Fuck for Satan

ffs
by James Raggi
LotFP
LotFP

Animals and children have gone missing from the village of Schwarzton. Locals suspect that an old Satanic coven has re-established itself! Can your intrepid heroes survive dread dungeons and bizarre monsters and save the day?

META

Well, it’s not as bad as some of the other Raggi adventures. As the publishers blurb says, some kids have gone missing and there was once a satanic cult around. The adventure comes in three parts. The closer you get to the actual cause for the disappearances the shorter the details. The first part is where the party is generally directed and makes up the bulk of the text of the adventure proper. It’s a red herring. The second part, usually triggered after the party gets back from the dungeon in the first part, takes up quite a bit less space and it, still, essentially, unrelated to the actual cause of the disappearances. The third part, the actual cause, is a couple of paragraphs long. A random bear has wandered in nearby and ate the kids. Random chance each day the party stumbles on to the bear. Everything is pretext. Everything is unrelated. It’s just an excuse for the party to stumble around until the bear shows up.

The adventure gets off on the meta. The summary above should clearly illustrate one aspect of the meta. In another part, right outside the dungeon, the party finds a note for them that clearly indicates that the dungeon has nothing to do with the missing children and they should not go in it. In another part the DM is instructed to make their next adventure very easy because one aspect of the adventure has cursed them, the referee. Clearly Jim has fun breaking the fourth wall. All of that nonsense is just performance art. Or, worse, it breaks the contract with the players of the DM being a neutral third party.

The DM has absolute power. The players put themselves at the DMs mercy. There is a contract here. The DM will be neutral and not be a dick and the players will play. When that is broken we get to Killer DM territory; the junior high DM would views the game as adversarial. “I’m too good, You can’t beat me!” one potential DM once told me. I wisely did not play in that game. When the DM goes meta there’s a problem. I’m not saying this adventure does that. Or maybe I am. I’m not exactly sure where the line is. I do know this adventure walks VERY close to that line. One of the most delightful parts is the note addressed to the party. It tells them not to go in. The DM is clearly fucking with the party by putting it in. Is a META note like this FAIRLY fucking with the party? I don’t know. Like I said, it’s close to the line. I like fucking with the party. I like tempting the party. Putting in a deathtrap dungeon, having all of the PC’s say the solution to the quest is in the deathtrap dungeon, putting a sign outside the deathtrap dungeon saying “Nope, the missing kids are not in here.” … I don’t know. It’s too close for me. Maybe it’s a mean-spirited”fucking with the party.” I don’t know.

The satanic cult aspect is quite nice, with a misunderstood alien space penis. It’s a cute little section and it’s too bad that the only you can find it, probably, is after exploring the deathtrap dungeon. That smacks of linearity. It’s a great section where everything makes sense and the party gets one up on the local dirt-farmers with a fellow buddy. A little silly, but in that way all D&D adventures tend to get when they are the most fun, and not much sense of the entire situation being forced (except in getting there in the first place.)

The village is non-existent. There is a lot of padding at the beginning with designer exposition (not much/any useful) and a couple of pages of a long example of play. Instead of this nonsense Raggi could have included some nice NPC’s for the village. The play example is quite colorful but meaningless to the adventure. A page of Pembrooktonshite NPC’s for the village, or the two NPC’s in the play example condensed down to three sentences each and augmented with a dozen more … any of this would have supported the village play. As written the adventure does next to nothing to support this major portion of the adventure. Not good enough! You’re meant to fuck around the village for a long while. And there’s nothing. Well, almost nothing. There’s a pretty good rumor table.

The dungeon is decent and more good than bad. “Bad” in this sense is “Jim Raggi Random Deathtrap.” Again, it’s important for the players to know the consequences of the decisions they make. When very bad things happen to them out of the blue, or seemingly out of the blue, it can seem random. When they KNOW they are making a decision it’s so much more wonderful. Putting a nice treasure on an obvious pressure plate? DELICIOUS. Putting a death trap around the corner at the bottom of a long staircase with no warning? Uncool. This type of nonsense encourages game-slowing behaviour. The kid where the party searches every ten foot section of the dungeon corridor. The kind where it takes 15 minutes of real time to open every door because the hinges, direction of the door swing, construction, etc must all be examined and dealt with. There are a couple of these things in the dungeon. There’s SOME room for this stuff at much higher levels when augury/etc come into play for the characters, but I don’t get the sense that this is a high-level adventure. But there’s other stuff, more of it, that is good. There IS an obvious pressure plate. There’s a room with levers that do things. The stairway deathtrap DOES have a good effect, both in the trap and in the solution and in the color.

Treasure is good, nice and unique. Monsters are good, as they always are in LotFP adventures. New creatures, well described, unique abilities tailored to the environment/creature/theme.

Jim goes on a diatribe/monologue in the beginning about how he gets bored and the quantity of adventures on the market. How he’s not inspired and thus this is how the Meta aspects of Fuck for Satan. I would assume, he’s justifying his other adventures as well … at least the gimmickry/gimpy ones. It’s too bad he feels like he has to do something with a silly gimpy gimmick for it to be interesting.

The village needs an overhaul. The dungeon is nice, if meta and little unfair. The cult is great as an ending. The parts just don’t work together well because it’s meant to be a screw job. Is it fun playing a game you know will be a screw job? (Jim directly advises the DM to not let on it’s a LotFP adventure/screwjob.) Adversarial D&D is not my thing. Maybe Jim should write Fiasco playsets?

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Dwellers Amid Bones

dab
by Creighton Broadhurst
Raging Swan Press
Pathfinder
Level 5

Lurking in the watery depths of a fallen orc tribe’s sacred burial cairn amid the bleached, broken bones of savage warriors, honoured champions and mighty warlords the forest drakes Arduthal and Ingeirmaugh have made themselves a comfortable, safe home. Periodically emerging to ravage the surrounding countryside their depredations have reached such a level that Baron Liofa Othen begs the PCs to slay the foul beasts. The cairn’s remote location, inundated, bone?choked passageways and the vengeful, possessive ghost of the orc champion Gork Shattershield, not to mention the drakes’ mistaken identity as green dragons, all stand in the way of the PCs’ victory.

We all have these internal stereotypes about things. A frequent stereotype of modern adventures is that they are verbose, linear, and more encounter based. I try very hard to not fall into those prejudged traps … and then something like this comes along: Verbose, linear, and encounter based Pathfinder adventure. There are some decent parts to this but the slavish devotion to form results in a 21 page adventure with five rooms. And they are not very good rooms.

The adventure proper doesn’t start until page ten. The rest of the beginning is introduction, background, explanation of how to do an appraise check for item value, or how to identify magic items. There’s a room underwater so the adventure also has three pages of filler at the end that includes two pages of underwater rules. For those keeping count we’re now at eight pages for five rooms. TO be fair, the constipation is at the beginning and end, and thus easily ignored, but that still means that we’re averaging 1.5 pages per room for the rest. I’m a softy, so explaining the idiosyncratic rules at the beginning and end is ok with me. The room keys, though, are sacred. And the room keys in this stink.

Long keys. Descriptions on separate lines in each room for illumination, ceiling, and features. Creature descriptions that are half a page long, at least. Each room has three or four features and each one needs a full couple of lines of description.
Bones: Bones cover much of the floor.
Shallow bone piles add 2 to the DC of Acrobatics checks.

That’s about the 900th time time that we’ve been told in the adventure that shallow bone piles add 2 to acrobatics checks. I can’t remember my kids age but I sure as hell now remember the modifier to acrobatics checks for shallow bone piles. The pain in the ass part is that this garbage nonsense is mixed in with some decent stuff. The author says, somewhere in the first 10 filler pages, that they like to present interesting environments to provide tactical options for the players. I might quibble with the reasoning but the outcome is one I agree with. Large piles of bones ARE interesting. So are escarpments, muddy and slick banks into pools of water, and many of the other features presented. It’s just SO verbose and repeated SO many times that it reads more like a 4.0 encounter than it does a environment to adventure in. Does the muddy bank exist because you needed a feature in the room to provide tactical options, or does it exist because it’s a pool of water that, of course, has a muddy bank? For the most part I don’t think it matters, as I mentioned previously, the outcome is the same. But it does come off as lame encounter-based.

The linear nature of the environment doesn’t help. Five rooms, essentially all in a row. A meh background of orcs bodies tossed in a cave and two dragons who moved in. A boring rumor table presented in a fact-based format instead of adding color. It’s all just … boring. Slavish devotion to form. Slavish devotion to the standard fantasy tropes.

What’s frustrating is that there are bits and pieces that are quite good. One NPC is “impressively chauvinistic.” That’s a great description! There’s a great hook for a ½ orc character that involves a vision from an orc god, along with some nice modifiers and a good conclusion. That’s a great little bit to spice things up for the ½ orc. (Everyone likes to feel special sometimes.) A holy vision, with +2 morale modifiers to hit and saves because of the bloodlust/motivation with cleansing the defiled site. Great! And it comes with a reward of turning the bloodlust ability from ½ orc limitation to full orc limitations. AGain, perfect! Non-standard but specific to the character. Likewise the treasure is great. A sword with a dripping blood motif hilt. Scale mail that have the scales looking like severed ears. Those are great! Those are the types of items that tempt the players into keeping them when more powerful, but boring, items show up. The muddy stream, a steep escarpment … all great.

Linear. Verbose. Too much form. Too much filler.

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Dungeon Magazine #65

d65

Knight of the Scarlet Sword
by Jeff Crook
AD&D
Levels 4-6

Quite verbose, but full of stuff to get into trouble with. A misguided knight in a small village. A polymorphed imp misguiding the knight. A doppleganger impersonating the blacksmith working with the imp who is acting mayor, a thuggish/brutal group of constables, falsely accused villagers, a homunculus, a cave that’s the source of a local myth, an old wizard’s lair, and an “evil” wizard who is turning himself into a lich. Decent rumor table. The thing is laid out in a sandbox form, with a suggested timeline. Could use a little more “Village Life” stuff, but not bad for Dungeon.

Flotsam
by John Baichtal
AD&D
Levels 6-8

A side-trek. You pick up two shipwreck survivors. One is a disguised goofy pirate and one a poly’d rakshasa. They do not necessarily mean the party harm, and there’s nothing more. IE: this is two NPC’s disguised as an adventure.

The Ice Tyrant
by Christopher Perkins
Dragonlance Fifth Age

DL5 is an act/scene based game, and so this is an act/scene based adventure. It has the usual problems: it assumes you did what you were supposed to do in the previous scene. Scene two has you allied with some elves from scene one. It you killed the elves (I would, they act like assholes) then the DM has problems in scene two. And three. And so on. It’s a juvenile attempt using a broken format, and the format is badly done at that.

Reflections
by Lisa Doyle
AD&D
Levels 3-5

Another side-trek. Some people in town have gone missing. There’s a cave, with a will-o-the-wisp that lures people to a gibbering mouther. This has a very nice rumor table (“I think the ran off with that Jones girl without her parents permission!”) but that’s otherwise the only highlight.

The Unkindness of Ravens
by Jason Kuhl
AD&D
Levels 3-5

I’m fond of this and I’m completely sure why. It’s a murder party in a small castle/manor. During dinner a servant is murdered. The party looks into it. The host is not a dick, and the servants are not either … both quite unusual. There’s a brief timeline and a lot going on. It’s got a “fantasy but not D&D” vibe going on that I like a lot. The prevalence of ravens and other blackbirds, an orangutan demon (yes, it’s a barluga. Piss off, it’s a monkey demon.) Ghostly dwarfs who talk to you in their tomb. It’s got a great vibe. The rooms are not overly described (which alone should win this adventure “Dungeon Adventure of the Year” award) and the NPC’s are brief enough to enjoy and expand upon. The magic items are nothing to write home about. There’s a brief timeline that could use a little work and I’d prefer to have the NPC’s written up outside of their rooms, but otherwise this feels more like a good Nancy Drew fantasy than bog-standard boring-fuck Realms D&D. That’s a compliment.

The Beast Within
by Paul Beattie Jr.
AD&D
Levels 1-3

This is really just a side-trek, and in that it’s really just an NPC. There’s a guy (a cleric) barricaded in a hut with a bunch of lambs tethered outside. He’s been bit by a werewolf and is trying to contain himself. The “adventure” here is non-existent, but the concept of a NPC cleric for the party to use is a good one. Lots of fun things to do with a friendly high level cleric who has a problem. As written this has a bunch of the bullshit implied morality that I hate. Kill the guy? Oh No! That’s murder! His god doesn’t like you and curses you! Loot the hut after killing him? Oh no! You’re a thief and the law comes after you! There’s no excuse for a dick DM. Baby orcs are there to kill. If you’re DM puts them there to test you, or fuck with you, then you need to go find a new DM.

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The Idea from Space

ifs
by Simon Carryer
LOTFP
LOTFP
Low Levels

Xaxus is a creature of pure thought. Manakata is a being of raw power. On an island at the edge of the world, they transform human proxies to act on their behalf. And they war Now it’s you on this island, caught in this battle. Will you remain who you are? Can you?

This is a little sandbox/module in the best/old sense of the word. It describes an environment on an island, and then offers some opportunities to get the party on to the island. It’s not a one-trick pony; it’s more like an eight-trick pony … but one of those tricks is very VERY good. Or appealing. Or something.

What is presented is an island. On the island are two great towers, linked up high by a rope bridge. There’s a number of other minor locations, but those are the centerpieces. The island has a god, in the form of a stone idol. He gifts his followers increased strength and con, at when they fail him their INT and WIS is lowered. They end up looking like some roid-rage blob. Recently a thing from space has crashed. It’s name is Xaxus. It’s an idea. Nothing more, just an idea. He’s a nice guy. And very convincing. Like, 25 CHR convincing. Nothing magical, nothing coerced, just really convincing and likeable. When you freely join him you become a part of a hive mind. But you do it of your own free will, and you can leave again at any time, or your own will. Finally, there was recently a shipwreck, which most likely brings the party to the island in order to find the survivors. With all of this in mind, go read the intro blurb again. Make more sense now? This thing has potential energy written all over the cover in giant red crayon.

This thing has quite a few neat things going on in it, but by far the most interesting is the concept of the Idea of Space, proper. It smacks a bit of Stranger in a Strange Land territory. The groupthink hive mind trope is not too uncommon, but the voluntary nature of this one is what makes it stand out. This, and to a lesser extent the Manakata Bro culture, are both voluntary. This plays on one of my favorite game concepts: temptation. I wonder what happens when the big red button is pushed? Yes, the friendly ogre with jeweled crown has his back turned to you. Hand and Eye of Vecna, sitting right there … This is choice. It’s real choice. No tricks. Both choices are valid. Both choices are both wonderful AND leave you wondering about the road not taken. There’s gotta be some german compound word for this sort of thing. Anyway, it’s an appeal to the PLAYERS rather than the characters. Those tend to be the more effective techniques, and I think it’s really effective here.

Beyond this it’s got a lot of other nice and interesting bits in it. The Xaxus folks can shoot a beam ray when they team up and hold hands. Great Scott! That’s AWESOME! Hive mind cultists joining hands in praise to the larger entity and shooting eyebeams as a result … wonderful! Treasure is on the lighter side and runs a bit into “creative looting”, such as “how much can we get for the glass statue” or “how much for the weird ropes holding up the bridge.” There’s a decent amount of other treasure, generally decently described. On the magic side there’s a ring that stands out. It’s one of those “magic doesn’t impact you” rings … either good or bad magic. And you can’t take it off. And you find it on a severed finger, burnt, in a fireplace. Nice touch. There are not a great many new monsters, but what there is are both described well and illustrated well. I like a good monster description, one that is more evocative than fact based, and the big monster description in this fills that well. The Bro’s are also described nicely.

Touching again on the Temptation theme: both groups on the island are, generally, friendly, or at least neutral. This sets things up well. You get to learn about their problems. You get to learn how they view The Others. You get introduced to the power that will tempt the players. Eventually, the players probably hatch a zany plan and things will end up in some kind of running hackfest, as they always tend to do when players are involved. This module sets that up perfectly.

There are a ton of other neato things in this as well, mostly in the two towers. They range from freaky skeletons (mysteries for the DM to expand upon) to freaky deaky plants, to room puzzles that feel integrated into the complex rather than “puzzle in a room.”

This is nice. It doesn’t have any of the DM torture porn aspects that LotFP have drifted into in the recent years, but it does have all of the non-mechanics interesting content that LotFP tends to feature. Probably because there’s a different designer here.

You can pick it up on the LOTFP website for 9 euro. It’s worth it.

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Against the Cult of the Bat God

acbg
The Oakhearst Chainsaw Massacre

by John Bennett
Raging Swan
Pathfinder
Level 5

The Lonely Coast’s most remote village, Oakhurst broods under the dark boughs of the Tangled Woods. Rumours of incest, murder and vile rites during the black of night surround its insular citizens. It is a place most wise people avoid as the very air seems inhospitable to strangers. Yet in the rumours is a grain of truth, for something dark does indeed stir in the shadow haunted trees and hunched homes of Oakhurst. An ancient evil, hungry with the thirst for blood, awakens from its eons long sleep. As disappearances mount and the Lonely Coast can no longer turn a blind eye to the blight that is Oakhurst, heroes are called upon to investigate the foul rumours and mysteries that plague the village. As the search for the truth intensifies, they may find themselves the next victims of a rising, bloodthirsty evil. Can they survive Against the Cult of the Bat God?

Pathfinder?!?! Yes, Pathfinder. Don’t be an ass. Every version of D&D is essentially the same. If you can’t run a Pathfinder adventure OSR, or an OSR in Pathfinder, then, well, I’m sorry to have to say this to you: you’re an idiot. This probably goes for Warhammer, The One Ring, MERP, Harn, and every other traditional fantasy RPG. They are all close enough to run. Let’s get the Pathfinder crap out of the way up front. It’s got some magical ren faire shit, like some magic stuff for sale. It’s also got stat blocks for monsters that are a column large, per monster. It’s also got some hideous room/key style that insists on putting break stats next to everything possible, and describing every window, door, and ceiling height, for every room, on a separate line. Pathfinder sells, I get it. But man, the number of trees that died … Do the Pathfinder gamers really not buy stuff if it’s not in this excessively verbose format?

I don’t know where I heard of Raging Swan. I sometimes look at “What’s the best adventure …?” threads on various forums, so I suspect it came up in that. For whatever reason, I’ve got a review box full of the stuff, mixed in with free adventures, con promos and whatever. So you’re gonna get a couple of Raging Swan reviews. Because some idiot somewhere on the internets said they were good. I don’t know what I trusted that idiot over the ones that said some other stuff was good, but I did. So here we are.

This is a good adventure. The better parts of it remind me of Deep Carbon Observatory. DCO presented little scenes, vignettes, inspiration that the DM could then leverage for party fun time. The better parts of this adventure, specifically the village part, remind me a bit of that style. There’s also a little bit of the Steve Jobs “just one more thing …” going on also. One of the hooks has a nobleman approaching the party. His daughter ran away with her fiance to the adventure village and took she absconded with the family jewels … no doubt to pawn. Could you go fetch her back? That’s a pretty standard hook. Just one more thing … you get the feeling he’s more interested in getting his jewels back than his daughter. BLAMO! Just what you need to add a WHOLE lot of life to this interaction with the party. No longer a faceless droid, the nobleman now has something for the DM to work with. There’s a lot of this “little big extra” going on in this adventure. The second hook, by the way, is missing this. The local lord’s steward contacts the party, asking them to look into the village for the lord. What’s missing is that little bit extra: “because he doesn’t trust the reeve he appointed. Don’t contact him.” That turns boring into a spy mission, with additional distrust to play with. Not everything in the adventure is good, as that example shows, but it is at least generally decent, with no railroads.

The adventure centers around a remote forest village. Decrepit and decaying, straight out a Lovecraft story. There are half a dozen notable villagers detailed. There are a handful of events detailed. There is a full percentile table full of “village backdrop” to add character to the village. There’s a handful of businesses presented. There’s a timeline presented for what happens. It’s just about perfect as the centerpoint for a village investigation locale. Try this on for size: Cats hiss at one another, fighting over a piece of rotten meat before howling and running off. A decrepit old man swoops in to grab it and begins to stuff it into his mouth. This is exactly the sort of stuff to bring a place to life. It sets the atmosphere, for both the DM and player, perfectly.

The party is hooked into the remote village. They poke around a bit and eventually get attacked that first evening. Which leads to an investigation of an old manor, which leads to another ambush, and then to a ritual in a dark cave the next day. Poke around, shit happens, do some B&E to get some more information, suffer some consequences, confront the baddie. Pretty standard. And very well executed. Werebats, the creepy village, the creepy manor (“a small sack filled with hundreds of human teeth spills over”), this is a classic example of a well-executed “showing instead of telling” adventure. Telling the party Bob is evil is a “meh” situation. The party discovering a bag of bloody humanoid teeth shows the party that Bob is evil … a much more successful way of making an impact during the adventure. This adventure does that very well. I fucking LOVE the tables in this adventure that are used to add some of that showing. The adventure proper does a decent job and it’s taken over the top by those tables.

I already touched on the verbosity a bit, but let me give another example. It illustrates perfectly the agony/ecstasy of the area descriptions in this adventure. Area M2 is the Animal Pens. “The Wearnes kept an assortment of chickens and rabbits to drink their blood.” Then there’s a little two-sence read-aloud that has a nice little bit about flies buzzing angrily around the pens. Then there’s a little bit about the family neglected the animals kept in here and they starved to death, the stench of rotting bodies hanging in the air. PERFECT. EXCELLENT! Mood set! DM Energized! Then the animal coop is described on a separate line, adding nothing of import. Then the fence is described (along with the require fucking break DC), adding nothing. Then the pen yard is described, adding nothing. All of that is at least as long as the first, good part, and maybe ever a bit longer. Going through the required (Pathfinder?) forms detracts insteads of adds.

Some of the treasure is very nice. A +1 dagger that is shaped like a scalpel with a metal handle. Some kick ass books, which double as spellbooks. Exactly what spellbooks should be. A short collection of profane poems to evil gods acts as a scroll of augury. Cool! The Necrotic Codex of Evern Holstam is bound in tanned human skin with a spine fashioned by a leg bone. It’s a treatise on the undead, and contains all L1 and L2 necrotic spells. Sweet! This is treasure! The party will shit themselves AND covet them! Awesome!

The monsters here are almost all new. While original, and well illustrated, they could use a little bit more descriptive text to communicate the flavor to the DM. But, bonus points for non-book monsters. Or at least using monsters that I don’t recognize.

There’s a miss or two also. There’s a journal present that describes the evil plan. Journals, a staple of Lovecraft and CoC, are a cop out. Find a different way to communicate things. Prisoners or something. The village feels smaller, described, than what’s portrayed on the text. The random village trappings help with this a bit, but it’s still feels a bit … empty and unsupported? I don’t know … I might be wrong about this. The trappings table is VERY strong. The main baddie, a werebat, also uses a Wand of Wounding type thing. That’s fucking lame. Make the werebat do werebat things. A werebat using a wand smacks of DM fiat. let him shoot green rays from his glowing green eyes if you want him to have a ranged attack. But using a monster using a wand is lame. The werebats have already been tweaked. They worship a dark bat god. Why not leverage that instead of jerking us out of the werebat mindset?

This is solid. It’s organization is not perfect, but it does a decent job of laying things out for you so it’s to run during actual play. The tables and information is easy to find, even if they are not reproduced in the back or on a tear sheet.

The PDF is $9 on rpgnow, with the print being $14. If you have any interest in what I’ve described then I would encourage you to look into this. I’ve bought adventures for a lot more that were a lot less good. http://www.rpgnow.com/product/128936/Against-the-Cult-of-the-Bat-God?term=bat+god

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Dungeon Magazine #64

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Grotto of the Queen
by Paul F Culotta & Shari Culotta
AD&D
Levels 6-9

This is an overly-verbose attack on a sea temple. Seriously, it goes on for at least two page, three if you count some sidebars, in order to justify the premise of the adventure. Evil Bad Guy hints to a third party that the adventurers are the right people for a certain job, then listens invisibly to the plan, and then teleports to the evil temple to warn them. This is yet another example of an adventure Trying To Explain Things. The byzantine efforts gone through are crazy, and very off-putting. Getting past that you get to a pretty decent wandering monster table, that are excellent little set ups for adventure. A little long, at a paragraph each instead of a sentence, but still good. There’s an evil village with a nice evil tavern full of Potential Energy … and they don’t attack on sight, giving the party a great opportunity for roleplaying and fun. The temple proper is … verbose. It’s trying to explain the room, what the plans for the room were, what happened in the room, and then sometimes what people in the room tell the party they know. I don’t know how many tenses of verb that is. The idea is that the temple set up an ambush, but another group of murder-hobo’s stumbled in to it, and now the party is coming in a couple of hours later to find the aftermath of a battle. There’s a nice timeline that goes along with it, with the temple finally figuring out what’s what. The whole “Surprise, it’s the REAL us!” thing is sure to bring joy to your PC’s. The treasure and scenes are not that evocative, but it’s a decent setup that plays to a group power fantasies.

Bzallin’s Blacksphere
by Christopher Perkins
AD&D
Levels 12-15

The longest adventure in this issue is a big ol monster zoo battle with just about every evil high HD monster in the book. Primarily a wizard’s castle, with interdimensional protections and wrap-around corridors, it’s chock full of evil wizards, devils, and a shit-ton of other extraplanar evil creatures. There’s a sphere of annihilation growing in a town, and the local mage thinks that the old local mage, Bzallin, has a talisman that will stop it. Then some yugoloths break in and try to kill everyone, name dropping that Bzallin is now a lich. You go to Bzallin’s old ruined fortress, fight some undead and wizards, then teleport to this new extra-dimensional fortress. Kill all of the mages, devils, slaadi, etc in sight, then go home. This isn’t a very interesting adventure, although it foreshadows some of the design elements to come in 3E and 4E, especially the combined arms monster approach to planning rooms. Pick some monsters that could work well together and construct some pretext for them working together. This strains credibility, in my opinion. You have to work within the rules you lay out for your world and this world-view just doesn’t fit mine. It’s just room after room of combat. Nothing too interesting.

Last Dance
by Jeff Crook
AD&D
Levels 4-6

I can only hope that there is a special hell for the designers of these one-trick pony adventures. The party is lured to a house to be killed It’s full of traps, the most notable are in the form of bodies controlled like puppets. The woman who hires you won’t get out of her carriage (her eyes are hurt by bright light …) and has pallid skin. How many parties, do you think, killed her right then and there? Notably, if killed she comes back more powerful as an evil spirit that possesses the house. Go into a room, get impacted by a trap/effect, repeat. I hate these gimpy/DM torture-porn adventures.

The Mad Chefs of Lac Anchois
by Jennifer Stack
AD&D
Levels 6-9

A farce of an adventure featuring two cloud giants chefs/brothers running a restaurant in a famous culinary region of the land. Three giants food critics are on their way soon, and the brothers are serving frog legs. But they captured grippli instead of frogs. They kobold waitresses and ogre mage sommelier run interference for the giants, and they are belligerent if interrupted in the kitchen. Frauds, they have stolen their recipes from a Julia Childs cookbook. It’s clearly meant to be farcical, but I think you could fit into a fey-land adventure, or a nice dungeon-town environment. It IS badly organized though, in room/key/description format. Ihe important bits of timeline & interaction should be moved out of the keys.

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No Country for Weak Men

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by Anders Lager
Lazy Sod Press
Swords & Wizardry
Levels 3-4

Somewhere in Frostreave… “Ever since we left that so-called town at the edge of the land of eternal ice, I’ve been freezing my butts off! And no trace of that were-whatever-thing we’re supposed to hunt down. Our best scout, Halross, says she’s been passing here, into this valley, but I get a bad feeling from all this silence, frost and snow. It’s empty here. No animals. No tracks. No nothing, but ice and snow. It’s not natural… And now we’re stuck in this cave. The blizzard has lasted two days now, and our supplies are almost gone. Hell, I’d give a sack of gold for a cold ale and a hot wench in my lap right now. I can smell the fear of the others – die of starvation or disgust here, or freeze to death out there. And some other not so pleasant smells too… Some choice, huh? Maybe we can roast that gnome’s pony? Would have been nice with some food now… Or, we just roast the gnome… Everyone’s on the edge. No sign of the blizzard waning either. I reckon someone will snap soon… Well, not me. Guess it’s time we get moving…”
This is a short fifteen room tomb complex, mostly linear, in the frozen north. It’s got some decently unique monsters and magic, but it resembles some cross between Tomb of Horrors and Grimtooth more than a dungeon adventure. The adversarial vibe from Tomb of Horrors is present here as well, and it’s something I’ve always had a hard time getting into.

It starts off well enough: “General feel: Dark, cold. Everything is covered in a thin layer of frost. Not disturbed for ages. Faint smell of decay in the stale air. All areas are either cut out of the bedrock or natural caves. The doors are made of hard wood and locked or barred. All scribblings are in an archaic form of Old Elvish.“ That’s some pretty good inspirational text. It sets mood in a very good way. You can build off of that, getting into the right frame of mind to expand the room descriptions. Then it immediately drops off at the first room. About a half page of text to describe a cave with a body in it and a secret door in the back wall. And it’s not good description either. It has advice like “(easy perception roll)” and “Close to the corpse there’s a small triangular opening in the stone wall, leading into the depths of the rock. (average perception roll)” It goes on. A lot. This is a really great example of an unfocused writing style. It’s very conversational. It’s trying to provide atmosphere, and rules, and facts, and inspiration, but it’s not really doing much of any of that very well. Spurious text like “close to the corpse” doesn’t really give us anything to work with, it’s more like a boring fact. “Embedded in its bloody hand” does a much better job, if it is even required. The description is more like a stream of consciousness outpouring from the writer. It’s a decent start, for a first draft, but needs a polish to focus the writing, to dig into what’s important and improve it and drop the rest. Most of the rooms in the adventure are like that.

The grimtooth/Tomb of Horrors vibe turns me off also. It’s a pretty strong reaction from me, and I’m sure I’m prejudiced against this sort of dungeon. A pool of water in a natural cave that’s actually acid, or a sodium ball that drops into a pool of water to explode. Lots of levers to pull to make certain things happen. I like all of these elements, separately, but when put together in a “Challenge” style tomb I start to react badly. I think it’s the whole “the dungeon builder/wizard wants to test you” thing that I loathe, and this resembles that if you squint enough.

The dungeon is pretty linear. The map looks like a Logos-style map, but is’ pretty linear with a couple of offshoot corridors with more empty rooms and “challenges.” It’s not really large enough to stretch your legs in or to get that feeling of dread from not knowing what’s down the road not taken.

It does a decent job with the monsters and the treasure. It’s new monsters and treasure, which is always nice to see. The descriptions are a bit wanting though. “As normal skeletons, but armed with norse weapons.” Not exactly inspiring. Spectral skeletons dripping with ectoplasm (a different monster) is a bit better.

The ending has the undead king arise, 10 turns later, and begin to summon an army of the dead. The beginning has the party find a cross that is used as a kind of key to open some of the doors/traps in the complex. Both of those elements are pretty decent. It’s the middle that suffers a lot. The conversational style leads to the lack of focus in the descriptions, resulting in boring instead of inspiring.

$1.99
http://www.rpgnow.com/product/158772/No-Country-for-Weak-Men-SW-version

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Erde Manor (Dyson’s Dodecahedron #4 & #5)

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by Dyson Logos
ZERO/Barrier Productions
Labyrinth Lord
Level 4

This is actually a review of issues four and five of Dyson’s Dodecahedron, and more specifically, of the Erdea Manor dungeon that is spread out between the two issues. The dungeon has four levels with about ninety rooms total. It’s an inconsistent effort, with the upper levels being more interesting and better than the lower levels. It reminds me a lot of my favorite dungeon, Level 1 of The Darkness Beneath, without the “effortlessly interesting rooms” that TDB has.

The ruins of an old manor sit on a hillside. And inside are four chaotic levels of factions and six different groups that feels much more static then the implies it should. Dwarves are hanging around, trying to wait out a siege of ogres that have recently moved in. The ogres have a rogue member who is out for himself. The old members of the family that owned the manor are hanging around in the basements, with, maybe, four different factions. There are vermin galore and a few other humanoids that have wandered in. And yet … it feels more static than that would imply. The dwarves are locked in a room and have no interest in leaving. There’s a bit of a Monty Python/French Knights thing you could do with this, but it’s not really interactive. Likewise the ogres … the intra-ogre conflict is not really a highlight or enabled very well. The three or four factions of the family in the lower levels are also not really … interesting? People, fish-people, and bull-people are presented as branches (As well as undead) but no real reference to their interactions, cooperation, or how they react to the parties intrusions.

The details for the monsters, and for many of the rooms, come off instead as window dressing, or maybe fondant. It looks nice but it doesn’t really contribute very well to core mission. Rather than enabling creative play it comes off mostly as trivia. The springboard to adventure is lost. Individually some of the rooms are quite nice. Gnolls displaced by cave bears who is eating one of their comrades in the next room. Goats hanging on hooks on the walls, or an ogre making dwarf-bone bread. There’s something missing here. Some kind of potential energy, a wound spring waiting to be released.

The treasure is mostly a miss on the hit and miss scale. Highlights are a pair of ceremonial platinum axes and a golden beard-clasp. That’s quite nice. But most of the treasure ends up in the “silver necklace” or “+1 spear” category of treasure.

The maps are what you would expect. They have a lot of nice features, stairs up & down, multiple ways into and out of the dungeon, a good mix of dungeon features. They remind me a lot of the Rappan Athuk levels; individually they can be a bit small but if viewed as a cross-section they get much more interesting.

There’s a good example of the room types in an old meeting room. On the wall is a portrait, almost completely faded. If you raise a toast to the person in the portrait then something happens. But there’s no clue that this is an option. As presented it’s just trivia. If it were a dinner party, with the figure prominent and everyone around him raising a toast to him? Sure, then there’s a clue. The room as written needs just a bit more to give it a push. To turn it from trivia to potential energy.

Erde Manor needs a good polish edit.

Pay What You Want
http://www.rpgnow.com/product/117544/Dysons-Dodecahedron–Vol-1-Issue-5

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Dungeon Magazine #63

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Hunt for a Hierophant
by Chris Doyla
AD&D
Levels 6-8

Your motivation here is that a town you call home is threatened. Lame. PC’s are murder hobos with no families precisely to avoid this kind of ham-handed DM manipulation. “Get married? Fuck No. I don’t want to go rescue her next week and every week for the rest of my life.” Go find a treant who can tell you how to go find a druid. A couple of forest encounters, the treant is insane, and the druid dungeon is full of “tests.” Oh boy. Tests. The only good thing about this adventure is a couple of monsters who don’t immediately attack, a dryad and a stone giant. How refreshing. This thing is BURIED in text, even by Dungeon standards. It like to explain things. A LOT. “A trigger spell activates a blah blah blah spell which activates a …” It’s fucking magic. The sword flies around because that’s what swords do. “Perhaps the purpose of your life is to serve as an example to others.”

Gnome Droppings
by Christopher Perkins
AD&D
Levels 2-4

It says Spelljammer, but not really. The party sees a shooting star. Finding it next to a moorlock cave, they kill/scare away the creatures. The star is a crate, with two gnome robots in it. Some spriggans show up. Hilarity ensues as the gnome robot gets confused. Eventually some Spelljamming gnomes show up and ask for their robot back. There’s not much to this, and far, FAR too much text to describe what’s going on. That’s it. Nothing to see. Move along.

Huzza’s Goblin O’War
by Paul F. Culotta
AD&D
Levels 4-6

A tiny pirate encounter. A hill giant throws an anchor grappling hook at the parties boat while margoyles fly over goblin raiders. And this is an adventure? “Next week please write 62 pages on a room with an orc and a pie.” That’s it. Nothing to see. Move along.

Blood & Fire
by John Baichtal
Al-Qadim
Levels 5-7

This is quite the long desert fetch-quest adventure. Find the missing prince, but you need to find the old vizier first. To do that you need to travel to an oasis. The folks there won’t let you have the vizier unless you kill the dragon. Travel to the prince’s valley prison. Meet locals. Invade mage fortress that has captured prince. There are bits and pieces of good design in this. Some of the creatures you encounter are doing things; dragging away a dead body, or in the process of attacking others. Some of the magic items are decently described, even though they only show up in a big treasure vault at the end. The apparatus of Kwalish shows up (I don’t recall ever seeing one in an adventure before … no, the 2E artifact adventures (Axe, Rod, Vena) don’t count.) It’s mostly long. It wants to be realistic and tries to cram in data, but it does so using the traditional room/key format, with lengthy introductions. If Baichtal was more familiar with sandboxes then it may have turned out different. “Tedious” is what I would use to describe this one.

Invisible Stalker
by Johnathan M. Richards
AD&D
Levels 1-2

It’s only three pages. A woman comes running out of her dress shop, complaining of a ghost. It’s actually a thief with a ring of invisibility who is stalking her. That’s it. Nothing to see. Move along.

Beauty Corrupt
by Kent Ertman
AD&D
Levels 4-5

This is a scene-based adventure that is primarily underwater. A merchant has suddenly regressed and is an idiot. The other merchants pay the party to find out why. Clues lead to the sea, where the party finds out about some hags that cursed a siren. Murder Time! There are some nice bits of descriptive text scattered throughout (wicked paring knife, they keep three feet to gnaw/snack upon, etc) but it’s mostly crap. The scene based layout is combined with mountains of text that doesn’t really say anything. (Talk about hand-holding!) The hags all have rings of spell storing with teleport, so they can escape. Joy. What a gimp. Why not just scream “DM PET! YOU CAN’T KILL THEM HA HA HA !” at the players instead? They both make the players feel the same way.

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Brave the Labyrinth #1 – The Screams from Jedder’s Hole

btl
by Dyson Logos
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 4-5

“That unholy wailing must be stopped. I sense a great evil lurking in the dark depths of Jedder’s Hole. I can lead you down along the secret paths, but if we falter, the price may be our immortal souls.” – Brother Helmad the Bold

This is a short five page adventure with twelve rooms, in a dungeon/former prison under a (reformed) temple of justice. It’s got some great imagery in it and is well worth whatever I ended up paying (PWYW.)

I’ve always had a hard time with Logos adventures. They are based around his maps and his maps tend to be a little small for my tastes. They are usually pretty well done, with some decent features and good use of elevation, but small. I’m more of a “family size bag of cheesy poofs” kind of adventure guy. But going into it knowing that it’s small helps a bit.

The conceit is this: Suddenly wailing has starts coming from a hole in the Temple of Justice. Bad King Dickhead used to chuck prisoners down there over a hundred years ago. The entire intro section is really well done, with some great advice for the hook. Introduce the temple over several sessions, and then, while visiting one day, the wailing starts up. Maybe in the middle of a ceremony the party is participating in. A wedding perhaps? The wailing, and hole in the floor it comes from, can cause those who really fail their saves to look down into it in horror and then, over 2-10 minutes, throw themselves in … That’s EXCELLENT. A wedding party interrupted, people transfixed in horror … and then the first one throws themselves in, just tipping over the edge! A mad scramble to prevent the others! That’s a good hook, a good set up, and a good effect that allows for great play opportunities.

The imagery in the adventure is well done. Skeletons of former prisoners on the other side of the only door in, having died trying to claw their way through the door. The sounds of bodies being ripped and rended and munched upon, coming from the distance and dark in front of the party as they descend into the hole … Most of the adventure provides these sorts of little bits of imagery that really work well to bring a scene to life in your mind, thereby leveraging the DMs imagination more effectively.

There are a smattering of potential allies in the hole, or enemies for the trigger happy. The magic treasure is quite nicely done. An Amulet of Blood with weird special effects, or a transformed skull that is now a CRystal Ball skull. That’s cool! More adventure should do that sort of thing.

This is a short review for a short adventure. While short is does have a decent amount of stuff going on, with more than enough stuff for the party to juggle in only twelve rooms.

The print version of the magazine is $4. The PDF version if Pay What You Want.
http://www.rpgnow.com/product/116433/Brave-the-Labyrinth–Issue-1-PDF

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