Praise the Fallen

There were those demented powers that wanted to return all to naught, to become one with the Ever Slumbering Void.  Pantheons collided and the heavens shattered with war. Untold cosmic powers were lost without their names ever spoken by mortal tongues.  Countless legions fell. Defeated in their gambit of annihilation, they scattered across the universe. Several of the Fallen, fell to this world, forever imprisoned at their point of impact…

This sixteen page adventure describes a thirty room dungeon, home to a cult trying to resurrect the fallen angel that crashed there in eons past. Decent usability at the table and a kind of … starkness (in a good way) of the cult and temple remind me a bit of the starkness of the old Tharizdun adventure (WG4?) mashed up a bit with Death Frost Doom to add a bit of local color.

There was this old 3e supplement from an indie called The Void that I bought at a local indy game store that is now closed. It represented something outside of law and chaos, and in fact as you progressed down the prestige classes offered you lost an axis from your alignment. It had a decent idea, presenting the void as something outside of the normal game. This adventure isn’t exactly that, since it has a fallen angel, but it does capture a bit of that otherness/void/nothing feel. There was a certain starkness, a coldness, from WG4, and this has a lot of that same vibe going on, but in this case it’s brought a little more to life with more modern use than WG4 had. I guess because there IS a cult in this place.

I should mention the layout first since its something I’ve only seen once or twice before. You you took a dungeon map of thirty rooms and divided it up in to sections of four or five rooms each, and then put a mini-map of those four rooms on a single page and all of the room descriptions for the same page, then you have an idea of the layout. Reminiscent of parts of Blue Medusa, and several “a bunch of one page dungeons make up the campaign” adventures, I seem to recall only one or two other adventures also having this exact same layout. It works pretty well, forcing the room descriptions to be short. There does seem to be an unnatural mania, though, with keeping the room numbers off of the map that I don’t understand at all. Both the main map and the mini-maps don’t have any rooms numbers on them all, in spire of the individual rooms being numbered. There are just arrows drawn from the text sections to the point on the map. Arrows that sometimes don’t come through well. It doesn’t seem easy to know which part of the booklet to run to to find the next section of the dungeon the party moved in to, or at least not as intuitive as it should be. The decision to leave room numbers off doesn’t seem to have another purpose, and detracts from ease of use.

The encounters are suitably creepy. “There are 4 statues of angels in various stages of anguish. Each statue has a kneeler in front of it. NE angel is reaching back toward heaven as he falls, his wings distingigrating.” [three more one sentence statue descriptions] [A one sentence description of what happens when someone of law, chaos, neutral kneels on the kneeler.] [The mini-map also has a short one-sentence text box pointing to each statue, describing an item that the statue can give.]

First, excellent layout. What’s the first thing the DM needs when the players enter the room? It’s the first sentence of the room description! Then, the obvious follow question from the players is answered: whats each statue doing? Then a short listing of the interactive effects, based on alignment, with the boons cleverly noted by the other text boxes. There are both good and bad things that can happen to the party, which is good design. If only bad things ever happen when you play with the dungeons toys then you will no longer play with the toys, which doesn’t make ANYONE happy. Tying it to alignment, in this case, isn’t exactly my favorite tactic, but, finally, a use for that Undetectable Alignment spell that doesn’t involve an NPC using it to trick the party, maybe?  Note also the wording. Anguish. A kneeler. Wings disintegrating, not to mention the imagery of an anguished angel rach back to heaven as it falls, with its overloaded cultural attachment that we all have. This is a good room description. Oh, also, if you fuck up in this room then the doors to the dungeon lock and the only way to unlock them is to sacrifice someone while saying “Praise [angel name], the Fallen.” Sweet! And we know this because of the trance someone goes in to when they fail their save which causes the effect. There were consequences for your action, the DM notified you of it, and there’s now this kind of … timer? that hangs over the adventure: how do we get out? Again, good design. You communicate things to the party, raising the stakes.

Another room has a statue (yeah, a number of statues in this one …) reach out as if you grasp a persons hand. Do you? Huh? Well? It looks inviting … The DM knows its a set up. The party knows. The DM knows the party knows and they know he knows. Delightful anticipation and tension, a hallmark of good D&D!

Nice magic items, wanderers doing things, same level depth transitions, in media res stuff, like a little girl about to get sacrificed. Lots of good stuff going on in here, including some prisoners to rescue and some friends to potentially make. A nice ally to the cult, the Phaen Witch, not really a member but more of an independent agent, also shows up, rising up out of the floor in places and times. Good imagery, good NPC vision.

The text description style gets a little much in places, and something as simple as a bolded black dot, between different text sections in a room, would have gone a long way to help in a couple of the longer rooms. And the layout style, while forcing a sparness, doesn’t benefit a few things, such as “2 Swords of Light.” Those probably could have used another couple of words of description. It also makes an appeal to rolling your own magic items and treasure in places. Again, sparness is appreciated, but not to the extent it sacrifices to abstraction. An appendix is a wonderful thing, the adventure could stick room treasure there and still maintain its dedication to the format its chosen. There’s also a kind of “Hey, you just stumbled on to the the ritual that JUST completed to bring the angel back to life!” Yeah, ok, I get what the designer is trying to do. Trying just a little too hard, I think. Maybe a mechanic to push the ritual forward instead of an ex machina would have been in order? The hook here is also not really present. Just a map with a note about it being the location of a fallen angel. So, bring your own hook and place your own reason for the party wanting to be here. “Treasure” ,meaning XP, is the usual reason for OSR adventurers, but the implication is there that there is some GOOD to be done, which, tonally, doesn’t really match an OSR motivation. Making the Fallen Angel an oracle, or you need its dust, or something like that, maybe.

I will mention also, the art style, something I usually don’t care about. Most adventure art doesn’t really contribute to the adventure. It’s just a picture. In rare cases it can really contribute to the vibe the adventure is going for or help communicate something like the horror of a monster. The art here is all a kind of black and white, maybe with negative images? (I don’t know shit about art.) What I DO know is that it does a great job in helping set the mood for the DM on the starkness of the VOID imagery that runs throughout the adventure.

This is free at their blog. It’s an interesting thing. You should pick it up AND encourage the designer to make more. Oh, and !!!ALSO TELL THEM TO STICK A LEVEL ON IT NEXT TIME!!! Grrrr… pet peeve …

https://graphiteprime.blogspot.com/2018/12/praise-fallen.html

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12 Responses to Praise the Fallen

  1. Bigby's Affirmative Consent Lubed Fist says:

    Sad Wings of Destiny: The Adventure

  2. Gus L says:

    Sounds totally decent. Who doesn’t like a creepy resurrectionist cult, and ever since I read Rilke as a moody scarf clad youthI’ve thought angels were terrifying. Anything with majestically terrifying angels gets a look from me.

  3. Shuffling Wombat says:

    Well reviewed. On the whole this is a splendid offering, but I would add my agreement concerning the master maps: leaving off the numbers makes it harder to navigate. Moreover, on the page where rooms 8 and 9 are described, there is no mention of the possible cultist encounter in the hallway connecting them: you have to wait to the next page to get details of that. And to expand on your last gripe, I would also like suggested PC numbers along with suggested PC levels.

    Some excellent imagery, and well worth downloading.

  4. Elder Basilisk says:

    A very nice review. I went through and did a quick and dirty pathfinder conversion that I plan to run when I get the chance.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I ran this and it was pretty fun. It was ALMOST runnable without prep; the main problem I had: it was often hard to quickly understand which description went with which room on the mini-maps.

    Instead of cultists and sad angels there were creatures feeding their Fat Hero, and statues were of lard-ass monsters. The party charmed one creature, and it led them straight to the final room, except every time they stumbled onto a trap against non-locals they had to explain to their “friend” why the ogres, the statues etc. won’t recognize them as Fat Hero fans. The witch teleported away but would plan to trap them in the dungeon next game, which they get to backtrack without a guide now.

    Cool stuff.

  6. Handy Haversack says:

    After hearing that many local youths had taken their family’s savings and joined the cult, my players followed the money and are now locked inside. I kicked up the staffing a little bit by thinking about what happened to the acolytes who lost their fervor and tried to escape. Statted for AS&SH but of possible use:

    Empty Hand: AC 0 (as plate and shield but better), F6, Atk. 3/2 (spcl.); dmg. 1d8+2 (battle axe)** or 1d2+1 (bola)*; AL: CE
    Fingers of the Void: AC 4 (chain + voidsight); F1-5, Atk. 3/2; dmg. 1d8+1 (battle axe)* or 1d2+1 (bola)*;

    * Mastery, ** Grand Mastery

    The Empty Hands are sixth-level fighters who have fully devoted themselves to the Void, sacrificing their identities to become the controlling intelligences of packs of lower-level fighters. The Hands wear not clothing, but shifting patterns of raw Void stuff writhe over their skin, protecting them from most attacks. Their scalps and eyes are covered by hoods of Voidstuff, and from these, tendrils extend to the brain stems of the Fingers, who are culled from the ranks of those acolytes whose faith begins to waver.

    The Hand can divide its Fighting Ability among the five Fingers. As each is killed or incapacitated, it can shift its FA around as needed. When first encountered, all will be at FA1. When a finger dies, the FA goes where the hand deems best. Hands keep their own HP and save as F6.

    Hand and Fingers immune to sleep, charm.

    Hand has head covering of raw Voidstuff that covers scalp and eyes. Tendrils of void reach to Fingers. This stuff is uncuttable but can be disrupted by a light or invisibility spell on a Finger; Fingers cut off from their Hand collapse, sobbing and traumatized.

    The Hand is blind and sees only through the Fingers’ eyes. If all are killed or incapacitated, the Hand gets some sense map through Void tendrils, which whip immaterially around the area and transmit information on what they pass through, but all attack roles are at -2.

    There are 5 Hands in the temple. They have long since sacrificed their names and identities to the Void.

    Four of these groups placed on the map. One patrols on RE table.

    Oh, also, for what it’s worth, the DLable PDFs aren’t protected, so if you have Adobe Pro or some other tools, you can add numbers to the maps.

  7. KT says:

    “There was this old 3e supplement from an indie called The Void that I bought at a local indy game store that is now closed.”
    I can’t find this one. Can you share any additional info, author, publisher?

  8. Actual Play Report on Praise the Fallen
    (thought I had done this already!)

    We spent three six-hour sessions dealing with Praise the Fallen and, really, left it incomplete. My group made three separate incursions. I had beefed up the defenses somewhat with the five Empty Hands (described in an earlier comment). Those were pretty formidable, esp. when clerics capable of throwing around hold person and darkness were nearish to hand. There were some poorly timed random encounters, as well, and an ongoing challenge dialogue with the Phaen Witch that led to her luring guards and encounters to the party in order to observe their tactics and get a sense of their power.

    I think the worst thing you can say about the adventure is that it’s kind of video-gamey — clear the level, fight the boss. It does reward and punish poking around at all the things you can poke around at, which is great. But there’s not a lot of room to negotiate with cultists who embrace the Void, so there’s a good bit of fighting.

    The Phaen Witch is a cool character. We had just played “Witchburner” (https://tenfootpole.org/ironspike/?p=5508) and right after my players had convinced themselves that all the weird stuff that had happened there was just coincidence and the world being the world, the Phaen Witch came along and claimed it was her doing and part of her ongoing research.

    In my conception, she’s kind of at an angle to the cult — feeding off of and studying the energies they summon but to her own purpose. They provide a safe spot for her research and a ready stream of entropic power. So the cult is important to her without being an actual object of devotion. She could cut and run if she had to. She could find a better deal, too, and better is defined by her own peculiar interests (though survival is paramount to her, unlike to the cult’s individual members).

    The Empty Hands let me play some with the cultists, with the mind-controlled Fingers of the Void being those acolytes who had second thoughts and wanted to run away or turned on the cult in some way. These were from the nearby towns, and so those were affected by a great drain of their youth.

    All of this is kind of extra to the adventure, but honestly, I think that’s one of its best features. It’s modular in the most desirable way, and it made me want to fit it in to the wider world rather than just letting it be its own island … of adventure.

    The map is cool and there are potentially several ways to get to the boss fight without dealing with everything else, but they are unlikely, I think. That feeling of fight … fight … fight … big fight is, again, the only real problem I found in the playing.

    The players’ best move was sending in a zombie with a trapped ape skull in a sack to present it as a gift to the high priest leading the ritual, all cloaked by an illusion of cultists bringing in the sacrifice. A bully chimera recently stole their trapped ape skull, and they are all pretty upset.

    My players left after their third foray, the characters in rough shape. They have been told by reliable sources that the cult is focusing the attention of the Fallen on them, vendetta-style. Also that the Phaen Witch would take their cleric as a consort and partner. So my guess is we’re not done with this one? Though tomorrow never knows!

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