Beneath Dark Elms

By Scott Malthouse
Trollish Delver Games
Levels 1-3

Ever wish there was yet another vanity RPG forum where you could engage in Book Talk? Now there is!

Peachtree Village has a problem. The Horned Witch has taken the daughter of a local woodcutter. Now delvers must venture deep into The Black Crypt Forest to face an array of magical beings, both friends and foes.  Be warned, gentle player – things may not be as they seem. Why are there strange floating eyeballs following you around, for instance?

This twenty page adventure details a forest with fifteen locations. It’s got that T&T charm: a lot of non-standard fantasy mixed with just a little silliness. It’s also focused as all fuck; it’s hard to point to an extraneous word or phrase.

In THX1138 there’s a loudspeaker line in a “store”: “for your convenience, consumption has been standardized.” Fantasy RPG’s can sometimes feel like that, even Dark Sun or Eberron. The OD&D vibe harkens back to a slightly less sanitized vibe, getting closer to the folklore and grittier things. (At least the way I think of it.) And then there’s the Unbalanced Dice adventures, which feel like someone has never read fantasy before, not as gritty and with a little more lightness to it. That’s also how I think of T&T adventures, from Dungeon of the Bear forward. At least the ones that are not outright silly.

This adventure has that. There’s a bridge in the adventure with a pot next to it, asking for honey toll. Not paying it causes the hulking bee troll to appear on the other side. If you give the guy some honey you got from a nymph then he’s ECSTATIC and give you a magic item. Closer to a modern telling of a Grimm tale, a little less dark and light hearted but with a touch of the absurd.

One of the encounters in the forest, the first, is called The Decrepit Outpost. A single-room wooden shack with charred walls and a burned out roof. The air is thick with buzzing flies. A deer carcass lies in the centre of the room, it’s flanks torn off. Dried animal track leave toward a window. That’s the first two paragraphs, the “outside” being the first and the second being the inside/carcass. There’s also a broken desk with five golden arrows in it. They cause undead to explode. There’s a note “please ask me before taking – Helga.” That is the third paragraph. The fourth details the ghost ranger that raps on windows and causes chills. And animated the deer carcass if you don’t ask before taking the arrows. It’s simple. The first three paragraphs are almost verbatim from the adventure, so it’s VERY focused on actual play. It’s interactive. The magic item effects are described non-mechanically. What does “explode” mean? You’r the DM, go figure it he fuck out in actual play!

And it does this, encounter after encounter. The decrepit outpost. The honey bridge. The hermit house. The great web. It’s simple. It’s charming. It’s focused. It’s interactive. It concentrates on actual play.

There’s a witch you’re going after. The town rumors are “she decorates her house with the bones of the children she eats.” and “she dances naked with seven ghouls on a full moon.” and “she disguises herself and walks in the village to spy” and “you can only see her out of the corner of your eye.” And on it goes! They are great! It’s a fucking witch! It’s witch rumors in a hick village!

If I were looking for an introductory adventure for new players I might pick this one. It’s simple, charming, lighthearted, and focused.

It also comes across a bit like a funhouse in the wilderness. It’s a little disconnected, or maybe I mean it moves from encounter to encounter a little too easily and little too … jarringly? It’s a pointcrawl map. You enter the forest. You come across the decrepit outpost. You then hit the bee bridge. It’s feels like a pointcrawl funhouse and doesn’t have the cohesiveness that something like Ursine Dunes had. And I don’t mean funhouse in the way that a challenge dungeon like Sea Kings or Ghost Tower or White Plume does. But, it’s got that disconnected vibe that a set-piece after set-piece can have … even though I wouldn’t really call this set-pieces.

The spider queen has corrosive saliva that burns away one armor item if you don’t save. Holy fuck! Now THATS a fucking spider queen monster! She is as old as the forest, likes to bargain for more exotic food, and always keeps her word. Bam! I know her and can play her. Cordial, charming, and speaking in silky smooth tones.

Nymphs bargain for the parties hair and make a clone amalgamation from it. Grave robbers are looking for buddies to loot a vampire tomb. Reciting “Troll Maiden Troll maiden where art thou and thy wisdom” in a stone circle make the oracle appear.Fairy rings. Man beast cave. The spell tree. The black crypt. And, of course, the witches hut. And the trickster demon of entertainment and his eyeball cameras. It’s world is all heightened, because of the demon of entertainment. Whatever, get sillier at the end, I don’t care. It’s not Zap Paranoia, it’s lighthearted fun for beer & pretzels D&D. AKA: Tunnels & Trolls. The first heartbreaker wanted to be more accessible and to this day still brings the impish fun. DCC does this same sort of thing also, but on the Swords & Sorcery path. Successful because they capture and heighten certain fun aspects of the base game. Maybe not suitable for longer-term play, but certainly enough to have a fuck ton of fun with.

The map have numbers next to the location names, but the adventure text just uses the place names. Bad designer! Ise the numbers also! It makes it easier to find things.

This is good enough I’m going to pick up a couple more of Scott’s adventures and check them out. If he can keep firing like this, especially across genres/systems, then he’s AT LEAST a journeyman is a world of amateurs. At Least.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is a good one, with the last three pages showing you the first three encounters, which are representative of the style you’ll find in the rest.

This entry was posted in Level 2, Reviews, The Best. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Beneath Dark Elms

  1. This has absolutely made my day. Thanks for the review. I will say that my previous adventures probably aren’t up to this standard, if imI being brutally honest with myself.

  2. Nathan Treme says:

    Wow, buying this today. Sounds amazing.

  3. Melan says:

    Damn straight I need it. For the last year or so, I have been delving fairly deep into wilderness pointcrawls – I wish I had this one from the start.

    • Melan says:

      To add: it is quite surprising to come across a great T&T adventure. For all the system’s charm and old-school credentials, the T&T scene didn’t seem to benefit from the improvement of design standards which has taken place around old-school D&D (not universally, of course). Most modern T&T scenarios I have read are lacklustre, story-heavy stuff.

  4. PyroArrow says:

    What happened to the links to the blog pages by Year and Month?!
    That makes it easier to browse though the blog!

  5. Karel Hynek Macha says:

    I dig the folklore vibe you are describing here!

    Incidentally, Peachtree Village is the name of every 3rd thing in Georgia, from suburban corporate office parks, to mobile home parks, to assisted living facilities.

  6. Anonymous says:

    The link is gone!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *