A Wizard (review)

By Donovan Caldwell
Self Published
OSR
Mid Levels?

A Wizard, mad with power, has terrorized the charming hamlet of Canny before escaping to his Tower on the Hill. The heroes must find him and stop him, before his curses descend upon every hapless citizen!

This 68 page digest adventure uses half its pages to describe a wizards tower in a body horror/horror genre type environment, like some cross between The Thing and Alien. Good descriptions, a little arbitrary in places, and, as with most horror, could cross genres pretty well to any type of RPG you’d like. As written, it would be a good horror one-shot, which would circumvent the arbitrary nature and complete lack of loot.

There’s a wanted poster in the general store and a vivisected cow in the bakers barn. 40gp if you deal with that wizard that lives in a tower up on the hill. This is the end of the theming, after this it’s all weird body horror stuff right out of The Thing and Alien. The tower is fibrous, and there’s lots of goo and sticky web-like stuff. As such this adventure can cross genre lines pretty easily. There’s nothing really that ties it to fantasy. Call of Cthulhu, or any other modern game, could use this just as easily as long as you’re willing to have some kind of vaguely alien-like fibrous body horror like stuff in your game. Horror adventures tend to do that easily, or, at least, good ones do that easily. I would call this one a decent horror adventure, at least for a one shot.

And why is that? There’s a 25 room wizard tower on several levels, which would tend to be a normal wizard tower exploration thing for fantasy games. Wizard Towers have to FEEL different, in the same way that an undersea adventure or a cloud castle adventure environment should feel different. Good ones do and bad ones just feel like yet another series or boring old rooms. This one brings the weird-ass environment one would expect from a wizards tower, but also brings a decent amount of arbitrary happenings that do not lend themselves to OSR gaming, or, at least, campaign play. Unless you’re in one of those fucked up LotFP games that I strongly doubt exist in real life due to THEIR arbitrary nature.

So, a couple of examples. “If a character is ever alone in a room with the wizard, he picks them off. Describe something running at them very fast, being yanked up into the ceiling, dragged through a vent, etc. Then move on. There is no need to worry about them anymore.” You made it to seventh level, eh? Well, kiss it goodbye sucker. In another case there’s a door that, when opened, has acid flooding out of it. As written, these are arbitrary, in particular the first. You could ignore it, as the DM, but then you’re losing the effectiveness of the technique.  There’s no in between, you die or you don’t. For your mid-level character. Even as a one-shot this seems like a bad idea. “Uh, I guess you get to sit out for the next three and half hours …” NPC’s are the usual method of telegraphing this shit, but I find even that a bit Deus Ex, unless it happens, like IMMEDIATELY, and is almost telegraphed. And the door, I supposed, could be written off as a trapped door, but it’s not really written like that. And good traps tend to be telegraphed through description for clever players to pick up on … although, again, at higher levels it can be expected that the party needs to burn some spells to protect themselves and non-telegraphed traps DO start to get a pass. Otherwise the wizard is nothing but lightning bolts and the cleric nothing but heals. All of this tends to lead me to put this in the One Shot category, based on the arbitrary nature of some effects combined with the high-level of it. 

Oh, and there’s no treasure. Uh … none of at all I think, except for that 40gp reward at the beginning. And I’m including magic items in this. Someone might get a parasite caterpillar that lets you see invisible and kills you if you remove it from your brain. That’s kind of cool. But that’s also about it. You won’t be levelling from this death trap. 

The very brief town section gets great NPC descriptions (kind, speaks slowly spectacles) or (rugged, charming, eternal stubble.) Likewise the town is well described in just a few short sentences. Flowers, everywhere, of every kind, coating the green hills and walking paths and trails. Comforting smells of steak, apple pie or cheesy omelettes. Children playing the streets. That’s nice imagery. The tower, proper, follows through on this. “Spacious dim, sweet scent like cotton candy. Sticky floors make a smacking sound as walked on. The walls are of a fiberours quality with circles and spirals. It does this over and over again, for each room. They are easy to scan and flavorful. The rooms are organized well and easy to scan and locate information. (Even though the exit situation is a bit OVER explained, taking up half the room entry in some cases.) 

Maps are shitty art-house stuff. Hard to read, with level interconnections not the best explained. I don’t like to work hard to read the map. Legibility is a thing. Yeah, I know, fancy fonts and arty maps make you C0ol! But if I can’t read it, or struggle to read it, then I ain’t gonna run it and you fail at priority one: usable at the table. Don’t fucking fail at priority one!

 I haven’t really mentioned the body horror elements. The thing is gory being being … I don’t know … explicit? Spider things erupt from peoples mouths. Bellies bulge as people melt from the inside and other bodies explode ala that Monty Python Wafer-Thin Mint scene. It’s as tastefully done as it can be while still retaining the body horror element in full effect. Really nice job on the horror elements and the descriptive language here.

This is $8 at itch.io. There’s a nine page free preview available to download. It shows you the small town and the first two rooms. That’s enough, you get a good idea of what to expect from the writing and the rooms from that preview, which is what a preview should do. LESS COOL IS THE LACK OF A FUCKING LEVEL RANGE! Put one in. 

https://donnyc.itch.io/a-wizard

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15 Responses to A Wizard (review)

  1. De Gevleugelde Ridder says:

    Thanks man, I am going to save up on , so I can buy this 😀

  2. Bigby's Affirmative Consent Lubed Fist says:

    Is a level range even necessary if the eponymous Wizard can arbitrarily pick off lone characters?

    Christ, that wizard seems like an even more annoying DMPC than Elminster. GACK!

  3. “Unless you’re in one of those fucked up LotFP games that I strongly doubt exist in real life due to THEIR arbitrary nature.”

    They exist. Do only modules. Arcade style. Character generation in 10 mins. Characters have a choice of which adventure to go on as they complete it in succession. Then start crawling and watch the bodycount mount.

  4. Jon Miller says:

    So there could be some ideas worth stealing from this one?

    Onto other matters: Have you ever considered doing a series of reviews on *all* of the DCC adventures? (Except the one’s you’ve already done.)

    Or, pick another series of adventures that’s likely to have a higher average quality than the old Dungeon magazines. Frog God Games?

    • The Middle Finger Of Vecna says:

      @ Jon Miller, Bryce does review some Frog God Games stuff. Much of which has been uniformly bad recently.

      • Jeff V says:

        Much as I’d love to see reviews of all the DCC adventures, I think it might turn into a depressing slog like the Dungeon magazine reviews. The 3.5 edition ones that I like, I mostly like because they act as a springboard for my own ideas. Bryce’s review standards (quite rightly) don’t allow for that approach.

        Also, I’m not sure if Bryce has ever done any reviews of 4th edition adventures; presumably with good reason. My opinion (admittedly never having played 4th edition) is that the (half a dozen or so) DCC adventures for 4th edition that I’ve seen come across as uninspired and boring.

        However, I’d be very happy if he reviewed any of the DCC RPG adventures that he hasn’t already (not sure if he has reviewed them all yet). I bought #72 Beyond the Black Gate based on Bryce’s review and I am very happy with it.

    • Anonymous says:

      When you say “all” the DCC adventures, do you include the old OGL ones, or the just ones made specifically for the DCC game? Because I’d be up for the latter. It’s been a long time since Bryce touched anything from Goodman on this site.

  5. Knightsky says:

    Somewhere (I think on DriveThru) the author suggested a level range of 1-3.

    • Knightsky says:

      Okay, here’s the author’s actual response: “Level 1: As much death and danger as possible. Alternatively, since it skews more dangerous as you ascend, you could level them up after every two levels (Floor 1 and 2, Level One, Floor 3 and 4, Level Two, Floor 5, Level Three).”

  6. Thank you for the review! I’ll keep the criticism in mind for the next thing I do.

    In regards to the level range, Knightsky here in the comments retrieved my answer from DTRPG – should’ve been included in the zine, though!

  7. Edgewise says:

    I had to pick this one up. I think there’s a lot to love about this adventure. My main objections were covered by Bryce. (1) no treasure, except the awesome brain worm, (2) some of the map sections are confusing, like the dark void in room 20, and (3) some very arbitrary deaths. #3 is more acceptable for a low-level party/funnel situation.

    One other thing is that some elements in the adventure lack specificity in a way that was obviously intentional, although I could have used just a bit more to help me run the encounters. For instance, a little more description of the Wizard himself would make it easier to run combat. And the adventure doesn’t really tell you what a lot of the encountered “apprentices” will do. I know this is all done to ignite the imagination of the GM (and the players, to some extent), but it means you have to figure out your own interpretation carefully ahead of time or you might be pulling some questionable stuff out of your ass at the table. It’s very easy for some of this material to drift into the territory of being so arbitrary that it’s more like a fever dream than an adventure, which makes it hard for the players to make good decisions. So the GM has to exercise a little discipline and restraint. Or not, if that’s your thing.

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