By Anthony Huso Self-published OSRIC Level 9
The entrance to Geir Loe Cyn-crul is a towering doorway hidden in the crook of a precipitous ridge. As a manifestation of greed supplanting ancient veneration, the doors have been torn off and cast aside.
This 78 page adventure describes a one level dungeon with 103 rooms in about thirty pages. The fundamental ideas of this are (mostly) quite good but it fall down somewhat in execution being, as the designer notes, a hack & slash job. As a strategic puzzle it’s interesting in that regard. As a more traditional adventure, only the vibe delivers on promises.
This is a different thing. It reminds me, somewhat, of a few of those Frontier Settlement adventures where the party is faced with hundreds of humanoid foes. It’s got a strategic bend to it that it going to fit better as a high level adventure. Every ten rounds, inside, you have an encounter, with about a third just being cave crickets. One area has 12,000 piercers in it. Another has a couple of hundred trolls. The rooms, chambers and halls are cyclopean in size. It gives the feeling of some of those scenes in Moria and could, potentially, support a small army deployed inside of it. Like, maybe, a small PC army in support of their mission …
It’s one level, with those cyclopean halls and chambers, and a couple of “Warrens” attached to the core chambers. You really get the sense of size from the map. There’s also a great ruined thing going on … but also it’s lived in. Imagine this DID house the Throne of the Gods, and over the years it got ruined and support of the location has stopped … but it’s still guarded by some who are doing their duty. That’s what you get here. Cyclopean halls, ruined, but with the loyal guard still repesent … as well as a fuck ton of vermin and interlopers near the edges. Huso delivers on the vibe. The map works well with the text and the concept to deliver on a feeling of sad majesty and the glory of days long past.
And it is a mother fucking hack. Almost every encounter is just pure combat. The 200 trolls, multiple giant guards with dragons, drow with “hydras”, chamber after chamber stuffed with monsters that amount to one or two sentences and then a long stat block and a longer treasure block. Again, seen as a strategic challenge it’s interesting, but as an “adventure’ it feels much less so.
The map is both glorious and frustrating. It’s provided in page-sections at the back of the book, so, like twelve pages to deliver the entire map. High res and a full map are available on the designers blog, though you have to dig a bit (or google straight to it.) It delivers on the promise of the ruined Throne of the Gods, and has height in places as well as multiple routes in/through areas. Solid. Frustrating as you try to piece it together holistically, especially as certain lair maps spill out in to other map pages. An overview would have helped. Creatures are located on the map, squads of smaller humanoids or individuals for the larger ones. This is relatively good: you can figure out if someone can see/hear/react to the parties incursion/noise/light etc. I did find it VERY hard to read though. The floor is grey colored on the map and sometimes that blended with the, rather smallish, monster letters that made it hard on my eyes and non-trivial to locate the nearest monsters. Size/dimensions are also approximate, with the scale given on the map compass and no traditional square grid overlay on the map. Too small and/or busy, I’d guess. It’s a bit disconcerting. It both feels like it supports the cyclopean vibe but also that it has abstracted the map in a pointcrawl type of thing. It IS a traditional map, just without the grid. But it feels pointcrawlish, perhaps because of both the scale of the halls and the lack of a grid. DIsconcerting, and the monster letters don’t work well in execution even though it IS the correct methodology to take.
Uh … I think everything in this is hostile? There may be one wanderer that is not immediately hostile if the party is strong. Otherwise every wanderer is of the “it attacks” type. Likewise IU think that just about every creature encountered is hostile. In a traditional adventure that would be a minus, but this almost feels like a, idk, Battlesystem thing? Approached as such, as a strategic campaign of war, it makes more sense. In that same sense, the exploration element mainly revolves around the next time the party gets ambushed. There is a puzzle of two and those are pretty well done. And with divination magic the party should get by pretty well. It is, after all, an adventure for levels 9-12. Order of Battle is noted in a few places when it is not obvious from the map which creatures will react.
There are a couple of puzzling choices. One has stars that drop off in to a VERY deep chasm. This being high level D&D, though, the party can easily get to the bottom. A line or two about that would have been nice. Likewise I think that a page or two about “strategic campaign play’ could have been in order, giving the DM advice on how to handle various aspects of assaulting/supporting this place with an army, literally or figuratively, of followers. A missed opportunity.
Huso’s got a striking aesthetic in his products. It works well. The vibe in this is excellent and the art and map helps with that. The writing supports that and while generally on the terser side of things it does get conversational at times. That supports the vibe, but the challenge it support the vibe with the words AND make it obvious. The language seems a little too forced a few too many times. Much of it comes across as window dressing, but, that supports the vibe.
Run as a strategic puzzle this would be interesting, but you’re going to have to support that play style yourself. Run as a typical exploration adventure it is quite lopsided to combat and falls down on the puzzles/roleplaying/interactivity. It DOES support a high level play style though, only gimping the party in maybe two ways: fliers get the attention of doombats and piercers while fucking up with the Throne of the Gods kills you and no Wish will save you. I can live with those.
I’m disappointed. I recognize the vision, and it being partially implemented. Going more in one direction (strategic) or another (exploration) would have helped with this. As would some tweaking to the actual writing to maintain the vibe while increasing clarity.
This is $10 at Lulu. There’s a preview available but it requires Flash, and I ain’t got flash at Lulu.
(Also, FUCK! I was gonna put the Throne of the Gods in MY megadungeon!)