- By Graphite Prime
- Level 3?
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 …