilight Calling (Basic)
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M3 Twilight Calling (Basic)

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Through seven gates lie seven realms. In seven realms stand seven guardians. With seven guardians lie seven symbols. From seven symbols comes one key.

Alphaks the Dark desires that key, by which he plans to release death and chaos into the realms of man. Your party may be all that stands between life and death. Will you heed the lunatic ravings of a dying madman? Travel to the top of Guardian Mesa, and enter the Septahenge. Gather the mystic symbols, create the key, and defeat the Carnifex, before it's too late . . .

An adventure for character levels 30-35.

Product History

M3: "Twilight Calling" (1986), by Tom Moldvay, is the third Master-level adventure for Basic D&D. It was published in November 1986.

About the Cover. For the second "M" adventure in a row, the cover of "Twilight Calling" shows the big fortress at the climax to the adventure. Like the flying castle of M2: "Vengeance of Alphaks" (1986), it's a castle that floats on the clouds! But this one looks bigger and more intimidating.

Origins (I): More Mastery. "Twilight Calling" continues TSR's series of supplements supporting the Basic D&D Master Rules (1985). It also sort of continues the story of Alphaks that ran through the two previous adventures, but because it doesn't follow the story of Norwoldian conflict that those adventures began, it's not considered part of the "Alphaks trilogy", which instead concludes with M5: "Talons of Night" (1987).

Origins (II): Imminent Immortality. "Twilight Calling" was the first Master-level adventure released following the publication of the Basic D&D Immortal Rules (1986). The Master-level adventures had already focused on Immortals (including Alphaks and others), but "Twilight Calling" can actually be used as a M/I bridge, giving players the opportunity to become novice-level Immortals.

With that said, "Twilight Calling" doesn't reflect the new rules for Basic D&D's outer planes that appeared in the Immortal Rules. Instead it presents yet more one-off "realms" of the sort found in previous Master adventures. They're evocative, colorful, and not really part of any larger cosmology.

Origins (III): Alchemical Archetypes. That may be because the conception of the "seven realms" in this adventure considerably predates the Immortal Rules. Author Moldvay first wrote about "The Seven Magical Planets" in The Dragon #38 (June 1980). There he reveals a set of alchemical allegories that link together the seven "planets" (actually the sun, the moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) with archetypal entities and a variety of elements, from colors and metals to angels and devils.

"Twilight Calling" uses those seven planets as "realms" that the players can visit, full of archetypal meaning. The adventure isn't explicit about all the connections, but The Rainbow Realm is Mercury, The Green Realm is Venus, The Red Realm is Mars, The Black Realm is Saturn, The Blue Realm is Jupiter, The White Realm is the Moon, and The Yellow Realm is the Sun. The original Dragon article can add considerably background to this adventure.

Given the increased assaults on D&D in the mid '80s by moral minority groups, it's somewhat surprising that TSR was willing to publish an adventure explicitly based on alchemical esoterica … but the connection isn't obvious, and it would be a few years yet before TSR began notably bowdlerizing their production to appease these minority censors.

Origins (IV): More Moldvay. "Twilight Calling" marks the return of Tom Moldvay to the Known World. He had helped to create the setting in X1: "The Isle of Dread" (1981), then continued to imbue it with a pulp-ish feel in X2: "Castle Amber (Chateau d'Amberville)" (1981) and B4 "The Lost City" (1982). Now, he was returning after four years away.

Sadly, Moldvay's last work for the Known World didn't have the same impact as some of his earlier adventures. He did resurrect some of the pulp-ish feel, which was otherwise fading as Zeb Cook's Known World became Bruce Heard's Mystara. Otherwise, this is just a one-off adventure that wasn't particularly influential.

Origins (V): Suspected Sources. It seems likely that Moldvay drew from the sword & sorcery genre of fiction while writing this adventure, but if so, his specific sources remain unknown.

Certainly the idea of traversing multiple mystical realms to reach a final goal has appeared in stories such as Michael Moorcock's "To Rescue Tanelorn …" (1962), which featured a trip through five realms and five gates. However, it's entirely possible that Moorcock and Moldvay simply drew from the same alchemical sources.

Similarly, fans point to various reptilian humanoids in sword & sorcery books as possible sources for the carnifex of this adventure. The Dragon Kings of Lin Carter's Thongor novels (1965-1970) have been suggested as one possibility, but Lawrence Schick shot that down, saying, "Neither of us thought very highly of the Thongor novels, though we admired Carter’s work as an editor." The serpent people of later Conan novels are another option, but they also have the problem of being written by less experienced authors than Howard himself.

Suffice to say: the pulp ideas found in "Twilight Calling" were in the air in the sword & sorcery genre.

Adventure Tropes: A Master Adventure. M1: "Into the Maelstrom" (1985) introduced the idea of planar travel for the Master-level adventures, and "Twilight Calling" continues that trope, with what's essentially a planar delve. In fact, it's a sequence of planar delves, as characters traverse seven realms, then Carnifex Castle. None of it is very intricate: each realm has just a few locations, some in buildings, some in caves, and some in wilderness. However, they contain a nice mix of riddles, roleplaying, and combat.

Exploring the Known World. The Guardian Mesa that provides access to the Seven Realms is set in the Broken Lands, but this is generally one of those Master/Immortal adventures that leaves the Known World behind.

Exploring the Spheres. The Immortal Rules provided extensive rules for how the outer planes work, but as already noted, "Twilight Calling" ignores them. Instead it imagines the prison of the Carnifex as "another dimension" and the Seven Realms that surround it as pocket dimensions, a term that occasionally showed up in early D&D products. Though this wasn't in line with the Immortal adventures, it was a nice complement to the way that the spheres were imagined in other early Basic D&D products, such as M1: "Into the Maelstrom" (1985) and CM7: "The Tree of Life" (1987).

Monsters of Note. "Twilight Calling" introduces the carnifex, a race of cruel dinosaur-like lizards (Has anyone ever heard of nice dinosaur-like lizards?) who were banished from the Known World some time ago. The carnifex might have been another nice Moldvayian addition to the Known World, but they were never seen again in official sources — a pity, since "pre-human civilizations" were a part of the Original Known World, and so would have fit right in.

Fans have done a bit more work with the carnifex. Geoff Gander has written a few short articles about them for the Vaults of Pandius website, while they're also frequently mentioned in Threshold magazine (2013-Present).

NPCs of Note. "Twilight Calling" of course features the return of Alphaks, the ever-present immortal in the Master-level adventures. Again, he plays a shadowy role, setting things into motion.

About the Creators. Moldvay was the co-creator of the B/X edition of D&D (1981) and of the Known World (1981+). By the mid '80s he was largely focusing on his own games, such as Lords of Creation (1984) and The Future King (1985); M3: "Twilight Calling" marked a return to his roleplaying roots, and his last original work for TSR.

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons—a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to shannon.appelcline@gmail.com.

 
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1.0
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File Last Updated:
September 12, 2016
This title was added to our catalog on September 27, 2016.