By Jacob Butcher Abrasax Press OSR/5e Levels 3-5
A science-fantasy horror dungeon for Old School versions of Dungeons & Dragons. You stare into the face of planetary death. Fight or drown.
What’s that little Timmy? Lassie is trapped in the well? Errr, I mean, people are bitching that a 24 page adventure is $8 without a preview? Well, obviously then, I have no common sense and will buy it.
This 24 page digest-sized adventure details four levels of a cult temple over about six pages, with about 31 rooms total .. and a few extra unnumbered/empty rooms thrown in on the map. Resembling those Psychedelic Fantasy adventures, it is ripe with unique monsters and treasure. Combined with evocative writing, it makes a great OD&D weird-ass adventure … without, I think, going in to gonzo territory. It’s a good adventure.
The writing here is short and bursting with evocative bits. “1: Sun-Lit Chapel. Rows of pews. Tall stained glass windows depict the Sun-God and moths at each stage of their life-cycle. Yarrow Bren the cultist can be found praying to the Blood Moth for power, offering everflowing blood in return.” That is a rock fucking solid description. 1. Sun-Lit Chapel. Not Room 1. Not Room 1 Chapel. It gives the room a name, Chapel, and then also adds a descriptor word to it, Sun-Lit. Thus, immediately, we get the sense of this room. It doesn’t do this consistently, for every Feeding Pit there are three Courtyards, Shrines, and Stairwells, but when it does it it’s great. Note also the brief flashes of evocative imagery. Rows of pews. Tall stained glass. Combined with the Sun-Lit we get a perfect mental image of the chapel. Sun streaming in through those tall stained glass windows, rows of pews with a solitary figure praying at one end. That is EXACTLY what evocative writing should do. The creature in the room is doing something, praying, with aspects of his personality and additional “action” relayed in his request and offering. This is exactly the sort of writing that I’m looking for. It makes an impact. “Cistern: Unlit torch sconces. Vaulted brick ceilings. Filled to your shins with dark, lukewarm water.” Nice.
And it does it while also being terse. That’s not a requirement, but it IS generally an easier way to make an adventure usable at the table. The longer the writing then the more thought has to go in to editing, layout, and the use of whitespace and organization to make it scannable at the table. Or you can just keep the writing terse. Both work.
It’s full of creepy imagery, like a stained glass porthole in the floor, heavy leaden glass, almost covered in dirt … and you can see something moving on the other side. Nice.
Magic treasure is unique. It’s all new and weird … like “pearl snails” that turn blood in to water over an hour. And then there’s more conventional magic treasure also, like arrows and needle knives. But no generic +1 swords, thank Vecna. Imagine that, a designer adding original content to their game. Almost like value .. hmmm.. May be something in that … Anyway, monsters are unique also, which I always like. Keeps the players guessing. I should note that the conversion notes from OSR to 5e are essentially “find a similar monster and stat it that way.” A little loose for many in the 5e crowd, but ok in my book … mostly because I’d just do it on the fly.
Wanderers table has then engaged in some activity and is arranged progressively, with deeper levels getting a d8, d10, d12 wanderer die all on the same table, reusing the lower level entries while adding new entries. I’ve always loved the elegance of that mechanic, when it’s appropriate to use it, like it is here. AT least one of the hooks is ok, with the party sent to find/kill/etc someone in a village … only to find everyone has disappeared. It’s not ground-breaking, but it adds a complication to an otherwise generic quest.
It could be better. Monetary treasure is VERY light for an OSR game. Gold=XP and there ain’t no coin XP to speak of in here, which is a hyperbolic way of saying treasure or the non-magical variety is VERY light indeed. There’s a stinker here and there in the room descriptions. Room 28: Golden Altar is described as “he High Priest performs rituals and sacrifices here in order to progress the eventual coming of the BLOOD MOTH.” Well, ok, that’s a mega-lame description, especially in light of the others present in the adventure. There’s also a place or two where sound or light should have been noted on the map or in other room descriptions. In one area, in particular, a giant larvae bashes itself against the door. That’s something you need to know BEFOE The party reaches the room, to communicate to the party in previous rooms or as they approach. Sometimes its important to know things before people reach an area. That can be done in the text or much more elegantly via the map for sound/light, etc.
This is a good adventure. Creepy. Evocative. Usable. A great journeyman adventure for whipping out to play. The way EVERY adventure should be.
This is $8 at DriveThru. This appears to be a part of the ZineQuest Kickstarter thing, with the designer having a blog, Flowers for the Titan Corpse. It appears to have some ties to the art side of the RPG world, with a Thank You to the Fall 2018 Simulation Art class. No doubt the designer labours under the impression that people should get paid for their work. Of course, writing is even less appreciated than art, the barrier being far lower. The resulting flooded marketplace makes it challenging to price anything above $0. For self-published work a PWYW structure may be best, reserving payment to work-for-hire. I’d pay $8 for this, knowing what I know now. But a $8 blind buy is a thing indeed, given that at least 99% of everything on DriveThru is crap. I’d guess the price is related to the kickstarter pledges. But, anyway, no preview.