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.