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M5 Talons of Night (Basic)

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As the cream of your crop, your party has been selected to act as diplomats on the Isle of Dawn at a historic meeting between Thyatis and Alphatia, timeless rivals. This could herald the dawning of an age of peace, unknown in this area for years past.

However, things are not progressing as smoothly as planned. The powers of Entropy, headed by Alphaks, are out to ensure that this peace treaty is not finalized. Two of the diplomats are kidnaped?and you are framed!

It's up to you to prove your innocence. This involves traveling to other dimensions, meeting vampiric spirits, and playing deadly games with the Night Spider. Ultimately, you must find and restore the Peaceful Periapt of Pax to its rightful place.

Let the games begin.

An adventure for character levels 20-25.

Product History

M5: "Talons of Night" (1987), by Jennell Jaquays, is the fifth and final Master-level adventure for Basic D&D. It was published in November 1987.

About the Cover. Daniel Horne's cover sure looks cool, with some extra-dimensional monstrosity blasting the hell out of a whole army. But it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the adventure.

Ironically, when Jennell Jaquays later painted a cover for Dragon #175 (November 1991) she may have been in part inspired by the World of Thorne that she created for this adventure. So, if you prefer, interpose the cover for Dragon #175 onto your copy of M5: "Talons of Night".

Origins (I): Just Jaquays. "Talons of Night" was the first solo effort by Jennell Jaquays (then, Jennell Jaquays) for TSR. She had been a star of the early industry, publishing some of D&D's first adventures in her Dungeoneer magazine (1977-1981), then producing a variety of influential work for Judges Guild in the later '70s. She began her freelance work at TSR as an editor, most notably for I12: Egg of the Phoenix (1987). However, she also contributed to M3: "Twilight Calling" (1986), which gave her an obvious "in" when TSR was looking for a writer for this new Master-level adventure.

Origins (II): More Mastery. Jaquays was given the privilege of producing the last Master-level adventure for the Basic D&D game. She was also given a pretty free hand in creating the high-level adventure. Her only major constraint was that it should be world-shaking in some way.

The story of M5: "Talons of Night" ties into the events of M1: "Into the Maelstrom" (1985) and M2: "Vengeance of Alphaks" (1986), forming a loose Alphaks trilogy. However running the three adventures in order is somewhat challenging. The first was for levels 25-30 and the second for levels 28-32. "Talons of Night" is instead for either levels 20-25 or 25-30, depending on if you believe the cover or the introduction.

Adventure Tropes: A Master Adventure. When Jaquays designed "Talons of Night" she worked to mold together a variety of different play styles — which feels like a reasonable end for a series that had often been focused on "super D&D" play. "Talons of Night" starts off as a MacGuffin Quest for the Peaceful Periapt of Pax, mixing together events and location-based encounters. However, there are also puzzles and War Machine battles. Finally, the ending is a big political scene which plays out like a mini-game.

Adventure Tropes: Mini-Games. "Talons of Night" is rich in mini-games, notably including the Spider's Web game, which is a variant of Nine Men's Morris. Though this sort of mini-game has never been common in roleplaying supplements, it turned up slightly more often in the '70s and '80s. The board for Spider's Web is quite lovely, as it's painted on simulated rose marble; illustrating faux marble like this was an interest for Jaquays at the time.

Genre Tropes: Gonzo Returns! The ending of "Talons of Night" is both epic and gonzo. Hundreds of years rush by in a distant plane, and the players must sacrifice an artifact to escape! Then, a clone spell plays a major part in the successful completion of the mission. It's the sort of high-level shenanigans that are all but unknown in D&D, but they're presented well here, at the end of the Master-level adventures.

Metaplotting Along. "Talons of Night" brings to an end the metaplot that lightly ran through a few of the previous high-level Basic D&D adventures. In CM1: "Test of the Warlords" (1984), Alphatia and Thyatis came into conflict due to new settlements in Norwold. Then in M1: "Into the Maelstrom" (1985) the warfare in the region hit new heights as King Ericall of Norwold invaded the Barony of Qeodhar. Finally in M2: "Vengeance of Alphaks" (1986), Qeodhar responded and in doing so brought both Alphatia and Thyatis directly into the conflict. M5: "Talons of Night" (1986) now offers the opportunity to make things right with a peace conference.

Though these events were sporadic and not well connected, they marked TSR's earliest metaplot other than the story-heavy arc of the Dragonlance Chronicles (1984-1986). This inexperience is probably why the plot doesn't entirely fit together. Later histories that would match Known World events to dates, such as Joshuan's Almanac & Book of Facts (1995), place both the Land Rush of CM1 and the ascension of the new Pharoah Ramenhotep that must follow this module in 1002 AC, even though it's clear that several years must have gone by in between, as the colonies of Norwold gained independence and fought back-and-forth battles with Qeodhar.

Expanding D&D. One brief column on page 6 contains rules for "squad combat", where small military groups effectively act as a single higher-level individual for combat. It's a nice way to make lower-level character relevant and also a nice foreshadowing for the rules for swarms and mobs that appeared in D&D 3e (2000).

Exploring the Known World. "Talons of Night" makes a major expansion to the Known World by revealing the Isle of Dawn, a land that lies halfway between Thyatis and Alphatia. Much of its attention focuses on Thothia, an Egyptian-like land linked to the Known World's ancient Nithia — which had recently been referenced in GAZ2: "The Emirates of Ylaruam" (1987). There's also detail on the more wild lands northward. Finally, all of the cities and vassal states of the Isle get a brief paragraph or two each.

Exploring the Spheres. The adventure ends in a series of other dimensions: the World of Thorne, Chasm, the Tower of Night, and the Isle of Night. They're called outer planes, keeping with the new Immortal Rules (1986) terminology, but they feel like the more casual dimensions found in earlier Master-level adventures. They're even linked to the Sphere of Death, recalling its embodiment as an actual plane back in CM2: "Death's Ride" (1984). These Death planes also have a particularly weird characteristic: the flow of time increases the further the players gets from the Prime Plane.

Monsters of Note. "Talons of Night" goes back to the classic X1: "The Isle of Dread" (1981) for two monstrous races that are placed in the wilderness of the Isle of Dawn: the aranea and the phanaton. This adventure also reveals that the aranea are descended from planar spiders.

NPCs of Note. There's a huge roster of interesting NPCs in "Talons of Night". That starts off with two returning immortals. Alphaks had been the villain of most of the Master-level adventures, while Koryis had previously shown up in M1: "Into the Maelstrom". They both return here as the bickering powers behind the conflict on the Prime Plane. A new immortal also makes an appearance, the Night Spider, a mere Temporal of Entropy (and one of many arachnoid powers in the D&D multiverse).

Many human powers in the Known World also appear on screen. The pharaoh Ramenhotep XXIII of Thothia appears, as does his evil predecessor Ramenhotep X. More notably, the emperors of the two greatest powers of the Known World make their presence felt. Emperor Thincol of Thyatis and Emperor Eriadne of Alphatia are kidnapped and taken to another realm where time moves faster; there they fall in love, marry, and eventually die! The status quo is only restored when they're cloned from preserved samples of their own flesh!

Even the pre-generated characters from the adventure are of note, because they're loosely based on characters in Jennell Jaquays' Hartford, Connecticut gaming group, many of which were designers at Coleco or their spouses. Thus Knolimer Knolin of Yskelb is based on a character played by Jay Belsky, a Coleco designer. Another of the pregens, Unice, was the character of Ruta Jaquays, Jennell's spouse. Ruta herself appears on the cover of "Temple, Tower, and Tomb" (1994).

About the Creators. Jaquays was just getting her start at TSR in the mid '80s. She would author a few other notable books in the next few years, including FR5: "The Savage Frontier" (1988) and DMGR1: Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide (1990), but this would be her only excursion into the Known World.

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

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Katherine B January 10, 2024 10:29 pm UTC
RIP Jennell...
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POD looks great.
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