Richard J Leblanc New Big Dragon Games OSR Stuff Levels 3-5
The Black Chapel adventure
Lemures have begun to emerge from the small shrine known simply as the Black Chapel. Surely, some sort of evil has been set upon the world and must be stopped before it’s too late!
This is a digest sized zine with 47 pages that focuses on evil type things. It includes an eleven page dungeon adventure with about thirty rooms in an evil chapel of hell. It’s a fun little interactive and evocative place that could use some trimming of superfluous information and phrasing. Which means it’s good but not great.
The zine, proper, has some new classes, spells, monsters/undead, and a few (great) tables in the back on Quirks when you become unhinged, methods of sacrifice, and evil hooks … like “local river turns to blood.” Sweet! I approve! But the focus of this review is on the adventure, The Black Chapel.
There are a couple of rooms above ground and quite a few more, thirty or so, below ground in the main chapel proper. The blurb about lemures, while true, is just some bs; there’s no real reason or hook beyond a “farmers have 10kgp” … I’d instead use a few of the evil hooks from the last page of the zine, drop them in to my campaign over time, and eventually lead the party here. It’s just a place.
Interactivity here is good. “Delicious”, I might even add. There is a lot for the party to play with, from unholy water fonts, to holes to put your fingers in. One room is a hallway with statues. They have names. There are two empty pedestals with the names “self.” It’s pretty obvious you should get up on the pedestal IN THE EVIL TEMPLE and say your name … IN THE EVIL HELLSPAWN TEMPLE. Do you wanna do it? Huh? Wanna say your true name in the evil temple to hell? That is fucking wonderful. It’s that’s delight of both the players and the DM kind of knowing what is going to happen … a situation telegraphed, and a challenge accepted by the players. It’s wonderful and this adventure has several of those moments.
Even better … nothing bad happens when you say your name. In fact, a secret door opens! This follows the rules that you can’t fuck over the players time and again and still expect them to swallow the bait. You have to have some bad with the good and this adventure includes that. Interactivity is high and really good.
Magic and treasure are pretty good as well, usually with an evil bend that is not TOO evil. Loose 1HD and gain a point of STR. A ring of summoning hell hounds … that attack everyone except the summoner. Choices to be made and magic items, with flaws, to leverage results in players making choices about risks to take and that kind of tension is fun in an RPG. The items in this, beyond being unique items, offer those choices in many cases.
Description are decently evocative. You really get the sense of a forbidding black chapel to evil. Black granite baptismial fonts of unholy water. Hauntingly-beautiful frescoes of cult members in loin cloths who are self-flagellating. The smell of oil permeating rooms. There’s a good effort here to up the descriptive game. And, as mentioned, it all works together to build this feeling of dread.
And it goes overboard in places. “the scent of burnt hair sneaks past the nostrils and into the mind.” Ok buddy, we’re pushing flowery prose more than a bit with that one. I get the idea, which is good, but I also cringe a little a it. I’ll take that, though, over another “large chest” and bother boring descriptive words that make it in to the text. Or phrases like “It appears to be …” and other padding. This is another case where Ray’s editing/style guide for RPG’s would have been useful.
There’s also a large number of asides and purpose/historical notes in the text that only serve to pad it out. “(once Master of Malbolge, but now exiled from the Nine Hells)” and “(and was likely carved when Moloch held higher standing)” and so on. Purpose, history, asides … you can get away with an occasional one but paying in too many makes the text harder to read.
This combines with a certain tendency in Leblanc’s writing to focus a bit much on the physicality and mechanics of things. A pedestal 1 foot wide and 3 feet tall … or a text description of the length and direction of a hallway, that copies what is already present on the map. Combine with the other issues and the room descriptions can be pulled to the mundane instead of the wonderfully evocative.
But … it’s still a decent adventure. And, overall, the zine proper is worth it just to steal some of those tables!
This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru.