By Mark Bishop Purple Sorcerer Games DCC Level 2
The Crypt in Cadaver Canyon is a 2nd Level Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure that challenges adventurers to save a hidden desert city (along with its cursed inhabitants) from the wrath of a devious and chaotic god. Its pages are packed with dangerous environments, exotic threats, and a world-shaking finale with thousands of lives on the line!
This 87 page linear DCC adventure contains eleven rooms, of which about eight or so will be experienced. Bursts of flavour, and penchant for dreaming up a weird situation, abound in this adventure, in spite of the rather uninspiring writing and formatting. And the design. The simplistic design. The page count isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds.
Weight divide “D&D” in to two categories of play: exploratory and plot. Older style D&D would be firmly in the exploratory camp, with its gold=xp mechanic. Modern D&D, and the wya most D&D has been played from the late 70’s (I’d guess) follows a more simple “here are a few encounters for tonight” sort of methodology, following a simple A to B to C kind of line. I’m not a fan of it, I think you sit around bored, but I recognize that many people seem to enjoy this way to spend the finite number of seconds until they no longer exist. If we accept that, then we must judge these things by “it’s not an exploratory dungeon” standard. And it’s certainly the case that the vast majority of adventures, and especially DCC one’s with their 3.0/3.5 roots, fall in to that camp. (Which, generally , is why I no longer review them. But, whatever, I’m nothing if not a hypocrite.)
There’s this cliff city. When they execute criminals they then toss their bodies in the river, that quickly runs underground, a symbolic and literal transition to the underworld. Oh, also, they made a pact with a minor god and it’s about to fire & brimstone come true in the destruction of their city unless they can sacrifice someone with a special birthmark before midnight. Also, the last person with that birthmark was executed two months ago and the sent sent down the river, in a clerical mistake. Please, sirs, could you go down the underground river and get the body for us? We’ll then resurrect it and sacrifice it before midnight.
Greenfield thinking! Outside the box! I love it! That’s a DCC thing if I’ve ever heard it! The designer has these sorts of little flavourful ideas over and over again in the adventure. At one point, if you fail a save, you see an eye on your arm and in a round of insanity try to gnaw it off for 1d6 damage. Noice! These little flavourful bits and setups are scattered throughout the adventure and denote a great talent for specificity and the grounding it can bring to a game. Brief, quick hits of detail, that really bring the noise in terms of something for the DM to run with at the table. It’s great!
I mean, it’s great when it happens. Which is not often enough.
For, in spite of these brief flashes of brilliance, the adventure is saddled with more than its fair share of garbage. And while it looks ok on the surface, I believe it is saddled with bad decisions and design.
Looking at the page count we get 87 pages for eleven rooms. Not as bad as it first seems, it’s a digest product. Plus,27 of those pages are handouts, pics for the party to look at, monster standees, etc. And, it does have a decent amount of art. Plus, the background, appendix stuff is well regulated to places that it doesn’t get in the way of running the actual adventure, it true is supplemental. Still, you’re not getting sixty pages of adventure, you’re getting thirty, for eleven rooms.
And, you’re not going to run all eleven, probably. The map is essentially linear with a couple of “forks in the road”, both of which tend to lead to the same place. You can have the left encounter or the right encounter, but you’re going to have the encounter after that. A literal DIsney boat ride, in this case.
Did I mention the read-aloud? It’s in italics. I know, you’re tired of hearing me bitch about it. And I’m tired of seeing it. Italics is hard to read in long sections, as the page long or half page long read-alouds here are. Put it in a shaded box, or a box, or something else.
Related to this is one of the openers, a meeting with the town council, in which 13 of them all give a several sentence long soliloquy. Seriously? Some party is going to sit there and listen to the DM read two pages of text? No one is going to break in? No one is going to pull out a phone? This betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of how a D&D game is run. There’s no “Q&A faq”, it’s just a lot of read-aloud.
This lack of understanding goes further, to the encounters. They are simplistic. To an extreme.
Encounter one: make a saving throw or take damage. Seriously, that’s the encounter. Your boat floats down the underground river. There are eyeballs carved in to the top of the walls, all along the river. They cause you to make a save or take damage. (The aforementioned “gnaw part of your arm off for a round”) Another encounter may be just having a fight. There’s little investigation. Little poking or prodding or getting yourself in to trouble BY CHOICE. Those little moments of brilliance, such as the very flavourful rumor table, don’t make up for what is otherwise just a linear adventure of saves and fights. And while an actual puzzle does show up, involving primary colors (great job on it!) it’s an exception, not a rule.
Great specificity, in places, without overstaying the text welcome. Great “vision” of things. But poor execution, both in terms of the evocative writing, the encounter design, choice, and clarity in formatting. Clearly, there’s potential here and I’ve love to see more of it, but it needs some experience.
This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is nine pages, and worthless. It shows you nothing. It should show you one or two encounters, some pretext, a mix of things, so you know what you’re buying. I don’t give a fuck abvout the handouts, art and such. The purpose of the preview should be giving me enough information to determine if I want to buy it. This fails at that.