By Brian C Rideout Deathtrap Games Labyrinth Lord Any Level
Twenty Seven Hundred years ago Bassanta was a sorceress of incredible beauty – and subtlety. She was a temptress, blackmailer, influence peddler, and rumour longer. On her whim simple soldiers could rise to riches or power, businesses could grow or crumble, and people could die. She was called “The Whisper-Queen of Lantash.” And the known world feared her… …but Lantash is gone and forgotten. It’s people dust and bones in buried ruins. Her great power: less than a footnote in history. The great and terrible Whisper Queen died in the same disaster as thousands of her country-folk. The gods of Lantash, in their cold wisdom saw that the Hell she had earned would be not nearly as cruel as allowing Bassanta to linger on the mortal plane and see how little her Empire came to.
This thirteen page non-traditional “adventure” is a series of events tied to a cursed magic item. It’s an interesting concept, tying the temptation to possession by an entity and combining that with “meta-events” that occur during downtime. It would be stronger with some retheming sections and by placing important information outside of the event text rather than burying facts in the events. Still, an interesting look at how to handle a cursed magic item.
The party find a magic item and the entity in it slowly tempts the wearer to accept more and more powers, slowly taking control of the player character as they do so. Thus the adventure is actually just a cursed magic item and some some events to drop in around the curse, most of which involve some sort of dream-sequence with the entity until there’s some final confrontation. As such I might call this less of an adventure and more of a seven page description of a cursed item.
It’s heart is in the right place; trying to add depth to a depth to a cursed item and trying to make a possession by an entity more interesting than kind of immediate “you failed your save” event. In this is harkens back to the 1E DMG artifacts, that, I believe, had some note about more powers of the devices becoming evident over time. That’s great! The magic item then becomes less about a simple mechanical advantage and integrates itself in to the parties life and can in turn become the subject of adventure, both to unlock its powers and perhaps to break some curse on it. I’ll take depth, especially in an area that is essentially unexplored like cursed magic items. The way it handles possession is also interesting, presenting it as a series of temptations, things the players want and that they push their luck, essentially making a choice to accept more power knowing that there is almost certainly some price. Push Your Luck is a key element of old school gaming and integrating the mechanic this way is great. (And, to a lesser extent, all cursed items. It’s a +5 sword, but it also requires X to use it … where X is something less than “the blood of innocents” … something on the edge of the players being willing to do.
As implemented, it’s a little weak in this case. It’s mostly CHA based bonuses, with some dream/sleep effect to unlock as well. These are less likely to appeal to players and it’s also got a strong “beauty” component, targeting itself to female characters. You want to be a pretty girl, right? So, in theming it can be a little weak (although that theming is pretty well done IF you want to be a pretty girl) and I’m not sure the mechanical bonuses are enough to overcome in the innate paranoia of the players. The designer acknowledges this, and notes that all eleven events are unlikely to happen due to player paranoia. So, as implemented, the the concept is a little weak in this case.
It also notes, in passing, that the adventure can be rethemed. This isn’t really handled except as an off hand remark. The entire text would be stronger if it gave some advice on retheming to other environments than “pretty girl.” A page or half page on this would be great, although once exposed to the core concept in the text it would be pretty easy to work up something yourself. It’s not exactly a template, but it’s pretty easy to see how you could use it as one.
I’m less thrilled about the way important information is mixed in to the event text. At the end of an event there may be a note about what to do if the players suspect something, or work against it, etc. These sections would be better if pulled out of the main event text and placed at the front of rear of the event section; making a DM hunt for something is never a good idea, especially when the designer acknowledges that this is just a guideline and things may jump around a bit as the party questions the temptations/entity.
So, good idea but not the strongest implementation. Both the theme “pretty girl” and the power power levels involved are not exactly enough, I think. Further, it could be organized better to provide advice to the DM and handle retheming better. It does have a good write up on the possession entity and what it wants/doesn’t want, which is always a good way to handle an NPC and give advice to the DM on how to handle them.
It’s mere existence, and reading it, can generate a lot of ideas for the DM and as a kind of oblique guide to cursed artifacts its interesting in that respect. It’s not the Be All book for the subject, and is weaker because of its omissions in that area, but if you have some interest in that area (and you should) it’s worth checking out to get some ideas … which is a rare thing indeed for me to say.
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On a serious note, it seems that the approach promulgated by this product is a ‘cursed object as NPC’ model. I would be very leery about crippling player agency to simulate ‘possession’, but using a combination of benefits and drawbacks to push the agenda of the malevolent spirit seems like a way to go… commit an evil act, get a benefit, don’t commit an evil act, take a penalty.
The idea that the possessing entity is so ancient could be used as a nice adventure seed. “This spirit is so old, the current god of the cleric will require a quest for archaic materials to effect an exorcism.”
Thanks so much for your review. I took it to heart and overhauled the format, added additional villains, and expanded on the whys, hows, and motivation of Bassanta. I appreciate the feedback.
Thanks for writing this adventure, my group is currently enjoying it. Bassanta has her hooks into the PC pretty deeply, but only enough to start arousing more suspicion.