By Kai Putz
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This is a place were a bitter vampire has holed up. He prepared for these crypts to be his lair and had the help of an accomplished warlock to secure the place. Many undead minions do his biding, and he is himself a force to be reckoned with.
This seventeen page adventure describes a fourteen room tomb/vampire lair in five pages, with the rest being supporting information. . More creepy than the Strahd adventures, it gets close to some decent historically accurate imagery. And it does this through an unfocused writing style. Classic highlighter fodder.
Yeah, I know, no one cares about the fucking hooks. But _I_ care about the hooks. AT least to the extent that they give the DM a springboard. Most of the hooks, which take up a full page in total, are pretty standard “Get hired by someone” hooks with little to recommend them. One, though, the first, is different. You’re hired to deliver a merchant’s daughter, riding in a wagon, to a cloister, where she is to spend the rest of her life. You hit “the weird village where people hang out garlic and fortify themselves at night” and, sure enough, she goes missing. You need a letter from the Mother Prior, telling the merchant that the girl arrived, in order to get paid. This had got a good Carpathian/middle-ages thing going on, from the escort/girl/cloister thing (and some implication of roleplay with her/plight) to the letter thing. Leveraging all of those villages in Vampire & Werewolf movies helps orient the DM as well. It’s a good example of getting just a LITTLE specific, in certain areas, to then allow the DM to riff and go from there.
The map tries to be helpful. It notes a collapsed area, as well as an area where the parties light will attract attention from a nearby monster room. It’s going for a creepier theme than most tombs/undead adventures, and it leverages the art to decent effect. “The Hungry Dead” are more zombie like and there’s some decent art of rotting corpses, animated, that helps cement that vibe. Likewise there’s some skeleton guards that the art depicts in heavy cloaks, arrows sticking out. Not exactly Harryhousen skeletons, but a more formidable vibe comes from these dudes, and the art reflects that. A really good job in tying the art to generate genre vibe, something unusual.
There’s some interesting magic items as well, like a heathen charm to “protect the soul using the journey to the afterlife”. It makes you the LAST person they choose to attack, which is a interesting little effect. AT the expense of 10% more XP to level. Ouch! But can also destroy undead in a funerary rite/place in mouth fashion. It suffers a bit from the description: “an intricate silver amulet on a tiny chain.” The appeal to the real-world funerary rites, mouth amulets, and heathen fetishes is quite evocative. The description could use a word or two on design. Abstract wire? Intricate implies there’s something going on, but all we know is “amulet.” This sort of thing is not an isolated occurrence.
I can flog this out in to the general text as well. There’s a great vibe going on. The tomb of an old rural Carpathian? Absolutely! Battle murals with a knight in armor, christian imagery, it all comes together to paint an excellent picture of an old world vampire/knight surround by a christian mythos.
But man it makes you fight to get at it. Long sections of small italics have TERRIBLE readability. The room text is rich … and padded the fuck out. “The sourthern wall contains a secret door (to room 5)” [Yes, we know this form the map.] “that will automatically be found by those that inspect it (due to the wide gaps around it)” Nice “wide gaps”, but there’s a better way to get at this than the cumbersome first clause. “When enough force is applied, it will swing in to the corridor behind it.” Which doesn’t really matter in a meaningful way to the adventure at hand. It opens.
Another example: “A Magic-User may salvage some of the present stuff for his or her own laboratory. For this purpose (and only this one), items with a total value of 3d6 x50sp may be looted. Every 5+ rolled equals one additional item slot that will be occupied by this loot. If not the whole of “the useful stuff” is taken along, it will not be useful to the Magic- User at all.” It’s long and cumbersome text, languidly taking it’s time to get where it’s going.
The mural room I liked so much takes three paragraphs to describe. “The western wall of this angular room shows a mural of a battle scene. It is much more recent than any of the other murals, more simple and less impressive.” That’s all padding. But then it follows: “The scene depicts a knight surrounded by twelve enemy soldiers who are either dead, mortally wounded or desperate in their fight against the seemingly supreme lone knight. The sky is filled with dark clouds, and seven strange and cheerful cherubim with black wings fly above the scene. The knight is the only combatant depicted in full armor, his great helmet features goat horns and a long beard protrudes from under it.” GREAT! And, is you WIS throw, the 12 soldiers are depictions of the apostles [called ‘saints’ by the author. They are a non-native english speaker, but do a great job. At least I think it should be apostles …] while the cherubs are depictions of the seven deadly sins. Nice! While I’m usually off put when adventures engages in non-gameable descriptions, creeping the fuck out of the players is an allowed activity, especially when you’re foreshadowing the villain.
It’s also got a problem with “explaining.” Dude teams up with an evil necromancer warlock, which is used to explain manoy of the tomb effects/objects/reasons. A magic mouth triggers a zombie hoard. That sort of “cause and effect using the rules” stuff that turns D&D in to a magical rube goldberg creation. Bleech! Disembodied voice cackling? Great! Magic mouth initiated? Meh … WHich then triggers something else? Bleech!
Our vampire, proper, is really “stats as a level 5 elf with these spells …” and the ability to teleport. I THOUGHT when looking at the level limit that the 2-3 range, with a vampire, was fucking nuts. But “stats as L5 elf” with a few doilies like “can drink blood” and “takes damage from sunlight”, etc, actually works out ok. I might quibble it’s “less fantastic”, but it solves the stat problem well enough.
So, a kind of quite, historical tomb raid in the historical medieval Capathains, is a good way to vibe on this one. Decent imagery, for a fake “historically accurate” vibe without it slipping in to simulationist territory. It keeps the LotFP genre/vibe well, without engaging in the torture porn that it can sometimes slip in to. I’m not sure I would run it without a highlighter … but your mileage may vary.
This is on DriveThru for $4. The preview is five pages. Page four, at the end, gets you the Convent hook, otherwise there’s nothing much of note in the preview and isn’t do a good job at all of showing you the room encounters/the adventure you are actually purchasing.
Doesn’t sound bad and feels like the highlighter would be put to good use, specially for just $4 – and yeah, LotFP without too much gorn or torture porn is good.
As an aside, i might quibble that “stats as L5 elf, with a few doilies” might give a MORE fantastic/dark fey vibe to the villain than using the vanilla option (depending on how much room a DM still has to play with in its spell options & special abilities).
But “stats as L5 elf” with a few doilies like “can drink blood” and “takes damage from sunlight”, etc, actually works out ok. I might quibble it’s “less fantastic”, but it solves the stat problem well enough.
I think it’s an improvement over that silly metagame-y level drainer. Bring back vampires with folkloric roots.