The Demon Serpent of Balmorphos, daniel j bishop
Daniel J Bishop
Derp! I bought a 116 page DCC magazine. Un-derp! It’s pretty interesting. I also have a headache this morning.
DCC magazine with the usual set of DCC magazine things, like patrons and a bestiary. It’s also got three adventures in it. One is quite short, and I shall not mention it again. A second, “Cannibal Tiger Women of Tsaru” is about fifty pages and involves several groups and areas, making it almost a hex crawl without hexes. (Great art though!) Dense, I’m not going to cover it. The third (which is the first in the issue) is the first part of a megadungeon.
“Demon Serpent of Balmosphos”, by Daniel Bishop, is a forty five room dungeon with two levels and four theming areas ,in about thirty pages. It pushes my buttons in read-aloud, italics, and verbosity, but never goes off the deep end. Usually. What it does have is that DCC charm, which is kind of like a good OD&D thing turned up to 11.
Daniel does a good job with sprinkling the text with little tidbits that make the dungeon come alive. Early on you find a boot … that still has a rotting left foot in it. Little bits like that are scattered throughout the rooms. They don’t quite fall in to the trivia category because they do such a good job in setting mood and conveying it to the party.
The read aloud runs from about three to six sentences, in italics. I don’t like long sections of italics, I think it’s hard to read. I don’t like hard to read. My eyes glaze over. This read aloud almost always starts te same way: with a sentence on dimensions. “The door opens into a dusty space some 30 feet wide and 40 feet deep, vaulted to a height of 12 feet.” Yes, it completionist, since the read-aloud is meant to read to the party, but it has NEVER made sense to me to put that shit in the text. You’ve got a map, right? Anyway, the read-aloud, except for those points, is not too bad. Toom two tells us “Jumbles of bones and cast-off bits of detritus lie in the corners of this area. The uneven flagstones sag in the middle of the floor, as though from subsidence in the depths. You can hear the distant trickle of water from somewhere deep underground. The whole area smells of dry reptile musk, rotting meat, and sulfur.” That’s pretty good. Smells, sounds, good use of adjectives. It absolutely creates a good mental picture and that’s what I’m looking for in a room description.
The DM text then follows, and uses paragraph breaks and whitespace to good effect. Each thing mentioned in the read-aloud generally gets its own paragraph. That makes it easy to scan to find things to follow up on as the players explore. IE: it’s helping the DM run the adventure, which is what its supposed to do.
Treasure and monsters are exactly what you expect of DCC: good. There’s this magic ring that may cause a devil to show up to retrieve it t some point in the future. Further, if you kill the devil, you get a respite for awhile while the bureaucracy of hell catches up. Hey! You just got some roleplaying notes for said devil! Perfect. Monsters also get some good descriptions. “The Balmorphos Serpent is a 50-foot long viper with hard brass scales and a head shaped like a blunt arrowhead. Its eyes glow red in the darkness. It smells of reptile musk, but its hissing breath reeks of sulfur (not unlike the smell of a struck match or rotting eggs) … transparent green venom drips from its fangs.” Great imagery, lots of USEFUL detail, meaning its oriented towards what the party will interact with and see/smell, rather than trivia on its background, etc. Bonus points: when you kill it a demon crawls out its mouth, getting larger. Then it bitches about missing it’s little lemurs first day of school before it goes home. Nice.
Which is a good transition in to the encounters proper. Written in a neutral format, not gimping players, things to talk to that don’t always attack and some semblance, because of the four themed areas, of factions. Daniel puts in some good advice for the DM here and there, mentioning things like how to remove giant snake skin and some hints about boiling water damage in a stream before the entire 10d6 damage is received by people who ignore the initial signs.
DCC adventures can be a bit linear, but this one, with 3.5 roots, is not. What it does lack, though, is a little attention to the warriors. DCC rooms needs a little bit more in them so warriors can perform Might Deeds. No chandeliers and barren rooms can make things hard on the warriors. Not every room needs to be a parkour playground, but more attention to this area would have been good.
Even with my read-aloud bitching I’m happy to pay for just this adventure.
This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview just shows you editorial and interview shit, and not any of the adventure text. BAD DCC WRITERS! YOUR PATRON IS DISPLEASED.
Room dimensions first just means the writer has actually run a mega-dungeon (or maybe even playtested this one). Because I’ve done megadungeons as a player and as a GM, and what ends up happening when you’re mapping large areas is the mapper wants to nail down room dimensions and exits as soon as he can. That may be out of character when there’s something hostile in the room, but is entirely rational in a meta-game sense, before the table moves on and starts addressing other things, and then you have to clarify things later when the group or GM is trying to move on.
That leaves the question of whether to have read aloud at all, but if you must, having room dimensions as the first sentence matches how groups actually play.
Also, DCC adventures “a bit” linear? They’re a freaking straight line. At least the few I’ve played are strikingly bad in that regard. I suspect they get a pass because they’re evocative in other respects, but it’s almost impossible to overstate how linear some are.
I can be a pretty lazy DM….Some players really enjoy mapping as they go (I don’t…I usually get lost then die). We got one in our group–thats the first thing he asks……every time. But as a lazy DM…yes, I could look at the map and count the squares, but sometimes that can get tedious with larger type rooms. Makes me even think about including small 20×30 or 80×40, etc. on the map itself (if there is room). But in the written portion, I don’t think it needs to be there if the rooms are real small or especially to have a huge long sentence about it. Especially if my character teleported inside the room or used a window instead of a door. So I wouldn’t complain with a simple: 30’x40’x12’h in the beginning of the description. That saves me time on the bigger caverns/rooms.
Thank you for the kind words.
Dave R. is right about my reasoning for including that kind of information in the descriptive text. I have always preferred to include dimensions upfront, going back to by Holmes Blue Box days.
Actually I really dislike boxed text and I think dimensions in the room description should only include ceiling height, pool or pit depth, if relevant. If I was a dm and the mapper asked me room dimensions before I could describe an occupant, I would point out that they don’t have time to map when something is occupying their attention
That is fair, but I would ask you to consider what would happen if you entered a room where someone, or something, attacked you. Even though your attention is immediately riveted by your opponent, you are, no doubt, aware of at least the rough dimensions of the space that you are in, as well as its most outstanding features.
The order of information in descriptive text, for those who use it, serves to convey information that one would be aware of. There may be a monster at the end of it, but if you put the monster upfront the events are occurring in an effective “nowhere”. Sometimes this is appropriate. Sometimes it is not.
If you dislike boxed text, a highlighter can be used to mark the details you want to be sure to include, while ignoring the remaining text.
(This comment is listed as “Anonymous” for some reason, but I am the author in question.)